Sometime back, President Obama did what no President had ever done before - he appeared in a press conference wearing a tan suit. While few remember the agenda in that press meet, the presidential tan suit garnered much attention and cost - countless gigabytes of data in online debates, tons of airwaves on the TV, and reams of paper in the print (on both sides of the Atlantic - apparently!).
I personally believe that the presidential tan suit was not extraordinary per se, it became so only because Obama was earlier seen only in darker shades that spell formal - navy, black, charcoal, et al. Also, it was summer when this happened, so a tan suit may have been well in order.
Clearly, there is a certain expectation that certain colors suit certain occasions - especially when the wearer is a powerful person, and is looking to project that power when interacting with others. Put simply, formal and businesslike occasions demand suits that are formal and businesslike - blues, and grays.
Tan, in terms of suit colors, is not a single color. Rather, it is a spectrum of colors with a light-brown base in varying tints. While ‘tan’ is popular in the USA, these colors are also called ‘taupe’ and ‘khaki’ in other parts of the world.
Therefore, a suit made with fabrics in these colors will be broadly called a tan suit.
Traditional dress code has favored strictly darker colors - navy, gray and black - as the ones ‘suited’ for formal occasions. Brown (and tan) goes into the semi-casual and casual territory - to be worn only in the casual meetings, and social occasions (like weddings).
Tan is also considered a ‘daytime’ and ‘outdoor’ color - and this is why you find so many wedding suits in this color, provided the wedding ceremony is held outdoors and during the daytime.
Additionally, the lighter color of tan suits make them more suitable for summers and places with warmer climates.
Modern dress code, even though more relaxed and forgiving to the tan color in formal settings, still reserves the tan suit for non-formal occasions. When wearing a tan suit to the office or a business meeting, make sure that the setting is casual. In case of doubt, the darker colors in gray and blue are a safer bet - you cannot really go wrong with them.
Contemporary textile technology and designers have provided gentlemen with more options in colors, patterns and fabrics that may make wearing a tan suit more pleasurable.
Wool and blends are relatively less prevalent in tan shades. If you are going for these fabrics, getting a patterned suit (usually checks) would be a good choice. Wools and wool blends make for a ‘dressier’ option in tan suits - making it ideal for business wear.
Linen and cotton make for the most popular options in tan suits. Tweeds are suitable for gents living in the cooler climes.
Adventurous gentlemen may try these novel options in tan suit fabrics - corduroy, chambray and seersucker.
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