I’ve written about Los Angeles tailor Enzo Caruso before. He is not only at a stage in his career where his technical skills are superbly honed, but he also grew up in a milieu of well-dressed men who executed their style with skill and variety. Consequently, he is well-positioned to offer stylistic suggestions that go beyond the technical realm of tailoring.
One of his ideas in particular led to a recent commission. We were perusing some his new cloth books and he pointed out one cloth, a lovely Holland and Sherry brown plaid, and how it exemplified for him the perfect “sports suit”. Or, intriguingly, a “working suit” as he also calls it. The color of the HS cloth is difficult to capture (see below) but the chocolate ground is darker than the photos suggest and the blue windowpane a bit more muted.
So what is a sports suit? The central idea behind the sports suit is the idea of “composito” (or composite). The idea is to “compose” a look by mixing and matching the sports suit’s different components with other pieces in your wardrobe. Carefully of course, rather than indiscriminately. Growing up in southern Italy, Enzo remembers in particular a man in his town who did the sports suit very well.
Critically, the most important ingredient of the sports suit is the cloth and its pattern. The sports suit is executed as a three-piece suit and demands a cloth with a tolerant, versatile pattern which can live within an ensemble or independently. Practically, this excludes stripes. But what’s left includes a broad range of patterns falling in between a glenplaid and a plain windowpane, as well as flecked, textured patterns such as a Donegal tweed.
Given the right pattern, there are at least 6 different ways to wear the sports suit. They are:
- Full suit (matching jacket, vest, trousers)
- Matching jacket and vest plus odd trousers
- Matching jacket and trousers
- Matching vest and trousers plus odd jacket
- Trousers only plus odd jacket
- Vest only plus odd jacket and trousers
The sports suit is meant to be an everyday suit but certainly not meant to be worn mindlessly or without effort. This bit of effort is very much aligned with a central idea in my planned book – the wardrobe as a cognitive and imaginative exercise. Not simply an exercise in self-absorption, but a genuine appreciation and respect for things in themselves – the autonomy of cloth, colors, and shape – and an ability to let their independence still somehow express the individual wearer of the cloth.
I also asked Enzo to add buttoned turn-ups or cuffs, a nice feature that I found on trousers made by the Neapolitan trousermaker Ambrosi. Enzo has his own theory on the origin of buttoned trouser cuffs. He speculates it was a practical feature of the countrywear of landed gentry. While making the rounds on their estates, they would pick up twigs and leaves in their clothing esp. the inside of their cuffs. The button facilitates the removal of the underbrush from the inside of the cuffs.
I like this theory and it sounds plausible to me. Most of all, it’s a very fitting coda to a sports or working suit.