Why the Grey Suit is the Ideal Building Block for a Tailored Wardrobe

One of the most common discussions I see is what colour a first suit should be.

Mostly, it comes down to a comparison match between navy and grey, with the reasoning being that it’s hard to go wrong with either colour in a suit. It’s true, as both are classics in a staple wardrobe. However, there’s something to be said for grey, which I think has an edge over the other, ever so slightly but nevertheless convincingly. For most men it usually boils down to a question of versatility, and while even here the race is fairly even, grey has one trump card to play when you’re beginning the journey of building your wardrobe.

I’ve seen people extolling the virtues of navy as a first suit, on the basis that navy suits work well with all colours of dress shoes (black, brown, burgundy and so forth), while arguing that depending on the shade of grey the versatility there might be limited. However, seeing as the intent behind purchasing a first suit is generally to achieve maximum versatility, we can assume that you’re going to seek the most versatile shade of grey. A mid-to-charcoal shade of grey is going to cover the shoe bases just as well as any shade of navy.

With the ever-reducing need for a full suit in most people’s lives, the biggest point of versatility most people consider is how well both pieces can be worn as separates. Jacket-wise, navy is much easier to pair than grey. Navy sport coats and blazers are a dime a dozen, and navy jackets can be paired with just about any colour of trouser. However, outfits comprising navy odd trousers generally miss the mark in my opinion. On the flip side, grey odd jackets are not so common. They’re considerably less versatile than their navy counterparts for most men, and tend mostly to be worn as part of a monochromatic outfit when combined as separates. It’s quite possible to get plenty of wear out of a grey odd jacket, but to do so skilfully requires good taste and a good grasp of your own style. On the other hand, the grey trouser is the most versatile trouser in any man’s wardrobe. You can wear grey trousers with just about anything as far as a tailored wardrobe goes, and quite frankly I think you could get by comfortably without owning any other colour of tailored trousers, if you were so inclined.

As such, the colour argument alone is neither here nor there. If you can’t buy one grey and one navy right off of the bat, you might next be thinking well, I can buy the navy suit, use the jacket as an odd jacket, and just buy a pair of grey odd trousers. This sounds good in theory, and will work well enough specifically with grey tailored trousers, however most men think they’ll be able to wear the navy suit jacket as a blazer. In practise, given that a first suit will likely be a worsted, that navy jacket isn’t going to look like a blazer when worn with casual pants or jeans. It’s just going to look like you tried to wear your suit jacket as a blazer.

Why the grey suit is the ideal building block for a tailored sartorial suits wardrobe
The only context in which a navy worsted odd jacket works – with grey tailored trousers.

The problem you face here comes down to design and fabric, as most suit jackets just don’t look quite right as a separate jacket. The design of most suit jackets is usually austere and formal, generally with basic flapped pockets and a standard two button front. This can change if you have control over the design details, or buy RTW from a brand with the right design details, however if you’re buying a suit in worsted wool it’ll still only look at home with worsted trousers regardless of design details.

Fabric and button choices for your suit are what really determines the jacket’s ability to be worn as a separate. A more textured fabric like linen, tweed or a napped flannel can be made up into the suiting standard of flapped pockets and standard jetted breast pocket, while still looking sufficiently happy as an odd jacket, purely because the fabric of the jacket looks more at home with rugged textures for pants like jeans. If you’re buying a seasonal suit for your first, you may be able to swing a flannel or suiting tweed; however, if playing with worsteds the moral of this story is that jacket colour choice is largely irrelevant, as the suit jacket won’t look right as an odd jacket in most of your intended contexts. A blazer and an orphaned jacket aren’t the same.

This is where trousers come into play. As mentioned earlier, grey tailored trousers are a cornerstone of the menswear wardrobe. Their versatility as a dressy trouser is unmatched, and as such any buyer of a first suit is best off looking for a grey suit with two trousers.

Why the grey suit is the ideal building block for a tailored sartorial suits wardrobe
The trousers from the suit this dark grey jacket belonged to blew out many years ago, and the jacket which once went with these trousers was also ruined. However, both live on with plenty of usefulness.

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With content features ranging from appearances on popular menswear hubs (The Rake, StyleForum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is a writer, designer and enthusiast in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

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