Casual meets Classic – The Evolution of My Wardrobe Incorporating Casual Outerwear

Wearing casual outerwear with more tailored, classic menswear has quickly become one of my favorite styles. In this article, I want to give some insights into how I built my current outerwear collection, along with what styles I plan to add in the future. I’ll also touch on some of the basic principles I use when pulling outfits together, and finally, I will provide some guidance on what items I feel pair best when incorporating casual outerwear into your wardrobe.

Building My Casual Outerwear Collection

At the beginning of 2017, I owned only two pieces of outwear: a lightweight bomber jacket for spring, and a heavier jacket for winter. I made it my mission in 2017 to focus on adding quality, casual outerwear pieces to my wardrobe. I’d first like to review the process I used when choosing these items, in addition to how I pair them with work attire.

When it comes to choosing outerwear, versatility is the name of the game for me. I have a fairly tight clothing budget so I carefully consider how much use I am likely to get out of an item before deciding to pull the trigger. When starting my outerwear search, I turned to Instagram for inspiration, searching hashtags like #styleforum, #mnswr #ptoman, as well as a few of my favorite accounts such as @stylejournaldaily, @drakesdiary, and @sartorialviking. With my research in hand, I was able to narrow down a few styles I felt could be dressed up or down with relative ease. I found myself gravitating towards field jackets, chore coats, safari jackets, and classic waxed 2 pocket jackets like the Barbour Beaufort. I quickly realized that a combo of these casual styles in staple colors would be versatile enough to wear with a ton of looks – everything from trousers and a tie during the week to jeans and a tee on weekends.

I remember first trying to find field jackets and suede bomber jackets, the latter of which I have still yet to get in my hands. I searched relentlessly through the Styleforum buy & sell section looking for anything that may fit the build. There were pieces like the Eidos “Ragosta” and suede bombers from Valstar that were perfect but out of my budget. As my search continued, about a year ago I posted a wanted ad looking for any that might be sitting in people closets not being used. When that failed, I realized that it was probably for the best considering the price point; then, I turned to eBay to see what more affordable options I could find. After stalking Luxe Swap eBay listings for weeks on end I ended up bidding on and winning a couple amazing field jackets: a navy from Brunello Cucinelli and an unlined tan cotton by Aspesi. A short while later, I added a vintage Private White VC “Squaddie” waxed wool jacket (also from eBay) and a few used Epaulet field jackets off of Grailed.

The last style I wanted to add to my wardrobe was a classic chore coat, and this one took me a few tries to get right. After trying out a few brands and having to return or sell them due to fit issues, Epaulet released their updated chore coat design called the “Doyle”. I quickly snatched up one in olive duck canvas and it became one of my favorite pieces in my closet. I have since added two more “Doyle” jackets, one in an indigo dyed cotton sashiko fabric and another in banana yellow wool.

Future Acquisitions

Looking into 2018, I do have some additional outerwear items on my wish list. These items will be ones that can further bridge the gap between casual and classic menswear as I transition to more tailored items.

A field jacket like the Eidos “Ragosta” in a navy Donegal fabric is first on my list pending budget. I’d also like to pick up a slightly more tailored piece of outerwear like a raglan topcoat or belted coat but in a casual patterned cloth, such as a herringbone or houndstooth. I will be keeping a close eye on Styleforum affiliate Spier & Mackay as they hinted at adding some patterned topcoats to their line this fall. Epaulet also took to Instagram to preview plans for an updated version of their field jacket, which I am very excited to see finalized. Lastly, I am looking forward to what Private White VC does in 2018; they sold off a lot of their current 2017 inventory, which I can only hope means big things are coming.

Putting it all Together – How to Blend Casual Outerwear and Classic Menswear

The one challenge I have found with casual outwear is that you can never really get the pieces to work all that well with suits or full formal attire – unless the former is very casual in cut and fabric. With this, I like to stick to layering casual outerwear over unstructured sport coats and textured fabrics and accessories. These are the kinds of items I have found incorporate easily into an outfit with a casual jacket: oxford shirts, flannel or cotton trousers, denim, tweed or cotton sport coats, and knit or shantung ties.

When it comes to building an outfit that includes casual outerwear, I like to start from the ground up. I first choose my trousers as I have less variety to choose from at the moment and therefore need to build my outfits around them. I have a wide variety of shirts so I typically select this piece based on my plan for layering/outerwear that day. For example, if I am planning to wear a bold cardigan I may opt for a simple white or light blue shirt. However, without the sweater, I would likely choose a striped shirt to make more of a statement. Getting comfortable pairing items in my wardrobe took practice and experimentation while I got a feel for what I liked and what would work well with my personal style. After pairing outfits like this for many months it has become second nature, which is great because a couple years ago this process could be rather daunting at times!

Finishing Touches

When choosing a tie I’ll look at my chosen shirt and cardigan, or lack of a cardigan, for guidance. My current collection of ties is quite casual, including lots of soft fabrics, knits, slubby shantung, and grenadines. From there, I will select my footwear and outerwear last. I’d like to say I have some sort of method to my madness here, but in all honesty, both items get chosen almost exclusively based on the weather that day. I’ve built a strong base of versatile items in both categories and will likely go into much more detail on my footwear collection at another time. Like other areas of my wardrobe, my footwear collection falls on the casual end of the spectrum (i.e. I do not own any balmoral shoes or anything in black). When it comes to the weather, if it’s wet or raining outside I’ll typically grab a waxed jacket like my Private White VC “Squaddie” jacket and functional footwear with rubber soles. When it’s dry out, which is about 4 months of the year in Calgary, Alberta, anything goes in my eye! As mentioned above, with my outerwear pieces being quite versatile, the last factor I consider is what piece would contrast best with my chosen trousers. My favorite casual outerwear as of late is the olive duck canvas “Doyle” jacket from Epaulet.

Why Blend Casual & Classic Pieces?

Pairing casual outerwear with classic pieces gives you a chance to experiment with textures and more saturated colors. It’s also a great way to spice up your business casual attire. Don’t be afraid to pair up some less conservative color palettes and outerwear that you may have written off as exclusively casual. If you try something similar out and are on Instagram I’d love to see – tag me (@burzanblog) in your pictures so I can check out how you guys style your casual outfits.

For more inspiration, you can browse the What Are You Wearing Today – Classic Menswear, Casual Style thread on the forum.

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Autumn Style: Odd Flannel Trousers with @Heldentenor

odd flannel trousers

A pair of odd flannel trousers is one of Styleforum’s universal recommendations, and in addition to featuring heavily in WAYWT, flannel is a staff favorite. It’s not hard to see why: it’s soft, warm, and adds lovely visual texture to any outfit, especially if you choose a fabric – as @Heldentor has – that has enough character to stand up to patterns.

Even so, my favorite part of this outfit is the fit of the sport coat. It’s not often (or ever) I see a combination that I think could be simultaneously referred to as “sharp” and “soft,” but I believe this qualifies. “Rumpled elegance” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in discussions of menswear, and when referring to tailored clothing it often seems to be used as an excuse for poor fit. In this case, however, I think it’s an apt descriptor largely due to the weight of the fabric (of both jacket and trousers) and the moderately built-up chest and shoulders of the jacket.

Note how comfortable @Heldentenor appears when seated, and how well the fabric hangs. Not only are the proportions impeccable, but the outfit is wonderfully evocative. Of course, that’s partly due to the quality of the photograph and the setting, but everything – from the crisp blue shirt to the patch pockets to the knit tie and lack of pocket square  – suggests comfort, confidence, and an absence of pretension.

This is a great example of how classics and standbys can be styled in a way that’s far from boring, and a wonderful appetizer for the fun of seasonal dress. Hats of to @Heldentenor, and to the rest us – now we now what to aim for.

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The Glorious Flannel Suit

I was eighteen when I saw a flannel suit for the first time, in a $.99 thrift store in a mini mall in Escondido.

It was a double-breasted grey-blue, with a cobalt and ice overcheck.  I was both awestruck and enamored: the fabric was soft, like my favorite sweatshirt that had been washed a million times, and yet here it was cut in Superman’s mold.  Could this be the culmination of the brightest minds in the history of textiles?  Did I finally find a comfortable suit?  Was this the ultimate endpoint in menswear?

Turns out, it was.  And still is.

Flannel didn’t always have ties with fine livery – the New York Times reports its usage as material for lowly chonies.  A little weird, maybe, but now that I think about it, I can’t imagine a more comfy fabric swathed around my loins. Unclickable encyclopedic history claims flannel was being used as far back as the 16th century, and many records point to Wales as the fabric’s birthplace, where it enjoyed a thriving woolen industry.  However, British mills were the ones to spearhead factories with machinery for the carding and spinning of wool.  Documents reveal that as early as 1620 a mill in Wellington by the name of Were and Co. was in business, trading flannel and other cloth to both sides of the English Civil War of 1642-1651.  Later, that company changed its name to Fox Brothers and Company.

Operating continuously since 1772, Fox Brothers is probably the most famous producer of flannel.  Douglas Cordeaux, who serves as Managing Director of the company, describes flannel as the stuff of true connoisseurs.  “Every contemporary menswear wardrobe needs a heavy flannel,” he says.  “It’s a collector’s cloth, for someone who has done their research.”  

Which is true: most of the “flannel” suits sold in department stores are rubbish, made with wimpy weight wool that bears little resemblance to the real deal.  “Classic weight is 12/13 ounces,” says Cordeaux.  “Although we have the Grand Cru of flannel coming in at a substantial 18/19 ounces, proper British cloth.  People often just write it off as too heavy, but actually when it’s cut well with the right balance, it drapes well and is really wearable.  Bespoke suits in this weight are elegant, relevant, and age beautifully.”

Douglas is speaking of woolen flannel, the soft, cozy, fuzzy stuff immortalized by glamorous screen actors and well-known politicians.  Images of Winston Churchill in his navy chalkstripes, the Prince of Wales in his namesake check, Fred Astaire dancing in his light trousers, and Cary Grant in the classic grey suit; all are Fox flannels.  Of the latter, Douglas notes that this is a singular shade.  “’The West of England grey flannel has a particular color, a dulled down warm vintage grey.  Instantly recognizable.”  

Flannel is also known for its “mottled” look, accomplished by using various color threads during the milling process.  This gives flannel a depth unseen in other fabrics, an alluring three-dimensional melange of hue.  This can be seen on worsted flannel, but is especially distinct on the old school woolen stuff, which is a unique fabric unto itself.  The process of making woolen fabric begins with carding, combing the wool in two directions at once with stiff brushes.  Unlike worsted fabric, where long fibers are lined up parallel to create a smooth weave, woolen fabric utilizes short fibers, resulting in a napped, fuzzy cloth – a perfect start for flannel.  Fox’s specific method, however, remains a secret.  “I’d rather keep quiet on our milling process,” Douglas deflects when asked.  “Although eight hours, soft water and a piece of wood play a part.”

Whatever the recipe, it makes something you have to wear something you want to wear. And that is why flannel is the best fabric for a suit.

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5 Rules to Dress Like an Italian

Before moving to the US a few years ago, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what Italian style really was. I’ve lived all my life surrounded by people with different tastes in fashion, but I never fully realized the impact of Italian culture in the choice of our  garments.

This is valid for womenswear as much as for menswear; I still get baffled when people stop me to tell me that they like my outfit or they ask my opinion on something in a store. When I go shopping with my husband and I start chatting with employees and customers, many ask me: “How can I dress to look like I’m Italian?”

Usually at that point I puff my chest and put on a big smile, and I start listing all the points that I have observed as key to “Italian Style”. Here they are. Take notes.


1. RELAX

This is a golden rule for Italians, in menswear as well as in every aspect of life: abandon stiff constructions and extra thick padded shoulders and embrace softer, looser fabrics that move with your body.

You can read this as a philosophy of life: clothes are our shell, and we want to feel comfortable in them in order to have a positive attitude towards life. Freedom of movement is the first step towards expressing yourself at the fullest. Neapolitan tailoring was born to provide an alternative to stiff English tailoring that didn’t quite suit the Italian spirit (and didn’t allow for nearly enough gesticulation).


2. DRESS DOWN YOUR FORMAL WEAR

It might sound strange, but while it is extremely difficult to dress up casual clothes, it is quite easy to dress down formal ones – and the results can be quite stunning.

In Italy, nobody wants to look too formal. There is a cultural element in this assumption as well: Italians believe that people should not take themselves too seriously, and dressing up in a homogenous way will not make anyone look any more interesting to the society.

This leads me to the next point: yes, it is possible to look elegant without wearing only formal clothes.

How? Easy: you dress down your formal clothes. As long as your clothes fit you well, you can play around with them. That’s why it’s important to invest in casualwear just as much as in formal garments: a few, nice pieces to pair with your more formal clothes will be your best allies in creating a classic (and unique) style that can be worn on any occasion. It’s not a secret that Italians love their turtlenecks – and thank God the trend has been picking up in the menswear community – but there are endless possibilities to dress down your favorite jackets and pants: polo shirts, button-downs, chinos, colorful scarves, etc.

Even easier: wear your best suit and lose the tie. Unbutton the first two buttons of the shirt and vai con Dio.

@AlessandroSquarzi is a master in stepping up his style by playing around with casual and even workwear pieces.


3. EXPERIMENT WITH COLOR

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most,” wrote John Ruskin in 1853. Of course, he was referring to colors in painting: he was trying to defend Turner’s scandalous skies, which inflamed the walls of the art galleries in London, where cloudy greys and muddy browns were the dominant colors.

Italians are not afraid of colors. In fact, we never were. Think of the vibrant landscapes of the Macchiaioli, who were Ruskin’s contemporaries, and apply that sensibility to menswear.

You’ll see every color of the rainbow walking in any boutique in Italy – whether it is just a little touch, like the stitching, or a vibrant garment that many Americans would label as a “statement” piece.

Combining color is an art – Ruskin knew that well. The wrong hue could throw the balance off and turn poetry into disaster.

Educate your eyes to appreciate colors that go beyond blue and brown, and you’ll experience the same type of sensuous pleasure a painting by Turner provides: harmony, and a tingling of the soul that will be an inspiration for the people around you.


4. LOSE THE BIRKENSTOCKS

If you see someone wearing Birkenstocks in Italy, you can be certain it is a German or American tourist. There is a sort of social stigma on Birkenstocks (and on other, similar-looking footwear) as Italians simply cannot accept them as real shoes. They might secretly wear them around the house, while gardening, but there is no way an Italian would ever show in up in public wearing a pair of Birkenstocks.

As a general rule, try not to choose comfort over style. Pick your clothes carefully, so that they are both comfortable and stylish, and keep those sweatpants in the gym bag.

If you’re looking for casual and summer footwear, I recommend espadrilles; specifically, I like these by Zabattigli, which are hand-woven in Capri. The rope keeps the soles of your feet aerated and fresh, and the sleek style is way sexier than those bulky, Teutonic, panzer-looking shoes.


5. DON’T DRESS WELL ONLY ON OCCASIONS

In Italy, people dress well because they like to. Period.

This is something that is very eradicated in me, and that people don’t understand in America. My husband still gets confused when I wear makeup and a nice dress to go buy groceries.

“Why do you dress up like that? We’re going to Ralph’s.”

“Because I like it,” I reply every time, as I spray my most expensive cologne extensively on my neck.

There is a crucial distinction between being well-dressed and being overdressed. Obviously, I would look ridiculous wearing a cocktail dress in a grocery store; but a nice dress, why not? The same goes for men: nobody is saying you should wear your top hat to go to the movies, but a nice blazer and a few, carefully picked accessories will make you stand out for your elegance without looking out of place.

To everyone worrying about what people will think of your choice of clothes, I say: if you are the only one well-dressed person in the room, you shouldn’t be the one feeling embarrassed. Rather, all the others should be the ones feeling shabby and looking up to you.

Occasions shouldn’t make the man. We are better than the sum of social boundaries we are submitted to, and clothes are a way to let our personality spark any time of the day, any day of our lives. Why waste an opportunity to do so, and let trivial actions get in the way?


You might have figured at this point that the Italian Style is much more about attitude than it is about clothes. I’ve read many articles on the Internet that teach you how to “dress like an Italian,” and I think they all missed the point.

There are really no rules when it comes to expressing yourself, and even an extravagant flair can be turned into a jaw-dropping detail that will step up your game. This is the secret of the Italian Style: as long as you like what you wear, and you’re confident enough to pull it off, you’ll be fine.

@AriannaReggio

Erik Mannby’s 10 Rules of Style

Erik is one of Styleforum’s best-known and best-dressed members, and you may recognize him from our Pitti Uomo coverage. Here, he breaks down his top ten sartorial rules.


 

 

  1. Always use the four in hand knot.

    I’ve noticed that the false notion of the Windsor knot being more formal still lives on in some lines of business. Here in Sweden it’s especially favored by real estate brokers for some reason. I guess the idea that it’s named after royalty and the fact of its symmetry fool some people. The four in hand is the only knot you ever need to learn. If you need a bigger knot, you can easily just wrap it into a double four in hand. The slight asymmetry is what gives it personality. Also, don’t forget the dimple underneath the knot. Fact is that the duke of Windsor, who the Windsor knot is named after, only used the four in hand knot, but with a thicker lining, thus making it appear slightly more bulky.
  2. Be comfortable.This is the key to looking good. Make sure your clothes fit you well enough to give you freedom of movement. For me this means that I wear trousers with a higher waist. The comfort level this grants has made me completely forgo all dress trousers that don’t reach my natural waist. Also, I wear all my garments cut generously enough to never restrict me. For me, a suit should always be comfortable enough to not be noticed when worn.
  3. Invest in good hats & caps.Relating back to the last point, this is about comfort to me. In the summer time a Panama hat is excellent protection against the sun, and in winter a hat or cap will keep your head warmer. Also, a proper hat generally looks better with tailored clothing than a regular beanie.
  4. Know yourself.This is more important than getting to know any “menswear rules”. This will also relate back to the point about being comfortable. This is what makes you LOOK comfortable. Your way of dressing usually looks its best when it reflects who you are. I see a lot of people wearing what they’ve seen influential or famous people wearing, and it just looks off. Are you a casual or formal person? Do you love colours or different shades of grey? Do you like vintage wear or sprezz, or both? Do you wear suits for work or for your own pleasure? You make up the questions that are relevant to your idea of style. What I’m trying to say is: “You do you”.
  5. Know the history of your garments.Once again, these are MY rules. I generally like to know what the history is behind a certain garment or design trait. I can then chose to wear it with what it was originally meant to be worn with, or if I feel it’s too anachronistic or pointless, completely discard the original rules of wearing it and choose a way that seems more reasonable.

  6. Get to know your colours.Colours can be tricky. There is plenty written on this subject, so I’d suggest you Google this if you want to learn everything about colour wheels – or read Peter’s article on color. I usually visualize colour combinations that I think would be interesting and then try them out in actual outfits. Now, since I am my own boss, I don’t need to care for dress codes, which obviously gives me a greater freedom of messing about with this. If you want some good tips, I’d suggest also looking at old apparel art, as there are usually some really interesting colour combinations to be found.
  7. Contrasts, high or low – do it consistently.Some people prefer high contrast outfits, while other like medium- to low contrast. Personally I love the whole spectrum. A good idea is to do it consistently, though. If you have a low contrast between trousers and jacket, it can look off beat to throw in a pair of shoes in a completely different shade.
  8. Mix your patterns according to size.I make exceptions to almost all of my “rules”, but this is a constant. It just never looks good wearing several garments/accessories that are in close proximity to each other, in a pattern that’s roughly the same size. It creates a disharmony in the total composition that isn’t very appealing. You can stay safe by only wearing one patterned garment, or let the patterns be big/small enough not to get confused with each other. Again, Peter has written a good primer on this subject.
  9. Vintage, budget, premium? Who cares? Aesthetic is king.To me, the end result trumps whatever brand/maker you’re wearing. Of course, crap quality clothes should always be shunned. Today, you can find some of the finest quality clothes available in vintage stores, and a lot of brands offer a great quality/price ratio. I mix and match personally. One of my favorite jackets is a vintage M51 field jacket, I’ll wear it with premium priced clothes, but it still works in my opinion, just because I have a consistent idea of what aesthetics I strive for.
  10. Learn the fundamentals, then wear it as you like.Read Flusser, Roetzel, and other menswear writers. Their books will give you a good idea about some of the conventions that influence how menswear is conceived and worn today. At the same time, be aware that they are just that: conventions. There really are very few “rules” to menswear. Look at it historically and you will see that these ideas change drastically over time. The modern suit is quite young, and when introduced to the masses were considered unorthodox and therefore free to experiment with as on chooses. Now, of course, conventions have set in, and people love to beat each other over the head with this set of conventions that they believe are actual rules. Know what’s what and you’ll be more free to wear it as you see fit.

Erik is co-founder of EFV Clothing. You can find him on Instagram at @ErikMannby.

Member Focus: Claghorn

Claghorn is another Styleforum member who plies his trade in the Classic Menswear “What Are You Wearing” thread. He’s known for pleasing combinations of solid colors that are sober without being boring. Add to that some very solid selfie skills, and you have a recipe for a much-beloved poster.


I joined Styleforum in the fall of 2012. I was 26 and had just left a very conservative office job in Seoul, South Korea. There I had to stick with a pretty strict uniform: gray, blue, or black suit, white shirt, and a necktie. I don’t think my wardrobe was particularly interesting: the suits were all Hugo Boss or brands along that line. I did have a number of ties, mostly from Thomas Pink, that I really liked, and after moving to a job that didn’t require a suit, I wanted to learn how to wear a tie with odd jackets. I really didn’t have a clue where to begin, so I registered on Styleforum.

Though my colleagues and friends were fluent in English, I was feeling out of touch with my language and my culture. As (questionably) useful as the information on SF was, I think what really drew me to the forum was the opportunity to interact with Westerners more regularly, even if it was through a virtual medium. Nevertheless, it was also through Styleforum that my sense of style developed. Where else but the internet would this occur? I didn’t want to dress like a Korean salaryman anymore, and “My dad taught me everything I knew about clothing” wasn’t going to work for me: he’s a solar physicist and dresses as I suspect most people imagine solar physicists dress.

For the first few months, I sort of blindly fumbled around, trying to figure out what spoke to me. At one point, I thought I liked loud jackets. I didn’t. I wasted a lot of money. It took probably a year for me to really figure out what I wanted to look like in terms of what I wore. The result is one that I am happy with, but I have also seen it called boring a derivative. I own a lot of blue jackets of varying colors, textures, and fabrics, because I like blue jackets. I own a lot of brown ties because I like brown ties. I am happiest in a blue jacket, a brown tie, and gray wool pants. There was once a “Dress like Claghorn” Friday challenge [Editor’s note: Claghorn did not win the Claghorn challenge], and I think that most, if not all, the participants played on some variation of that theme. My Instagram handle is @bluebrownandgrey.

Of course I don’t only wear blue jackets. Or brown ties. Just over half my wardrobe is made up of jackets and suits that aren’t blue, and though I probably wear brown ties more often than any other color, I wear green and blue ties pretty regularly. But I am pleased to be associated with that combination. It is simple and pleasing. When I go back and look at many of the images I saved as exemplars in my early days on Styleforum, they are just that: simple and pleasing.

 

 

 

 

Pairing Colors in Menswear

Most guys like color, but are afraid to add more than one to their ensemble for fear of making mistakes. This is laudable: better to play it safe and look possibly boring but overall pleasing than to reveal one’s ignorance. Indeed, the clueless color-lovers are often the worst offenders and blithely walk out the door looking like a clown exploded on them.

To help you embrace colors in menswear, I have a quick primer to share:

ANALOGOUS COLORS: these are next to each other on the wheel. The easiest for those who are just starting to dip their toes into the waters of tint. The least contrast, the most innocuous, if a bit unexciting. Good for impressing your mother-in-law. 

TRIAD COLORS: equidistant from one another on the wheel, e.g. blue/yellow/red. Triads are engaging, appealing. 

COMPLEMENTARY COLORS: opposite on the color wheel. Striking, compelling – if done well. Proceed with caution. 

colors in menswear

One last note: keep it muted. See the outside of the color wheel? Darker shades can add interest without overwhelming the eyes and maintain your outfit’s sobriety. You could do brighter hues and reap rich rewards, but at greater risk of looking, well, silly. Save those colors as accents for casual warm-weather rigs in cotton, silk, or linen. 

Now that the basics of color are understood, contrast can be introduced. To wit, a simple graphic: 

colors in menswear

The above picture shows varying degrees of color contrast, starting with the highest on top and ending with the lowest on the bottom. 

The top example of yellow and blue contrasts in two ways: they are triadic primary colors (equidistant on the color wheel) and they differ greatly in luminance. The yellow is quite bright, while the blue is dark. 

The second example, a kelly green and fuchsia, are color wheel opposites but have the same luminance. They do contrast, but less so than the first example. 

Next we have the analogous colors of red and orange. Since they are so close to each other, the contrast is low. Lower still is the final example – two of the same color, with one just slightly lighter than the other. 

How does this translate when wearing coat & tie? Generally speaking, as the contrast of an ensemble increases, so does the degree of difficulty of pulling it off well. Note the following examples.


Low Contrast

colors in menswear

Here we see Ethan showcasing what may be the most elementary color combination of them all: one. 

Why does it work? Simple: it is low-contrast epitomized. What makes this ordinary ensemble rise to extraordinary are noteworthy (cut, fabric, and texture), but for the moment just know that this ensemble can easily be emulated. You already have a navy worsted suit and navy grenadine tie (if not, you should; they are basics). Add a white shirt for more formal occasions or a light blue/light navy shirt for a more casual look. In the latter instance, be sure that the shirt contrasts at least a bit with your tie (you don’t want it to disappear). Either way you have an easy monochrome look that sits well in most occasions. The navy palette is pleasing, the colors cool.


Mid-low Contrast

colors in menswear

Armourer Jeff snapped a shot of his colleague Nick in an outfit that utilizes both high and low contrast, striking a serene balance between the two. 

The light grey suit provides a blank canvas accommodating any color combination (as well as black and white, for that matter). Here we have the tertiary tints of blue and yellow, which are about as far apart as you can get in luminance. However, they have been muted – the yellow mellowed, the blue brightened – so that the contrast is less severe, but not at all boring. This can be a difficult look to put together, but when executed well the mid-contrast ensemble is charming, attractive, and delightful. 


Mid-High Contrast

colors in menswear

Here, lnsee demonstrates what is by far the easiest look to pull off: mid-grey suit, light shirt, dark tie. This is an ensemble that men should thoughtlessly reach for when a situation calls for coat and tie. It is always, reliably, appropriate.

Alan chose the analogous colors of blue and green to accessorize, with a dash of the neutral color brown (which goes with practically everything, since it is essentially a mix of primary colors). The little peek of red in the pocket square adds even more contrast, but not so much that it calls attention to itself. Overall the hues are muted, giving the outfit a creative but quiet elegance.


High Contrast

colors in menswear

This is my favorite picture of Mark from The Armoury. This is pretty much as high a contrast as one can get, both in color and in luminance, and it looks great.

The odd jacket, of course, is the focal point. It is not, though, the only thing one sees. Mark makes good use of the vibrant plaid as a fulcrum; most of the rest of his outfit is either lighter (the shirt) or darker (the tie and trousers). Having red, yellow, blue, and green present is almost inviting a color clash of some sort, but instead we have all of them playing in harmonious, lively concert. It is a wonderful sight to see.

Note also the contrast between top and bottom. Darker brown shoes could have been chosen, but the look would seem too bottom heavy. The lighter snuff suede loafers not only provide contrast with the trousers, but in echoing the bright jacket, provide balance.

What does contrast mean?

Clothes speak in our behalf, telling the observer how we wish to be seen. In menswear, this has a variety of implications. You may wish (or need) to fit in, limiting your choices. In this instance, the combination of a mid-to-dark suit, light shirt, and dark tie is unimpeachable; Alan’s mid-high color contrast ensemble would fit in perfectly. 

Monochromatic looks such as Ethan’s are best in navy or grey and are a tasteful option for both day and night. In the absence of color contrast, try mixing textures instead, as he does.

Mid-low contrast, especially in lighter colors, is usually seen in more casual settings and are well at home there. Nick’s outfit is unceremonious, relaxed, approachable.

Mark’s high contrast look is all fun, for so many reasons. And when the occasion calls for it, shouldn’t that be what dressing is for, anyway?

Photo credit: ethandesu and jhilla

Member Focus: An Acute Style

In this new series, we ask Styleforum members to tell us what sparked their interest in fashion, and how they found their way to Styleforum. An Acute Style is a regular fixture in Classic Menswear’s “What Are You Wearing” and “Casual Style” threads. He’s known for his unique, sometimes experimental take on Ivy and Prep style, and excels at injecting color, pattern, and texture into everyday outfits. 


Four major events have moved me along the sartorial journey.  First, I started teaching high school right out of undergraduate.  I was 22 and my students were 18.  I wanted to do something to differentiate myself from them so I grew a mustache and started wearing a tie to work.  On the occasions I didn’t wear a tie, the security guards would summarily mistake me for a student, requesting that I present ID to gain entrance to my job.  I made the shirt and tie a standard to cut down on the embarrassment.    

Next, my girlfriend (later wife) at the time recommended I look into British shirting, a tip from one of her coworkers.  TM Lewin changed the game for me.  Well priced, slim fit shirts with great collars and patterns at affordable prices.  Sign me up.

Then, my wife start a personal style blog.  As I helped her with her site, my style began to develop as well.  I started my own blog on Tumblr soon after.  Through Tumblr, I was first introduced to the #menswear community.  I slowly took my place in it, adding new brands, sport coats, and pocket squares to my mix.  I was also introduced to the world of thrifting.  I still wasn’t earning bespoke money, so looking fly on a dime was important to me.

Lastly, my blog was growing in popularity, but I wasn’t getting much feedback on how to improve my style.  I heard a few people mention this thing called Style Forum so I figured I should check it out.  I’m so glad I did.  The WAYWRN thread is one of the few places I’ve found on the internet to get honest and constructive feedback about classic men’s clothing.  I’ve seen so many people come through the thread and make huge progress after just a few months.  People pay good money for the service that the WAYRWRN thread provides for free.

It’s been a pleasure being a part of the SF community.  I try to help out and give advice in the same way that I was helped when I first joined.  I hope one day, a former student of mine will stumble on to SF and I can help him prepare for his new job.  That would bring things full circle.


an acute styleStandard work attire circa 2010.  Bright colors, pattern mixing and no sport coat.    

an acute style

an acute style

an acute style

an acute style

an acute style

My first post on SF May 20, 2013.  I tried to keep it tame for my first showing.  

 

an acute style

October 5, 2015.  A more recent outfit after getting lots of feedback on SF. 

Building a Wardrobe: The Brown Blazer

The brown blazer is one of the most simultaneously well-known and unknown wardrobe foundations. Well-known amongst those who know, and unknown amongst those who don’t. As you start putting together a tailored wardrobe, you’ll read thousands of articles and have hordes of people telling you that the one thing you must buy, the one thing without which no man’s life is complete, is a navy blazer. I disagree. Unless you are intent on cultivating an Ivy wardrobe, a navy blazer is no more a “necessity” than a pair of penny loafers. Allow me to suggest a brown blazer instead. Here’s why:

Although the above gallery illustrates my points for me, I will write them out here for the sake of completion. Fundamentally, while a navy blazer is undeniably a wardrobe staple, the brown blazer shines in all the same ways a navy blazer does, but has the edge in a few areas:

  1. A brown blazer can be worn with navy trousers. Seriously, this is so important. Navy is a fantastic color for trousers, and if you’re stuck with a closet full of navy blazers you might be straight SOL. But navy trousers open up a world of fantastic possibility, and in my opinion a navy trouser with a brown jacket on top looks far superior to a brown trouser with a navy jacket on top.
  2. A brown blazer often looks better with jeans than a navy blazer. While not always true, this is worth considering. Especially since, if you are really building a wardrobe, you probably want a jacket that you can wear with denim. After all, you already have a suit for interviews – right?
  3. A brown blazer looks better with grey trousers than a navy blazer. Well, that’s certainly subjective, and you’re free to disagree. However, I do think that a blue blazer and grey trousers can make the wearer look a bit like a security guard, and a brown blazer certainly doesn’t have this connotation. In any case, it will look just as good as a navy blazer.
  4. Finally, a brown blazer will make you look like you know what you’re doing. Any high schooler can put on a navy blazer for “special occasions,” but graduating to a brown variant suggests that you’ve put thought into your wardrobe choices – and putting thought into your wardrobe is the foundation of personal style, regardless of the direction you take. You’ll stand out, in a good way.

See where I’m going with this? A brown blazer fulfills all the necessary duties of its navy sibling, but does even more for the wearer. If I haven’t been able to convince you, take a look at this thread, or this one, both full of some of Styleforum’s best-dressed members, and count the number of brown blazers you see.

This is by no means to suggest that a navy blazer is a bad choice or poor investment – quite the contrary. However, if you are just starting out on your clothing journey, a brown blazer may well give you more versatility than a navy blazer. And if you’re a seasoned Classic Menswear veteran who’s looking to branch out – well, at the very least a brown blazer will keep you from winding up with a closet filled entirely with navy jackets.