Have grooms changed in their taste and sense of style? That’s a yes, says Dominic Bliss, who talked to the trend-setting menswear labels
It’s hard to believe but it’s 25 years since Four Weddings and a Funeral hit British cinemas. Twenty-five years since Hugh Gant and his jolly band of chaps reminded us just how great classic wedding suits were. Twenty-five years since we fell back in love with tailcoats, top hats, gaudy waistcoats and buttonholes.
But, a quarter of a century on, are morning suits and traditional wedding wear for men falling out of favour?
Speak to the major tailors, retailers and hire shops in the British wedding market, and you get a mixed message, and one with distinct regional variations.
Stephen Bishop runs a successful showroom in the Surrey town of Woking, offering suit tailoring, retail and hire. He believes the appetite for morning suits had been declining in recent years but that Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle in 2018 gave it a sizeable boost.
And Jake Allen, co-founder of a bespoke tailors called King & Allen, with showrooms in London, Surrey and Cheshire, says there’s a waning demand for morning suits, and that the vast majority of his customers buy lounge suits that they can wear beyond their wedding day.
Gemma Black works for ACS Clothing, one of the UK’s largest suppliers of men’s wedding wear. She has noticed an increase in classic wedding suits, especially a hire jacket they offer called the Slim Fit Tailcoat.
Colour and cut
Everyone in the wedding suit business agrees that blue will still be a very popular colour this year and next. Jake Allen suggests the electric blues we saw last year will be replaced by “lighter, more subtle” hues of blue. “Blue is top of the chart,” adds Gemma at ACS Clothing.
Suit trousers are still very slim in their fit, and few see this changing any time soon, despite the increasingly wider trouser silhouettes we’re seeing on the fashion catwalks. “Catwalk fashion is going baggier, with more relaxed, wide-fit pleated trousers,” says Jake Allen. “But on the high street no one’s biting. Millennials are very body conscious and social- media savvy, posting on Instagram all the time. Younger males look after themselves physically, going to the gym. This all lends itself to showing off a good physique with fitted jackets which nip in at the waist and tapered trousers.” Jake Allen says many cloth merchants are reacting to this body consciousness by producing suit material with small amounts of Lycra in the weave. “It hugs your body but has a lot more give,” he adds.
Marc Wallace is a menswear designer and tailor based in Bath, but due to open a new showroom in London next year. His suits have been spotted on the likes of Mark Ronson, Ronan Keating, Danny Dyer and Andrew Flintoff. Marc believes that
the “super-baggy, anti-skinny” trousers we’re seeing on the catwalks will be popular among really trendy men with slim figures but that they won’t trickle down to suit fashion
in high street stores.
Stephen Bishop always warns his customers off trousers that are too tight. “Last summer it was so hot for such a long period. With elastene material in the trousers, you can wear them tighter and they will stretch. But a proper wool suit in a very slim fit doesn’t do that. It rucks up, it creases, it looks like a mess after an hour or so. Really snug suits are not practical for a ten-hour wedding day in the heat.”
And the fabric?
What about the clamour in recent years for tweed wedding suits? Jake Allen is convinced the new TV series of Peaky Blinders (due to start in the summer), and its perennially cool star actor Cillian Murphy, will only increase all things tweedy. “That three-piece tweed suit with pocket watch and flat cap… we get people calling up all the time asking for that look,” he says.
Marc Wallace, who is launching a new groom collection this summer (and is looking for wedding trade accounts), has noticed an upsurge in demand for darker woolen colours in wedding suits. He is offering what he calls an earth-tone brown and a sea green, both in textured wools.
Stephen Bishop, on the other hand, has chosen to steer away from that woolen Celtic look, thanks in a huge part to the warmer summers we’re experiencing. “I haven’t gone down the tweed route to protect my customers,” he says. “During a hot summer, I wouldn’t wish tweed on my worst enemy. Plus, when it comes to hiring out tweed suits, after a few dry cleans they tend to look like flannels. And I don’t want to be lumbered with loads of tweed suits when the trend disappears.”
Although, interestingly, in January this year the producers of Peaky Blinders embarked on a collaboration with menswear brand Kent & Curwen, which is part-owned by David Beckham. So it might be a little hasty to signal the demise of tweed just yet.
Woolen fabrics notwithstanding, there has been an interesting change in neckwear strategy over the past couple of summers. In the old days, grooms always bowed to pressure from their brides, agreeing to ties and handkerchiefs (as well as buttonholes, of course) that matched the bridesmaids’ dresses. However, men are gaining a bit of sartorial independence now, choosing their own colour scheme for ties and hankies.
Marc Wallace has some bought in some brightly-coloured floral-print ties, for example, perfect for more flamboyant grooms.
With the lower end of the retail market selling such bargain-basement-priced suits – even morning suits – it must be getting trickier for hire shops to ply their trade. As Marc Wallace states: “Suit hire used to be very popular, before the rise of the very cheap polyester suit, and before the trend
for wearing morning suits died out. When it’s £150 to hire a suit, or you can buy one for £75 off the peg, well, what can I say?”
Not everyone agrees. Graham Phebey is the UK distributor of leading brands Barutti and Benetti. He admits suit sales are healthier but that “the hire business can still survive if it offers the right products.” And Stephen Bishop reports good figures in suit hire. When it comes to morning suits he says 99 per cent of customers still hire rather than buy.
Overall, the economic outlook for men’s wedding wear is fairly uninspiring. The uncertainty of Brexit has, of course, had an effect, causing men to organise their wedding wear much closer to the big day than they normally would. But most stakeholders in the industry agree that the future beyond Brexit (whenever that proves to be) does look promising.
“ There’s no denying it’s a tough market,” says Gemma at ACS. “But 2020 is expected to be a big year. Stephen Bishop shares the view:
“2019 isn’t going to be a good year, but 2020 is absolutely going to go loopy”.
Jake Allen is optimistic too. “Men are really enjoying the experience of buying a wedding suit,” he says. “They’re thinking about their suits, researching them, and coming to me with images of celebrities whose suits they particulary admire.”
The way it seems to be
Twenty-five years on from Four Weddings and a Funeral, one celebrity they won’t be carrying images of is Hugh Grant. Although, intriguingly, his film character Charles (and much of the original movie cast) made a comeback earlier this year, starring in a BBC Comic Relief short film called One Red Nose Day and a Wedding. Only this time, it was two women tying the knot, and there was only a smattering of morning suits among the guests. Most of the cast, including Charles, sported lounge suits.
A sign of how much times have changed, perhaps?