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Paul Galvin: Strong suit


'Topman's playful
approach is my
Drop-crotch suit,
€220, gladiator
sandals, €54,
white top, €24,
all Topman

'Topman's playful approach is my favourite': Drop-crotch suit, €220, gladiator sandals, €54, white top, €24, all Topman

'Topman's playful approach is my favourite': Drop-crotch suit, €220, gladiator sandals, €54, white top, €24, all Topman

Just what is going on with men's suiting? There was a time when a man's suit was a suit; a time when the biggest decision to be made was the colour. Black or navy, black or navy? Hmm, black... no, navy... no, black. Definitely black. Sure, it goes with everything. Except navy.

And with that, mom bought the suit and the pressure was off. I remember my mother buying my first suit from Sean Hussey in Tralee when I was about 13. Sean was, and still is, a man of class who has dressed me on many occasions since.

In a sign of things to come, it was a rather snappy effort: cream trousers, a navy blazer, a blue shirt and a very interesting print tie that could well have belonged to a member of the RTE newsroom in the mid-1980s.

Men's suiting today is a much more convoluted affair.

Traditional tailoring, proportions and even colours have almost become a rarity. Take a look at the spring/summer 2011 menswear collections and it's clear that suiting is now open to much more experimental, playful interpretations by a new breed of creative directors who are young and bold.

From Stefano Pilati's boyish take at YSL, featuring short pants, high waists and ankle-length trousers, to Alber Elbaz's bright colours and adornments at Lanvin, to Kris Van Assche's loose, flowing silhouettes at Dior Homme, men's suiting has been liberated on the catwalks.

These designers have brought imagination to how a man can wear a suit and I like it. Sandals are everywhere and shirts are nowhere. It's bye-bye ties, hello cravats and silk scarves; so long socks, unless you're wearing sandals; collars are out, colours are in. It's a case of who dares wins.

Given that very little of what we see on the catwalks is wearable in normal life, this liberation could go largely unnoticed if it wasn't for the high-street stores' ability to transfer catwalk extravagance to sidewalk elegance.

And so we begin to see signs of this reconstruction of the man's suit on the street: shirts buttoned up without a tie; brighter trousers; shoes without socks; V-neck jumpers, or maybe a nice bright scarf. Personally, I don't wear suits very often but, when I do, I love to play around with them.

First, I like to contrast my trousers with my jacket. That's easily done, you might think, but it's more subtle than you would imagine, if you want to avoid looking like Don Johnson. I don't go for huge contrast. Black trousers with a grey jacket is simple, and navy with grey -- or even grey on grey -- can work well in the right tones.

I'm not a big fan of ties or collars. Topman's collection for this season is noticeable for its lack of collared shirts. I like to play around with the neckline. I've taken to cutting the collars off my shirts lately. It's cutting-edge minimalism baby!

Instead of a tie, I'll wear a V-neck jumper with some colour, or a cravat. I've worn suits with long-sleeved, buttoned-up military-style tops from H&M. Or even a tracksuit top if the fabric is right.

It's always nice to challenge conventional ways of dressing and often this brings about the best looks. Topman's take on this new playful approach to men's suiting is my favourite -- harem-style pants with a T-shirt, a great-fitting blazer and some sandals.

I was a little sceptical about sandals, but by employing my new modus operandi of trying all the looks I think I won't like, I've learned that there's even more freedom in fashion than I thought.

In a sentence, I now like sandals. This look is modern. For traditionalists, and traditional dressing never goes out of fashion, there's always Hackett. Fine tweed jackets in earthy colours and rugged textures will cater for the more seasoned suit wearer. It's a very smart, urbane look.

It's hard to beat dark suits. I would rarely opt for anything light-coloured outside of grey. Check out Jamie Hince's YSL wedding suit for what I wouldn't wear.

Younger men have started to move away from the local tailor to the high street. It's great for guys to have that opportunity to experience high-street fashion and how to dress themselves at a young age. In my time, the choice wasn't there.

The River Island suit highlighted for me how little difference in appearance there is now between high street and designer suits.

If there's a label that perfectly reflects how I like to wear a suit it's The Kooples. This is a French brand founded by the Elicha brothers. Their parents are the brains behind the brilliant Comptoirs des Cotonniers label. Their aesthetic is young and classy, with a hint of the rock 'n' roll dandy thrown in.

Pete Doherty is collaborating with them on a collection and he encapsulated The Kooples' aesthetic well. Sleek, clean lines, traditional tailoring, slim-fitting jackets, coats, trousers and shirts are staples with quirky silk, lace and leather accessories to punk it up a little.

The colour palette is also very cool. Beige is big with navy and white. The Kooples realise, though, that you can never stray too far from tradition when searching for individuality and unique appeal.

Suits are like men: we go through different stages in our lives. We get a little wrinkled along the way. We become boring. So we change a little too.

But, eventually, we discover our true worth and learn that the more things change, the more they stay the same. A suit will always be a suit and a man will always be a man. The suit can't make the man, but the man can make the suit.

That's life, Jim, but not as we know it.

Weekend Magazine