Men’s Mediterranean Style: How To Master This Sophisticated Summer Look
For laidback summer sophistication, take your cues from the stylish men of the Med.
What does it mean to dress Mediterranean? You’ll be hard-pressed to find a definition and yet we all sort of implicitly understand what is meant by the term. It’s that pared-back yet chic combination of relaxed tailored silhouettes with effortless casualwear and beach-going attire – the sort of look you would wear in Portofino for breakfast, on La Pampelonne for lunch and Forte dei Marmi for the evening ‘passeggiata’.
To the casual eye, it’s a simple combination of a shirt and shorts or chinos with a rotation of casual shoes, but the more discerning observer will recognise the implicit fabric considerations, the mixture of tailored classics with modern icons, and the inherent sense of Italian ‘sprezzatura’ to the whole look.
On paper, it sounds like a doddle to cobble together, but in reality it takes more consideration than you’d imagine to get it looking authentic, so read on for our key tips to styling it out just right.
Linen is your best friend
As well as being the most sustainable of natural fibres, linen is hands-down the best summer fabric thanks to it being extremely lightweight and breathable. Yet practical benefits aside, it’s also just a stunning textural cloth with a slubby finish that looks inherently casual.
Discerning Mediterraneans know this all too well, and cleverly deploy the material in relaxed unstructured suits and blazers, worn with a slightly bohemian edge in neutral and pastel tones. It’s a perfect shirt material too, thanks to the soft-rolled collar which dilutes any sense of formality, especially with the sleeves nonchalantly turned up over your forearms.
Embrace the unstructured blazer
Whereas many of us might see tailoring as something residing in the smart end of our wardrobes, the aforementioned unstructured blazer is very much a casual garment in the Mediterranean. Sure, it can be dressed up if necessary, but it’s more typically deployed with a pair of casual flat-fronted chinos or perhaps even linen shorts.
Bereft of padding and canvassing, the single-breasted cut is easy to style with a T-shirt, polo or linen shirt, and even though its double-breasted cousin is slightly more formal, it also loves a tonal tee.
The Neapolitans have the linen DB down a treat so check out Italian brands such as Rubinacci for inspiration. Otherwise, single-breasted options in cotton, linen or a blend thereof are your best bet in neutral tones such as ivory, beige, tobacco and pastel blue.
Level up your polos
We can thank a Frenchman, Monsieur René Lacoste, for helping to proliferate the modern polo shirt throughout menswear, so it’s only correct that the stylish types of the Côte D’Azur would continue to honour his legacy.
The polo shirt is a chameleon of a garment, being both inherently sporty while also completely at home with casual tailoring. A Mediterranean man can never have enough polos, since they are as diverse as they are colourful, so we’d recommend filling your wardrobe with classic cotton pique styles with two/three-button plackets for casual use, as well as more refined knitted styles in cotton, silk and cashmere that you can wear beneath a blazer or with a pair of smart tailored trousers.
De rigeur everywhere from the hotels of the Cinque Terre to the restaurants of Mykonos, tailored shorts are a must for adding a touch of refinement to your casual daywear. Flat-fronted cotton and linen styles will serve you well with a polo or short-sleeved shirt and a dusted up pair of loafers or espadrilles, but for a bit more flair, try a pleated style.
The pleats add a more distinguished tailored effect that looks great with a Cuban collar shirt and slip-ons. They’re also a bit more forgiving around the waist should you have indulged in a little more fritto misto than you had planned for.
It’s no surprise that Mediterranean style leans heavily on neutral shades and pastels given the preferable climate. As anyone who has ever tried to style out an all-black outfit in 36°c heat will testify, it’s not pretty, so what practical heat deflection light tones give you is coolly welcomed.
Tones such as baby blue, coral pink, pistachio green and the spectrum of beige are all good ideas when it comes to relaxed tailoring. We’d recommend you opt for linen fabrics when thinking about wearing pastel tones just because it holds dye very well and the natural slubby texture of the cloth marbles the colour so it never looks flat.
Chinos vs pleats
This isn’t an ‘either/or’ – both chinos and pleated trousers are essential kit for stylish Mediterraneans and are regularly worn in smart and casual situations. Of the former, flat-fronted cotton chinos are so easy to wear that you should probably own pairs in multiple colours – especially white, beige, khaki and navy.
Cropped styles that finish at or above the ankle are most authentic and allow you to show a hint of socklessness if you wish. Pleated trousers on the other hand are roomier at the waist and those tailored folds provide a more considered yet no less casual sartorial effect.
It really comes down to personal preference, but just make sure you have both options on hand.
Whenever you see really well-dressed Mediterranean men, more often than not they are wearing something vintage about their person. There is a charm about their look that an ensemble of brand new clothing simply cannot convey. It might be a pair of well-worn loafers that refuse to die, an old Hermés silk scarf now used as a neckerchief, or a Rolex that has seen better days but nevertheless has a story to tell.
It’s these small but not inconsequential details that completely make his look and give you the impression that he appreciates the finer things in life, which is after all fundamental to being Mediterranean.
Earn your stripes
While the Breton jersey was invented in northern France, it made its name in the golden south of the country when cultured Riviera types recognised the head-turning power of simple horizontal stripes.
Iconic images of Bridgitte Bardot and James Dean wearing Bretons cemented the top in the annals of timeless style and it’s just as popular today, especially when worn with a navy linen blazer or tailored shorts.
Stripes of the vertical variety also play a big part in the Mediterranean wardrobe, especially in shirting where they can be deployed in myriad colours to bring to life a pair of turned-up chinos or tailored shorts. Blue on white is the classic nautical colourway and a failsafe option but pale yellow or pastel pink stripes will add a soft injection of colour to a tonal look.
A slip-on for all occasions
It’s a feeling foreign to us northern Europeans but what joy it must be to know that for three quarters of the year, you’ll rarely need to tie a shoelace. For stylish Mediterraneans, the slip-on shoe is merely an extension of the foot, so natural it must feel.
On the smart casual side, they have the whole gamut of loafers to wear with suits and separates (socks optional) and they do so with aplomb, choosing soft leather and suede styles in brown and tan tones. A more casual option is the espadrille, typically constructed from canvas with a jute sole, but you can increasingly find luxury styles cut from supple leather that really complement slick evening looks.
Take your cue from the icons
The Mediterranean is such a stunning part of the world that there have been no shortage of great movies, both old and new, whose wardrobes have both encapsulated and championed the styles of the region. Recent in the memory is Call Me By Your Name, which expertly navigates the meeting of American preppy sports casual with simple Italian casualwear.
Moreover, another American in the form of Dickie Greenleaf boasts perhaps the most imitated and timeless Riviera style in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley, wherein Jude Law dons look after look of exquisite Mediterranean class (Scott Fraser has faithfully recreated a number of Law’s looks from the film). Alain Delon in Plein Soleil (the same film by another name) can also teach us how to look good in nothing but swim shorts.