Tailoring is back, but the traditional notions about how a suit should fit—and when it should be worn—are changing.
At Project in New York City last week, executives from retailers and brands discussed how they’re shifting their buys and design direction to reflect this sharper and more polished outlook in men’s fashion.
“Tailored clothing will never go away,” said Eric Jennings, vice president and creative director of Peerless Clothing. “Suits will never go away because they are flattering.”
But nowadays, he said, suiting is shifting in two directions: soft, casual and unlined styles, or suiting that is more aggressive and fashion-forward with exaggerated shoulders, wide lapels and full trousers.
Brands are beginning to adjust their fits, too, according to Eric DeLeon, buyer and brand manager of MartinPatrick3, a Minneapolis-based men’s specialty store. The wider pants and roomier tops are favorable updates for his Midwestern clientele, he said, and they feel fresh after many seasons of snug suiting.
“Streetwear has definitely influenced expressing yourself more loosely,” DeLeon said. The streetwear moment, he noted, forced many of the traditional tailored brands to think differently—not only as a way to appeal to younger generations, but also so men can wear suits differently.
The categories are certainly blending. The Fall/Winter 20-21 Louis Vuitton men’s collection by Virgil Abloh caught Jennings’ attention, down to the tie bars. And in the Milanese showrooms of some of the most traditional suiting brands in existence, DeLeon said he has observed employees pairing the suits with Jordans.
“Every brand on the tailored fashion side has a sneaker, a hoodie and a technical jacket,” Scott Malouf, owner of Drest in Lubbock, Texas, said. “All of the changes, as scary as they are, are great and open up new opportunities.”
The suiting business is still occasion driven, but Malouf said younger consumers are curious about it. Whereas in the past, men had to choose from a wall of suits, brands now offer accessible customization options and more variety in fabrics and fits.
“You’re seeing a point in [fashion] where individual style is taking over,” Malouf said. But retailers need to understand how consumers intend to use the garments and what motivates the consumer to buy.
“It’s a good challenge to get back to being the merchants we’re supposed to be,” he continued. “We went through a period where we could put in a main line brand and see it sell like crazy, but [that] makes you lazy as a merchant. There’s a life after that and [we] always have to be looking at the buy for the next wave.”
Be it suiting or streetwear, the feeling of confidence resonates more than trends, DeLeon said. “At a store level, we try to give clients the tools to let them self-express whichever way that they want,” he said.
This freedom is reflected on the sales floor at MartinPatrick3, both in how the staff helps customers learn how to break apart suits, and in how with they dress themselves.
“We built up the store to be something for everyone, at every price point and really educate customers on how to mix things up,” DeLeon said. “Guys shop visually and they need to see how to mix brands, colors and patterns.”
The influence of employees is not to be undervalued. The MartinPatrick3 staff is encouraged to dress as they please, meaning a variety of personal styles customers might identify with are seen on the shop floor.
“It allows your employees to be super comfortable in what they’re doing,” DeLeon said. “It shows their sense of style and validates what they’re doing.”