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Perfectly Suited

A retro and romantic look

Suiting up for fall, you'll find longer, leaner silhouettes. That's not to say skinny-minnie, like what former Christian Dior menswear designer Hedi Slimane launched a few years ago. More like you've been to the gym, but the trick is in the tailoring.

For women, the look is retro and romantic, says Jim Wetzel, co-owner of the Jake boutiques on Rush Street and on the North Shore. Look for short jackets with nipped waists and maybe a bit of pouf on the sleeve, teamed with flared trousers. Think Katharine Hepburn.

"That silhouette is unbelievably slimming," Wetzel says. "The wide leg is going to make her waist look like a sliver."

Other trends are the bracelet sleeve, cut a little higher above the wrist to show off a trophy watch or a stack of bangles, and Edwardian-influenced blouses, Wetzel says.

At Paul Stuart, a private-label retailer of custom and ready-to-wear in Chicago and beyond, sleekness in menswear is created with fractions of inches: slightly shorter jackets that show more pant and a slightly narrower sleeve. Then the shoulders are re-pitched and pockets moved to keep it all in balance, explains General Merchandise Manager A. Sandy Neiman.

"The trouser is slimmer, too, although not necessarily in overall measurements," Neiman says. "We are offering more plain-front trousers, which we are doing with a subtle dart on each side in front, which is our own signature. It is more flattering, whether he has a 30-inch waist or a 40-inch waist."

"An unpleated pant is where the fashion comes in," says Wetzel.

How a suit is accessorized reveals something of the personality of the wearer, as well as geographic custom. In Chicago and New York, for example, winter white woolens always seem like a good idea until the first speeding taxi sprays a wake of slush.

"In Los Angeles, there's definitely more of a casual culture because of the entertainment industry," says Fashion Director Lee Trimble of GenArt, a fashion and arts organization that promotes emerging designers and artists. "You'll see guys wearing standard issue suits, but they'll dress them down, maybe by wearing Chuck Taylors or skinny ties."

"On the East Coast, men dress a little more dapper with their suiting," says Wetzel. "We've seen some pocket squares and bow ties. They dress more like Londoners, with a Seville Row feel. On the West Coast, that doesn't happen."

At Paul Stuart, suspenders never go out of style because they create a clean, uninterrupted line from jacket to shoe, said Neiman.

"There is a lot you can do to dress up and personalize an outfit while maintaining a professional air: great earrings, Lucite bangles, a cute hair comb or an interesting headband," says Trimble. "Women are wearing scarves, not as an ascot, but wrapped a couple of times or loosely draped around the neck. Men are doing it, too."

Season after season, Cyndy Salgado, vice president of Koenig & Strey GMAC's Developing Marketing Group in Chicago, stays with St. John knits for her career wardrobe. They are elegant, understated and comfortable, whether she is in a boardroom or on a construction site. And they don't go badly with a hard hat.

"The shapes or cuts might change, but the colors always work together," Salgado says. "Almost no other designer could you buy a suit and have the pants go with another jacket three years or eight years later. The blacks will match from year to year."

A St. John jacket and skirt run about $1,500. "They're not inexpensive clothes, but they are a very good investment," says Salgado, who for accessories typically chooses a remarkable bracelet, necklace or scarf she picked up during her travels. "I'm a real believer in less is more, so it would be one great piece."

Jake's suit selection ranges from $800 to $3,000, and Paul Stuart's suits range from $1,300 to $3,900. What makes the difference? Throughout the high-end garment, construction details are apparent. It'll have taped seams, in which ribbons of fabric are sewn over cut edges to prevent fraying. The buttonholes actually open, and they are handmade, which feels softer than the machine-stitched variety. Fabrics are wool, silk and linen or blends of those natural fibers. And the fit is superb, closer to the best fit of all, a custom suit.

"There is a different sense of self and what you are wearing," says Neiman. "I'd rather see someone, within their means, purchase one really good suit that's going to live and breathe with them for a long time rather than three less expensive suits."

Published: August 07, 2007
Issue: Fall 2007


Nice Work, Great Article
I love fashion and loved your article. As a Chicago children's photographer I can appreciate great fashion design and am constantly looking for new and interesting thoughts around this topic. Keep up the great work.
shalimar b, Jan-16-2009