Where do you go to get the best suits in the world?
Gather up a group of men's style experts, and some will say:
London, of course – Savile Row.
Others will say:
You've gotta get to Milan.
Who's right? It's a matter of taste, opinion, and frankly worldview.
But even if you're shopping for suits in Duluth, Minnesota – your quest will benefit from learning the ins and outs of English vs Italian style, the effects they achieve, and the attitudes they represent.
1. English Vs Italian Style Attitude
The foundation of the English vs Italian style contrast is a difference in attitude. Each comes from a distinct cultural philosophy about how a gentleman relates to the world, often in a reserved or flamboyant manner.
Classic menswear in England places emphasis on the man, not the clothes.
An English gentleman should blend in so his date's outfit can draw attention instead.
This means generally conservative styles, colors, and patterns. Clothes are worn neatly and according to well-established rules. English dress may appear unusually formal to American eyes, even those of men who like to look sharp.
Italian men have a reputation for being peacocks. An Italian gift to menswear is the concept of Sprezzatura – the elegant art of intentionally careless dressing. Examples may include wearing a tie with the back blade showing or the tie bar crooked, or an artfully disheveled collar on a classy dress shirt.
With the poles of their style world positioned in Rome and Milan, they've created distinct menswear traditions in the north and south of country – simple cuts and sophisticated neutrals (think Armani) in the former, and edgy looks in vivid colors in the latter (a la Dolce & Gabbana).
2. English Vs Italian Style Color
English Color Rules
Englishmen typically wear dark, neutral colors. The often-gray weather means bright colors would look washed out. Shirts and accessories get a bit more color in the summer, but jackets and trousers stay neutral.
In addition to the seasonal guidelines, there's a traditional color divide between country and city dress. In the countryside, preferred colors include earth tones like brown or olive green. Within urban settings, formal colors such as gray and black. ‘No brown in town,' as the saying goes.
Italian Color (non) Rules
The stylish Italian man is historically much more flexible. Sunny weather makes bright colors shine, so anything goes from apple green to sky blue to fuchsia – even for jackets and pants. This is especially true in the southern part of the country.
In addition to exciting brights, classic Italian style involves many soothing whites and pastels. White and off-white look great with that Mediterranean olive skin tone, and they're ideal for hot weather clothing as well.
3. English Vs Italian Style Suit Fit
English Suit Fit
The structure is key in an English suit. Jackets with padded shoulders – made from stiff and heavy fabrics – create a strong, imposing silhouette. The body's natural shape is hidden in favor of straight lines.
Other markers of an English-style suit include high armholes, extra fabric in the trousers (a trouser break, double pleats, a high waist) and a low gorge.
Italian Suit Fit
The classic Italian suit is fitted, following the natural lines of the body.
Jackets have soft shoulders with light padding. They're usually made with light fabric that clings to the body.
Jackets are almost always single-breasted, and the gorge and buttons will be higher than those on an American or English suit.
The trousers will have a tapered waist and no break.
4. English Vs Italian Style Fabric
Here you really see the effects of the two regions' difference in weather.
English suits use thickly textured fabrics. Wool, corduroy, and tweed – which originates from Scotland – are among the most popular.
They're generally not quite warm enough to keep you comfortable outside in a British winter, but paired with an overcoat, they'll be plenty toasty.
Italian suitmakers tend to favor much lighter fabrics – linen and cotton, thin wool, or blends between any and all of these.
Italians do wear seersucker in the heat, but linen is more common.
The English country look originated from hunting in all weathers – argyle knits, waxed jackets, and brogues (broguing was originally to let water out if you stepped in a bog) are all examples of English gentlemen's hunting looks that filtered into everyday wear.
The city look, on the other hand, is rooted in aristocratic and military style and has been evolving since the 1700s. Just as bog-friendly brogues originated in the English countryside, Goodyear welting was made to handle the rain-drenched streets of the cities.
The Italian suit – relaxed, expressive, and sexy rather than proper and restrained – much like the culture itself.
Their suitmaking tradition largely came about in the 40s and 50s, making it much younger – and therefore less tradition-bound – than its British counterpart.
Italian dress shoes, often Blake stitched, are less waterproof but slimmer and more elegant.
So that's the lowdown on English vs Italian style… which do you prefer?
How about the best of both worlds?
Click below to watch the video – British Style vs Italian Fashion: World's Best Dressed Men?