The invention of the suit, as a matching set of clothes, is usually put down to the common sense of the English country gentleman of the late 18th century acting in concert with his fancy London tailor. Not much has changed since. My first suit was the one I had tailored in Kolkata, which is as English as you could get living in India.
I still remember going for a fitting to Barkat Ali on Park Street and the ceremony with which measurements were taken. In this age of Wi-Fi and the Internet, with patterns being stored online, a lot of the magic has disappeared and when you add to that the confusion between made-to-measure and bespoke, you have a lethal concoction of not knowing what to wear when. But my first suit, like Henry Ford’s cars, was black and this is what I was taught. A fine suit is always dark in colour: Not because it looks good, but only because you can’t go wrong with the time of day when you wear one.
The fitting for my first suit itself took an hour: This is the least amount of time you should budget for if you are really keen on a good suit. The construction of the suit is the most critical: Any idiot will tell you that. Being my first-ever suit, I still remember how concerned I was by the narrowness of the lapels or, for that matter, the difference between the Italian style and the American style, not to mention the famed English style. The essential difference is that the American style is based on the “sloping” natural shoulder epitomized by the straight-drop sack look worn by New York and Boston nabobs for half-a-century, whereas the Italians have always tended towards the extremes. Short, tight jackets and lighter fabrics with less padding and superb tailoring: Right from buttons you can open on your jacket cuffs to the way the inner pocket in your trouser is lined and crafted. The English style is what I opted for: Soft shoulders, a little padding and where the jackets have a distinct waist. A characteristic of this style of tailoring is the “blade”: A clever fullness at the shoulder blades perfected by Scholte, a Savile Row colossus of the 20th century.
So the English style it was, with turn-up trousers, et al. This is the style that I have remained faithful to, till this very day. Even my Zegna suits, which should ideally be Italian in cut, are forced to adhere to their more conservative European cousins: the English.
Over the years, I must have owned about a 100 or more suits, but if you are a suit-lover as I am, then each suit is an investment, not an expenditure, and you look at it thus. There have been many instances when I have actually worn suits that were made for me aeons ago: There is a certain nostalgia about wearing a well-used suit, much like there is joy in looking at a dog-eared book in your study.
My finest suits have been the ones that have been made by Zegna, as also some made by Bada Saab and Gabbana in Mumbai: I truly believe Akbar at Gabbana and Kishor Bajaj at Bada Saab are world-class. Like everything refined, in this area too, Delhi is woefully inadequate. The only suit you can get in Delhi is what behenjis wear and is known as a sa lwar suit.
I love suits: In fact, I could wear a suit anytime, anywhere; they are the most risk-averse clothes to wear and you can never be over- or under-dressed in a suit, as I have learnt over the years. My suits and I share a special bond: This bond encompasses memories of work and pleasure, which are truly special to me.
Amongst those who I feel wear suits very well are Ratan Tata, N.K. Singh, the former revenue secretary, Prannoy Roy, Sunil Mittal (when he is wearing a dark suit) and Analjit Singh of Max.
I detest those who wear ugly suits and there are many out there. They will either wear badly-tailored suits or not care about the shade of colour, which makes the suit look more like a night-suit rather than a well-tailored endeavour. Then there’s always the eternal debate about the fabric and my belief is that the average Indian knows precious little about fabric; this whole obsession with super 120 and super 140 has more to do with little knowledge than with instinctive panache, but more of that later.
Just like everything else, life in a suit can be great fun. If you know how to live life, that is.
Suhel Seth is the managing partner of Counselage India, an inveterate bachelor and lover of suits. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org