The Khaki Suit

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I recently acquired a khaki suit. I’ve always wanted one and, being originally from New England, saw it as a happy inevitability. When warm weather hits, khaki suits – often in cotton poplin or chino – are to Connecticut what seersucker is to South Carolina. Crisp, cool style that, as the day wears on, evolves into a slightly rumpled personal signature. Perfect.

This new suit is not cotton however; it’s a lovely Ralph Lauren extra fine worsted wool job. I wasn’t expecting to get a wool suit – certainly not in the midst of a particularly sweltering summer here in the nation’s capital. I had wanted to get a nice traditional lightweight summer suit, but as things turned out it was an opportunity I could not pass up. It’s a lovely suit and one that will get a lot of wear. So, I am still on the hunt for a good warm weather version in cotton.

The khaki colored summer suit can get sidelined by its flashier, more formal brethren, but it’s an important part of a well rounded wardrobe. Sometimes constructed of a cotton blend to better fend off the wrinkles, this style of suit is a nice in-between option for the steamy days of summer. It’s light and comfortable and can be worn with casual panache.

In fact khaki suits are wonderfully versatile articles of clothing. They can easily pull double duty when required; paired with a French cuffed dress shirt, Hermes tie and handmade shoes or polo shirt, ribbon belt and docksiders. Either way, the khaki suit provides a formal backdrop that accommodates your needs. It is neither formally stiff nor scruffy and inappropriate.

And while it has been interpreted the world over, the true cotton khaki summer suit is undeniably American preppy at its core. Think about it – this suit is the ultimate pair of khakis taken to the extreme. To be sure, most designer’s takes on the khaki suit do not attempt to duplicate old money New England; I’ve seen HRH the Prince of Wales sporting a lovely double breasted version and no one would mistake him for a Bloody Mary toting beachcomber. Still, for the rest of us, it is a nice way to inject a little stylish fun into our wardrobes.

There are some potential pitfalls to this outfit, the most common of which is easy enough to see on the street. Put simply, if you are not careful the khaki suit can quickly take on a sweltering and bedraggled appearance. When it comes to cotton suits, there is fine line between having rumpled personality and being sloppily disheveled. In D.C. the latter is a common sight – overstuffed knapsack dragging down one shoulder, a sweaty shirt billowing out from under an un-pressed jacket and pants hemmed too long dragging on the pavement. Appalling but unfortunately not unusual.

So extra care of your cotton khaki suit, it will make a world of difference. That means treating it like any other suit; have it properly tailored and regularly cleaned. You’ll be glad it’s in the rotation.


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Chris Hogan, an association executive based in Washington, D.C., blogs at OffTheCuffDC.com. A lifelong interest in style and clothing led to sales and management positions at several Ralph Lauren stores and an active wardrobe consulting practice