Although most commonly associated with tailored business wear, the suit is simply a set of matching pieces. This is equally true of the austere flannel suit and its workwear cousins. For years, brands such Le Mont St Michel in France and American stalwart Dickies have offered utilitarian two-piece garments. Designers have often drawn on such uniforms for inspiration, and, over the past few years, brands such as Nigel Cabourn, Acne and Universal Works have all offered hard wearing outerwear and trousers in coordinating fabrics.
More recently, traditional tailoring brands have taken the baton back, adopting workwear cuts, materials and techniques in their own casual suits. Examples of this experimentation with shape include Japanese sartorial brand Camoshita’s recent two-piece overshirt and trousers in printed cotton and Informale’s work shirt made with tailoring sensibilities, including French seams and horn buttons.
One of the most innovative brands in English tailoring has long anticipated this convergence. S.E.H. Kelly, a small workshop run by Paul Vincent and Sara Kelly, began as a casual clothing brand with a tailoring ethos. “Sara’s background was on Savile Row, working with British suppliers, mills, manufacturers,” Vincent tells Robb Report. “We decided to put those contacts to use in everyday, casual clothing, using the same high-end mills and quality horn buttons.”
This emphasis on methods and materials means that while S.E.H. Kelly produces country and workwear pieces, they’re crafted with a tailor’s sensibility. “Whether it’s a suit jacket or work jacket or shirt, we have the same starting point: good fundamentals…the balance of the garment, the pitch of the sleeves, the size of the neck,” says Vincent. “There’s absolutely no difference in our minds; they’re all part of the same family of garments.”
The brand’s field shirt and trousers epitomize this inclusive thinking. The field shirt is a practical garment but its design is quite intricate. “The upper body is all one piece,” Vincent points out. “No shoulder seam, no armhole seam. It looks wearable but is quite subversive in the way it’s put together.” The trousers exude a similar combination of toughness and reserve, pairing a clean extended waistband with sharp pleats and concealed pockets. Rather than a standard workwear cotton canvas, though, it’s made up in barathea, a so-called “workwear worsted”. As Vincent explains, the textile is “a worsted twill with a hopsack weave on the top side, made in Yorkshire by a mill that supplies the military.”
An exciting young tailoring brand making similar moves is William Crabtree. Its name pays homage to an old northern English family cloth business, and its love of Yorkshire cloth and Scottish knitwear is clear from the moment you enter its store in London’s Marylebone. Offering sophisticated tailoring in supple English flannel alongside chunky Shetland sweaters and locally made polos and tees, the brand celebrates both the refined and simple sides of British style.
This explains why James Priestley, the founder, has also embraced the knockabout cotton suit. Rather than traditional business suits, “85 percent of people I see for made-to-measure are buying separates now,” he tells us, “and a continuation of that trend has been more casual designs.” Chief among these are the Lowgill, a work jacket that’s cut with a lapel and patch pockets but made up in a hardy 10-ounce cotton canvas, and the 4 Pocket Chore, a softer cotton style that’s shorter and boxier, offered with corresponding trousers to make up a go-anywhere suit that has the elegance of its formal cousins but none of the airs and graces. Notably these pieces are garment washed—a technique beloved by denim specialists but rarely available from tailors—to achieve a worn-in look and instant comfort.
Workwear influences have even made it to the heart of Savile Row. This summer, forward-thinking bespoke house Richard James offered a cotton-linen work suit in easy navy and decidedly breezy dark pink. The trousers are cut generously and finished with a drawstring, while the shirt-jacket is cut to be worn over a tee or vest and finished with a nod to classic tailoring: patch pockets on the hips and a subtle welted breast pocket.
Further down the street at 9 Savile Row, Drake’s has expanded its line of Games Suits, with fall-winter options in heavy olive corduroy and selvedge denim. The corduroy model comes with matching trousers, making for a relaxed and sporty countryside suit, while the denim option comes with a set of brass blazer buttons that can be swapped in, should you wish to create the English equivalent to the Canadian tuxedo.