Why Do Men Always Choose Navy Suits?

Contemporary Savile Row tailor, Richard James, laments the British gents attatchment to inky blues – and urges you to try a brighter shade

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Men are bought up with blue. When you're a baby, you wear blue if you’re a boy and pink if you're a girl.

I don’t know the reason – it's just how it’s always been. Most suits sold are dark, navy blue because they’re suits for business. And when you think of weddings, up until recently, the lady would wear a dress of whatever colour she liked; the man would always wear a suit in navy blue.

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That sort of navy blue I tend to associate more with business than with pleasure. It’s a very obvious colour. It's very safe. Dark navy is almost like wearing black. And actually it doesn't necessarily help you that much. It can be very draining. If you wear something black with a red complexion, it just looks awful.

I'm not saying the decade we're in now is bland, but a lot of people are set in their ways and they do stay a bit drab. When you think of the Sixties and Seventies, colour was key. Sometimes I’ll visit a textile mill that's been going for 400 years and go through their archives and take a look at the colours people were wearing in Victorian times, and they’re so bright. You’d think they’d be bland, but they’re not.

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Now the equivalent of showing off your personality seems to be this terrible thing called “dress-down Fridays” where people wear chinos and T-shirts to work. Horrible. Though one good side effect of it is that people found that rather than dress down, they could stand out more if they wore an even better suit than normal. It's a fine line between being distinctive and being wacky – you don't want to be wacky.

But being a little bit distinctive is actually very important. Standing out a little bit is great. But then going the full whack is fantastic as well. It’s a shame but we don't seem to have the dandies anymore. They're just not there. People who think they're dandies – they usually aren’t. When you see someone like Manolo Blahnik wearing clothes, he looks fantastic. That's not him being eccentric: it's the way he does it. It comes from knowing how to dress. He just wears beautiful, beautiful clothes. Plus, he’s probably had a tailor all his life. Elton John is another one who looks good. We do all the costumes from his show The Million Dollar Piano in Las Vegas – that's a real honour.

Mind you, he has dressed up as Donald Duck in his time.

About 10 years ago, I started wearing a really bright, blue suit. I found it in a merchant’s book of the English merchants. They had this whole pile of blues that went from the darkest navy to really, really bright blue and everything in between. It was fantastic. So I bought the really bright one and made a suit from it. Immediately people started saying “Where did you get that from?” Some quite grand people like Stuart Rose starting buying them – he still buys them – and so it boomeranged. I'd love to trademark it, like an Yves Klein sort of thing.

And to this day we now sell so many blues it's untrue: bright blue, soft blue and grey blue (an Air Force uniform blue). And over in our bespoke shop you can go even further, you can do anything you like.

Blue has become a key colour in fashion now. Not blowing our own trumpet, but I'd like to think we played a little part in it. People are not scared of colour so much now. Not long ago we collaborated with SpongeBob SquarePants. That was a great thing to do. It was nice having SpongeBob in the shop.

You can't change someone if they don't want to be changed, and we'd never do that. We're there to perform a service for the customers. If you're a bespoke tailor you do what the customer wants. We might make someone a perfectly-lovely suit and then they want to put a dodgy lining inside it – that happens all the time. Weddings are the most interesting.

Often we'll have the man in and he won't know the colour of the dress so I'll phone the fiancée up. And actually if the lady comes into the shop too, that usually makes things more difficult. So you can guide customers but in the end it's their suit. It might not be right to me, but it's right to them. And the boys in our shop are fantastic. They make people look that bit better: that's what they're there to do.

Still, if somebody comes in and looks at a navy suit, we usually will say “We've got this other one, which is a bit brighter. Why don't you try that for a change?” Because quite a lot of men already have quite a lot of navy suits.

Richard James runs a contemporary tailors on Savile Row. Taken from Esquire's Big Black Book: the style manual for successful men, on newsstands now.

 

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