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Lands’ End and the Casual Suit

“Courtesy Of” is a series on This Fits in which I write about products that have been gifted to me for review. While I strive to be objective, I think it’s fairer to you, the readers, if I disclose when I’ve received merchandise for free.

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A zipper is the last thing I expect to write about in a suit review, to say nothing of mentioning it in the opening sentence. But the zipper is a bit unusual on the trousers of the Tailored Fit Supernatural Wool suit that Lands’ End sent me, and it’s a detail that offers insight into the character of the garment.

The zipper, you see, is thick and sturdy, made by YKK. Although this shows Lands’ End didn’t cut corners by going with cheap zippers, that’s not unusual in and of itself. No, what’s strange is that the zipper is there at all. Larger and more substantial than any zipper on any tailored trousers that I’ve encountered, it’s the sort of detail you’d expect if I were reviewing premium denim, rugged outerwear or duffle bags—in other words, not the kind of zipper typically seen on a suit.

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I mentioned the zipper to Lands’ End Men’s Design Director J Henley last week. “Menswear relies on details and nuances,” he observed. “Subtlety is rarely lost on a discerning consumer. I like to look beyond the obvious like fabric, color, pattern and fit and focus on details that are often overlooked, or are the first place to cut costs from a garment. In this case, the heavier zipper slider was a result of my disdain for small coil zippers on trousers. I wanted something masculine and a bit stronger.”

I think the zipper works especially well in this context, because it belongs to what is essentially a casual suit. A Suitable Wardrobe's Will Boehlke strongly advocates for the casual suit, which he defines as something between country and city, between an office suit and an odd jacket. In a brown glen check like the suit I received, it's a good choice for anything from Fridays at the office to air travel to bumming around on New Years’ Day.

A few features identify this as a casual suit, particularly on the jacket. Most conspicuous are the flapped patch pockets at the hip, a more casual configuration than the typical flapped welt or besom pockets seen on most suits. The patch breast pocket is an even rarer choice for a suit, and further reduces the formality.

imageIn a fun note, J Henley said the breast pocket shape is meant to resemble a chalice, that is, a ceremonial goblet. Here, they raise their glasses to menswear. Cheers!

Less obviously, the jacket lapels and pockets have swelled edges, a sporty detail usually reserved for odd jackets but occasionally seen in casual suits. Also, the natural shoulder style of the jacket is inherently more casual than more structured shoulders seen on suits meant for the office. And the brown glen check of the suit I received is certainly less formal than solid navy, charcoal, or pinstripe fabrics.

Speaking of fabric, I asked J Henley what was so special about Lands’ End’s exclusive SuperNatural wool. He explained that it’s a Super 110’s tropical weight wool with three key characteristics: wrinkle resistance (by using a higher twist yarn), additional stretch (by various washing and shrinking techniques at the fabric-finishing stage), and “Cool Wool”, a finish that enhances wool’s natural hydrophobic characteristics, making it highly breathable and moisture resistant. To me, these all seem like properties that enhance the casual suit role, particularly for travel.

J Henley also let me know that the suit is their take on the classic Chipp suits from the 1960s, mentioning Ivy Style's post on the subject. “We’re celebrating our 50th Anniversary this year,” he noted. “Lands’ End was started in 1963 by Gary Comer, a true sailor who believed in well-built product. The Chipp suits were a natural influence as we looked to create something that was also connected to that era.”

Since the jacket’s darted, I’m guessing that’s a reference to the natural shoulder, flat front trousers, and slightly fitted silhouette. The lapels are on the narrower side, another characteristic associated with suits of that era, though they’re not quite as narrow as you’d find on J. Crew’s Ludlow. Between the two, I prefer Lands’ End’s more moderate lapels.

J. Henley told me the suit features a new fit introduced less than a year ago, but I found it very similar to the Tailored Fit cotton-linen suit I picked up last summer, which is based off Lands’ End’s old suit block. I wore the latter suit yesterday (linen weather in April … sheesh), and found that the wool suit offers considerably better range of motion. I’m not sure if that’s a result of a different cut or the additional stretch of the SuperNatural wool, but it’s noticeably more comfortable to wear. Not surprisingly, I like the fit quite a bit. It’s snug in the shoulders and nicely nipped at the waist. All my tailor had to do was hem the sleeves and trousers. My one criticism is the low armholes, which seem at odds with the slim silhouette.

As a 5’7” guy, I also appreciate how the high lapel gorge and lower button stance lengthens my torso, while the shorter jacket means I can get away with wearing a 38 Regular (though I encourage Lands’ End to introduce Short sizing for their Tailored Fit suits). The trousers comfortably accommodate my disproportionately large thighs while remaining respectably slim.

So how does one wear a casual suit? I’d originally requested a grey herringbone suit if possible, so at first I wasn’t quite sure what to wear with what I received instead—“Toast Glen Plaid,” a grayish-olive-brown glen check with light blue windowpane overcheck.

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I started with the tried and true Italian Background: light blue shirt and navy tie. I generally only wear closed-lace shoes with suits, but in this case I chose dark burgundy pebble-grain longwing bluchers. I thought it worked well with the suit’s somewhat country feel.

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Shirt: Brooks Brothers; Tie: Kent Wang; Square: Drake’s London; Shoes: Allen Edmonds

Given the jacket’s sportier features, the suit can be broken up pretty easily. While there’s a slight nap to the fabric, I wouldn’t quite call it flannel, so I think wearing the jacket as a separate works best if the trousers are matte and slightly textured. Here’s one outfit I’ve worn: university stripe OCBD under a navy merino V-neck, light grey flannel trousers and chocolate brown chukkas. I’ve also worn the chukkas and a navy knit tie with the full suit, and I think it looks great, though I’d recommend a dressier chukka like the one pictured, as opposed to, say, Clarks desert boots.

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Shirt: Lands’ End; Sweater: Club Monaco; Square: Drake’s London, Trousers: Howard Yount; Boots: Loake 

Finally, I’ve worn the pants as odd trousers, seen here in a rather tradly outfit: navy doeskin flannel blazer by Gant, OCBD and vintage tie from Brooks Brothers, and burgundy penny loafers from Allen Edmonds. I’ve also worn this outfit with my light brown shell Meermin longwings, or substituted a V-neck or chunky cardigan for the jacket (without the tie).

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Until recently, when people asked me where to get a decent interview or wedding suit on a budget, I recommended the now-discontinued Lands’ End Year’rounder in navy or charcoal. I’m hesitant to recommend this Supernatural Wool suit as a replacement for the Year’rounder for two reasons.

First, I can’t help but wonder if all the features that make this a great casual suit make it too informal for weddings, to say nothing of interviews. I mentioned this to Derek of Die, Workwear! a couple months back, and he countered that in today’s world, most people don’t notice such details. It’s a great point, and at a glance the differences are so subtle, I think most would just see a great-fitting suit. That would stand out at events like a wedding Derek attended where, as he put it, “every guy had 5 breaks in their trousers and jackets that were too big”. In all but the most formal and traditional settings, therefore, this first objection is probably a moot point.

The second reason for concern is price. Where the Year’rounder retailed for $240 and could be had for under $150 on sale, the new Supernatural Wool suits retail for $423. While probably one of the better deals out there on sale (especially during Lands’ End’s rare “40% off everything” events), at full retail there’s some formidable competition. Most notably, for just a bit more, SuitSupply offers dozens of suits with half-canvas construction and fabric from respected European mills. When I mentioned this to Lands’ End’s J. Henley, here’s how he responded:

We feel this is one of the best-fitting suits, with a unique performance fabric that’s perfect for travel and very lightweight. The make and quality carry our "Guaranteed. Period." promise. Additionally, we wanted to separate ourselves from the market. I think we did so by creating this suit with patch pockets. Our signature chalice chest pocket hints at yet another masculine detail associated with ceremony and tradition.

So where does the Lands’ End Supernatural Wool suit belong in a closet? I don’t think I can recommend it as a first or even second suit—better to have those more conservatively-styled, so you’re ready for the formal occasions in life. But on sale, in a world of relaxed dress codes at weddings and workplaces, it makes for a great-fitting option for those times when you want to dress up, but not overdress: in other words, a casual suit.

The Lands’ End SuperNatural Wool Suit is sold as separates, available in Traditional Fit (jacket, trousers) and Tailored Fit (jacket, trousers).

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  1. thinkingwins reblogged this from thisfits
  2. tangodancingphdcandidate said: Minor technical quibble: wool is hydrophobic (i.e. water fearing), not hydrophilic (i.e. water loving)
  3. stylepoints reblogged this from thisfits and added:
    The rare honest review on Tumblr.
  4. thisfits posted this