19 October 2013

Reader Questions: The Middle Ground

Reader Rob writes:

Hi Giuseppe,
I've been reading your blog for at least a couple years now and I have to say I am still mystified by suits.  I think mainly from a lack of hands on experience.  I do my best to make a decent appearance, despite being a chronically underemployed recent college grad, but I the only real occasion to wear my solitary suit is funerals. 

What really has me stumped is the fit/cut trends.  I'd really like a well fitting conservative suit, but all I seem to see is the shapeless suits all the dads wore when I was a kid in the 90s and the ultraslim/too small fit that's currently trendy.  What do I need to look for or ask for to get at that middle ground?  Can you give me a rundown of the general evolution of these trends over the decades that I'd be likely to see thrifting? 

Rob's question speaks to on of the core issues that faces those of us who favor classic clothing when out thrift shopping : the avoidance of overt trend and fashion. This is true for wearers of classic styles who shop new as well, but doubly so in the world of thrift shopping as the fashions and trends one encounters are dated and passe. The photo above is a good example, showing many of the late 1980s styles that are currently represent a large portion of whats available second hand these days. Big shoulders, low button stance, and lots of pleats. It can be tricky finding something that works for you in such circumstances, but not impossible.

Truthfully, thrift stores can contain a wide range of cuts and styles from different decades. Trim cut 1960s jackets with razor thin lapels share space with broad lapeled polyester pieces from the 1970s , big shouldered 1980s clothes, bad full cut 1990s things, and even newer stuff. And a lot, if not most of it, is bad leftover stuff that wasn't good in the first place. So how does one find the middle ground between the too tight, too short, too small look of today and the "boxy" old stuff in the thrift shop.

As with so many questions in menswear, it all comes down to finding a good tailor. When you search the thrift shops, look for suits made of quality cloth in conservative colors like navy or grey with a moderate lapel. Knowing good brands is helpful, but not necessary. Remember that a good suit is a good suit, regardless of band, as much as a brand name can trick you into accepting something of lesser overall quality. Some of the best stuff to be had in a thrift store originally came from small local men's shops you may never have heard of. Try them on until you find one that fits well across the shoulders and chest, then have a good tailor alter them, taking in the sides if necessary and removing some of that undesirable boxiness. It will cost extra, but in the end you will have a better fitting good suit for a fraction of the cost of a new one. And don;t forget, some what we now call "boxiness" may actually just be proper shape. In our current climate of too small/too tight, anything with breathing room can look baggy. Being comfortable always looks better than holding in your breath.

Above all, be persistent. Thrift shopping well takes time and determination, but the payoff, when it comes, is always worth it.


James Redhouse said...

"what we now call "boxiness" may actually just be proper shape"

Hear! Hear!

Rob said...

Thanks for getting to this. I thought my hands were completely tied when it came to the style/shape of the jacket. I've honestly never been to a tailor (menswear foul) because my funeral suit seems to be a very good off the rack fit. I knew they could take the waist in and hem the sleeves shorter, but never thought they could work any more magic on the shape of the garment. I'll have to keep my ears open for recommendations.

As a side note, after emailing you I found a very nice Harris tweed sport coat from a local menswear store that probably went out of business 20 years ago at a rescue mission in my size, with an orange tag on 50% off day too. It does happen to be for a Halloween costume, like your newest post, but it fits great across the chest and shoulders and I'll definitely be wearing it day to day after the parties are over.