How to Rock a Big Suit Tastefully, Just Like David Byrne

No, not THE big suit. But a big suit nonetheless.

October 26, 2021 9:29 am
David Byrne wears a big suit.
Jim Dyson/Gabe Serrano

For my Sweet Sixteen I begged my parents to take me to New York for the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame pop-up, like all teenage girls, I presume. Among the artifacts was David Byrne’s Big Suit — the Big Suit, from the iconic Stop Making Sense era. In person the thing looked even more massive and cartoonish and I don’t even know at that age if I understood the full magnitude of what was in front of me. I grew up on Byrne’s music; the child of a former rock radio DJ and a mom who always played ‘70s and ‘80s music in the car. But as I got older, I grew to appreciate more of his catalogue, and as my love of menswear solidified, I became enamored of and intrigued by him for an entirely different reason: his singular, near flawless sense of style. 

Byrne no longer wears the Big Suit, but I see the suit he wears today as derivative of it. In David Byrne’s American Utopia, now playing on Broadway and the subject of an HBO documentary last year, Byrne and his accompanying musicians and dancers wear matching three-button grey suits. Designed by Kenzo and made by tailor Martin Greenfield, the suits move with Byrne and his crew with ease; they’re sleeker than the Big Suit, but there’s still an eccentricity to them that feels distinctly Byrne-ian.

Watching Byrne perform at this year’s Tony Awards, it occurred to me that while Byrne’s Big Suit may not be ideal for a casual dinner with friends, the newest iteration of Byrne’s suits are decidedly more wearable than the original. Which got me to thinking: How would one style a David Byrne suit for everyday wear? 

To answer that question we have to consider what makes a David Byrne suit; Gail Becker, who made the Big Suit back in 1983, says it was “more of an architectural project than a clothing project.” Of the suit, David Byrne himself said he chose it because he likes “symmetry; geometric shapes.” And while the new suits lack the structural exaggeration of the Big Suit, the principles remain the same: the David Byrne aesthetic is rooted in artistic simplicity, shapes and proportions, and — importantly — movement to create a unique visual effect. 

David Byrne performs live on stage during the first night of the European leg of his 'American Utopia' tour, at New Theatre on June 14, 2018 in Oxford, England.
David Byrne performs live in the grey three-button suit that’s standard issue for the cast of “American Utopia”
Jim Dyson/Getty

In trying to emulate said style, my first piece of advice would be to not be too literal: don’t bring a photograph of David Byrne to a tailor and say, “make me this.” In fact, I feel strongly that Byrne would recommend against that and instead push you to consider what it is that you can draw from his look to make it work for you. Even the cast of American Utopia wears variations on the same suit. Some have half breaks in their pants, others wear their pants cropped at the ankle. Byrne wears his shirt buttoned all the way up sans tie (i.e., an air tie), while others leave the top few buttons open. If there’s anything that proves, it’s that there’s a David Byrne suit for everyone.

And of course there are going to be things to avoid, like suits that fit too slim and close to the body, anything that looks too stuffy or too trendy, and suits that don’t flow with movement of the wearer. But again, this all comes back to the inherent characteristics of his look. There’s nothing architectural about a skinny suit and nothing geometric about slim-fitting pants that don’t crease and billow as you sashay about the room.  

Which brings us back to our original question: How can you style a David Byrne suit for everyday wear? Beyond the principles we’ve established, it comes down to the little details. Artistry is what anchors the way David Byrne is styled — the little details that are always just slightly left of center, like the decision to opt for a three-button jacket rather than a two, or forgo a tie. A regular suit is to be worn by the wearer; a David Byrne suit exists in tandem with the person who’s wearing it, almost like it’s standing beside them.

And yet, a David Byrne suit is still very chic. This isn’t some baggy suit without refinement; it’s not intentionally ill-fitted. In fact, it’s not ill-fitted at all. I think too often when men opt for that slightly outside-of-the-box look, they mistake ugliness for uniqueness, and bad tailoring for edginess (looking at you, Bieber at the Met Gala). Instead, David Byrne is a masterclass in looking weird and wonderful all at once, and proving that you don’t have to forego taste to indulge your weirdness. 

Need some inspo to get your started on your quest to look fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fashionably David Byrne? Here are some looks from the Spring 2022 Menswear collection that I think hit the mark. 

This Sandro suit. That movement? The simplicity of the white shirt underneath? Even the chunky shoe they’ve paired it with screams weirdo in just the right way. 

This Duckie Brown number. Same principle, slightly different tailoring: a tapered pant (where the Sandro pant is straight, if almost belled) and a longer jacket, it still achieves that well-styled oddball look. 

For pattern lovers, look no further than this Nanushka suit

And if blues and greys aren’t your thing, this Nanushka look mixes it up a little, matching the shirt to the pants and pairing it with a black jacket; not technically a suit, but it’s just giving me David Byrne vibes! 

This Hermes outfit is not for the faint of heart: a three-button jacket adorned with cargo style zippers and pockets, paired with a straight, wide leg and cuffed trouser is not your average suit. But neither is David Byrne’s, and this looks sort of like what I’d imagine he’d wear on a very chic camping trip. 

If you must opt for something slimmer, this Saint Laurent look has it all; pleated pants, a shirt buttoned all the way up, and the high shoulder pads give it that structural appeal. 

Finally, I want to give a shout out to the Dior Oblique Tuxedo, which has been worn by Rami Malek, Kieran Culkin, Donald Glover, Michael B. Jordan and Yosuke Kubozuka. The single button on the jacket is off center, similar to a double-breasted cut. It’s both structural and soft; creating almost a wrap illusion that feels unique and artistic in a way I personally feel Byrne would appreciate.

Wanna rock the look this winter? Here are some items you can add to cart right now: this Acne Studios double-breasted jacket, this grey Kingsman suit (jacket, trousers) and this Paul Smith suit (jacket, trousers).  

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