In more formal menswear circles–especially those across the pond–you may have heard the old adage “no brown in town.” This has since become construed as a fashion rule as strict as “no white after Labor Day” which has, in turn, limited men across the country to boring old navy and black when it comes to suit options.
I, for one, totally disregard this rule when it comes to dressing up. For me, the beauty of a brown suit blends together informality and refinement, which is perfect when trying to not seem too dressed up for a work event or wedding. But still, I know I’m in the minority here, as most men will continue to opt for a sombre gray when brown does the job just as well while being more complementary for most skin tones.
The phrase “no brown in town” came about as an urban-rural demarcation for British society to keep formality in its city centers. While on the weekend in the country, businessmen and politicians could get away with a more casual approach to suiting up, in London, one was required to keep the uniform of civility and manners: a black suit, a hat, and black shoes. Today, we still feel the aftershocks of this sartorial rule and I’m here to tell you it’s time to embrace a little more earth tones in your wardrobe.
When to Wear a Brown Suit
A brown suit can be a versatile addition to any guy’s wardrobe, but the occasions when it’s most appropriate to wear one can vary depending on the shade of brown and the formality of the suit. Lighter shades of brown, such as tan or camel, are perfect for warm-weather events like outdoor weddings and the occasional polo match. These lighter-toned suits have a relaxed and approachable style, making them a suitable choice for less formal occasions. When paired with a light-colored shirt and some brown leather accessories, a light brown suit can make you look effortlessly chic and put-together while not too stuffy.
On the other hand, darker shades of brown, like chocolate or espresso, can be worn in more formal settings. A well-fitted dark brown suit can be an excellent alternative to the classic navy or charcoal gray suit. The subtle departure from the norm won’t raise any eyebrows, but it may turn some heads, giving you a bit of presence in a sea of doldrum neutrals. Dark brown suits can also work for evening events, such as cocktail parties or semi-formal dinners, when paired with a crisp white shirt and a silk tie. Ultimately, the appropriateness of a brown suit depends on the specific event, the shade of brown, and the overall dress code, so it’s essential to consider these factors when deciding when to wear one while understanding that events that denote “black tie” means black tie.
Styling a Brown Suit
From celebrities like Donald Glover to Ryan Gosling to more sartorial, IYKYK menswear figures like Matt Hranek and David Coggins, a brown suit can be a versatile staple in any man’s wardrobe. The key, like any great suit, is down to the finer details and appropriate styling. Here are a few rules to keep in mind.
Choose the Right Shade: Consider the occasion and the season when selecting your brown suit. Lighter shades are ideal for spring and summer events, while darker browns are better suited for fall and winter. A versatile mid-brown can work well year-round.
Pair with Complementary Colors: When it comes to shirt and tie combinations, earthy tones like light blue, pale pink, or soft gray can complement brown suits beautifully. However, don’t be afraid to experiment with bolder options like mustard yellow or forest green for a more distinctive look (and perhaps a bit of Wes Anderson inspo thrown in for good measure).
Pay Attention to Fit: As with any suit, a well-fitted jacket and pair of pants are crucial. Ensure that your suit jacket and trousers are tailored to your body shape. The right fit enhances your overall look, lengthening your height and trimming your torso, while also ensuring you feel comfortable throughout the day.
Accessories: Elevate your brown suit with high-quality accessories. A leather belt and dress shoes in shades of brown or burgundy can harmonize with the suit color. Because a brown suit is already a little casual or off-beat, pair it with some tonal socks or a gold wristwatch.
Occasion-Appropriate Styling: Consider the formality of the occasion when styling your brown suit. For more formal events, opt for a white dress shirt, a silk tie, and polished dress shoes. For casual or semi-formal settings, you can go with a lighter shirt, a knit tie, and perhaps even leather sneakers. Adjust your accessories and footwear accordingly to match the level of formality while understanding that brown will always have a bit of a relaxed feel compared to its more serious gray and black cousins.