Tonal Combinations

Most of the tie/shirt/jacket combinations that appeal to me make use of strong contrast—in texture and color. Look at the exemplars of good taste highlighted here at PTO, and you’ll see a lot of contrast. For good reason: dark tie, light shirt, dark suit is pretty much the basis of modern businesswear. You can add more patterns to the shirt or suit but even the horse-blanket-iest tweed probably looks best with a light blue or ecru shirt and a dark tie (also the reason that light-colored ties are the least versatile). Such combinations are unobtrusive and flattering to most men.

On the other hand, you won’t see a lot of dark dress shirts and dyed-to-match combinations (i.e., the 2000s scourge of the Regis) in Apparel Arts, etc. (Outliers: white tie formalwear, and the Duke of Windsor, who allegedly wore gray shirts, although in some of these old photos it can be hard to tell how true the colors are.) It’s the shortcut of the schlubby dresser: “Pick one color, find two shades. There’s your outfit." The 2014 Oscars also reminded me of the unfortunate existence of the black formal shirt. Although nontailored clothing has a wider contrast allowance, we still haven’t improved a whole lot on the dark leather jacket, white tshirt, and jeans.

All that said, dressing tonally, but with intention, is beginning to seem interesting again. Seen above are two good examples of tonally matched clothing: Above left is stylist Allan Kennedy, shot by Mister Mort in New York, and on the right a 1986 Versace ensemble in the V&A museum, with a lot of texture and pattern variation but not much contrast. Kennedy wears some pretty traditional shapes, but everything is on the dark side of middle gray, and I think I see navy and black, but with brown shoes, an unusual combo for the kind of guy who wears pebble grain brogue boots. He’s wearing little of what we consider complementary colors (I wouldn’t even know where to place most of what he’s wearing on a color wheel).

The Versace clothing, what we can see of it anyway, looks very much of its time, but I see some resemblance to Japanese textiles I like more and more. The subtle blue and green-blue shades of those fabrics don’t, to me, need other tones to break them up. Taking a broader view of the currents of men’s clothing, I’ll be the first to admit that designer stuff is not my baliwick, but it’s hard to deny the vision of a guy like Rick Owens, who’s made a career on tonal palettes that vary all the way from dust to stone to sand.

Dressing consistently in this way is more difficult than it may sound—certainly not all hues are equal. Wearing “all black” for example involves choosing shades of black, which can in fact clash. But I’m going to pay more attention to how the grays, indigos, and olives in my closet work together or don’t, and try more tonal dressing.



Not As Useful as You’d Think

When you’re first starting to build a wardrobe, it’s not difficult to suddenly discover how useful solid gray trousers are. They can be worn every day of the week without anyone commenting, and successfully be paired with almost any kind of jacket. It’s tempting then to get them in almost every shade imaginable, but let me forewarn you: the darker the gray, the less useful the trousers, especially as you approach charcoal.

That’s because charcoal trousers have a limited range of what jackets they can be teamed with. There are two that I can think of: the first are certain shades of light to mid-brown, as seen above. However, the darker the brown, the less contrast there will be between your trousers and sport coat (which is bad). That lack of contrast, incidentally, is why navy sport coats should never be worn with charcoal trousers, and given the usefulness of navy jackets, this fact alone should be cause of some concern.

You can also wear grey jackets that are light enough to lend contrast, but there aren’t too many in this category that look good. The ones that come most easily to mind are herringbone tweeds and speckled Donegals. For whatever reason, grey sport coats tend to not come in the kind of variation we see in brown or navy. And what else can you wear with mid-grey sport coats? Not your mid-grey trousers, which are you workhorses.

The fundamental problem, really, is that dark trousers in general, and charcoal in particular, tend to force you into light colored sport coats. The convention, of course, is the opposite: men wear light to mid-colored trousers with dark jackets. By inverting this, you’re limiting your shopping choices and potentially any advice on how to dress well that you might find useful. Charcoal presents another problem in that in certain fabrics, it can be mistaken for suiting, which might lead people to think that you spilled something on your suit jacket and had to change out of it.

Certainly, if you have fifteen or twenty trousers already in the closet, having one pair in charcoal wouldn’t hurt. I have a pair of charcoal flannels that I like to wear with tan sweaters every once in a while. But having one pair of pants that can only be worn with two types of sport coats, one of which is difficult to pair with other trousers, is unwise for anyone starting out. Better to stick with light- to mid-grays, which can be worn with a much wider range of garments. For those who have limited means, doing the second instead of the first is the difference between building a wardrobe and building a collection of outfits.  

(Photos via The Sartorialist and Ethan Newton)

Janete Chun watched S2E5 of Put This On, and decided to make this beautiful visual guide to my crazy verbal guide to what color shoes go with what color suit. Thank you, Janete! (Click to enlarge.)

Janete Chun watched S2E5 of Put This On, and decided to make this beautiful visual guide to my crazy verbal guide to what color shoes go with what color suit. Thank you, Janete! (Click to enlarge.)

Green Jackets

I think winter has arrived in some parts of the country, but here in Northern California, it still feels like fall. So if it’s not too late to post, I’d like to give a recommendation for green jackets, which I’ve come to realize feel just right around this time of year.

By green jackets I mean four-pocket M65s, easy-fitting waxed cotton jackets, thick Loden wool coats, or some kind of casual outerwear piece made out of olive tweed, like you see above. These have a wonderful autumnal feeling, and can be successfully paired with year-round pants such as chinos or jeans, or something more seasonal, such as corduroys or heavy woolen trousers. In addition, green jackets are a nice way to pick up the natural colors around you in the autumn, as well as add a bit of a country look to your ensemble. While I’m suspicious of men who dress a bit too country in the city, adding a green jacket to a pair of jeans, flannel shirt, and heavy leather boots is a nice way to lend a gentle rustic touch without looking like you’re about to go duck hunting on Main Avenue.

So, try wearing a green jacket this fall.  

(Photos by Barbour, Nitty Gritty Shop, and Da I Net)

How to Wear a White Dress Shirt

M. Anton, author of The Suit, recently wrote an interesting post at StyleForum about how to properly wear a white dress shirt. His argument is that white dress shirts are commonly misused, mostly because people buy into the myth that white works everything.

On the contrary, he writes, white dress shirts are citified, business, “upper class” shirts. They show dirt easily, are hard to clean, and used to be the mark of money. They shouldn’t be worn under tweeds or country clothing. They also shouldn’t be thought of as a “blank canvas” for just any tie. Yellow and purple, for example, look terrible against white, and many colors, such as burgundy, generally look better when paired with light blue.

So what does work with a white dress shirt? Suits in blue or gray, mostly, but in certain contexts, brown can also be used if done masterfully. Ties should be kept to navy, black, grey, silver, or combinations thereof. A dark suit, white shirt, and dark tie make for a nice formal evening look. For the day, if the suit is dark, the tie should be a shade lighter; if the suit is light, the tie should be kept dark. This keeps things in balance and makes things a bit more visually interesting.

The rest of the thread’s discussion goes into a level of intricacy I won’t bother reposting here. However, I will say that while I initially read the argument with some skepticism, I became somewhat convinced after flipping through a number of images and illustrations of well dressed men from about the 1930s to present. I struggled to find counter examples, and the few I did find were actually already given exceptions in Anton’s original posts. 

For example, a navy jacket with grey trousers, white shirt, and repp stripe tie is an unassailable Old Money look. Even if it’s a bit boring, one can hardly call it incorrect. White shirts also work well under blue seersucker or certain shades of blue tweed. This gives a necessary level of contrast between the jacket and the shirt. There are also white oxford cloth button downs and linen shirts, both of which can be worn with a variety of casual ensembles.

Still, without having to catalog every combination where a white shirt does and doesn’t work, I think the lesson is worth stressing: white dress-shirts are perhaps a bit overrated, and 90% of the time, particularly for men who don’t wear suits, a blue shirt – either solid or striped – is likely to be the optimal choice. When using white, one should consider the texture of the shirt, the contrast it lends, and whether it simply looks too formal. 

By the way, shown above is the ever-elegant Michael Alden, who happened to be photographed twice one day in the same outfit. Due to the lighting, one of the photos makes him look like he’s wearing a white shirt, even though he’s actually wearing blue. I think the blue looks much more natural under his brown checked tweed, and perhaps this demonstrates Anton’s point. 

“A navy blue suit, white shirt, and dark blue tie always looks great and always will. But why should we deny ourselves a plaid madras shirt with a colourful linen sports jacket, a pair of red suede driving mocs with our trim jeans, a grass green tie with a blue voile shirt and tan khaki gabardine suit?” — Bruce Boyer at Drake’s Diary

How Colors Make Us Buy

In an episode of one of my favorite radio shows, the CBC’s Under The Influence, host Terry O’Reilly takes us on a tour of how colors influence our buying decisions.

When it comes to the subject of persuasion, each colour carries very specific meanings.

Take the colour Red. It is one of the most passionate colours. It connotes action, adventure, fire, lust, anger, courage and rebellion, for example.

Therefore, it is a colour best used for action-oriented products and brands. Red, for example, is the predominant colour in the Virgin logo - which is perfect for that brand, as founder Richard Branson is definitely adventurous and rebellious.

Blue stands for security, trust, productivity and calmness of mind. As a result, blue is the colour of choice for UN flag.

Orange is a colour that suggests value and discounts. Online bank ING has branded itself as orange, no doubt, in part, to remind you of their promise of reduced banking fees.

Green represents freshness. Think the Jolly Green Giant and Subway.

For centuries, purple symbolized nobility and wealth.

The colour Brown is earthy, and contains feelings of honesty and dependability. UPS began using brown in 1916 -because in the world of package delivery, the name of the game is dependability.

Yellow stands for sunny warmth, cheeriness, fun and optimism. Black is really the absence of all colour, but is a colour of authority, power and luxury.

White has a feeling of lightness, and is the reason why most planes are painted this colour. It soothes the concern we all secretly harbour that a machine that size can’t possibly become airborne.

How Pantone’s photo forecasters pick the next hot color… and are they right?
“Some people would say that you should always wear a white shirt in the evening. I still know men who will insist on it. White is more formal, it’s more flattering to your face under artificial light and it looks cleaner and sharper.” — Simon Crompton, as interviewed by GQ (the rest is a good read, by the way)