09.03.2016

Suit Up!

Max wore a suit every day and what happened next surprised him

Words: Max Dylan Lazarus | Photographs: Nick Gordon | Styling: Mira Leibowitz

I’m not a suit-wearer – never have been. It’s not even a matter of preference, rather that a suit’s the kind of thing that you wear when the occasion demands it, like shinpads, a wetsuit, or a wizard’s cloak. Here, listed for your enjoyment, are the few occasions on which I’ve found myself wearing a suit: barmitzvah, matric dance, weddings, to a final university exam with classmates as a way to “think smart”.

To me, as for (most) other guys, the suit exists entirely off the casual-formal sliding scale, and men that wear them regularly are either forced to do so due to poor career choices (lawyers, financiers, etc) or they manage weird menswear Instagram accounts, or are How I Met Your Mother-inspired, misandry-fearing pickup artists.

I think you can now understand why The Way of Us saw me as the ideal guinea pig for this formalwear experiment, and relished the idea of me transforming into a suit-wearer. I would shop Superbalist for a suit of my choosing, wear it for a month – that’s to work, to dinner, out for drinks – and I would then gauge and write about the experience.

It’s been an interesting experience, one filled with compliments, an increased appreciation for style and tailoring, a renewed sense of authority, and, perhaps surprisingly, improved posture. Truth be told, wearing a suit on a daily basis is a surreal experience; life goes on as usual, but strangers greet you, people smile at you, and you get served first at the bar. Wearing one regularly feels like you’re pausing the Playstation mid-game and changing the difficulty setting to easy – others might scoff at you for cheating, but you’ll be the one clocking up high scores.

Reactions

Am I exaggerating perhaps? Pumping out the hyperbole to flout some formalwear for my employer? I thought I’d have to do that, but turns out I don’t. Put it this way: you know how it is when a person goes to a wedding and they upload that obligatory photo on Facebook of them looking their best. The likes flood in, and the comments are all sorts of wonderful, over-the-top compliments like “you clean up nice”, and “all men should dress like this always”. Now picture that, but all the time. The major adaptation one needs to learn when wearing a suit is to be able to enjoy the attention, and accept the compliments, because they’ll be coming in on the regular.

There’s something about a suit that invites interactions from other humans, and that’s not limited to only people you know. Whether verbal or unspoken, I’ve found myself having more passing interactions with people – whether as subtle as noticing that people are looking at me while I walk to work, or more overt, like having actual human strangers making comments in the street like “So smart!” and “Nice suit!” For real though, people do this. There’s some sort of inherent magnetism that attracts eyes and loosens lips when someone walks in wearing a suit and a smile. Maybe it’s the rarity of it, seeing someone tailored, living normal life in a bowtie (not brewing your coffee or hand-poking your tattoo) but you are naturally more involved in whatever activity is happening in the space you’re in. You get served first at the bar, and the waiter will never fail to hand you the bill at the restaurant. Women smile at you. Men will give you a thumbs up as you walk past. I must point out, disappointing as it is, that suits seem to have zero influence on dogs and babies. We can definitely chalk that up as a flaw. They just don’t give a shit.

But for everything else, a man in a suit wields more influence than the same man in other clothes. My friend Craig, who is so committed to suit-wearing that I genuinely don’t think I’d recognise him if he was wearing shorts, always explains his love for tailoring like this: when wearing one, he says, if you walk through a crowd, people will move out the way to let you pass. The fact is that a well-fitting suit affects people behaviourally. Why you wouldn’t wear one when looking to impress at a job interview, in court, or even a date (the right kind, obviously, don’t be that guy), I can’t even begin to imagine.

Here are some other observations I’ve made over the last three weeks:

  • Jackets look amazing, but are impractical for working. If you have a desk job you’re wearing that baby to and from work, then hanging it up behind you in between those hours. Some impractical things are entirely worth it.

  • Suits are really, really, really not ideal for summer wearing if you don’t have aircon. Reason being, once you’re sweating, you’re looking totally ruffled. Your shirt will stick, then you’ve got creases under your jacket, you loosen your tie and roll up your sleeves, and suddenly you don’t look sharp, you look like a man wearing several layers out in the sun. It’s gotta be natural, so be sure to have aircon. Then when you do have aircon like we do at Superbalist HQ, you are about to enter a world of pain battling your non-suited colleagues for control over the thermostat.

  • Ties get in the way of things always. When eating you’re tucking them in or flinging them over your shoulder. You’re likely also tucking in a napkin to avoid spillage. Food loves a suit.

  • Do not wear a backpack with a suit. Don’t even try. It won’t sit nicely over your shoulders, it will make you sweat, and it will make you look silly. This is why men wear satchels and carry briefcases. I genuinely had no idea.

Styling

Okay, but let’s step it back a bit and get practical. Before getting started I went around asking for advice from every person I could: from the menswear team, from suit-wearing friends, from the stylists in the office. After all, here’s a guy with no formal education. The main piece of advice I received was to focus on the fit, that’s the most important feature. You want the suit to skim your body in a way that flatters your silhouette, not to hug it tight like the kid you didn’t pick at the Foster home.

From this point, it became time to experiment. The safe bet, I was told, is a white Oxford shirt and thin tie. I genuinely had never even considered ever wearing anything other than a white shirt. I’m told to wear it with the jacket, with the top button done, but never the bottom ones. The next step is to switch it up with some other colours and patterns, pairing the suit with light blue shirts, pistachio, even plum, and switching those up with complementary colour ties. See, now that’s suddenly a style, a look. Mom cancel my subscriptions, I’m not a Hypebeast anymore, I’m a Sartorialist now!

The thing I noticed with wearing a shirt tucked in with the suit, is that even without the jacket, it really flatters your appearance. Due to the button placket and the way the material sits on your body, it doesn’t matter if you have a little bit of a tummy like I do, it all looks good! Ties mean authority, and people think you’re the business, while bow ties have a playful air that makes people want come and talk to you. Probably because it makes you look like a less terrifying Pee Wee Herman, or a down-on-his-luck street magician. No tie is an option too, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s just not finishing your look – why quit when only at 80% done? That’s not to say you shouldn’t throw some casual pieces into the mix. There are plenty of T-shirts and golf shirts which, barring jarring colour combos, also mix well when smartened up with the blazer.

In terms of shoes, you can’t go wrong with classic dress shoes, so long as they’re polished: Derbys or Oxfords, brogues or wingtips, they’re all good. If you’re a lot cooler than me you can even pull off sneakers, but you better make sure they’re covetable, fresh-out-the-box, real-brand kicks – you can’t be out here dressing like Jerry Seinfeld. Finally, with trousers, you can switch up colours and bring in some neutral tan chinos for a country club look, but be careful when wearing jeans: you have to avoid a loose fit and go for a tapered cut, or have some distressed detailings, or you run the risk of doing what I did and coming to work looking like Jeremy Clarkson. Never do the Jeremy Clarkson.

Tailoring

All men are not the same, no matter what the best friends of recently broken up-with women say in all the movies. No matter your physique, you still want your suit to look like it’s built for your body, which is why it’s vital when shopping off the rail to pick to your measurements. This isn’t the 90s: suits must complement you, not mould you into the shape of a refrigerator.

My suit had a really good fit and feel, sitting comfortably around my shoulders, waist and legs, though it still wasn’t a perfect fit. See, most brands design their size 36 trousers for guys much taller than me, meaning that mine bunched at their base. Similarly, the sleeves were about half an inch too long, covering my shirt’s cuffs when my arms were at rest. So a touch of tailoring was required.

I went on down to The Tailor Shop, neatly tucked among the bars and coffee shops of Kloof Street in Cape Town, where I was seen to by owner Dominic Evans, dapperly dressed and with an unflinchingly authoritative yet welcoming air. Ever the professional, he humoured my suggestion that this is some easy process of chopping off some fabric, and in turn hit me with a concentrated dose of knowledge.

For the jacket, to avoid ruining the button details, they are shortened up at the seam where the sleeves meet the shoulders, a time-consuming but necessary process resulting in my cuffs permanently peeking out of the sleeves and the narrowing proportions being maintained. As for the trousers, not only do they get shortened, but they can be tapered too! That’s an option – did you guys know this? I mean, it was a good suit before, but now it’s my suit. It fits my frame, it sits snugly on me, shit man – I’m ready to get back to the office and fire the interns.

So what now

There are a few days left to the challenge, and I am very much looking forward to wearing shorts to work while summer’s still got some life in it. That being said, my attitude has certainly changed. The suit is no longer some kind of occasion-specific uniform. It is very much an option I can easily, without hesitation, indulge in whenever I want to look great and make an impression.

The next wedding, fancy dinner or big presentation, I know exactly how to dress my best, how to feel like gold and own the room. Heck, if I wake up one morning and the mood strikes me, or if I’m feeling in need of a little pick-me-up, it’s no longer some sort of stretch to justify putting on my tailored best.

I could have very well borrowed and scrounged for the duration of this experiment. Reworn outfits, gone with what I had, just to satisfy my side of the deal with The Way of Us. No fuss, no additional expenses, just a simple challenge completed in the simplest way possible. Then last week, without much thought, I went and ordered myself a bunch of new shirts. Some nice colours, and some lovely patterned designs also. I did this on a whim despite the end being in sight. This despite me never really wearing shirts before this piece. It’s no big thing, sure, but it’s an interesting change to note. I guess I quite like formalwear.

So here I sit, one month later, and as the managing director of Superbalist. My supermodel and human rights lawyer wife Maryam is relaxing at our Clifton bungalow packing for our child-conception weekend away in the Swiss Alps, and clearly there’s something to this whole suit thing. I really can’t recommend it enough, please go online now and buy five each.