Some of fashion’s most stylish women reveal exactly why a suit is so powerful right now…
Your first trouser suit isn’t something you easily forget. Like your first kiss, hangover or therapy session, the muscle-memory of how you felt wearing it tends to endure. Elizabeth Saltzman, the stylist who works with Jodie Comer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sandra Oh and Saoirse Ronan, still recalls the first suit she saved up for. “I was born in the ’60s so my mother, who was a working woman, lived in Saint Laurent pant suits,” she says. “She was the person I idolised.”
Saltzman finally bought a Le Smoking tuxedo only to have it stolen on the way to a Vogue photo shoot in LA. “I had all the cases in my car and stopped to pick up some white shirts. Everything got nicked,” she laughs. “I’ve never been able to replace that jacket. It was the greatest suit ever.”
Caroline Issa – publisher of Tank magazine and life-long tailoring devotee who confesses to owning “many, too many” trouser suits – has a slightly less dramatic story, although no less seminal. Her ‘first’ was a brown Jil Sander trouser suit, bought in 1999 with her second pay packet from her first full-time job as a management consultant. “Back then, you had to wear either trousers or a knee-length skirt and it had to be navy, black or brown,” she says. “The suit had a long, slim-fit jacket with three buttons and stretch trousers. I felt like Superwoman every time I wore it to important client meetings.”
Caroline Issa is a big fan of tailoring.
She now shops at Petar Petrov, Dior, Racil and Barbara Casasola for her tailoring, while Saltzman commissioned Bella Freud to make five identical black velvet jackets for her work “uniform”. Both women’s wardrobes attest to one fact – tailoring has officially become a perma-trend. “If you look through my styling work over the years,” says Saltzman, “you can see it on everyone, whether it’s Jodie Comer or Gwyneth Paltrow. It might be a trend now, but for me it’s a wardrobe staple.” There’s no doubt that tailoring is having a red carpet moment this year. The Bombshell cast were a tailored trio for the LA screening – Nicole Kidman in Altuzarra, Margot Robbie in Mara Hoffman and Charlize Theron in Givenchy. The royals have caught on too. The Duchess of Cambridge wore a cinched-waist tuxedo coat by Beulah London for the last day of the Pakistan tour.
It perhaps makes sense: after all, tailoring is already a staple on the catwalk. Not a season goes by without a slew of trouser suits, skirt suits and even short suits coming down thick and fast. A/W ’19 saw bouclé two-pieces in eye-popping primary shades at Chanel, trouser suits with supremely luxurious slouch at Agnona, and nipped-waist blazers that had pointed, power-shoulders at Alexander McQueen. Next season tells a similar story. Burberry showed whip-smart three-piece suits, while Celine’s tailored trousers were mostly flared and paired with longline blazers. Hugo Boss, famed for its minimalist, no-fuss approach to tailoring, gave us oversized jackets, wide-leg trousers and colour pairings like soft caramel and primrose yellow, aqua and black.
Ingo Wilts, Hugo Boss’s new chief brand officer who showed his first collection for the brand at Milan Fashion Week in September, thinks tailoring has now established itself as an evergreen trend since its re-emergence five seasons ago. “Before, everything was much more casual,” he tells me. “A suit is something a woman feels very comfortable in these days.” Tailoring is very much in Hugo Boss’s DNA – “You ask any woman what Boss stands for and they’ll probably say, ‘a suit’,” says Wilts – but this season he played with contrasts. “You have the meeting of feminine and masculine,” he says. “Sometimes I have an oversized blazer with a very fitted pant or a short blazer with wide-leg pants. This is what makes the Boss look like much more than just a business suit.”
So, should every woman have one in her wardrobe? “Absolutely,” says Wilts, without hesitation, who sees the women he works with at Hugo Boss styling their suits with T-shirts and sneakers on a daily basis. “I want her,” he says of his suit-wearing customer, “to feel confident. She should also feel comfortable, but I want her to feel sexy and feminine.” He also believes a trouser suit is one of the most versatile articles of clothing you can invest in. “It gives you two essential pieces. You could wear the yellow blazer with white denim and sneakers, and you could wear the pants with a leather jacket.”
Tailoring fans (from left to right) Caroline de Maigret, Elizabeth Saltzman and Vogue UK deputy editor Sarah Harris.
Clearly, women do feel comfortable in tailoring. Net-A-Porter sells 50 blazers every day, says global buying director Elizabeth von der Goltz, who has increased the number of trouser suits available by 150% in comparison to last year. “Tailoring plays a key part in our woman’s wardrobe,” she says. “Brands like The Row and Gabriela Hearst embraced the trend, with sophisticated shapes and double-breasted styles, while Balenciaga and Acne Studios gave us strong shoulders. We also love Wright le Chapelain’s sleeveless wool vest jackets and wide-leg trousers, and have just launched our Korean Collective, including great tailoring from We11Done and Andersson Bell.” In terms of this season’s updates, von Der Goltz name-checks Kwaidan Editions, whose shirt suit sets are an update on traditional tailoring, and Totême’s tonal take on the three-piece suit with a coat instead of a waistcoat. “Labels producing classic styles with a twist have proven to perform particularly well, such as Peter Do and Wright le Chapelain,” she adds.
When it comes to finding the right fit and silhouette, there’s no substitute for trying on lots of different styles and seeing what works. In general, says von der Goltz, belted blazers will create a waistline, longer trousers are best to lengthen the leg, and it’s important to consider the balance you’re trying to strike. “You may want strong shoulders,” she says. “Or a nipped-in waist. I tend to always push up my jacket sleeves to appear taller.”
You don’t have to go bespoke, or even designer, to get a suit that will last this season and next. Arket is your safest bet for boyish blazers that aren’t too tailored at the waist and trousers in a variety of lengths that come in 100% wool, while Massimo Dutti has several suits with ankle-length trousers that show off the narrowest point on the leg – and statement shoes.
What you won’t be able to anticipate, if you’ve never invested in a suit, is how great a perfectly-fitting, pin-sharp style will make you feel. Their ability to be both comfortable and confidence-building is why they’re one of Elizabeth Saltzman’s go-tos. “One of the first looks I ever did with Phoebe [Waller-Bridge] was a pink suit. It was a moment of clarity. I care about people feeling confident – that’s my thing. It’s not that a suit makes you feel empowered or like a man. It’s just that she looked great and it worked.” For Caroline Issa, it’s even more simple. How does a suit make her feel? “Like I can get shit done.”
This article originally appeared on Grazia UK.