Would David have looked even better in Armani?: Leisl Schillinger reads a dissertation on the sexiness of men in suits

TOGA? Sexy. Prayer gown? Not sexy. Coat of mail? Sexy. Coat of many colours? Not sexy. Armani suit? Sexy. Birthday suit? Not sexy.

Anyone who has ever looked at a copy of Playgirl knows that there can be something less alluring about a naked man than about a man whose contours are draped in twills and tweeds. If Anne Hollander, the American art historian, is right, this has been true for at least 200 years, ever since the highwayman came riding decked out in a French cocked-hat, a claret velvet coat and doe-skin breeches. The highwayman was wearing one of the first suits; a rather poncey suit, perhaps, but a suit nonetheless.

Most of us, if we have thought about it at all, have probably considered the man's suit to be a drab camouflage: it can expand to contain the Churchillian midriff, drape to widen the angular frame, or endlessly duplicate itself to clothe legions of City employees. To Hollander, however, the suit is a sort of male 'fake traditional dress', or 'pseudo-ethnic costume. . . that commands general respect and avoids unfettered personal fantasy'. In Sex and Suits, a paean to male finery just published by Knopf in the US, she breathlessly charts the slow build-up toward the suit; from the androgynous sashed tunics of the Dark Ages, through full body armour (when, she says, men first found they liked being measured and having their forms puffed up) to its present genteel incarnation.

To Hollander, the modern male suit is much, much more than genteel: it is the embodiment of the nude male classical ideal from Discobulus to the David. When Hollander sees a man in a suit, she sees a sexual projection. 'The suit,' she writes, 'is a nude suggestion'.

This idea caused my friend Alexandra to collapse in hysterics. 'To me, a man in a suit looks like a package,' she said. 'It makes me want to giggle. They look like they've been wrapped up in paper and tied with matching ribbon. It's handsome but it's silly, and it certainly doesn't heighten what's in the box.'

Other women think a man in suit still packs a wallop. 'Suits are really sexy,' gushed a striking 26-year-old. 'If I see two handsome men, one in a suit, one in jeans, I'm going to go for the suit, every time. But then, I always date older men.' Her friend agreed: 'I'd rather be approached by a man in a suit than a man in jeans. I'd be more curious about the man in the suit, though I'd be intimidated. The man in jeans would seem more accessible - but I guess ultimately accessible is not a turn-on.'

Men admit sheepishly that they buy Hollander's point. 'When I'm in a suit I feel a little more courtly, more powerful,' said Ted, a 27-year-old mountain climber who rarely wears anything but sandals, jeans and T-shirts. Jay, who now works in publishing but used to sell clothes for Ralph Lauren, maintained that 'a handsome man in a great suit is like a picture in a beautiful frame. I like to wear suits, I'm the kind of guy that likes costumes'. 'Suits emphasise your shoulders, jeans emphasise your hips,' volunteered Hendrik. 'Suits are power, jeans are sex. That's why I wear them on alternate days.'

The professional view is more straightforward. Fashion consultant Anne Maxfield does not think men's suits breathe mystery. 'There's only so many things you can do with a shirt, a coat and a tie,' she said. Though no man, she conceded, looks bad in a dinner jacket.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and Nick Frost star in the Doctor Who Christmas Special, Last Christmas
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

    Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

    Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

    £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

    £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran