Formal dress is built on a very simple colour palette, which was initiated by the regency dandy Beau Brummel. Despite its use today, the original meaning of the word ‘dandy’ was one who was fastidious about his appearance but with the intention of producing perfect simplicity. So his palette was modest: blue, white, occasionally buff, and black for accessories.
Beau’s intention was to strip away the decoration and peacock colour of court dress in order to focus on fit and line. His trousers were very tight. His jacket was fitted. Both were unusual in a period where clothing was more commonly draped over a man than cut close to it. His neck cloth, while voluminous and rippling, was painstakingly arranged and spotlessly white. Beau is responsible for the colours of a modern lounge suit and his philosophy is therefore worth remembering: simplicity in cloth, perfection in arrangement.
I begin this piece with an explanation of Beau Brummel and his palette because a modern man should bear them in mind when assembling his suit and accompaniments for the day. Navy and grey are the starting points for a suit. White, and then blue, are for a shirt. As a first step, pick a blue or grey tie – whichever you haven’t used in the suit. Any pattern is acceptable if the shirt is plain; if it is patterned, just keep its scale and that of the tie far apart. Right, we’re halfway there.
Now simple patterns and textures. A stripe in the suit, for example, or a larger weave in the tie. Get to know the glen check for a suit; learn to differentiate between nail head and bird’s eye. Vary ties with foulard prints and Oxford weaves. Perhaps most important of all, invest in clothes that fit rather than simply more clothes. Get your suits and your shirts made to measure. If you can afford it, cough up for bespoke. Remember Beau: simplicity and fit are the foundations of elegance.
These basic colours – navy, blue, white and grey – will provide you with a myriad of different outfits. And when you start to introduce more colour, primarily in the accessories, these should always remain the base of any work attire. Colour, then, in the tie primarily. Shirts can be coloured, but other than an occasional pink they rarely look better than the blue they replace, just different. The colour of ties should be dark, with similar guidelines on pattern as above – so bottle green club stripes, purple spots and wine-red foulard prints.
[Incidentally, I was very disappointed to see that a so-called guide to shirts and ties produced by GQ in its iPhone app suggested men match the colours. That was recommendation number one. And it was illustrated with a pink tie on a pink shirt. The heart sinks. You don’t match your shirt and your suits, at least in the office, so why on earth would you do it with a shirt and tie?]
But I digress. Remember Beau and keep your colours simple.