It would be too much to say that the suit is dead, but here in San Francisco, you’d struggle to find occasions to wear one. More and more people nowadays are dressing down for the office, even in industries where client-facing interactions have historically required more professional wear. My prediction is, in another generation or so, dark suits will only live on through weddings and funerals – the last places for traditional clothing in any society.
My solution so far has been to rely on sport coats, or at least informal suits made from casual materials (e.g. cotton, linen, and corduroy – which, if I were to be honest, are mostly worn as suit separates). Even if a dark suit today is a rare sight, few people bat an eye at more casual forms of tailoring. You can wear a sport coat to a nice bar or restaurant, or depending on where you work, even the office.
The problem is that none of those options really look as good as a traditional two-piece, so this year I’m hoping to get what I call an “in-between” suit – something smarter than a sport coat, but more casual than traditional business dress. Bold, patterned flannel is nice for this sort of thing, but I’m hoping to start off with wool gabardine.
Wool gabardine is a tightly woven twill. From any more than a few inches away, you can barely make out the ribs, which is why it appears like a solid plain weave from a distance. It’s a wonderful, workhorse fabric from a time when men used to wear tailoring much more often. Gabardine drapes like nothing else, stretches where you need, and has a wonderful, almost silky hand. Best of all, it has a certain spring-back quality that helps it resist wrinkles and retain its original shape.
It does have two limitations. First, it’s a shoulder season cloth, which means it helps you stay cool in the spring and warm in the fall. As a lightweight twill, however, it’s neither breathable nor heavy enough for summer or winter wear.
Secondly, even in casual colors such as tan or olive, the fabric is too silky and smooth for suit separates. Old issues of Apparel Arts sometimes showed men wearing tan gabardine sport coats with grey flannel trousers in the 1930s, but I think the combination looks odd today. Colin Heywood, Managing Director at Anderson & Sheppard, also tells me some of his clients use the fabric for brass button blazers, but it’s rare. That said, wool gabardine trousers are wonderful on their own – especially in the warmer months – which is a reason enough to get two pairs if you’re buying a suit.
I’m having a tan, wool gabardine suit made at the moment through Steed. Two button, notch lapel, single breasted jacket with dual vents and flapped pockets. Even if the jacket can’t be worn on its own, I suspect this will be one of my more versatile suits. It can be paired with a white broadcloth shirt and black, silk repp tie for something that looks polished; or with an open-collared shirt and a thin, calkskin belt for something more dressed down. For shoes, the suit should go wonderfully with suede Norwegian split toes, tassel loafers, or penny loafers. Nice for casual city wear when linen or cotton looks too rumply. Basically an “in-between suit.”
Pictured below: some tan gabardine suits I used as inspiration for this commission (as well as some things that aren’t gabardine, but are close enough). Towards the end, you’ll also find some examples of Solaro suits, which are a reddish herringbone cousin to solid-colored wool gab).