In the natural world, it is usually the male bird that has the boldest plumage – and it is usually in spring and summer that his display is at its finest. This year designers have taken note, encouraging men to unleash their inner peacock with bold displays of colour and print.
Is this a frightening idea? Maybe, until you consider that it’s the male bird’s sartorial display that ultimately gets the mate. Perhaps it’s worth giving pattern a chance.
Admittedly, the conventions of many professions and workplaces decree that colour and pattern are limited to accessories: ties, handkerchiefs, shirts and, for some individualists, socks. Contemporary pattern mixing can be brought into the office, however. James Brady, a 32-year-old underwriter with insurer Hiscox in the City, has in the past year adopted a preppy look from the London branch of Brooks Brothers. “I like to wear a spread-collar blue gingham shirt with a bright diagonally striped tie or even a madras checked tie,” he says. “Even my blue suit is in a birdseye pattern, so there is a little bit of pattern mixing there also. A lot of my clients are in the media and technology sectors and they seem to approve.”
While Brady is a Scot who likes American influences, Dr Matthew Witten is an American who is devoted to the quirky Britishness of Duchamp. The brand made its name with richly decorative silk ties, pochettes and cufflinks and now has a full menswear range in the same ethos. Witten, 38 and chief physicist in the cancer department of a hospital in New York state, chose a Duchamp tie for a wedding five years ago and now has an extensive wardrobe of the brand’s styles. “In my job I have to look professional, but as a physicist I like playfulness and whimsy. In the winter I work around a palette of darker hues but at this time of year I’ll wear an orchid-coloured linen windowpane blazer with a light purple jacquard shirt, floral tie, patterned socks and khaki trousers. If I remove the tie, it’s perfect for going straight out in the evening.
“I recently started wearing bow ties and found that one with multicoloured dots of different sizes on a black base went really well with a maroon-and-white checked shirt. It’s surprising what works.”
Brands such as Paul Smith, Etro, Polo Ralph Lauren, Gant and Liberty regularly show patterns and colours together that could work in the office, while Tom Ford has some striking formal shirt combinations this season: a royal blue and white gingham shirt with a royal blue and white large polka dot tie and a royal blue and white small dot pocket square.
“Many designers have played with print and colour this spring and we’ve seen strong sales in both areas,” says Jeremy Langmead, editor-in-chief of online boutique mrporter.com. “Men are obviously a lot more confident about mixing things up a little than they were a few years ago. The key is to take one print at a time and team it with something more neutral: like a pair of Ikat print trousers from Burberry teamed with a cream sweater; or a graphic print T-shirt by Lanvin worn with a navy jacket. If you’re feeling bold you can clash the patterns a bit – with shirts and ties, where stripes and polka dots always work well together.”
“On mixing patterns, checks and stripes easily work together. Some combinations, like classic club stripes on ties against check shirts, are timeless,” says Edward Sexton, the London-based tailor who made his name as the cutter for Tommy Nutter. “The key to successful colour mixing is to have combinations that romance each other. They have to be tonal and from the same part of the colour wheel or spectrum, or they have to be from opposite sides.”
This season menswear brands from Acne to Z Zegna are offering bright cotton trousers, principally in jean- or chino-cut styles, and equally bright cotton blazers, often in double-breasted options. For those men not yet ready to wear an array of patterns, however, a bold colour worn with a bold pattern is a way to test the waters. Further colour and pattern injections can come from socks, casual shoes, pocket squares, belts and summer scarves.
It’s something to tweet about, anyway.