Alright, I’m a little late to the party on this one. Although Suits debuted in 2011 I wasn’t interested in watching yet another legal drama. However, at the recent urging of my sister I finally checked it out and was quickly hooked not just for the exquisite menswear the show has become famous for, but also for the top-notch writing, acting and directing. (Hey, I only got around to Breaking Bad last fall!) Like most other well-crafted television or film productions, the costume designer (Jolie Andreatta) has carefully chosen the wardrobe to reflect the characters’ personalities.
For those who have not seen the show, the primary characters at the powerhouse legal firm are a dashing, cocky, successful senior partner named Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) and his protégé Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) who, although a genius, is a college drop-out with zero experience in the corporate world. Accordingly, Harvey sports the classic masculine elegance of Tom Ford suits (surprise, surprise) while young Mike is regularly seen in slimmer, more trendy Burberry silhouettes. These sartorial personalities carry over into the men’s formal attire. Sort of.
Let’s begin with Harvey, who by nature should be the benchmark of impeccable evening wear. True to form, his perfect tailoring and dramatically wide peaked lapels mirror the traits of his daytime suits and his formal shirt is a sophisticated turndown collar model. What’s glaringly incongruous, though, is the absence of a waist covering. Every time he strides confidently through a formal venue or simply tucks his hands into his pockets Harvey’s supposed sophistication is undone by the site of his shirt navel playing peak-a-boo with onlookers. He might as well be walking around with his fly unzipped. This wardrobe choice is thoroughly inexplicable considering that the character regularly wears vests with his business suits. At least he always keeps his jacket buttoned, even if it does have two (albeit closely-spaced) buttons. As for his bow tie, at first glance, its pointed-end style is a perfect complement to his tuxedo and his personality but with each subsequent appearance, its flawless symmetry strongly suggests it is pre-tied – something this clotheshorse would mock others mercilessly for even thinking of.
Technically, Mike’s tuxedo is a Harvey hand-me-down so its shortcomings could be blamed on his mentor’s choices. However, it so closely mimics his daytime suits that either the costume designer took some artistic license or decided that the suit is supposed to represent Harvey’s tastes in his younger days. The shortcomings in question are the pedestrian styling of the jacket’s notched lapels and two-button styling. Mike also forgoes a waist covering, which is to be expected of a novice, while at the same time opts for a grown-up turndown collar and a self-tie bow tie. Perhaps he is just imitating his mentor. Just as noteworthy as the character’s sartorial choices are their attitudes towards formal wear. For the more experienced Harvey, it is such a regular occurrence that it does not merit any special mention. But Mike’s initial encounters with his tuxedo-clad mentor trigger responses typical of guys who experience formal wear only as pop culture references.
There’s also a secondary character that frequently shows up in tuxedos: a pompous, bullying junior partner named Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) who secretly yearns to be just like Harvey. His tastes vary quite a bit as we’ll see in the following episode summaries.
Season 1 Episode 10
The setting: The fictional law firm’s partners are attending a black-tie charity fundraiser. Louis is wearing what appears to be a black suit with a silver four-in-hand tie.
Harvey: I just don’t understand. Everyone is wearing a black tie and you’re wearing a grey tie.
Louis: This is acceptable at a black-tie affair. There’s nothing wrong with the tie I’m wearing.
Despite Louis’ protestations, his next appearance in formal wear suggests that Harvey’s disapproval has hit home.
Season 2 Episode 2
In this episode, Mike shows up unannounced at Harvey’s apartment one night to discuss his office romance and finds Harvey in a tuxedo.
Harvey: I’m not interested in your personal life.
Mike: I realize that because you don’t have one.
Harvey gestures to his outfit and his showcase penthouse.
Mike: Oh yeah, great. You’re an international man of mystery.
Season 2 Episode 6
This time Harvey shows up unannounced at Mike’s apartment, once again dressed in his tuxedo.
Harvey: Get your tux on. We’ve got a situation.
Mike: A situation that requires a tux? Where is this tuxedo situation?
Harvey: Atlantic City. Can you get dressed now?
Mike: Yeah, I could . . .
Mike: I don’t have a tux. I’m not Bruce Wayne.
Harvey: Don’t I know it.
Later, in a limousine on the way to Atlantic City, Mike is dressed in a tuxedo and tying up his bow tie.
Mike: You just carry around an extra tux for a random occasion?
Harvey: Something told me you’d need it. And by “something”, I mean common sense. And by “need”, I mean you’re an idiot.
They arrive outside the casino only for Mike to realize it is one that had previously banned him for counting cards.
Harvey: Get inside. You’re wearing a tux. They’re not going to know who you are.
They enter the casino.
Mike: Speaking of which, this isn’t Havana in the 1950s. Why do we have to wear tuxes? What are you, Moe Green?
Harvey: Moe Green lived in Vegas.
Mike: I know where Moe Green lived.
The men approach two hostesses, one of whom is carrying a tray of champagne flutes.
Hostess: Complimentary champagne?
Harvey (to Mike): You think this happens if you walk in here in a T-shirt and jeans?
The same episode also features Louis attending a black-tie ballet performance. He’s stepped up his game from his first appearance in formal wear although he is still wearing notched lapels.
Season 2 Episode 16
The scene is a black-tie reception celebrating the merger of the show’s featured firm with another. Mike does not make any specific references to formal wear as it has presumably become a familiar sight to him by this point. The only notable observation is the appearance of Louis wearing a formal scarf – which many might consider as obnoxious as the character himself – and two different styles of shirt studs (see the picture at top of the page for a closer view). I look forward to seeing what formal development the third season has to offer once it becomes available on Netflix or Blu-ray.
Another big part of the show’s appeal for me is the fact that it is shot primarily in Toronto in locations near my office and my home. The black-tie gala seen in the above episode had a particularly personal connection as it took place at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts where I once attended a formal affair myself. It’s a perfect venue for dressing up. Unlike other theatre lobbies that are closed off from the outside world, this four-story atrium is completely exposed to the street. Thus in the evening, the illuminated interior stands out like a spotlit stage for passersby and the guests become like actors in an elegant spectacle. The fact that the venue hosts world-class opera productions and has outstanding acoustics is just icing on the cake.