Cloth Colour & Design

Following on from part one of our guide to buying a new suit, which covered everything you need to know about fabric choice, today, in part two, we’re set to explore colours and patterns.

So, what colour should your suit be? I was working with a client only last week who was extremely keen to explore colour, because he wanted to show his own personal flair. All well and good you might think, but when he arrived he was wearing a burgundy suit. Very cool, there’s no denying, but practical? Versatile? I’m not convinced. He wanted me to be honest, so I was – and I hope I’ve reconfigured his thought process slightly.

Firstly, I want to pre-empt what I’m about to say by pointing out that there may well be a time and place in ‘your world’ where a burgundy suit could be an option. It tends to come down to the industry you are working in – for instance, it would be easier to pull a burgundy suit off if you actually work in a creative industry, such as fashion, rather than the corporate or financial sector.

My point is simple: there are other ways to show off your personal style and create an impact. It doesn’t need to be done by making such a dramatic statement through block-colour. Accessorising and an understanding of colour combinations are the real ways to stand out and make an impression, for all the right reasons.

When it comes to business, I always say that clothes should be there to make you look smart and professional, and not be remarked upon. Imagine going to a networking event and being referred to as the guy wearing ‘that tie’ or ‘that suit’. I defer to someone far more informed, Sir Hardy Amies: “A man should look as if he had bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care and then forgotten all about them.” How true.

Business-Appropriate Colours

When creating a professional wardrobe it’s important not to simply buy things ad hoc, but think more strategically. I’ve been asked many a time to help people start from scratch and build a tailoring collection for business, so I like to think I have seen and experienced it all within this realm.

For this purpose there are only really two colours that we use: blue and grey. It’s a simple formula and it might sound boring, but within these two colours lies a wealth of choice and opportunity.

As for black? Some might choose it thinking it’s super refined and sophisticated, but it’s a little too stark for day wear. It’s more suited to evening wear, formal dinners or red carpet events. As for brown, it gives off a more casual air, and consequently is not appropriate for mainstream business environments.

With that in mind, where does variety lie in blue and grey suits? Well, there are a number of textures to consider for a start:

Block-Colour Versions

Serge is a classic twill fabric that has diagonal lines and is often used for suits, blazers, military uniforms and trench coats. It’s a good go-to cloth for your first solid navy suit.

You will find a lot of suits on the high street are a serge. Rich in colour, it’s only negative is that over time it can become shiny. To avoid this, use a cloth over the top of the suit when giving it a press, to protect the fabric.

If the suit does get shiny, just through general wear, the best cure is steam. Without actually ironing over the suit, pump steam from your iron into the fabric and it will help reduce the shine.

Serge Twill Suit Fabric

Men's Serge Twill Suit Navy SuitImage: Charles Tyrwhitt 2014

Pic And Pic/Sharkskin

Also known as skarkskin, pic and pic is a smooth worsted fabric with a soft texture and two-toned woven appearance. Like serge, it’s another classic option.

At a distance this material again looks like a solid/clean colour, but it has more depth due to its different tones.

Often likened to ‘salt and pepper’ it works particularly well in grey tones – a medium grey pic and pic suit combined with a white shirt and navy tie is an absolute winner. A really chic look.

Pic And Pic/Sharkskin Suit Fabric

Men's Pic And Pic/Sharkskin Grey SuitImage: Charles Tyrwhitt 2014

Heavier Textures

This, as the name suggests, is a design in the shape of a bird’s eye. It promises a conservative aesthetic while exploring texture and subtle two-tone colour.

It can look extremely interesting, and sits well when combined with a shirt and tie that are perhaps more flat in texture.

Due to its heavier nature, it will often only be found on medium to heavy weight suits.

Birdseye Suit Fabric

Men's Birdseye Suit Grey SuitImage: Charles Tyrwhitt 2014


This describes a distinctive v-shaped weaving pattern resembling a broken zigzag. The pattern is called herringbone because it looks like the skeleton of the herring fish.

It gets picked up by the light when wearing it and does make for an eye-catching suit. At a distance it will appear to be a solid colour, but on closer inspection the pattern is recognisable and it certainly brings interest to a plain coloured design.

However, I personally prefer it for smart-casual tailoring in fabrics such as tweed and linen, when the herringbone can be a little wider.

Herringbone Suit Fabric

Men's Herringbone Tweed Suit Grey SuitImage: Charles Tyrwhitt 2014

Patterned Versions
Chalk, Cable, Rope & Pin Stripes

Once you’ve built up a solid collection of block-colours and textures, your next consideration should be a striped suit.

Chalk stripes more often than not come on flannel suits, whereas cable, rope and pin stripes are usually found on worsted options.

When choosing a stripe, bear in mind your own stature. If you are a small frame then don’t choose a stripe that is too strong or wide. It will dominate your aesthetic and can make you appear even smaller.

Men's Striped Suits Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

eton aw14h&m modern classics aw11next aw14hugo boss aw14tommy hilfiger tailored aw14he by mango winter 2014louis copeland aw14windsor aw14Scotch & Soda Atelier Scotch aw14

Although they are currently on-trend, checks should be your last port of call, once you’ve ticked all the other boxes above.

Glen check/plaid is quite often referred to as the Prince of Wales check, after the Duke of Windsor (at the time the Prince of Wales) was seen wearing it on many occasions. If you like the idea of adding a Glen check to your collection, it works well with a lighter shade of suit – mid to light grey or mid to light blue, to be precise. What is worth avoiding are darker greys and navies, because a check design is simply lost and will be far more difficult to make out.

Some designs will have an overlay of another check over the top, which makes the suit or jacket even more sporty. You may well find that a mid-grey or mid-blue suit will feature a blue or red overcheck. They look really smart but to get the most out of it, make sure that you team it with shirt and tie combinations that remain relatively sober. It’s also worth noting that this type of check reduces the suit’s versatility. Perhaps an option for an already established wardrobe.

A check suit is often considered a little more casual, but they can look really smart nonetheless. Combine with solid shirts and ties to really get the most out of them.

Men's Checked Suits Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

mj bale aw14he by mango fall 2014dunhill aw13ted baker aw13windsor aw14sarar aw14jaeger aw13reiss aw14vistula aw14
Final Word

In conclusion, don’t start building your formal wardrobe with brighter hues, heavy stripes and bold checks. Home in on solid blues and greys first and look to vary your choice of textures and weights instead – there is always time to diversify. Be strategic when buying and you will be on the right path.

Once the basic options are in place, then you can look to explore alternative colours, patterns and textures. As for how to express your own personal style within a business environment? Proceed with caution and do it using your choice of shirt and tie or by adding a colourful pocket square to your breast pocket.

Remember, in business there’s a lot to be said for understated elegance.

If you have any questions or queries about purchasing your next suit – particularly when it comes to colour, texture and pattern – drop me a comment below and I will endeavour to help you out…