Ask Alan - Fall 2004

I usually don’t button my jacket, but I’ve noticed with three- or four-button jackets-that many guys do. With all those buttons, how many do I actually button?

I recommend avoiding any single-breasted suit or jacket that sportsmore than three buttons or less than two. The waist button on a single-breasted coat is the only one designed to be worn buttoned; an exception is the classically cut three-button model, which can be worn with its top two buttons done up (the recent fashion for wearing a three-button coat fastened by its top button has had its 15 minutes of fame). The bottom button of a two- or three-button coat should never be worn closed, especially in conjunction with a fastened waist button.

How many years should a good suit last?

A suit’s durability depends on several factors, the most important being its design, meaning its proportions. A well-designed handmade bespoke suit worn four times a month in a two-season year should last 10 years. A classically designed $6oo suit should last no less than four years. The finer a suit’s quality, the better it will hang out and therefore avoid the debilitating effects of long-term dry cleaning. Ideally, you should own enough suits to rotate them once a week.

I love striped shirts, but some look better on me than others, such as the wider ones. Is there a rule of thumb for selecting striped shirts?

One of the important functions of the male attire is to lead the viewer’s eyes to the wearer’s face, his most communicative body part. The colors of any given ensemble should exhibit the same degree of contrast created by one’s skin and hair tones. Select a striped shirt that balances the stripe’s strength with the wearer’s complexion. A wider stripe enhances the complexion of a man with fair skin and light hair-so it wouldn’t be surprising to learn the person who asked the question has a high-contrast complexion.

Is it better to wear solid-color slacks with a sport coat of patterned fabric, or are there kinds of patterns that mix well?

The first and most stylish choice for any patterned sport jacket would be a medium to dark gray trouser. The second would be a medium to light tan. As for the more challenging task of tackling a patterned jacket and patterned pant, you might first try altering the bottoms’ texture-say, substituting beige corduroy or brushed cotton for a tan worsted. Like mating a plaid suit with a patterned tie or herringbone trouser with a tweed sport jacket, both the potential upside and the potential downside increase commensurately.

Are cuffs essential on pants? When are plain-bottom pants more appropriate, and when do you absolutely need to have pants with cuffs?

Most better suit pants and trousers are worn cuffed, while they’re optional on more casual bottoms such as corduroys and cottons. Trousers cut close to the body, such as jeans or low-rise plain fronts, generally feature plain bottoms. Cuffs, or tum-ups, as they were originally termed, add weight to a trouser bottom, anchoring it to the shoe when the foot is in motion. The cuff’s fold also knifes the front leg’s crease, pulling it down to keep the trousers’ front pleat from opening. Proper cuff decorum dictates cuff widths of 1 5/6 inches for a man under 5feet 10 inches, and 1 3/4,inches for taller men.

The trousers in the suit I bought have buttons for suspenders, but I can’t stand to wear suspenders. Do I have to wear suspenders with this suit?

You don’t have to don suspenders just because youur suit trousers come with suspender buttons. If suspenders are never going to grace your pants’ suspender buttons, simply ask the store’s tailor to remove them. An extension-waistband trouser adorned with suspender buttons and belt loops is a kind of sartorial mutt. Suspenders leave empty belt loops looking superfluous, while a belt buckle sitting on top of a buttoned extension waistband adds an unnecessary layer of bulk. like dress shirts featuring cuff widths large enough to accommodate any wrist size, better suit trousers, particularly pleated models, tend to come homogenized for easy sale. When you compromise tradition for the sale of convenience, both usually suffer.


–Taken from Menswear Magazine Fall 2004