I’m deeply ashamed to admit that aside from occasionally flipping through GQ Magazine, I know next to nada about men’s fashion, let alone on how to get a suit tailored here in Beijing. Yes guys, in the Beijing universe you do not go to Zara, Boss or Armani, but you simply pay a visit to your local tailor or the one in the neighbouring district. Because of a severe lack of knowledge about this topic, I had to reach out for help and gracias to an ‘unnamed’ source who absolutely loves to talk, I can today provide you with a short yet detailed overview on how to get tailored in Beijing. Who should you look to for inspiration? The Don Draper and Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII) styles are like Chanel suits: they never go out of style. At the risk of sounding like your typical Men’s Health Editor, here follow
“Five Steps To Getting The Sharp Wardrobe You Want (and get the ladies will love)”.
First of all, why get ‘tailored’? The answer is simple: it’s cheaper in comparison to the stores (1000 RMB for a three-piece suit) and you get the opportunity to choose the fabric and cut that will compliment your best assets, such as your (non-)existent six pack. You can even tell him minor details such as how many hidden pockets you’d like your jacket to have. Of course, you have a wide range in tailors to choose from, ranging from the cheaper ones at Yaxiu to the ones located in Kerry Centre where you pay slightly more, 3000 RMB, but the materials are even better. Nevertheless the biggest advantage of opting for a tailored suit remains that you can get the overall fit down to the polishing completely according to your own style and body shape. (I realize most of you consider yourselves to be Greek gods, but in reality you might actually be apples and pears.) You could also buy a suit off the rack and then get it tailored, but in my opinion that’s beating around the bush. The next question then becomes: with some many options, what type of suit to go for first?
Answer: a navy blue two-piece which is considered to be business casual attire. After that follows a grey one (light, charcoal,…) and subsequently a pinstriped ensemble or one made of a different material like tweed, corduroy or whatever is fashionable at that time (careful: you need to be quite tall and lanky to pull off tweed or any other ‘heavier’ fabric). Another tricky point you need to pay attention to: if you get a three-piece, which is slightly more formal, the vest’s lower button needs to cover the shirt entirely; otherwise it will keep riding up. Regarding the shirt department, make sure you ask your tailor for three of each: the whites and blues are mandatory (preferably with a French cuff), after that follow the more individual or even quirky shirts such as pink ones, banker shirts, and so on. For the ties you only need to remember one thing: do not match your tie and shirt. (On a side note, the mucho macho among you will love to hear that there is such a thing as a power tie and apparently it’s burgundy.) Pants-wise, Armani and Lemaire are two examples of designers working the pleats this season. The usual thing to ask your tailor for is a single pleat, but actually that’s entirely up to you. Unless you’re a fully-fledged model, just play it safe: stick to straight pants, a little longer, with only one bend in them when you stand up. (Told you my source was very specific.)
Yes fellas’, dressing appropriately for business here in China is quintessential on your road to success. The Chinese companies do expect you to walk in wearing Western business attire. Is there such a thing as Chinese attire you might wonder? Why yes, there most certainly is: polo shirt, trousers pulled up high over the protruding belly and purse. Not a bag, a purse. Having scrutinized that, I will admit that when it comes to the latest catwalk fashion for men, which now mainly consists of loosely tailored suits (varying from Prada’s and Lim’s sharply cut yet wide jackets to Yamamoto’s overall extreme loose tailoring involving drop-crotch pants): there is a time and a place for everything. Walking into a boardroom with a Sherlock Holmes cape flapping around your neck, you might raise an eyebrow or two (in a perfect world they would appreciate the fashionisto style, but in real life this is just not always the case). Bottom line is that if you’re employed in the fashion industry: flap away. If not: steer away from the catwalk, don’t go off the grid and just stick to the navy blue suit. Furthermore, there is no such thing as Casual Fridays, though dressing down and still looking dapper is a possibility: jacket, jeans and loafers. A V-neck sweater and khakis will do as well. Lighter khakis, more yellow ones,…, whatever you want. (Here my source got so caught up in his explanation I thought he was about to burst into song.)
Speaking of V-necks, here’s a tip that might come in handy once in a while (or maybe every week, depending on your schedule and table manners). Your road to achieving Carlos Slim status in this city will be paved with business lunches, dinners and drinks. And that means that every now and then you might end up having a small blemish (read: big dripping gravy stain) on your otherwise impeccably dry-cleaned shirt. My source, who I might add masters the art of eating his meals in a civilised way instead of the immensely attractive caveman-style, has found the solution to this recurring hick up: always keep a V-neck sweater in your office. And make sure you don’t spill anything on your collar. Or the sweater. Another trick when wearing a sweater and cufflinks is that you can make sure the sweater is also ‘attached’ to the cufflinks so that the sleeves do not slip out of place and you forever and ever keep the perfect length of cuff on show: ¾ inch. (At this point my source’s monologue turned into borderline enlightenment.)
I have to admit that though I love to see the latest trends on display in daily life, even I might look twice if a man walked into the office wearing drop crotch pants or an oversized Sherlock Holmes outfit. Unfortunately for you fashionistos out there, in order to come across as the real deal and be taken seriously in this city’s business environment, sticking to the classics might be your best bet. Obviously, you can ask your tailor to add some details that allow your personal style to shine through, though this will mostly come down to your selection of shirts and ties. Some businessmen for example have their initials sown onto their cuffs or shirts, even though I personally think it comes across as slightly showing off-y and reminds me of his and her bathrobes (don’t ask, I don’t know why either; yet my source did not agree with it). Bags are another option for you to add a little zing to your outfit. Save for the messenger bag which might be a bit too casual for (oh, I don’t know) a Managing Director but a perfect addition to a journalist’s outfit, you cannot go wrong with a brown leather bag. Overall, if you bear in mind these basic guidelines, at least you won’t look like you just escaped from the circus. You can confidently walk into that boardroom and sweep them off their sport shoes-clad feet!