(This article is by Javin They, founder of Common Suits, and has been edited for length and clarity.)
Some men fear dressing well. I don’t blame them. Naysayers whisper into their ears that dressing well means losing one’s masculinity, appearing vain or spending a lot of money. These misconceptions stay in the mind and harden into facts. Isn’t that how fears are made?
So it’s always my dream to see fearful men try on some good suits. In barely 10 minutes, they turn into fearless gentlemen. Their anxieties melt away. They have a look of wonderment. They straighten their backs. They walk differently. Magic in mere minutes? That’s exactly what a good suit should do.
This isn’t a pipe dream. It happened to me. I was in university, slated for a presentation in a few weeks. At the time, I decided to invest in a bespoke suit. As I donned it and looked in the mirror, it clicked: I discovered the power of dressing well.
The suit made me feel secure, confident. It was as if I had put on an armour. I was ready to take on the world. Needless to say, I aced the presentation. I had worked hard, but the well-made suit was the final boost that helped me deliver my presentation with conviction. From that eureka moment on, I was convinced of going on a journey to craft well-made suits for men. I started Common Suits. That was four years ago. I haven’t looked back since.
The Suit as a Symbol of Masculinity
The feeling of wearing a suit as if it were a piece of death-defying armour is not unusual. After all, the suit has its origins in military wear, particularly those of 19th century European armies.
It was a time of such long wars in the region that many continental and English tailors eventually became experts at outfitting soldiers. Their craft soon found its way into civilian clothing. In fact, the mecca of bespoke tailoring, London’s Savile Row, was initially occupied by military officers. Once the wars were over, the tailors continued making clothing with their military wear skills.
If suits have their roots in military style, it’s also because of what they can potentially represent: power and might. The French and Russian armies of the Napoleonic-era were so reputable that their outfits became prestigious symbols desired by the masses. Their army wear inspired the three-piece and double-breasted suit that we know of today. We rejoice that the fashion has lasted. And not the wars.
It’s hard not to see dressing well as a worthwhile and masculine endeavour when we examine the history of the suit. As I came to understand its different aspects, I knew that I wanted to be a part of its deep tradition: wearing a well-tailored suit has now become a way in which I express myself meaningfully. A good suit is also what I enjoy making for others, especially when every suit can differ to honour and celebrate each individual’s unique masculinity.
The Suit as a Mark of Self-Respect
The effects of donning a well-tailored suit are undeniable. We feel the difference almost anywhere. In a shopping mall or restaurant, the service staff are more respectful and polite when faced with a man in a suit. At work, employers are impressed. On the streets, strangers turn their heads for a second glance. Don’t get me started on the women.
Do we live in a superficial world? The answer is yes and no. Yes, because good-looking and well-dressed people often receive better treatment. No, because looking clean and smart is ultimately a mark of inner respect for the self and others.
Our outer being reflects our inner self and state of mind – and vice-versa. When we feel organised, balanced and in control, we’re inclined towards well-thought-out clothes that complete us, inside out. We take pride in a professional and an attractive image that is comfortable, assured and self-possessed, so much so that our clothes become our second skin.
Just think of Barack Obama, one of the sharpest and most stylish presidents of the United States, second only to JFK. We can’t imagine him without his suit. This man’s well-made navy piece is not only ingrained in the global consciousness, it has also got its own name: the Obama Suit (a two-button, single-breasted jacket and single pleated pant with inch-and-a-quarter cuffs; 97% worsted wool, 3% cashmere blend). Obama is the suit, and the suit is Obama. They fit each other so well that they are one. Magic.
The Suit as an Investment
Coming from a modest background and a single-parent family, I’m constantly reminded to stay rooted and humble. When I first got into the craft of bespoke menswear, I often wondered if it would go against the values I was brought up with. Would it be an expensive undertaking? Would it appear indulgent?
Along the way, I picked up style principles that addressed those concerns. For example, to ensure the longevity of a piece of clothing, I now assess two primary factors: quality and style. A piece of high quality clothing with a style that stands the test of time is expensive – but the piece can last more than 10 years. This means I get more mileage out of it, so it’s cheaper in the long-run.
I also focus on wardrobe-building. A man essentially needs just a few staple pieces. These will create multiple combinations that make him feel brand new every day of the week. So here’s a tip: Before buying a piece of garment, don’t decide on it just because it looks nice on its own or with a certain outfit; instead, consider whether it’s a good fit in your entire wardrobe. There’s a systematic way to do this, and I’ll share it in another post.
When I started Common Suits, I had my grandparents’ voice in my head: “Be humble and stay true to your values.” I continue to keep this close to my heart. A suit carries the symbols of power and might; but the maker behind it – the tailor or stylist – works in humility and service to the wearer, personalising it to embody the wearer’s values.
Indeed, what excites me about the craft is how the suit is a piece of living, breathing tradition – it’s ever-evolving, yet timeless in sensibility. While the suit has a long history, its future stories are for all of us to tell.