17 December 2012


Last year, I acquired this glen check suit with light blue overcheck in a soft wool and cashmere blend by Hickey Freeman through one of my by now notorious trades with the venerable Mr. De Luca of Newton Street Vintage:
I'd wanted a good glen check suit for some time, and this one had a nice scale to it. Large enough to be prominent, small enough to appear as pale grey flannel from a distance of ten feet. I like glen checks best with an overcheck. In the old days I was certain only red would do, but blue is much more understated and workable. Brings the possibility of navy ties into the picture, despite the general black and with nature of the suit.

A suit like this is what I might call an "extra suit" in that it should really only find its place in a man's wardrobe well after he's acquired suits in navy, charcoal, and perhaps the same with some sort of stripes. For someone like me who never really needs so mach as a tie, let alone a suit, it could be better called an unnecessary frivolity. But so be it.  Oddly, in its way it's more useful to me than a navy or grey suit. Given its more casual connotations, it reads less like a business suit and as such feels more comfortable when worn for its own sake. Besides, dare I say it, it actually works as well as (gasp) two separate pieces as it does a suit. I wouldn't give such grotesquely incorrect advice lightly, so please allow me to explain.

For starters, we can see that the suit works quite well in its complete form. It is well constructed with a soft three button stance, darted front, moderate shoulders and side vents, with forward pleated trousers. This gives it just the level of formality that a suit should have.Sharp enough to be worn "in town" (as though that mattered anymore) but not so stiff as to be bound only for business meetings. In this photo, the camera is set about ten feet back, and the glen check pattern so obvious in the first photo is muted from this distance. True, the right sleeve could be a whiff longer, but let's not pick nits.

The trousers work just as well on their own with a vintage varsity cardigan in a big cut with shawl collar. A navy or black jacket would go just as well for a slightly dressier look, while a heavy black turtleneck sweater would be more casual. True, these trousers are half a suit, but glen check trousers are frequently seen alone as a single garment in their own right. As a side note, for men who actually work in businesses that require suits this look works quite well in the privacy on the office. Wear the suit on the commute, with clients, and at board meetings, keep the cardigan in the office for greater comfort while working behind closed doors.

No problem wearing a solo glen check jacket either, especially with dark grey flannels, aka "the pants that go with everything". Like the trousers, glen check jackets exist alone too, and a light grey jacket is something unexpected these days, though still quite correct. Even my nemesis agrees. A younger man could wear this jacket quite well with dark jeans and a crisp shirt, sans tie. Navy pants, never a favorite of mine, would work too. Just don't pair it with black pants. In fact, unless you're in a tux, don't wear black pants...ever.

This approach doesn't work for most suits, as the separate pieces will always look like just that, pieces separate from their counterparts. Stripes are the most glaring example, but I find a separate navy or charcoal jacket just as orphaned looking. Glen checks, being more about pattern and texture, get a pass, if you're careful and you can pull it off. Go halfsies with a suit like this, and you might get three outfits in one.


Young Fogey said...

Excellent. Patterned and/or textured suits (like this one; also tweed and poplin, but not, as you said, stripes) are the only ones that can possibly be broken up successfully, and you show how to make that work well—as usual.

Like you, I think a blue overcheck is preferable to red, but that's a personal preference and nothing more.

Why, though, are you so down on navy pants? Incidentally, the guy who runs Ivy Style says he has an allergy to them—is disliking navy pants an East Coast thing?

Felix said...

I love the picture with the cardigan and the pants. What a great look!

Roger v.d. Velde said...

Jolly good article and entirely true. Glen check suits even have an edge over a split tweed suit since although a tweed, o heavier wool suit is very versatile, hardly anyone has one anymore and they are almost none existent these days unless you bespeak one.

Good urqharts are not exactly everywhere, but they can be had much more easily.

NCJack said...

Have about that same suit, but a 3P Southwick, that I got from AAAC Trad Thrift. Not your killer deals, but a good one. And , yes, I split it up, and get compliments on the separates.

Young Fogey said...

Hmm. I need to qualify my comment slightly.

There are stripes, and then there are stripes. A seersucker suit can be broken up (its texture and fabric make it OK), but I wouldn't recommend breaking up a worsted pinstripe or a flannel chalk stripe.

BlueTrain said...

Ah! Someone else likes glen plaids, as I call them. I still have one from about 20 years ago but unfortunatly, the jacket no longer fits. I had the waist let out in the pants but they really don't work on their own, in my opinion.

I will agree with Mr Velde that a tweed suit is versatile, provided you have one in a suitable weight. However, you are correct in that they are unfindable these days, just like vests that came with a suit (along with a second pair of pants). I might add that suits in lighter colors also seem to be a thing of the past, even for summer weight suits, not that I wear such things anymore.

Yet another versatile garment that no longer seems to be available are really decent poplin wash and wear pants in navy and various tans. I don't believe good ones have been available for 40 years--and yes, I'm dating myself. But then I think a pair of black trousers works very well with certain tweed jackets, so what do I know?

Young Fogey said...


Please, put down the black pants, before we have to stage an intervention.

BlueTrain said...

Well, now! My black pants never let me down and I'm not going to let them down!