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The Wall Street Journal: May 2022

Step Aside, Bankers: How Artists Changed the Suiting Game

Tailoring might be increasingly rare in your office these days, but creative types are wearing suits with confidence and personality. Why you might want to emulate their unconventional approach.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, suits owe a big thank you to increasingly lax office dress codes. With many men—including lawyers and businessmen, aka “suits”—released from stringent sartorial requirements, the classic workplace uniform has started to shed its reputation as stiff and corporate. A lot of men wearing suits lately do so out of choice and commit to tailoring in order to stand out, not blend in. Among those increasingly delighting in Savile Row attire: artists, writers, musicians and other bohemian types associated with more-casual fare.

Belgian artist Luc Tuymans often adopts a minimalist black-suit-and-T-shirt look, while novelist Colson Whitehead paired a teal two-piece with a psychedelic turtleneck for an event last year. Artist Julian Schnabel teams tailoring with pajama tops and scuffed Vans sneakers.

Some of recent history’s greatest suit-wearers have been artistic souls. Think of Tom Wolfe, not the sort to deal with torts, in his immaculate, white three-piece and cheeky spectator shoes; young David Hockney’s wonderfully chaotic cocktail of louche tailoring, loud ties and crinkled shirts; or Jean-Michel Basquiat, who tossed on his gray, paint-splattered Armani with the ease of a smock. But such dapper examples were once the exception. Today, men sporting suits might very well be more familiar with MoMA than Nasdaq.

At Atelier Saman Amel, a Stockholm tailor with customers in the U.S., about 40% of clients are in creative industries, a figure that’s growing “quite a lot,” said co-founder Dag Granath. “Among the creative classes, suits are just kind of cool,” agreed Mark Cho, co-founder of the Armoury, a tailor with stores in New York and Hong Kong.

Free spirits tend to wear tailoring differently than most bankers, often favoring looser fits, textured fabrics and playful accessories. It’s about taking “something classic, but then making it your own—and being a bit disrespectful,” said Mr. Granath. Here, four ways to artfully sully the suit.


1. Go Big-ish

Drape, volume and an easy slouchiness define today’s artist suit. Jackets are often free of darts, with a “straight up, straight down” silhouette supplanting the nipped-in hourglass shape, according to Mr. Cho. Meanwhile, said Mr. Granath, full-bodied pants “nibble” on the shoelaces. While not totally unstructured, the tailoring is languid and flowing, noted Charlie Porter, author of “What Artists Wear,” a new book out this month. As an example, he points to New York artist Stephen Tashjian (aka Tabboo!), who looks so comfortable in his emerald-green, slightly flared Gucci suit you can imagine him loafing about—or painting—in it. But, cautioned Mr. Granath, don’t confuse relaxed with awkwardly oversize. Emulate actor Riz Ahmed in a silky maroon number at this year’s Oscars (above), not Justin Bieber drowning in a jumbo gray suit at the Grammys.

The jacket should “hug” your neck and its shoulder line should be extended but not padded, said Mr. Granath. There’s a “clear distinction between something that looks like it’s been handed down [and] something that’s been properly made for you [with] a generous silhouette.”


2. Make It a Double
One defining design for creative folks, according to Mr. Granath, is a double-breasted jacket that wields dagger-like peaked lapels with attitude. John Pizzarelli, 62, a jazz musician in New York, unfailingly wears his double-breasted suits from local tailor Paolo Martorano buttoned up, whether he’s onstage or at dinner. He has, he said, always found that look “rather elegant.”

When unbuttoned, though, the double-breasted topper becomes coolly nonchalant. “The flappiness is quite nice,” said Mr. Cho. If you ask Saman Amel, the other co-founder of the Stockholm tailoring brand, guys should treat such designs more like a cardigan than a delicate piece of finery.


3. Eschew the Routine 

To ensure he’s channeling Louis Armstrong not Gordon Gekko, Mr. Pizzarelli chooses suits in slightly offbeat textiles—say, a chocolate-brown weave with a gold windowpane check. Michael Kagan, 41, a New York artist, also goes for fabrics that aren’t too “classic.” He recently bought a double-breasted two-piece from the Armoury to wear to his exhibition opening. Rendered in inky-blue wool-cotton twill, it’s essentially a jazzed-up chore jacket.

Mr. Granath said textured, matte textiles can bring suits to life. He recommends flannel, cashmere and covert cloth, a heavy twill that, thanks to its excellent draping qualities, has “a dramatic vibe.” For warmer months, Mr. Cho suggests weighty linens and wool-silk-linen blends, which become pleasantly (but not sloppily) wrinkled, plus medium-weight cottons whose colors fade over time. All project a knowing, unstuffy worn-ness that’s more bohemian than by-the-book.


4. Keep Accoutrements Casual—and Colorful

To maintain a certain breeziness in his navy suits, Mr. Kagan buttons up a chambray shirt instead of a staunchly starchy one. Similarly, Mr. Amel and Mr. Cho have observed many of their arty clients pairing suits with a knitted polo, not a neatly pressed shirt. And creative types tend to be “more expressive” with accessories, said Mr. Cho. They loop on leather belts as thin as lariats, sub in cheery silk scarves for ties, or follow Mr. Pizzarelli’s lead and pull on pink or purple socks. As for shoes, slip-ons are on-point. Think chunky tasseled loafers or, in Mr. Kagan’s case, laceless Common Projects sneakers. If you’re feeling bold, Mr. Granath said, offset slick tailoring with rugged, hiking-style boots such as Prada’s all-black Cloudbust Thunder. Seems doubtful you’d find a banker in those.

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