Every six months or so, a formal occasion rises out of the ether to co-opt my otherwise “yeah-I’m-free-anytime” schedule. It’s the usual suspects — a wedding, a funeral, a work thing, a fancy event with my girlfriend. It’s in the days leading up to this commitment that I’m most tempted by the urge to invest in a new suit. But then a single question stops me cold in my tracks: What color will work for all of the usual suspects listed above, not just the one immediately before me?
My personal preference is black, my main color. (If I’m not wearing black, I’m wearing white, and I think we all know the versatility of a white suit.) But as a contributor to r/MaleFashionAdvice (MFA) tells me, a black suit in the Western world is traditionally reserved for “mourning or evening wear.” Not to mention, he adds, black can be “quite severe and limit color/pattern combinations for accessories like ties and pocket squares.”
In short, a black’s suit versatility ain’t much better than a white one’s.
A better option, says Dan Hakimi, another MFA regular, is either navy or charcoal. “They’re very close in practice, but there are some subtle differences,” he explains. “Charcoal gray is a true neutral, both in terms of tone and versatility.” Ever better — for me at least — he continues, “It works slightly better with black accessories if that’s a plus to you.”
That said, Hakimi thinks charcoal suits can be a little boring. That’s why he especially likes those with a ticket pocket — i.e., the small pocket that’s sometimes above the right hip pocket on a men’s suit jacket. “Adding a ticket pocket adds some flair and makes it a more modern cut for the new generation,” agrees Art Lewin, a master designer of bespoke suits.
If you prefer to keep things on the classic side, though, both Hakimi and Lewin tell me that you can never go wrong with a tailored navy suit. “It’s still neutral, but it’s a deep, rich color too,” Hakimi says. “It’s more interesting, and easier to dress down. It works slightly better with dark brown colors, too.”
Lewin feels similarly. “Navy is the most versatile since you can wear the coat as a blazer,” he explains. For maximum utility, he suggests a single-breasted navy suit with two buttons and peak lapels. “[Peak lapels] spice up a suit,” he adds.
All of which is to say, both navy and charcoal suits are perfectly acceptable for every occasion. “They will work with most other dress clothes, as well as in an interview or at a wedding,” a different MFA subscriber tells me. “Funerals, too.” What’s more, they also happen to be the most common and widely available. So not only can you never go wrong with them, you’ll also never have trouble finding them in a pinch either.