BY SARAH PETRESCU
Canwest News Service
Men’s fashion in the 1930s was characterized by impeccably kept three-piece suits, regardless of income or lack thereof.
Men wanted to look as if they had work, even if they didn’t.
“The classic suit suggests the value of stability and the belief in strong work ethic,” offers Kim Blank, a cultural studies teacher at the University of Victoria. “It says, in effect, ‘I’m going somewhere, because I have things to do.’ ”
Nearly 80 years later and more than a year into turmoil resulting from the sharpest economic decline since that era, Depression-chic is back. Or recession-hip, po’couture – whatever you want to call it. The put-together working man is at the fore, despite taking the brunt of job losses and women now surpassing men in the North American workforce.
“The comeback of the classic suit in the age of recession and economic meltdown may be an attempt to revive credibility,” Blank notes, “but the well-suited man in the age of white-collar crime is also a figure representing mistrust and greed.”
From the breadwinners of Mad Men on television to the three-piece pinstriped models in Ralph Lauren’s 2010 collection, a dressing down of high fashion described as an homage to John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath – the classic, affordable suit takes precedence over anything showy.
“I believe in the resilient spirit of America,” Lauren stated in his program notes. “Hard times seem to sharpen our capacity for idealism and our optimism that tomorrow will be a better day. I am spirited by the character of the worker, the farmer, the cowboy, the pioneer women of the prairies living authentically through challenging times.”
Benefiting from this trend is a small online custom suit business founded by two people from Victoria, B.C.
Kyle Vucko, 24, and Heikal Gani, 28, started Indochino.com while studying business at the University of Victoria about three years ago. Their idea was to make affordable, made-to-measure suits in fashionable styles that would fill the gap between cheap, shapeless, off-the-rack suits and the more expensive, well-made brands.
As their business took off to include 10 full-time tailors in China, where they are based, and customers all over the world, Indochino has experienced a boost during the recent economic upheaval, while other fledgling companies are suffering.
“The recession really helped us,” said Vucko, on a recent visit to Victoria. The company’s sales have more than tripled in the past six months. Forty per cent of sales are from return customers. “Guys who wouldn’t wear a suit under $1,000 tried us out, and the quality and fit kept them ordering. New York is where we’ve seen our biggest growth.”
Indochino suits range from $300 to $500 and can be customized from style and fabric right down to button type and monogramming. Their target customers are young professional men, “middle-manager types,” Vucko said. “The kind of guy who might not be making six figures but wants to look like it, or at least not out of place.”
Vucko and Gani scour men’s fashion magazines to design their versions of what the latest dapper heartthrob is wearing and take inspiration from style capitals around the world. They even name their suits after them.
The St. Petersburg pinstripe is conservative in charcoal and light blue, reminiscent of the Russian professional. “Conservative and refined,” Vucko said.
The Hong Kong businessman took after the sleek, black day-to-night look of young men who liked to move from the office towers to the nightclubs.
Inspired by the wet West Coast, the Vancouver Drizzle is grey, breathable and “holds up in the rain.”
Slightly flashier fare, their Persuasive Purple suit paid tribute to Italian design-house Etro, whose price tags range from $3,000 to $10,000.
Indochino’s popular Performance suit line is one they were hesitant to make.
“Guys kept asking us for a polyester suit, so we finally gave in,” Vucko said. “They wanted something stain-resistant that they could throw in a suitcase. Salesmen, waiters, hotel workers really like them.”
Vucko sees the affordability, quality and customization of online made-to-order businesses such as his as the future for much of the men’s fashion industry.
“It’s just so easy,” he said. “Guys who wouldn’t wear suits or couldn’t find them to fit are now buying two or three.”
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