The Grey Suit
What constitutes a staple wardrobe, in terms of weight, cut, colour and styling, is as varied as the men who dress from them. The different formalities of one man’s life versus another means that a definitive capsule wardrobe is only good for the man making it. Pigeonholing may work for pigeons, I can honestly say I’ve never tried it, but to try to define what “men” should be wearing this season is like saying that “dishes” need more salt this season. For anyone reading this - look to yourself and your day to day. Make decisions on how you dress according to what you do. If what you are wearing is uncomfortable or impractical for you, then you’re in a costume, and how can you function and be your best in a costume?
That being said, experience has shown me that there are things that just seem to work for me and the men I’ve had the privilege of helping. I guess I am here to offer a perspective on what I’ve seen, from the practicality of a navy blazer to the life affirming comfort of good socks and when it comes to facing up to any of life’s more sober occasions, a dark grey suit can be a useful tool to have at your disposal. I wear navy nine times out of ten, I prefer the colour on me and find it infinitely versatile, but like a notch lapel doesn’t cut it for evening wear, there are times when a grey suit feels a little more restrained than blue.
A charcoal suit is quite literally a suit of armour for many men - it is austere enough for business and respectful enough for mourning. It can transform in to the most dignified of English dress, or be slick and mode for those looking for more edge. I prefer it to black in all bar a dinner suit, especially when the cloth is tightly woven with a little sheen.
The beauty of tailoring goes much further than the shears or the needle and thread, and the quality of wool being produced by many English and Italian mills is often missed by those of us that buy ready to wear. Spend any amount of time talking to the likes of Michael Alden - of DressWithStyle and theLondonLounge - and you’ll realize that cloth can be so mercurial, so complex, that grey need not be grey and blue need not just be blue. The shades, finishes and weights hold a myriad of subtleties to choose from.
Personally I wear grey as a suit for the days I want to be a little more dignified - I like it to be English, with a fuller trouser and bulletproof drape. But it need not be so - my friend Patch of Patrick Johnson Tailors wears his light in colour and weight, a suit to wear almost casually.
For the most practical choice, my first grey - which would come in second only to a navy single breasted whose jacket would also be a staple sports coat - would be a mid grey to charcoal cloth, either a medium weight twill or a slightly duller finished sharkskin. As navy is to a sports coat, grey is to a trouser - you will have many pairs, and you will reach for them too often, if you’re anything like me. So if this is a suit you are commissioning, ask for two, and if you’ve wanted to experiment with other forms of trouser, be it pleated over plain front or adjustors over belt loops, this is the one to do it with. My only firm rule would be to have your trousers cuffed, as it seems to look the most balanced on an odd trouser.
What you do with the jacket need have no versatility as a sports coat - it is a tricky colour to get right in an odd jacket when plain, so I find it’s one to wear just as a suit. If your second grey suit happens to be a windowpane check or a pale grey, then you might find pairing it with odd trousers much easier, but the plain mid grey as a first is the sensible choice. If you find yourself called to function with some gravity, the plain grey suit will be a comfort to have at hand. Likewise I would choose a cloth that isn’t too far in any direction - while I love a grey flannel trouser, it often doesn’t have enough gravity as a suit, and though a slick mohair or silk wool mix will make a beautiful option for the evening, it can lose some of the versatility when pairing it with odd jackets.
A great workaday option would be a four seasons sharkskin, single or double breasted on preference, but a single breasted 3 roll 2 would be where I would start. Notched lapels and a medium weight of shoulder, it could be as austere as you like. Make a trouser with adjustors, and a waistcoat if that is your style and you have a suit for everyday wear. A second pair of trousers with belt loops, and the texture of cloth will support a jacket in as wide a variety of cloths as a textured silk wool to a tweed.
For a second suit, I’d be tossing up between two definite styles - a longer single breasted jacket with peak lapels, in a dark and glossy twill, or a lighter grey double breasted, with full English trousers and brace buttons. My next suit may very well be this very suit, and I’m thinking of a 9oz from Smith Woolens to make it in. I can see the peak lapel SB as a sharp cocktail suit, something for crisp white shirts and and black grenadine ties, while the light grey will be with polo suede oxfords, a blue twill shirt and an old wool challis tie, worn at the edges and full of character.
But these are my choices, and reflect my character. Yours may be something completely different.