Every day, you are more and more numerous to read these pages ; people of every age group, sharing a passion for men's style.
Discovering classic men's style was a shock for me, and I'm pretty sure I'm not only speaking for myself here. A few simple notions and a little education on the matter is all it takes to do wonders for the image of oneself. This, in turn has, a tremendous impact on one's self-confidence, and indeed, on one's existence.
But quickly, past the initial "sartorial revelation" phase, coupled with – perhaps – the emotion of wearing for the first time, a properly cut suit, comes the crucial question : how to build a wardrobe worthy of one's newfound ambitions ?
This is, by the way, a fairly interesting part of the process, as it has the peculiarity of concerning everyone – from the young 20 something looking to buy his first "adult" suit, to the seasoned businessman sitting on top of an already sizable wardrobe, which was, unfortunately, all too often acquired with little to no education. Almost invariably, the answer is the same : you will have to start (perhaps over again) from scratch.
Bad puns aside, this is the price to pay for gentlemen who have recently became passionate about well-made clothes. This often comes at the added price of realizing that the vast majority of one's suits (yes, even those bought by your lovely spouse) are either cheaply fused, too large, badly cut, or any combination of the previous.
But worry not ! As even if building a new wardrobe from scratch may take some time (and money), it is not a herculean task, far from it -- especially not for the discerning gentleman who takes time to educate himself, whether in these pages or elsewhere.
One should also keep in mind that there are no cookie-cutter "ideal" wardrobes. Your wardrobe should suit your own lifestyle, profession, and geographical location (you won't dress the same if you live in St. Petersburg versus Miami).
So, as an introduction to this whole wardrobe conundrum, I will try to provide a few pointers and tips by taking for example a wardrobe I know perfectly ; that is, my own. For one, I do think it illustrates the subject fairly well, and second, I studied the topic in sufficient lengths to be able to extract a few basic principles from my own experience.
Contrary to what some of you might think, my wardrobe isn't overflowing with suits and jackets. Instead, it consists of a "modest" fifteen-ish high-end outfits, including eight bespoke suits.
These eight bespoke pieces all come from the Cifonelli House, and have been built over the course of five years of work and patience. These staples are the basis of my wardrobe. Each suit is the fruit of a long reflection process involving my tailor and myself. As such, I think it might be interesting for some of you to take inspiration from the few broad principles that guided my choices. I would think that the order in which I acquired those suits is particularly worth looking at.
Of course, bear in mind that most of what I'll expose here concerns the type of suits I chose, that is, in terms of color and cuts, not in terms of quality of make. The following principles are easily, and indeed, should especially be applied to ready-to-wear.
The bespoke part of my wardrobe consists – as of today – of six city suits, a sports jacket, and a black-tie suit (work-in-progress). This year will probably see the addition of a summer suit in light wool, as well as a second sport jacket.
Owning eight suits (including a summer suit and a formal suit) and two sport jackets seems like a good objective for whomever seeks to build a solid wardrobe, and by solid I mean elegant, adaptable, and durable. Ten outfits make for a very reasonable number to own for a person who wishes to dress bespoke only.
I started my own quest in 2008 and after many months of studying the subject in depth, I decided to go straight for bespoke tailoring as a way to bet on extreme quality over quantity, from the get-go.
At the time this started my own "sartorial revolution" period, I owned a very standard wardrobe, made of a fair number of fused suits from famous brands. After studying the subject in length, I decided to get rid of all of my suits except one – including suits from very reputable names.
The only suit that survived the purge as I started building my new wardrobe was a Smalto suit. A nice navy blue suit from the Francesco Smalto range (at the time the high-end of RTW), half-canvassed, and whose cut and overall feel holds up honorably even to this day.
After discussing the options at length with Lorenzo Cifonelli, I decided to start with the basics... that is, with the quintessential "classic" suit ; the medium grey suit, single breasted, two buttons, super 110s wool and cashmere.
I went for plain medium grey, which remains in my opinion the most versatile color in existence : not dark enough to be fully formal, yet not light enough to be completely casual either.
The end result is a beautifully timeless piece that recently celebrated its fifth birthday and is still one of the suits I wear the most throughout the year.
A piece that I consider to be the perfect first suit to start building a collection upon.
For my second suit, I chose another great classic of men's style ; the navy blue double-breasted suit.
I went for a classic 6 on 2 version (that is, six buttons but only two are functionnal) in a rather thick super 110s wool (for a perfect drape). This piece is rather formal, especially when compared to my first suit.
I also decided to go for a small twist by avoiding flap pockets in favor of welt pockets, which is rather unusual on double-breasted suits.
The result is an immaculate piece, simplified to the extreme, with large and generous lapels and a wonderful drape.
Unless you tend to be a little too portly at the moment, the double-breasted suit is a must-have in every wardrobe. A very quintessential piece as well.
With those first two suits only, I am already able to face with elegance and discretion the vast majority of the situations and occasions that my personal or professional life will throw in my direction. Now, with the basics solidly covered, I decided, for my third suit, to go with something a bit more daring...
With this suit, I started making more sophisticated and personal stylistic choices. Enter the single-breasted, three-piece with a six-button double-breasted vest, super 120s wool with houndstooth pattern suit.
I decided to go for peak lapels as opposed to the more frequently seen (on single breasted suits at least) notch lapels, as I do think it adds that little extra bit of personal flair to the outfit.
The end result is a suit full of personality, with endless lapels and a very small chest area, easily worn with or without a vest. My first truly "personal" suit.
Now with three suits, not only was I safe no matter the situation, but since this suit can be worn with or without a waistcoat, the overall number of options available to me also sensibly increased.
For my next piece, I decided that it would be a perfect time to start looking at sport jackets, to further increase the possibilities of my then-blossoming wardrobe...
Now the proud owner of three beautiful suits that cover brilliantly the three main classifications of men's suit design (single-breasted, double-breasted and three-piece), I moved on to the much less codified territory of sports jackets.
The reason why I didn't go for a true black-tie piece is simple ; it just didn't make much sense to me to get a formal suit just yet. I wanted to have at least a couple of more suits that would further expand my options for everyday wear. So, I opted for a very stylized jacket that would be able to double as a formal jacket from time to time. The end result was a light grey jacket, half-lined, with only one button, and wide braided lapels in a contrasting dark grey hue (from the same fabric as the jacket itself), along with braided no-button cuffs and patch pockets.
A rather unusual jacket that proved to be extremely versatile indeed ; as easily worn on with pair of selvedge jeans as with a pair of grey flannel pants with cargo pockets, or even as a formal jacket with black pants for black-tie events.
With this jacket, I reached the stage where I'm in position to refine my tastes and preferences. And, with my first venture with double-breasted having been extremely convincing, I decided, for my next suit, to repeat the experience.
Borne from a need to balance my wardrobe in terms of seasonal wear, I opted for a lighter suit, as much in terms of color as in terms of weight. My choice for this piece was a super 130s with a very faded glen plaid pattern. The idea was to have a piece suitable for spring and -why not ? - for early summer.
A very classic construct all in all, with very generous peak lapels, a small chest area (a Cifonelli classic), and slightly slanted flap pockets.
It turned out to be a pretty good move ; without being a bona fide summer jacket (like those in seersucker or Solaro), this very light double-breasted piece proved very useful for my travels to hot places (Dubai and Hong Kong specifically).
Now, owning a wardrobe that consists of two single-breasted suits (including one with a double-breasted vest), two double-breasted suits and a single-breasted sport jacket, I decided to balance my collection a by adding another three-piece suit to it.
Having noticed the very positive impact that one-button coats have on my frame and silhouette, I settled on a one-button version of a three-piece suit with a double-breasted vest.
Cut from a sublime blend of blue super 120s wool and cashmere with herringbone fabric, this suit presents high notches on the lapels, sitting almost at shoulder level. As I stand slightly below 5 foot 11", I very quickly realized that putting emphasis on vertical lines, lengthens the silhouette, with higher lapel notches being particularly efficient at that.
A very sharp piece, naturally flamboyant that I tend to wear only on very dressy occasions, even though it can be worn more discreetly by losing the vest.
For the very symbolic 7th outfit – the one that would theoretically allow one to wear a different bespoke suit each day of the week – I chose to go all-in and affirm my personal style and tastes with a third double-breasted suit...with a twist.
This seventh suit was a particularly personal one for me ; it was the sum of my tastes and stylistic choices. It took me five years and seven bespoke pieces to reach that state, where each suit becomes a direct reflection of your personality ; a canvas on which you can express yourself.
For this seventh suit, I opted for a more flamboyant piece. This being, the first-in-my-life decision to commission a 6 on 1 (six buttons, with only one actually buttoning), with extremely wide and round lapels, covering almost all of the chest area.
As usual, I went for flap-less welt pockets, in an effort to keep the line as immaculate as possible. I must admit particularly liking the Cifonelli take on the 6 on 1, as it puts the only active button just high enough to preserve the overall balance of the coat.
With this seventh, very personal suit, I finally have the impression that my wardrobe is at a level lofty enough to cover every possible situation in life to a satisfying degree, all the while, striking a good balance between single-breasted, double-breasted, and three-piece suits.
I can now graduate to the next level, which consists of acquiring pieces meant for very specific uses, such as the black-tie and the summer suit.
This piece is meant to cover a part of my wardrobe that I can no longer afford to overlook : a black tie suit.
For this project, which I recently set into motion with Lorenzo Cifonelli, I chose to re-interpret my latest double-breasted suit (see above) with a more formal twist, using a sublime deep blue Barathea fabric from Vitale Barberis Canonico ; it will also feature silk lapels and welt pockets. I expect completion around February or March, 2014.
Of course, the choices I detailed above are highly subjective by nature, and are by no means meant to satisfy everyone. I am also fully aware that my collection still lacks some basic pieces, like a chalk-stripe suit or a windowpane suit, for that matter.
But be that as it may, I still hope that this article will be useful to some, if only to lend a bit of inspiration.
I wish you all the very best for 2014, in your quest for personal elegance and excellence,