Mark Twain once wrote: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” I feel the same way about the suit. Suits have been declared dead, or at the very least moribund, for decades. In the ’70s the threat came from polyester leisurewear. The ’90s saw the business casual revolution threatening a hostile takeover by khakis and polos. Most recently, the danger arrived in the form of a deadly and devastating invisible enemy. The pandemic upended everything, including the way we dress. Suits and formal attire languish in our closets as we embrace the cozy, comfy WFH uniform of sweatpants and t-shirts. We might dress up for a Zoom call in a polo shirt with a collar, but that was the about extent of sartorial style in lockdown.
At least it was for me until one day last week. For the first time since the pandemic hit New York City 13 months ago, I donned a suit and tie. I was going to visit some industry friends at an English haberdashery on Manhattan’s upper east side and decided to dress the part. I opened my closet and selected a much-missed old friend – a double-breasted, Fox Brothers worsted flannel, brown chalk stripe bespoke suit made for me a few years ago by my Savile Row trained English tailor, Mr. Brian Smith. Brian specializes in the soft, English drape cut that is so comfortable and easy to wear and has been making suits for me for more than a quarter of a century. Over the years, we have developed a close friendship and pre-pandemic, I enjoyed his unique, skilled craftsmanship on a daily basis in my career in men’s fashion. Now I was slowly emerging from hibernation in one of his beautifully cut, softly tailored suits.
I rode the bus to 72nd Street. I was walking towards the haberdashery when I noticed a man pointing at me and beaming. He was practically jumping up and down, and excitedly giving me the thumbs up. I thought I was the victim of a Borat prank. People were gathering around on the sidewalk and gawping as he shouted “Nice suit! Nice suit!” in a heavy accent. A similar scene played out in other places I visited thanks to totally random total strangers. An elderly woman in a coffee shop on the Upper East Side complimented my ensemble. A middle-aged man at a pharmacy in Washington Heights commented on such “great taste”. People were literally thanking me for taking the time to dress nicely. It was almost as if I was performing some kind of sartorial public service. It reminded me of a comment from Italy’s king of sophisticated, casual elegance, Brunello Cucinelli, in an interview I’d read earlier that day. He’d singled out one of his great style influences, saying “King Edward VIII believed in a certain pleasure in dressing well, and his taste is still recognizable.” That “certain pleasure in dressing well” is one I had forgotten until now.
Justin MacInerney is a men’s fashion and textiles consultant whose career includes roles at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Kiton, and HMS International Fabrics. He is based in New York.