This article will give an overview of the most common types of patterns available for men’s suits, go over some less common types, and offer guidance on what patterns you should wear. For information on fabrics themselves, please take a look at our page on suit fabrics and weaves.
After starting one’s capsule wardrobe out with solid navy and charcoal suits, it’s time to expand into the world of patterns. The catch is that patterns really do, in fact, comprise their own world, and if you can’t identify them, you’ll have trouble articulating what you want to salespeople, tailors, and even yourself.
Read on for a full guide to the most common men’s suit patterns. If you’d like to jump to a particular section, click any of the links below:
Types Of Patterns
Please note that some of the patterns listed below are technically weaves and are therefore more fabric than pattern. We included them regardless due to their ubiquity in the menswear market.
Stripes are the most widely accepted pattern for suits, especially in the business world. The stripes themselves can be tightly or loosely spaced, and they can be of varying thicknesses. They slim the wearer and make him look taller and as such are good for various body types. The most common types are:
Everyone and his uncle knows from pinstripes. A navy or charcoal suit with off-white pinstripes spaced 5/8″ apart is typical of office wear in a business professional company.
Rope stripes are just like pinstripes except that they are thicker and look more like, well, ropes. A bolder choice than pinstripes, these are best worn at the office after you’ve established yourself a bit.
There are countless varieties of checks available for men’s suits.
A check of Scottish origins, this check was originally called the Coigach and hailed from western Scotland. In the 1870’s, an American shooting club adopted it as their uniform, hence the name.
Typical of sport coats, gun club checks are even, with two or three colors on a white or light brown background.
Prince of Wales
The Prince Of Wales check is actually based on a plaid similar to the Glenurquhart plaid.
Windowpanes are the most common check found on full suits. A bold pattern due to its large scale, windowpanes are simply large checks in a perfect square shape. Common color ways are white on grey or navy.
We’ve heard “Glen plaid” a million times, but just what makes a plaid a “glen?” It’s a 4×4 and 2×2 color effect in the warp and weft directions of the fibers.
A Glenurquhart plaid is the same as a Glen plaid, but it has a differently colored windowpane overcheck. It’s commonly mistaken for a Prince of Wales check. It was a favorite of King Edward VIII when he was the Prince of Wales. One of the original district checks that was used as a uniform.
Black Watch Tartan
Also known as the Black Guard, the Black Watch was a group of Scots recruited by the king of England to serve as a check against other Scottish clans that the king found troublesome.
Their tartan is a navy and green plaid and is extremely popular in menswear as a blazer because it incorporates those two very common blazer colors. This plaid is also seen as an odd trouser and a smoking jacket.
Birdseye is a weave that creates tiny circles in a fabric that resemble the eyes of birds. Just as much a texture as it is a pattern, birdseye is a fantastic option for men who feel more comfortable in solid suits but want a bit more visual interest than a plain weave.
So named because it resembles the skeleton of a fish, herringbone is a classic weave that’s found on suits, odd jackets, trousers, vests, and even shirts. It can be subtle in color and pronunciation, or it can be quite bold as a sport coat.
Houndstooth is a fabric woven in a check pattern that resembles dog’s teeth. Also referred to as “dogstooth,” the smaller-scale versions of this pattern are called “puppytooth.” Its edges are jagged and not at all perfectly square.
While they’re pretty rare on suits, dots do indeed find themselves onto jackets and trousers from time to time. Not for the faint of heart, these should only be worn in the most whimsical of situations, as a dotted jacket will get you laughed out of a job interview, bounced out of a funeral, and murmured about at a wedding.
How Do I Know What Patterns I Should Wear?
Patterned suits can be a tough nut to crack, but once you find something that works for you, you can stick with it and build out your collection around those patterns.
So, how do you know what works for you?
If you operate in a business professional dress code, your patterns will largely be limited to stripe variants and simple Glen plaids. Your solid suits can incorporate birdseye and herringbone textures if you please, and you can do so while remaining squarely in the confines of your dress code.
If you live in a more business casual world, your options open up a bit more. Gun checks and windowpane sport coats will have you looking better than the other guys at the office, and bold herringbones will set you apart stylishly. If you have to dress in a business professional code but have Casual Friday at the office, these checks and plaids will work well for you, too.
The other consideration for suit patterns is your body type. Conceptually, you want to wear patterns that maximize your strengths while drawing minimal attention to your deficiencies.
Stripes tend to work wonderfully for short and /or heavyset men. The vertical lines make short men appear less short and serve to slim out heavy men. The thickness and spacing of the stripes should also be dictated by your frame. Small men can wear thin, tightly spaced stripes, while larger men look good in wider, more sparsely spaced stripes.
Windowpanes are generally a larger-scale pattern and thus tend to work better on larger men. Smaller checks in a similar shape, however, work for anyone.
Plaids work for everybody but they play particularly nicely with taller men, as the horizontal lines lend width to what is often a narrow frame.
Woven “patterns” like herringbone and birdseye are sympathetic to any body type.
If nothing else, it’s good to have a working knowledge of pattern names and designs so you can shop for your clothes more intelligently. Any salesperson can talk anyone into something if that someone isn’t educated on what he’s buying.