Photographer: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

The Last Bastion of High-End Tailoring Is Toning It Down

Dispatch from Italy: Is the Pitti Peacock going extinct?

Pitti Uomo, the biannual menswear trade summit in Florence, Italy, is the stuff an excessive Instagrammer’s dreams are made of.

There’s the architectural backdrops, such as the gothic-style Duomo; the golden hour light that illuminates the old bridges that divide the Arno River; food porn such as the obligatory cone of gelato and the city’s famous, massive bistecca alla florentina; and, of course, the well-documented street-style scene. The latter has essentially, and unofficially, crowned Florence—and Pitti—the spiritual home of the menswear peacock (for the uninitiated: a man with an enviable yet highly calculated sense of style who puffs up around the famous "Walls of Pitti" in hopes of being photographed, as to be reassured of his sartorial dominance and achievements).

Minimally, but well-dressed, guests during Pitti Uomo 89 in Florence, Italy.
Minimally, but well-dressed, guests during Pitti Uomo 89 in Florence, Italy.
Photographer: Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Samantha Leder and Lewis Malivanek keep the fashion on point—but not over the top—as they walk the streets of Florence.
Samantha Leder and Lewis Malivanek keep the fashion on point—but not over the top—as they walk the streets of Florence.
Photographer: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Now if I'm being honest, I have a love-hate relationship with the street-style culture. As a fashion journalist, who teeters on the edge of the new guard and the old (who usually practices a more self-effacing approach to expressing one’s style), I absolutely understand the importance of visual self-branding and would go as far as to say I appreciate its far-reaching capabilities. But I also loathe it. Especially when I have to brave every Fashion Week’s surplus of professional show-offs just to do my job.

But Pitti is the exception to my grouchy pseudo-intolerance toward showboating. Here, the vibrancy of the industry makes it hard not to get as caught up in (or at least completely entertained and inspired by) the copious amounts of double-breasted, try-hard fashion hoopla that happens outside and in the Fortezza da Basso, the 16th century fort that has long housed the trade show. 

Yet this season is different. So far it has seemed a lot less … bold. Instead of the usual sea of outlandishly mad-for-plaid-type gents in oversize, fur-trimmed shearling coats and double monk-strap shoes, it has seemed as though a majority of attendees had pared down their attire considerably in favor of a return to a more “quiet luxury."

Italian designer Brunello Cucinelli, seen here with his brand ambassadors at his booth at Pitti, has a namesake line that is often considered one of the most aspirational aesthetics in menswear.
Italian designer Brunello Cucinelli, seen here with his brand ambassadors at his booth at Pitti, has a namesake line that is often considered one of the most aspirational aesthetics in menswear.
Source: Brunello Cucinelli

I'm not alone in these observations. “The flamboyant colors have definitely been toned down,” says Josh Peskowitz, menswear industry veteran and co-owner of Magasin, a new men’s store in Los Angeles. “People in general don’t feel as done up, and I think this represents the trend toward tailored clothing that men treat more as sportswear. Overall the looks are looser, less constructed, tonal, and casual.”

It’s true, a casual formality—or elevated sportswear vibe—has certainly taken hold. Instead of eclectic ensembles and, yes, the occasional misstep, such as a lime-green, three-piece suit or a pot-holder-like cardigan layered over overalls, men were mostly in minimalist, but luxe, separates. (Although not yet as informal as to raise the ire of Tim Gunn.)

Street scenes Jan. 12, 2016, at Pitti Uomo 89.
Street scenes Jan. 12, 2016, at Pitti Uomo 89.
Photographer: Christian Vierig/Getty Images
Lino Ieluzzi's more stereotypical "Pitti Peacock" look has been a rare sight at this year's trade show.
Lino Ieluzzi's more stereotypical "Pitti Peacock" look has been a rare sight at this year's trade show.
Photographer: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

"Sartorial Italian brands understand we live in a more casual world now and are creating less formal suits and jackets that work as well with sneakers and jeans as double monks," says Brian Boye, executive fashion director at Men's Heath, mentioning the greens, earth tones, and "incredible" casual, unstructured jackets and coats on show. "The emphasis is more function and fabric technology than showboat styles—a classic, wearable vibe for fall."

"Men who might find fashion out of their reach may start to feel more accepting when they see clothes next fall they can actually incorporate into their life," he says.

If you’re one of them, here are my top six style takeaways from the nattily dressed men of Pitti Uomo 89.

  1. Wear more brown with blue. And tan and black. Brown is definitely the favored color partner of this season and next.
  2. Rethink formalwear. Gone are the days when black tie meant only a silk-blend black tuxedo. Designers are reimagining their evening attire to include brown cashmere-blend dinner jackets and nubby, knitted cobalt-blue options.
  3. Cardigans: not just for grandpa anymore. In particular, chunky shawl-collar versions (à la Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged circa 1993) were seen paired with more constructed pieces, such as pinstripe suits and grey-flannel blazers.
  4. A return to practicality. The overriding sense of the season is comfort but without sacrificing style. Embrace the looser, softer silhouettes and layering on of nubby textures—as they can be truly elegant when done correctly. (See: Brunello Cucinelli, above.)
  5. Mix patterns like a pro. The key to executing enviable pattern play is to balance proportions—such as mixing a larger, bolder plaid with a micropattern. Then anchor the look by keeping everything else (shirt, tie, etc.) a solid.
  6. Invest in down. Give your layering staples an added bonus with a down-filled gilet, or vest. Try wearing it over and under your tailoring for a sporty, more relaxed look.

But above all, remember to do you. You want to look stylish but not styled. 

“All dressing well really takes is understanding fit, having confidence, and liking what you wear,” says Peskowitz.

Nic Screws is the style director at Bloomberg and will be reporting all month from the runways of Europe. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter or e-mail her any of your fashion concerns or questions at nscrews@bloomberg.net.

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