Just give me a suit with a four-button cuff

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The Independent Online

Like the death of the novel, the death of the suit has been loudly and frequently proclaimed. Dressing down, we are told, is the new chic. Anyone who knows a seam from a salmon sandwich knows that the future lies in airy, informal separates, designer T-shirts, sandy-beige carpenter pants and deck shoes. Wear anything more formal, and you must be some oddball with a uniform fetish.

Like the death of the novel, the death of the suit has been loudly and frequently proclaimed. Dressing down, we are told, is the new chic. Anyone who knows a seam from a salmon sandwich knows that the future lies in airy, informal separates, designer T-shirts, sandy-beige carpenter pants and deck shoes. Wear anything more formal, and you must be some oddball with a uniform fetish.

The latest bringer of this happy news is Moss Bros, the tuxedo-rentals company which now owns most men's fashion shops in the UK. This week they announced two things: first that they'd suffered losses of £16m in the last year; and second that they were "sidelining formalwear" in their high- street chain stores. In future, "There will be a de-emphasis on suits," said Rowland Gee, managing director. "There's a future for suits, but it's in top-brand versatile suits, not indifferent classic suits that are unexciting. The classic pinstripe look has taken a hit."

We can concede Mr Gee a point. Men's suits in shop windows at Moss Bros's stores - Blazer, Savoy Taylors Guild, The Suit Company, Cecil Gee - have indeed reached a level of grey, anodyne boringness that would sedate a herd of stampeding buffalo. Even Hugo Boss, the German suit-maker that once turned out sexy, streamlined Vorsprung durch technik three-piece jobs, has become, under Moss Bros's management, terminally dull.

We can blame the legendary DJ-hirers for many things. They're the reason why men's clothes shops are now oceans of grey and beige, the material about as appealing as sandpaper. They're the reason the word "suit" has become a generic term for characterless, number-crunching anonymity.

But Mr Gee is quite wrong about pinstripes. In this company, the classic pinstripe sticks out a mile. It was a gorgeous invention, impeccably smart but mildly subversive, as if always mocking the very formality that engendered it. The trouble is, nobody wears pinstripe any more, not because it is too boring but because it is too dandified.

Instead, the business male strives to be... But I think you know what's coming, don't you? You know the dread word that has single-handedly ruined the men's fashion industry at street level. Here's a clue: a hundred of Moss Bros's chain stores will be relaunched next year under the title "CODE shops". The letters stand for "Casual Office Dressing and Essentials". And it's the C-word that I've come to hate.

Casual! When did we decide we all wanted to be casual (or "casual but smart" in that oikish, nightclub-bouncer phrase)? Let me remind you what it means: "Accidental, unforeseen, occasional, off-hand" says the Chambers Dictionary, "(of sexual relations) lacking in depth of feeling or commitment; negligent; careless; unceremonious".

What a litany of awkward, unsophisticated connotations, compared to the sensational armour of a good suit, the floor-to-ceiling, all-embracing, second-skin sweep of a well-cut two-piece, the cool bella figura of the long-fitting jacket, the pleat-fronted strides, the four-button cuff...

What we need is for British tailors to make more interesting suits, to make them cheaper than Paul Smith but with the same zing and dazzle. Black suits à la Reservoir Dogs. Green or purple check suits like Ozwald Boateng's gorgeous peacock range. Suits with cool red stitching on the shoulder and polka-dot linings like William Hunt's of Neal Street. Suits with some colour in the weave, or a white buttonhole...

Hell, just something with a hint of character about it, to stop us falling into either the narcoleptic embrace of the Grey Business Horror, or the Casual Camouflage of the modern British slob.

j.walsh@independent.co.uk

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