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Looking the part on and off the job

Date

Natasha Hughes

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The humble suit still takes pride of place in the Australian style sphere, writes Natasha Hughes.

Comfortable and stylish ... Russell Howcroft.

Comfortable and stylish ... Russell Howcroft. Photo: Louie Douvis

Russel Howcroft is known for his good-humoured take on advertising as a panellist on The Gruen Transfer. He is also recognised for his suits, worn not only for his day job as the chief executive of Y&R Brands but every day, including weekends.

''It's not because of an over-the-top desire to be stylish - I wear them because I was taught to wear a suit as a nine-year-old and I don't know any different,'' the Melburnian says. ''It's how you're supposed to dress. I don't think it's particularly interesting. But it's comfortable. Terribly comfortable.''

Therein lies the secret shared by the suited - the professionals who want to look like professionals. Suits can be so flattering, so easy to wear and versatile, why would you wear anything else?

Fashion designer Arthur Galan says even as the workplace becomes more casual, more men and women are discovering that ''a suit can be a joy''.

''Whether you're big, small, tall or short, a suit improves your overall appearance. It's about feeling good,'' Galan says. ''Comfort is all.''

Rene Johnson, an executive headhunter , says for him it is a suit or boardshorts. ''I don't have a 'middle wardrobe'. Suits are fantastic. I've been wearing them for 30 years and they're like a uniform but … you can still have individuality.''

Howcroft favours any quality suit as long as it is grey, but Johnson, the principal of Pacific Search Partners, is very particular about his suits (and his 40-plus shirts and 120 ties). They must have double vents, a long-line jacket and be pinstriped in either navy and white or grey and white.

''I'm tall and I've got long arms. The department stores are for the 'average person' and for 'fashion', so I've had quite a few made. You don't have to spend a gazillion dollars - whether it's cashmere or a wool blend they all wear out - but it does have to fit properly.''

Fit is the crucial element to a successful suit, Galan says. ''The fit and construction - the way it is engineered - and the quality of fabric determines the way it looks and how it moulds to the body.

''A top-end quality wool gives a basic black suit a certain luxury, a little bit of polish, that will make a great quality garment one, two, three years down the track.''

His suits sell for about $800, the benchmark for a decent suit at Vogue and Jackson, a gentlemen's outfitter in Melbourne's Flinders Lane.

''Ignore the label, focus on the right colour, the right construction and the durability,'' Rick Miolo, the store's co-owner, says.

Miolo says that a ''no-brainer'' wardrobe for the discerning professional is three dark suits - a classic black, charcoal and navy - with no predominant check or line running through them, two trousers per suit, plus five to seven shirts. Ties are optional but ties should be matched to shirts not shirts to suits.

''Don't look at a suit as just a suit. Depending on the texture and fabric, it can be a blazer for jeans and it can be trousers with a shirt.''

Mark Daynes knows all about suit splitting. Since becoming the chief executive of Jeanswest nine months ago, the closest he gets to wearing a suit is teaming a suit jacket with ''smart-looking jeans''.

''The environment helps drive the choice of clothing. You've got to represent … the brand,'' Daynes, who spent happy suit-working decades at Target, Asda and Topshop, says.

''I'm the smartest [dressed] person in the office because I wear a shirt.''

His 300 ties might have been made redundant with his new position but he counsels erring on the side of formal in the world of business. ''You can't go wrong with a good suit.''

Howcroft says he was taught this from an early age by his maternal grandmother, a Nunn of the venerable Buckley & Nunn department store, which until the early 1980s outfitted Melbourne's finest families for 130 years. It was here that Howcroft was taken to be fitted for his first suit for school. ''What do I wear when I'm not wearing a suit? I don't know. I don't know if that makes me a tragic.''

16 comments

  • Someone commented yesterday on a place called Bespoked. I am checking them out tomorrow but $500 for a tailor made suits seems like a good deal. Hopefully they are good quality

    Commenter
    ahkw
    Date and time
    June 07, 2012, 11:36AM
    • Funny you mention this - I had 2 suits and 3 shirts made by the Bespoked guys last time they were in Sydney. Great result - the boss gets his suits tailor made for $3k a pop at some Sydney joint and people have asked if we get our suits at the same place.

      Commenter
      P. Prasad
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 07, 2012, 1:31PM
  • I won't deny that suits look great and some men wear them exceptionally well.

    But for every man who wears his suit well, there are 10 that have poorly hemmed trousers, a jacket that swims around them like a circus tent, and un-ironed shirt. A tie that is too short or too long.

    Most men these days do not know how to wear suits.

    As for them being COMFORTABLE, someone needs to share this secret of where to buy a comfortable suit? I would love to wear mine more if I felt anything akin to comfort in it.

    As it is, my neck constantly feels constrained every time I wear a tie, and a suit that LOOKS nice and fitted, often restricts movement, but a suit that feels comfortable looks like a clown's costume.

    End rant.

    Commenter
    Adrian
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    June 07, 2012, 11:36AM
    • Nice rant. A well made tailored suit (Or if you fit the perfect combination of height and width laid out by standard sizes) should account for all manner of personal elements of posture, size and shape. In having measurements done I've had things like the extent to which one slouches accounted for. They are incredibly comfortable when designed for you and probably look there best. Unfortunately, almost all of us are non-standard in one way or another.

      A three piece from Bespoked should be arriving in the next week. I'll let you know how it goes.

      Commenter
      Craigland
      Date and time
      June 07, 2012, 12:09PM
    • It doesn't help that (on the web site at least) they included a photo of someone who really don't look good in a suit.

      Personally I love suits because I look really good in them though I don't have a job at the moment that requires that I wear them (crazy IT industry).

      Personally my plan is to pick up a new tailored suit with each trip to Asia.

      Commenter
      Flingebunt
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      June 08, 2012, 9:13AM
    • Totally agree. I've never seen anyone look bad in a good suit; even fellows with an unfortunate body shape. It doesn't have to cost the earth but a cheap suit will always look like a cheap suit; they never look pressed. That is why the wearer looks uncomfortable in it. Cheap means sacrifice; inexpensive doesn't necessarily mean a loss of quality.
      I have has suits made at half the cost of big name, imported, off the rack jobs and they have fitted perfectly. It's all about confidence really. If you feel good in it you most likely will look good in it.

      Commenter
      crowsfeet
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      June 11, 2012, 8:48AM
  • I'm all for the suit in the right context. There's a serious argument for bringing it back to the workplace, and it just feels oh so stylish to take that extra step into semi-formal when you're going to a 'nice' restaurant, etc. But anyone who wears a suit all weekend every weekend no matter what frankly doesn't have a clue what life's about. Do you change your child's nappy dressed like that? Scrub the bathroom? Go to Woolies for milk?

    Commenter
    DisDis
    Date and time
    June 07, 2012, 11:58AM
    • Exactly! To wear a suit outside of work and appropriate social occasions shows a complete lack of imagination. And as for 40+ business shirts, 120 ties, get some perspective please. The key to a good wardrobe is variety, originality and quality, definitely not volume!

      Commenter
      aquaman
      Date and time
      June 07, 2012, 3:05PM
  • Where does that leave you Russel?

    Well dressed!!

    Commenter
    tim
    Date and time
    June 07, 2012, 2:53PM
    • A suit looks good on a trim, fit and healthy man. It helps even more if he's good looking.

      If you're struggling with your weight however a suit doesn't do you any favours... Russel, whilst I'm sure buys nice suits, does not look particularly good in one with his body weight. A suit is designed to emphasise the alpha male's V shape, which necessitates your chest and shoulders should protrude more than your belly.

      Not trying to be mean here, but we tell women off about their weight and no one seems to flinch, so it's only fair that we call blokes out when they can't seem to manage their waist-lines - particularly when the subject matter is something as superficial as fashion and presentability. Give me an unshaven fit and healthy man in semi-casual attire over a portly chap in an expensive suit any day in terms of presentability.

      Commenter
      Dan
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 07, 2012, 4:35PM

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