Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891


Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

How To Be Lovely: How To Wear A Suit Part 1

Penned upon the 26th of April, 2008

This is a guide for all those men out there who don’t usually dress up, but want to. Why? Because I’ve been researching clothing history for years, and suits are still frankly BAFFLING. Suits are weird! Guides to wearing suits already exist on the net, of course, but they usually say things like “a navy pinstripe suit creates a timeless air suitable for any gentleman” and then you see the page happens to be selling navy pinstripe suits this season; WHAT A COINCIDENCE. So, this is is a no-nonsense how-to for the bewildered.

To understand the idiosyncrasies of the suit, it helps to know its history. Through the nineteenth century, when upper- and middle-class men dressed for work, they wore long coats, with trousers in a different cloth. These coats are different to modern overcoats, but there’s enough to discuss there for another how-to altogether. Shorter coats were increasingly worn by workmen and for sport, and, by the twenties, short coats with matching trousers had become the norm for everyday wear.

That’s more than a hundred years of the one item of clothing being in fashion, so it’s not surprising that some weird trends, rules and customs have appeared along the way. Fit, for instance; it’s actually hard to define exactly how a suit should fit, because it’s so tied to your individual shape and size. A few base standards can be established. The trousers should be short enough that they only crease (‘break’) at the ankles a little when worn, if at all. The sleeves shouldn’t intrude on the hands. If creases appear when the coat is buttoned that aren’t there when it’s open, it’s probably too tight around the body. If it fits smooth, it’s probably all right.

Jackets come in two styles: single-breasted and double-breasted. Single-breasted jackets have one row of buttons at the front, like most anything – by far the most common style. Double-breasted jackets have two rows, and are a bit tricky to figure out until you mess with one up close. Usually, the row on the left is ornamental. The left side overlaps the right, fastening with an internal button, and the buttons on the right do up like a single-breasted.

Which buttons to actually fasten is one of the stranger problems you’ll find. The bottom button on a single-breasted jacket is almost never supposed to be done up. This isn’t just an affectation – the jacket is actually sewn so that, if you do up that button, it won’t fit. Why? Because it’s craaazy! Legend has it that King Edward VII invented the fashion, because he was so extraordinarily fat that he couldn’t get that button closed anyway. Is it true? Who knows! Suits from the late 19th century show every style of buttoning used – all buttons, just the top ones, just the bottom ones, none at all! – so it seems it was once quite experimental but has since been standardised. You still see jackets which fasten all the way down, but if you have one, you’ll know about it – it will be a special piece.

If you’re considering the multitudinous merits of a waistcoat, a good fit is still important. A waistcoat should sit smoothly and snugly around the body, without folds or ripples appearing – especially around the armholes and the waistline. Most waistcoats have a strap you can adjust at the back, but that’s just for fine-tuning – it can’t make a good fit out of a bad one! You might want to hold your trousers up with braces rather than a belt, so that your waistcoat doesn’t get all bumpy. Don’t worry – even if your trousers don’t have buttons for braces, it’s genuinely the work of a moment to sew them on. Finally, I can’t force you to wear your trousers so that the waistcoat covers up their waistline, but it does look so much better!

Well, that’s Part 1 of How To Wear A Suit for beginners! Best of luck and keep and eye for Part 2!

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Commentary upon “How To Be Lovely: How To Wear A Suit Part 1”

  1. Nathan was heard to remark,

    Upon the 26th of April, 2008 at 12:19 pm,

    This is indeed a valuable service.

  2. Sir Frederick Chook was heard to remark,

    Upon the 6th of May, 2008 at 2:01 am,

    Thank you, sir!

Further remarks are not permitted.