Any fashion-forward guy is always on the search for a good suit at a reasonable price. In line with that goal, retailers from ASOS and Topman to Frank And Oak have pushed the suit-separates concept: Purchase the full ensemble, or individual jackets and pants, and wear it as you please. Together, it’s fairly sharp, assuming you’ve found the right fit, and separately, you’ve upgraded your standard button-down and dress pants work ensemble.
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But, the solution isn’t perfect: Fits can be slightly off, especially if you’re on the taller side or, at the other extreme, shorter than average. Tailoring is frequently needed, and as you make an appointment, you curse yourself, “Why didn’t I just get a custom suit?”
As well, materials throw in a few variables. The shiny polyester you’ll find from ASOS’ wedding suits looks a bit too flashy for the job, while heritage materials like twill might come off as cheap and rough. And, once you start thinking about stretch fabrics, your suit runs the risk of looking like a women’s style: Thin, polyester-based, and flimsy.
A couple of weeks ago, we received one of these suit separates from Canadian retailer Frank And Oak – the Laurier Sharkskin Stretch-Wool Suit Trouser. If you’re not familiar with the clothing brand – and, right now, it’s one to watch for multiple reasons – friends Ethan Song and Hicham Ratnani started Frank And Oak back in 2012, with the goals of blending style with affordability, helping men dress better, and incorporating sustainable practices into their designs. With pieces developed in-house in Montreal’s Mile End, the company regularly uses recycled polyester and organic cotton, has created water-efficient denim, and later expanded to a women’s line.
For some context, the Laurier Sharkskin is made out of their StretchWool blend – a wool/polyester/Lycra material with a streamlined weave that applies stretch properties to wool-based fabric. The company claims the material is movement focused: Aside from wearing it at the job, it’s flexible enough for walking and even biking.
As a material, it toes the line between extremes. On one hand, it felt especially light, particularly for a men’s suit pant. In fact, after wearing it to the job for a few days and walking around the office, it felt practically like silk, down to the draping effect. Yet, as far as the stretch factor is concerned, you won’t be confusing them with your workout pants anytime soon. Although there’s a certain degree of give and a less-restrictive fit, that overly spandex look and feel is fairly absent. You only really notice it if you try to stretch the material.
Added to this, the Sharkskin style stuck out with a distinctive woven look – something you’d definitely expect from a traditional wool pant, but without the heaviness and occasionally scratchy feel. In fact, as the name implies, there’s something almost vintage about the design: Straight, if not a bit slim from the waist down, with a clear weave. You could easily see the men of Sterling Cooper sporting something like this – obviously without the stretch construction – and a matching jacket.
Wear wise, the Laurier Sharkskin felt a lot like Dickies’ more casual-leaning work pants: Light but not cheap feeling, and without the tight fit you occasionally get from ASOS’ off-the-rack suiting. As such, it didn’t leave a distinctively formal impression at the office. Rather, on one occasion, I paired its pleated, slimmer fit with a Hawes & Curtis floral dress shirt, and it felt like a low-key workplace match that wouldn’t seem ultra-stiff – excluding the collar – for the next eight hours.
A few days later, after a wash and ironing, I took them for a spin with a more casual outfit: A cityscape-print button-up found on eBay and a moto jacket. Sure, they visually looked a bit dressier for the outfit, but that’s the beauty of stretchy, woven materials in navy: They’re as adaptable as jeans, without all of the laidback connotations. Thus, when you’re trying out less formal but not truly casual fare, the Laurier hits the perfect spot. I could easily see pairing this with a fitted sweater, denim jacket, or even a patterned Cuban collar shirt.
On a final note, maintenance – or, more specifically, the lack of it – is another strong point. Especially for cotton-based fabrics, ironing is a pain – the wrinkles still seem to be set in the material, even after a few swipes – and they crease after you’ve been sitting down for a few hours. While I won’t claim these aren’t completely wrinkle free, the ironing actually holds throughout the day, keeping them fairly crisp, and even if you’ve been sitting for hours, it won’t look it once you get up for a break.