The Elements of a Three Piece Suit

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What’s the difference between a typical two-piece and a three-piece suit? Really, it’s the waistcoat. A waistcoat is the vest worn above the shirt and below the jacket. It’s amazing how the addition of this vest can add a sense of class to a boring trouser and blazer combination.

Can I just add a vest to my suit?

Technically, then it’s not a real three piece suit. The elements of a three piece suit must be made from the same material and lining. This includes the waistcoat, pants, and jacket.

If you take any two piece suit and add a new vest, this vest is called an “odd vest”. Typically, the waistcoat matches the rest of the outfit. If this is your first time trying to add a vest or waistcoat to your outfit, don’t go for a pop of color, just stick to the color of the rest of the suit.

How do you wear it?

As with jackets, there are buttoning rules for waistcoats. It’s best to always leave the last button undone.

You also won’t be needing a belt with your suit, it just looks off.

Finally, your waistcoat should cover your belt line. But don’t let it fall above or below it, or the proportions will be off.

Why did the three piece suit go out of style?

It’s not necessarily that it went out of style. According to Alan Flusser, author of “Dressing the Man“, the three piece suit started to decline due to wartime rationing. Tailors could not make the waistcoats necessary for three piece suits anymore.

Since then, they haven’t risen to much prominence. You do see the occasional one at a wedding or other formal event, but most people don’t walk into the office in one.

When can you wear a three piece suit?

The obvious answer is weddings. Grooms and groomsmen sporting three piece suits are becoming a hot trend in the wedding space. As a guest you can definitely wear one as well.

If you ever plan to head to the racetrack, a three piece suit will not look out of place.

At the office, it’s best to stick with class colors like black, matching every piece of the outfit.

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Bond, James Bond, Part 1: The Ian Fleming Novels (1953-1962)

Today, October 5th, 2012, is the 50th anniversary of everybody’s favorite superspy action movies: the James Bond series!  On October 5th, 1962, “Dr. No” premiered in the United Kingdom, and introduced the world to the words “Bond, James Bond.”  Along the way, the films also introduced the world to the finer things in life, from exotic locales and fine dining, to the best drinks money could buy and absurdly elaborate underground volcano lairs.

Why are they using the caldera as a skylight? Espionage, that’s why.

But, from our point of view, most importantly, they introduced the world to the idea of men dressing to the nines while still being tough.  Before Bond, really, suits and tuxes were primarily something you wore to a formal event or to work.  Bond wears tailor-made suits while dangling from helicopters by his feet with a nuclear bomb in one hand and a gorgeous Russian spy in the other.

Or while holding on to a breathless blonde in one hand and a Walther PPK in the other while balancing precariously on top of one of the Golden Gate Bridge’s suspension wires, whatever.

So, what better reason to spend the next few months celebrating all things Bond fashion?  And we’re going to start right at the beginning…

Before Bond, action heroes were cowboys or soldiers or spacemen.  The bad guys were usually the ones dressed well, no doubt thanks to their ill-gotten gains!  Only private detectives were shown wearing suits while doing good, but they were usually of the rumpled, dirty, cheap knock-off variety.  Humphrey Bogart looked amazing in them, but hardly anyone else did.  Then along came Bond and his impeccable fashion sense, which, believe us, was no accident, it was because it was what his creator would have worn.

Bond was the invention of former British intelligence officer, commando, journalist, and all-around badass, Ian Fleming.  Fleming had spent World War II coming up with intelligence operations with names like “Operation Ruthless,” “Operation Mincemeat” and “Operation Golden Eye,” then put together a crack commando unit called “30AU,” and another crack commando unit called, we swear, “T-Force.”

In the midst of all of this, he was heavily involved with something called the “Special Operations Executive,” essentially the precursor to every single acronym-based-name-bearing espionage organization from every genre film, TV show, book or video game you’ve ever seen.  They were based on Baker Street in London, down the street from where Sherlock Holmes was supposed to have lived, and completely revolutionized intelligence and espionage.  Did we mention that one of their operatives was one Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee?

Yes, THAT Christopher Lee.

That’s right, the creator of James Bond spent most of World War II coming up with incredibly colorful ways to kill and generally mess up Nazis alongside freaking Saruman himself in Sherlock Holmes’ old stomping grounds.  Suffice to say, this had a profound impact on him.

After the war, he began to write Casino Royale, the first Bond novel, and nearly all of the initial Bond characters, including M, Q, Miss Moneypenny and Vesper Lynd, were all based on people whom Fleming had worked with in the SOE.  Bond himself, on the other hand, was an amalgamation of several different spies from the SOE, along with Fleming himself…

We never would have guessed.

Fleming had very, very refined taste in clothes, having grown up in Mayfair, one of the most moneyed neighborhoods in London, as the son of a British MP and a wealthy socialite.  Legend has it he could identify a tailor from the cut of a man’s suit!  These tastes, along with his, ah, extremely intense interest in women, food, liquor and cigarettes, got transferred to the James Bond character, a fact which worked as a fabulous antidote to the Post-War austerity Britain found itself in.  Fleming himself heavily favored lightweight suits, an anomaly in his time, and tended to skew towards blues and greys with pinstripes in all manner of arrangements, both single and double breasted as well as both two and three-piece.  Bond himself is described in this manner throughout the books, but, interestingly, no labels are mentioned.

“The girl looked him up and down.  He had dark, rather cruel good looks and very clear, blue-grey eyes.  He was wearing a very dark-blue lightweight single-breasted suit over a cream silk shirt and a black knitted silk tie.  Despite the heat, he looked cool and clean.  ‘And who might you be?’ she asked sharply.
‘My name’s Bond, James Bond …'” –Thunderball

Savile Row fashion is heavily implied (though Fleming himself didn’t care for it), but never named.  What is named is what everyone else is wearing.  In fact, as anyone who has read the books can tell you, Bond CAN’T STOP talking about people’s clothes.

“It was tied with a Windsor knot.  Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot.  It showed too much vanity.  It was often the mark of a cad.”From Russia With Love

He actually sizes up some of his archenemies in this manner.  For instance, he immediately notices, in Moonraker, that villain Hugo Drax’s cufflinks are Cartier.

But Bond’s own clothing in the books remains a mystery (although it has been suggested that Bond’s suits were from Anderson & Sheppard of Sevile Row, though that makes little sense).  But then, so was Bond himself.  The Bond of the novels is dark, and downright humorless.  His high-minded fashion sense is more an engine of his distaste for other people wearing something wrong rather than pride in himself for wearing something right, likely an idiosyncrasy belonging to Fleming.

The novels began to be published in 1953 with Casino Royale, and by the time “Dr. No” came into theaters in 1962, 9 years, 10 books and an episode of the CBS anthology series “Climax!” that adapted Casino Royale had elapsed.

With Barry Nelson as American agent “Jimmy Bond.” Oh, how we wish we were kidding.

After all of that, one would think that Bond’s fashion sense would have been locked in.  …Not exactly.  Elements, like the lightweight suits, were, but the overall style, as we said, had not been heavily touched on.  That iconic look that everyone thinks of came from Terence Young, who directed “Dr. No,” and dressed the rather rough and tumble unknown Scotsman Sean Connery in what he thought Fleming’s style should be, by way of his own style.

“What ish thish shtuff you’re putting me in, man?”

But that’s a story for next time.  We’ll continue with the next installment, focusing on the all-important Sean Connery years of Bond-dom, after a brief detour…

Once Upon a Time….

Atlantic City, January 1920…  The Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibited the manufacturing, sale and consumption of alcohol and, in the process, gave rise to a new wave of organized crime led by “gentlemen” wearing luxurious, impeccably accessorized wardrobes…  The Roaring Twenties, improbably, a platform of men’s fashion today!

For those with a flair for fashion and not really amazed by most popular TV shows nowadays, following the life of a historical sartorialist is pure eye candy.  Add sex, gangsters, dandies, revelers, moonshine runners, gunplay and racketeering, and you have an exceptional show: “Boardwalk Empire.”

As you can tell by now, we are obsessed with clothing…  Custom clothing, to be exact.  And immediately after watching the first show, we knew Sir Thompson was one of us.  Praise is due to John Dunn, custom designer of the show’s suits, for transporting us back in time.  A time that experienced probably the most changes in everyday life, especially fashion, that, with help of technological development, facilitated the introduction of new fabrics and closures.  Natural fabrics like cotton and wool were the most predominant of the era, with silk still being highly desirable and still yet highly unattainable.  What was not unattainable was the impeccably tailored gangster look.  These gentlemen did not hold anything back (if you watch the show, you know what “anything” means) as far as fashion.  We were blown away by colors, patterns and accessories of the highly fashionable time.

We are sure the real life Enoch Johnson (whom “Nucky” Thompson is based on), knew one should never compromise their style, and that a very well-suited man can literally reach for the stars.  His TV proxy, Mr. Thompson, being the central character of the show, is a vivid example of what power means in terms of fashion…  The power suit, completely mastered!

We cannot fail to recognize the construction of the suit, which is extraordinary.  Leaving the long jacket on morning suits and tail coats behind and adapting a shorter, higher-waisted and smaller lapelled suit.  The pants were also more tailored, although not tapered, and also shortened, providing some socks picking and began to be cuffed at the bottom.  A sumptuous three-piece suit was a gentleman’s must.

Accessorizing was also a must, and the gentlemen of the ’20s were masters in this department.  Handkerchiefs, cufflinks, platinum watch chains, shirts with collar pins, top hats/homburg (obviously only for the upper class gents), two toned wingtips and pattern combinations that will leave many of us allured.

In short, the sartorial gentleman of the 1920s, which “Boardwalk Empire” almost worships, was a gentleman who was fearless in his dress, displaying some of the most fantastical combination of colors and style possible while laying the groundwork for all of the beautiful colors and fashions we wear today.