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Of Tan Suits and Shoulders. . .

Isn't there more serious stuff in the world to talk about at the moment than whether or not President Obama should, or should not have worn this tan suit the other day?

Looking around the menswear blogosphere, social media, and the online versions of the press the last several days, a few points have come up about President Obama's tan and presumably Brooks Brothers suit the other day that warrant some balanced response.

One, tan is a summertime suit color, and Washington, D.C. is still oppressively hot and humid at this time of year, late August-early September.   Good Lord, the man was dressed, wore decent looking shoes, and a necktie.  It's not as though he had an Italian silk paisley pocket square bursting forth from his outer chest pocket like some kind of silly popinjay.  The President actually looks kind of nondescript in his attire here, and isn't that what we should strive for, to some degree, with a suit?  Beau Brummel supposedly once remarked that the mark of a well-dressed man was not turning heads as he walked past.  Or something like that.

Two, there was a time when American presidents, male politicians, and those aspiring to political office appeared in different colored suits besides the now ubiquitous navy, charcoal, gray if we're lucky, or (shudder) black.  Or the dreadfully contrived rolled-up shirt sleeves, dad jeans, and no tie in an effort to resonate with the masses.  It wasn't always so however.  Find pictures of FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower to see what I mean.  They were also in office during tense, rather challenging times, and, as far as I know, no one called their leadership into question based on their choice of suit for a given day.   

Three, the armholes and shoulders do indeed look too large in the photo above.  No argument there.  But surely there must be a happy medium between a jacket or coat that is too large, and the current trend of guys with non-bodybuilder physiques walking around in sports jackets and suit coats that are far too tight across the shoulders, upper arms, and across the waist and hips, which invariably pulls into that dreaded X.  Right?  Or am I crazy?

Four, the length of this particular suit coat, to my eyes, looks about right on a tall, thin man like President Obama.  Once again, this is more in line with a classic look rather than the current and generic "H&M Trend" (for want of a better term) for short, skimpy, even tight jackets.  Let's not forget that current classic style luminaries like Dr. Andre Churchwell, Will Boehlke, and Luciano Barbera routinely wear suit coats and sports jackets that are longer than the current taste of the people as marketed to them by various fashion outlets around the world.  

Here's a little secret.  Fashion is not style, and only rarely do the two meet.  The former is fleeting and subject to the whim of designers and corporate marketing and advertising types, who change things up rapidly and sell it to the masses, most of whom part willingly with their dollars, euros, and yuan.  And then they toss the stuff out like sheep as soon as something new crosses their paths.  I read somewhere recently that the new cycle for this kind of thing is down to just a few weeks at a time in our globalized 21st century economy.  

That is fashion.  Style, by contrast, is more constant, refined, understated, individual, and developed over time.  The trick is to acquire enough knowledge that you become quietly confident where your own classic masculine style choices are concerned.  Doing so will enable you to walk your own path, turning your back on the mass produced, disposable, overpriced, and skimpy dreck that now floods the mass market.

Granted, someone at the store where Mr. Obama's suit was purchased should have suggested that he try the next size down for his coat, which might have helped where the overly large shoulders and chest are concerned.  He might also have had the coat waist suppressed a bit to do away with the baggy fit though Brooks Brothers stuff is notable for its traditional American sack cut, so perhaps that is a moot point.  

The President's coat sleeves look like they could be a tiny bit shorter too, but since the length of his trousers appears reasonable here, why the sleeves were left overly long remains a mystery.  I suspect it is just one more indicator that very few salespeople in clothing stores know what they are doing nowadays with regard to suggesting certain basic alterations that should be a matter of course with off-the-rack attire.

Ok.  But what's the point, Heinz-Ulrich?  Here it is.  Guys, when you purchase sports jackets and suits, make sure the shoulders fit above all else.  Many men in the United States, at least, wear jackets and suit coats that are far too large with sleeves and pants that are way too long.  Realize that, in many cases, you cannot depend on the sales staff to give you the right answers when you try on and purchase new items.  Most of these people in 2014 have no clue about proper fit and proportions, not to mention basic alterations to suggest.  You'll need to do your homework.  Increase your own knowledge base where classic male style and attire are concerned, so that you can make more informed decisions before you purchase anything, whether that is at thrift/charity shops, or at full retail prices. 

What does that men exactly?  Study the titles by Alan Flusser, Bernhard Roetzel, et al on classic male attire.  Examine countless pictures online of genuine style icons like Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, JFK, Steve McQueen, and countless others.  Get a real sense of classic proportions and silhouette.  And find a good tailor for at least basic alterations -- sleeve length, waist suppression, and inseam -- before you wear those newly acquired items.  

Don't bother with trendy periodicals like GQ or Esquire either for information on masculine style and attire.  These once relevant publications are now nothing more than glossy advertorial rags that push the latest trends, much more appropriate for the Axe set than for adult men of style, sophistication, and substance.  Whatever you do, don't become one of the many clueless guys walking around out there, who wear their  sports jackets and suits a size or two too large, to say nothing of appearing in public with overly long pants that puddle around one's ankles.  

Likewise, don't force your 44 Regular bodies into a 38 Short suit coats with floodwater length pants/trousers to match either like so many of the peacocks on display at various men's clothing events around the globe, for instance the annual Pitti Uomo tradeshow.  There is a happy medium between the the extremes of too large and too snug, but you need to be able to recognize it, and there is a small learning curve.  However, don't let that put you off.  The journey to that pot of gold at the end of the menswear style rainbow is more than half the fun.

-- Heinz-Ulrich


guy said…
It does make you think what the fahionistas would now say about President Reagan's brown suits......While you are on this topic, do current politicians own anything other than white or pale blue shirts?

The problem for politicians is that if they turn up in an expensive tailor made suit then they the press portray them out of touch with the hoi polloi. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. I say 2 and 3/4 cheers for President Obama in his cream suit. At least he tried to escape the grey masses.

Agreed It's nice to see a president in a color besides charcoal or navy blue.

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