However, doing this with a measure of success is difficult. Here are some reflections on what spezzato means and some of the Dos and Don’ts surrounding it.
What Does Spezzato Mean?
The Italian term spezzato–not to be confused with the other Italian “s-word” in menswear, sprezzatura–literally means “broken,” and the same word is used for a broken heart or a broken arm, suggesting the risk involved. Spezzato is an advanced sartorial technique that involves mixing the jacket (and perhaps a matching vest) from one suit with the pants of another. Although there isn’t a formal distinction, there are really two approaches to doing this. One, which is more difficult to pull off, boldly flaunts the idea that you are mismatching two suits and makes this a strong style statement.
The other, which is more subtle and therefore easier to do, disguise the parts of two suits to make it look like you’re wearing a sport coat and odd trousers. Looking online, you’ll sometimes see outfits labeled #spezzato that are really just a sport coat and pants. While we could say that anytime you do this you are creating a “broken” look, strictly speaking, you’d have to be using pieces from two different suits. So, a distinction should be made between the two.
Both may be done to expand a small wardrobe, which is desirable for those who are just starting out in the world of tailoring. So, if you only have three suits–navy, gray and brown, for example–you could potentially make six combinations, such as navy with gray pants, gray with navy pants, brown with navy pants, and so on. Either approach accomplishes this, with the difference being how obvious you want to make the spezzato effect.
Lately, however, the meaning of spezzato has expanded to include a third concept: wearing the accoutrements of a suit on top, including tie and optional waistcoat (two pieces of a three-piece), with something casual on the bottom—jeans, cargo pants, or (God forbid!) shorts. This expanded definition is not surprising since it’s an even more extreme form of intentional mismatching, so the label “broken” is especially apropos.
How to Pull Off Spezzato Successfully
1. Avoid Formal Suiting Looks
More formal suit jackets–those that are structured, with padded shoulders, peak lapels, full canvassing, or flap pockets–don’t usually look good with another color of pants. They immediately shout “suit,” so splitting them just looks wrong unless you want to call attention to the use of spezzato, in which case it doesn’t matter.
In terms of materials, worsted wool can also be difficult for the same reason. You can combine the parts from two solids, but a patterned worsted, like a glen check, is tricky because once separated, the pieces will look orphaned.
A double-breasted chalk stripe like this (shown with Irish linen embroidered contrast framing pocket square) is best worn as a full suit. A pinstripe suit is particularly difficult to split up, first because stripes are so well known as part of a power suit and rarely seen on odd jackets except for regatta blazers. Secondly, stripes, especially smaller ones, look best when they run head to toe without interruption.
The top half of windowpane or houndstooth suits, on the other hand, are great candidates for spezzato since there are many sport coats out there in these patterns, and they don’t emphasize vertical lines. The best suit jackets for dividing are therefore those that look like sport coats, bearing patch pockets and unstructured “natural” shoulders, appropriate patterns, and perhaps some texture.
2. Choose Compatible Fabrics
The next key to mixing and matching parts of two suits, besides making sure you have colors that coordinate, is choosing materials that work together.
Seasonality is an obvious consideration–you wouldn’t mix a summer wool-silk-linen jacket with moleskin pants. Instead, combine jackets and pants of roughly the same weight. The safest bet is the same sort of fabric, which you can sometimes find as “suit separates.”
For instance, if your jacket and trousers are both the classic worsted of a business suit, you can pair them up, but mixing worsted with flannel may be less successful, and linen pants with worsted even less so. In fact, worsted tends only to look good with worsted because of the expectations that this fabric will be part of a suit. On the other hand, if you want to go for a sport coat and pants look, you can do more fabric mixing, since you would normally combine a linen sport coat with cotton pants, not another linen, to give just one example.
3. Choose Similar Fits
We tend to think of suit fits in terms of slim or classic fits. For a successful spezzato it’s essential that you not mix the two, for instance by wearing a fitted jacket with pants that have wider legs or a jacket that is full in the chest with narrow-leg trousers. The result would be a sense of imbalance, making you look either more slight or more top heavy.
4. Create Enough Contrast
Once again, use the principles of how you would pair a sport coat and odd trousers: if you do spezzato you don’t want to mix two hues that are too similar. It shouldn’t look like you were trying to match but failed. Make it obvious that top and bottom are separated. Usually, you would do this with coordinating colors, like the aforementioned brown and blue, but you can also do it with tones from the same color family like the full range of browns and tans or shades of gray. Many men find wearing the darker tone on top to be easier (brown jacket with beige pants), but with something like charcoal and light gray you can go either way and with navy and sky blue, more often than not you’d go with the navy for your pants. To increase contrast even further, use an appropriately patterned suit jacket with solid trousers.
4. Use a Unifying Color to Tie Pieces Together
One way to integrate the whole of your look while using parts of two suits is to choose one piece that has the color of the other. Usually, this would mean solid pants with a suit jacket containing a pattern in the same color as the pants, such as blue trousers with a gray jacket that contains a blue windowpane. The inclusion of the pants color in the jacket visually binds the top and bottom halves. You can do it the opposite way too, but patterned pants are rarer.
5. Realize that Spezzato is Meant to be Casual
Your goal in using the spezzato technique is always making a suit more casual. As soon as you break up the uniformity of a suit, it is less formal, just as a sport coat and pants are less formal. If you do the very modern thing of casual pants with a suit jacket, this is even more obvious.
Given the emphasis on dressing down, the rest of your outfit can go along with this idea by including monk straps or loafers instead of oxford shoes, a denim or OCBD shirt or other elements of sprezzatura. On the other hand, if you are in a professional environment or going for a job interview, realize that dressing for the occasion means wearing a standard suit rather than experimenting with breaking it up. Remember, there is a place and time for everything.
Spezzato is already an advanced technique, but there are a couple of ways to break up a suit that push the envelope of classic style even further.
1. Using Three Pieces
When the vest from a three-piece suit is involved, there are several options for mixing, both of which make it impossible to avoid the impression that you have divided a suit. The first method is to wear the vest and pants of a suit with the jacket from another suit. This is an interesting look that gives you a uniform appearance “up the middle.”
The second is to wear a jacket and vest from the same suit with different pants. The sense of division between top and bottom is strongly emphasized here, especially if you wear two different textures like David Gandy in the image below.
Lastly, you can take spezzato to what may be its furthest extreme by mixing and matching the pieces from three different suits: a jacket from one, vest from another, and pants from a third. This gives you the most stylistic flexibility and can generate looks that are quite complex, but, similar to matching multiple patterns in an outfit, it has a high risk of failure, requiring a sophisticated eye for what looks good and a willingness to stand out boldly.
2. Not Recommended: Wearing Casual Pants with a Suit Jacket
A common practice when breaking up a suit is one that also breaks with classic style by wearing casual pants with a suit jacket, usually a pair of chinos or jeans. Many Gentleman’s Gazette readers will scorn the idea, but I include it for the sake of complete coverage. At any shopping mall on the weekend, you’re likely to see at least one guy wearing a longer, structured suit jacket with blue denim badly. If you want to do this well, it’s crucial that you wear a jacket that looks like a casual sport coat to avoid the harsh contrast. Needless to say, things like sweatpants and shorts with suit jackets are fashion, not traditional menswear.
Spezzato is really about experimenting and having fun, as well as getting the most out of your wardrobe. It’s a game to see what sorts of combinations you can pull off with the limits being your personal taste and how much you want to be noticed. For some, stretching the possibilities of a small tailored wardrobe is the motivation, and the goal is simply to transform suits into sport coat and trouser looks. This approach breaks up a suit while still maintaining a balance in the sum of the parts, but others want to put the “broken” aspect front and center. Now when you buy a suit you may think about whether the halves can be worn as separates, so you will have multiple looks instead of only one. If you have only stuck to formal suits so far, the possibilities of spezzato may inspire you to try some more casual versions with less structure.