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Business suit – What it is and what makes it formal

Not all suits are created equal. While wearing a suit is typically associated with a form of dressing well, certain suit features make men wearing them look more or less formal. In this article, we will take a closer look at the elements of a business suit and where you can buy one.

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What is a business suit?

In this context, a business suit is an attire that can be worn daily and is quite high on the formality scale. You will encounter it most often in a business or professional office environment – a law firm, board meetings or a bank – and it’s characterised by darker fabric colours, double-breasted jacket, dress shoes and subtle or no patterns.

Formality scale

It may come to you as a surprise but a business suit isn’t considered the highest form of formal attire (it’s somewhere in the middle). That honour would be reserved for black or white tie suits usually worn at special evening events.

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What makes up a business suit?

With the formality scale out of of the way, let’s take a look at the components of a business suit and what makes it look formal.


The darker the shade of your suit colour is, the more formal it is. We believe that men should start with the following colours first – charcoal grey and navy blue. These are considered staples of a man’s wardrobe and are perfect for a business environment due to their versatility (you can easily match them with other colours and dress them up or down as needed).

Fabrics and texture

Smoothness and shine of the fabric is another indicator of a suit’s formality. The smoother and shinier the fabric, the more formal it is. That doesn’t mean your business suit should be made of satin, however. This shiny fabric is used in moderation on lapel and trousers and is typically reserved for evening events.

An optimal fabric for a business suit is wool or wool-silk blend with less prominent weave, such as evenly-textured worsted or serge.

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Similar to texture, patterns also play a role in assessing formality. Patterned outfit tends to be less formal compared to plain ones. If patterns are a must for your suit, opt for something subtle, such as pinstripes. It will be less loud and help others working with you focus more on what you have to say than your attire.


Business suits are characterised by their strong structure – a canvas construction with shoulder paddings that give the jacket a more defined look. As far as smaller features go, a single-breasted jacket with two buttons is a popular choice for business suits (double-breasted construction is more common in more formal suits). Lastly, opt for a notched lapel over a peaked lapel for a more classic look.


Typical business suit trousers come with a sharp crease down the centre of the legs. The more dressed down version of a men’s attire would, on the other hand, include jeans or chinos with a smooth front.


A classic dress shoe that’s a must-have for a business attire is a cap toe Oxford shoe. Its colour will depend on the colour of your suit, but it will most likely be black or brown. Make sure it comes without any form of broguing (that means no hole perforations). A step down in formality would be a derby shoe.

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While it may be hidden behind a suit jacket most of the time, a dress shirt is likewise an essential component of a business suit. The rules for a formal shirt are more-less the same as for the suit. Patterned shirts are more casual than solids, and the bigger or more visible the pattern (think wide butcher stripes or plaids) the more casual the shirt will be. You may, therefore, rather opt for solid colours with smoother weaves, such as Royal Oxford and twills.

Not sure which shirts to get? Read our article on which five shirts men should own first


If you want to stand out in a workplace, we believe it’s worth learning the essentials of what constitutes formal wear. You will be then able to make smarter decisions when replenishing your wardrobe and potentially save yourself from making a bad purchase.

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