In the first part in this series I opined on the how the various details of a suit can help dictate said suits formality. But the details (such as different types of pockets and lapels) are by no means the end of the story in determining how formal any given suit is. Another, and perhaps more important factor is the fabric of the suit. “But a suit is a suit not matter what fabric it is made of” you may say. But no. Far from correct that view is. Even with the continual blurring of the lines between business and casual dress it is still important to know the role fabric plays and how that can make a suit more or less appropriate for any given situation.
Much like jacket details, some fabrics are considered to be more country or casual fabrics and others more fit for city or formal (in other words business suits). I will note certain elements that are almost exclusively for business or casual (social) wear. Although it is hard to truly class each type of fabric and each characteristic a fabric may have there are some general guidelines we can abide to. There are three primary drivers in a fabrics formality; color, pattern and weave/material. Below you will find a general guide as to what is more formal than what for each of these three, as denoted by ‘>’ (solid is more formal than striped). Generally speaking, the color has the greatest weight on the formality of the fabric. It is very possible that a navy blue linen suit would be more formal than a tan worsted wool suit. That said, this guide is to act more as general guideline for you to interpret as you will.
Color: Navy = Charcoal = Black > Mid gray > Mid blue > Brown > Light gray > Olive > Burgundy (casual) > Tan/beige (casual)
Pattern (the larger the scale of the pattern the less formal): Solid > Stripe (business) > Windowpane > Check/plaid
Weave/Material: Solid (worsted wool) > Velvet > Nailhead/birdseye/pinhead (business) > Fresco > Wool twill > Plain blended (wool, cotton, mohair, cashmere) > Herringbone > Flannel > Linen = Tweed (casual) > Cotton (casual) > Seersucker (casual)
In the photo above you will see a tan linen with a blue pinstripe fabric. It is certainly more of a casual or country suit (I’ve found it ideal for social events) because of the light color and linen. Although the pinstripe makes it seem to have an air of business to it, it is still very much a social suit and as such, an exception to the rule.