The Charcoal Suit

When it comes to starter suits, the dark gray two-piece gets the professional's nod. While navy is more formal, charcoal complements more men's complexions. In the case of the young man, navy's starkness frequently accentuates a pubescent face.

The dark gray dress suit empowers the knowing wearer with unrivaled flexibility. It can be accessorized with a white dress shirt and dark tie for uptown, black turtleneck or T-shirt for downtown. Such fashion fluidity makes the charcoal two-piece the blazer of male suits. As the well-heeled Milanese's most worshiped worsted, the perennially stylish charcoal affords the maturing master of the universe a neutral canvas on which to rough out the morning's vestiary possibilities, readily accommodating a larger variety of colored or patterned furnishings than any other single suit shade.

Charcoal 2-button suit with peak lapels and slanted pockets. Trousers with button-fly.

Formality of a Charcoal Gray Suit
The near-black charcoal is considered the ideal in business formality. Its only competitor is navy blue, another deep hue that offers the same advantages: closeness to the formal black without its tuxedo associations and matching challenges.

Charcoal gray suits can be worn at any level of business or social occasion that is not “black tie.” Plain, unpatterned charcoal gray is the ideal alternative to formal wear at a “black tie optional” event.

Patterning reduces the formality of any color, including dark charcoal gray. A modest pinstriping still leaves a suit adequately formal for most business occasions, however — unbroken charcoal is usually only needed in black tie optional settings, or at particularly somber social occasions such as funerals.

The universal acceptance of charcoal gray suits makes them a popular first suit for young men, or for anyone who wears suits rarely and needs a single, multipurpose garment to meet all their dress clothing needs. 

Charcoal Pinstripe suit.

Fitting the Charcoal Gray Suit
Every suit will look better if it is fitted properly. Dark suits in particular stand out if the fit is improper; the extra visual “weight” draws attention to the flaws. No point of the suit should be loose enough to sag under its own weight. The sides of the jacket and the “drop” between the waist of the trousers and the crotch are the likeliest spots for extra fabric, and should be adjusted before a suit is worn if they appear to hang loosely.

Any point tight enough to make the fabric pinch or wrinkle with movement is also going to stand out unattractively. These flaws will stand out clearly in dark color and quality fabric, so take extra care with the fit of a good charcoal suit.

Other details of fit will depend on the role of the suit. Charcoal is a versatile color — it can be used for elegant double-breasted jackets or for very plain business suits equally effectively. A man buying a single suit for all occasions will want to ear on the side of conservative dress, while someone with many suits to choose from can be more experimental.

Charcoal suit with peak lapels.

Charcoal Gray Suit Styles
For the conservative dresser, a single-breasted, two-button suit in plain gray is the most practical style. A snug (but not overly tight) fit in the trousers and the jacket will give you the timeless look men have worn since the suit became the standard of menswear.

Double venting in the back,  two vertical slits,  will give the jacket more flexibility and let it shift with the wearer without ruining the drape. An unvented jacket has sharper lines, but tends to bunch up when the wearer moves, making it less of an all-purpose item.

A man with more room for experimentation may want to choose styles that will make his suit stand out. Since charcoal gray is a ubiquitous color, a unique cut can go a long way to making a man look unique even when formality restricts his options.

Changing the common notched lapels for peaked lapels, adds distinction to a jacket without breaking too far from the standard single-breasted model. A double-breasted jacket or a vested suit adds a unique elegance, and can stand up to a subdued pattern like pinstriping without losing formality.

Of the two, the vested may be the more flexible — a vest can always be omitted to create a basic single-breasted suit, but a double-breasted jacket is always a formal garment.

Charcoal Herringbone suit with peak lapels and slanted pockets.

Matching Charcoal Suits with Color and Pattern
Any shade of gray is theoretically a neutral color — it has no opposite on the color wheel.There are no automatic “clashes” with gray, which accounts for a large part of its popularity. The neutral base removes the suit from the equation of matching or contrasting colors.

It is still possible to make poor color choices with a gray suit. Against a neutral background, the brightness of the hues becomes as important as the individual color chosen.

Anything too dark will look like an attempted but failed match, while anything extremely vibrant will look garish against the somber gray. Pastel shirts do well with charcoal, as do white-dominant patterns that break up the base color of the shirt.

A plain white shirt with a charcoal suit is an exceedingly formal look, and should be reserved for the most somber or serious of occasions. A tie is a must at that level of formality, and should be conservatively patterned with no bright colors or sharp contrasts.

Charcoal Pinstripe suit with slanted pockets.

The Charcoal Gray Suit in Conclusion – The Versatile Suit Every Man Should Own
If a man needs to own a suit, one in charcoal gray is likely to be the best choice. The only real equivalent is a navy blue suit, which fills the same basic function. Men who wear suits regularly can even find utility in multiple charcoal suits of differing cuts.

A high-formality suit with a double-breasted jacket or a vest can be worn to stand out, and a simple two-button jacket can serve when a more conservative appearance is called for. With the flexibility it affords, a charcoal suit — or several — is a piece of menswear that everyone can find a use for.