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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

    Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

    Day In a Page

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test