I sometimes wonder how future period films set in our own time will look. How might a sculptor one hundred years hence immortalize the giants of our age in bronze or stone? Will he shape and caress shapeless hoodies and brand-emblazoned t-shirts from the foundation block, and will films feature establishing shots of bustling city intersections disfigured by devotees of ‘athleisure’? The chief dilemma that these ponderings provoke, but which I am reluctant to answer, is: Does the clothing of our era signal an acceptance that we do not strive for distinction, that we do not aspire to the universality and eternality that would inspire us to dress as if our dress would be recorded forever?
Until recently, the suit—and more generally, the tailored jackets, trousers, waist- coats, overcoats, shirts, and neckties that make up male dress—was an indispensable element of the wardrobe of all and sundry, and not the purview of mere bankers, barristers, and those who wished to ostentatiously flaunt their wealth. The suit’s simplicity, its integrated and subtle beauty, proclaims it a universal conveyor of function and form; unchanged for some two hundred years, the suit used to be the ultimate and ubiquitous mode of dress for both those who had many and those who had one.
The suit may not have changed much, but we have. Formal dress is now decried for, among other things, its discomfort. Discomfort! A handsomely proportioned suit may not be as befitting to lolling and reclining as sweatpants, but comfort alone is not a satisfying cardinal value; when we rouse ourselves from a recumbent posture, we should swathe our being in clothes that reflect our drive and direction. The Victorians—who, despite their many faults, aspired to greatness—wore the most absurdly encumbering outfits to the most climatically inhospitable ends of the Earth, rigidly sipping tea in formal morning dress as the monsoon slowly ruined their digestion. Can room be found for the sober, sombre, understated suit, for that economical and refined impression of line and form in this saw-toothed, sublunary world?
Despite regrettable setbacks, we at Valet remain sanguine. It is our firm belief that the suit and general pride in one’s careful appearance have been experiencing a temporary downturn, and the waistcoat, the necktie, and the individually crafted shoe are winnowing their way back to popularity. Far from despairing, or even conceding that we are self-consciously imitating the fashions of previous generations, we assert that Valet is situated in the vanguard, a harbinger of a happy and tailored future. There indubitably exists a growing cohort of men for whom one’s Sunday best need not be restricted to Sundays, and for whom dressing well is a matter of looking forward, not back. Valet is dedicated to contemporary developments in formal men’s dresswear; we may glance backwards at times and take in the view, but the allure of the past does not alter the line of our march.
Like its human bearers, a suit requires attention and sunlight; it should not be left neglected in a deep cupboard, only to be dusted off for weddings and funerals, but rather be a daily course of contours, an expression of the soul, a monument to self-respect. If we dress well to show a fitting appreciation of the gravity of formal occasions, are we then revealing our contempt for the numberless moments that make up the rest of our lives when we adorn our forms with lesser threads?
Suits and similar garb connect us to enduring works of literature and cinema, and have clothed our greatest heroes and villains; through their very force and endurance, they make us worthy inheritors of the past. And of course, the acquisition of clothes and the process of dressing in them is half the fun; clothes bolster character, and as we dress, we assume certain characteristics. After all, are not all moral codes founded on hypocrisy and play-acting? If all the world’s a stage, and partaking in society entails acting a part, let us therefore behave as we wish to be, and feel oneself to be part of a chain of generations, a dance of millions cordially loafing across time and space.