Classic Menswear: Business Appropriate (Part 1 Of 2)

To most people, the mere mention of “classic menswear” will conjure an image of men in formal business suits. Men in formal business settings, conducting formal business… things… In all actuality, classic menswear covers more than just formal business suits. Of course business suits will always be synonymous with classic menswear, and often mentioned in the same breath too. So today, we’re gonna start with the business suit, and continue exploring the other lesser known parts of classic menswear.

Title page image showing the author, dressed in classic menswear, pointing to the title text.
Let’s jump right into the business appropriate classic menswear.
Image by Author

What Exactly Is Classic Menswear?

Some five years ago, I published an article on this very topic. Today, I’m gonna expand further on it, and hopefully give it more context and detailed description. To start with, most classic menswear enthusiasts agree that the modern business suits evolved from Beau Brummell‘s simplification process. Put simply, he started out with the existing exotic attire of upper class Regency England. He then toned down the wild colours and vestigial… err… “appendages”… from the garments, to make it less “in-your-face”. In short, he literally turned the exotic upper class apparel into a more mundane attire, acceptable across all social classes. By late 19th century, this “modern” menswear resembles the business suits that we’re familiar with today.

So what’s with the “business” part in classic menswear?… Well, the short answer is that most gentlemen dress appropriately to conduct business transactions. Hence, the “business” description somehow stuck to the “suit”. As time passed, society simply accepted it as the norm. Today, the modern business suit occupies the top rung of the business appropriate attire ladder. But that’s grossly oversimplifying it… There actually are more levels of “business appropriate” attire, depending on the formality of the event or business transaction. So let’s take a look at the various levels of formality in classic menswear :-

(1) Business Formal – The Classic Business Suit

There’s almost zero flexibility when it comes to the highest level of business formal attire. Solid charcoal grey or navy blue suit, paired with none other than a solid white shirt. No fancy patterns, and definitely no gaudy looking colours. Overall dark tone is the name of the game. At this level of formality, you don’t want to be calling unnecessary attention to your attire.

A classic, single breasted, two-button, charcoal grey suit, worn with a solid white shirt, and a solid deep burgundy tie.
The traditional, no-nonsense, classic business suit. A solid charcoal grey suit, paired with white shirt, and a subtle, solid burgundy tie.
Image by Author

The only individualisation “allowed” is the choice of your tie colour. Even then, only dark muted colours truly fit the bill. Navy blue, deep burgundy, burnt orange, moss green, or any colour that doesn’t shout “Look at me!”… And if you prefer to decorate your breast pocket with a pocket square, the only acceptable choice is solid white. Just make sure that it’s in a conservative square fold. But if you must bend the rules, you can, ever so slightly, introduce some subtle changes.

A classic, single breasted, two-button, charcoal grey suit, worn with a solid white shirt, and a black tie with small repeating purple and pink dots.
Similar suit as above, but with a black tie featuring small repeating patterns of pin-prick dots in purple and pink. Yeah, the dots are almost invisible from a distance.
Image by Author

This ensemble is similar to the one above, except we’re swapping the solid colour tie with something more “fun”. Instead of a solid colour tie, you can swap with small repeating patterns, as long as it doesn’t go overboard. So yes, you inject some “fun” personalisation. In this example, we’re using a black tie, with small repeating pin-prick dots in purple and pink. And if you want to deep dive into the different formalities in ties, take a look at this article.

(2) Business Semi-Formal – The Fun Business Suit

The term “suit” denotes a matching pair of jacket and trousers. So we’re still very much in the territory of matching jackets and trousers here. Instead of boring solid charcoal or navy, we can now inject a little more “fun” features to the suit itself. Medium tone colours, or subtle patterns are still very much within the realm of classic menswear.

Whilst there’s more wiggle room to choosing the main suit colour and pattern, resist the urge to go overboard. Lighter shades like medium grey, royal blue, forest green, chocolate brown, etc. are acceptable. But stay away from bright colours like sky blue, beige, tan, lime green, or any kinds of red. Subtle patterns like pin stripe, chalk stripe, glen check, or window pane are acceptable. Just make sure they’re generally low in contrast.

A classic, single breasted, two-button, olive green suit, worn with a solid white shirt, and a green tie with black regimental stripes.
Solid olive green suit, with more “sporty” features, like slanting hip pockets, and the smaller ticket pocket. Same solid white shirt, and a more visually attractive green tie with black regimental stripes.
Image by Author

In this example, a slightly more risqué solid olive green suit. Not a traditional suiting colour, but not exactly uncommon either. Sporty features like slanted hip pockets, and a ticket pocket above the right hip pocket. Add to it, a “less formal” regimental stripe tie, whilst maintaining a more down-to-earth green base colour. And I completed it with a subtly colourful printed pocket square, to pick up the overall green theme. If you really wanna shake things up a little more, then take a look at the example below.

A classic, single breasted, two-button, olive green suit, worn with a solid white shirt with contrasting white collar and cuffs, and a red tie with small repeating pattern.
Same overall suit as above, and a blue shirt with contrasting white collar. A more visually contrasting red tie, with small repeating pattern. To tease the rule a little more, a contrasting and colourful pocket square.
Image by Author

(3) Business Informal – Break Up The Suit

Yes, the “casual suit” does exist. Examples include suits in light grey or tan colour, or patterned/textured shell fabrics, like high contrast window panes. But business informal is generally the realm of suit separates. This means stand-alone jackets worn with non-matching trousers.

A modern, 6 X 2 gold buttons, double breasted, navy blazer, worn with a solid blue shirt and medium grey trousers. It's topped with a navy and yellow tie.
The classic navy blazer with gold buttons, matched with a pair of neutral grey trousers. The double breasted design is a nod to its nautical history, originating from HMS Blazer of the Royal Navy.
Image by Author

The classic blazer is a uniform of sort, whether a school, sporting club, military regiment, etc. Hence, blazers almost always come with crested metal buttons, usually in gold or silver, to indicate the wearer’s affiliation. Sometimes, they’ll even include an embroidered crest, below the jacket breast pocket too. Blazers almost always come in solid dark colours, with navy blue being the most common.

A modern, single breasted, 3-roll-2 gold buttons, navy blazer, lavender and white mini-striped shirt, topped with a bow tie in black and yellow regimental stripes.
A “less dressy” single breasted navy blazer. This time, matched with a pair of classic beige trousers. Yes, bow ties are equally dressy to its regular tie counterpart.
Image by Author

The single breasted blazer, though equal in formality, seems to have a different origin story. Originating from the rowers’ uniform of Lady Margaret Boat Club, Cambridge University, they were originally blazing red in colour. Get it?… They were ablaze in colour!… Whichever origin story you choose to believe, both single or double breasted navy blazers are equally elegant. Not formal enough for business meetings, but definitely dressy enough for most other events.

Classic, Formal, And Business Appropriate

Suits are the de-facto business uniform. But portraying uniformity doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Hence, consider wearing more “fun” suits, and the more “playful” blazers with contrasting trousers for your less formal business needs. Next episode, we shall explore further down the formality ladder, and take a look at the more casual options. If you have any questions, or suggestions for future episodes, do leave a comment below.

Also note that this is not a sponsored article. Hence, if you enjoyed it, do consider supporting me financially by buying me a coffee. Every little bit of caffein will go a long way in stimulating me to produce even more articles like this.

This article is part of Espoletta’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives.

About CHOW Wei Ming

Brand consultant, photographer, creative director, storyteller, and a true believer of the power of visual communications. Outwardly expresses a friendly disposition, but hides a perfectionist nature deep inside him.

4 Replies to “Classic Menswear: Business Appropriate (Part 1 Of 2)”

  1. Pingback: Foundation Wardrobe (Part 1 Of 3): The Basics - Espoletta

  2. Pingback: Classic Menswear: Casual But Elegant (Part 2 Of 2) - Espoletta

  3. Well done Wei Ming! Great article explaining an important aspect of projecting a professional image in the business world. Looking forward for your next menswear article.

    • Thank you Izz. 😊 Happy that you liked it. Stay tuned for Part 2, it’ll be published very soon. This time around, we’ll concentrate more on the “less formal” ensemble, but yet equally classic.

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