The way we dress isn’t always a personal choice. It is a serious matter that speaks volumes about who we are, where we come from and even our station in life. The tech industry celebrates casual wear while other work cultures look upon it with disdain. The likelihood of seeing a lawyer in shorts and sandals at work is close to nil.
Men’s fashion has changed much since the nineteenth century. It once seemed to embody a style devoid of creativity in favour of a black-and-white uniform. Minimalism, however, is never simple. When ample attention is paid to the details, minimalism is transformed into sophistication.
Dressing is an expression–not only of the individual–but also of the cultural and social mindset that calls on men to attire themselves in a certain way. As a general rule, male attire favours homogeneity over variety. When homogeneity was a cultural norm, the meticulousness of the cut became the decisive factor in whether one was suitably attired.
This led to the creation of garments that followed the contours of the body more closely and elegantly. It was the way the suit was cut that made all the difference in whether one was suitably dressed for the occasion. The most conventional suit has two or three buttons and is either medium-to-dark grey or navy. Other suitable colours are black, brown and olive.
Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the tailors of England, Italy, Spain and France were the leaders in the design of men’s suits. Creating wearable suits often meant that tailors had to move within a grid of known rules, unwritten laws and had to understand the vision shared by a community regarding how one should look and present oneself in public.
At the same time, fashion trends that come and go have showed us that things often do not happen as they should. They live their own lives and follow an unexpected and efficient course of action.
For instance, in Sunny Singapore, the tailor-made suit is rarely worn; while in Japan it is ubiquitous. Every Tokyo train on a weekday is stuffed with Japanese salarymen dressed in sensible suits despite the slog of the daily grind. In Singapore, commuters look on with curiosity and even amusement when men are sighted in suits. The weather has never allowed it to become a societal norm.
In modern Western society, men’s suits have become less common as an outfit of daily wear. Many men no longer wear suits to work. The suit is now reserved for special occasions such as: weddings, funerals, court appearances and formal social events. Since they are no longer obligatory for many men, they are sometimes viewed as stuffy and uncomfortable.
Remarkably, the suit has become an attire of choice in Rock, Heavy Metal and Gothic scenes, even though such groups were previously renowned for a more rebellious choice of clothing.
Nevertheless, black and white continues to be the standard for elegance and sophistication. While it has stood the test of time, it can come across as dated and retro. To make it live again, then, one need simply to work on the details, thereby adding a modern touch to a traditional attire that has not yet lost its glory days.