It started with a pair of pale pink socks,” says City management accountant James Hartnett. “Then some baby blue cords and a lilac sweater, and I was hooked. It’s become something of an obsession. My girlfriend jokes that it’s like living with a children’s TV presenter.”
Pastel colours are popping up like daffodils in the spring. Step in to any high street chain and it would be easy to think you’d encountered an aggressive Easter promotion. Click online and, under the slogan “Make life more colourful”, Uniqlo divides its men’s range by colour: light blue, pink, orange, green – take your pick. But this isn’t about bunnies and parades.
“I‘m sure it’s not just me who’s bored with so-called ‘recession-wear’,” says British designer Jonathan Saunders, whose sophomore men’s collection this summer majors on pastel knits (£688) and colourful chinos (£390). “A sharp black suit can look great but adding a little colour makes a real difference. Designing menswear can be quite restrictive, as there’s a standard basic silhouette you generally have to follow; adding colour and print is the sure-fire way to make a statement and look like you take pride in your appearance. I basically design clothes that I’d want to wear myself.”
“Personally, I just feel that after all the recent doom and gloom a bit of colour adds a little fun to our lives,” says Patrick Grant, creative director of E Tautz. “There has always been quite a bit of colour in men’s fashion if you knew where to look, but it seems to have really spilled over into the mainstream in the past few years.”
“Our pale blue jeans (£34.90) have been very successful,” says Hide Nishino, manager of Uniqlo’s store on Oxford Street. “Men are becoming braver and more experimental with colour; from those who go for a total head-to-toe look to the guy who just wants a pair of coloured chinos for his summer holiday. I don’t think you can go wrong with colour as long as you wear it with conviction. Just choose your ‘hero’ colour and stick to it; too many colours together can look a little jumble sale.
“Colour was previously seen as a womenswear thing,” adds Nishino, “but retailers are now really having to adapt to this demand for more colour from their male customers.”
According to Jeremy Langmead, editor in chief of etailer Mr Porter: “Men have become more confident with colour, partly because when something becomes more readily available and is seen in stores more frequently it seems more commonplace and less scary.
“Partly, it’s a nod back to the 1970s, when men wore extraordinary colour concoctions without the slightest hesitation,” Langmead adds. “Look at all those wonderful Slim Aarons’ photographs of the well-heeled posing on their manicured lawns by their California pools. Think of pictures of Patrick Litchfield in yellow floral shirts, Terence Stamp in a bright pink suit, David Hockney plastered in stripy pastels.”
Today that translates as Japanese label Beams Plus’s peachy pink double-breasted blazer (£475), Brooks Brothers’ Black Fleece mint green shirt (£135), Turnbull & Asser’s baby blue cashmere sweater (£325) and Gap’s pastel chinos (£25).
“Our customers are buying colour mainly in shirting, knitwear and chinos and wearing it in a preppy, Ralph Lauren way,” says Lee Douros, menswear buying manager at My-Wardrobe.com. “Polo Ralph Lauren is always a great brand for summer and does colour in a way easy to translate into everyday life.” See, for example, pink stripe cotton poplin shirts (£95); pastel pima cotton knits (£115); and a pair of coral slim fit chinos (£179).
“Colour is a fundamental way of bringing personality and attitude to menswear,” says tailor Richard James, who is celebrating 20 years on Savile Row through a collaboration with high street giant Marks and Spencer featuring an orange striped shirt (£49.50) and matching neckwear (£29.50). “I think these things are to an extent cyclical and right now colour is very relevant again,” says James.