Androgynous, boyfriend-style, sharp tailoring, masculine proportions – right, that’s the clichés out of the way; now, let’s talk about trouser suits. They’re back, but they’re categorically not borrowed from the boys. For one thing, blokes aren’t even wearing suits. In the corporate world, the likes of JP Morgan and PricewaterhouseCoopers are loosening up their dress codes to allow for business casual or "dress for your day" flexibility. Translation: no suit jacket required. In the non-corporate working world, man buns, tats and activewear are all part of the hipster-fied male uniform. Savile Row suits? Not so much. We, on the other hand, can't get enough.
To be clear, it’s nothing to do with Working Girl-style kitsch or outdated power dressing. But it is to do with liking the convenience of a tailored two-piece that can be treated as a uniform yet adapted at will. “Suiting feels new and relevant again for the woman who enjoys making a statement,” says Clare Miles, head of influential London store The Shop at Bluebird. “An array of fabrics and colour across a number of designers are giving those who like suits something different.”
That means a revival of rich brocades and jacquards, tactile velvet and corduroy, and romantic, painterly colour palettes. The silhouettes vary from lean and cropped to louche and wide-leg, often worn with pristine white trainers. In fact, trainers have emerged triumphant as a democratic styling detail that characterises this laidback, suit-y attitude. It’s emblematic of the dualities in how we dress these days, mixing high end with high street and crossing the line between work and play. Two of my favourite style influencers, designer Bella Freud and magazine publisher Caroline Issa, frequently wear suits in a way that’s easy and adaptable. So, that might be with minimalist trainers for running around, with an unbuttoned blouse for sensuality or with a pull-on-and-go knit for speed.
The suit 2016-style is non-occasion-specific.You can wear it to weddings, work, brunches, parties – even the school run. And, instead of formal and trussed up, it looks best when worn unbuttoned, mismatched or broken into separates. Try wearing your jacket over jeans, and your trousers with a squishy jumper. The trickle-down effect means that the high street is now delivering some impressive suit options, too.
The suit 2016-style is non-occasion-specific.You can wear it to weddings, work, brunches, parties – even the school run
Scandi favourites COS and & Other Stories are leading here, along with Whistles, Finery London, Jigsaw and the newly reinvented Warehouse. Forget what you knew of Warehouse – it’s repositioned itself as a creative innovator, with voluminous suits in distinctive jacquard weaves. And you know times are a-changing when even M&S is on board, with its pyjama-soft velvet suit by Per Una. “The conventional trouser suit has gradually given way to a more relaxed silhouette, with the slouchy profile taking tailoring in a new direction,” says design director Queralt Ferrer. “It’s less office-functional and more stylish and desirable.”
But if supersized, lanquid proportions don’t grab you by the lapels, then fear not, there’s always the gamine, slimline version popularised by the Parisians. For those who aspire to the "garçonne" style of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Caroline de Maigret, you can’t go far wrong with a timeless one-button number from APC or The Kooples.
These take me right back to my 90s uniform of black Agnes b suit coupled with Converse Jack Purcells. It’s a look that Jigsaw buying director Shailina Parti recalls all too well. “Jigsaw was the first to launch the contemporary suit in the 90s and it has been selling ever since,” she says. “In the last year, we have gone back to ensure all the ingredients required to make a great suit.” And what might they be? “For us, it’s the finest Italian wool, a slim fit and attention to the details of buttons and lining.” Fit is crucial and alterations are encouraged. “Details like sleeve length are so important to get right. We offer alterations for our customers on a three-day turnaround.” This is excellent news if, like me, you’re a non-standard 5ft 2in. Elsewhere, my secret weapons for petite-friendly suiting are Joseph and J Crew, where slim-shouldered, cigarette-legged proportions are offered in updated versions every season.
The trick is to personalise those classics with style signifiers of your own. This is where my unhealthy Pinterest habit comes up trumps, with its hourly gifts of street-style bounty. I mean, I love cropped pants, but whoever thought a culottes suit would be a good idea? But now they’re everywhere, thanks to a handful of street-style sightings urging us to give it a go. Likewise, the predictable city shirt has been nixed in favour of a jersey polo or streamlined sweater or, my favourite, Whistles’ tie-fronted Lara pinstripe shirt. It all comes down to personal interpretation, not rigid old-school rules. Because, away from the tyranny of the boardroom, a successful suit is the one that suits you.
Navaz Batliwalla's book The New Garconne – How to be a Modern Gentlewoman is published by Laurence King