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Practical Thoughts on Coherent Combinations for Beginners

post #1 of 17
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post #2 of 17
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Here we go.

A. Practical Thoughts on Coherent Combinations for Beginners: Introduction

In this thread, we will examine largely undiscussed approaches to organizing the process of selecting elements that compose coat-and-tie ensembles that have a coherent look.

By "coherent," I mean an ensemble, an outfit, a "fit," in which the component elements relate to each other most successfully, as if they all belong together.

The much-discussed approaches to organizing this selection process are:

  • Color Coordination
  • Pattern and Texture Coordination
  • Contrast Combination

To some extent, these are favored for discussion since they seem somewhat objective or even pseudo-scientific, giving apparent freedom from the weight of culture and tradition. Here is the apex symbol of these discussions, the color wheel:


These three aspects of putting together a look are important, but I will not discuss them here except incidentally. Why? There is useful material on those subjects already.

Instead, in this thread, I will talk about practical approaches that are little discussed.

We will start out with two, and then go from there as the thread continues:

  • Navigate all elements of each “fit” to one point in the path from country to city.
  • Keep elements of each “fit” within (a) the same aesthetic and (b) within the same level of quality.

I will use examples from photographs posted voluntarily by members on SF. If any of the original posters would prefer that I not, simply send me a PM and I will substitute another image.

I do not plan on answering any questions, offering clarifications, or engaging in discussion in this thread. Neither will I "critique fits." You can send me a private message, if you wish, but I am hopeful that the thread itself will be clear enough.

Let's set a few things up generally for this thread before we examine these first two practical approaches.

Edited by F. Corbera - Today at 6:41 am
post #3 of 17
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B. What is a beginner?

There is a wide variety of material in books, in magazines, and in various online media that aim to “guide” the “beginner” who is “starting out” to “dress” in a more “formal” manner. There is no shortage of “advice.” Perhaps there is even too much of it.


The pace of the medium self-selects the bias of the advice. Books will tend toward a profession of classicism; magazines will aim toward the au courant; and what’s online will range from the chaotic (most) to the superb (a few.)


But, what is a “beginner?” The term itself implies a progression or at least a potential development, a concept itself which is a little odd to me. Rather than explore this thought, I will simply define “beginner” as a person who takes the time to register on an online forum, such as this one, to ask either or both of the following questions:

  • “What should I wear?”
  • “Why should I wear it?”

These are two separate questions and not every beginner asks both. In fact, it is quite possible to dress better than most by asking and stopping with the first question.


These are not new questions. What seems to be new, at least to me, is that they asked by men who seem to have no one to whom they can address the questions personally. They are often asked by men who did not grow up with learning how to dress in coat and tie, and who seem to have not a soul in their personal, social, professional, or even retail lives who can counsel them (or if there are such people, they are people who are not trusted.) This raises the potential paradox that even if good advice is found on a clothing forum, how does one test out whether it works? Well, it seems, you ask the forum again..."How did I do, guys?"…a circular arrangement if there ever was one.


Nearly all of the good books discussing wearing “classic” tailored clothes presume an existing basic exposure and personal experience with coat and tie. This is because to assume otherwise is rather alien to the generation of men who wrote (or write) such books, even ones that continue to be published today. Those fwockers are old…guess their age and add twenty, thirty, forty years. In fact, the best books themselves are old.


What to do?

If you do not like my definition of a “beginner,” then feel free to substitute the following: you are a beginner if you think that you are and you present yourself as one while seeking suggestions on how to dress.


Edited by F. Corbera - 2/14/12 at 2:43pm
post #4 of 17
Thread Starter 
C. Discordancy or Harmony?

We should get a philosophical issue out of the way before the rest of this thread continues.

Do you aim for a discordant look? Chaos? Does the look of WTF please you? Waiters smashing into each other, mouths agape? Dogs issuing shrill yowls?

Discordancy as an aesthetic objective is very modern. Those who want it can be thankful that is so easy to achieve. There is absolutely no science or art to it at all. That is the point. It is visceral. It is child’s play.

Play your guitar in Times Square in your tighty whities. In fact, play your guitar out of tune. You’re in prison? No problem, don’t let the uniform stop you: tattoo something on your forward, or better, gouge it in. Something that will piss off someone else.

You’ve done it! You’re somebody! Finally!

Don’t get me wrong, the ease of discordancy does not make it illegitimate or dishonest. It is one way of doing things.

As a beginner at coat and tie, however, you would be wise to decide if you are such a person or not. If you are, participating in the Mens Clothing subforum of Style Forum is a weak-ass way of getting good at it. You’re a maniac and you’re asking strangers about interview suits? Come on.

Perhaps you do not seek discordancy itself, but the desire to “stand out” from the “crowd.” You know, just a touch of crazy. Just a tad, just a little, discordant. A “twist” on the traditional.

But, what if it is the crowd that is touch crazy, just a tad, just little, discordant?

This is the paradox for the self-expressionist: standing out is simple. It is doing it distinctively well that is unlikely...and by definition; it can only be a game of the few. As a beginner, are you one of those few? Maybe someday, but now? The test of that distinctiveness is not the very people (other forum members, in the case of this thread) who provide the enabling suggestion: “Where is your pocket square? It would really help that fit ‘pop.’”

Where, indeed?

Is there an alternative for the beginner? Perhaps.

How about harmony?

That coat that you are trying to put so smoothly on your back, that tie that you are trying to loop so softly around your neck, are part of a set of traditions valuing belonging, order, and respect. Belonging, order, and respect can, unfortunately, be conformity, ossification, and servility…but, they don’t have to be.

In the next post, we will use a well-known member of SF as an example to help you think about this, and then (finally!) we will talk about the first two practical thoughts on coherent combinations for beginners.


Edited by F. Corbera - 2/14/12 at 11:23am
post #5 of 17
Thread Starter 
D. Are You a Dandy?

We continue with the final preliminary post before going on to some concrete, practical considerations for wearing coherent coat and tie combinations.

In my last post, I opposed discordancy in such combinations with harmony. Most abstractions have fuzzy boundaries when applied to reality. The opposition that I proposed is no different. As a beginner in the coat and tie world, however, you really can benefit from coming to the earliest possible understanding on which side you fall.

We can make things a bit more concrete by looking at a specific example, in this case, the famous and once-active Style Forum member, Jeffrey Ying (LabelKing.)

LK started posting here and elsewhere as a teenager many years ago. It is next to impossible to find any post that he made that does not have something interesting, insightful, or humorous about it.

Here he is about four years ago at a Style Forum "meet-up" when the overall atmosphere here was more convivial:


Study the photograph carefully. Think about your own reaction to it.

Here is LK more recently, reflecting a period in which his interests and perspective on style formed a persona intersecting the world of the fashion business and fashion personalities:


Study the photograph carefully. Think about your own reaction to it. Let's hear the more recent LK speak:

Now, by opposing the two photographs, I do not mean to imply any change over time in what LK likes, or that he dressed one way at one time and another at a later time. His specifics are not important to this thread.

But, as a beginner in the coat and tie world, where do you fall? Make up your mind, at least to the extent that allows you to pick a jacket, a suit, a shirt, a tie, and have them all look like they belong together. You must make a decision before you can be good at doing either: discordancy or harmony.

This premise will not be popular on this forum. The vast majority of you seem deluded into believing that you will look good by over-laying, festooning, "twisting," something "boring" (you think) with a bit of something "interesting," something with "personality," something that "sets you apart." Nothing could be further from the truth. You are diluting, you are marring, you are sinking into a type of mediocrity, of conformity, in coat and tie dress that is little different than the low-cost, mass-merchandized world from which most of you are trying to escape.

If you really are a dandy, an iconoclast, you can only be successful at it by committing full LabelKing does. If you hold back, then all you are doing is dressing weakly. You are unlikely to be good, and you will never be excellent.
post #6 of 17
Thread Starter 
E.1. Principle 1: Navigate all elements of each “fit” to one point in the path from country to city.

In the preceding posts in this thread, I suggested that “beginners” thoughtfully consider whether the effect that they wish to produce with their coat and tie ensembles is discordancy or harmony. I made the case that discordancy in tailored dress was nothing special, being so easy to achieve.

Do not be fooled that there are some men who do well with this approach: as a beginner, you are not one of them. In fact, most of you who do not consider yourselves beginners are not one of them either.

We now look at specific, practical approaches beyond those typically discussed to putting together “fits” that can improve the chances of success for beginners who want to look harmonious in coat and tie. The presumption going forward is that you want to look harmonious if you can.

You have already looked into the basics, which are:

  • Color Coordination
  • Pattern and Texture Coordination
  • Contrast Combination

Great. Are you done? No, you are not.

Not only is it possible to yet put together a discordant ensemble even while successfully addressing those three basic elements, on Style Forum and in the wider world, it is almost a certainty that the “fit” will still have considerable failure points.

So: what are some other practical considerations?

What we will discuss now and further into this thread are not “rules.” Think of them, instead, as approaches to organizing choices, whether those choices are what you buy or what you specifically select to go together each day.

Here is the first one.

Navigate all elements of each “fit” to one point in the path from country to city.


From the day that the sober, woolen clothes of the Englishman in the country became the standard of gentlemanly dress throughout the West, there has been a steady, unrelenting migration of country dress into the city. If the phrase “country to city” feels too antiquarian to you, feel free to substitute “casual to formal” or “private to public.” Today, the diffusion of country/casual/private into city/formal/public seems nearly complete.

But is it?

You have already answered this question for yourself by deciding to dress in coat and tie for at least part of your life. And whether by occasion, profession, or inclination, tailored clothes and the tailored look are very much still alive, although perhaps not in ascendency.

This means something very practical for you as a beginner. There still is a graduation of country to city, of casual to formal, of private to public.

Understanding this graduation can help you look better.

Here is one of the hoariest Internet clothing memes, the “Losse” Chart of Correct Dress for All Occasions (click for larger size):


Don’t worry, I am not suggesting that you follow the chart and go into full-scale historical re-enactment in how you dress. But, do look at the chart and think about it.

You share a kinship with the original readers of this chart. Generally speaking, such charts, and the books and magazines that contained this type of information, were addressed to the aspirational man. Aristocrats and swells already knew how to dress. If you think of yourself as a “beginner,” you are inherently aspirational as well, if not socially then at least aesthetically.

Rather than the specifics of the Losse chart, what I suggest that you consider from it is a very simple but practical concept: that there are “bands” of formality and that within each, certain things go together that are independent of the basics of color coordination, pattern and texture coordination, and contrast combination.

We will look at specific examples from Style Forum members and others in the next set of posts to see how this concept can be useful to you.

Edited by F. Corbera - Today at 8:48 am
post #7 of 17
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E.1.a. Get Your Act In Line.

In the previous post, I introduced the idea of selecting elements that compose coat-and-tie ensembles based on where each element places between the continuums from country/casual/private to city/formal/public. I will refer to this as “country to city” from now on, but keep in mind that I do not necessarily mean this literally.


Some of you spend your professional or working life in an environment that expects suit and tie from every man. (I will ignore you for the moment, but will include you later.)

In contrast, many of you do not.

Many contemporary men have professional or working lives today in which a coat and tie look is an elective choice. In fact, quite a few of the members who post on Style Forum point out that their decision to wear coat and tie is part of an expression of individuality, aesthetics, or even eccentricity…the social penalties for which are often mild or nonexistent today because dressing like a slob has introduced a convenient low threshold of workplace tolerance for the ways that men dress (women, too, as it turns out...but that is another issue.)

Moreover, outside of the workplace, expectations of coat and tie are in full scale retreat. So, wearing it socially is even more a manifestation of choice rather than of convention.

It is in this combination of freedom on one hand with being new to coat and tie on the other that creates the potential for the type of problem that you, as a beginner, will want to avoid.

Please look at this chart which is admittedly bereft of wit or humor:


The type of look that results from the first set of decisions is probably the most common look presented on Style Forum right now. The colors might be coordinated (well, sometimes.) The patterns and textures might collaborate (honestly? not often.) The presence or absence of contrast might be manipulated (we hope.) But, even after all those boxes are checked, the resulting “fits” are often cacophonous or jarring.

The second type of look, and the consequences that flow from it which we will discuss later in this thread, is the look that is barely represented anymore on SF as members who are grounded in an understanding of the relationships of country to city have redirected, curtailed, or stopped their activities here.

This is the point missed about, oh, the CBD (Conservative Business Dress) thread. The fact that CBD approximately aligns the sliders in one band does not mean that classic dress is confined to that set of combinations.

Why are so many guys all over the map within a single outfit? After all, cheap access to a wide variety of well-made clothes has probably never been so pervasive, nor the variety of choice so extensive. The world lays its goods at the feet of nearly every man. So, why is there such incoherence?

I conclude that there are two reasons.

  • First, many of the currently-active posters are over-reaching their environment. You have consciously made the decision to dress in tailored clothes, or wish to do so at a level of refinement, atypical among those with whom you interact personally. Your first step, then, is to smack the pick axe at some point in the city spectrum. But you have doubts. It seems “too formal,” the ice too cold. So, you begin the process of rusticating your city look: “Hello, crazy socks. Welcome to my breast pocket, multi-colored square. Take a seat around my neck, wooly tie.”
  • Second, you just have not learned what goes together. You did not learn it or observe it around you growing up. Your friends and work mates do not know either. And all the books, magazines and material online seem to offer advice only on those three basics: color coordination; pattern and texture coordination; and contrast combination.

The most practical way that beginners active on Style Forum who have developed some facility with the basics can achieve more harmonious ensembles/outfits/fits is (1) apply some fresh, objective thinking to your personal context in which you wear coat and tie and (2) if you are not at the very extreme end of the city spectrum, dial back your entire ensemble to the point that makes sense for your circumstances of life.

What I just wrote will be very unpopular. As a group (and I include myself), we are biased toward admiring the dresser who miraculously succeeds with the effortless "twist" on the conventional.

As a beginner, resist making this bias manifest in your own ensembles.

We look next at several Style Forum examples illustrating how this works and I will develop these points further.

Edited by F. Corbera - Today at 8:46 am
post #8 of 17
Thread Starter 
E.1.b. Forces Undermining Coherent City/Formal/Public Combinations for Beginners

In today’s two posts, we work into specific examples representing combinations that anchor the farthest margin of city/formal/public looks.

Three forces often confuse the beginner about the most citified of looks, particularly the type of beginner on SF.

  • First, what we know as the suit today is itself derived from a form of an earlier time that had a more casual purpose. This origination means that there are many attributes, aspects of fabric and pattern, and accessories that are casual or rustic at their source yet have become firmly incorporated into coherent city looks. Maddeningly, at the same time, there are many attributes, aspects of fabric and pattern, and accessories that are casual or rustic at their source and remain so today, making them unsafe choices for combining into a city look. How does one tell one from the other? We will talk about this.
  • Second, there are certainly regional, cultural and professional differences in what makes sense. If such forces are a powerful determinant in how you dress for the day, you already possess your marching orders. You are a financier in the City of London? Fine, dress sharp and dress loud, dress like your mates. Are you a zookeeper in San Diego? Great, wear your chambray shirt with the San Diego Zoo logo with your khaki shorts. What is most likely, however, for the man on SF who is new to coat and tie is that you exist in an environment of wider insensitivity to nuanced clothes, an insensitivity that allows you to think, “Yeah, I can wear coat and tie. I will wear coat and tie.” So, regional, cultural and professional differences do not narrow choice for you, they agglomerate together into a vast riot of choices made easily available because of the ease of cheap global commerce and free online information (like this thread.) This is not good for coherence in your look.
  • Finally, many has been and many will be the snappy dresser who plays with a rusticating factor in his city look. This creates a strong impulse in beginners to emulate what seems clever. This is quite often a mistake.

As you look at the examples in the next post, think not only about what elements constitute them but whether this type of look is appropriate for you. If it is, do it and do it right. If not, however, reconsider if a city look is really for you or whether you should dial back your entire typical ensemble to something more casual.


Edited by F. Corbera - Today at 4:18 am
post #9 of 17
Thread Starter 
E.1.c. Examples of Coherent City/Formal/Public Combinations for Beginners


Here is the graphic cheat sheet that I used two posts back:


So what are the elements that anchor an ensemble at the furthest margin of city/formal/public? All the sliders to the right?

Let’s take a look (images clickable for larger size.)


  1. It is always a suit. It can be a two piece suit, single or double breasted, but single breasted is safer. A three piece suit with a single breasted vest (waistcoat if you prefer) without lapels can be a tolerable archaism depending on location and what you do.

  2. The color of the suit is always dark blue, or shades of gray. Not brown, not tan. The pattern is solid, or variants of solids like birds-eyes, nailheads, sharkskin, etc. Acceptable patterns from the casual world include discreet pinstripes, chalk stripes (don't let this throw you, but striped suits come from tennis and ball sports) and fine herringbones. Plaids and box checks, well, any check, are too rusticating for a role here.
  3. The material is always smoothly finished worsted wool (not flannel, silk, cotton etc. which we will discuss later.)

  4. The hip pockets on the jacket have straight flaps. The breast pocket is a welt. Pants can have flat or pleated fronts. The pants can be held up with a belt, suspenders, or waistband adjustors as you prefer. Acceptable forms from the casual spectrum, depending on where you live and what you do, are cuffs on the pants, and center, side vents, and hacking and ticket pockets on the jacket. Patch pockets are too rusticating.
  5. Shirts are white, either barrel or double cuffs, point or semi-spread collars. Acceptable forms from the casual spectrum, depending on where live and what you do, are solid light blue shirts or blue and white stripes.
  6. Neckties are solid grenadines or other textured woven silks, wedding tie patterns in silk, silk prints with discrete repeating non-figurative patterns. Sheen is medium to matte during the day, can be more at night. Diagonally striped ties are okay unless you’re British, for whom special rules still exist about such patterns.

  7. Breast pockets have no squares or hankies. Acceptable from the casual spectrum are fine white linen hankies, puffed in or edges out in a plain fold. A silk print square is okay in principle, but is often undermining in practice.

  8. Shoes are black lace up plain or cap toe oxfords. Acceptable influences from the casual world are discreet broguing on a cap toe or a wingtip, and shoes in a dark oxblood or dark brown. Not suede. Derby versions outside of the Anglo-American sphere are fine.
  9. Socks are not fun.


Now, do not misinterpret this list. Deviations from it that remain for all practical extents equivalently formal and good looking are many. The exact elements might differ slightly here and there depending on where one lives. Climates with seasonality, or ones of extremes, might suggest options not presented above.



If your goal as a beginner is to look great, well, here is a way that you can do it reliably every time in a way that works all across the world and in nearly every social circle that expects coat and tie. In fact, every man should be able to assemble this look even if he needs to call on it rarely.



So, why is it happening so infrequently? It could be that when a look is made so plain, the wearer feels that a lack of quality in make or fit is more keenly revealed. "I'll fool the eye," the thinking might go, "with this crazy sock, or this pizza grenade pocket square, or maybe...just maybe...a color common in the women's department."

This might be true, but I do not conclude it is the most common issue. I think that what I see is that a lot of guys probably know, even today, how this type of look gets put together. They've seen it in movies, on TV, and some even still read.

These guys (maybe you!) then develop doubts: maybe it is too formal, too public, too city.

And you know what? It just might be...for you. Think about this.

The most common reaction seems to be to rusticate this formality by taking the city look and staging a country invasion. After all, don't those snappy dressers do this often?


Well, some do, some don't.

The case that I will make in the next set of examples is that it is better for beginners to do this holisticallly across the board rather than piecemeal. Do not put a moustache on the Mona Lisa of the city look if the city look is not right for your life. Save it for that event or occasion for which is it right for your personal circumstances.



Don't worry: we have not given up on the suit. In the next post, we will look at examples where the sliders all move back toward the casual/private/country.

Edited by F. Corbera - Today at 6:30 am
post #10 of 17
Thread Starter 
E.1.d. Thinking About the Casual Suit

Rare is the man who cannot look well turned out in a decent black tie rig. Rare, too, is the man who cannot look splendid in a discreet, unmarred city ensemble.

Why not dress in both every day, then? Awesome, right?

“Black tie every night?” you think, “That’s nuts.” It is.

Wearing a city look every day might be nuts for you, too, though.

I am hoping that you, as a beginner, have given this some thought at this point in this thread and have made a decision on which way to go.

If a city look does work for you, execute the basic and unimpeachable versions of it first until everything about it becomes second nature. The combinations are simple and known. What will happen if you are interested in clothes is that such simplicity will lead you to thinking productively about quality and fit. It will not be dour, it will be great fun.

If a city look does not work for you, rather than going first to the country/casual clothes department to accessorize and rusticate your charcoal gray pinstripe, what I would like you to consider instead is what we will call the casual suit. In the old days we might have called it a weekend suit or even a Friday suit.


What I will call a casual suit has one or more of the following attributes:
  1. Country colors are now fine: browns and other earth tones now work.
  2. Check patterns are brought into play as options: plaids and box checks.
  3. Fabrics in a wider variety of materials can be selected: these range from flannels at one end of the spectrum to things like cottons and tweeds at the other, necktie fabrics can go farther afield from silk.
  4. Casualizing details can be incorporated: patch pockets, perhaps, or types of buttons that do not work well with a city suit.
  5. Accessories can extend into the more casual: shirt patterns and fabrics, neckties, pocket squares, and shoes.



For the wearer of RTW, there is probably a wider variety of such suits than ever before. Much of this output is terrible. Nevertheless, there is a lot of good looking stuff that if, de-Pitti-fied in the way that they are put together, offer useful options for the man dressing in this casual suit spectrum.

We will look at examples next. In the meantime, it could be an interesting exercise for some of you to look through the Sartorialist and the Non-Satorialist threads to see if you can find any fits that if shorn of their Pitti might look good.


Edited by F. Corbera - 2/14/12 at 11:51am
post #11 of 17
Thread Starter 
E.1.e. A City Look Self-assessment

Even today, every man needs to be able to put together a formal city look. So, have at least one possible way to do it ready in your closet.

Beyond that, a beginner should ask himself the question: can I wear a city look appropriately most days of the week? Social comfort is an elastic concept that differs for every individual’s circumstances. Its range is bounded fundamentally by how willing you are to make others uncomfortable and how well you can survive their discomfort.

Epictetus wrote, “Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.” This is true, but for most, one needs to know others as well.

Some of us love the city look. Even we who do, however, must confess that its pervasive ascendency has been severely eroded in many social, geographical, and professional contexts in which its presence was once always presumed. Among professional environments in which the city look still finds favor, it has become commonplace for jackets to fly off the backs of everyone minutes after entering the office, bringing the mail room to the board room.

It is difficult to rusticate, casualize, and informalize the city look successfully. In contrast, it is very easy to unbalance it, and unbalance it many do, particularly those beginners who brave (or enjoy) pubic exposure on this forum and other online social arenas.


So, by this point you have asked and answered for yourself the question, “Can I wear a city look appropriately most days of the week?” In the next few posts, I address suggestions for those of you who have answered with a, “No.”

Edited by F. Corbera - Today at 6:31 am
post #12 of 17
Thread Starter 
E.1.f. What is the Casual Suit?

What is a “casual,” or “country,” or “weekend,” or “Friday” suit? It sounds rather arbitrary, and it is. If we go back to about the time (and no further!) when today’s “business” suit, the lounge or sack, defeated the bodycoat as serious daywear, the city suit’s country cousins were either for actual use in the country or for leisure pursuits in the city. To the extent that it began to creep into the week, it was for the practicality of easy transition from work to leisure, or simply to signal that you were able to go back and forth from work to play freely.


When we examined the city look, we took account of its features of colors, fabrics, and patterns. We could do the same with the casual suit.

The range of the casual suit in those terms, however, is relatively vast. So, a shortcut for the beginner is to think of it simply as a type of suit for which casual accessories are appropriate.


And what are casual accessories? These are the accessories that are never or seldom appropriate for a city suit, or if they are okay, constitute a significant rusticity failure point in the coherence of city ensembles created by beginners.


Neckties in materials other than silk: wools, cashmeres, or mixes, or if silk, in rusticated finishes like madders or weaves like knits. Checked, multi-striped, and colored shirts. Button-down shirts. Multi-colored “pocket squares” in silks and other fabrics. Patterned socks. Colored and brogued shoes, monks, derbies…or loafers.




Again, the temptation to incorporate one or more of these items into a city suit look is strong. Did not James Bond wear a black silk knit tie with all of his suits? Can a madder tie not look swell? What is wrong with a multi-hued silk pocket square? Yes, yes, and nothing...but, leave that for later because each one of those types of rusticating and informalizing items can go wrong just as easily as well.

If the city look is not practical for you, move everything, top to bottom, toward something more casual. The next stop along this spectrum is the casual suit.

We will look at the two types of casual suits next.

Edited by F. Corbera - Yesterday at 2:16 pm
post #13 of 17
Thread Starter 
E.1.g. The Two Types of Casual Suits

Casual suits are made from fabrics, done in patterns, and/or have stylistic features that move them toward the country/informal spectrum.


Their main utility for the beginner for whom a city look is unwise is their inherently greater informality combined with the possibility of incorporating a range of more casual accessories that are discordant or inappropriate with a city ensemble.


This overall informalization of suit and tie often synchronizes more easily with colleagues and friends who do not wear suits, or who wear coat and tie sporadically. Such men are often either intimidated socially or aesthetically by a smart city look, or are part of the increasing numbers who view the city look as generationally archaic.

From a beginner’s viewpoint, the wide range of variety among casual suits can be divided into two categories:

  • Casual suits that can be combined with “city look” accessories.
  • Casual suits that should not be combined with “city look” accessories.

The first group of casual suits overlaps with city look suits. The second does not.


The degree of overlap differs by place and culture. The overlap is a consequence of how much country was accepted into the city in the years after the lounge suit won its place of supremacy. There remain narrow contexts in which no overlap exists even today. Generally speaking, however, this mode of casualization is acceptable in most places.


The key concept is that casual suits in the first group can be made to fit in completely fine in a city look when combined with city accessories. Unlike a city suit, these suits can also be combined with more rustic elements successfully to dial back the whole look to something more casual.


And that is what we are after if we want an easy execution of a coherent look.


In contrast, the casual suits in the second group—by fabric, feature or patterns—are never intended to be anything more than casual: they have no substitution value or intent for a city look. They are casual suits through and through.

What are casual suits in this first group, the ones that overlap with the city suit?


The first attribute is that they are cut and “featured” exactly the same way as their city look cousins (no patch pockets, no throat latches, etc.).


The second attribute is that their fabrics are more rustic, in the following range:

  • Blue, gray and brown flannel suits in solids or stripes (and the seasonal equivalent of flannels, such as frescos, hopsacks, etc.)
  • Brown suits in city worsted solids or stripes.
  • Blue, gray and brown worsted suits in urbanized country patterns: muted and small scale glen checks; houndstooth; etc.


How far one can get from the first to the third bullet, from week day to weekend, is a function, again, of place and culture. Fortunately, empirical determination is easy. If you find yourself in an environment in which a city look does not work, it is safe to say that you are not in an environment so formal as to inherently disqualify a casual suit in the first group as irredeemably informal.



City accessories will have no problems co-existing with these suits; neither will the more rustic types of accessories that we discussed in the previous posts in this thread.


What are casual suits in the second group, the one that does not overlap with the city suit?


Well, the simplest way to think about this is everything that is not in the first group fits into the second. This includes:

  • Suits in alternative fabrics such as cottons, silks, linens, tweeds real and faux, corduroy, (dare I say denim? It has been done), etc.
  • Suits in explicit country, loud, or obvious patterns, or unusual colors.
  • Suits with informalizing, sporting features, such as a jacket with three patch pockets, action or belted backs, etc.

In this second group, it is very difficult or impossible to make most city accessories look good. Casual suits in this category are the opposite of the city look when it comes to accessories: they look great with the informal accessories that typically look terrible with a city suit.


At one time, it was relatively difficult to find RTW suits in this group. Today, however, it seems that a lot of choice is available as a wide variety of alternative fabrics are marketed in the form of suits.


Suits in this category also essentially overlap with the next category that we will discuss as we move one step further toward the country/informal : coat and tie with the odd jacket.


Why should a beginner consider casual suit suits in this second category, then, if he can simply achieve a similar level of informality by wearing the familiar odd jacket and tie?


The most important reason is that suits are “easier.” The jacket and pants already are coordinated.

Do not underestimate the value of this simple fact, especially for you, the beginner.


Moreover, despite the overlap with the familiar odd jacket/odd trouser, the casual suit has a debonair pedigree that lends it a continuing debonair affect that can be appealing to men who like clothes well enough to think about them. That might also be you, despite being a beginner.


Just try to line up the range of formality of accesories, on one hand, to the type of suit, on the other, if you wish to achieve a coherent look more effortlessly.

Edited by F. Corbera - Today at 4:20 am
post #14 of 17
Thread Starter 
E.1.h. The Odd Jacket

In the prior set of posts, I suggested a practical way at looking at the suit that offers a beginner who already has a handle on the fundamentals (which again are: color coordination, pattern and texture coordination, and contrast combination) a simple technique to achieve greater harmony in the “fits” that he assembles.

This technique is to observe, learn, and apply the concept that suits can be usefully categorized into basic bands of different formality—their position in the city/formal to country/informal spectrum—so that they can be accessorized with like things.

We are now going to do the same thing with odd jacket ensembles. An odd jacket, by the way, is a jacket with which the pants do not match, unlike a suit in which they do.


Let me reiterate that we are not talking about “rules.” We are, however, talking about practical ways to organize the approach that you, as a beginner, might use to put together your wardrobe and how you might select things from it for the most reliably good effect.

In social or work contexts where others do not wear suits, a casual suit as we discussed before might work. What would probably work better, however, is the odd jacket.

This is something that you should think about if such a context applies to you. Every man should have a city suit, but not every man need or should wear a suit daily today.

Ironically, while odd jackets occupy the most informal side of the tailored clothing spectrum, they add a significant dimension of potential complexity for the simple reason that you also have to choose pants. Having a way to organize odd jackets into their own position in the city/formal to country/informal spectrum can help you with this. We are going to think about pants as if they are an accessory, no different than a shirt, necktie, or shoes.

We will get started in the next post by dividing odd jackets into four categories.

Edited by F. Corbera - 2/14/12 at 11:46am
post #15 of 17
Thread Starter 
E.1.i. The Odd Jacket from City to Country, from Formal to Informal

Unlike Gaul, all odd jackets are divided into four parts, ranging from the city/formal/weekday spectrum to the country/informal/weekend end of things:

  • The navy blazer and other solid navy odd jackets.
  • Jackets in other solid colors (such as camel) or all classic jacket colors in weaves and textures that resolve to a solid except up close.
  • Country and obviously patterned jackets, all tweeds (even more subtle ones such as Donegals), heavily textured fabrics like corduroys, etc.
  • Unstructured, untailored jackets.

We will count the jackets in the first two bullets as city/formal, and the jackets in the last two bullets as country/casual.

Before looking at each category individually with examples, I note three considerations that you would be wise to keep in mind.

First, there is absolutely nothing that you (or the designer or tailor) can do to formalize the jackets in the last two bullets. They are always country/casual/weekend. Always. Think of it this way: the most formal thing that you can do with such jackets is to pair them with matching pants. This makes it into a casual suit. It does not make it into a city look suit. In contrast, the jackets in the first two bullets can be rusticated by styling them with casual details (patch pockets, action backs, half belts, etc.)

Second, a beginner can and should follow a very simple pattern combining strategy when pairing odd trousers with an odd jacket. Solid city/formal jackets can be paired with solid pants or be parts of more informal ensembles that incorporate patterned pants. Country/casual jackets, however, should never be paired with patterned pants. Yes it is possible, but do not aim for the possible, aim for the certain. Do you want to avoid a train wreck? Do not get on the train. There are plenty of other ways to lend charm, elegance and interest to your “fit” as a beginner.

Third, when it makes sense, you can lose the necktie. It might make sense rarely, or it might make sense all of the time. Only you can figure this out. If you lose the necktie, it usually looks good to add an appropriate pocket square or hanky even if you normally do not wear them.

Edited by F. Corbera - Yesterday at 3:00 pm
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