Over the years that I’ve searched for classically inclined formal wear I’ve found only a handful of American brands that seemed to rival the elegance of the British: Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, Robert Talbott and Paul Stuart. As part of my wardrobe upgrades for my most recent black-tie outing I took the opportunity to investigate the latter two brands. In this post I present a look at Paul Stuart’s offerings.
Paul Stuart has been manufacturing and selling its own line of luxury menswear since they opened their first store in on Madison Avenue in 1938. The company was founded by Ralph Ostrove (who named it for his son) today has two additional US stores in Chicago and a number in Asia. They describe themselves as “the closest thing to a Savile Row experience outside of London” and have dressed numerous world leaders, celebrities, and business tycoons including President Kennedy, Frank Sinatra and Miles Davis.
Their formal offerings reflect the company’s emphasis on tradition with a unique flair as can be seen in the sampling below. Note that all jackets and trousers are from their Phineas Cole line that features a lean, contemporary silhouette.
One-button grosgrain shawl-collar tuxedo with side vents. $1,987. Not listed on the site is a matching vest available in limited sizes for $564 (call and ask for item no. 8690001).
One-button peaked-lapel tuxedo made of Italian wool with grosgrain facings. $1,987.
Double-breasted wool/mohair dinner jacket with shawl collar and side vents. $1,487. Not listed on the site are matching trousers available for $497 (call and ask for item no. 8683517).
One-button black velvet ‘Phillip’ dinner jacket with peak lapels, grosgrain hacking pockets and side vents. $1,687.
One-button navy ‘Phillip’ velvet dinner jacket with peak lapels and side vents. $1,587. Not listed on the side are the depicted plaid vest for $567 and matching plaid trousers for $487, both in limited sizes. (Call and ask for item no. 8690050 and 8673701 respectively.)
Double-breasted black velvet ‘Ashe’ shawl-collar dinner jacket with side vents. $1,597.
Velvet evening pump with leather sole. Made in Italy. $395.
Patent-leather formal pump with grosgrain bow and leather sole. Male in Italy. $395.
Patent formal lace-up with leather sole. Made in Spain. $375.
Gold and onyx formal jewelry set. $298.
Sterling silver and onyx formal jewelry set. $298.
Silk grosgrain self-tie bow tie. $69.50.
Wing-collar formal shirt with piqué bib. $228.
Pleated formal shirt with turndown collar. $387.
“Straight collar formal shirt.” $228.
“Piqué formal shirt.” $228.
This last shirt is the only Marcella shirt I have encountered that is available online from a North American retailer so I decided to check it out. [Addendum: I have since discovered a couple of more options.]
As a bit of background, this style of formal shirt was created in the 1930s by London shirtmakers when the tuxedo was evolving from a simple tailcoat substitute into a complete outfit of its own. The full-dress shirt with its stiff front and rigid detachable wing collar wasn’t appropriate for the less formal dinner jacket but the soft-front pleated shirt with attached turndown collar worn with summer black tie was too informal for year-round use in the eyes of many Britons. Savile Row’s elegant compromise was to import the formal piqué fabric of the white-tie shirt’s bosom, collar and cuffs onto the semi-soft front, turndown collar and French cuffs of a semi-formal shirt. The resulting garment became known as a Marcella shirt in reference to the English term for the birdseye piqué pattern. It remains a popular option at upscale shops in the UK but never really caught on in the US.
Paul Stuart’s version of this swank classic is constructed of Italian two-ply cotton broadcloth. It uses single needle stitching which, according to the company’s web site, “requires our shirtmaker to sew at an exacting 22 stitches per inch along the seams twice, not only making the seams durable but also barely noticeable.” Unlike some of my other high-end formal shirts its collar has an impressive heft and its sleeve lengths are sized. It is not available in a slim fit, though, which means the average man will need to have it taken in (substantially) for it to lie flat across the chest.
Paul Stuart formal shirts are made in Canada (which is ironic for me as I can’t buy them here).
Disclosure: The garment reviewed in this post was provided at a discounted price for editorial purposes.