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Skip the Formality

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Aaron Collins, the shaggy-but-chic store manager at Duncan Quinn.
And then there's Barneys, about which I probably don't need to brief you. Barneys simply has more—more great designers, more space devoted to menswear, more options. Half the goats in Mongolia are, right at this moment, feeling a slight chill because of the amount of cashmere that's been spirited away to 61st and Madison. There's half a floor of Prada, its youthful look now applied to two-button suits again after several years' focus on the three-button cut. Barneys also has a furnishings department on the main floor where you could, pretty much, pick up any shirt that fits you and come out looking okay.

All three stores carry a few suits from Paul Smith, the English suit-maker who first rose to prominence during the Swinging London era. But if you really want to see his stuff, it's probably best to go to his stand-alone boutique on Fifth Avenue. The designer is famous for incorporating Savile Row details—like a hand-stitched keeper on the back of the left lapel, to catch your boutonniere's stem - into his ready-to-wear suits, which sell for about $1,500. (He's also known for exceptionally bright shirts in paisleys and especially stripes, a look that everyone from Gucci to the Gap has embraced this year.) Smith's suits are skinny, with lines that break away sharply below the bottom button, a little like a riding coat. They're also distinguished by delightfully insane linings—fabrics printed with clashing polka dots, newspaper clippings, embroidered images of London landmarks, anything. Sometimes they're edged with Day-Glo contrast stitching. Glorious.

By the way, if these details don't matter so much to you, or if you're on a budget, you'd be well-advised to visit a Spring Street shop called Linus. This outpost of a German manufacturer produces simple, sleek suits with all the hallmarks of excellent tailoring - hand-stitching on the edges of the lapels, for example—at roughly half the price of nearly all the other shops in this story. You can do quite nicely at Linus for $400, and sometimes for even less. For my money, it's the best deal in town.

From Paul Smith—perhaps the most British of the style merchants on my tour—I proceeded to the similarly named Paul Stuart, who is perhaps the most American. Stuart's suits are built roomy if not downright boxy, broad in the chest, with a slight suggestion of a waist. They are not hip; they do not have Continental flair or a narrow European silhouette. What they are is beautifully made, and beautifully forgiving. A man with a modest potbelly does not look good in a Jil Sander suit. But put him in a Paul Stuart jacket, and he looks like a corporate titan (graying temples optional). Unsurprisingly, the clientele here is older, moneyed, fiercely loyal, and uninterested in trends. (Also unsurprising: These suits, designed not to go out of style quickly, wear like iron and hold their shape for a zillion wearings and dry cleanings.) It's worth a visit if only to see the spacious retail store, which harks back to an era when nobody computed sales by the square foot.

You could happily end your shopping tour with those choices. But my own suggestion would be to go one more step, to a pair of downtown boutiques that are sui generis. Both sell off the rack but do a good deal of made-to-measure work, and both will build you something that's unique—just the sort of thing you want for your wedding. At Duncan Quinn, on the far eastern end of Spring Street, the look is slim British sixties glam, in the manner of Mick Jagger on the covers of early Stones albums. Quinn's clothes are especially beautiful on the inside—he, like Paul Smith, elevates low-key suits with super-flashy linings. One black suit has a luscious purple interior with fuchsia detailing inside the lining, where nobody but you, Mr. Quinn, and the coat-check girl will ever see it. On my visit, the salesman - a friendly, shaggy-haired British guy named Aaron - pointed out one of the shop's dressier options, a one-button jacket that hints at formality without actually being a tux. (It's $2,000 off the rack, or about $3,500 if you order custom.) Aaron also confirmed what I'd been seeing all over: that the three-button jacket is beginning to be overtaken by a streamlined two-button version. "It's just a much sexier shape," he said to me. "We just made some for a band going to the Grammys."

The look is ever so slightly less hipsterish at Seize sur Vingt, barely a block away on Elizabeth Street. (French name, American aesthetic.) Here, ready-to-wear and custom have nearly melded; prices are given for both, and differ by 25 percent or so. (A salesman explained that the difference, for most people, is the lead time: A ready-to-wear jacket—which costs from $1,200—can get its final tweaks in a week or two, whereas the made-to-measure pieces - from $1,650 - take a couple of months.) The dominant paradigm is fine Italian craftsmanship; the shoulder seams on the jackets display the slight puckering that marks a sleeve attached by hand. There's not much padding in those shoulders, either, meaning that you won't feel restricted in one of these coats once it's fitted. And on a day when you're entering into a life that—let's face it — does entail some restrictions, that may be more valuable than you realize.

From the Spring 2005 New York Wedding Guide

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