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(David Drebin)
(David Drebin)

The evolution of the power suit Add to ...

More than two decades after Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, intoned in Wall Street that "greed is good," the young star of the current sequel, Money Never Sleeps, makes an equally startling statement, albeit of the fashion kind.

As young turk Jake Moore, Shia LaBeouf dons a lightweight black bomber as if it were a suit jacket, teaming it with a white shirt, black trousers and a pair of Gucci loafers. The character, a motorcycle buff, is rarely without it, wearing it even to the office.

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"It's respecting the tradition of the Wall Street power look, but, at the same time, it's adding some attitude," says Leo Petraccia, editor of Sharp magazine's inaugural Sharp Book For Men.

"I think that guys, in the past six or seven years, have been too shy to take that direction." If they were, though, they aren't any more. While Moore's rebellious bomber may not fly in many traditional workplaces, it is certainly an acceptable after-hours look and suggests how fluid "dressing up" has become: If money, as the movie suggests, never sleeps, neither does the concept of the power suit, which has been tweaked, updated and reevaluated of late to suit all sorts of taste.

Take a recent Toronto fundraising dinner for the city's symphony orchestra. Held in a stunning home filled with contemporary art, the event attracted some of Canada's top movers and shakers, from urban studies guru Richard Florida to arts philanthropist Jim Fleck to TSO music director Peter Oundjian, all of whom rocked their own of version of the power suit - and in a non-corporate setting. "Hey, do you like my suit?" Oundjian cheekily asked Les Minion, knowing full well that his tailored, single-breasted Hugo Boss number - black with faint chalk stripe - would be well-received by the president of HB's Canadian operations.

"I can't wear a power suit," a black suited (but tieless) Florida said before waxing poetic about how a straighter pant leg and less lining in the jacket offers a polished yet much more comfortable look. "What makes a power suit is the man who's wearing it. I don't think there is a power suit any more," chimed in David Daniels, who co-hosted the evening with his wife, Kate. Dressed in a tailored dark-grey Pal Zileri suit with a solid black tie, he added that it's hard to go wrong with a monochromatic look. "It's very quiet, but it's all about the details."

The awareness and appreciation of suits today has contributed to a mini revolution in the way men dress. If Wall Street 2 falls short on story line, its sartorial message comes across loud and clear: Suits have both retained their power and come a long way in the 23 years since the original film hit theatres. Back then, of course, everything was so big, flashy and, well, overdone. Looking back, it's hard to imagine how men tolerated so much excess fabric, from shirt tails to jacket sleeves to pant legs. With rare exception - hello, Larry King - patterned suspenders seem less acceptable today than leveraged debt. And let's not get started on the petrol-slick comb-back.

This fall, however, some vestiges of that era have surfaced again, whether because of Douglas's unfaded star power or the belief (some might call it wishful thinking) that better financial times are near. Two-colour shirts, for instance, have a new following among a small group of men, while fashion editorials from GQ to The New York Times's T magazine are playing up the allure of the waistcoat and watch chain. Intricately patterned Hermès ties (which, for some dudes, never lost their appeal) are de rigueur once again. And while not for everyone, the double-breasted suit is back.

None of this, however, suggests the demise of a recent suit innovation: the slick, slim number. Most suit accoutrements, from shirts to ties, remain equally tailored. "The shirt is slimmer, the tie is narrower and the arm hole is high but comfortable," says Jeff Farbstein, executive vice-president and general merchandising manager at Harry Rosen. "[Everything]is just slim enough to have mass-market appeal."

In a phone interview, Minion of Hugo Boss points out that even diehards still married to the pinstriped, slicked-back Gekko aesthetic are being enticed by some of today's less tradition-bound styles. Just like many men are choosing bolder car colours, for instance, there's a movement across all demographics from basic black suits to charcoal, navy and even oxblood models. (In one Wall Street 2 scene, character Bretton James, the disturbingly sexy malefactor played by Josh Brolin, sports an oxblood jacket; in another, he wears a double-breasted peak-lapel suit with spread-collar shirt.)

Some older men - especially those who work out regularly - are even donning the slimmer, more body-con cuts. "I really don't think it's a generational or age thing," Minion says. "I think that, when it comes to clothing and silhouette,

it's more of a self-image thing, more about physique."

Farbstein agrees, but does notice some differences based on age, even if nuanced. "The younger guy has got a slightly different haircut and slightly different way of wearing clothing … he wants to have the image of being the guy who runs the show but doesn't want to be exactly the same as everyone else," he says.

The costume designer for both Wall Street films, Ellen Mirojnick, captures this idea in LaBeouf's less reverent style, but, in the sequel, also tweaks the silhouette of Gekko himself, outfitting the iconic shark in leaner, even meaner duds. Although Douglas isn't gym buff, the update, well, suits him. To paraphrase his alter ego's most famous catchphrase, change is good.

A BRIEF GUIDE TO WEARING SUITS TODAY

CUT AND SHAPE

The return of the power suit doesn't mean you can wear a version from 25 years ago. The silhouette has changed significantly - it's slimmer throughout the arm, body and leg. Don't be in denial about this. Get a new suit.

SHIRTS

Dress shirts have been scaled down accordingly. There's less fabric through the armholes and tails aren't as long. The look should be clean, not blousy.

PATTERNS

Get into the spirit of stripes, from pinstriped suits to lined shirts and ties. Go ahead and mix stripes, but vary their widths. A striped suit, shirt and tie may be pushing it, though. Also gaining favour are discreet checks and hues such as oxblood. Charcoal and navy are as standard as black these days.

D-B or NOT D-B?

Double-breasted suits are back, but this time they're narrower through the waist. Ultimately, it's still a more mature statement, best worn by men of a certain (well-exercised) age.

Photography by David Drebin; styling by Alon Freeman/Judy Inc. (www.judyinc.com); hair and makeup by Jackie Shawn for TRESemmé Hair Care/Judy Inc.; grooming by Heather Fox.

Follow on Twitter: @amyverner

 

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