The Knockabout Cotton Suit

The poor cotton suit doesn’t get much love in men’s clothing. That’s because the material is considered too cheap to be worthy of good tailoring. A lot of time and skill is required to make a jacket, so while you’re paying for all that labor, the quality of cotton can only go so far. It doesn’t last as long as good wool (as it can shine up a bit more easily in areas of stress); it doesn’t have the natural “stretch” of animal hair (thus making it feel a bit stiff); and unless you go ultra-light in the cloth’s weight, it also doesn’t wear as cool as one might think (at least not as much as a good open weave cloth). 

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about how nice it’d be to have a cotton suit for summer. Maybe something in one the colors you see above – navy, olive, dark brown, or tan. One of the great things about cotton is that it rumples (like linen), which helps make tailored clothes look more natural and carefree. These are not the type of suits you wear perfectly pressed, but they’re also not the kind of suits that will make you look like you just came from the office. And while cotton does indeed shine up and fray a bit more easily than good wool, that kind of wear-and-tear seems like it’d only give the suit a nice, lived-in character. As our friend Will at A Suitable Wardrobe once put it, a cotton suit is a “knockabout suit” – something you’d wear on a casual day. 

If you’re interested in a cotton suit this summer, but are afraid of it feeling too stiff, you can search around for suits made from a cotton/ cashmere blend. Something with just a touch of cashmere (say 2%) won’t wear any warmer, but it’ll feel more broken-in from the get go.

The best thing about a cotton suit? You can wear the jacket and pants separately as a sport coat and pair of chinos, thus giving you a bit more versatility in your wardrobe. The more I talk about them, really, the more I want one.  

(Photos via B&Tailor, Patrick Johnson Tailors, The Sartorialist, and Men’s Ex)