The hot ticket this week is the V&A’s new show, Fashioning Masculinities: the Art of Menswear. I am very keen to get to the opening party — the V&A director, Tristram Hunt, is always nicely turned out, but the real treat will be to see what Edward Enninful, British Vogue editor, wears on the night.
There are all sorts of offbeat takes on menswear on show but the reality is that the sartorial summit for men is the suit. A two-piece tailored suit. Simple, but perfect; the most understated clothing imaginable but, at its best, transformative. And it is something that London does better than anywhere else on earth. If you want effortless perfection in the art and craft of tailoring, it has a local habitation and name, and it’s Savile Row.
And yet, the tragedy is that men are turning their backs on what is one of the high points of civilisation. The clever clogses at the Office for National Statistics who think up the basket of goods used to measure the cost of living have dropped the suit all together. Apparently men took to casualwear during lockdown. But the rot set in before that; in the past five years, sales of men’s suits fell from 4.3 million a year to fewer than two million last year. It was news when M&S dropped men’s suits from several stores.
This is nuts. Men, in any kind of formal setting, just look better in a suit. It conveys authority and respect. And it’s effortless. When they get up in the morning, they don’t have to worry about what goes with what. Step into a suit and bingo, you’re all set for the day. Barack Obama, allowed himself two sorts of suit to dispense with the agonies of choice. Once he had decided which he was wearing that day, he was freed up to run the country. And to choose his tie. Compare and contrast with Emmanuel Macron who is channelling something very weird because he’s appearing in public in a hoodie. I ask you. There is war in Europe, and he’s in a hoodie? We want authority, not leisurewear.
Granted, the suit as we know it is not men’s most exciting moment historically. The V&A show has a fabulous painting of Charles II in standard 17th century dress: acres of silk and big bows on his shoes. But the suit nonetheless has a quiet elegance which men should not give up lightly. There is no such thing as environmentally unfriendly fast fashion when it comes to suits. You can wear your father’s. Those suits suit you, sirs.