Style / August 2016

Halcyon Greys: The Power of the Grey Suit

This month we are championing all things ‘grise’, so our sartorial specialist contemplates the nuances of the grey suit and offers a little inspiration.

Blue suits are very elegant and no self-respecting suit wardrobe is complete without a navy fresco, serge or herringbone. You should also have a little colour in there too, perhaps a green-based tweed for winter and a tobacco shaded linen for the warmer months, if you have the right complexion, a beige Solaro too. But never ignore the importance of the grey suit. Every gentleman has a place for at least one in his collection.

There are times, in fact, when only a proper grey suit will really do. It has a quiet authority for the occasions when blue can be viewed as a little “fast”. For this reason, dark grey is the correct colour for sub fusc at Oxford University. It is also the best option for a young barrister at court. Dark grey combines well with the black robe worn over the shoulders. The best shade for this is Oxford grey, named for the colour of Oxford stone; it is a shade darker than Charcoal and is both dignified and elegant. To achieve a really good Oxford grey, the weaver will mix black yarns with dark grey to achieve a slight textural effect. From experience, a pick-and-pick design such as sharkskin is a good cloth for Oxford grey. Many classic Savile Row staples look their best in shades of grey. An Oxford grey lounge suit will serve the wearer well for the most formal and sombre of daytime occasions.

It is worth noting that a grey textured cloth is suitable for morning dress. Black is, of course, the most formal shade but blue just does not have the same gravitas and I have never seen a blue morning coat that I have liked. They always look like servants livery. My personal favourite for a grey morning suit is a very fine birdseye but a good mid-toned sharkskin is always elegant. A really good mid-grey sharkskin is always a popular choice for a bespoke suit. Neither too regular or patchy, the cloth allows the tailor to express his own and the customers style. The way the cloth reflects light illustrates the expression in the chest and the suppression in the waist.

"To achieve a really good Oxford grey, the weaver will mix black yarns with dark grey to achieve a slight textural effect."

If there is one cloth that is synonymous with grey it is flannel. My personal favourite is the warm, sepia toned West-of-England variety with all its subtle colour variations and character. Originally a summer cloth, grey flannel is the modern-day sybarites choice for cool weather dressing. Its rich texture combines effortlessly with reverse-calf footwear and cashmere ties, and is smart without being too "City" - useful for non-metropolitan encounters. The better Italian mills also weave some wonderful flannels in lighter weights and although they don’t offer what some cheekily refer to as "urine soaked" grey they have an exceptionally wide range from Oxford to dove grey.

Dove grey is a dandy's colour. In the 1960s television show The Avengers the John Steed character, played to perfection by the charming Patrick Macnee, often wore dove grey suits to illustrate his taste and confidence. Always immaculately cut with a broad chest, nipped in waist and a full-skirt, Steed was the fashionable face of the Establishment with his velvet collars and turn-back cuffs.

A grey suit can be sombre, respectful, tasteful and dandy. But can it be sexy? In Adrian Lyne's masterpiece of modern cinema, 9 ½ weeks , the male lead played by Mickey Rourke has a wardrobe full of solid grey suits in his New York apartment to complement his perfect white shirts . They illustrate a man who although epicurean in taste, has refined his palette to the most essential. His name? John Gray.

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Christopher Modoo

Christopher Modoo is 'The Urbane Outfitter', with twenty five years of experience in classic menswear. He has conducted suit fittings in both Beckingham and Buckingham Palace. He hates short socks.