MY FIRST SUIT
Author: Nick Carvell, GQ Contributing Fashion Editor
When I was a teenager, while all my classmates were obsessed with trainers and tracksuits, I was fixated on getting my first suit. I finally got it when I turned 16: a navy blue, single-breasted two-piece that I got under the excuse of needing it for a wedding. I wore that suit until it quite literally fell apart – split up casually or worn together more formally, that suit made my awkward teenage self feel smart, confident, and just that little bit more powerful. Now, over 15 years later this is the feeling I still want from my suit, and ultimately what every man should expect every time he slips one on. However, sadly, that's not always the case.
While some young guys like me might long for their first suit, often it's something a man will buy out of necessity for work. Not only is it something someone else tells you should be wearing (i.e. the bigwigs behind your office clothing policy), but it's also something you need to wear for most of your week. Of course, this instantly drains any excitement out of buying one – so it’s no wonder that plenty of guys I know end up with a suit (or multiple suits) for work that are totally inappropriate, whether that's in their material, cut or colour. Of course, this then becomes a vicious circle: every wear makes you more resentful of having to wear it, which makes you care even less about the suits you buy and in time you just come to associate them with being uncomfortable.
Needless to say, it shouldn't be this way. A suit can be the most versatile, comfortable and confidence-boosting item hanging in your wardrobe – and it will be, as long as you don't think of it as an office requirement. The days of men having distinctly different work and downtime wardrobes are long gone. Dress codes are breaking down across menswear and we live in a time when you can wear denim to the theatre, tailored joggers to a smart restaurant and a tux with a T-shirt. In short, your workplace might require you to still wear a suit to work, but that's not the only place you should wear it. The key to getting a suit you seriously want to wear, is to think about how it'll work at the bar after work too, or brunch at the weekend with a pair of trainers.
The first way you can alter your thinking about your next suit is to really pay attention to the colours you choose. Most men I know opt for a plain navy suit first, which is a really solid choice – it's superbly versatile as it goes with a multitude of colours, plus you can jazz it up with patterned shirts, ties and accessories. In other words, it's a fantastic canvas that allows you to be as bold as you want depending on the occasion. After that, you should go for another solid colour that suits your colouring: perhaps a sleek black for men with darker skin or a sliver-grey for men with lighter skin (as it won't wash you out as much as black will). Then, it's good to have either a pattern or colour at your disposal. I'm not talking anything too crazy that won't pass at the office (so no Pepto Bismol pink or eye-popping florals), but perhaps a royal blue, a dark olive green or a check fabric with a slim stripe of colour running through it, such as a subtle light blue or red.
Secondly, pay close attention to materials. Another reason you might feel uncomfortable in a suit at work is simply that you've chosen the wrong fabric. Go for cotton and linen mix materials in the summer, as well as half-linings if at all possible, as these will keep the air circulating around you and make you feel far cooler on a sun-baked commute. In the winter, look out for wools and tweeds with fully lined jackets (and trousers) as these will trap heat and stop you shivering as you battle the elements getting a sandwich on your lunch break.
Thirdly, get the fit right. Nothing will make you feel less comfortable in a suit than one that's too tight or too loose. Think how you like to wear your trousers casually. If you usually wear your jeans cropped a little higher so you can let the breeze circulate around your ankles, go for a similar fit with your trousers – it will encourage you to also wear them casually with a denim jacket on the weekend. With your jacket, remember the thing that matters is that you get the shoulders right – this is the one thing it's almost impossible to fix, as the waist or sleeves can be taken in relatively easily. Unless you're lucky enough to be model proportions, take your suit to a tailor to get it tweaked to fit you perfectly – trust me, a small outlay here will be worth it if it means you wear your suit more.
And one final rule that I've always sworn by: don't panic buy your suit. Trying to find something under pressure always results in poor decisions you come to regret. Take your time browsing the rails and ask advice. Always bring along a pair of smart shoes and a pair of trainers to make sure your suit looks good with both, and try slipping it on with a smart shirt as well as a T-shirt to ensure it works both formally and casually. Most importantly, trust your instincts and don't just go on what you see in the mirror. If you feel comfortable in it, you'll also feel confident, and that will mean you'll look forward to wearing it whether you're headed out with your friends on the weekend or to a big presentation in the boardroom at work. And that's exactly how a suit should be.