Things are better in three’s, aren’t they? Just take the Musketeers, the Bee Gees and the Marx brothers. So, the same goes for tailoring. It’s time to reconsider the three-piece suit this season, as it finds its way from Pitti Uomo peacocks and the Milanese style cognoscenti, and into the everyday man’s style arsenal.
However, as with all suiting, there are key points to get right before deciding on a three piece suit. And fabric, cut and colour are only the beginning.
Acting on the advice of Melbourne-based tailor, Jack Liang, co-founder of Trunk Tailors and Rhodes & Beckett in-house suit designer, Christina Exie, there’s more to the three-piece suit than the addition of a classy waistcoat. It’s time to get the trio — jacket, pant, waistcoat — just right.
Focus On Fabric
For summer, it is all about staying fabrics that are comfortable, breathable and versatile enough to help you combat the heat – sans sweat. So, think fresco.
“Fresco is crisp, cool and crease resistant. It is designed with a high twist yarn and is perfect for Australian climate,” says Liang. “I recommend J&J Minnis’ Fresco II book.”
For winter, it is all about textures and adding a bit of character to the usual dull winter. “I definitely recommend flannel,” says Liang. But keep it light. “Fox Brothers’ new book Queen’s award flannel is only 250 grams in weight and was awarded the Queens Award for Industry in 2006. Their new lightweight flannels are perfect for a three-piece.”
Find The Right Fit
Due to the three-piece suit’s formal nature, it looks better cut in a tailored fit: the shoulders of your suit ending at your shoulder edge and a flat hand easily slipping in under the lapels once you’ve fastened the jacket. But not too slim. A normal three piece jacket should be cut roomy enough to button it up comfortably when the waistcoat is worn, says Liang.
“We’ve seen a lot of three-piece suits where the waistcoat fits fine, but the wearer is unable to button their jacket as their tailor didn’t account for the extra room needed.”
Down below, the pant should have a half break to no break at all, and cropped for a contemporary finish. “And with a cuffed hem,” says Exie.
Unlike the two-piece, which enjoys a plethora colours and patterns, particularly in summer, the three-piece is retired to neutrals and muted colours.
“Three piece suits tend to be dressier than a regular two-piece,” says Liang. “Therefore, we normally recommend navy, charcoal or light grey as a starting point for a three-piece commission.”
Patterns aren’t off-limits, either. “For a bolder look opt for a prince of wales check in a mid-grey tone,” says Exie. “Or a more subtle black in patterned fabric construction such as the shadow check.”
Mix ‘N’ Match Your Three Piece Suit
And should you wish to throw in a waistcoat in a different colour or pattern, it’s possible — provided you take heed. “It is slightly harder to mix and match different parts of a three-piece,” warns Liang.
A traditionalist at heart, Exie also believes a three-piece suit should always be worn as a full suit – not split. “If you mix and match a three-piece suit, it is no longer a suit. Instead, it becomes an outfit made up of item pieces.”
For dressing down purposes, rather than split, ditch an item. “If you’re after a more casual approach, wear the waistcoat and pants without a jacket and styled with a crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled up and a tie,” adds Exie.
Another mix and match tip is replacing the waistcoat altogether, slipping in knits and or a vest as the ‘meat piece’ in your suit sandwich, says Liang.
“Try a contrast colour cardigan in cashmere or wool, or a nice olive army gilet with a cotton outfit. Lately, the more sporty gilet from brands such as Brunello Cucinelli is the perfect mix-and-match piece. Again, wear it between a suit as a vest substitute.”
Three Piece Suit Waistcoat Rules
As the waistcoat is worn very close to the body, it should be cut with comfort in mind. The length of the waistcoat should cover the belt area of your pant.
“There should be no gap between the waistcoat and the trousers,” says Jack. “This also means no shirt showing in the waist area as it ruins the harmony of the suit.”
The improve the fit, it can also be adjusted with the rear cinch and the waistcoat should always be buttoned up – well, almost. “All the buttons should be secured except for the last button,” says Exie. “Ensure your jacket top button is also secured with the second button left undone.”
Wear It Best
The classic three-piece suit- jacket, trouser and matching waistcoat – is the ultimate black tie number, sitting a notch above the two-piece and on par with the tuxedo.
“The more formal the occasion, the easier it is find an excuse to rock one well,” adds Liang. The three-piece suit is also appropriate to wear at very social settings, such as “the spring races and weddings,” says Exie.
“Style with a light toned block coloured oxford or twill shirt in a soft pink, blue or grey. For a slightly bolder look opt for a vivid tone in a luxurious twill stripe or micro woven pattern,” add Exie.
Simply lighten the colour and fabric, and you’re day party ready. “A cotton three-piece is perfect for a garden party paired with a knit tie. One person that does this extremely well is Alessandro Squarzi,” says Liang.
The dapper suit, however, is a little OTT for the workplace and difficult to pull off in the office. “Unless you’ve earned your stripes,” quips Liang.
Styling Do’s & Don’ts
- Don’t wear a belt to give the suit a contemporary, clean, no fuss finish. But do, if it’s a formal event.
- Don’t wear bold pattern or coloured shirts. “Avoid bold florals and gingham checks,” says Exie.
- Do choose a tie that matches the base-colour of your suit, or the highlight tone of your shirt. “For example, if your suit is charcoal and your shirt highlight tone is purple, then wear a purple block coloured tie,” says Exie.
- Do opt for a higher waisted pants, to “keep the entire outfit in proportion,” says Liang. “There should be no gap between the trousers and the vest, the jacket should be able to be buttoned comfortably without pulling or stretching.”
- Do go for a wider lapel, “to bring the contrast between the sculpted waist and the width of the shoulder on the suit jacket,” says Liang.
- Do play around with personalisation, suggests Exie, thanks to accessories — pocket squares and timepieces — and items that riff on the traditional. “Why not try wearing a pocket watch, instead of wristwatch, with your waistcoat to create an elegant look?”