A Menswear Memoir

The Present and How It Got That Way

 

A Change Is A-Gonna Come. I Can Feel It!

Chatting with Arnie Roberti of Adrian Jules during my recent visit to Rochester, I asked him what trends he saw, what asteroids of model interpretation are coming at him these days from the outer limits of the custom clothing universe.

Endangered species, Ca. 2015

Endangered species, Ca. 2015

“Tighter fit,” he said, as I expected. “Smaller sleeves,” same story. “Inexplicably narrow point-to-point shoulder measurements;” got my attention. “A guy with a 44 chest wants a 17” shoulder?” he said. Uh-oh. Ever lighter pads, or no pads at all, resulting in ever-softer shoulders. This is heavenly news for the aficionado of trad, but I’m telling you, the worm is about to turn.

How long can this tightening, shortening, and slimming go on? Not much longer, friends. We are at the apogee of small. Soon I’ll be singing the praises of comfort again.  I’ll be saying, “easy, comfortable, and loose” is the way to go. (More likely it’ll be the younger folks who are working here.) You heard it here first. Now I’ll have to listen to my dear customers and friends, who have been hearing me preach the gospel of closer fit, lower rise, flat front, skinny leg pants and small, narrow shoulders all these years call me out. “Hypocrite!” “Charlatan!” Okay, but didn’t you want to know what was going on in the world? I didn’t make the news, I just reported it.

Two generations (of fit) back, and a pretty close match for today's dandy

Two generations (of fit) back, and a pretty close match for today's dandy

Originally they called it “natural shoulder” tailoring. The Yankee sweater-sleeve slope is, after all, perfect for sport jackets. The soft, unpadded tailoring gives a feeling and look of sportswear and follows the soft drape of the tweed. In fact the shape derives from the cloth. By the mid-70s the “updated” natural shoulder style of Polo, Arthur Richards and such lines had reduced the chest and waist of the soft-shoulder jackets so much that they became literally uncomfortable; sort of like what the trendy dudes are putting on these days.

The apogee of BIG, Ca. 1989

The apogee of BIG, Ca. 1989

But the style pendulum swings both ways: Zoot suit to Thom Browne and back, over the generations. So when the fashion plate of the mid- to late-80s came in to Barneys and tried on the Armani suit, made of a soft, drapey crepe material and modelled off of the wide-shouldered gangster regalia of 1930s Chicago, he was not only fascinated by the new silhouette, but relieved to finally be able to, well, breathe. Decades of ever-bigger styling brought us, by the late 90s, to the point where the pendulum reversed its direction once again. I remember the big buzz in the industry when Murray Pearlstein of Louis, Boston, stopped carrying pleated pants. A big brouhaha. That was probably close to 20 years ago now. The small has had a long run.

Doesn’t a man benefit, though, from an appearance of strength about the shoulders and arms, which tapers down to a vanishing point at his feet? Can you imagine Michelangelo’s David with a scrawny little point-to-point? So, I’m sure you get the picture, now the soft-shoulder, tight silhouette is an endangered species, or is about to be. I’m not suggesting a return to the Zoot, or even to the Armani-Boss extravagance of the 80s and 90s, but I am suggesting that we should all be on the lookout for the next big thing, and the Next Big Thing will be, well, big.