We can blame the Dutch for the reluctance of the British male to wear colour. In the mid-1660s Charles II committed the country to an ill-judged war against the Netherlands, during which the nation was also rocked firstly by the Plague and then by the Great Fire of London. And then, in 1666, needing to save money, Charles decreed that court dress ought to be simplified from its previous decorative excesses. The resulting jacket, waistcoat and breeches ensemble in a single dark colour is regarded by some costume historians as the precursor of the sober three-piece suit that has dominated male wardrobes for generations.
But over the years there have always been men who have bucked the sartorial rules. And at the recent Pitti Immagine Uomo trade fair in Florence, where the world’s men’s wear buyers viewed next spring’s collections, I embraced what might be called a southern European attitude to colour. I was particularly pleased with an outfit comprising tangerine linen trousers by Brooks Brothers, a lilac Ralph Lauren polo shirt and white leather loafers from Trickers. But while the outfit worked well in the Florentine sunshine, even I felt a little odd walking across London’s Victoria station in the early hours, having just arrived back from Italy. It’s all to do with the light in the UK.