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Sir Paul Smith on why every man still needs a suit

Manners maketh man? So, too, does a great suit – step aside, chinos and sneakers…

Us celebrity stylist and designer Rachel Zoe is dead set against the modern concept of denim-with-everything, sneaker culture and ‘dressing for comfort’. Her mantra is dress to the nines, which most people, probably ensconced in oversized coats to conceal yet another pair of blue jeans and no doubt shod in athleisure shoes, would find alarming.

‘In my mind, being overdressed is not a bad thing at all,’ she explains. ‘What’s the worst-case scenario: that you’re the best-dressed person in the room? Who cares!’

We do care, however, and it’s become particularly cool not to look smart.‘This modern philosophy of it being “old school” to wear a suit has become a point of pride,’ suggests personal stylist Candice Ilic of With Style. You’re too much of a traditionalist if you’re wearing one, so abandoning the suit is seen as an act of rebellion, setting your own fashion rules and being non-conformist, she explains. ‘It’s independent sartorial thinking. However, a good suit is a sure way to guarantee style credibility.’

Sir Paul Smith agrees. In an interview with, the suit designer supreme – knighted by the Queen in 2000 – was reportedly ‘relentlessly optimistic’ in the face of the current belief ‘that the power of the suit is waning.’

A necessary suit

‘The reality is, good suits are still very necessary – there are weddings, funerals and high-powered meetings to go to,’ says Ilic. And those in the know do notice when you arrive at an important do in your ol’ faithful denim-and-tired-shirt combo.

‘It seems disappointing that there is no sense of occasion now,’ Smith told fashion editor Suzy Menkes in the interview. ‘Why do we make all of these clothes if everybody looks like a scruff the whole time? You go to the opera or somewhere nice and there is not any effort made. And designers come out at the end of a fashion show where you’ve been looking at £1 000, £2 000, £3 000 and £4 000 dresses, and they’re wearing a Uniqlo T-shirt and a pair of scruffy jeans!’

Is the perceived agony of the retail experience putting off potential suit buyers from wearing something smarter than weekend togs? Unfortunately, suits do not the ideal online shopping purchase make – they have to be tailored personally, so there is schlep involved. However, the rewards are significant.

‘Even after 10 or 20 years of accelerated trends, men still don’t approach shopping with any excitement,’ says Ilic. It’s a case of, “I’d rather hang on to what I have than go shopping.”’ Doing this – wearing a 10-year-old suit you’re still able to get into but that doesn’t fit you well – is missing the point completely, she adds. ‘In essence, it shows a complete lack of regard for your personal brand. As you do with a watch or a car, you invest in the best suit. Don’t muck about. A suit is a statement and you need to be clear on what you are stating.’ And that, Ilic reports, is a James Bond-like strategy: confidence, success, panache and a subtle eroticism.

Dress up, go out

Let’s face it, there isn’t a more seductive an analogy that can be drawn on in the world of casual tailoring and sportswear. And while these, according to Menkes, ‘may reign as kings of the closet right down to sporty shoes, Paul Smith has a whimsical wish for the elegance of dressing up’. Now doesn’t that encapsulate James Bond perfectly? Oh and, to his meeting with Menkes, Smith wore a great suit, of course. She writes, ‘It goes without saying that to meet me in London and to greet clients at his new Berlin store, Sir Paul Smith was wearing a smart suit and a pair of lace-up leather shoes.’ Obviously, whether he’s aware of it or not, Smith is a follower of the James Bond strategy. And good for him.

Read Brioni’s take on statement suits.

This article by Helen Clemson originally appeared in Issue 40 of Private Edition.


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