Broke and Bespoke

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Wearing Suit Jackets and Pants as Separates

I’ll probably violate any of a number of the cardinal rules of proper dress here, but I thought it might be useful to post some of my thoughts on how to get more mileage out of your suits by deliberately choosing or looking for fabrics and details that allow them to be worn easily as separates. What follows may not be appropriate for everyone, but it certainly works for someone like me who doesn’t have to wear suits, but who chooses to do so from time to time because I find it an enjoyable thing to do.

I’ve written elsewhere that we seem to be entering a new era of dress for men where traditional tailored clothing is becoming more popular again, after a hiatus of nearly half a century. As workplaces at the epicenter of the casual work environment have begun—somewhat tongue in cheek—instituting Formal Fridays, one’s options for wearing shirt, tie, and jacket at work or school are certainly opening up.

While the ‘orphaned jacket’ (a suit jacket missing its pants) has been much harangued—and often rightfully so—as a separate, it needn’t always be the case that a suit jacket cannot be worn without the pants it was made to be paired with. Since I seldom have occasion to wear a suit by work obligation or social decree, I try to choose suits that are versatile and can be worn either completely as separates (where the jacket and pants can be paired with other tops or bottoms), or at least where the jacket can do double duty as a sport coat that doesn’t clearly look like half of a suit. 

There are a number of ways I generally go about achieving this kind of versatility, and construction and fabric are key. Since an odd jacket and trousers is by its nature a less formal look than a full suit, it logically follows that choosing your suit in a more casual fabric—one that could be used to make either a sport coat or trousers—is a good starting point. 

If you’re just building up a nice tailored wardrobe, I can think of no two better colors to choose your more casual fabrics from than a light-to-mid grey, and a dark or navy blue. Choose a fabric that you can imagine being used to make a sport coat or trousers: flannel, hopsack, larger-scale birdseye [though many would probably disagree with me here], cotton, and linen. Avoid very fine, lightweight worsted wool fabrics, and those with a sheen (like sharkskin) as those almost always look like they should exclusively be used to make a suit.

Once you’ve settled on a sturdier (for the cooler months) or more casual lightweight (e.g., linen for Spring or Summer) fabric, you can think about the construction details that might help tone down the formality of your jacket. I generally opt for something lightly structured, or unstructured, and with patch pockets. This is more casual than a jacket that has built-up shoulders, and jetted or flapped pockets. Next, be sure to choose buttons that offer some contrast with the fabric. Suits will often come with buttons that match the fabric (e.g., blue buttons on a blue suit, grey on a grey suit), but I usually opt for something more contrasty like a tan corozo nut button (favored by Italians) as seen on the grey suit here, or a smokey brown pearlescent MOP button on the navy single breasted jacket pictured above. Brown horn is almost always a good choice as well in my opinion, as seen on the navy birdseye double breasted jacket. If you’re thrifting your suits, switching out buttons is always something you can do yourself inexpensively, so don’t leave a suit behind because it has the ‘wrong’ buttons.

For the pants, I prefer two back pockets. Going with or without belt loops or side tab adjusters is, to my mind at least, a matter of preference. I’d argue that the latter are a bit more formal, but they are certainly more fashionable right now on high-end trousers. To cuff or not to cuff is another personal choice, though cuffs are both less formal and more fashionable at the moment as well.  

Having a suit that can do double duty as separates will help make your wardrobe more versatile, and ultimately provide better value for your investment, however large or small.

* Jackets pictured in the first photo from top to bottom are a vintage seersucker double breasted from Haspel (thrifted); navy birdseye double breasted courtesy of Indochino; Grey Vitale Barberis Canonico flannel courtesy of Beckett & Robb; navy Ariston wool/cotton/cashmere courtesy of Tiberias Clothing.

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