Fashion, yes, and fit isn't that bad. But fails on colour

Last week I wrote a column about buying designer clothes. Its message was that you should buy designer for design, and recognise that is what you are paying for. Not branding, quality or anything else. They come after – if you’re going to pay designer prices, it should be because you consider the design unique and particularly attractive. It’s hard then to put a price on aesthetics.

This column relates to a similar series of factors, but argues that when you are deciding whether clothes suit you the priority should be fit, followed by colour, with style coming in third.

In fact it was an old saying someone passed on to me years ago – when you’re buying a piece of clothing only buy it if it fits well. Then consider whether the colour suits you. And only last consider whether it is fashionable/stylish/inspiring.

It’s a piece of advice that is hard to disagree with, but also hard to stick to.

A piece of clothing flatters you most when it fits you well. The classic silhouette of a suit is classic because it flatters a man more than almost anything else. Even women that eschew formal wear – and therefore suits – for their men, find they prefer t-shirts, jeans, sweaters that fit well. If a t-shirt is skin-tight, has no waist or has a collar that covers your Adam’s apple, it will look unattractive.

If something fits you badly it is always the first thing anyone notices. Colour and style will be ignored, will be blinded if your suit jacket strains against your mid-riff, tell-tale lines radiating from the waist button.

Colour, next, can smother style. (It’s a little like paper-rock-scissors this, except that style doesn’t trump fit – you’d be an idiot to pick style.) No matter how stylish the cut of that orange shirt, anyone’s first reaction will be revulsion. Conversely, there’s a good chance they will notice if it fits you perfectly.

There are as many points of advice on colour as there are on fit – bright colours with black look cheap; brown rather than black with blue; reds and greens for those with ruddy complexions; stronger colours for those with darker skin; white makes you look tanned unless you are already too white. These are fairly instinctive but take some deliberate thought; after analysing the fit that is.

A good maxim, but as I said one hard to stick by. I can’t count the clothes I have that were not bought with fit in mind. Or where fit was ignored.

Colour is subtler but gnaws at you. Unsuitable shades create vague irritation rather than specific frustration. I have a bright yellow, unlined summer jacket that I love. It fits well and it looks well, particularly with striped shirts. But really the yellow is too bright, it should be more of a tan. That knowledge gnaws at me. If it didn’t fit, I’d have it altered or get rid of it. If I didn’t think it stylish any more, I’d get rid of it without a thought. But colour is a difficult one.

So this triplet is certainly worth bearing in mind. Fit, colour, then style. And once you’ve decided it suits you, you can turn to design/quality/branding to decide whether it’s worth the money.