How Light Is Too Light For A Work Suit?

Fortunately, suiting up is not a daily practice for me. I only wear suits for formal occasions, when required by a dress code. Be it a daytime event, or just the casual nature of the races, a cocktail party or wedding (whereby casual includes excessive amounts of alcohol consumed); I’m at will to experiment with colours, shades and textures. However, in the workplace, where the suit acts as both a conservative uniform and a sign of respect to clients, this is not the case.

So it’s a question I often get asked, ‘How light is too light for a work suit?’

Ultimately there’s not a lot to choose from; you’ve got variations of black, charcoal, grey, stripe/check and blue. I don’t own a single black suit, and I can’t see myself ever doing so. For those that do you’ll require an impeccable pair of black shoes and a textured black tie sitting on a pristine collar under a perfectly fitted suit – detracting from the fact that black is mundane. It will, however, always be acceptable in the workplace.

Charcoal is safe as houses in the workplace and is often overlooked, with men tending to opt for a safer second or third shade of blue due to its versatility. For charcoal, you’ll need to add a pale blue or blue striped shirt to your wardrobe alongside some dark ties, but ultimately this is a combo that can’t go wrong. I’m of the opinion that charcoal, or very dark grey suits, should be paired with black shoes, whereas black or a dark brown would be acceptable for a mid-grey suit. And it’s when we get to mid-grey that the lines start to become blurred, and even more so when those lines become stripes, and cross into windowpanes and checks.

Trunk Tailors Charcoal Suit

A classic British example, three-piece in a charcoal pinstripe. Credit: Trunk Tailors

Worsted mid-grey suits with no visible pattern often get too light for the office, however, when mid-grey receives some texture from the weave or fabric choice, like in the case of flannel, it appears more sophisticated and can work.


I wouldn’t be wearing a grey lighter than this example. Credit: Herman Menswear

Suit Shop Flannel Suit

A sophisticated flannel DB isn’t out of place. Credit: Suit Shop

The addition of a blue Prince of Wales check will increase wearability somewhat, although I own a mid-grey with a blue Prince of Wales check and I rarely wear it because I find it too light, nor would I wear it to a finance job. Mid-grey pinstripes aren’t for me, nor are they for the office, a bold windowpane however maybe acceptable depending on your workplace, and your position.

Oscar Hunt Grey Prince Of Wales Check

Not unlike my own example. This grey with Prince of Wales check is too light for the workplace. Credit: Oscar Hunt

Light Suits MJ Bale

An acceptable shade of grey but the window pane makes it too bold. Credit: MJ Bale

Like a flannel cloth, a waistcoat can add a level of professionalism to your ensemble, however, due to Australia’s mild climate both options are rarely explored. A double-breasted jacket works in the same way, giving the wearer a refined and considered appearance, even if the colour or pattern choice is a little audacious.

The jungle really begins when we arrive at blue.

Due to its unmatched versatility, the blue suit is an essential addition to a man’s wardrobe, however as the blue exposure scale climbs, so do the office faux pas. When I say blue in relation to an essential addition, I mean navy, a confident, powerful and authoritative colour that transitions like no other, even when paired with a pattern. ‘Navy’, which originated from the dark blue, almost black worn by officers in the British Royal Navy, is not to be confused with blue, a colour that is, ironically, difficult to pull off across the board.

Let’s have a look at some examples.

James Want Calder Sartoria

A classic Navy suit by Calder Sartoria, paired with a casual tie.

Steve Calder Navy Pinstripe

Steve Calder wears an open navy DB with white pinstripe. Buttoned up with a dark muted tie this could easily appear in the office.

Oscar Isaac Blue Window Pane Suit

A lighter blue with subtle windowpane worn by Oscar Isaac. Suitable office attire.

Suitsupply Blue Suit

This Suitsupply offering is getting a little too blue for the 9 to 5.

The Nordic Fit Blue Suit

Right on the cusp here but I’m calling it, too blue for work. Credit: The Nordic Fit

PJT Blue Suit

A beauitful shade of blue but far too light for the office and rarely an occasion to wear it. Credit: PJT

Light Suits

So blue it hurts. As worn by Tom Hiddleston.

My personal taste in variations on navy would be to opt for an interesting cloth with different design elements over a lighter shade, check or windowpane. My navy suit from Suit Shop is cotton with patch pockets, my navy from REMY is worsted wool with larger than average lapels and my navy from Calder Sartoria is a coarser, textured wool with Neapolitan shoulders and styling. When I’m ready to add another navy, I’m keen to investigate a Self Stripe, like the one below. And while I wouldn’t make a habit of wearing cotton suits in the workplace, each of my navy suits could visit without raising an eyebrow.


Credit: Suit Shop

Blue, as you may have gauged, is the most contentious colour in the ‘too light’ debate. For the vast majority, who only want to spend their coin on two or three quality suits, you will never regret going darker, and thus more conservative, than a fruitier option that seemed ‘fun at the time’. I suggest investing in a wider selection of shirts, ties and shoes to breathe some new life into your core suiting lineup. A black shoe with a navy suit, for instance, is both a cautious and classic alternative to a dark brown shoe. And while we’re on shoes, you’ve only got two colour options for the office, black and dark brown. Leave the tan coloured jesters for the interns!

Feature Image: The Nordic Fit


James is the Founder and Editor of The Versatile Gent.

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