This may stem from my natural contrarianism, but I’ve never been enamored of unstructured tailoring. If I want to wear something soft and pliant over my oxford-cloth button down, I’ll reach for a sweater. The whole purpose of tailoring is to create that idealized masculine shape by accentuating the shoulders and minimizing the waist, which can only be done with canvassing, shoulder pads, and the rest of the stuffing that makes a suit jacket or sport coat a three-dimensional object.
Under this philosophy, unstructured suits were neither fish nor fowl. They wouldn’t look right paired to a proper dress shirt and a tie but had enough traditional dressings to attract quires of “why are you so dressed up?”
Most importantly, they failed the “where would you wear it?” test. Job interview? Certainly not. Funeral? It goes without saying. Wedding? Well, maybe if it’s “creative cocktail,” and held in a combination reclaimed barn/gin distillery in Vermont.
But in the last year or so, a new crop of unstructured suiting has emerged that—crucially—is self-aware about not being a traditional suit. I’m not sure what you’d call them, but for the purposes of easy categorization, I’ll dub them “post-suit suits” (to be clear: the traditional suit is not dead and does not deserve to be).
An early leader in the category are the “Games” suits from Drake’s, which have been around long enough for the English label to introduce four models. Each has its differences, but they’re united in being unlined and unstructured, bereft of cuff buttons or vents, loaded up the wazoo with patch pockets, and tailored from casual materials like cotton-hemp or seersucker. They’re also a touch shorter in length and boxier in the body than the typical Drake’s block. Meanwhile, the accompanying trousers are essentially fancy chinos with a single pleat and both belt loops and side-adjuster buttons.
Elsewhere, recent Ralph Lauren collections have included shirt jackets made from traditional suiting cloth paired to matching trousers. This past fall/winter season saw a “Suit Jacket” made from English herringbone tweed was most definitely not a suit jacket by virtue of its shirt jacket construction, short lapel line, and buttoned barrel cuffs. I was also tempted by their Corduroy Utility Suit Jacket, which was basically a Vietnam-era jungle jacket made from corduroy and turned into a suit separate. That same martial inspiration seems to have struck Todd Snyder, who made matching trousers for a whipcord piece based on a vintage military field jacket.
The latest—and perhaps most momentous—development comes from J. Crew, which did so much to get young men back into suiting when its Ludlow line debuted at the tail-end of the Mad Men craze. Their spring lookbook launched a workwear-style garment-dyed cotton-linen suit jacket and matching pants in coordinating shades of navy, khaki, and caramel. While the navy and khaki are quite nice, it’s that caramel that catches my attention precisely because it announces itself a non-suit suit with the upmost confidence.
Which brings us to our conclusion. This diverse generation of unstructured suiting succeeds because it knows what it is not: the 9-to-5 suit. What exactly the post-suit suit is meant to be—and where we are meant to wear it—is still up for grabs, but that’s all part of the fun.