Slim Jim: Ben Silver VP on Narrow Lapels, Shirts and Ties

If you’re like me, you probably look at the industry standard 3.5 inches for tie and lapel and think, “That looks wide.” And if you don’t, you may be part of a shrinking minority.

The slim look is growing, not fading away, so get used to it.

Take Ben Silver, for example. The Charleston-based torch-carrier of sartorial conservatism (albeit brightly colored conservatism) is standing firmly behind the trim lapel in its new spring offerings. Will J. Press, O’Connell’s and Cable Car Clothiers take notice?

Ivy-Style.com recently spoke with Ben Silver vice president Jim Prenner about the company’s current jacket cut, upcoming slim-fit shirt offerings, and whether slim cuts are just for the young. — CC

* * *

IS: Tell us about the current cut to your sportcoats, blazers and suit jackets.

JP: We have been making a slimmer, three-inch-lapel model since 2008, and it is the model that all of our current jackets are based on. The slimmer silhouette is very flattering. It’s not just the lapel, which must be balanced against the point to point in the shoulders, and the half-girth of the waist. In addition the notch is cut higher, and the gorge to the first button is longer. All this gives a slimming and appealing look. With a natural shoulder, especially with lighter canvas lining and shoulder pads, our jackets have a softer look than most makers, but continue to maintain their heritage as balanced, proportional, classic clothing.

IS: Is this to attract a younger customer?

JP: I think younger people, frankly somewhat slimmer in their early years, find it easier to wear this silhouette than the larger point to point and wider girth models that other makers show. However, with respect to our customer base, we have cut a pattern of classic proportions suited to a gentleman in a broad age spectrum. We can’t compromise on our classic proportions, just fine-tune the execution to befit the highest level of taste.

IS: What about slim-fitting shirts?

JP: We will soon be carrying a separate pattern of slimmer shirtings for those who really need a narrower silhouette. As you know, our shirts are always cut in a true gentleman’s cut with generous proportions. The new slim shirts will be narrower, and designed with the potential for wearing out as well as in, with or without a necktie. This model will be introduced as a secondary option for fall.

IS: And finally, what about tie widths?

JP: All our neckwear is at 3.25 inches or less.

24 Comments on "Slim Jim: Ben Silver VP on Narrow Lapels, Shirts and Ties"

  1. Jim Kelleth | March 22, 2011 at 11:49 am |

    Thanks, but I’ll stick with a three button sack from J. Press in a more subtle and traditional pattern. And that old friend Brooks has gone too modern for my taste, too. In fact, I’m going to Press in Harvard Square this week, then into Boston but probably won’t bother to visit Brooks even for Friday’s 25% sale.

  2. Scooby Dubious | March 22, 2011 at 11:58 am |

    While i am not a fan of the super-skinny look that the teens go for these days, I have always preferred narrower lapels and a slimmer cut with trousers and shirts. That green jacket looks great. Nice muted plaid.

  3. Having seen lapel and tie width go from one extreme to the other, I think the moderate 3.5″ to 4″ width seems to compliment most men, Of course, very young men can wear the extremes, whether it is the slim of the 1960’s, or the very wide of the late 1970’s. I personally do not wish to look like either the Blues Brothers nor Al Capone.

  4. Christian,

    I think you are a bit off base here. Lapels, like everything else, are supposed to be in balance with the rest of your clothing and physical attributes.

    According to your above interview, all of Ben Silver’s ties are wider than then their new lapels. That does not make sense. Nor does having a full roll button down that are wider than the lapels.

    If you are going to do the RFK look, you need to do it correctly, with lapels, tie, and collar all working together. Also, given the size of your melon, you might consider a wider lapel.

    Just sayin.

  5. First off, whose melon are you talking about? I don’t have a wide melon. A mushroom hat, maybe.

    OK, yes we all know that proportions are supposed to match.

    Now, you point out that Ben Silver’s ties are wider than its lapels. Who is “off base” here, me or them?

    I wear 3-inch lapels and 3-inch ties. I believe industry standard is 3.5 for both. I don’t think that this half-inch derivation requires a smaller shirt collar, so I wear standard collars from Brooks, etc.

    If you drop down into J. Crew territory and 2.5-inch lapels, you should probably buy smaller shirt collars as well.

  6. Scooby Dubious | March 22, 2011 at 6:05 pm |

    @”Joe”

    Always a sign of a weak argument if you have to veer off into personal insults.

  7. I don’t think there was a personal insult — at least compared to the kind I’m used to.

    But as far as weak arguments go, I can understand using a term like “Tom Wolfe look,” since he’s the most visible person to wear white suits for 40 years in a row.

    But for a considerable length of time, the entire Western world wore narrow lapels. To have one man — RFK — stand for this is arbitrary and simplistic.

    Also, by RFK he presumably means circa 1961, to pick a round number (50 years ago), whereas it would have been more germane to say Ben Silver 2011, not RFK 1961.

    And there are a lot more brands than Ben Silver offering 3-inch lapels. See Nick Hilton’s comments here about 3.5 feeling too wide and 2.5 feeling too narrow:

    http://www.ivy-style.com/ivy-trendwatch-the-return-of-norman-hilton.html

    I believe GQ’s Glenn O’Brien, while probably not the most respected style sage among the readership here, recently proposed three inches for ties and lapels as the default width henceforth.

    I think that’s a sensible proposal.

    I just turned in a story to The Rake about Alan Flusser and you may be surprised to hear what the great arbiter of ’30s style and “permanent fashion” has to say on the subject.

    But tie/lapel width, along with baggy versus slim shirts, is one of those things that sharply splits our readership here.

  8. Scooby Dubious | March 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm |

    @Christian

    Whatever you say fathead.

  9. Old School | March 22, 2011 at 9:35 pm |

    Still trying to understand why there’s a need to change anything.

  10. Roy R. Platt | March 22, 2011 at 10:49 pm |

    One might notice that the Ben Silver blue blazer and the Ben Silver Madras jacket also have a Ben Silver Pre-Folded Pocket Square in their pockets…..

    http://www.bensilver.com/Pre-Folded-Linen-Pocket-Squares,4736.html

    …..and I have worn the same size (40s jacket, trousers with 32″ waist, 15 1/2-32 shirt) for almost fifty years and I prefer the Brooks slim shirts as I previously had Brooks make slimmer shirts (with Clifford rather than Polo collars for those who can remember that far back) for me, but I have never used and don’t think that I will ever use a Pre-Folded Pocket Square. I don’t think that I have ever known anyone who would use a Pre-Folded Pocket Square.

  11. Richard Meyer | March 23, 2011 at 3:46 am |

    Simple: The width of the lapel should balance with the width of one’s shoulders. IMHO, a wide tie with narrow lapels looks wrong.

  12. I have always been willing to pay a premium for Silver’s 3 & 1/4 ties- they are timeless & that width has yet to go out of style. Why not retain a tradition cut & offer a 3 & 1/4 lapels?
    The slim cut & 3 inch lapels is simply a trendy marketing approach to illicit action from replacement buyers & drag in new clientele.
    It’s sad, I looked through the new catalog & saw several pieces that I would have purchased- were it now for the trim fit & narrow lapels. I should mention the absurdity of that $1,200 multi-color seersucker, is at best, clownish in price & appearance. I hope this trim fit narrow lapel madness ends so we can all get “back to business.”

  13. @Old School

    Ties and lapels were narrow during the heyday. They’ve already changed.

    And they’d changed before the heyday, too.

  14. I think that a 3.5″ lapel is truely timeless. Not too wide, not too narrow. And its easy to find ties that complement – a 3.5 tie obviously works, while a 3.25 doesn’t look out of place on occasion either. As mentioned above, wearing a tie that is wider then the lapel looks funny; the opposite is not true.

  15. “All our neckwear is at 3.25 inches or less.”

    Aha! I’ve sent countless emails to them to ask about tie width (and other things) and have never ONCE gotten a reply. I now have an answer! Oh glorious day! Maybe now that they’re trying to draw in a younger consumer, they can learn how to use email. Jim, if your people can’t be bothered to reply to a simple email, take down the email address on your site.

  16. Slim,clean cut is ok,Ultra skinny look is horrible and can kill the early 60s silhouette very soon.
    I want resemble to early 60s Marcello Mastroianni or Sean Connery,not like Pee Wee Herman!

  17. <If you’re like me, you probably look at the industry standard 3.5 inches for tie and lapel and think, “That looks wide.”

    I guess I’m not like you–to me, 3.5 is perfect, and 3.75 is fine as well. I’ve had that width since about 1980, and I’m stickin’ to it.

  18. That’s OK, I’m sure we could find other things in common.

  19. Since the issue is proportion, I’m surprised no one has mentioned the issue of size. If I were 6-2 and 200 lbs, I would be very happy with a 3.5 lapel and 3.25 to 3.5 tie. At 5-9, 150 lbs, however, the 3 inch lapel and 2 7/8 inch Brooks narrow ties look much better on me. The insanely passionate Thom Browne arguments over the past few years rarely mentioned that a small guy wearing one of TB’s suits that was actually the right size was a pretty classic look.

  20. Let’s not devolve into the “splitters!” of Life of Brian fame. I’m partial to slimmer, ~3-3.25′ lapels and ties, but am more than willing to see 3.5-3.75′ included. As they say, ours is a big tent.

    The requisite Python clip:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb_qHP7VaZE

  21. After reading the interview with Prenner I was impressed with the savvy, which all successful retailers must have to survive and enjoy sustainable success, which he has. More fascinating is the response his interview provoked. I consider myself, sartorialy, an evolved purist. Early on my suits were all 3 button sacks with a 2 button roll. Shirts had the mandatory pronounced roll, ties were 2’3/4 to 3 inches, shoes were penny loafers, plain toe cordovan brogues or wing tips. Pants were plain front, had no break and no more than a 1 1/4 inch cuff. Anything else was blasphemy and those who deviated were suspect, certainly in taste and possibly in character. It was the cult of the Ivy League. As one grows older and hopefully evolves, individual satorial expression may change to express such. Throwing the strictures of the purist, not aside, but as a foundation from which to effect appropriate change, one develops a personal style, reflecting who they have become. As one reader pointed out, balance is key. When one examines, the the sartorial expression of Fred Astaire, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and more currently, Larry Kudlow all employ the foundations of traditional clothing and effect variations to allow for individual expression. Prenner understands this. Ben Silver has featured jackets with ticket pockets and side vents. A number of his ties are Drakes 50 oz. twills, sporting a width of 3 1/2 inches and he features spread and cutaway collar shirts. Additionally,his English blazers have rope shoulders. If one wears double breasted suits or blazers skinny ties and buttondown collars just don’t work. Balance, allowing for individual expression, which Prenner does not verbalize, is evident in his offerings. Many “Purists” on seeing such offerings graduate to such variatons as part of individual expression. Arguments about tie width, lapel width and collar style become superfluos. More appropriately, if one asks oneself,do I like it? Does it express who I am or want to be? Will it prove to be timeless? Am I comfortable in it? Is it balanced? If one combines that philosphy with the advice of Norman Hilton, “You have to take a great deal of time and care getting dressed in the morning so it looks like you took no time at all”. In other words, timeless, individual and balanced.

  22. The question of lining interests me at the moment. The Ben Silver jackets are quarter lined. Lightly constructed, partially lined jackets suggest casualness and leisure. Should not a suit jacket for business attire be fully lined?

  23. It is actually more expensive to partially line a jacket. A partially lined jacket allows the garmet to breath more freely. In winter and mid- weight jackets a suits partial lining speaks to the quality of the fabric used in the garmet. A fully lined jacket will add body and weight to a suit or sportcoat of inferior fabric.

  24. Thanks, Dr. Polk. I just got a jacket by Crittenden Rawls under his own label http://www.crittendenclothes.com/page04.html Crittenden also makes jackets for Ben Silver.

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