Most men have love affairs with attractive women, as the monthly theme of this site is testifying at present. Myself, I’ve always preferred to enjoy an affair with my wardrobe, perhaps to the detriment of more fulfilling relationships. True, its proved just as costly if not more so than dating, but at least I don’t have to buy my clothes dinner, and I also get to choose what we go to see at the theatre together.
Having openly admitted then that I’m a tailoring addict, I can further confess that there is one suit that has stolen my heart more than any other, deeply impractical and rarely worn though it is; the soft white lounge suit. It takes divers forms from off-white winter flannel to super-lightweight ivory linen, but no matter what its cut or composition there is something truly effortless about it. One may seldom have a chance to wear one, the trouser seat and hems may perpetually mark and stain at the slightest touch of a chair and you may stick out like the sorest of thumbs half the time – but who the hell cares when shrugging a cream shantung jacket about your shoulders makes you feel like a veritable Casanova. Don’t take my word for it either. Those who doubt the white suit’s romantic connotations, or its import in the realms of sartorial iconography could do a lot worse than reflect upon the past thirty or so years of cinematic sartoria.
Perhaps the most romantic and seminal of all white suits was the creation designed by none other than Ralph Lauren for the 1971 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Worn by Robert Redford, Lauren presented the aesthetic of the 1920s at its most empowered – with just the right amount of jaunty 1970s piquancy. He also, it has to be said, interpreted Fitzgerald’s original description of a bright white suit, golden tie and silver shirt considerably more accurately than the ensemble thrown together for Baz Lurhmann’s 2015 version. In the purest of white lightweight gabardines, his suit quite literally glows on screen, channeling what Fitzgerald described as the ‘warm golden light’ that emanated from his endemically flawed hero. Confident lapels, a long flared skirt, full-cut pleated trousers with a high rise and a punchy double-breasted waistcoat make for the most idealistic smokescreen possible, the aristocratic front for Gatz’s inherently flawed new-found identity.
Using the white suit to suspend the beholder’s disbelief in the flaws of the is not a trope that’s exclusive to Gatsby. Perhaps the other great depiction of the white-clothing-clad antihero is that of Lord Sebastian Flyte, played to melancholic perfection by Anthony Andrews in the BBC’s 1980s adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. At the story’s opening, the carefree Flyte in his youthful student is seldom seen in anything but ‘white tie’ or rich white tailoring, whether it be a drape-cut three-piece suit, or else cream cricket flannels, poplin shirt and painted brogues - all of which reinforces his angelic quality. Yet as the narrative progresses, and the pressures of his overbearing family and an overbearing church grind-down Sebastian’s natural flair, the worn-out tweeds replace the pure white tailoring, with ragged shirts and general tatters of regrettable self-loathing and alcoholism.