Towards the end of Wong Kar Wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express, Tony Leung is shown rummaging through his closet. He’s preparing to go on a date with Faye Wong, who has been secretly breaking into his apartment when he’s away (this sounds creepy, but somehow comes off as charming in the film). Leung is looking for his “going out shirt” — that colorful, button-front shirt that nearly every guy has had in his wardrobe. There are countless iterations of the style — plaid, striped, paisley, or floral — but the only two essential qualities are that the shirt is clean and signal you’re ready to have fun.
The term “going out shirt” can sound tacky. It brings to mind all of the bizarrely expensive, tasteless designs you see from Robert Graham, which cologne-drenched, middle-aged men wear at night to feel young. But it can be enjoyable to have a distinct set of clothes for nighttime activities, particularly in the last year, when many people have been working from home. “Going out clothes” help break the day up into distinct periods. They make you feel good about yourself and turn regular nighttime activities into something special. Going out for dinner in the same clothes you wore at 2 pm feels like you’re refueling. In “going out clothes,” the same activity feels like you’re treating yourself to something — an unwinding.
Recently, I’ve been into “going out suits” or “evening suits.” These don’t have to be tuxedos, although they can be. They just can’t be the sort of dark worsted suits that you wear to offices, weddings, and funerals. These are semi-casual suits that you wear for fun. If you’re starting to build a tailored wardrobe, a “going out suit” can be wholly impractical (begin instead with the basics). But if you already have an extensive wardrobe, having one or two or three suits you only wear in the nighttime can be tremendously enjoyable.
Trust me when I say that you don’t need a fancy lifestyle to wear evening suits. You don’t need to belong to a club (I only belong to Sam’s Club). Or dine at $200/ plate restaurants (I never do). If you live in a city, an evening suit can be the kind of thing you wear to bars that charge $12 for a drink or restaurants that charge $25 for a plate. They can fit into pretty typical environments. If it matters to you, I find that evening suits get you better service. But if nothing else, they make you feel GREAT.
There are a few excellent options. My favorite is the mohair suit, which is typically made from a blend of mohair and wool fibers. Mohair has been used to make Western clothes since the 16th century, when Charles V first imported Angora goats to Western Europe. The fiber is stiff and slippery, and when made into a fabric, it shares some properties with linen. Both fabrics wick sweat from the skin, which keeps you feeling cool and dry. Additionally, they have a dry, crisp hand and can be pressed into a sharp crease. Most of all, they’re excellent for summer. Mohair is highly breathable because it’s typically made with an open weave structure. If you hold mohair suiting up, you can see light pouring through the fabric. The only real downside is that mohair wilts in the rain, so if you’re caught in a downpour, you’ll have to find a tailor who can give the suit a hand pressing.
The best thing about mohair is the luster. Mohair has a natural sheen, which means mohair suits catch and reflect light in wonderful ways. They glimmer, glow, and create pockets of shadows when you move. Nowadays, “sheen” is sometimes considered a dirty word in tailoring — no doubt influenced by the decade of 1970s polyester suits that were cheaply made to imitate mohair. But when done right, a quality mohair suit can look sophisticated and elegant in the evening. When you close your eyes and imagine The Rat Pack, the Mods, or those film scenes with guys hanging out in dimly lit, Las Vegas bars in the 1960s, you’re probably thinking of mohair. In 1991, Gianni Agnelli was photographed just outside the Pierre Hotel in NYC, where he attended an event in honor of King Juan Carlos I. The gleam from his blue dinner suit suggests it was made from mohair.
Since mohair has a natural sheen and can crack under pressure, it’s usually mixed with wool. Aim for something subtle: a 40/60 mixture of mohair to wool is just about right for most guys (anything above 50% can get very shiny by modern standards). And get something in an elegant evening color, such as navy or grey.
The photos above should give you some ideas on how to wear a mohair suit. The examples range from the wildly dandy to the quietly conservative. Savile Row tailor Ozwald Boateng shows a model in one of his copper-colored shawl collar suits with a matching copper shirt and a jaunty silk neckerchief. For his role as James Bond in Dr. No, Sean Connery wore a more traditional, silvery grey mohair suit (tailored by Anthony Sinclair) with a white poplin shirt and black grenadine (both from Turnbull & Asser). I like something in the middle: The Armoury’s Cerruti “Kinair” mohair fabric comes in just the right shade of green. It’s grey in some lights; olive in others. Pair it with Proper Cloth’s long-sleeved polos in their charcoal Tencel-blend pique cotton (that fabric is oh-so-soft) and a pair of black tassel loafers.
You can also get a double-breasted suit. Today, most men struggle to find occasions to wear a “serious suit,” even if they should have one in their closet. Such suits are mostly reserved for “serious” events, such as weddings and funerals. Thus, it’s reasonable to feel that you should favor a more conservative single-breasted option for when those occasions arise, rather than a double-breasted one that can make you stand out.
So why not get a soft-shouldered double-breasted suit for evening affairs? Evening suits are inherently conspicuous and self-indulgent. Unless you live a particular lifestyle where everyone around you wears tailoring, you’re probably going to be one of the few in a tailored jacket at a bar or restaurant (doing so can still look natural). If you already have a navy or grey suit for “serious occasions,” consider a fun double-breasted model that you can wear at night. The Armoury’s Model 6B in covert cloth is a great option. Covert is traditionally used to make country coats, but here, the fabric is light enough for a suit and looks like any wool twill. It drapes and swings beautifully, and has a soft shoulder line that makes the suit look relaxed when worn. Again, pair it with one of Proper Cloth’s long-sleeved polos in a grey Tencel-blend and a pair of black tassel loafers. Ethan Wong from A Little Bit of Rest also shows how you can casually wear a double-breasted suit or blazer. Wearing a double-breasted jacket open and without a tie will go a long way in making it look less stuffy. In the wintertime, double-breasted coats pair exceptionally well with thin merino turtlenecks.
Finally, consider a slightly less traditional color. You can wear a mid-brown suit in the evening with a cream or light blue shirt and not look like you’ve just stepped away from a business meeting. Such suits are inherently semi-casual because of their color, and you can make them more casual still with certain tops (e.g., long-sleeved polos or open-neck, one-piece shirt collars), shoes (e.g., loafers or derbies), and lack of accessories (e.g., skipping the tie). You can find some excellent mid-brown suits right now from Sartoria Carrara, The Armoury, and Spier & Mackay.
I recommend picking up one “going out suit” to start. Use it as an excuse to go to slightly nicer restaurants and bars; wear it to places where you wouldn’t usually think of wearing a suit. Over time, you may find yourself wanting another. After more than a year of lockdown, I don’t think anyone will blame you for wanting to dress up when going out.