This year, for the first time in my life, I felt the need to buy a costume. It all started with Extraordinary Prosecutor Woo, a Netflix Korean drama about Woo Young-woo, a young lawyer with Asperger’s Syndrome working for one of South Korea’s law firms. Dressed in prim skirts and pants in neutral, pastel hues, Woo and coworker Choi Su-yeon project an aura of cool professionalism that I found myself wanting to emulate.
I own a handful of formal blazers and slacks, but what I was looking for was a real business suit. My personal style is informal and driven by comfort, practicality and laziness, which means I’m not a power trainer. At the end of August, I met a publicist wearing what I considered to be one of my most professional outfits. He ended our conversation by jovially noting that I looked like Dora the Explorer, the seven-year-old cartoon character who loves adventure. Flattering, perhaps, but also overwhelming. It’s time to buy a costume.
So I went to Selfridges, where I knew the selection of brands would be wide and a personal stylist could help me navigate it. I am a focused buyer and my ideal suit had a number of non-negotiable requirements. It should look professional enough for the office and cost no more than £1000. For that price, I also wanted maximum versatility, so the jacket and pants had to be good enough to wear on their own and on different occasions, from drinks in the office to weekend parties.
In the studio, my eyes were immediately drawn to an oversized Acne Studios suit in an intriguing “hunter green” color, as well as a more tailored model in a lighter khaki shade from Reformation. They looked like the kind of suits someone with confidence would wear, and while I don’t have many, I was curious to see if I could pull them off. I then piled on safer options in black and navy, and added two pinstripe suits that projected a strong business flair.
In the locker room, personal stylist Maxine gently but firmly pushed me to try on samples in my actual size. I often buy a size up because it’s more comfortable and in most cases more flattering. In costume, however, this trick doesn’t work, and as Maxine suggested, a snug fit is the right fit. No matter the size, however, I ended up being swallowed up by Acne’s giant jacket. The oversized proportions and dropped shoulders might look stylish on someone with longer limbs, but at five-foot-three, I looked like a kid who’d raided his father’s wardrobe.
The Reformation set was more flattering, in soft and comfortable Lyocell, a lightweight fabric made from cellulose fibers. I liked the fit of the high waisted pants – slim in the waist, relaxed in the leg – but the jacket was too anonymous to stand on its own. The overall feeling was too similar to wearing pajamas, without the kind of structured look I was hoping a suit would give me.
I ran into a similar problem when trying on a black wool suit from Arket, the H&M-owned minimalist staple supplier known for being one of the best suiting options on the high street, a few weeks later. The straight fit pants had a nice stretching effect, but they had an elasticated drawstring waist that made me feel like I was underdressed. Many brands now offer formal trouser styles with leisure details to improve comfort, but the effect can be sloppy. Besides, shouldn’t well-designed formal pants be comfortable without borrowing from sportswear?
Back at Selfridges, I tried on a navy Theory number in a stretchy, lightweight triacetate and polyester blend that was airy and easy to wear, if a little plain. The tapered pants were comfortable, but the side pockets bulged out like two little flags on my hips. Maxine explained that this is a common problem that can occur when pockets are sewn into the side seam, as well as when pants are too tight. It can be easily remedied by sewing the pockets closed, which Selfridges offers as part of its alterations service. But I didn’t want to give up the convenience of having pockets, so I moved on.
My next suit was a black ensemble from Joseph – a double-breasted jacket with chic pointed lapels and high-waisted flowing pants. Vertical pleats in the front and back of the pants helped elongate the legs, and a side zipper flattened the front, avoiding the inevitable belly bulge that front zippers and buttons do. often create. I liked the strong character of the jacket and the cut of the pants, but unfortunately the thin fabric of the pants showed traces of everything I was wearing underneath.
I was worried that a full pinstripe suit would be too extravagant to wear, but the two options I tried at Selfridges proved me wrong. Copenhagen label Remain Birger Christensen’s gray style, with a double-breasted jacket, padded shoulders and classic straight-leg ankle-cropped trousers, projected confidence and professionalism. I liked the reassuring heaviness of the wool-blend fabric, but I knew it would be too warm for my commute and I couldn’t see myself wearing the pants anywhere outside of the office.
The truth thunderbolt arrived with a black pinstriped Joseph suit. It had a similar fit to the model I’d tried before, but came in a mid-weight wool-spandex blend that solved the revealing issue of its twin. This time, the mid-rise pants had a slight flare at the bottom, adding an early flair that I, a 90s teenager, was immediately fond of. I imagined myself wearing the full suit with a tucked-in camisole or lightweight turtleneck to the office, and the pants with a crop top for going out. The jacket would enhance jeans and simple t-shirts, providing me with an alternative to my old Mango blazer.
As I often do when trying to decide whether to commit to an expensive purchase (my perfect suit is £990), I tried it again a few days later, this time on my own. I liked it even more than the first time, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. Over the past few years I’ve made a conscious effort to buy less and couldn’t justify the purchase. But if I still think about it in a few months, maybe I’ll buy it then.
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