The Cotton Suit (Reprise)

A few years back, Jason wrote about his experiences commissioning and wearing a cotton suit, and I cannot improve upon his initial sentiment:

"Being part of this industry allows you to indulge more than most, and probably more than is really advisable. It allows us to don apparel that may not be functional to most men. However, sometimes the suit you thought was more a showpiece suit, actually becomes one of your most useful. This is the case with my cotton chino suit."

I've long held interest in trying a more casual side of suiting, and few concepts run more casual and more interesting than the cotton suit. While considering a wardrobe as a whole, engaging in an experimental garment is best left as a peripheral choice rather than one of necessity. That said, I've thoroughly relished exploring the novel realms of informal tailoring.

The Design

Seasons of scouring had me considering a few disparate ideas, including a dark blue cashmere-cotton, and an olive green stretch cotton. Ultimately, I didn't favour the idea of another blue nor green suit. After keeping an eye out for a cotton fabric to my tastes, I'd stumbled upon a 9 oz stretch cotton from Coppley in a mostly-neutral khaki / stone colour (97% cotton / 3% elastin). The khaki skews slightly towards green than pink or gold.

As a summer suit I opted for an unlined jacket to reduce the thermal trappings of bemberg lining and keep things cooler. To contrast the lack of colour, a dark brown horn button treatment highlights the earthiness of the khaki and provide a bit of sportiness. Notched lapels, double vents and patch pocketing keeps the coat accessible and within traditional boundaries.

Pink and Green

Before I'd even finished submitting the specs for the suit, I knew that I wanted to embellish the faint greenishness of the khaki by sporting my favourite colour combo: pale pink and green. My first outfit was comprised of a pink button-down oxford shirt matched with my olive-green-and-tan polka dot tie. Both the olive and the tan pull out the colour of the suit fabric, and all three complement the pale pink beautifully. The suit welcomes colour due to its quiet neutrality and casual hue, so this is a great opportunity to have a little fun.

I completed the outfit with oxblood brogues and a matching belt, though cognac or dark brown would work just as effortlessly. The deep red of oxblood or burgundy ties into the pink and the green, respectively. The pocket square picks up the green and tan, and I could always tone it down with a plain white linen puff.

The subtle finishes accentuate the casual nature of the suit: the button-down collar of the shirt, the brogueing of the oxford shoes, and the leather watch strap all shy away from the formal end of the spectrum, giving a done-up-but-not-so-done-up impression.

Casual Indulgence

Leaning a little more into the informal nature of the cotton suit, a world of possibility opens up when eschewing formal constructs. Short-sleeve polos, T-shirts, henleys, sneakers and the like make for a relaxed look unthinkable of pairing with a worsted business suit. I tried out my new johnnie-O stretch polo in a soft red/ice blue stripe, and the colours had free reign amidst the neutral tone of the suit fabric. A great opportunity to wear my dirty white bucks, I settled on a cognac belt and white linen pocket square to round out the outfit. The challenge, however, is toeing the line between dressed-down and Crockett & Tubbs; maybe stay away from the pastel turquoise T-shirts for now!

Another take on casual summer wear is an open-collared shirt in lighter fabric, such as linen. Breathable and aery, most shades will provide contrast whether one craves colour or neutrals, pictured here in an olive green linen button-down.

Black & Tan

The "dressiest" take on a khaki suit sees the neutrals paired with a clean canvas and stark monochromatic compliment, in this case a white button-down with a black silk knit tie. Paring down the formality, black horsebit loafers and belt spare a sense of vibrancy and allow the accoutrements speak softly - white linen pocket square, chrome horsebit, and beige leather watch strap. This would be a wonderful (and functional) summer wedding look, clean enough to be formal, fun enough to be whimsical and - most importantly - subdued enough not to take focus.

Navy & Blues

A suit considerably light in hue is a great opportunity for a dark contrast, and navy is about the most versatile and effortless colour for such a task. Polos, henleys, and nautical striped shirts are a perfect foil for the khaki suit, while dark denim shirts and lightweight sweaters provide early season options for more wear.

Uniquely Casual

Though I'm entirely enjoying my new suit, there remains a laundry list of reasons why the average man may forego such a garment. A suit so light in colour is easily vulnerable to markings and dirt, to which the cotton fabric only exacerbates. As I'd been warned, it's a dry cleaner's dream; I'd generally recommend a colour a shade or two darker if working with cotton. It's not a suit that should be seen in a meeting of manners important, even when dressed up. Traditional tact would suggest it is not a suit that should be seen after Labour Day. Cotton, to boot, is a little less durable than wool. Be that as it may, this is a suit that can do things that my other suits simply can not, and I've yet to even explore one of the chief features by breaking the suit up into separates and mixing-and-matching.

Ryan W.A. Clark

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