The other day as the sun beat down on Covent Garden I saw a father and son braving the shops together. One wore a suit and hat; the other, baggy shorts and an outsized polo shirt. Guess which was which? As great as it is to see suits worn well, from Mad Men filtered through The Only Way is Essex the tailored look is spinning out of control.
Admittedly, the son in the suit was impractically skinny of slack and the only thing keeping his trilby balanced so improbably on the back of his head was teenage self-belief. But sharp-dressed he was, his look delighting in showing that tailoring is infinitely versatile. The humble suit may be an age-old formula, but you can twist that formula until its vents squeak.
Unfortunately the sleek lines sported by Mad Men‘s men’s men got old fast. Today’s variations on tailoring usher the tailored trend from dandy to parody.
Leaving aside who was dressed more appropriately for the weather, our young dandy looked a million times sharper than his dad. Unfortunately, the suits he’d have spied in Covent Garden’s glorified high street shops have over-reached themselves. Different-coloured pocket squares only hold the attention for so long, so the men’s tailoring trend has had to adorn itself with all kind of brash elaboration.
It started with piping. Just a bit of subtle piping on pockets. Very debonair. Then piping on lapels. Where’s the harm?
Then piping on shirt collars. Then facing on suit lapels. Then piping on the inside of the lapel – then elbow patches and different coloured sleeves and hoods and lord knows what else! Each embellishment a gaudy grenade exploding everything that make tailoring so flattering. The understatement is the statement – or at least it was before The Only Way is Essex lad waylaid the Mad Men look.
Shirts aren’t immune: piping and facing and fandangles everywhere. I admit I own an ASOS shirt with two collars. Two collars! My only defence is that I looked more closely at the sale price than I did at the thumbnail.
Piping everywhere! I went to a wedding recently where I met a chap in an otherwise perfectly smart petrol-blue two-button, and was surprised to notice he had a pocket square in every pocket – the side pockets as well. Both of them. Had this otherwise apparently respectable gent really stuffed a hankie into every pocket?
Then I realised he just had white piping on each pocket. Very contrast-y, sure, but also creating the first impression this man was a simpleton. Hardly the Don Draper effect.
I squarely blame The Only Way is Essex. Mad Men reminded the world and his stylist that most men couldn’t look any better than in a suit and a sharp parting – yet the suits and side partings on the high street today are more Joey Essex than Jon Hamm, especially when you stir in the preppy and nautical look favoured by the sort of lads who bang on about ‘great banter’.
A prick in a nice brogue is still a prick.
And things are only going to get worse. As much fun as it sounds like everyone was having, the roaring 20s was a pretty ridiculous time for fashion. But along with Boardwalk Empire, Baz Luhrman’s 3D adaptation of The Great Gatsby is already influencing the catwalk: the Gatsby Girl is everywhere and one of the menswear trends for AW12 is 1920s-style wide trousers.
Ready for AW12 Armani, Calvin Klein, Dries Van Noten and Yves Saint Laurent all sent models down the catwalk with trews wider than their heads. Meanwhile Alexander Wang and Burberry Prorsum showed off patterned and patchwork overcoats for AW12 that epitomise the grating overstyling that’s derailed the tailored trend.
Patterns are big this season too, and – while I’ve got nothing against colour – everybody knows there’s nothing worse in the world than a patterned suit.
Of course, the sad shift from sleek styling to gaudy experimentation is mirrored in Mad Men itself, as the show progresses into the 1960s and the pristinely-styled Mad Men are marooned in ever-widening, ever-louder sports coats, adrift in a sea of patterns and earth tones. It’s enough to drive you mad.