The Suit: Form, Function & Style

Cover of "The Suit" by Christopher Breward

There is something frenetic and exciting about the publication of a book. Especially when it’s been a long time in the writing. And there’s also something a bit sad about delivering the last words on a project before moving on to the next.

These past couple of weeks have been focused on celebrating the launch of my monograph The Suit: Form, Function & Style published (very handsomely) by Reaktion Books. It brings together almost two decades worth of thinking about the design, cut, wearing and representation of this classic wardrobe item, all of which began when I was engaged on my PhD about men as consumers of fashion in late nineteenth-century London (submitted in 1998).

The short chapters consider the suit’s materiality, its development as a symbolic object, the adapting of its forms by cultures all over the world, and the fascination in which it is held by subcultures, artists, writers, film makers and fashion designers. Where the thesis was an exercise in micro history and archival concentration, this book has taught me much about expressing complex ideas simply and elegantly for a broad audience. I am amazed by how much my analytical and writing styles have developed in the intervening years.

It’s been fun launching The Suit and meeting up with old friends, students and colleagues whose work has influenced me along the way. We kicked off at the Jewish Museum in London’s Camden Town two weeks ago and the party coincided with their excellent show on menswear ‘Moses, Mods and Mr Fish’.

This week we launch again at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). In between, journalists have been flattering me with too much interest. The Observer ran a feature earlier in the month, last weekend the Financial Times published a perceptive review by Shahidha Bari, and this week another feature in Crafts Magazine came out. I’m scheduled for interviews with BBC World Service, Radio 4 and Australian National Radio and many of the menswear-obsessive bloggers are keen to ask questions. Whoever said that suits were on the way out?

And when the sparkling wine is all drunk, what next? Well, I’m lucky enough to be taking a research sabbatical at the Center for Material Culture Studies in Leiden in the autumn to embark on preparations for a big new project: ‘Fashionism’: a study of fashion in the nineteenth-century global world, considering its relationship to those other ‘isms’ of the 1800s and 1900s: Marxism, Imperialism, Freudianism, Darwinism, Consumerism. Before that, there’s a book of essays to edit as a research project with colleagues from ECA, Donghua University and London College of Fashion on Shanghai as a fashion city also comes to a close. So I won’t be idle.

As I walk around the Lauriston Place campus at the moment I see our final year students starting to assemble their work for the ECA Degree Show that opens at the end of May. I know that they’re currently experiencing that exhilarating and daunting sense of finishing one big adventure in order to embark on another as well. I wish them the very best of luck.

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