A Suit for the Season: Derek Guy on Drake's Flannel Tailoring
Last year, I emailed Will Boehlke, founder of the much loved but now closed menswear blog A Suitable Wardrobe. For people interested in classic men’s style during the mid-aughts, A Suitable Wardrobe was essential reading. Will grew up wearing a coat and tie and had decades of experience working with Savile Row bespoke tailors before the internet was invented, which gives him a deeper perspective on classic men’s dress.
I emailed Will to ask if he had suggestions for what might make for a good fall/winter suit for the purposes of getting dinner and drinks in the evening. My first thought was to use flannel, which is that spongy, cloudy fabric that makes tailoring feel like pyjamas.
“I like navy wool-mohair single-breasted suits with peak lapels,” he told me. “Flannel is pretty casual.”
I found the email amusing because it reminded me that, for people familiar with the language of classic tailoring, flannel is considered somewhat casual. After all, the British used flannel for hundreds of years to make a variety of undergarments until they repurposed it for sport. In the 19th century, well-to-do British gentlemen wore flannel as rowing club blazers. Or as cream-coloured trousers paired with Cheviot polo collar shirts when playing tennis or golf. By the mid-20th century, when the United States was marching toward a new era of modernity, fuelled by the upbeat energy of industrial capitalism, the medium- to charcoal-grey flannel suit became a symbol of the upwardly mobile middle class. Americans have always favoured a slightly more casual expression of classic British dress, so they paired their grey flannel suits with oxford cloth button-down shirts, penny or tasseled loafers, and fashionably narrow neckties. Buttoned-up Brits concerned with propriety looked on with suspicion.
Throughout this history, flannel has always appealed because of its slightly casual nature. “The gray flannel suit is the epitome of this approach for me precisely because it has a deshabille, a slightly rumpled nonchalance denied to crisp worsteds,” Bruce Boyer once wrote of the style. “It’s got an easy elegance that can’t be beaten in a tailored garment.” Besides, the material is supremely comfortable. Flannel, like tweed, traps air next to the skin and serves as a better insulator than slick worsteds. Few outfits are better on a cool autumn day than a grey or navy flannel suit paired with a Geelong lambswool or cashmere turtleneck and suede shoes. If that looks too formal, swap the suit for grey flannel trousers and a tweed sport coat.
Drake's flannel suits are made from 11oz woolen flannel, which is a tad lighter than the standard 13/14oz. As a result, they are more adaptable to temperate climates and three-season wear (in the wintertime, if you need, you can layer an overcoat for warmth). The suits are half-canvassed with haircloth running from shoulder to ribcage to shape the chest. They have a soft shoulder line, a gently waisted silhouette, and mid-rise straight-legged trousers, in keeping with Drake's slightly more relaxed house style.
I agree with Will that a wool-mohair suit would be more elegant for evening events. However, as social norms have loosened, a navy or grey flannel suit represents a good balance of comfort and sobriety, giving you flexibility in how and when you can wear the garment. Of course, it can be worn to work with a crisp white shirt and an ancient madder necktie. In the evening, you can team it with a dark turtleneck for all but the most formal of occasions. If you have trouble imagining where you can wear a suit today, I recommend starting with upscale restaurants and bars. My rule of thumb is that, if a restaurant has white tablecloth, you can wear a suit—wool-mohair, flannel, or otherwise.