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).

Real People: Gray for leisure

The iron-fisted enforcement of business casual office dress codes means many of us wear suits mostly for non-work occasions, if we wear suits at all. Rob in Los Angeles has a great casual wardrobe, but in compiling a post about it I stumbled on these photos of Rob suited up in gray in non-business settings and was struck by the easiness and elegance of Rob’s suits and accessories, which are neither obsessively businesslike nor sprezzatura’d beyond all relief.

In the top photo, Rob’s peak lapel suit in a dark gray worsted wool could be quite formal, but that formality is undercut by a matte wool tie, brown rather than black balmorals, and holiday-season-appropriate red socks. Rob’s suit in the other photos is a wonderful high-twist twill, that looks equally good with a white shirt and brown shoes as with more evening appropriate (though not, you know, by “the rules” evening appropriate) black monk strap shoes and an ice blue shirt. Again, Rob sticks with matte wool ties, which along with the cloth make that suit look downright cozy. The trouser length is a little longer than many men are choosing in the post-Thom-Browne era, but note that when Rob is seated his trouser cuff doesn’t ride halfway up his leg.

And regarding timelessness—these shots were taken a few years ago (the top shot in 2007), and they all look great right now.

—Pete

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)

The Silver Necktie
Commonly recommended colors for neckties include the darker shades of blue, brown, green, and red, but rarely do you see mentions of silver or grey. Silver or grey, however, are some of the best colors you can wear with navy suits. And while fewer and fewer men have the occasion to wear suits these days, when they do, navy is a good stand-by, so having a few silver or grey neckties on hand is a good idea.
For formal occasions, such as weddings, one can wear silver silk herringbones, grey grenadines, or something that looks close enough to grey from a distance, such as black and white Shepherd’s checks or glen plaids. To take the level down a notch, try a softer, less shiny material, such as the cashmere or wool varieties you see above. These can be worn with worsted suits in the fall to give your look a more autumnal touch. A step further down still would be something like the silver tie here with off-white and red repp stripes. Again, I find stripes to generally be less dressy than silk ties with small, repeating geometrics, and the one you see above can be worn with either navy suits or grey trousers with navy sport coats. The key is to make sure the grey of your tie doesn’t match too closely to the grey of your trousers.
Of all my grey ties, the one I find most useful – though not always the most worn (that would go to all the others featured here) – is the silver grenadine. It’s really the perfect tie for formal occasions, leaving you with one less thing to worry about when you have to get dressed for a wedding or fancy evening out. A navy suit worn with a crisp, semi-spread collar shirt; pair of freshly polished black oxford shoes; and silver grenadine is as foolproof of a combination as you can get. 

The Silver Necktie

Commonly recommended colors for neckties include the darker shades of blue, brown, green, and red, but rarely do you see mentions of silver or grey. Silver or grey, however, are some of the best colors you can wear with navy suits. And while fewer and fewer men have the occasion to wear suits these days, when they do, navy is a good stand-by, so having a few silver or grey neckties on hand is a good idea.

For formal occasions, such as weddings, one can wear silver silk herringbones, grey grenadines, or something that looks close enough to grey from a distance, such as black and white Shepherd’s checks or glen plaids. To take the level down a notch, try a softer, less shiny material, such as the cashmere or wool varieties you see above. These can be worn with worsted suits in the fall to give your look a more autumnal touch. A step further down still would be something like the silver tie here with off-white and red repp stripes. Again, I find stripes to generally be less dressy than silk ties with small, repeating geometrics, and the one you see above can be worn with either navy suits or grey trousers with navy sport coats. The key is to make sure the grey of your tie doesn’t match too closely to the grey of your trousers.

Of all my grey ties, the one I find most useful – though not always the most worn (that would go to all the others featured here) – is the silver grenadine. It’s really the perfect tie for formal occasions, leaving you with one less thing to worry about when you have to get dressed for a wedding or fancy evening out. A navy suit worn with a crisp, semi-spread collar shirt; pair of freshly polished black oxford shoes; and silver grenadine is as foolproof of a combination as you can get. 

Grey and Tan

Some colors will always look good together - a rich navy with mid-grey; a chocolate brown with racing green; or a mid-grey with tan, as show above. On the left is an illustration from a 1937 edition of Esquire. One of the men here is shown combining a grey single breasted suit, most likely constructed from flannel or a tropical worsted, with an ivory shirt, a brown and tan checked foulard tie, and brown shoes. A cream Panama hat up top could finish the look. On the right, Mark Cho of The Armoury is wearing a lightly checked grey double breasted suit with a tan shantung silk tie. The white pocket square underscores his white shirt nicely. 

Whether it’s in the 1930s or today, grey suitings and tan fittings will always look right together. 

(Above photo by Mark Cho. Which, as my friend would put it, makes this Mark by Mark Cho)