With a rich history spanning over five thousand years, cotton is one fabric with a story to tell. Dating back to the 1800’s, signs of its versatility were evident when the British army, wanting to blend in with their surroundings, switched out from their traditional redcoats in favour of this fabric. Further west, American GI’s, returning home after World War II, appreciated the many wardrobe options the fabric afforded them, which allowed them to change their outfits around to suit the situation, from army fatigues to three-piece suits. Aptly named “the fabric of our lives”, cotton has definitely developed trust through the years.
Similar to linen, most cotton fabrics, with the exception of twill and sateen woven, provide comfort in harsh summers, enhancing breathability. It doesn’t interact with the body as much, allowing air in. While thick “peach-skin” effect cottons may be suitable for winters, Egyptian or super fine pima cotton gabardines of a 220 grammage per meter are perfect for summer.
Although it has some formal application, the cotton suit lends itself to a more casual setting. This is because one has to commit themselves to having a look that’s slightly creased, crushed and natural. Cotton lacks natural elasticity, which means it will shrink, and fade, through excessive dry cleaning over time. If you’re looking for longevity in your garment, ensure your tailor enlarges your measurements when commissioning one.
When one thinks of a cotton suit, natural colours vary from stone, camel, beige, sand and all the way up to darker browns. However, at the top of that list, a khaki coloured suit usually comes to mind. It is timeless, versatile and is the alternative to the standard suit colours worn by novices. Its execution is very nuanced in the sense that you really should keep it very simple. When deciding to commission a khaki suit, start by understanding the right shade for your skin-tone. For darker toned skin, lighter and brown-based shades of khaki work. For the fairer-toned gentleman, it makes sense to lean toward the darker and greener hues. This contrast is to manage both extremes of tone in the complete look.
When commissioning a suit, your decision on whether it will be a single, double-breasted or even a three-piece suit, will likely come down to personal choice and the occasion. If we’re being specific to khaki suits; the single breasted version is easily the most contemporary and practical of the options. By this I mean, it works for the office and for playtime. For the office, wear this suit with a white or light blue shirt along with brown leather derbys, brogues or even loafers. In a more casual setting, an open collar shirt is as basic as it gets. Moreover, nothing says khaki cotton trousers like a classic pair of white Jack Purcell sneakers.
Concerning your choices between the single, double and three-piece variety when making a khaki suit (in whichever colour you prefer); I personally believe the practicality in the minimal aesthetic of the single-breasted suit comes at the cost of looking dapper. If you’re like me, and are always looking for something to turn heads, then the double-breasted suit is your best bet. It is relatively less generic, and the standard peak lapels make you look more regal. This applies to when you opt for the formal look which can include a white, baby blue or even pink spread collar shirt, with the same shoes as mentioned above, or even if you want to tone it down with an open collar denim shirt with brown suede Belgian loafers or plimsole sneakers.
Of course, if you’re heading to either Pitti Uomo or any other peacock affair, then the three-piece khaki suit will definitely ensure you get the attention you desire. To keep things interesting, you can always differentiate yourself by opting for a double-breasted waistcoat with that three-piece garment. On this occasion, you can express a little bit of sprezzatura with a contrasting tie to break the formality of the look.
In summary, with such a large variety of options to choose from, one has to ask themselves a simple question; What does the occasion call for?
Once this has been addressed, the solution should become clear. The one thing you don’t want is your mom still having to make your choices for you.
written by Ndzutha Mngqibisa (Creative Director of NDZU Tailored)