Looking Beyond Blues and Greys: Green in Menswear

Last year, green was quite popular as a color pathway for menswear, and I must admit I think I’ve picked up more green items in the last year than I have ever purchased before. In the past, I had purchased a green accessory here or there, such as a a pocket square or a tie, or a pair of green socks (Vert Academie of course!) but green clothing was fewer and far in between; a waxed Barbour jacket, a pair of cotton trousers, and a sport coat in a linen silk blend were the only green items present in my closet.

Despite the lack of green clothing, seeing all the outfits posted on Styleforum and Instagram, I came to a realization that green is not an enemy; green garments are quite useful in most people’s wardrobes, providing lots of diverse shades and hues for each season. Even if it seems that green is not year-round as an option, I have come to believe that green is one of the perfect colors to use in your wardrobe as a unifying color pathway, but with different ranges for each season, providing ample selections that are appropriate strictly for either Fall/Winter or Spring/Summer.

One problem is that most people–myself included–fail to understand just how diverse green can be: when you think green, oftentimes one or two shades pop up in your mind. However, you have to break that conception and look beyond your a priori imagination of an outfit. For instance, green includes the various tones that form other colors that you might have in your wardrobe already. These include olive, dark khaki, moss, in addition to the more common or true greens like bottle green, hunter, forest, and the like. With plenty of different shades and hues to choose from, the color suits many different occasions.

I find it easiest to think about the overall wardrobe by categories, organized by functionality and type. By dividing your wardrobe into garment types, we can categorize them in the following ways which will allow you to then better understand what colors serve which roles in each category: outerwear, tailoring, trousers (bottoms), tops, shoes and accessories. If your wardrobe is already established-following internet suggestions, most likely you have a lot of a few staple colors–either blues, grays or browns. However, green can go well with most of these colors and has a place in each wardrobe segment. As I noted above, the green shade/hue varies depending on the time of year and the garment type. As a general rule of thumb, the less vibrant a green is–like most colors–the more appropriate it is for winter or fall garments.

As follows is a brief analysis of each category:

green menswear classic style

Tops obviously include all the garments you wear at base layers above the waist. For green, I believe that in many cases, a sweater or cardigan is more likely a better garment to invest in than a shirt (honestly, how many green classical shirtings can you think of?). That isn’t to say that a shirt in your wardrobe in green would not look nice, it is just to say that it is less likely you are going to find a staple piece you are going to love; plus, a sweater or cardigan can serve as a layering piece, meaning basic blue and white shirts would be appropriate underneath it. The only exception here is that polo shirts may be a cheaper and easier to find options for a forest green top.

Sweaters, especially with forest green or sage green tones, work wonderfully for fall/winter staples, seeing as how they go with all the earthy tones that you would have access to, without adding something too contrasting in an outfit. The goal in selecting a green sweater would be to add visual interest to the top half of the outfit; instead of using go to hell pants and lending visual interest at the bottom, green sweaters work as a color block for the upper body when the sweater is the final layer. If it is under a coat or jacket, it can serve as a mid-contrast layer to bridge the color of a coat and the shirt or pants. On the opposite spectrum, you might choose to wear a warmer sweater to provide contrast, blocking your lower body with green-toned trousers (think moss or dark khaki).

For shirts, you can likely imagine more vibrant colors working best without additional layers (no one wants you to wear a lime green shirt let alone with a sweater over it). In fact, I would go out on a limb and say that saturated colors, being more summery, require fewer layers to achieve that light visual aesthetic. As such, pastel or mid-toned greens work well as a shirt or top when paired with a more neutral cream or light colored pant.

 

green tailored suit menswear

You see plenty of pants that have green tones in them. While go to hell colors work for summer or spring (bright mint or ivy green pants), you are better off investing in forest, olive, moss, and in general earth-toned green shades, seeing as how they are easily used as replacements for pants that you would normally wear (khaki, tan, brown, navy). In addition, because the green adds visual interest to the bottom part of the outfit (color blocking the bottom in place of the top) solid green trousers can make patterns look less busy on the top: for instance, a tweed jacket with a windowpane check will look milder when paired with green trousers than a similar jacket worn with brown or a more similar tonal pant. The darker nature of most green trouser options helps balance out the top half of an outfit. In this case, dark hunter green, pine green, forest green or the like are excellent color choices.

green sartorial outfit

The most expensive additions to your wardrobe should be your outerwear and tailoring. Outerwear is perhaps my favorite category in my wardrobe. And the beautiful thing about outerwear is that there are easy to find green options: old military jackets, field jackets, waxed cotton jackets, parkas and the like are all traditional or relatively easy items to locate which serve plenty of use. Many of these garments have a specific color that is characteristic of them: for instance, Barbour with it’s olive waxed cotton; or military jackets like the M-65 with its army green or the Vietnam-era jungle jackets; parkas with their green or dark khaki fabric. Because outerwear is oftentimes used only for three seasons, the colors for the garments lend themselves to darker, less saturated colors. Naturally, there are exceptions: If you don’t mind an eccentric touch, a coat in panno casentino in its traditional, saturated emerald color, is a great addition to a sartorial wardrobe.

green in menswear

If you are a Styleforum user, chances are tailoring gets you excited. Whether you are buying off the rack, made to measure, or bespoke, it isn’t as if green options do not exist. Regardless of wherever you source your green sport coat or suit, I would suggest erring towards the side of darker and muted green, as you don’t want to run the risk of being mistaken for a leprechaun. The best part of green in tailoring is that it can be found as an accent in a lot of different weeds; plaids or checks provide you the opportunity to feature some green in your outfit without looking over the top. It also works well in that sense for winter, seeing as how such fabrics are oftentimes heavier weight.

With that warning aside, personally, I do have a jacket that borders on Cyan/Green, which is appropriate for summer months, but seeing as how it is almost a mint cream, it works only with lighter colors that have no sort of warmth in them at all (optical whites or light blues or cool grays). That isn’t to say I can’t make a good looking outfit wearing that jacket–it is just that it is less versatile and in that sense, it becomes a more difficult piece to use–and therefore it is harder to justify its existence. Lighter colored greens in tailoring should probably only find their way into your wardrobe if you live in warm or perpetual summer locations, or you wish to exhibit a bit of a Riviera style while on vacation. They do not really look appropriate at anything other than a spring/summer party or a coastal getaway.

My other true-green garment is a mid/dark green hopsack sport coat that works well for winter and fall, mostly because the colors lend themselves to other shades, and it doesn’t look too festive or overwhelming.

green clothes tailored

The easiest way to up your green game is to use accessories. Most blues or browns will go well with some ties or pocket squares that contain a green element. They are the cheapest path for you to invest in using green as an accent, and you can identify which colors will go well with the green by just holding it up to a jacket or shirt that you are thinking of wearing it with. Silk printed squares help you identify what shades of green complement or contrast other colors, enabling you to better understand how that particular shade will work in your wardrobe with different colored articles. Because pocket squares are oftentimes some of the cheapest accessories (outside of socks, though not everyone attempts to show off their socks), investing in green accessories is the perfect way to change up your wardrobe if it is already firmly established with the essentials and you are not seeking any other major investments in tailoring or the like.

While shoes can be classified as their own category in your wardrobe, green leather is not that common, and I’ve only rarely seen a pair or two of green shoes (in suede!). As such, I would treat the shoes as an accessory here, and will only write that browns without warmth and red tones, meaning browns with greener tones, will pair nicely with greens in your wardrobe.


Obviously, certain shades of green invoke different sentiments or tropes, so paying attention to what you are wearing is still a necessity. It doesn’t make sense to dress completely in green unless you wanted to look foolish (or you’re an “influencer” visiting Pitti Uomo). However, the diversity in the color and the fact that many of us spend time outdoors now instead of just stuck in an office means that green has become an acceptable color pathway to utilize, and therefore should be treated as another major asset in our menswear toolbox, alongside blue, browns and grays.

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e. v. Empey

e. v. Empey

Mr. Empey is the type of guy who prefers English style in the winter and Italian style in the summer. Or at least he used to. Now he's uncertain where he stands, since he travels a lot and has to visit a fair number of places where Americana workwear would be the best option. His appreciation of menswear stems more from a love of artisanship, so naturally, he also appreciates other crafts including cocktails and quality cuisine.

12 Comments

  1. Reply

    Chin-Chen Lee

    May 2, 2018

    You can probably say the same thing about red, if you include all the shades then it’s just slightly less versatile than brown

    • e. v. Empey
      Reply

      e. v. Empey

      May 4, 2018

      This is true. I would say though, that in clothing, certain colors like purple are not that versatile, same with yellow.
      Red goes into the warm side of the brown spectrum, and the colors, especially like burgundy or oxblood, are incredibly versatile especially in fall.

      I aimed to write an ode to green and to think of green as more than just that lime or grassy green color.

  2. Peter Zottolo
    Reply

    Peter

    May 5, 2018

    A moss linen and corduroy suit are definitely in my future closet.

    • e. v. Empey
      Reply

      e. v. Empey

      May 6, 2018

      So, a green suit for winter, and a green suit for summer? Both would be pretty nice, seeing as how moss is fairly clean and neutral. You gotta ship your fabric off to Salvo.

  3. Reply

    Caustic Man

    May 6, 2018

    Very good non-noob post. It seems to me that most write ups on “how to” wear certain colors tend to be geared toward one reader, and one reader only. The person just getting into menswear, reading prolifically, and willing to spend large sums of rent money to achieve the look he wants. This one is interesting for the rest of us, so well done on that.

    I think that certain kinds of green, particularly the pale olive type, can give very light skin tones a sickly pallor. Other than that it can be quite versatile depending on what you do with it. The temptation may be to over-do it at that point and to wear the full green suit, something you advise against. I’m not totally against a green suit (I have one myself) but that admonition does suggest that green still isn’t as versatile as blue or gray.

    • e. v. Empey
      Reply

      e. v. Empey

      May 6, 2018

      Thanks for remarks, CM. I do agree about the pale olive giving light skin tones a pallor, especially if the person has no warmth in their skin tone, which makes the person appear only that much more cool skinned. Part of this might be because in the case of blues, almost all skin tones, regardless of color temperature, are warmer than a blue, while those olive hues can suck the liveliness out of a persons face. For this reason, I prefer to stick with those dark toned olives as bottoms.

      In addition, you are correct: I do say something contradictory in the article, as I warn that a green suit can make you look like a leprechaun, especially with the rather saturated or vibrant greens. However, I will recognize, and acknowledge, that a green suit totally has its place, seeing as how colors like olive, a mossy heather and grey-green will work well in an overall suit, some visual interest. Green will never be as versatile as blue or grey, simply because someone can always get away with a suit in a normal color in the western world as a valid option for most occasions.

      Green is versatile with its large color range, seeing as it provides a lot of new options for a wardrobe when transitioning beyond the wardrobe basics.

  4. Reply

    CHIN-CHEN LEE

    May 6, 2018

    yup, purple is definitely harder, can’t really think how well it do other than grey.

    Yellow on the other hand can be ok, really pale yellow might as well be off white which is pretty versatile (for shirt). Bright yellow and mustard yellow works for sweater and “maybe “cord. On the accessories side, yellow tie always works with darker background, and I guess sometimes yellow vest.

    • e. v. Empey
      Reply

      e. v. Empey

      May 6, 2018

      That is very true about yellow. Most yellows work well with blues, and the color is common in sweaters and accessories or shirts. But I would say, you aren’t going to see a yellow jacket or suit. A cream might gravitate more toward the white spectrum than the yellow spectrum in terms of how they are treated and used use.

  5. Reply

    Carl G

    May 6, 2018

    For the last two years I have been selling more shirts with green accents. White ground green 1/4″ graph checks, and an occasional green candy stripes. Rarely solid green.
    Green and blue combinations as either checks or thin green stripe on blue.
    Hold the green fabric, shirt, or sweater up to your face before committing. Some shades might not work with your skin tone.

    • e. v. Empey
      Reply

      e. v. Empey

      May 6, 2018

      Thank you for the point about comparing the green shade to your skin tone Carl. I agree that not every green, as Caustic Man says above, works well with some skin tones since they create a sort of pallor in the face.

      But yes, most shirting options do not feature a solid green. I tend to find that with the green in patterns, oftentimes there is a blue to pair with it. Sometimes you see it with a yellow.

  6. Reply

    sssperf

    May 6, 2018

    Been totally enjoying the greens for a while now. Was taught as a youngster that blue and green never should be worn together. Well, now it is my favorite go to combo. Recently scored a decent variety of green /blue combo ties with paisley ties often combining those two with burgundy. A recent find, a green Donegal plaid(not herring bone) sport coat is a treasure that was originally sold at Harrods in London. Just having fun combining the coolness or green with the warmth of blue. Give it a go.

  7. Reply

    Raleigh Johnson

    May 15, 2018

    The trends displayed in the photos fail to provide a “pleasing to the eye” view of men’s trousers. Their finished length of men’s trousers remind me of poor kids in the “Little Rascals” kids movies (too short pants hem) to wit, if the shoes caught on fire the pants would never feel the heat. LOL
    In the 1960’s, as a sailor in the U.S. Navy I remember a number of sailors wearing their dress blue bell bottom uniform trousers with no break, in fact, highly exposing their white cotton socks. I had never seen anything as ridiculous as that. I thought, there should be a law against that error in judgement in the UCMFJ (Uniform Code Of Military Fashion Justice).

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