Life Skills

A sliding scale of formality – Permanent Style

  • May 29, 2024
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A sliding scale of formality – Permanent Style

By Manish Puri

Last week’s article by Simon, ‘Which office are you? A cold current 2024 update’, focused on cold, wintry colours. I’m here to provide a similar step through using warmer, summery tones.

The colours I’ve chosen are those that I’ve found myself naturally gravitating towards during recent travels: cream and brown. Colours which remind me of sandy beaches, shea-butter sun lotion and ice cream in a biscuit cone.

And so, the perspective of my article skews towards holiday attire rather than the explicitly office-orientated articles penned by Simon. But I still think  the ideas and the combinations can provide some inspiration for those looking for help on what to wear to a modern office. 

One way to make the looks more office-appropriate might be to increase the contrast between the pieces. For example, instead of the cream polo and the putty brown trousers in outfit two, you could try a white oxford shirt and brown chinos.

Beyond the fact that I find cream and brown to be a chic summer pairing – and more interesting than the all-white ensembles some people use to indicate that they’ve activated ‘holiday mode’ – there’s also an easy synergy between garments stemming from a similar, restrained colour palette. 

In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’d happily pair any of the tops in this article with any of the bottoms. For example, in the image at the top of the piece I’m wearing the shorts from outfit one with the shirt from outfit three on a recent holiday. 

My one reservation might be combining the double-breasted jacket in outfit four (and above) with the shorts. But even here, I think a lighter, less structured DB could work if you dig that contrasting high-low vibe.

1 The right to bare arms

While most of the TikTok fodder forced upon me by Instagram only serves to louden the tick-tock of my diminishing will to live, there is one meme-mantra that has stuck with me: if an outfit isn’t interesting through colour then it has to be interesting through shape, and if it’s not interesting through shape then it has to be interesting through texture.

I think this is something that comes quite naturally to the classic-menswear winter wardrobe. Consider the combination of a rich tweed jacket, a silk patterned tie and some corduroy trousers – you’re simultaneously tagging colour, texture and (depending on the silhouette) even shape.

However in the summer, where the weather often demands simplicity in an outfit, it can be harder to find that point of difference, and the pitfall (which I’ve spent many a summer trapped in) is that, even with nice individual pieces, you can end up looking a bit basic.

Given that we’re deliberately restricted in colour here, I’ve injected texture into the first outfit using an Adret Riviera shirt made of hand-spun cotton which is knotty, slubby and altogether rather wonderful (the eagle-eyed among you will spot that Simon has the same shirt in a long-sleeve version). 

For those looking for a cheaper option, Scott Fraser Collection is always an excellent first port-of-call for summer outfits – even if his aesthetic isn’t to your taste you can clearly see how he enlivens predominantly two-piece looks (shirt/knit with shorts/trousers) through colour, shape and texture. Their laddered pocket shirt, whilst not in the same cream and beige colourway, does have a similar waffle finish to the Adret shirt. Incidentally, my cotton shorts are also by Scott Fraser, and, in a telling insight into the rapid multiple borrowings of the style, also called Riviera.

2 Cover your legs, man

The second outfit smartens things up by switching in a bespoke pair of linen trousers from The Anthology (they currently have a RTW trouser in a similar colour made from Solbiati ‘Art Du Lin’)  and a knitted linen polo shirt from Anderson & Sheppard.

For the sake of brevity and to present as wide a range of formalities as possible I’ve elected not to show every permutation of the outfits. However, you can imagine how pairing this more fitted linen polo with the shorts from the first outfit would make it look a bit smarter, but still not as smart as outfit two. And, conversely, pairing the Adret shirt with these trousers will make everything a bit looser and more informal than the current combination.

You’ll see in all my chosen looks that I favour darker colours on my lower half and lighter colours up top. This tendency is unusual enough to have been (positively) commented upon by stylish friends who are more naturally inclined to the opposite. 

There’s a few reasons why I’m drawn to this ‘bottom-heavy’ look, and I’ve promised Simon I’ll write a fuller piece about it soon, but, for holiday dressing, I think it’s just practical when you’re spending your day sitting on grassy knolls, mossy rocks or sticky bar stools. That said, there’s absolutely no reason why cream chinos and a brown polo wouldn’t be equally lovely here. 

My shoes are a pair of huaraches purchased on holiday in Oaxaca a few years back. Would I like the leather to be less red and shiny? Yes. Do I have a Proustian memory of eating tlayudas every time I slide my feet into them? Also, yes.

An alternative could be espadrilles (I like mine from La Manual Alpargatera), or for more refined options, Simon’s piece on sandals is really helpful.

3 Jackets required

On longer holidays, where every item has to justify the luggage space and weight it will occupy by its utility, I don’t tend to pack tailored jackets. It’s here that unstructured jackets, chore coats and Tebas shine: lightweight, (relatively) happy to be folded, and able to discretely elevate a look without alienating or intimidating your fellow holiday-makers.

My choice is a seersucker (again with the texture) Lazyman jacket from The Anthology which I purchased at the PS pop-up in 2019 and has been a faithful companion on summer trips since. The size is a UK 38 – which I think I can still just about get away with. However, were the jacket to be tragically lost in a baggage mishap I’d opt for a size 40 to give me a little more room. LEJ has a Plage jacket (which I’ve written positively about a couple of times on PS) in ivory linen that would make a great alternative.

There wasn’t any particular need to switch the polo shirt from outfit two for a short-sleeve button-down shirt – although the more structured collar does suit the sharper aesthetic – other than to gently remind readers (and myself) that you don’t always have to break the bank for simple pieces like an off-white shirt. 

Mine is from the Uniqlo U 2019 collection and it’s one of the first things I pack for a warm weather holiday: flattering, comfortable, lightweight, easy to wash and quick to dry. The collar roll is as good as any bespoke shirt I’ve tried, and after five years of heavy wear I’ve not had a button loosen, let alone come off – which is more than can be said for some rather more expensive handmade shirts I’ve bought.

I’ve switched up the footwear to penny loafers (John Lobb Lopez in dark-brown museum calf) which is quite a sharp pivot from the huaraches. You could substitute an unlined suede loafer or a Belgian slipper for a less dramatic shift in formality. 

4 Best bib and tucker

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t tend to take much formal tailoring on holidays, but, when I do, it’s usually because a special dinner has been booked or there’s something to celebrate. And if that’s the case, I always pack a tie because I think ties are cool.

The jacket is a RTW DB from The Anthology in a sandstone linen – quite similar in tone to Simon’s Ciardi – and the shirt a very fine cream poplin from Speciale with a soft collar. 

In case I chicken out and choose not to wear the tie (hey, I said I think ties are cool – not everyone agrees with me on this one) the soft collar nonchalantly lays how it wishes – as if it didn’t even know what a tie was. An open-necked spread-collar dress shirt, by contrast, permanently looks aghast at being jilted by that silken seductress.

The trousers are made from W Bill 12/13oz Irish linen – they still crumple during the day (which, of course, we all embrace as one of the most charming properties of linen), but less than some of the lighter Italian linens I’ve tried.

I opted for linen over high-twist wool trousers because, to my eyes, the former is easier to wear across a range of formalities, the latter too crisp for a truly informal look. Perhaps a linen-wool blend might offer the best of both worlds? I’d be curious to hear from readers that have tried that.

Finally, I’ve been perfectly comfortable sockless (or visibly sockless) for the first three more casual outfits. However, when I’m wearing a collar-and-tie I can’t abide seeing my ankles. I don’t have many “menswear rules” but this just might be one of them.

So, there we have it. Twelve items of clothing (including socks and tie) which combine to form dozens of subtly different outfits covering as broad a spectrum of formalities as you’re likely to need. 

For shorter trips, I might pare this capsule back further by leaving the DB jacket and tie, the Adret shirt, the short-sleeved shirt and the sandals at home. For longer trips, I’d add a pair of high-twist trousers and some colour – you could easily double up most of the items with navy or green equivalents (how about a navy jacket with outfit four and some olive green linen trousers in outfit two?), and regular readers know how much I adore the colour pink, which would look great with the cream tones.

Now the only question is, where should I go on holiday?

Thank you to the lovely Anderson & Sheppard Haberdashery for having us back to take photos for this article.

Manish is @the_daily_mirror on Instagram


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