Cotton Suits: The Pros & Cons

June 19th, 2015

It’s almost officially summer, which means it’s time for some fabric changes in the ‘ol wardrobe. Put away the wools, flannels, and cashmeres until Fall, and break-out the linens, silks, and cottons. As you might already know, I love a cotton suit. The casual nature of pure cotton fabric makes for a versatile garment that can easily be dressed-up or dressed-down and is perfect for the laid-back vibe of summer.

Cotton Suit Pros

  • It’s lightweight. Keep in mind that cotton, like wool, comes in a variety of weights – from super light shirting cotton, to stiff and sturdy outerwear cottons. Even denim, corduroy and moleskins are technically cottons. For a summer suit you want to look for a smooth chino in the 7-8 oz range.
  • It breathes well (although not as well as linen or tropical wools and frescos). You definitely want to go without a lining.
  • Similar to linen, it’s casual in nature and has a slight “rumple” effect that has a certain nonchalance that is sexy in the summertime.
  • Cotton is cheaper and more accessible than wool, which is why cotton suits always seem so affordable, compared to wool.
  • Cotton comes from a plant, rather than an animal, for all you hardcore vegans and vegetarians out there.
  • Investing in a well-tailored cotton suit is also investing in a well-tailored Spring/Summer blazer, and a perfect pair of go-to chinos. No suit works as well as separates than a pure cotton.
  • Cotton looks more natural in lighter colors. If you wear navy and grey wool suits all year, cotton gives you a chance to lighten things up a bit, with something like a dusty khaki, faded olive, or warmer tone of blue.

Cotton Suit Cons

  • Cotton has very little flexibility and no natural stretch. For this reason, cotton suits can feel a little tighter and more restrictive than wool suits cut to the same measurements. A good tailor (or perhaps, a great tailor) will know to add 1/4″-3/8″ allowance in specific areas to allow for added range of motion and comfort.
  • Depending on the color, cotton can easily show water marks or moisture. If you’re a heavy sweater, I would avoid a light color that gets noticeably darker when wet.
  • If the cotton fabric wasn’t properly pre-shrunk, you could experience some shrinkage after having it cleaned and pressed. A decent manufacturer should take into account the tendency for cotton to shrink, and pre-treat the fabric accordingly.
  • In overly conservative business environments a cotton suit can seem a little too leisurely.
  • Over time, cotton will show wear and tear more than wool. This can be a good thing if you’re into breaking-in your items and showing some character (like cotton jeans). But it can be a bad thing if you’re expecting the suit to bounce back to full-life after a quick steam, like a wool suit would.

From the Archives

Now, here are some examples of 100% pure cotton suits in action, from the AoS archives. I hope this provides some inspiration, or at least some context to the pros and cons listed above.

Remember, you can always browse the AoS library of outfits by Season, Occasion, or  ClothingItem using our interactive Style Guide.

The Navy Cotton Suit





The Washed Khaki Cotton Suit




The Olive Cotton Suit








The French Blue Cotton Suit








Thanks, as always, for reading. 

Shop: Cotton Suit

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier

Photography by Alex Crawford.

  • Thom

    Great article Dan. I’d love to have a navy cotton suit with a ticket pocket like the first one pictured, but cannot find them off the rack anywhere. Where is the first suit in the story from?

  • Simon

    Dan or Anyone for that matter,

    I have been realizing that many things are staining my brushed cotton suit. How can I try to get rid of these stains? Any tips? (I’m trying to take out some slight oil from dropped foods, etc)

  • Scott W

    Do cotton suits usually come without a chest canvas and shoulder padding? Would a cotton suit having these be more formal?

    • Dan Trepanier

      Depends on the brand/designer, I suppose. In my opinion, a suit in a more casual fabric should be unstructured (no shoulder padding, very lightweight cloth chest canvas). We’ll have some great examples available soon :) And yes, anything with less structure could be considered less formal, although a suit is still a suit… Cheers mate.

      • Todd

        I just pray you guys have something under 1k

  • Austin Roberson

    Love this article Dan! I’ve been a reader for I don’t know how many years now but this is my go to website! I check it every day! You’re my style icon!

    Question. How tall do you get your cuffs? I have a suit that I bought off of eBay that came unhemmed. I like a larger cuff around 2 inches, but I wanted to them around 2 1/4” cuff. Is that too big?

    • tommyjohn_45

      Could have sworn there was an article on here regarding cuff length, can’t seem to find it at the moment, however.

      In my personal experience, my tailor refuses to cuff anything greater than 2 inches, as he feels it can start to look a bit obnoxious (he’s very old school). What style of suit are you talking about?

      • Austin Roberson

        A single breasted notch lapel flat front pants. The pants have a higher rise/high waisted. It looks like Dan’s brown hopsack suit. Thats why I bought it.

        I like dressing classic with a twist. That’s why I wanted to a slightly larger cuff to try something different. The lady who does my tailoring is pretty open to trying different things so I think she’d let me try it. She better because I’m paying her!

        I’m 6’1” and 180 lbs so I think I could pull it off.

    • Dan Trepanier

      Thanks for the love Austin! Most of the cuffs seem here are 2″, which is on the wide side. 2 1/4″ is quite wide and creates its own look, but if you have long legs it could be fitting. See what I did there? Cheers.

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