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By Jamie Henfrey


“The suit is dead and is no longer the choice of the modern man…”

This topic that been in debate for many years now and shows no sign of ending any time soon. It is one that has given journalists and fashion writers an easy source of subject matter… but still, they have not been able to deliver a telling blow to the life of the suit.

I bought my first suit when I was 17 and I will never forget the feeling of my first trip to the tailors shop to be fitted… I was very excited and felt that a big event was about to take place in my life, and in many it was.

I grew up as a boy watching black and white movies from a bygone era and saw stylish men such as Cary Grant and Fred Astaire light up the screen with their special brand of magic. There was a strong cast of supporting images from Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack right through to the 1977  film Saturday Night Fever. John Travolta’s character Tony Manero worked in a hardware store but still knew the importance of looking good on a Saturday night spending his whole week’s wages on an iconic white suit. These stars were not alone were not alone in capturing my imagination as the 1980’s saw an explosion of strong images from the world of film and music.

The suit was used by many bands in the 80’s and became a clearly identifiable part of an artist’s image as each one had their own unique look. The re-birth of SKA music was pioneered by Madness and The Specials and used the suit to great effect as did the new romantic scene led by Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran who spawned a string of look a like band such as Japan. But it was Martin Fry lead singer of ABC who took the suit to another level when he sang “The Look of Love”, appearing in his now famous gold suit. Bryan Ferry sang about being a “Jealous Guy” but it was I who became the jealous one, as I craved to wear his cool suits.

 

" ABC"

Madness

Spandau Ballet

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Palmer and David Bowie also created very sharp looks in cool suits, their new looks projecting images as very cool guys of the moment. It was not long before another musical genius arrived on the scene. Michael Jackson had a huge influence in the birth of the music video and he too turned to the suit, wearing many versions of it in his music videos to great effect, suddenly image was everything again- and the suit was leading the way.

Music videos had now started to overlap with the world of film and provided the soundtrack to the sudden boom of iconic films of the 80’s. Richard Gere flaunted an impressive collection of suits in American Gigolo but it was films such as The Godfather and Wall Street that underlined the importance of the suit . Suddenly everybody wanted to look cool again and I suppose a kind of reawakening took place as no man wanted to look bad so he started to pay more attention to what he wore.

 

Michael Jackson

David Bowie

 

The 90’s saw the beginning of what I call fast-food fashion where people were tempted to try to buy things for less money. Stores at first held large sales in a drive to keep profits up to previous years levels, then as sales slowed many turned to buying in cheaper items to retain customers and attract new ones.The suit was suddenly in a price war zone and still had to contend with the birth of the dress down era where suddenly people started to comment that it was no longer cool to wear a suit for work. I for one never understood people’s desire to just buy cheap as indeed the average suit had now become dull and was little more than an item of price. Gone were the conversations of look, cut and style as these were replaced with shallower desires ” how much will it cost me” …?

There have always been levels in all things available to buy but suddenly here you had people wearing £25,000 watches looking at suits as something they should not spend too much money on. This was a blow that would take many years for the industry as a whole to recover from, as how could one talk about the cloth and the making of the suit if it was all to be done for a budget price- there was little point. Add to this people’s desire to move with the times and embrace the so-called dress-down-at-work band wagon. Of course in some industries (Silicon Valley entrepeneur et all) it was completely wrong to wear a suit in the first place, but in many others it was still a very important tool in convincing customers and partners that you were a person they could trust and rely upon.

Just imagine…

You finally meet the doctor who is about to give you a life saving operation… He arrives in flip flops and a pair of jeans and says he does his best work when he is comfortable… Would you not have felt more reassured if you had seen him in a white coat looking the part first?

You meet a gorgeous woman and manage to convince her to come on a date with you, where should you take her, what food would she like to eat? You consult a few friends and then the subject turns to what should you wear. You say you are going to wear your best suit as you want to go somewhere smart… Your best friend starts to laugh at your desire to look good and advises to go as you are… “Jeans and a tee-shirt- show her you are relaxed and cool… why try to project an unreal image of who you want to be…” ?

The point I am making is that people like to create the right first impression- and when things really matter, they go back the basics to set the right tone. People mirror one another and you will often find that successful people know when to wear a suit and when to soften their look. Many people who have not worn a suit for a while tell me how much they enjoy the first day they put on their favorite suit again. Most people turn to smart dressing to gain personal confidence and acceptance as they feel by projecting a professional image they are showing you they are ready to help you . This in turn will help them achieve the goals they are targeting; I tend to agree with this line of thinking.

Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko in Wall Street

I believe the suit is alive and well as it has shown a remarkable resilience through so many fashion changes over the years by constantly reinventing itself and the person who wears it. Major changes in modern cloth production have bought a whole new dimension in the way we can now use cloths to make suits of unbelievable fineness. People again understand the value of quality and are prepared to invest in their wardrobe enjoying the benefits of looking good and feeling great. Many men turned to personal shoppers to get the advice they needed and the boom in the modern celebrity image has fuelled people’s desire to achieve a killer look for themselves.

As a personal tailor, I help people from all walks of life achieve their own unique look, as I have over 30 years experience in making people look great. During this time I have not met a man without at least one suit in his wardrobe. The ” suit ” is still very much alive


Jamie Henfrey founded Marc Oliver in 2008. With an extensive background in men’s tailoring and design, he’s had the opportunity to distinguish himself by serving many of England’s leading figures from the word of sport and finance. As head designer for Marc Oliver tailoring he has been the driving force behind the brand that has attracted many of today’s leading entrepreneurs and company directors to the label, as they appreciate his fresh approach to tailoring.  He also enjoys working as a stylist, branding and retail strategy consultant to some of the UK’s very best designer brands.

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