When someone asked me recently whether they should wear a blue suit or a grey suit to a wedding, I realised that my mind did not turn to what the proposer of the question should wear but what he ought not to wear.
“What kind of blue is it? If it’s light blue forget it.”
Though somewhat cynical, this struck me as one of the most significant issues in advising dress for formal occasions: too often we focus on what can be worn and what is expected to be worn.
We forget that many men are only willing to work with an existing wardrobe – men tend to leave buying brand new “I haven’t a thing to wear” wedding outfits to their better halves – and yet much of the advice is heavily concentrated on buying things they don’t already own.
Therefore, it often has little relevance to their own collection:
“Wear a Prince of Wales check suit” – Great. Don’t own one.
“Accessorise with a pocket watch” – Nice idea, but when else will I use it?
So, instead I am devoting some advice to what a man should not wear, to help him either hone down the jumble sale variety of his wardrobe to the right ensemble – or at least help him realise he doesn’t yet own anything suitable for a civilised ceremony.
Never wear brown shoes
I’ve never been much of a ‘no brown in town’ evangelist. I don’t recoil in horror when I see a chestnut toe poking out from a luncheon table in Mayfair. However, weddings require formality and the absolute rule about shoe colour is this: black is the most formal colour of shoe and is the only colour to be worn at a wedding. So put down those tan semi-brogues, those cherry wingtips and yes – even those oak punch caps. Whatever cloth you wear, your shoes must be black. And, for the love of wedding cake, please acquaint yourself with shoe polish.
No blue lighter than indigo
I attended a wedding ceremony recently in an austere Gothic church where one of the guests was wearing a suit the colour of Italy’s football strip. It was utterly alarming and entirely distracting – which is not what a gentleman should be attempting on someone else’s special day. Bright and light blues look fantastic on a sun-drenched, Campari-soaked terrace, but not in the majestic and intimidating arches of religious institutions. Even if there is no sacred ceremony, there is a sombre gravity to a wedding that brighter and heavily saturated colours disrespect. Save it for the Amalfi.
Keep away from blowout buttonholes
Buttonholes should be braved but too often men end up wearing half a rose bush on their poor lapel. Adding superfluous aspidistra leaves and questionable baby’s-breath as supporting acts to their titanic blooms turns what is an already precarious situation into a horticultural catastrophe. Then there is the awful stem pinned on top of the lapel, not tucked into the buttonhole (there’s a reason why it’s called a buttonhole, duh) which turns what should be a light-hearted nod to nature into an extravagant funeral feast for fallen flowers. It should be simple and small – and worn in the buttonhole of the suit.
Never wear check shirts
Though it should be pretty obvious, it is remarkable how many people wear check (plaid) shirts to a wedding. Personally, I blame mass-hipsterism. Check is the least formal pattern of shirting available. It is therefore the least suitable for the most formal of occasions. Plain white is the safest option, but French (white) collared coloured shirts are also suitable – anti-Wall Street protestors need not apply. If you must wear a pattern, a light Bengal stripe (not butcher) is acceptable, but for god’s sake stop wearing those barn-dancing, prairie-chair-sitting, wood-chopping, Mumford & Dumb faux-hemian rags.