Today’s trousers owe practically everything to two personalities from British history: Edward VII and his grandson Edward VIII, who made the following features popular: turn-ups, the front pleat, the belt instead of braces and even the zip … The only thing that haute couture lovers justly still reject. Over the years, the height and width of trousers has changed many times. For example, with a waistcoat and braces, they come up to the navel, but with a belt, the waistline is lower because it needs to rest on the hips. Everything regarding trousers is organised around a rigid dichotomy: with braces or belt, with darts or not, Italian darts (facing outwards) or English darts (facing inwards), high waist or normal, vertical or horizontal pockets, tight or wide. There is no accounting for taste. The suggested height of the turn-up is 4.5 centimetres. The trouser legs should lightly touch the shoe with the slightest hint of a fold. They should never be skin tight; one sees too many aspiring ballet dancers around town. When seated, check whether the thighs feel too tight. And when you stand up, check whether the legs are caught on the calves or whether they slip down easily.
The English word suit derives from the Latin sequi, to follow, and indicates a chain in which every component is connected to the one before, in sequence, forming what we call in Italian a “completo”, something which cannot be broken. What we wear today is, in terms of both fashion and dimension, almost the same as what was codified in the 1930s, with only small modifications to its proportions. It covers 80% of our bodies and our choice of suit identifies who we are and what profession we have. It is the citizen’s uniform par excellence. A set of factors has definitively connected suits to the metropolitan world of business. The classics are: chalk stripes and Prince of Wales for the winter, pinstripes and light plains for the summer. The colour nuances are predominantly those of greys, browns and blues and the choice of colours is made according to three factors: profession, climate and the difference between day and night. It is important to be in sympathy with the surroundings and the context, whether work or leisure, and one’s lifestyle. And always with a tie.
A sociological study some years ago posed the theory that there is an analogy between women’s skirt lengths and social wellbeing. We could also suggest that the same thing goes for lapels on jackets. In the 1960s, when growth and optimism were growing, lapels were narrow, while in the 1970s, a period of turbulence, social redefinition and affirmation of new demands, they became more assertive and dominant. A perfect lapel should be somewhere between 9 and 10 cm in a single-breasted jacket. But there are no strict rules except not to exaggerate. Everything should bear a relationship to the wearer and his physical figure. We should always be aware of the look of the entirety of what we wear, as Balzac maintained, and it should demonstrate unity, clarity and harmony. The hand-stitched buttonhole in its simplicity and precision enhances the whole jacket. It reminds us that a suit is a uniform and that, when jackets were worn only by the military, the buttonhole in the lapel served to fasten the jacket right up to the collar. Peaked lapels are only for double-breasted and suit jackets.
For many years, vents were either non-existent or extremely rare. Italy was the last country, at least amongst those amongst the Western fathers of haute couture, to accept vents. Right up to the 1990s, both single and double-breasted jackets were without them. In Anglo-Saxon countries, suit jackets normally have two very high vents which follow a very high, silhouetted waistline (giving the jacket the famous V shape which is known as the English drape). The single vent, which is less aesthetically pleasing, is always better in off-the-peg models all over the world. It is a relic from their origin as sports jackets, for horse-riding or hunting, or leisure pursuits in general. Nowadays, jackets with vents have completely disappeared. Only the dinner jacket remains.