A notable trend in menswear today is the move towards a more casual approach to tailored pieces. ‘Soft tailoring’ is on the up and up, boosted by the buzz around Neapolitan tailoring. If mainstream men’s fashion magazines and blogs are any indication, then apparently, the classic dark worsted suit is now viewed by many as too formal, and men aspire to more color and patterns in garments that can be used in a business setting and away from the office. (That is, if you believe what you read…)
Perhaps this purported move is a consequence of the business casual trend. I won’t speculate. The fact remains that more and more brands are pushing tailored casual pieces, including the oft-hyped new category of suits called the ‘casual suit’. (Cf. The Casual Suit by David Isle).
Examples of casual ensembles include tweed suits, Donnegal suits, colorful suits, checked suits, brown suits, etc.
These are all referred to as ‘casual’ because traditionally, in Britain, these types of fabrics were associated with country and sporting life, as opposed to dark worsted suits—the mainstay of city business life.
We strongly believe it should be recognized that the term casual suit is an oxymoron, or misnomer at the very least. In our current era, where the tie itself seems headed towards the dustbin of history, anyone still wearing a suit is at risk of appearing over-dressed in many settings.
Are these famed casual suits mentioned above the answer to our sartorial prayers? Will these free-for-all combinations allow us to continue to enjoy suit wearing, while still appearing casual?
Indeed, whether we like it or not, the subtext of casual dress is anonymity. Casual dress is not meant to draw attention.
However, any outfit that draws attention is somehow considered dressier by today’s standards—not by virtue of the underlying formality of its constituent pieces, but simply by virtue of its overall ‘loudness factor’. Therefore, by some ironic twist of sartorial fate, the so-called casual suit (which was historically intended for casual country wear) is today at risk of appearing dressier than a classic plain dark worsted suit.
Today, the dark suit is perceived as being so unremarkable and so anonymous that it has reached some newfound and paradoxical form of casualness — just think of a lineup of men in dark suits after 6 PM at a downtown bar, ties dropped and waiting to be served their next round of beer. Is any one of these guys noticeable by his outfit? Each plain dark suit seems to blend in against the backdrop of what everyone else is wearing in such a context. Yet, this is precisely why people buy dark suits: to be unremarkable.
Turning now to what happens when you wear a ‘casual suit’—the checked fabric, or slightly unusual tweed, or the less common shade of brown, immediately draws everybody’s eyes to the suit. These are the times when people stop and say ‘Hey, nice suit!’
If the ‘casual suit’ were actually as casual as the name implies, people wouldn’t notice it nor feel compelled to make comments. It’s precisely because the casual suit is perceived as dressier by today standards that we need to find a new term to designate this style.
No unwitting customer should fall prey to a sales rep saying, “Here’s a great multipurpose casual suit which you can get more mileage out of because you’ll be able to wear the suit both at the office or on the weekend.” Chances are you’ll be a afraid of wearing such a suit in either context, for concern of appearing too dressy. (If you’re lucky, perhaps you’ll end up wearing the jacket and the trouser as separates…)
Therefore, when all is said and done, in the opening photo, does Mr. Barbera really think he looks ‘casual’ walking his dog in a park in a double breasted Solaro suit simply because Solaro fabric is historically considered ‘casual’?
The end of a myth.
Photo by Lyle Roblin