If you were at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week, you’d be forgiven for not clocking 2023’s most ubiquitous trend: the suit. It’s probably because an entire industry seems to have emerged of late, riffing endlessly on the classic two-piece. Whether it was paired with Havaiana thongs and a bikini top at St Agni’s runway, pants-optional and double-breasted at Henne’s, or deconstructed and tartan-infused at Karla Spetic’s, there was no set suited theme to latch on to besides “come as you are”.
And it wasn’t just Sydney jumping on the trend – earlier this year, Paypal Melbourne Fashion Festival thought the trend was so on-point it even dedicated an entire runway to suiting with the Suit Up show. Featured in that show was James Noble, who founded the eclectic Melbourne-based label Reigner – a favourite of outlandish rock and country stars like Tim Rogers and Orville Peck (who wore a Reigner suit on Jimmy Kimmel Live). Noble makes his kooky custom suiting to any brief, whether that includes a bedazzled eagle, or pearl-encrusted prawns.
Noble started the label in 2020, just before the pandemic kicked into gear, and with his creative take on suiting – dubbed “uniforms for hedonists” – he hit on a global market of fans based in the US.
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“As a kid, I’d see these rock stars in suits and thought it was the coolest thing ever. I’ve loved suits since I was a kid … when Covid hit, I was thinking ‘Great, I’ll take a bit of a pause and think about how suits are going to be worn in different situations.’ I feel like post-Covid we’ve become so much more relaxed.
“The idea of just buying something from one of the big brands is – well, it’s lost its ‘experience’ [value]. And so people are wanting more of an experience when they’re purchasing what they’re wearing … I guess life’s too short to be stiff, and people are expanding their horizons on what a suit is to them.”
In the throes of Covid, there was a pervasive narrative in fashion media that the suit was dead. As working from home became the norm, and traditional office life was up-ended, many tastemakers predicted we’d move away from suiting towards a more casual wardrobe. But, ironically, the suit – albeit a more casual version – is now more popular than ever, despite our new-found penchant for home offices. (It is worth noting too that local labels including P Johnson, Arnsdorf and E Nolan have been in the “relaxed” suit game long before Covid and prior to this new wave in popularity.)
Those fashion week shows were reflective of the suiting trends we’re seeing on social media and at international runways: oversized, easy-going silhouettes paired with slides or dad sneakers, and street accessories like bumbags, crop tops and caps.
There’s also a distinctly modern angle for women in the workforce: no longer forced to carry our heels in our bag to swap into post-commute, we can now wear those New Balance babies proudly all day in front of our peers. It’s business casual for a new generation.
Melanie Appathurai, creative director at Avry James Label, launched her collection of casual suiting separates in late 2022, off the back of a surge of interest in versatile but classic pieces that could stand the test of time – and fleeting trends.
“Following Covid, and the very lengthy loungewear phase, it was clear that people were seeking comfort and pieces that were designed to last,” says Appathurai. “Trend-led fashion and event wear had taken a hit during the pandemic.
“The interest in casualised suiting and suiting separates has certainly increased in my experience,” she continues. “I think social media, specifically Instagram and Pinterest, is playing a significant role in this, with the growing trends of minimalist fashion and the ‘effortless look’ – think blazers, trousers, runners, cap.”
Beyond the social media stars, people of all ages have been adopting casual suiting, and they all seem to be after the same thing – a piece that will make them feel dressed up, on trend and comfortable to boot.
Geoff Lee, a Melbourne-based tailoring expert, worked at Versace and Ermenegildo Zegna before joining Oscar Hunt as fitter and development manager in 2021. With his extensive experience in the tailored suiting business, he’s well-placed to comment on our love of a two-piece – and how it has changed over his time on the fitting floor.
“The renewed interest in tailoring stems from [customers] wanting to renew themselves after the pandemic – but also the formalities of the general workwear requirement have changed as well,” says Lee. “Custom tailoring shouldn’t be just for the elite, [and] I don’t believe tailoring is generational.”
Different generations, however, do tend to favour distinct styles. “The younger demographic [Gen Z] are heavily influenced by fashion houses’ style of tailoring in comparison to traditional tailoring,” says Lee. “Oversized jackets with oversized silhouettes are seen to be more popular. For Gen X and Millennials, these two demographics … explore unconventional fabrics and cuts, but also style their tailored garments with a slightly more relaxed attitude.
“The styling of a suit for today shouldn’t be stuffy, serious or structured,” he says. “Oversize cuts and fuller silhouettes really help with versatility in the wardrobe, but also complement many different environments. Want to wear sneakers or your favourite heels with your outfit? Of course you can!”