Most men in the Western world have a weird, binary relationship with their clothing. They essentially see something as either dressed up or dressed down. We’ve already started to tackle this a bit talking about High/Low and how you can incorporate different elements of high style and low style together to create a unique look that is neither formal nor casual.
Here’s a good break down of what the scale really looks like.
As you can tell, most guys are happy to live in the land of the casual. In fact, getting most Western men to even venture into High/Low territory is like pulling teeth at first. The tragedy is that they’re still missing half of the scale of wearable clothing. You may not wear a tuxedo more than a couple of times a year (if that) and a business suit is styled and designed to typically stay in the business world.
As you can tell by what I’ve emphasized, today I want to focus on the casual suit. I know that sounds like an oxymoron but it does exist, and it’s a great way to step up your style game and set yourself apart from all the AFC’s of the world.
Spring and summer are the perfect time to start wearing a casual suit because warm-weather-specific materials tend to skew a bit more casual. Here’s what separates a casual suit from its formal and business brothers.
For casual suits you will want to avoid anything with too much sheen or too tight a weave. The more luxurious the fabric appears, the more formal it’s going to be. Warm-weather materials like cotton and linen provide great texture with a more open weave.
If you’re opting for wool, you’ll want to look for yarn-died instead of piece-died fabrics. The difference is when the wool itself is died. As I’m sure you can surmise, yarn-died wool is woven after the individual threads are colored, whereas piece died wool is woven into the cloth and then died as an entire piece. Yarn-died wools have more visual texture and variety, making them more appropriate for a casual suit.
The less structure your jacket has, the more casual it will be. There are three primary areas in which this can happen – the chest construction, the lining, and the shoulder construction. The most formal is a full, half-floating canvas with full shoulder pads and a full lining. The most casual is and unstructured chest with no shoulder pads and no lining.
Not only does this allow the jacket to look more casual, it also helps it breathe better (making it wear cooler in the warm weather) and makes it easier to travel with. An unstructured jacket is one that can be crumpled up like a shirt without the worry of damaging the lining, canvas, or jacket shape.
There are a few things on a jacket that make it appear more casual. You will want to find something with notch lapels instead of peak, a single vent instead of double, patch pockets instead of flaps, and no ticket pocket. The most casual suit will take advantage of all these details but you can mix and match them for the desired effect.
Color and Pattern
Unusual colors and/or bold patterns will dress down a suit. The exception to this is vertical stripes (pin, chalk, etc.) as they are too entrenched in the business world to appear casual. Large window-pane patterns are making a serious comeback and are a great way to embrace the nonchalant attitude of a casual suit.
On more casual suits everything is smaller. This can be slimmer fits, shorter jacket lengths, smaller lapels, shorter trouser breaks, and shorter sleeves. You don’t want to get too crazy but embracing just a bit of the too-small aesthetic will help communicate that this suit is intended for casual purposes.
Once you have the suit you can embrace more casual aspects of the rest of your wardrobe. Wear loafers or monk straps and go sockless, ditch the tie or even wear the jacket with a T-shirt, embrace louder shirts, ties, belts, and socks.
The purpose of the casual suit is to make you look like a rake. There’s nothing rugged or refined about it so you’ll need to have the go-to-hell attitude that comes with a rakish appearance. Wear the suit together or separate the jacket and pants into separates. You should be getting some serious use out of a casual suit and can wear it for something as mundane as a trip to the grocery store on Saturday morning. By getting comfortable in a casual suit, you’re communicating that your standard of dress is higher and better defined than that of the men around you.
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