The quality and benefits of cotton in fashion are vastly well known. Which is why it’s time to get down with a cotton suit this season (if you haven’t already). Light weight and breathable, the cotton suit’s Italian charm means you’ll actually want to wear a blazer and trousers in the warmer months (or the awkward in-between season), finding no need to relinquish rakishness, just because it’s hot.
Another cotton suit feat (aside from the fact it’s cheaper than most wool suits so it’s perfect for the stylish man on a budget) — is its versatility. Unlike structured wool suits, the relaxed nature of most cotton suits mean they have the ability to be split — sans fuss, and then mixed and matched with jeans or a simple cotton shirt — staple pieces you should already own.
Going gaga for cotton, we chatted to Jack Liang, co-founder and tailor at Melbourne’s Trunk Tailors to get an insider’s guide as to why you should be wearing a cotton suit — especially when it’s hot.
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But First, Fabric
Not all cotton suit fabrics are the same. While standard cotton gabardine and linen are no-brainers, popular cottons this season are also seersucker (a crinkled, ribbed, lightweight cloth that typically boasts a white stripe), solaro (known for its tonal horizontal stripe pattern) and gabardine.
But the beauty of cotton — its breathability in the warmer months and relaxed aesthetic — is best expressed when light. But just how light though, depends on its intended usage: a suit to be worn year-round, or summertime only.
“The weight of cotton is very important,” says Liang. “For summer, lighter cottons are around 240 grams while you’ll be looking at roughly 290 to 320 grams for what we call a ‘four-season cotton’.”
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Embodying a comfortable and cool vibe, cotton suits are usually deconstructed, without any jacket canvassing or lining. Avoid shoulder pads, says Liang, adding men should consider a natural shoulder or ‘spalla camicia’ (shirt shoulder, which offers a looser fit) as opposed to a more structured shoulder. And, the sleeves are cut wider than most formal jackets.
“I still prefer to have the sleeves lined as it helps with taking the jacket in and out,” adds Liang. “For the pants, most will only be lined to the knee, at best.”
Nailing the sprezzatura cool, a quality cotton suit will come stitched in a manner that is “more rugged,” says Liang. “I usually use a double top stitch or a wider top stitch, usually one third of an inch away from the edge. This creates a light crease over time, especially prominent on the lapel.”
Like everything else, the fit of a cotton suit is subjective. However, comfort is key for when seeking a casual suit. In summer, the pants shouldn’t be too slim to allow for breathability, “as it can get sweaty, quickly,” says Liang.
“The last thing you want to worry about is how tight your thighs are when sitting down at a garden party.”
As it is a casual suit, there is more flexibility with the fit, but all good jackets should still cover the butt. And the lapel width should be proportionate to the shoulder.
“I prefer patch pocket or jetted pockets and cuffed pants just for a cleaner finish,” he adds.
Colour & Patterns
For guys starting out in the cotton field, stick to navy, grey and beige or even browns. Look to block tones, which is contemporary and clean.
“This way, both jacket and pants can be worn separately, and are very simple to match,” says Liang. For the seasoned suit wearer, look for something a bit more traditional or with a bit of heritage charm. Like solaro or seersucker.
“Seersucker has such a rich history from the American Ivy League days and has seen a strong revival in recent times,” says Liang. “Solaro is something that guys would have seen time and time again at Pitti Uomo, for example, but failed to identify the fabric.”
While the fabric’s stripes aren’t for everyone, it has a rich colour and texture, and comes most commonly in beige with a strong hint of red in the colour. “The variations from the classic beige to now a navy and green shows the solaro’s popularity is on the rise,” adds Liang. “And, it’s very deserving.”
Otherwise, go bold. It’s summer after all, and colour — from jewel tones to pastels — as well as checks and stripe patterns, should be part of your cotton suit repertoire. Just keep it occasion-apppropriate, and you can’t go wrong.
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Wear It Best
The cotton suit has both a full-piece suit and separates role to play in your wardrobe. “For hotter days, a light weight cotton suit is ideal,” says Liang. And as a functional, style rule, “the hotter the weather, the lighter the colour should be.”
Here some key colours and ways to wear it this season.
Beige gabardine should be kept to day time events. The classic colour looks great with a white t-shirt and white sneakers, for a smart casual look that defies the sartorial strictness of old-fashioned tailoring, come the weekend.
Jewel tones — emerald, ruby, saphire and amber — are this season’s treasured colours. Certainly a statement, the saturated hues make for perfect spring carnival suiting.
Blue seersucker — such as a traditional white and navy or pastel blue — is great for garden parties and even weddings. “If it is worn to a formal occasion, pair with a white shirt and a dark navy or black knit tie,” advises Lang.
Statement blazer and jeans is a failproof off-duty look.
“Lapo Elkann wears this best with white jeans or washed denim,” says Liang. The key is to create contrast in the colours between the jacket and jeans to make it look casual and cool. “Rather than an orphaned piece,” he adds.
Navy works well as a summer suit in the office. “Generally, a dark navy cotton suit is acceptable for work places as long as you keep it clean,” says Liang. “And, it’s versatile enough to leave the jacket off at lunchtime for a quick walk around town.”
As a rule, avoid linen and seersucker fabrics. These crease and crumple easily — not a good look in front of the boss or a client.
Split the suit as separates? It’s one of the most useful and stylish ways to wear the cotton suit.
“Dark navy, light beige, and off white are some of the easiest cotton suit choices to wear this season,” says Liang.
“Then, loose the jacket and wear the pant separates, paired with a polo, t-shirt or a linen shirt. That way, you have a much more rakish alternative to jeans in hot weather.”