Menswear

In the Navy, the Most Versatile Suit You’ll Ever Own

I’ve written about this before, but I wanted to revisit it. Men’s style magazines recycle old stories and dress them as fresh content all the time, so why not? Besides, classic men’s wear doesn’t really change that much. So here goes…

Yours truly in a custom navy suit from Black Lapel (blacklapel.com)

Some argue that the first suit a man should own is the charcoal gray suit. I respectfully disagree. As beautiful as gray suits can be (I have a couple, ranging from warm to cool), gray is gray. If a man has gray hair, a pale, gray pallor and pale blue eyes, it’s gray on gray on gray. Gray. For just enough color interest in the whole composition, my stance has always been the same: go blue. Navy blue, to be specific.

Since I’m no color specialist, I cannot claim to know why navy blue is an appealing color on everyone. I just know that it is. On dark-skinned black men, redheads, fair-skinned white men and everyone in between, navy just works. You can’t say that about any other color. (Nope, not even gray.) If anyone can find me an example where a solid navy suit just didn’t work on someone, I’d love to see it.

As a fan of custom/made-to-measure suiting, my formula for the perfect navy suit is pretty simple: a jacket with notch lapels and two buttons, and pants with no pleats and no cuffs. The other subtle flourishes I enjoy are pick stitching on the lapels, a ticket pocket and side adjusters instead of belt loops. Pretty basic, really. And it never lets me down. I got mine from Black Lapel, and I love wearing it.

The full kit.

Among my favorite qualities of a well-tailored navy suit are that it is at once timeless, versatile and utterly forgetable. It can be high profile, yet low on the radar. And if you look at the mode of serious movers and shakers who pull power levers, you’ll notice that they all work a solid navy suit into their uniform.

Though one really should give a suit a rest after a day of wearing, one could conceivably wear the same navy suit every day for a week with different shirt and tie combinations, and no one would really know that it is the same suit.

In a pinch – and this drives serious sartorialists nuts – one could cheat the jacket of a navy suit as a navy blazer for a casual evening out, which makes the navy suit the ideal travel suit. That never seems to work as well with the top half of a gray suit. When you try to wear a gray jacket with jeans or other trousers, it just looks like the top half of a gray suit. Again… I can’t explain why. It just does. (But, for the record, I strongly recommend having a separate, dedicated navy blazer.)

The navy suit takes us everywhere: a job interview, a board meeting, a wedding, a funeral, a covert mission, a night on the town, or one of the last three restaurants on the planet with an actual dress code. Whether it’s your first suit or your only suit, go with navy blue.

Some iconic examples:

A note about black…

I love Tom Ford, but the thing with the black suit is one of a few areas where I disagree with him. Black is harsh, expecially on fairer men, who just get washed out by it. Outside of a black tie affair or an early Tarantino gangster film, the black suit has a severe, funereal flavor to it. Men wearing black suits look like pallbearers, chauffeurs or Secret Service agents to me. And the black-suit-with-a-necktie-instead-of-a-tuxedo thing is an unfortunate sign of our sartorially lazy times. So if you’re wearing a black suit, I hope it has silk or satin facing on its peak or shawl lapels and a black bow tie between them.

5 Comments

  1. Christopher R Fortunato Reply

    What do you do for pocket squares, George. Are they a well pressed handkerchief in the pocket or are they just cardboard with fabric on the top? I like the real thing, but I cannot get them thin, so I display them with a poof instead.

  2. Blue is my favorite color…so of course I have a navy suit in my collection. And I get a lot of compliments even though I’m not sure I look as distinguished as the other gentlemen in this post.

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