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.

It’s 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.

Shoe Combination Versatility

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 aim on a first suit is 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.

But there’s one area where grey can win, easily.

The Story of Separates and the Orphaned Jacket

The biggest point of versatility in a suit, at least in my opinion, is how well both pieces can be worn as separates. Each choice in the navy vs. grey debate carries pros and cons here.

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, navy trousers are notoriously difficult to pair tastefully in a formal setting.

On the flip side, grey odd jackets are not so common. They’re considerably less versatile than their navy counterparts, and tend mostly to be worn as part of a monochromatic outfit when combined as separates.
However, 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 away with owning only grey trousers, if you were so inclined.

This brings us to a stalemate if you can’t just buy one grey and one navy right off of the bat, and you might 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.
And you could.
But is this ideal?

Orphan Jackets vs. Sport Jackets and Blazers

Most suit jackets don’t look quite right as a separate jacket. To put it simply, the design is usually austere and formal, as it’s designed to be worn as a suit, rather than as a separate.

This can change if you have control over the design details, or buy RTW from a brand with the right design details. Essentially, the standard suit jacket details of flapped horizontal pockets and jetted breast pocket are likely to look out of place.

Something with patch pockets, on the other hand, is going to be much more at home when worn as a separate. It’s why, on my recent suit commission at Beg Your Pardon, I had patch pockets on the jacket.
I can wear that easily as separates.

Other factors come into play here, like the fabric choice and buttons. A bolder fabric such as a windowpane or colourful tweed can have the suiting standard of flapped pockets and standard jetted breast pocket, while still looking sufficiently happy as an odd jacket, and it’s because of the fabric. The same goes with buttons, in the case of something like a navy prep style blazer, where the gold buttons distinguish it sufficiently from a suit jacket.

Another example of a suit jacket that could be worn as a separate without looking like an orphan can be seen in this two piece cotton suit from The Armoury below:

However, most entry level suiting is going to be of the standard configuration which will have the jacket shouting orphan to onlookers. Hence my conviction that grey is a better choice, because while the jacket might look odd as a separate, the trousers will be perfectly fine.

But won’t grey make me look older?

Short answer, no.
I do see people saying that the perception of a navy suit is one of a younger man, but I think that’s entirely subjective and any perception of youth is going to be down to the way you carry yourself and the way you wear your outfits.

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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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