Classic suits with movie-star cool

Oscar Wilde summed it up best when he proclaimed that fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months. 

And there's not many fashions so intolerable as the so-called skinny suit. 

If the pundits are to be believed, the skinny suit has finally had its time and few of us will lament its passing. 

No-one under 30 or weighing more than about 80 kilograms looks good in one. They are an uncomfortable ensemble and if you got suckered into buying one, put it in the back of your wardrobe for about a decade until it makes its unfortunate return. 

What to wear in its place? According to Daniel Fitch, head designer at MJ Bale, we are already seeing the return of the classic fitting suit.

"The best thing a man can do is own an elegant navy single-breasted suit in a classic cut," he says. "It's the one suit that will surpass every trend and every fashion faux pas. You can wear it with a white shirt for all occasions, from the boardroom to a wedding." 

Louise Edmonds, style director, says that a suit first and foremost needs to be flattering, not unlike that woman's wardrobe staple the little black dress.

"The skinny suit started to confuse the male consumer as it always required consideration with dressing the ankle: to sock it, or not to sock it, that was the question," she says. 

"There were gentlemen who could not wear the skinny suit due to body type. Athletes who have built-up muscle in their legs always gave me feedback of being uncomfortable in the pant length and tightness of the skinny suit. Saying that, the classic suit with its history, lineage and all round movie-star coolness is a breath of fresh air for many gentlemen, globally."


 If you want to know what a classic-cut suit looks like, start with Cary Grant in North by Northwest (1959). Tailored by Kilgour French and Stanbury of Saville Row, the single-breasted suit is made of subtle glen-check wool. The jacket is ventless with three buttons rolled into two, and with notched lapels, while the trousers are relaxed through the seat and thigh, with forward pleats. 

Another fine example is the suit worn by Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Considered one of the greatest suits in screen history, it is a medium-grey three-piece with a Prince of Wales check and was tailored by Douglas Hayward of Saville Row. The jacket is a two-buttoned single-breasted with slim notch lapels, roped shoulders and a long vent on either side. The trousers have a flat front, with frogmouth side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms. 

"The fact that people always come back to the classic suit is a good indication that it can always be worn; it's timeless," says fourth-generation Sydney tailor John Cutler. "The classic suit in its truest form is designed to enhance a male's body. It is constructed in such a way that it is comfortable, allowing the wearer to go about their daily business knowing they look great." 

Cutler says the classic suit harks back to the early 1900s as a move away from more formal frock coats (tails) and allowed men to present themselves in a more casual way. 

To get an idea of what a classic suit actually is, Cutler suggests taking a look at the current batch of world leaders, especially Barack Obama. The American President only ever wears single-breasted grey or navy suits, beautifully tailored in Italian fabric by Martin Greenfield. 

But what exactly makes a classic suit just that: classic? Cutler's criteria includes: single-breasted jacket with two or three buttons depending on the wearer's physique; high, well-fitting collar; soft shoulders; notched lapels about nine centimetres wide; two rear vents to allow the back to look elegant in movement; a trim but not tight waist that is slightly flared over the hips; and a length such that the hem can be touched by the wearer's cupped hand. 

Classic trousers should fit neatly at the waist; have pleats or no pleats depending on the silhouette of the wearer; be full enough for easy movement in the seat, thigh and knee; and have a 45-centimetre cuff. 

Fabrics should always be natural: tweed in winter, wool in summer with a small percentage of silk. 

"It all comes down to one simple element: elegance," Cutler says.