Was I the only reader of Lounge to feel a little faint as I read the publication’s cover story on men’s suits (10 March)? Okay, I am only a humble journo and all you tigers are masters of the universe with salaries like telephone numbers who can light bonfires with your vanities. But honestly guys, do you high-flying executive types, blue-shirted investment bankers and captains of industry really think nothing of spending Rs1.25 lakh (or more) per suit?
Judging by that story, it is the sort of thing you chaps do every other week. Apparently, it is so important for you hotshots to look good as you manage your hedge funds, raise dollar financing, move vast sums of money around the globe, and then put your feet up at those dreadful places, the Chambers and the Belvedere, that your clothes should cost millions.
I’m sure you can afford it. And I guess you think you deserve it. But even if I earned the kind of money that you fellows clearly do, I don’t think I could bring myself to spend so much of it on clothes. (Easy to say for someone who’ll never have that much money! I hear you sneer.)
But all of us have funny and strangely contradictory attitudes to spending money on personal vanity. A friend of mine who is probably the richest woman I know, and whose diamonds are more boulders than rocks, only bought her first Chanel jacket a few months ago. It wasn’t that she couldn’t afford it. She just couldn’t justify spending a couple of lakhs on a jacket, she said. She would spend much more on cars, jewellery, works of arts and gifts for friends. But a mere jacket? She had a problem with that, she explained. (Eventually her friends persuaded her that a Chanel original is no mere jacket but she still looks slightly shell-shocked when she recalls that first purchase.)
Those of us with much less money than her (and that’s most of us, including you high-flying Lounge readers) will understand her hesitation. It isn’t that we can’t afford some of the high fashion items that appear on these pages. It’s more that we think that they simply aren’t worth the prices.
Let’s take ties. Truth be told, a very expensive tie isn’t of much better quality than moderately priced ones. You aren’t even paying for the quality of the design. (Can there be more puke-inducing patterns than the ones the likes of Stefano Ricci print on their overpriced neckties?). What you pay for is the label. And if you are willing to pay $200 for a $20 tie with a $180 label, how pathetic does that make you?
So it is with suits. A cheap suit is like a bad rash. It itches and it disfigures you. So, I can see the argument for going a little upmarket. You spend the whole day in a suit, so the fabric must be soft and comfortable, the trousers should move when you do and the jacket should be cut to flatter your body shape. The problem is: Not all very expensive suits manage to do this. A label alone means nothing. And unless you have the figure of a prepubescent girl, anything by menswear’s reigning pin-up Hedi Slimane (who’s just exited Christian Dior) will make you look like an idiot. Both Prada and Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche will also look wrong; Gucci will transform you into a bell captain at an Italian resort hotel. Nor is the designer label any guarantee of good taste. Wear Dolce and Gabbana and you’ll look like a streetside hustler; wear Versace menswear and you’ll became Mr. Ulhansnagar. (But hey, nothing wrong with that; some of my best editors are Sindhis, etc. etc.)
So, what should you do? Well, I still rely on the old rules. If you want to be taken seriously in business, then your suit should never draw attention to itself. It should become so much a part of your personality that people notice you and not your clothes. The only way to achieve that is to shop around. Sales people rarely tell you this, but all designers have a box (a body shape) in mind when they cut their suits. The trick is to find a designer (or a high-street label) whose box most nearly corresponds to your shape. Once that’s sorted out, you can stop worrying about all the suits that look so good on those slender youths in the ads.
Next, try not to spend too much money on the suit. This is not as difficult as it sounds. The Rs1.5 lakh suits featured in Lounge will go out of style at the end of this season. They will then be marked down to half-price or less. As you are not auditioning to go on a date with Tom Ford, it is not vital for you to stay on top of each season’s look. Buy your suit on sale and stick to relatively classic styles. (I have never, ever, bought a suit at full-price.)
And finally, don’t fall for all that crap about great Indian tailoring. The vast majority of Indian men’s designers (with some honourable exceptions) couldn’t cut their way out of a paper bag. No matter how much they brag, their suits never look right or fit perfectly. Ditto for the high-street tailors. So, stick to off-the-peg once you find the right box.
Of course, there are two reasons for preferring tailors. If you are so fat that ready-to-wear simply won’t fit, then find a tailor. And the other reason: if you are going bespoke. If you have the money to pay Savile Row prices then, of course, you must. A well-cut suit here is a work of art and you are paying for craftsmanship and quality that will last decades. (Do not be fooled by made-to-measure, which is much cheaper and inferior—stick to bespoke.)
The only circumstances in which I would ever contemplate spending the kind of money Lounge recommends are a) if I won the lottery and b) if I could get Timothy Everest or one of the other great, young English tailors to make my suits for me.
Otherwise, see you at the sales!
Write to Vir at firstname.lastname@example.org