The stylish man generally avoids wearing pieces of his suits separately, even when his suit trousers wear out and he ends up with an ‘orphaned’ suit jacket. This is because suitings are usually not made of the same materials as odd jackets and odd trousers, and they usually look too formal to be worn not as a whole suit. Many ‘orphaned’ suit jackets end up in charity shops when their trousers wear out. There are, however, some tricks to wearing the pieces of a suit separately.
The Risks of Wearing Suit Pieces Separately
The fashion police are far from your biggest concern when wearing a suit piece on its own. The biggest problem is that by wearing one part of a suit without the other, the suit will wear out faster. A suit should be thought of as one whole garment, not of as individual pieces, So if one piece wears out, the whole suit wears out. If you wear the trousers by themselves, they will wear out long before the jacket, and trousers tend to wear out sooner than the jackets even when they both get the same amount of wear. For this reason, men sometimes buy a second pair of trousers to go with their suits. Some shops used to sell ready-to-wear suits with two pairs of trousers.
With some suits, the jacket is useful without the trousers. More typically, the trousers can be useful without the jacket but not the other way around. For this reason it is always better to have separate trousers to wear with sports coats that are not suit trousers. On the few occasions when James Bond wears his suit trousers with a sports coat, it isn’t a problem because the clothes only need to last the life of the film production. While the actors used to take home their Bond wardrobes, that came second to the suits’ use in the films.
Suitings that Work Separately
If you split up your suit, you don’t want it to look like it’s a suit that’s missing the other half. The cloth determines if one piece of a suit can look right without the other piece. Most suits worn separately still look like the pieces of a suit when they are split up because the suiting is too dressy to be split up. Odd jackets and odd trousers are usually made from different cloths than suits are. The style or detailing of a suit jacket or trouser never determines whether it can work on its own or not, and changing the buttons or stitching on a suit jacket will rarely make it look more like a blazer or sports coat.
Suitings that Also Work As Trousers
Some suitings can make both effective odd jackets and odd trousers, while others work well as trousers on their own but not jackets. Conversely, any cloth that is appropriate for trousers is also suitable for a whole suit, though many such suits won’t end up being smart business suits. There are only a few cloths that are commonly or traditionally both used for suits and for odd trousers. To clarify, these few cloths are not traditionally used for odd jackets, just for trousers or whole suits.
Flannel is the most significant cloth that is both a classic material for suits and for trousers. Woollen flannel is usually the variant used for odd trousers, but worsted flannel is also appropriate. Flannel makes for a relaxed suit, which is also why it is effective for odd trousers. It is James Bond’s most frequently worn cloth for odd trousers.
The only time James Bond wears a piece of his suit without the other is with his grey flannel trousers. He occasionally wears his grey flannel suit trousers with a different jacket, such as a blue blazer or a light grey tweed jacket. Bond wears his dark grey or charcoal flannel suit trousers with these jackets in Dr. No, Thunderball and A View to a Kill. He may be wearing the trousers from his black worsted flannel three-piece suit in Diamonds Are Forever with the brown herringbone half-Norfolk jacket at the start of the film.
Gabardine, in both wool and cotton, is another material that is effective for both suits and odd trousers. James Bond wears both wool gabardine suits and trousers often in the 1980s films, but in different shades of tan. While his tan gabardine suit trousers would be effective with sports coats, he always chooses darker and richer shades for his suits and paler shades for the odd trousers.
Worsted prunelle and wool-and-mohair cloths can also be worn as odd trousers, but they are more common as suits because they are smooth cloths with a good amount of sheen. As trousers, they pair best with dressier sports coats such as worsted blue blazers or silk jackets. They are not ideal for odd trousers but they can be worn.
Flannel and gabardine generally do not make good odd jackets, but they’re far from the worst suitings for odd jackets. Prunelle and mohair are much too fine to make good odd jackets.
For these cloths to make good trousers, they should be plain without any pattern. Striped suitings are rarely effective for odd trousers. While semi-solids may introduce texture to suits, they are usually in patterns that are unique to suits and look more formal. Checked suitings can work as odd trousers, particularly houndstooth, puppytooth or glen checks in flannel and serge or plain-weave worsted. Checks that are grey or read as grey can pair well with a blue blazer or another solid jacket. Windowpane suitings work too but are a little flashier. These suitings may work as trousers, but they aren’t usually effective as jackets because the pattern is too small or cloth is too fine. Good odd jackets should ideally have some texture and a looser weave, both so they have more character and so they contrast texturally with the trousers.
Suiting that Work for Both Jackets and Trousers
Some suitings can make both effective odd jackets and odd trousers. The most basic worsted wool suitings are serge—an even twill—and plain-weave, and as basic worsted cloths they can do just about anything. However, modern versions of these cloths are less effectively worn separately than older versions are. This is because modern versions are lightweight and made of finer wool, so they look smoother and shinier and thus more formal. They’re often too formal for odd jackets and trousers. Older versions of these worsteds were common for both odd trousers and for solid blazers with metal buttons, and they were more effective for both because they had more texture and little sheen.
There are English serge and plain-weave worsteds still woven today that have a less formal look and still look good for both blazers and trousers in addition to suits. High-twist worsteds such as ‘Fresco’ maintain the texture that older plain-weave worsteds had and are still effective for both blazers and trousers, albeit still on the more formal side.
Hopsack is a worsted basketweave cloth that is most often used for blazers, but it is also sometimes used for suits and trousers, making it a very versatile cloth. Its looser weave and added texture makes it a sportier cloth than most other worsteds.
Cloths that make up sportier suits are some of the most effective cloths for both suits and trousers. These materials include, but are not limited to, linen, silk, poplin, corduroy and tweed. Any suit that James Bond has worn of these materials works well as individual pieces. However, tweed trousers tend to work better with knitwear than they do with other jackets.
For the last few years, men online have frequently been talking about an Italian method of wearing suits called spezzato, which means ‘broken’. In the context of menswear it refers to wearing a suit in a broken way by wearing the jacket from one suit and trousers from another suit. It’s especially common for travelling businessmen to wear their suits in this manner because by packing two suits they can have four outfits to wear. James Bond never wears his suits in a spezzato way, despite the practical aspects it would have for his travelling wardrobe. He only wears his flannel suit trousers with sports coats, not with other suit jackets.
Wearing a spezzato outfit is nothing new; people have been doing it for as long as the modern suit has been in existence. It works better when done in certain ways, particularly when the materials are solid and when they have some texture. Suitings that work well separately as mentioned above are the best to wear spezzato.
More on Odd Trousers
To read more about the trouser cloths James Bond wears, see these two articles: