It might have been removed from the basket of goods used to calculate the UK’s annual inflation rate but that does not mean the suit is dead. If it really were the death knell for the staple of men’s business attire then surely the Office for National Statistics would have replaced it with some tracksuit bottoms or even some shorts? Instead, what’s taken its place is “a formal jacket or blazer”. It is an admission that these two very strange years of pandemic living have altered our daily sartorial habits but not transformed them completely.
As offices vacated and many of us adapted to working from home, a clear shift to “top-down dressing” emerged (remember the “Zoom shirt”?). But when the government dispensed with Covid restrictions, a return to the workplace forced us to dust off our commuting wear and re-evaluate our wardrobes in a fresh light. The transition from elasticated waistbands and Uggs to formal trousers and brogues has been a tricky one, however, and most of us are navigating our new style somewhere in between.
A year ago, Marks & Spencer produced a range of “semi suits” featuring the kind of stretchy fabric one might associate with sports attire. At the time, the head of menswear design told me: “Customers are looking for hybrid pieces that are smart enough to wear into the office but still offer the comfort and relaxed style that they have been accustomed to.”
I think, one year on, this remains the case. Office workers still long for the comfort of their work-from-home wardrobe but equally desire options that give off an air of professionalism. It’s a “casualisation” of our wardrobe that’s not casual at all. Indeed, the current definitions of “hybrid dressing” and “casualisation” have nothing to do with the “smart casual” of the past (with all its associations of provincial restrictiveness and slovenliness). Instead, it is about simply dialling down the strict boundaries between what’s considered formal wear and what’s not.
More so than No Time To Die or Peaky Blinders, Sunday night’s Baftas were a good bellwether for the suit. Stars turned out in a mix of the traditional (Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston in classic cuts) and the new (Questlove in a robe and Crocs, Daniel Kaluuya wearing those turquoise furry armbands from Prada), which suggests the suit is now more “concept” than time-honoured. It’s a concept that forces its wearer to be inventive and express themselves.
The suit in all its forms isn’t dead; it is, in fact, thriving. So let’s take our “formal jacket or blazer” and get creative.