Look, I’ll be honest with you, I’m a man who enjoys dressing himself. The last time I put up with being dressed by a woman I was about eleven years old and the woman was my mother. The outfit may well have included a lime green tank-top with a picture of one of the Wombles on the front – I guess I learnt my lesson.
I address this subject, as one of the more dispiriting sights in any trip around the shops is the sight of a grown man having clothes selected for him by his partner (unless his partner is a man, in which case he’s in with a chance of being well dressed). It’s depressing for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I find it a shame that more men don’t take a little more interest in their own appearance. Presumably they did when younger, so why give up now? Dressing up is a fun part of the going out experience! The second reason brings me to the subject of this article, and that is, that is seems many women know little about how a man should dress, particularly as seen by other men. How many women would be happy to take fashion advice from their male partner if the boot were on the other foot? Not many I guess. The mind boggles at what you’d all be wearing.
What I hope to do in the few paragraphs that follow is to give women some tips on how to dress the chap in your life, concentrating on that staple of the wardrobe: the suit. You may be sipping your prosecco at the M&S deli counter about now, laughing to yourself, thinking you know all you need to know about suits. You’ve seen your dad in one and maybe George Clooney. How hard can it be? Wearing a suit well is like a secret handshake. Only the people in the know will realise but if you get it wrong it’s the male equivalent of tucking the back of your skirt into your knickers.
When it comes to suits, there are some rules that need to be understood, most of these rules are based upon tradition. Of course rules can, and sometimes should be broken, but it’s still important to understand them in the first instance.
Let’s start with the fit of a suit jacket. One of the most common errors is sleeves that are too long. A suit jacket is not a coat. The sleeves of a suit jacket should not cover any part of the hand. When the arms are at your side there should be approximately a quarter of an inch of shirt cuff visible. If there is not, either the shirt sleeve is too short or the jacket sleeve is too long.
Next, you’ll notice that just about every retailer these days pins the backs of display jackets on mannequins, this is to give the illusion that the jacket is tailored and it actually has a waist. News flash: the jacket will not look like that on anybody. Sadly these days, the standard suit jacket is a box shape, with a waist measurement equal to the chest measurement. This is no doubt to cater for the ever expanding girth of the (dare I say it) average man on the street. Assuming for a moment that your chap is in better shape than this, the best solution (short of spending a lot of money on a tailor-made suit) is to take your off-the-peg suit jacket to your friendly local alterations shop. For around £15 they can take the offending shapeless box and give it a waist.
Suit buttons: on a two button suit usually only the top button is worn fastened, although you can do up both without looking too bad. On a three button suit either the middle button is fastened or the top and middle – the bottom button is never fastened. Imagine it’s simply there for decoration and if your man tries to do it up tip your G&T over him, pronto. Similarly, the bottom button of a waistcoat is always worn open. It’s just a tradition but it’s one that shows that you know how to dress in polite society rather than wearing a suit into the dock at magistrates’ court.
Trousers: well-fitting trousers should break once and rest lightly on top of the shoe. By ‘break once’ I mean that there should be one point on the leg where the material folds inward upon itself. If the trousers are too long what you will get instead is something that looks like an express train has piled, at speed, into the buffers, causing trouser carnage with all sorts of unsightly crumpling and folding going on.
Let’s chat briefly about shoes. The general rule is that black shoes are for dressy situations and brown are for the country. If you are wearing a dark suit the shoes should generally be black. Brown shoes can be worn with a blue suit, but the recent trend for practically fluorescent tan shoes with blue suits is not a good one. Do you really want the most eye catching part of an outfit to be the shoes? Shoes should not overpower an outfit. Well made, classic shoes are well worth spending a bit of money on as they will last. I have a couple of pairs which are twenty years old now. They count as two of my more serious relationships.
Pocket squares and ties: these should never match. If they match it will look as if they came as a set (which they probably did). This is what we call ‘naff’ in style circles – don’t do it. They can complement each other, but equally the pocket square can complement the shirt. A classic white shirt and white pocket square is often hard to beat. Pocket squares are a good way of adding a little individual touch and a dash of something extra to a conservative outfit. Far better than a pair of fluorescent shoes at least.
Lastly, I’ll just say something about the current trend for extreme skinny fit suits. It can look OK but it’s really not for everyone. It looks good on 6’3”, stick-thin models but then most things do. If the man in your life is in any way chunky it’s often not the best choice. The trend in slightly short suit jackets can create a very unfortunate shelf effect if a man has a larger than average behind. We probably don’t need to see that. Just because it’s the fashion doesn’t mean that you should try it. There’s a lot to be said for the lines of a classic suit, which the is far more flattering option for most of us. The skinny, three-piece, checked suit is frankly past its sell-by-date as any trip around TK Maxx will show you. If TK Maxx has a lot of something on the rails, it’s generally time to hitch your waggon to a new pony.
Derek James Dubery