The Brown Suit

Perhaps no other male vestment has been more maligned over the past fifty years than the brown suit. First, there was the old British saw about never wearing brown in town. Churchill once impugned it as the mantle of a cad. The khaki-clad legions of the post-World War era eschewed brown because it reminded them of their military service, while their bridges felt that the shade aged them. Finally, Charles Revson’s highly publicized quip about brown making men look like “shit” pretty much resigned it to the wardrobe of the nonconformist.

Brown’s reprieve from suiting oblivion came during the tenure of President Ronald Reagan, whose personal affinity for the disgraced color returned the brown dress suit to public currency. Fortunately for the modern swell reared on a steady diet of navy or charcoal, just as the twentieth century was about to close its books, fashion restored the brown suit to its former state of masculine grace. Following closely on the heels of the smarter set’s partiality for walnut-toned lace-ups over black with their navy or charcoal suit, all sorts of brown worsteds suddenly started showing up on the backs of the better-shod.

In 1939 Esquíre presented a “thoughtful study in charcoal brown, introducing an outfit it judged “almost perfect for main training in a due degree of formality for definite town occasions.” Back when menswear journalism focused on individual dressing strategies as opposed to generic fashion, a man’s complexion, vis-à-vis clothing’s colors, used to receive extensive coverage. As a result, chocolate-, blond-, red-, or sandy-haired men were continually encouraged to consider brown as one of their staple wardrobe themes.

While there are those diehards who refuse to consider a brown suit, there is no man who cannot wear one to personal advantage. The dark brown suit offers many virtues, the first being its freedom from dependence on the predictable blue and gray. The second is that the dark brown suit is every bit as dressy as the navy; like charcoal, the richness of brown’s darker hues harmonizes well with dress shirts of all shades, from gold to green to tan, with the recent mating of the dark brown worsted and medium-blue dress shirt attracting considerable acclaim. Whether in a winter or summer weight, plain or pinstriped, double- or single-breasted, the high-class brown suit will always be a power player in any male wardrobe aspiring to permanent stylishness.