As men’s clothing has undergone a drastic conversion from an all-time peak of bagginess in the early 2000s to the much more fitted styles of today, a lot of attention has been devoted to the laggards who have been slow to adapt. I recently wrote about Donald Trump’s baggy suits and he certainly isn’t alone in his outdated style sensibilities. However, I’ve noticed a pretty severe overcorrection in some crowds in response to the excessive bagginess of the 1990s and 2000s.
Honey, I Shrunk Your Suit
Starting in the middle of the 2000s, men’s clothing started to gradually slim down. I was working in the suits department at Saks Fifth Avenue at the time and it seemed like overnight everyone wanted unpleated trousers and trimmer jackets. When I started in the fall of 2004, there were exactly zero plain-front suits in stock. By late 2006, there were only a few with pleats. The "skinny" trend continues today, and in some fashion circles there is a truly unprecedented level of tightness.
Men’s fashion flirted with both bagginess and fitted clothing during the last century, but oddly, the outliers for both extremes occurred within the last 15 years. The chart below is completely subjective and not scientifically based, but I think it’s pretty reflective of the relative bagginess of men’s dress clothing over time, one being extremely fitted and ten being very baggy:
Another way to illustrate this point is to look at NBA draft class pictures. While professional sports aren’t necessarily the best measure of men’s fashion overall, I think they’re at least somewhat reflective, albeit exaggerated.
Here’s the class of 2003:
And here’s the class of 2013:
That’s a remarkable reversal in a decade.
While it’s pretty evident that the early 2000s were the peak of bagginess in modern fashion history, there’s been some collective revisionist history regarding slim fitting suits of the past. The 1960s are broadly considered to be the main influence for the modern-day fit. While there are some similarities, namely the tapered trousers and narrower lapels, we're mostly in uncharted waters. Even the “mod” suits worn by rock & roll artists in late 1960s London still featured a less form fitting jacket.
Sean Connery’s 1960s James Bond, perhaps the most legendary men’s fashion icon of all time, wore decidedly looser fitting suits than the latest incarnation with Daniel Craig as the lead:
There was also a trend towards more fitted suits in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I’ve referenced Paul Reubens’ early 1980s character, Pee-wee Herman, before to illustrate just how fitted modern-day suits can be:
By early 1980s standards, Pee-wee’s suit was considered laughably small. However, this suit is more similar to the current day trend than any actual point in modern men’s clothing history. Other than being shorter in the sleeves and trousers, it is quite possibly less fitted than Daniel Craig’s James Bond suit. Given that Pee-wee’s suit was a comedy prop and James Bond has been the perpetual embodiment of cool for over a half century, this shows just how fitted men’s clothing has become.
While men’s fashion is fairly fragmented compared to five years ago (a subject that I will tackle in another post), the slim-fit suit is still the predominant fashion mode. It doesn’t seem likely that we are collectively returning to baggier fits anytime soon. Rather, the fact that today’s suits are about as fitted as possible isn’t stopping some men from pushing it even further:
This trend seems to be strongest with young, muscular men. I suppose if you got it, flaunt it! There’s a couple of reasons I think some may find this style appealing:
- When fabric is pulled taut against the body it can have a smoothing effect, like the pad of a drum. This can mask imperfections in fit, fabric drape, and construction. I’ve recently noticed an increase of fabrics containing elastic, which serves the same function.
- Over the past decade the jacket shoulder width has moved in from being extended past the widest part of the frame (outside of shoulder joint/bicep) to sitting closer to, or in some cases, on top of the joint. This decreases the difference between the shoulders and chest, which extenuates the traditionally ideal V-shape. To avoid a straight up-and-down jacket body, it is necessary to match the narrower shoulder with more waist suppression, which often means making the waist too small. This is why a lot of jackets look tight at the button. Together, the buttonhole and shank (thread that attaches the button to the jacket) anchor the jacket, which, because of their small combined surface area, endure a lot more force than the other parts of the jacket where the tension is more evenly dispersed.
The main issue with fitting suits this tightly is that body shape is not static. Measurements are taken in a relaxed position and if these numbers aren’t translated to the pattern with enough extra fabric for movement, the suit is going to be overly tight whenever the wearer does anything but stand perfectly still. I’ve started to see examples of suits that are too tight even without any movement. I am not sure if the wearer is demanding this level of tightness, or if some unscrupulous salesperson/tailor is convincing them that the fit is acceptable, but either way it’s beyond how a suit should ever fit – and that’s coming from a longtime proponent of fitted clothing.
In 2017, the border between fitted and overly tight is infinitesimal, so it is important to make sure you’re on the right side of the fence. My advice to those looking to wear very fitted clothing is to keep an eye out for the telltale signs of tightness, such as lines in the fabric where it’s pulling – lest you end up looking like a sausage.