The Charcoal Suit is Still a Wardrobe Essential

“The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit”, released in 1956, follows the life of veteran Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) in post war America as he attempts to make it in the corporate world while dealing with a variety of personal issues.  It touches, as most great films do, on many themes – among them PTSD and the conflict between family and corporate life.  In the movie, the ubiquitous grey flannel suit of the post WWII workplace serves as a symbol of the demands of the corporate workplace.  A man becomes subsumed by his corporate role when he puts on his corporate suit.  The movie, like the book it was based on (published just a year earlier), was hailed by an audience standing on the precipice between postwar America and Rock and Roll.  Sixty years hence, while the word “suit” still carries with it many negative connotations associated with corporate drudgery, most workplaces no longer demand a suit for every day wear, and a suit has become for many a special event item.  A suit is, for many, a contemporary form of regalia.  A man who puts on a gray suit is more likely to stand out than to recede into the background – the suit says “This guy is about to do something special”.

charcoal suit styleforum wardrobe essential

Styleforum member “Pingson” does the dark grey suit justice.

A few years ago, a Styleforum member named “@Manton,” started a thread called “If you don’t own the following items, you are not well dressed”.  It’s a good list, if any one is building a classic business wardrobe.  We saw arguments about what belonged and did not belong in the list.  The dark grey (or charcoal) suit was, and is, one of the very few items that remains inarguably necessary in a man’s wardrobe.  If your job is one of the rare ones that requires that you put on a suit and tie every day, charcoal suits are a staple.  It says that you are a sober man, a serious man, which is usually the effect you want to affect in those rare professions where suits are still the norm.  If you are not a habitual suit wearing man, if you only need a suit once every so often, the dark grey suit in classic proportions is the suit you need if you are a guest at a wedding, a mourner at a funeral, or a victim at a job interview.

This is not a tutorial on what to look for in a suit, nor an infographic on how to wear one, but here are a few points to start you off:

  • The suit should “cut” your body into approximately two equal parts. The jacket should cover your bottom, but not go much below that.
  • Always make sure that the suit fits across the shoulders. Most other things can be adjusted.  This is a hard facet to alter.
  • In the same vein, make sure that the angle of the arm matches that of your “natural” stance.

And more about styling your suit:

  • A “normal” lapel width is less likely to date your look than a very narrow or very wide lapel. A “normal” lapel width ranges between 3” and 3.5” at the widest point, with the exact width depending on the style as well as the size of the suit.
  • There are three common button configurations for suit jackets: a two button jacket, a three button jacket, and a “two-roll-three” jacket – a three button jacket that is designed so that the top button is on the roll of the lapel, and not to be used for any reason.
  • If you are at a loss on what to wear with a charcoal suit, go with a plain white shirt with a semi-spread collar, a burgundy or navy grenadine tie (or a knit tie for more casual occasions, or a wool tie for winter), and a plain white pocket square.

I’d argue that a white oxford cloth shirt and a few solid or small pattern ties are other “should have” basics, and we’ll discuss those in the future. For now, if you’re starting out on a business-appropriate sartorial journey, or looking to pare down your wardrobe, keep in mind that a dark grey suit is an eternally appropriate choice in clothing. It’s worth having one in your closet, and making sure that it fits you properly – you’ll certainly find continued use for it.

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Fok is an owner of Styleforum. He abuses his authority regularly. Once, he persuaded Arianna to eat a chalupa, something she will never forgive. He wears heavy leather and denim, just in case the zombie apocalypse starts when he is writing an article.