Finally Appreciating The Grey Suit

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Would you believe that dressing “serious” is in my repertoire?

A while back, I was interrogated in the DMs as to why I never wear a grey suit (I guess he forgot that I occasionally wear my 1940s grey gabardine one that I’ve unfortunately now grown out of). The messenger came out guns blazing and seemed to imply that I had some agenda against grey suits, try to tie me into some big menswear conspiracy that grey suits (and other basics) are not popular and we all seem to focus on the novel rather than the practical (whatever that means to you).

I did my best to explain that grey just never excited me as much as navy or brown. Blues and browns are some of my favorite colors and they have a richness and depth that grey just never gave me; blue is also quite close to purple (my favorite color). Even in its wikipedia entry, grey is stated to be “without color”, which best explains my feelings toward it. Grey is the neutral’s neutral; blue and brown get to play with colors whereas grey gets colors added onto it. Unfortunately these explanations did not pass muster with the zealot in my DMs. But he had a point. Why was it that I, a man who loves to wear different expressions of tailoring, found it hard to be drawn to the grey suit?

I was so tired of seeing this repeated to me! It felt like the grey suit was something off a list rather than something you could truly enjoy.

I honestly think that my aversion to grey lies in its connotations and use in #menswear rather than the color itself. Grey is often recommended to be one of first suits you should get across all manner of menswear media, whether it’s a guide on MFA or from a youtuber looking to peddle his info-products. And even if grey suits are less common compared to the electric blues and tan shoes of real estate agents (a DC follower told me that grey suits are endangered in the workplace), we can’t escape the color’s old connotations. It doesn’t help that most grey suits today are still worn quite soberly, mostly in service of business attire that just never made much sense for my lifestyle.

I suspect that figures in the menswear industry also felt the same way about grey, as they too are not typical corporate guys who need to look formal at all times. This is probably why my DM-er saw a lack of grey suits in the menswear enthusiast world; it’s one of those things where the staff at Drake’s and The Armoury seldom wore grey, but they still sold a lot of grey (and navy) due to their customer base. That distinction between the industry/major enthusiasts and the regular guys wearing suits (aka menswear is not a hobby) is definitely something I’ll get into in the future.

Thanks to the grey suit’s sheer ubiquity in online guides as well as its ties to formality and businesswear, it just never crossed my mind as something to have. I always had more fun with my navy suit, as it was easy to break apart into separates and put interesting spins with (chambrays, sport shirts, etc). Later, the brown suit (and brown in general) unlocked my true potential with where I wanted my style to go. Grey was always relegated to odd trousers, in order to soberize my checked jackets; I also had one grey plaid tweed I liked to wear. But I just didn’t have the need for the full suit. My lifestyle just wasn’t there. This was a hobby, based in wearing what I liked to wear, and grey just wasn’t on the list.

I like that these looks from Pitti (2017 I think) are actually quite safe, but none of them utilized a grey suit! Proof that it isn’t always needed.
Even this lookbook didn’t have much for grey suits.

Before I go on, I need to share that the pandemic and being relegated to working at home lead me to have a bit of a tailoring “renaissance” for me. This means that I’ve actually been excited to wear ties, jackets, and trousers instead of truly casual clothing. It’s not that I don’t like being casual, but it’s just apparent that when I’m left to my own devices, my mind instantly goes to tailored outfits. This has lead me to expand my own view on tailoring, whether it’s diving deep on what details I look for (like Button-Pocket Harmony or my ideal proportions) to simply being drawn to specific things like solid jackets. And as you might have expected, this introspection and reinvigorated passion for menswear (in a world where wearing it doesn’t make much functional sense) eventually lead me to come around on grey.

I can’t trace the exact moment where I started to appreciate grey suits (I’m counting mid grey to charcoal, I’m not a fan of light grey), but I know it started to be compelling.

Pop culture may have been the culprit. I watched The Crown, where Josh O’Connor was slouching around as Prince Charles in conservative grey tailoring (when not in Barbours and tweed jackets). Maybe it was Frasier, where Niles Crane would look stuffy (in the best way possible) in his charcoal DBs styled the Yuppie way with bold ties and Bengal stripe shirts. Or perhaps it was watching a handful of films I from the 1950s to the 1990s that displayed the charcoal suit as the suit to be worn by tailored characters, before it was usurped by the electric blue numbers we see today (worn with tan shoes); I can think of Elevator to the Gallows or The Firm.

The key might have been to get in the mindset character that chooses to relish in the sobriety of grey. It is not mean to be a fun or creative vibe like navy or brown. In fact, it may not be about the expression of color but about the connotations of it. Grey is seemingly about presenting a certain type of demeanor, one that is serious and steadfast. It’s not even as pure as white nor as sexy or edgy as black. With it being a “non-color”, it makes saturation feel silly. Colors can still be worn next to grey, but it doesn’t mesh or play into it, at least not as well as navy, brown, or green. It’s funny; these were all reasons why I avoided grey suits and yet now I find myself persuaded by those same points. It’s like grey was becoming endearing. And intriguing.

Anglo-Italian loves to use grey. Perhaps the brand’s popularity is indicative of people coming back from the tropes of “casual tailoring” like bold checked jackets and khaki chinos.

The menswear world, at least those I associate with, has seemingly started to come around on grey as well (though it was obviously never truly cast off). Perhaps it’s the fact that the post-pandemic menswear renaissance that has made menswear a celebration of occasion. Or maybe there’s a nostalgia for those salaryman looks of the corporate life that relies on an easy uniform, rather than separates and creative moves to consciously dress down. When putting sportcoats and “in-between” looks to rest, a grey suit is the move, especially for those who think blue suits are too played out (damn you real estate agents) or that brown is just too casual to justify purchasing.

There’s also the fact that 1950s-1990s culture is the current mood of menswear, where again, grey was the move for suits. If you want to dress like a yuppie or a character in a mid century french film, grey is the way to go. The grey suit has fashion appeal. It’s an aesthetic (and a mindset) to get behind.

I wonder if my newfound appreciation of grey is a response to all my years of dressing like the Esquire Man, a style that is built on patterns, earth tones, and “casual” tailoring. Those separate-dependent looks, as well as suiting in cotton twill and corduroy, came at a time where trad menswear was key. Everything was built on businesswear and being appropriate for versatile contexts whereas I was more concerned with slouch and a bit of vintage flair. In retrospect, it makes sense for somberness to characterize the next “step”. The use of solid jackets and ties came first, which naturally lead to embracing grey. Instead of adapting what I have to be corporate and sterile, why not take the jump? The water looks great!

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To be clear, I did have a grey SB suit that I wore occasionally; you might remember it best from this Dapper Day. Its had two button jacket with wide lapels and came with some big pants (with a Hollywood waist)! I bought it years ago and it was my dedicated grey suit. Thanks to the bold details and soft gabardine cloth, it never felt like a “true” grey suit to me; I also didn’t wear it as much because I simply preferred navy and brown more when it came to suits. I eventually gave it to a friend when I outgrew the jacket (you can’t make shoulders bigger). I wanted something that fit my current vibe of blending vintage ideas with a bit of modern influences.

So I took a bit of a leap.

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I’m ready for my promotion.

When it came to a proper grey suit, I ended up ordering a grey suit from Dave at Atelier Fugue, the faithful maker of the cotton suits that make up a majority of my wardrobe. I did attempt to try a grey cotton, but when he didn’t have one int he weight I liked, I decided to full send it and ordered a relatively lightwight, mid-grey sharkskin.

I briefly debated on making it an SB but ended up with a DB when my gut told me otherwise. A DB has drama, which I knew I wanted from a grey suit. It’s a traditional 6×2, but I roll it to the bottom one for that louche yuppie vibe. It also features swelled edges which despite being a casual move (it’s mainly seen on “country” tailoring like tweed and flannel) helps me make the grey suit my own. It’s remains slouchy in cut, all the while retaining the traditional and austere vibes of grey. It’s also one of the few wool suits I own; most of what I wear is cotton. I guess when it comes to grey you gotta do wool worsted!

Ever since I’ve got it, I’ve really enjoyed wearing it, more so than the old grey gabardine. The DB feels like the grey sut.

It truly is interesting to wear grey as a full suit. There is just so much more gravitas than simply wearing grey odd trousers grounding a loud jacket. As a suit, grey envelops me, using its non-color to provide a new context when worn with my existing wardrobe. Creams feel louder. Blues feel corporate. Brown now has contrast. Foulards feel grounded instead of being played with. It marks a fun contrast to days where I wear my blue/brown suits or even my separates. It’s almost like it brings a sense of occasion! A grey mood if you will.

Maturation has been a bit of a topic of discussion on the Discord (as I figure out how my execution has gotten better at this hobby), mainly in terms of picking subdued color combinations or even in specific clothing pairings (less overt ruggedness or boldness). While I haven’t exactly been the wildest dresser (compared to the wider fashion world), I definitely feel like my outfits could stand to being called “out there” for some classic menswear heads. The appeal of grey might even be two fold: It’s proof I can dress somberly (and enjoy it) as well as do grey in a decidedly Ethan way (a fun way).

In that sense, nothing has fundamentally changed about my normal styling movies as I wear my grey suit with with ties as well as with open collar, severely unbuttoned sportshirts (or even tee shirts). However, I think the overall vibes are different because grey is inherently different. It’s provides a new base unlike navy or shades of brown. It’s like it has an edge, but it’s a traditional edge rather than an inherent, sexy one. I do think a grey cotton suit (in a dark twill or dusty corduroy) would be a cool move, but nothing beats the clean drape of worsted wool– it just makes sense for grey.

Embracing the austerity feels natural, which again is something I’m not entirely used to. I’m still the same person, but maybe my mind is more open. Or my “character” just finds something comforting in grey. It’s like a new world has been unlocked, one that is again, quite somber and “restrained” compared to what I normally wear. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because I’m secure in my new career. Or maybe its just the charm of the uncharted, even if it is a safer move (which is the last taboo). It feels I’ve come around to someone that I’ve always known, just with a bit more empathy. Whatever it is, I’m here for it.

As I reflect on this, I wonder if I just had to be in the right place, at the right time for grey. Most of my purchases in the past were based on what I had in front of me at the time, like what showed up on eBay, what appeared on the racks that week at Goodwill, or whatever my vintage friends had in stock. And because I knew I liked brown and blue (and had a non-corporate lifestyle), I prioritized them over grey. Perhaps like all things, I just needed to feel like the choice was intentional and natural rather than a default that I was beholden to.

And despite many sentences saying otherwise, I wonder if this (and a fun slide to wearing more solids) will have a larger effect on my wardrobe. It’s important to note that I haven’t bought a single suit since this grey one, which happened around May or June of this year. Maybe the addition of grey was the final move. Only time will tell!

Now enjoy some grey outfits, both on myself and other people. Note that there might be some variation in cloth and pattern, but try to get into the grey mindset. I just can’t stop seeing grey inspo everywhere I go!

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A very 90s yuppie look with my dad’s old Armani tie (that has kiwis on it I think).
God, the yuppie look.
Perfect for going corporate.
I particularly love it as a DB.
Joe Ha always looked great in grey DBs.
SB is good too!
But DB is nice.
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Even though I’m more known for wearing brown and navy suits, I still broke out my grey one from time to time!
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I definitely enjoyed grey, even if I didn’t wear it as often as the others. Most of the styling was pretty reserved, as grey was a reserved color.
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I did have fun with it though!
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But most of the time, it was standard styling.
I did like how guys would play with the styling. It worked well with cream ties!
As well as dark ones.
And the Esquire Man still did have fun with grey.
Grey was still a conservative choice.

There was still fun to be had with grey, like this summer cord suit.
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Grey is great for ivy (as seen here on Dan).
But I do like when people play into the somber gravitas of grey.
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Nick Roberts.
A bit of a fun take, with a checked shirt, watch chain, and beret.
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A little jazz musician (or 90s mafia charicature) but I liked it.
I do appreciate Ethan’s ability to have fun with grey suits. There really is versatility (across aesthetics).

Grey with a white shirt and black tie is a look.

Even though this is probably of a grey-brown, I’m going to count it as grey.
On that note, grey and brown really go well together.
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Mark does like a grey suit. It works well with a “wild” paisley tie.
Grey still looks good with casual pieces like a chambray shirt and grenadine tie.
I’ve also thought that grey suits look good with yellow shirts.
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And pale green!
Tonal grey on grey is a good move too.
But blue foulards are also a good match.
Can’t be a grey suit post without Bond.
Drake’s have featured grey suits in their lookbooks, but they don’t wear them like a “typical” grey suit (aka with chukka boots).
It does say “corporate” but I’ve learned to enjoy that connotation, especially with a textured wool.
This is plaid, but its subtle enough to be considered a “soft solid”.

Grey is subdued, but you can still have fun with it. The 60s/70s silhouette of Husbands makes for a fun take on grey suiting.
The strong shoulders, wide lapels, and flared trouser provides pizzaz to an otherwise “normal” grey suit.
Even Zack can’t escape the appeal of a grey suit.
G. Bruce Boyer also makes for good “grey suit inspo”.

I absolutely love grey suits with blue striped shirts and club ties. Just feels right.

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Jay wearing his charcoal grey suit with a khaki shirt and tie.
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I like bowties with grey suits. The grey makes it feel more “midcentury corporate” instead of quirky professor (who would probably wear a brown suit or casual separates).
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I passed my 1940s grey gab suit to MJ btw.
The J. Mueser boys like a grey suit.
It’s a sober color that still allows for fun within.

Anglo-Italian is also notorious for their love of grey tailoring.

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I’ll always love geometrics foulards with a grey suits. It makes for a corporate look rather than something too Esquire Man.
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I also don’t mind grey suits being worn sans tie. They retain their sober connotations while providing ample room for casual pairings.
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A sportshirt looks just fine with a grey suit! Again, a different look than if it was a brown or blue suit.
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Bryceland’s makes good work of casualizing a grey suit.

Going rugged with a grey suit looks good too.
However, sleek pairings are probably best when dressing down grey tailoring.
An open shirt is always a good move.

Grey looks good with dark knitwear.

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I definitely like pushing the boundaries from time to time (like with this Star Wars tee).
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But I tend to rely on a rayon sport shirt.
I guess I wore grey earlier than I thought.
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It never felt right, but maybe it’s because I didn’t find the right one.
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I think the one I have now is more my speed.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget that you can support me (or the podcast) on Patreon to get some extra content and access to our exclusive Discord. I also stream on Twitch and upload the highlights to Youtube.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan M. Wong

Big thank you to our top tier Patrons (the SaDCast Fanatics): Philip, Shane, Austin, Jarek, and Henrik.

4 comments

  1. Karol · December 5

    The Anthology has some great grey suit inspo, wwc.willy especially. Done in DB, linen, tweed and then some. Grey can work with colours too, but probably not the bright shades. Soft red, mustard and forest green are fine.

    Like

  2. Tieman Plonkton · December 6

    Nice one Ethan! Having never owned a grey suit these are my thoughts on them:
    Unlike the navy suit, the grey suit sees a lot less abuse from the everyman, #menswear enthusiasts, and GQ trend setters. This lends the grey suit a certain amount of dignity that navy simply doesn’t have left.
    I’d also add that grey coats worn as separates haven’t been as abused as the navy coat/navy blazer as a separate. That alone adds to its charm, it’s a road less travelled when it comes to furnishing the grey coat/suit.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Finally Appreciating The Grey Suit « Fashion
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