The Grey Flannel Suit

G. Bruce BOYER
The Grey Flannel Suit

Grey seems to be the New Grey this season in fashion magazines. I’ve been perusing the first autumn editions and note that fashion editors have turned unsurprisingly to grey as the go-to color.

And why not?

For both men and women, what could be more timelessly elegant, more urbanely chic than a foggy flannel, heathery tweed, or downy cashmere in soft tones of dove or ash, charcoal, gunmetal, smoke, stone, or slate . It’s the standard bearer.

For tailored clothes, flannel has always been able to walk that line between being distinguished and having a blithe casualness, it’s an approachable appropriateness that seems to defy time, place, or even occasion. A grey flannel suit can be dressed up or down, worn with a discreet off-white spread collared shirt and spotted silk tie, or with a checked shirt and knitted tie. The Old Hollywood set used to wear theirs with cashmere polos or rollneck pullovers. Gentlemen have worn grey flannel suits since the second half of the 19thCentury, and by mid-20thcentury the outfit was a byword for campus chic, a symbol of both Ivy League dress and the Eastern Establishment Corporate Look. After World War II, the USA had filled the power vacuum with an understated, democratic deshabille more in keeping with the new age of egalitarian sentiments.

Today the mood for just a soupcon of structure with a touch of eccentricity seems to play out extremely well from a grey flannel point of view when accessorized with either stronger colors or the more subtle pastels. Even in the boardroom, men are no longer locked in to stiff corporate uniforms of hard-finished worsteds with white shirt-dark tie-black shoes, but willingly accept checked broadcloth and vibrant silk neckwear as accompaniments to softer tailoring, perhaps with a dash of colorful silk at the breast pocket or beneath the trouser cuffs.

I’ve seen virtually every masculine change in fashion from the “drape shape with the reet pleat” zoot suit of the World War II years to the latest distressed prole gear coming out of some basement design studio in Belgium or Tokyo. I’ve also always admitted to being somewhat imprisoned in the tastes of my youth. And yet I continue to be impressed by, enamored of, and dedicated to the grey flannel suit.

I acquired my first one – you never forget your first – when I was a lad of seventeen. It was a medium grey, mid-weight flannel cut single-breasted, with a three-button rolled to two, side vented, narrow trousered model, off the rack from a local clothing store. Last year I ordered virtually the same model from the renowned Italian Master tailor Gaetano Aloisio, with the addition of a waistcoat. The coat and trousers are a generous inch or two larger around the waist, I now like my lapels a whisker wider than before, and of course Mr. Aloisio’s artisanship is of an order much higher than I could ever have afforded as a young man: the details are finer, the fit better, the infrastructure more subtle. But it remains a grey flannel suit. And I remain myself.

Over the years I don’t think I’ve ever been without a grey flannel in my wardrobe. I’ve had them in dove grey, charcoal grey, and the shades in between; in single- and double-breasted models, with and without a waistcoat. I’ve tried several with a variety of stripes and checks. They do tend to rumple more than clear-finished worsteds do, there’s no denying that, but I account that a part of their charm. It’s the understatement, isn’t it, the nice realization that a man’s sense of style may read between the lines. Or the wrinkles if you will. That over-dressing, like cynicism, is so often merely the product of inexperience. And perhaps the greater realization that life isn’t some therapeutic exercise to be endured, it’s the wayyou travel that matters. And that in a world full of trends, the grey flannel suit remains a classic.

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