In Praise Of The Suit

Suits are so often taken for granted but this book, Sharp Suits, presents 8 essays addressing the style, the history and the power of the suit.
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Suits are so often taken for granted but this book, Sharp Suits, presents 8 essays addressing the style, the history and the power of the suit.

Sharp Suits is a celebration of a century or so of marvellous tailoring and the men who have produced it and worn it.

About three metres of fabric, some clever unseen internal shaping elements, lining, buttons and several metres of thread are the simple raw materials that are required to produce the jacket-and-trouser combination (enhanced, in its most sublime form, by a waistcoat) that will be seen wherever men gather, from boardrooms to bawdy bars.

The suit is versatile. When a man wants to look anonymous, he can wear a suit. When he wants to be noticed by his peers or a prospective mate, he can wear a different suit. On every continent, the sober suit is the chosen dress code of presidents and diplomats, business leaders and law makers. At its most classic, the suit embodies respectability. Yet it also provides effective camouflage. Not everyone who puts on the uniform of a gentleman is a gentleman. Some of the most notorious villains on the planet have been renowned for the quality of their tailoring.

As the bedrock of a stylish man’s appearance, it defines what his shirt and tie, even his shoes, will look like. Despite the greater acceptance of casualwear as everyday apparel, the suit remains a universal choice of those who want to dress for success. It is a masculine status symbol, especially in the true bespoke version, hand-tailored by artisans using methods that have changed little in 100 years. Most men today buy ready-made, “off-the-peg”, suits and the excellence of the best of these has never been higher, the result of more than a century of refinements in production methods and fabric quality.

So many subtle nuances make the suit a quite amazing piece of three-dimensional design and engineering. How does the shoulder of the jacket fit? How deep is the arm hole? How much “fullness” is there in the chest? Is the waist defined? Single-breasted or double-breasted? How many buttons? Wide lapels or narrow lapels? Peaked lapels or notched lapels? Flapped pockets or patch pockets or jetted pockets? Flat-fronted trousers or pleated trousers? Wide leg or narrow leg? Turn-ups or no turn-ups?

The suit offers endless stylistic possibilities before we even start to factor in that most essential ingredient, the fabric itself – fine wool or heavier wool, cotton, linen, silk, mohair, polyester mixes, velvet, corduroy, stretch fabrics, “performance fabrics”, jacquard weaves, stripes, checks… And so the list goes on. Who now can dare say that the suit is boring?

The chapters in Sharp Suits are not an exhaustive history of the suit, but rather eight separate essays on aspects of the outfit and its rich heritage. Retro or modern, bold or discreet, the suit remains the ultimate centrepiece of a stylish man’s wardrobe. Movie stars and rock stars, heroes and villains, philanthropists and gangsters – all these men and millions more have found that a suit can suit them very well indeed.

Eric Musgrave's book 'Sharp Suits' is on sale now. Click below to buy.

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