A guide to Suit Problems for men
Men have it SO easy on the red carpet. The worst thing they deal with is tying a bowtie and maybe shoes that pinch. But where it can take a woman as many as eight hours to get ready for a red carpet event (not uncommon on Oscar day), men need like, fifteen minutes max to get into their tuxes. It’s totally unfair. So it’s totally inexcusable that so many of them completely screw up their red carpet looks when they do have it so (comparatively) easy. So this is for the men, aimed at actors specifically, but the same rules apply for non-famous dudes also, to cure some common Suit Problems and make the world a generally more attractive, aesthetically pleasing place.
You are not a hitman, so don’t wear that
The problem: Shiny suits
Biggest offender: Jeremy Renner
How to fix it: Easy—DON’T WEAR SHINY SUITS. Shiny suits are terrible. Shiny Suit Problems are a blight upon this land. The shiny suit has risen in prominence over the last few years (due to some kind of wool shortage in Australia), reviving a trend that died in the 1970’s and should have stayed dead. Shiny suits belong to a distinct era, though—the Rat Pack 60’s—and some designers mistakenly think this gives them a retro vibe. It doesn’t. Shiny suits smack of mobbed up thugs and sleazy Vegas lounge acts. The only vibe they transmit is one of “someone paid me to murder you”.
I would say “no shiny suits” is an iron-clad rule, but if you simply must go shiny, do it in moderation. Consider a shiny waistcoat contrasted with a matte suit fabric or a shiny tie and pocket square combo against a fine cotton shirt. Or pair a shiny jacket with jeans—or even cords—or shiny pants with a cotton shirt and no jacket for day-to-night looks. But please, for the love of all things holy, whatever you do, don’t combine a shiny suit and the following…
You are also not in the mafia, so don’t wear this, either
The problem: All-black suits
Biggest offender: Christian Bale
How to fix it: This isn’t as easy a fix as a Shiny Suit Problem, because all-black suits are both extremely popular and can, in the right circumstances, actually work well. They’ve become a Suit Problem, though, because of overuse and incorrect styling—for instance, all black and shiny never, EVER go together. Then you really do look like a 1960’s Vegas made man. The biggest missteps with an all-black suit are 1) wearing it in the wrong season and 2) lack of contrast.
The first is simple—don’t wear all black in spring/summer. Save it for the colder months. In the warm seasons don’t go darker than charcoal. All black is a bit statement-y, though—or it was before everyone wore all black all the time—so if you’re looking to stand out during the summer, try a dove gray, blue (look for something approaching the cobalt/ultramarine end of the spectrum) or even a green and you’ll really pop—a peacock among crows. As for the second problem, all-black suits tend to create a visual black hole, destroying all detail and obliterating the cut of the suit because you can’t see a damn thing for all the black. If you’re going to wear an all-black suit, contrast fabrics and textures to create visual interest.
You’re the fittest people on the planet—your suits should be fit, too
The problem: Bad tailoring
Biggest offender: Pretty much everyone
How to fix it: Every time I look at red carpet photos of male celebrities, I am horrified by the sweeping epidemic of bad tailoring on display. I have come to firmly believe that every dude who hits a carpet should be styled by Tom Ford at least once. Ford understands fit and cut in a way most men don’t—he transformed how Colin Firth dresses himself after dressing Firth for A Single Man and its subsequent award season. Daniel Craig also benefits from Ford’s bespoke touch—Ford creates and tailors all of James Bond’s suits. Men everywhere would benefit from studying Tom Ford’s style book.
But let’s hit the basics as a refresher, which I call the FSTS plan. FSTS stands for “fit, shortened, tailored, suppressed”, as in your shoulders, your cuffs, your pants, your waist. The first key to nailing a good suit look is getting the fit through the shoulders right. Modern styles don’t require shoulder pads—they look hideously dated, in fact—but instead rely on precisely fitting the jacket through the shoulders (these rules apply for women’s suits, too). The shoulders of the jacket end where your shoulders end. If you’re of a narrow frame and want to look bigger through the shoulders, there are other ways to achieve that without resorting to padding, which we’ll get to at the end. Once you’ve got a jacket that fits properly, it’s time to tailor the suit.
The rule with cuffs is that ¼” to ½” of your shirt cuffs should show below your jacket cuff. No more, no less. Big ole cuffs look dated and cheesy, reminiscent of 1970’s leisure suits. Shortening pants involves a lot of options—cuff, no cuff, full/half/no break—and is covered thoroughly by the Art of Manliness. Read it, learn it, live it. Waist suppression is pretty severe in modern trends, to the point that many dudes’ suits look too tight (tell-tale X’s pulling across the button plane give it away), but a well-tailored waist on your jacket can not only make you look thinner but your shoulders bigger. Your jacket should nip in, not just hang straight from the shoulder like a sack.
Are you a middle-aged banker? No? Then why are you wearing that?
The problem: Banker suits
Biggest offender: Tom Hiddleston
How to fix it: A banker suit is a fuddy-duddy, often poorly tailored suit that is both boring and too conservative. Speaking directly to you, Tom, you’re an ACTOR. You are young, you are tall, you are handsome. You are neither middle-aged nor in a profession that demands conservative dress. You should be able to wear anything, but if your personal tastes simply lean toward the more sedate, here’s how you fix your Banker Suit Problem.
1) Tailoring, particularly the waists of your coats (see above). 2) Ditch the banker patterns. I never want to see a navy pin stripe near your person again. 3) Flare. You seem to like waistcoats and you look good in them, so consider contrasting your vest and your suit for a little extra pop, or go with a textured or patterned tie (though never a textured AND patterned tie—that’s too much), and experiment with more modern cuts for your jackets. Try an asymmetrical pocket arrangement or a one-button style, and ditch the shoulder pads. You don’t need them and they’re egregiously ugly on anyone under 55. Step away from the banker suits and embrace twenty-first century style. You could easily be knocking it out of the park every time you hit a carpet with just minor adjustments.
The problem: Appropriate styling options
Biggest offender: Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Johnny Depp, Lots of other people
There’s only so much a guy can do with a suit, but there are more options than ever for ways to dress up a suit. The most common, though, are collars/lapels, colors, shoes, wrist situations and ties/vests/pocket squares. Then there’s also the double-breasted jacket which is where many, many men go wrong. Jon Hamm falls victim to this a lot, so here’s the rule: If you are a big dude—broad through the shoulders/chest—double-breasted suits are not for you. Double-breasted suits are only for slim, dainty men who need the illusion of more bulk. One of the only actors who consistently look good in the double-breasted jacket is Matt Bomer, because he is a wee man with zero percent body fat. Basically, if you aren’t Matt Bomer or don’t look exactly like Matt Bomer, leave the double-breasted suits on the rack.
Lapels, meanwhile, are Jeremy Renner’s downfall. Like Bomer, he’s short, but Renner is big through the shoulders and chest—too big for shawl collars. A shawl collar will flatter a man of narrower frame, like Ryan Gosling, because the increased distance from lapel to shoulder point makes your shoulders look broader, but if you’re already broad, it just throws off your proportions. Wide-shouldered guys need to skip the shawls. Ditto for the high-notch or wide lapel point. Personally, I think the wide lapel looks dated and should be a no-no for everyone, but high-notch lapels work on a thinner-cut collar. It’s actually a good cheat for a shawl collar. If you want the slim, modern line of a shawl but are too big to carry it, lower the button as much as possible and move the notch to just above your collarbone. It increases the illusion of a T-shape which is the ideal for men.
Wrist situations—all that junk Johnny Depp wears—and shoes are the most common place to add some individual style to a suit. I’m not opposed to the wrist situation in general, but too much is just too much, guys. Here’s a rule of thumb: The fancier the suit, the smaller the wrist situation. By the time you’re in a proper three-piece, you shouldn’t have a wrist situation beyond a watch, preferably a slim dress watch. As for shoes, I don’t love casual shoes and suits, but if you’re going to do it—OWN IT. Don’t wear battered-on-purpose-but-really-new boots—wear your favorite boots that are run down after years of abuse. Ditto for Chucks. If you’re wearing Chucks with a suit, they better be your very favorite pair. At least then it’s a genuine reflection of YOU, and not what you think looks cool.
Speaking of looking cool, colorful suits are getting more and more voguish, but it can be a hard thing to pull off. Introducing color means coordinating a lot of shit you don’t have to worry about when you’re just wearing a black or gray suit. It also means considering your complexion—is this color washing you out?—and having the confidence to wear it in the first place. Eddie Redmayne just set the bar for colorful suits with this exquisite Burberry teal velvet design. Everything about this is amazing—the fit, the tailoring, the season-appropriate material, the color which compliments his auburn hair—but mostly Redmayne has the personal style to wear this and not be swallowed up by it. If you try on a colorful suit and don’t feel 100% confident in it, don’t wear it. It’ll end up wearing you.
Also observe Redmayne’s contrasting pewter tie and crimson pocket square. Redmayne is a seriously stylish dude and the triple-color combo of teal, gray and crimson is inspired for winter. The thing pulling the disparate colors together is that they’re all consistently muted. Ties and pocket squares are the most varied accessories for a suit and experimenting with color instead of sticking with matchy-matchy traditional looks is very fashion forward. But it isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s really easy to screw up (see also: virtually every football analyst ever), so if you’re unsure of what you’re doing, go with matching colors but try different textures or patterns for contrast.
Stand up straight, young man, and stop fidgeting
The problem: Bad posture, button situations, hands-in-pockets
Biggest offender: Michael Fassbender, Almost everyone else
Just stand up straight. Seriously. It won’t kill you. No one will think you’re uncool if you’re giving good posture. You know what’s sexy? A guy who walks into a room calm and confident and at ease, shoulders back and chin up, not slinking in like he’s just broken the host’s prized Ming vase. It pains me to see the Fassbender slouching down a red carpet, wrecking the lines of his suits—which are more often than not poorly tailored to begin with—doing that weird leaning thing he does. And don’t tell me “he’s tall, he’s probably self-conscious”. The Fassbender isn’t that tall. You know who’s a terrible sloucher? Justin Bieber. The Fassbender and Justin Bieber shouldn’t have anything in common. So just stand up straight.
Buttons and hands-in-pockets go together. First, get your hands out of your pockets. I know red carpets and photo walls are weird, unnatural things, and unless you’re a totally vain asshole, no one particularly enjoys standing in one spot and smiling past the point of sincerity or comfort while a bunch of jerk photographers yell at you. But putting your hands in your pockets doesn’t solve anything. It just ruins the line of your suit. If you must put hand to pocket, UNBUTTON YOUR JACKET. It’s that simple. If your hands in go in your pockets, unbutton your jacket. When you sit down, unbutton your jacket (this irks me to no end on talk shows—men sitting with jackets buttoned). But your default position should be buttoned up and hands-free.
One final note…
Guys, we’ve got to talk about your facial hair. Shave, don’t shave, grow a big, bushy beard—I don’t care. But if you’re dressing up for a red carpet (or a business event or similar for you regular dudes), SHAVE. If you’re going to wear facial hair, give yourself however long you need to grow it in properly, then trim it up for the big night. On-purpose five o’clock shadows look sloppy and immature, especially on guys over 30. So either trim your beard/goatee or shave it off completely but don’t split the difference with some bullshit faux-hungover look. Let the boys make that mistake and look ridiculous in their $3000 bespoke suits and sloppy stubble while the men nail it with fine tailoring and clean, stylish presentation.
You’re men. Dress like it.