“Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can play weird– that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple complicated is commonplace–making the complicated simple, awesomely simple–that’s creativity.” – Charles Mingus
In today’s post-slacker world, just wearing coat and tie is enough to turn heads in many environments. Sadly, in response to the incessant thundering appeal to “stand out,” men are blindly throwing together so many unrelated #menswear trends and patterns under the misguided siren call to “be original” that the resulting stew of glen plaids, gingham checks, candy stripes, and polka dots would make even Andrea Bocelli vomit.
If that’s what you’re shooting for, more power to you; but do not delude yourself into thinking a random salmagundi of patterns is an expression of your creativity. Many confuse “individuality” with “creativity”, but there is a difference: the aim of individuality is to be “different” by bucking convention. The genius of creativity is taking something complex and making it appear simple.
Charles Mingus released one of his best-known albums, Ah Um, the same year that Miles Davis released Kind of Blue. Both, now over 50 years old, are premier examples of how complexity can be done well. Indeed, despite the fact that up to six instruments played a part in each song, note the recurring concept that keeps appearing in critics’ reviews:
“Simplicity – the reason Kind of Blue has remained so successful for so long.” – npr.org
“…one of the many amazing things about Mingus Ah Um is that he took this incredibly challenging jazz, in perhaps its creative heyday, and made it as easy as pop music.” – Bob Lange
“All of the contributions…only served to illuminate Miles’ zen-like approach on this record that relied on simplicity.” – allaboutjazz.com
This concept was by no means new. Over 100 years earlier, none other than Chopin himself opined: “Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”
Can this concept be applied to #menswear? Yes, it can, in two ways: One instrument at a time; or if many, they must harmonize.
One pattern is easy – choose one and keep the rest solid. Non si può sbagliare.
If more than one pattern, the scale of each must harmonize via contrast. Think of it this way: The items that are closest to each other should be dissimilar in scale; your ensemble should not look too busy. If your jacket has a large pattern, the shirt’s pattern should be smaller. If the shirt’s pattern is small, the tie’s pattern should be large. If you decide to wear a pocket square, its scale should differ from the jacket.
In the first example, Mark Cho wears a suit with a large pattern, while his tie has a small pattern. Same with the second picture – large windowpane suit, small scale “neat” tie. The third example showcases the reverse: small scale gunclub jacket paired with a tie that has stripes spaced far apart.
Three patterns can be done relatively easily: anchor your ensemble with a solid suit, make the shirt and tie in differing scales, and throw in a patterned pocket square. The first two pictures demonstrate this well.
Once you throw in a patterned jacket things can get tricky, but the following photos demonstrate how it can be done. In the first, Ethan is wearing a gunclub jacket (small repeated scale), a neat tie (in a slightly larger scale with more space in between the print), and a square with a large scale, dissimilar to the jacket. The next picture has Jake in a pinstripe jacket with quite a bit of space, a tie with less space, and a shirt with closely spaced stripes.
Not impossible, but the risks of appearing fastidiously studied or a chaotic cacophony should give one pause. Simply changing the scale can have too many lines crossing every which way in a dizzying mess. To limit this effect, try introducing shapes and prints into your accessories, such as a medallion tie or paisley square.
Note that in all cases, the colors are not garish. If one pattern stands out more than the other, it is not so disparate as to look either out of place or forced. Whether simple or complex, everything should just…flow easily. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of allmusic.com sums it up by saying: “Kind of Blue works on many different levels. It can be played as background music, yet it amply rewards close listening. It is advanced music that is extraordinarily enjoyable.”
Standing out is easy; just wear red shoelaces. Don’t just be different. Be creative by making the complicated simple. Make Mingus proud.