Real People: Unassailable Combinations

People pity the poor peahen, forever in the shadow of her showier suitors, but I prefer to think she lives a life of restrained good taste in plumage of gray and brown, with a dash of blue-green (and a fun hat!). Likewise, a palette of blues, grays, and browns is a sophisticated one for humans, and intentional “peacocking” is associated with the seamy (at best) pick-up artist scene.

RT in Copenhagen would still turn all the peahens’ heads in the blue-gray-brown palette in the three photos above, where all the pieces are different but consistent in fit and tone. On the left, RT wears a tshirt under a cashmere blend cardigan with a cashmere scarf at the neck and casual gray cords. In a word: cozy. In the center, a rollneck complements trousers hemmed at a cleaner, slightly more formal length, and at right, a folk-ier style cardigan (in this case, Inverallan) is worn with a collared shirt and flat-front midgray flannels. Each combination is simple but sophisticated, with no need for pieces of flair. They’re also excellent examples of un-boring business casual (although you’d probably have to add a collared shirt on the left).

Second Time a Brown

Whether worn casually with beat-up chinos and a pair of brown loafers, or more formally with grey flannel pants and freshly polished derbys, a navy sport coat is one of the most versatile items a man can own. Its strength is in its color. A navy jacket can be successfully paired with almost any button-up shirt or pair of trousers, and its rich tone is formal enough for many events, but not so formal that it’s limited. If a man could only own one sport coat, it should be a navy single-breasted.

But you likely already knew that and perhaps already own a navy sport coat. If so, what should you do for your second acquisition?

The obvious choice is something in either grey or brown, and between the two, I recommend the latter. The problem with grey sport coats is that with few exceptions, they’re more likely to be mistaken for suit jackets. That means when you wear them with odd trousers (trousers that aren’t part of a suit), you’ll look like you accidentally spilt something on your pants and had to change out of them.

The other problem is that grey jackets shift the burden of color to your trousers. To be sure, you can wear grey jackets with grey pants, but the two must have very contrasting shades. Even then, when done successfully, you’ll look very … grey. Plus, accessories then have to be a bit muted, lest they look too conspicuous against an otherwise all grey ensemble, which makes this combination even more limiting.

So if you’re not going to wear grey sport coats with grey trousers, you’ll have to build a wardrobe of workable trousers for your one jacket. That’s much more difficult than the norm, which is to rely on a basic collection of grey trousers and wear them with various sport coats. Navy or brown jackets with grey pants is a classic look, and either can be accessorized in an infinite number of ways.

Furthermore, I think brown is just a more interesting color (taking aside the fact that grey is technically not even a color). It can be deep, rich, and warm, whereas grey can’t. Colors such as blue, ecru, and burgundy can also be mixed in through checks and speckles for added visual interest. Just browse a rack full of tweeds to see what I mean.

Of course, as I said, there are exceptions. A grey herringbone or speckled Donegal tweed jacket can be incredibly beautiful and versatile, but before getting one of those, I think you should acquire something in brown. You can more easily wear it with the pants you probably already own – grey dress trousers, dark blue jeans, and khaki chinos. This allows you to not have to go out and buy a collection of pants just to wear with your one jacket, which when you’re on a budget, can be very valuable. The difference between brown and grey for your second sport coat is likely to be the difference between building a wardrobe and building outfits. Do the first. 

(Photo credits: Ethan Desu, The Sartorialist, Michael Alden, Napoli Su Misura, M. Fan, and others)