Today’s men’s suit began life in the Victorian era as a less formal alternative to morning and frock coats, the standard business dress of the time. Because this “lounge suit” was more informal, there were few restrictions on its design, and therefore could be found in all manner of fabrics and permutations.
This diversity in suits survived the demise of the morning coat, and was still in full bloom up until the point when the suit itself began its long decline. As business casual gobbled up more an more office territory, suits retreated to stricter uniformity in dark worsted wool, occupying the restricted territory of the morning coat a hundred years earlier. At our current point in this plotline, “casual suit” may be an oxymoron - some people will regard anyone wearing a suit as “dressed up.” But just to fix terms, I mean by “casual suit” any suit that isn’t of dark solid worsted. And there are still plenty of opportunities to wear a such a suit.
Anyplace that women will be wearing dresses, but you don’t have to wear a dark business suit, is a place you can wear a casual suit. This could be: a casual Friday at a normally more formal office; a social gathering that’s anywhere between a “house party” and a “gala”; any performance with assigned seating. If you’ve ever ogled a suit like the one pictured above (matching trousers here) and thought, “but where will I ever wear it?”, this is a place to start. Of course, once you get comfortable, there’s nothing at all stopping you from wearing a casual suit for a dog walk or even a quick soccer match.
You may worry that even if a suit is appropriate, adding a tie would make your outfit awkwardly formal. First, be aware that not all ties are equally formal. Knit ties are decidedly less imposing than the repp silks you might wear with a navy suit. But if you are steadfast against neckwear of any sort, you still have attractive alternatives. A slim fitting turtleneck looks great under a flannel or tweed suit, framing your face as a tie-and-shirt-collar would, but perhaps avoiding a “why so dressed up?” interrogation.
A casual suit isn’t versatile enough to be the only suit in your wardrobe. You’ll need a couple of business suits for job interviews and weddings and the like. But there are times when it’s alright to be wearing a suit that’s different from everyone else’s, and at those times your solid navy suits can have a day off.
Quality content, like quality clothing, ages well. This article first appeared on the No Man blog in December 2015.