Formal suits go casual

Visitors to the biannual menswear trade summit Pitti Uomo 89 last week in Florence, Italy.
Visitors to the biannual menswear trade summit Pitti Uomo 89 last week in Florence, Italy. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Pitti Uomo, the biannual menswear trade summit in Florence, Italy, is the stuff an excessive Instagrammer's dreams are made of.

There are the architectural backdrops, such as the gothic-style Duomo; the golden-hour light that illuminates the old bridges that divide the Arno River; food porn such as the obligatory cone of gelato and the city's famous, massive bistecca alla florentina; (Florentine steak) and, of course, the well documented street-style scene.

The latter has essentially, and unofficially, crowned Florence - and Pitti - the spiritual home of the menswear peacock (a man with an enviable yet highly calculated sense of style that puffs up around the famous "Walls of Pitti" in hopes of being photographed as to be reassured of his sartorial dominance and achievements).

Now, if I'm being honest, I have a love-hate relationship with streetstyle culture. As a fashion journalist, who teeters on the edge of the new guard and the old (who usually practises a more self-effacing approach to expressing one's style), I absolutely understand the importance of visual self-branding and would go as far as to say I appreciate its far-reaching capabilities. But I also loathe it. Especially when I have to brave every Fashion Week's surplus of professional show-offs just to do my job.

But Pitti is the exception to my grouchy pseudo-intolerance towards showboating. Here, the vibrancy of the industry makes it hard to not get as caught up in (or at least completely entertained and inspired by) the copious amounts of double-breasted, try-hard fashion hoopla that happens outside and inside the Fortezza da Basso, a 16th-century fort that has long housed the tradeshow. 

Yet this season is different. So far it's seemed a lot less... bold. Instead of the usual sea of outlandishly mad-for-plaid-type gents in oversized, fur-trimmed shearling coats and double monk-strap shoes, it seemed as though the majority of attendees had pared-down their attire considerably in favour of a return to a more "quiet luxury".

I'm not alone in these observations. "The flamboyant colours have definitely been toned down," says Mr Josh Peskowitz, a menswear industry veteran and the co-owner of Magasin, a new men's store in Los Angeles.

"People, in general, don't feel as done up and I think this represents the trend towards tailored clothing that men treat more as sportswear. Overall, the looks are looser, less constructed, tonal and casual."

It's true, a casual formality - or elevated sportswear vibe - has certainly taken hold.

Mr Brian Boye, executive fashion director at Men's Health, mentioning the greens, earth tones and"incredible" casual, unstructured jackets and coats on show, says: "Sartorial Italian brands understand we live in a more casual world now and are creating less formal suits and jackets that work as well with sneakers and jeans as double monks.

"Men who might find fashion out of their reach may start to feel more accepting when they see clothes next fall that they can actually incorporate into their life," he adds.

If you're one of them, here are my top six style takeaways from the nattily dressed men of Pitti Uomo 89.

• Wear more brown with blue. And tan and black. Brown is definitely the favoured colour partner of this season and the next.

• Rethink formalwear. Gone are the days when black tie meant only a silk-blend black tuxedo. Designers are reimagining their evening attire to include brown cashmere-blend dinner jackets and nubby, knitted cobalt-blue options.

• Cardigans are not just for grandpa anymore. Chunky shawlcollar versions (a la Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged circa 1993) were seen paired with more constructed pieces such as pinstripe suits and grey-flannel blazers.

• A return to practicality. The overriding sense of the season is comfort, but without sacrificing style. Embrace the looser, softer silhouettes and layering on of nubby textures - they can be truly elegant when done correctly.

• Mix patterns like a pro. The key to executing enviable pattern play is to balance proportions - such as mixing a larger, bolder plaid with a micro-pattern. Then anchor the look by keeping everything else (shirt, tie, etc) a solid.

• Invest in down. Give your layering staples an added bonus with a down-filled gilet, or vest. Try wearing it over and under your tailoring for a sporty, more relaxed look.

But above all, remember to do you. You want to look stylish, but not styled. 

"All dressing well really takes is understanding fit, having confidence and liking what you wear," says Mr Peskowitz.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2016, with the headline 'Formal suits go casual'. Print Edition | Subscribe