Return to Sophisticated Dressing - Benjamin Bellwether

Return to Sophisticated Dressing

A Bellwether Insight

Photo: Zane Lee
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Over the past few years, athleisure and activewear have saturated the silhouettes and fabrics we’ve seen on the runways and in the streets. We have become more casual as a culture, so we looked for clothing to support that. The first wave of this was active clothing in everyday dress (remember those girls in bike leggings and tailored suit jackets? *confused emoji*) and then complete head to toe active-inspired looks that were dubbed “athleisure.” But now, we are seeing another evolution. Athleisure and activewear ad-nauseum is definitively pushing us into a more formal silhouette focused period of design.

Virgil Abloh recently pronounced that “streetwear is dead” (link) and then later clarified to say that it’s just an evolution. We agree, because we have seen it before. Raf Simons in the 90’s was full of streetwear-inspired suiting. Sean John started as a fusion of hip-hop inspired street-wear and dressy clothing in the late 90’s. His influence is still seen today, although perhaps not as widely publicized as Raf’s influence.

Streetwear came out of both hip hop culture in NYC and surf culture in LA. The influence came from punk culture, workwear, music and sports. Since the 70’s, streetwear has worked its way through many brands, lifestyles and iterations. While it may seem like the last place streetwear would be is in sophisticated dress, the cyclical nature of fashion has come back around again.

Alright… enough of the backstory. Let’s look at how the combo of streetwear and sophisticated dress are popping up today.

Suits, Suits, Suits

The most obvious form of streetwear in sophisticated dress is the styling with suits. We are seeing a range of suiting options paired with hoodies, t-shirts and more. This is coming out of both the streetwear influence and the rise of business casual dress at work.

The double-breasted suit has been presented by brands like Carlos Campos, Paul Smith, Officine Generale and Stella McCartney, in both slim and loose silhouettes. The peak-lapel, 6-button front is core, but we are also seeing shawl collars and 2-4 button fronts as well. The fabrications are a mix of classic suiting fabrics and more fashion synthetic blends that have shine and texture.

The nostalgic 90’s into aughts boxy suit with wide peak lapels comes out of the loose suit trend we have been seeing over the past few years. The 90’s versions were probably looking at the styling of the 20’s and 30’s; and, the combination of the time periods is inspiring today’s active styling with traditional fabrics, like the pinstriped version from Les Hommes pictured here. We are seeing single- and double-breasted silhouettes, as well as belted jacket and contrast lapel details.

Perhaps a glaring (lol) statement, the shiny suit has been popping up more on the runways. We see mostly notch lapel, single-breasted styles being used here, letting the fabric speak for itself. Designers are experimenting with shiny satins, high-shine synthetic blends, trilobal polyesters and chintz finishes. More fashion pieces feature jacquards and textured weaves.

Just in time for summer is the short suit. This trend continues to grow on the runways as the market continues to test it. We assume outside of the young mens or Uber-fashion markets it’s not working, as many brands try it only a season before dropping the styles. To up the chances of success, use classic fabrics, breathable summer weight wools and easy prints. Explore both single and double breasted styles, peak and notch lapels and both fitted and loose silhouettes to see what sticks with your customer.

Photo: Todd Snyder March 2020 Catalog

If you aren’t feeling the trendier wide peak lapels or double breasted styles, opt for a simple notch lapel single breasted suit. Style it with a hoodie, t-shirt or a pair of sneakers. This trend has been around for a few seasons, so find ways to update it with color and fabric. We love the idea of knit fabrics for travel and comfort suiting or innovative performance fabrics for commuters.

Pop Checks

Checks and plaids get updated with larger scales and pop colors. This fun and bold look brings a little streetwear influence to a traditional pattern. A range of fabrics are used for this trend, from classic poplins to high-shine twills, satin suiting to flannels. We love an organic option as the sustainable future of fashion continues to grow.

Vertical Stripes

We’ve seen vertical stripes being tested in the market outside of the traditional woven shirt or suit. From what we can tell, they haven’t been successful. So, stick with what works. The classic pinstripe has been the most present in the market, but more variegated and bolder stripes are also being shown. Keep this trend on woven shirting, pants and suiting.

Completing the lewk

The dressier looks we see are being styled with both overcoats and trenches, two of spring’s biggest outerwear trends. For the overcoat, we see both shirt collars and traditional lapels dominating the runways. Use classic cottons and summer weight wools for this trend. You can also try more eco-minded fabrics liked recycled polyester and cashmere.

The trench coat is probably the biggest outerwear trend evolving for both menswear and womenswear. Look for classic menswear colors, with contrast stitching and unexpected design details for more fashion pieces. For fabrics, use classic cotton twills and broadcloth or experiment with recycled nylon like we are seeing from Burberry and others.