When it comes to a garment that is truly timeless and versatile, and perhaps best aligned with sustainable practices, nothing could beat the greatness of a gray flannel three-piece suit.
And this is something that I haven't been able to reconcile with until quite recently.
For many years, I have avoided wearing any suitings in gray. Light gray had always seemed ordinary to me while charcoal was too uninspiring for my taste back then. Perhaps the worst of all were smart trousers in such shade ― I simply cannot shake off its connotation to a standard Hongkongese security guard uniform.
However, all of this was under the context of worsted wool. Garments made in worsted wool are sharp and conservative. They make you look like you are ready to do business.
To add to that, worsted wool is often the only type of cloth that most men would ever wear for suits, considering tailoring is no longer commonly worn outside work anymore.
Hence, this is also why once you step outside of a traditional office environment, worsted wool suits quickly look out of place. They are just too formal for most people, even for some classic menswear enthusiasts.
It's a different story for flannel.
Subtle yet unusual in texture, flannel is often seen as the ultimate fabric that bridges the gap between formal and smart casual; and this is for good reason.
When put together as a two or three-piece suit, the formality of a gray flannel ensemble is as serious as most business suits need to be nowadays.
To put it this way, in times when men (sadly) don't wear a lot of patterns anymore, the cloth we choose to make our suit needs to be as muted as possible, especially if you don't want to draw too much attention.
Thus, something along the lines of a micro-herringbone has become increasingly popular in recent years. These patterns could make the suit to look solid from a distance until someone decides to examine it up close.
And flannel fits into that category.
I should also emphasize this is what most men wore on a daily basis for a good part of the 20th century.
From style icons from the Golden Age Hollywood like Cary Grant to the 'ordinary' American citizen which Gregory Peck portrayed in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, we see no lack of evidence that this is simply the menswear uniform of the day.
The point is that if gray flannel suits are just what every man wore back then and that they are still relevant to this day, you could rest assured that they won't go out of style in the foreseeable future.
And if you take good care of the garment, your gray flannel suit would truly be the 'sustainable' suit that could last for decades.
Going back to the garment itself, I must say what's often overlooked is how well a gray flannel jacket works as a separate piece.
It may not have the ultimate softness of its cashmere counterparts or the subtle shades of color which you could find in a tweed jacket, but this flannel jacket works easily with other casual pieces.
Here, I am pairing the jacket with an animal-print tie and chunky cardigan from Drake's, my cavalry twill trouser made by Whitcomb & Shaftesbury, a lapel chain from Penko, and a pair of suede oxfords from Gaziano & Girling.
You could also wear a button-down shirt and go tieless instead. That's an ensemble you certainly can go anywhere without looking inappropriate during the weekend.
In any case, the jacket undoubtedly serves as a subtle complement to other patterns and texture in your outfit. It elevates the whole outfit and hence allows it to appear well-rounded.
This suit, by the way, is one of my latest from Whitcomb & Shaftesbury. I've been enjoying their house style a lot lately for multiple reasons.
First and foremost, it has a nice soft drape around the chest. (More on that in my previous review.)
I'm quite slim overall and a natural hourglass body-shape is rather unattainable. By making the chest area of the jacket more shapely (rather than cutting it close to the body), it allows my upper torso to appear bigger. And this is very flattering in my opinion.
Second, the cut of the jacket is versatile and could be worn in different occasions.
Over time, I've realized I enjoy wearing jackets that have profound shoulder lines and at least some amount of roping, especially for full suits. On the other hand, I tend to avoid wearing jackets that have very heavy shoulder paddings as separate pieces. It's just not my style.
Whitcomb's soft drape house style serves a great balance between the two worlds.
This is nothing against other tailoring styles. I enjoy wearing a soft jacket with strong open quarters in tweed or cashmere. I enjoy wearing pinstripes wool worsted suit that is cut with stronger shoulder pads.
But for jackets that I want to wear it both ways, I prefer W&S' style the most.
The cloth, by the way, is a charcoal worsted flannel from Fox Brothers. (FS625 A1290/33)
Normally, I would recommend going for a woolen flannel rather than a worsted flannel. Not only because this is how traditionally flannels have been woven, but also they tend to drape better as they often come in a heavier weight.
In fact, I have to admit that this worsted flannel cloth occasionally bags around the knees and would require pressing from time to time.
With that said, worsted flannels are usually lighter in weight (9-10oz) than their woolen counterparts (~13oz or more).
Hence, if you live in warmer climates or just prefer to wear your flannel suit more often throughout the year, then worsted flannel would certainly be a better option.
One final word. I think it's always better to look at individual mills to see how well their flannel performs.
British mills, such as Fox Brothers, are generally better in producing more durable flannels. However, some Italian mills produce excellent flannels as well.
My light-gray flannel trouser from Natalino, for example, is made with a 12oz woolen flannel from Vitale Barberis Canonico. It features a rich melange of texture as well as a wonderful drape. It is truly a pleasure to wear.
In fact, since it requires very little maintenance and could pair with almost anything, this pair is often my go-to winter trouser. ( To learn more about Natalino, you could check my previous review here.)
Anyway, that’s it for now. ’Til next time.
For my main outfit, I am wearing an Optimo beaver-felted hat in Dark Shadow, a Turnbull & Asser shirt in cream, a brown wool-silk-linen tie from Shibumi, and a pocket square from Drake's.
Photography: as stated, otherwise by The Suitstainable Man Team