For many men, adding colour to an outfit is considered risky business. With the right guidance, though, there’s no reason to remain in the dark
A man's guide: how to brighten up your wardrobe with a splash of colour
There seems to be a reticence for men to truly embrace colour when it comes to their everyday outfits, which is a shame because without colour we’re in danger of shrinking into the shadows – the exact opposite of many other species, where males are the more flamboyant.
Consider the example of the mallard, one of the most recognisable breeds of duck. While the female looks nondescript and a bit dull, the male (known as the drake) sports resplendent plumage – a bright yellow beak and glossy green head, finished with a white ring that serves as a perfect visual break before the chestnut brown feathers on his chest. What about the male peafowl, India’s national bird, more commonly known as the peacock, possibly the showiest of all feathered creatures? While the female is dowdy and brown in appearance, the male becomes a moving work of art when performing its courtship display.
And here we are, us blokes, terrified of even a splash of colour. Our lives aren’t lived out in monochrome, though, and appreciation of colour is one of life’s greatest gifts. Unless, of course, you’re colour-blind, which is an affliction that affects approximately 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women in the world, according to the Colour Blind Awareness organisation, and many men only discover they’re afflicted when someone points out that the colours they’re wearing really don’t go with each other.
Joan Joyce, 67, from the UK, recalls the time her former husband Terry discovered he was unable to co-ordinate his own wardrobe.
“Before we were married Terry turned up to take me out for dinner wearing what can only be described as a ghastly outfit. Nothing wrong with his clothes or shoes, which were definitely fashionable in the early 1970s, but the way he’d combined greens, browns and blues was almost comical. It was so weird that I suggested he had his eyes checked and he did the following day, which was when we found out he was colour-blind. From that point on, I was his wardrobe consultant.”
The experts at Mr Draper, Dubai’s personal shopping assistant and sartorial expert for men, say that the addition of colour can make or break an outfit and that “while women seem to be born with a natural sense of what colours work and which ones will clash, most guys seemed to have skipped that particular lesson. Yet, when it’s done properly, the use of colour can not only theme an outfit, but also add a dash of daring bravado.” Really, why be dull?
That’s not to say that greys, blacks and beiges are to be avoided – on the contrary, these flat hues provide an ideal base upon which to build a visually stimulating outfit. A navy blue, two-piece suit with an open-collar white shirt will take on an altogether more arresting persona with the addition of a gold-coloured silk pocket square and a pair of bejewelled cufflinks. Black can be paired with practically any colour you care to mention, and beige can look like pure class when teamed with a light blue shirt and darker accessories. Try, though, to avoid a matching tie and pocket square. Similar colours are quite acceptable, but you don’t want anyone thinking you’ve bought them as a box set.
“The fundamental principle to follow when selecting your clothes and accompanying accessories,” say the Mr Draper experts, “is to choose colours that harmonise with one another. Plus, you’ll need to take into account your individual colouring. Skin tones and hair colour can all look very different when matched with different clothes. It’s a well-known fact that red hair doesn’t go well with pink. It’s also hard to carry off yellow with certain complexions. But these colours are exciting and, if you can unlock the key to each combination, we guarantee you’ll start to have a whole lot of fun with your wardrobe again.”
Experimentation, then, is key to giving new life to clothes that have been in service for a while. But if you don’t trust your own judgment, simply ask someone for a second opinion – a friend, colleague or spouse. And don’t be offended if their opinion differs wildly from your own, either.
When it comes to pairing our shoes with our suits or other business wear, there are no hard and fast rules, but certain combinations don’t work as well as you might think. Black suits are rather restrictive when it comes to shoes other than black, and are best left to formal occasions and funerals. Navy can be carried off with dark brown or oxblood red shoes, while charcoal grey clothes should be teamed with a pair of black or dark red items. There are exceptions to every style rule, of course, and some men can get away with wearing a suit and Converse high tops. But they’re few and far between, and it’s best to keep to the time-honoured combinations.
It might sound screamingly obvious, but checking how clothing stores have their mannequins decked out is an excellent pointer. Most of the larger establishments employ the services of professional window dressers, whose job it is to make clothes appealing to buyers. They’re unlikely to make too many fashion faux pas, and seeing their work can often provide inspiration for our own wardrobes.
When it comes to shrinking our visual mass, the dark hues are essential. But that doesn’t mean we can’t spice things up with colourful accessories because they won’t be drawing anyone’s eyes to our waistbands. If you’re blessed with red hair, fun can be had with greens, dark blues and charcoal greys. And if your skin is a lovely olive tone, the contrast of a crisp white shirt and a navy blazer can be exceedingly smart.
Any man’s wardrobe should include items that add a degree of flexibility, to allow for a bit of mix and match. “Dark jeans give you options,” according to the Mr Draper team. “They’re smart enough to partner with a button-down white shirt with a subtle print, an unstructured grey marl jacket and a patterned pocket square.” Special mention must go, too, to the navy blazer, which Mr Draper champions as one of the most versatile base items in any colour-coordinated wardrobe selection. “This style icon does all the hard work,” they say, “making your clothing choices an absolute breeze.”
The experts behind Australia’s men’s fashion blog D’Marge recommend the use of a colour wheel when it comes to checking which hues work with each other. “In fashion,” they say, “the wheel is designed to help you visually pair corresponding and conflicting colours – depending on the occasion and effect you are going for when dressing. Complementary colours sit opposite each other on the wheel. For example, blue and orange – yes, they complement one another, but wearing an orange blazer with blue chinos can be overbearing.”
Of course, we all have different tastes and ideas, so it’s important for us to at least try things out and see what sort of response we get. Nobody is suggesting anyone goes “full peacock,” but remember that even the natural world can provide us with some fresh perspective when it comes to matching our colours.