A Guide To Smart Casual

Alan Partridge swore by it, the blizzard bound Carling adventurers aspire to it but for many Smart Casual is a genuine look of quality.
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Alan Partridge swore by it, the blizzard bound Carling adventurers aspire to it but for many Smart Casual is a genuine look of quality.

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Once upon a time, in the not too distant past, you’d be hard pressed to find a man who had all his suits tailor made. But now that most discerning gentlemen have supped at the cup of bespoke tailoring, it seems many are going that one step further by having their casual gear custom made too.

“We started with made to measure shirts and now do made to measure casual trousers and jackets,” explains Patrick Johnson, director of Emmett of Jermyn Street. “And they’ve really taken off because many of our customers work in the city and wear Savile Row suits all week, they want a much softer almost cardigan like jacket for the weekend with a nice pair of trousers that fits them just as well as their bespoke garments.”

Emmett, under the guidance of founder and owner, Robert Emmett, are producing a range of jackets that, cut like a shirt, are totally unlined, without canvas, padding or lining- yet still hold their shape like a formal jacket.

“It looks like a structured jacket because of the way it is made and hand stitched. We also use a lot of old tailoring techniques such as soaking the fabric in water to achieve the right shape.” says Johnson. “It all began when Mr.Emmett had these unstructured made to measure suits made up by a Neapolitan tailor and wore them to meetings with clients some of whom asked if he could make them one. And so he set up this situation with these Italian tailors. Now these guys make all of our suits and jackets.”

Indeed, such a jacket is in fact, called a Neapolitan, and was invented in the thirties by Gennaro Rubinacci who ripped the guts out of traditionally tailored mufti to come up with an entirely innovative product. An instant hit the cut not only suited both the Italian climate and attitude, but answered the paradigm shift in attitudes towards menswear that called for a softer more comfortable suit that might be worn throughout the day.

“The Neapolitan finish is a very relaxed coat that is very soft in the shoulders,” clarifies Simon Cundy, MD of Henry Poole and Co of Savile Row. “The Italians have always been into it and do it very, very well but it is not the sharp snappy Savile Row silhouette it is the very relaxed ‘smart casual’ look.”

A much derided sobriquet, the term, ‘smart casual’ - once a watch word for nightclub security – has never been so relevant as hordes of men, from the well heeled streetwise to the well moneyed executive, sport suit jackets or blazers over jeans and a tshirt with either well polished shoes or trainers. Trail blazed by the likes of, gadabout playboy Dan Macmillan, designer Alexander Mc Queen and hip hop star Kanye West, it is now an omnipresent thoroughly pervasive look.

“Men’s wear has really changed over the last few years,” opines stylist Tom Stubbs. “Now a lot of men want to look smart but don’t want to wear the full suit and tie and blend in with the mass of grey and blue city suits, who merely remove their tie in an effort to ‘dress down’, so for them the smart casual deconstructed jacket is the solution. And a lot of designers are picking up on it.”

Indeed, Tomas Maier for Bottega Veneta has delivered all manner of deconstructed close fitting jackets while Ralph Lauren Polo fields them tight in pinstripe, herringbone and plaid while Oliver Spencer’s Portland jacket ever so handy unstructured 100% cotton jacket, is an item that, once popular amongst septuagenarian cricket loving vicars,  has been remade and remodeled by the designer so that it features peak lapels, a patched breast pocket and two flapped side pockets but, with it’s denim style top stitching, still manages to retain that all important utilitarian edge. “The jacket bridges the gap between a jacket and a shirt,” explains Spencer. “In the summer you don’t want to wear too much but to still want to be dressed. This is unlined and very light so you can throw it in the washing machine, hang it up, put it straight on, still look smart and look as if you haven’t tried too hard.”

“I’ve been perfecting the totally unlined deconstructed bespoke jacket for years,” chuckles tailor Charlie Allen who has made such a jacket for David Hockney, Nick Hornby and Mark Gattis of the League of Gentlemen,. “You might call it my specialty . The guys I make them for want to get out of their formal suits on the weekend but will still wear a jacket to dinner parties – smart casual dinner parties - where a full on suit and tie will look out of place. For autumn I’d do them a cashmere cord jacket and brushed cotton trousers.”

"The term, ‘smart casual’ has never been so relevant."

But the notion of bespoke or made to measure smart casual is not a new idea by any means as most Savile Row tailors have been doing it for decades some even centuries. “I have a customer who gets absolutely everything made by us – his shirts, weekend trousers, pajamas, dressing gowns even his underpants,” informs Allan Bennett MD of Savile Row tailor, Davies and Son. “But that is what we do. The idea of bespoke is that you come in and get exactly what you want. Usually a customer comes to us gets a suit and then asks if we can do him some casual gear because he liked the suit so much.”

“We’ve always worked the other way around,” says Jeremy Hackett of Hackett, the company who since the eighties have defined smart casual. “Most of our customers buy our made to measure corduroy, moleskin or cotton trousers and then buy a suit. But, what I do is buy get our ready to wear corduroys and chinos then give them to our in house tailors who then alter them to suit one’s particular needs. And because our trousers have the cut of a fitted bespoke trouser the results can be almost as good as made to measure.”

But, for many the concept of bespoke or made to measure smart casual is an anathema, an unnecessary extravagance that smacks of trying just a little too hard. But Patrick Johnson explains that is missing the point entirely. “A lot of our customers are very particular and care more about what they wear on the weekend than what they wear in the week and this makes sense because that is when you socialize, that's when you are seen and that's when you want to be comfortable. Something that fits well is always more comfortable than something that doesn’t.”

Emmett Jacket and Trousers

Bridging the gap between ready to wear and bespoke by allowing customers to choose their own cloth and modify one of the companies designs to their unique shape and specifications, the trousers come in a jeans cut or a khaki/chino style and the jackets can be single breasted with up to four buttons or double breasted with up to six. Available made to measure in over 1000 different fabric choices including super soft cashmere, tweed and Super 180 wool.

Jackets start at £595, Trousers from £150.

www.emmettlondon.com

Oliver Spencer OSJ136 Portland Jacket Portsmouth Navyjacket

A  fine item that is the perfect summer solution the jacket can be worn with all sorts and by virtue of it’s details look entirely of this moment. The three button 100% cotton  Portland jacket can be worn two ways; firstly with the lapels folded down blazer style or buttoned up with a tab at the neck. The Portsmouth navy fabric is a subtle herringbone and is unlined. This garment is washed for a worn in look.

Available in dark and pale blue and pale grey: £280.00

www.oliverspencer.co.uk

Charlie Allen

The high notched single-breasted unlined jacket with a single vent and flap pockets can come in super luxurious cashmere cord, cashmere, tweed and Super 140 wool or anything one might desire. The flat fronted brushed cotton slacks with the side adjusters and a soft Egyptian cotton shirt without any stiffening.

Jackets start at £850, Slacks £500

www.charlieallen.co.uk

1 Coopers Yard 181 Upper Street London N1.

Davies of Savile Row

Davies of Savile Rowe has produced bespoke smart casual for decades and specialise in a cashmere cotton chino with a back flap pocket and concealed button and come in flat fronted or pleated depending on Sir's requirements.

Chino’s £850.Unlined jackets from £1500

8 Savile Row London W1S 3QE

www.daviesandsonsavilerow.com

Hackett

Hackett plain fronted military twill chinos are based on the Second World War officer bespoke chino and have all the hallmarks of such. Single-breasted Jefferson unlined jacket with the single button fastening and two vents.

Prices available on request.

87 Jermyn Street

London SW1

www.hackett.com