“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively,” said the Dalai Lama.
How’s this for an answer to the question posed in the title? Whenever you damn well feel like it? Ha ha, right? If it was that simple I wouldn’t be writing this post, but the question of when it’s appropriate to wear a three-piece suit comes up time and time again. So, here we are.
Like many classic menswear items, the three-piece suit is generally bound up by any number of style rules. And I have to tell you that I truly have a love/hate relationship with rules as they pertain to style. I love them – sometimes – because they’re a good starting point and place to get one’s bearings.
But on the other hand, I hate them because they often have the effect of rendering well-meaning guys who are honestly trying to make a good-faith effort to improve their appearance utterly paralyzed. And with the popularity of some online forums full of bona fide ultra-conservative style trolls proclaiming, “Death to rule-breakers!” it’s enough to completely turn a dude off.
My take on this has been and will always be as follows: understand the rules, then break them if you please. And, if it looks and/or feels right, it is right. Some heavy hitters have my back. “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively,” said the Dalai Lama. And courtesy of Pablo Picasso: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
But back to the question at hand: when can you wear a three-piece suit?
We are conditioned to think of a three-piece suit as an extremely formal garment. And, yes, it can be. In dark colors, fabrics with a bit of a sheen, or styled with a formal touch, it certainly does come off as formal. But, like the rules of style, there are always exceptions.
The brown houndstooth three-piece suit I’m wearing, for example. It’s a a rich wool with a houndstooth pattern, which gives it a bit of a rustic, earthy and countryside feel, in my opinion.
I’ve also always been a fan of taking a three-piece suit down a formality notch or two by paying close attention to how I style it. With a denim shirt or knit tie or any number of accessories or shoes that challenge the formal vibe, it’s anything but.
When to wear a three-piece suit depends as much on the situation as it does your comfort level. Always think about the “usual” dress code of where you’re going to be wearing one. If your office is a jeans and sweatshirt kind of place, then it’s probably never going to be appropriate. However, if your workplace does happen to be a suit and tie office, then showing up in a three-piece suit might not be that out of place so long as you don’t go overboard with the styling.
Just remember that no matter what the situation, it’s always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. And you know what? If you do show up to someplace wearing a killer three piece suit and you feel a little of of place, just take off the waistcoat or lose the jacket. As I’ve said often, the waistcoat and trousers combo is one of the more under-appreciated combos out there.
Thanks for reading.
He Spoke Style