The Versatile (Casual) Navy Suit

Admiring the views at the Albergo il Monastero in Ischia

One of the oft-repeated tenets of menswear is if you’re going to have one suit, make it navy. I put that to the test for the past two weeks, and I have to say, now I’m a believer.

I wasn’t always this way.  Personally, I’m more of a gray suit guy – I find it easier to pair with the 90 percent of my shirts that are blue, and gray cloth pairs with ties of practically every color. While that’s all well and good, though, that’s pretty much where the benefits end; you rarely see a gray suit without the accompanying boardroom appendages. Navy’s advantage, it’s written, is that it can go from business to casual, making it the clear winner in terms of versatility.

Hogwash, I thought… but I’ve honestly never tried it. So when I went to Italy for a mixture of meetings, service, and merriment, I decided to pack my carry-on with just one suit – a navy one.  But which one?

It had to be a suit that could pass muster in various environments and with disparate accessories.  On the suits and t-shirts thread (a spirited debate with many for and against) Derek summed up the look when he said it helps when the suit itself skews casual, and all my suits – even the ones in casual fabrics – were constructed and canvassed like a regular suit. As much as I tried, I couldn’t make a regular suit look at home with tennis shoes.  And then I remembered Antonio’s suits.

While Antonio Ciongoli was at Eidos, he created the Augusto line – an unlined, unconstructed, uncanvassed suit that he purposely meant to be a casual take on the traditional suit.  Most of them lacked vents, wore more like a shirt, and came in textured fabrics that, while interesting, would make it out of place in the boardroom.  “It was supposed to be for the guy that doesn’t wear a suit,” Antonio explains.  At the end of his tenure at Eidos, many pieces went to other places to be sold, but Antonio kept a few pieces he really liked for himself, including a navy suit, which caught my eye.  “It’s a solid but slubby fabric, a mix of cotton and silk. One of the best fabrics I’ve ever seen – pictures don’t do it justice,” he explained. “It really is exceptional…I was hoping it’d be my one navy suit.” Alas, it was too small for Antonio, but just my size. I snagged it off him and prepped it for my trip to Italy.

While in Italy and the situation called for it, I paired the suit with knit ties and unlined loafers. Whenever a tie felt too dressed up, I threw on whatever else I had in my suitcase: a Breton shirt, a plain white tee, a bold striped shirt, a camp collar shirt, an OCBD, a convertible collar shirt, whatever.  It handled them all with ease.  Truth be told, this isn’t the most formal suit, but that was precisely why it appealed to me — smart enough to pass in anything short of an interview, and casual enough to be worn with a t-shirt and sneakers.

Nursing a negroni at Villa Cimbrone in Ravello
In the piazza of Pisciotta in Cilento
At the Napoli Inglese meeting
On the hills of Via Bufalotta
Roaming the charming alleys of Castellabate
In Piazza Catedrale in Frascati
Outside the Palazzo Reale in Napoli
In the Palazzo di Domenico Barbaja in Napoli

Antonio himself styled his navy suits better than I ever could. I think with these photos, and my experiences, you too can become a believer. As such, I’ll leave you here with a few examples:

Pictures courtesy of antoniociongoli.com

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Peter Zottolo
Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.
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Peter Zottolo

About Peter Zottolo

Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.

5 thoughts on “The Versatile (Casual) Navy Suit

  1. Peter, great variety of casual suits. It appears that there is an appropriate suit for every casual occasion.
    The suit and T-shirt trend was actually colloquially popular in the 1960’s in New Orleans, La., especially among the young hipsters. The exception being, the suit was generally custom tailored with a blend of vibrant colors and fabrics like sharkskin, wool and silk. The style could be both casual and semi-formal. Blue offered the most stunning appearance when blended with other colors.
    The short sleeve crew-neck T-shirt was called “silks”, although the fabric content was actually nylon and produced in a variety of colors. The suit & t-shirt combination was an age appropriate marriage that lasted for a while before an eventual annulment.

    In the grand sweep of things, it all comes back around, with some variation, demographics and purpose.

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