Man About Town: Seven Shrunken Suits

Nick Hilton has been in the menswear business long enough to know the golden rule that the customer is always right. The son of Norman Hilton, legendary clothier and Ralph Lauren's first investor, he runs an eponymous shop in Princeton, N.J., where he sells a mixture of off-the-rack and custom clothing. From this vantage point he enjoys observing the contemporary foibles of fit.

For example, the group of seven twentysomethings who came in for matching suits for a wedding. The strapping young bucks were all natural 42 regulars and longs, Hilton recalls, but all wanted size 40 regular and short. "They wanted the jackets two inches shorter than conventional and actually pulling across the front," he says. "And they wanted the pants to fit like jeans, so when they buttoned the jacket you could see a bunch of shirt between the button and the top of the pant, which is so unsightly, like having a vest too high."

Hilton was unable to dissuade the young men from indulging in the vulgar vagaries of fashion. "You've got seven Masters of the Universe elbowing each other," he says, "and I wasn't about to get in the middle of that. I gave them what they wanted."

Also a gifted writer, Hilton periodically shares his thoughts on his blog at Last summer he penned an essay entitled, "A Change Is Gonna Come," in which he mused on the current state of the fashion suit. Stating that fashion had reached "the apogee of small," Hilton looked forward to the end of shrunken eyesores.

Ah, but when will the liberator come?

"The next big thing will be Joe Schmo with a bigger, longer, more comfortable fit," Hilton says. "Guys will put it on and say it's so comfortable. The designer will win a CFDA award, and then two years later you'll never hear from him again."

If you've tried on jackets with updated fits at your favorite clothing store, you may have wondered what's going on with the art of patternmaking. You slip something on, admire yourself in the mirror, and then rehearse shaking hands with someone, whereupon the jacket promptly seizes you by the shoulder blades. When you size up, gone is the flattering silhouette. 

"These small jackets are a great look to have your picture taken in," says men’s wear author G. Bruce Boyer, "but I'd like to see people who dress like that try to drive a car. You couldn't get your arms up to the steering wheel."

It's easy to make jackets that are soft and comfortable, Boyer adds, and it's easy to give them shape. What's hard is doing both, and such is the art of tailoring. "You can't just take a boxy pattern and reduce the dimensions in certain spots," he says. "You've got to start from scratch."

Hilton's father employed an expert patternmaker who knew how to trace the body without being tight. Likewise, Hilton praises Canali, whose clothing he stocks and whose patternmaker he says is a master "who knows how to fit an average guy."

As for those seven shrunken suits Hilton made, that was actually two years ago, "and I've no idea if those guys are still wearing them."

As he says, a change is gonna come. Such is the law of fashion.
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