Men's clothing can be confusing. The wide variety of makes, cuts, weaves, and patterns presents an enigma to the prospective buyer of a suit. As a result, he will often remain in a rut. Yet, with a little background, the uninitiated can differentiate quality products from inferior ones and can select clothes that are both smart and congenial.
First of all, the erroneous preconceptions of the Ivy League look must be erased. "Ivy League" refers to a bastardized version of the natural shoulder model, first produced on a mass scale about 1938. Prior to that time, only Brooks Brothers and J. Press promoted the natural shoulder. These stores derived the Ivy look from the five button suits with narrow lapels worn by fashionable late Victorians in the 1890's. Since 1950, the natural shoulder model has changed little with the exception of narrower lapels, shorter coats, and slimmer trousers.
Warwick vs. Andover
There are two distinct models of the natural shoulder with gradations in between. The Warwick model, as one manufacturer calls it, has a high and not overly narrow lapel, a rounded bottom to the jacket, and the first button is set slightly above the pocket.
On the Andover model the buttons begin lower, the lapel is longer and narrower, and the cut of the bottom of the jacket is squarer, giving a less sporty look than the Warwick suit.
Both styles omit waist suppression, narrowing the middle by darts over the side pockets. Unpleated trousers are an important concomitant of the natural shoulder look.
Worn by about nine out of ten Harvard men, the Ivy look is smart and trim. It is supposed to make a man look masculine without the phoniness of padding. However, these effects are attained only by wearing a natural shoulder model which suits you. The Warwick model is slightly clubbier than the Andover model which hints of Madison Avenue. Both are appropriate for almost every occasion the college man encounters.
For dressier wear, however, some men like a suit along the lines of JFK's semi-lounge model (two buttons, longer lapels, some waist suppression, and a bit more shoulder padding). Either the Warwick or Andover models are far better for the occasional suit buyer with a limited amount of interest, time, and money.
Hobsack and Tweeds
A coarse material from England called hopsack will be important again this season. It is woven from a six-ply yarn rather than the two-ply yarn used in most cloth, making a loose but warm weave.
Another popular fabric -- a rich tweed -- comes from the improbably isle of Skye off the Scottish coast. Supposedly this tweed is hand woven on cottage looms, and hence is more "authentic" than the Harris tweed it resembles. Synthetic blends such as sharkskin, and stretch materials have gained popularity because they shed wrinkles and fit smooth.
Colors will be lighter this season. Charcoal is giving way to dark gray, and even light gray. "Bottle green," possibly named after the shade of English beer bottles, promises to be popular for blazers, and there are indications a reddish maroon called cranberry will also find favor. Blue, especially in tweeds, will appear frequently.
Double-breasted blazers, long popular with the international sporting crowd, have not yet made their mark on ivy-laden New England. About 1950 the double breasted suit died, and only a handful of avant-garde types around here have recently picked it up again.
Back to Bogie
Prior to the natural shoulder suit, the draped look or "lounge suit" enjoyed popularity. Considerably padded shoulders, waist suppression, and a jacket length a little longer than is now in vogue were its most prominent features. Wide, pleated, and cuffed pants also characterized this look, now to be seen only during exam period in Bogie flicks.
The English coat combines features of the "lounge suit," such as waist suppression, flared bottoms, and wide pleated trousers with tastefully narrow, almost natural shoulders. The supposedly widespread appeal of the English look comes from its narrow lapels and association with tweeds.
On the whole there is very little inspiration in British menswear. Three manufacturers produce about 90% of the garments, and little variation appears from year to year. Superior, richer fabrics enhance English coats, regardless of the style, and their suits no longer sport baggy trousers.
The Italian suit, a forcrunner of the continental look, is more fitted in shape. Its coat is a version of the in shape. Its coat is a version of the British model in lighter, less rich materials. The Italian suit was a flop here.
The continental look launched five years ago never got off the ground beyond Madison Avenue which endorses this narrow, narrow look. Similar to the English coat, but shorter and boxier in appearance, it is otherwise chiefly distinguishable by its slanted pockets, and ultra slender appearance, and fabric.
You need not be wealthy to dress well, and of course, you need not be "in style" to be successful. With both money and interest you will certainly dress fashionably. But if you have neither, yet you care, the best thing to do is to take along a sartorially inclined girl when you go shopping.