Stripes And Dots, Checks And Spots

Words by: Stephen Pulvirent


To follow my fellow columnists, Mr. Williams and Mr. Chesterfield, I thought I would write on wearing patterns this week. Going into work on the tube, I have seen some men lately wearing some truly hideous shirt and tie combinations. A yellowy-beige shirt with a tie featuring a large graphic of a puffer-fish will flatter no man, and rather than making him look like a fun sort of guy just makes him look like the butt of his own joke. For me, whilst I love solids and textures, nothing beats a well conceived matching of patterns for slightly more adventurous dressing. White, pink, or blue shirts with a navy tie and a dark suit are great standards, but sometimes leave me feeling flat when I look in the mirror.

The key, as many great gentleman before me have stated, is mixing scale and color. If either of these gets too close, you begin to verge on the category of poorly-matched, rather than distinctly complementary. One of the best combinations to my eye is a solid, dark jacket (suit or sports coat) with a butcher striped shirt and small dotted tie. The long stripes under the solid jacket elongate the torso, and the dots create a nice contrast.

As a rabid fan of all things checked, I often have to check myself, pardon the awful pun, and make sure I don’t come out looking like a poorly conceived patchwork. Glen checks seem to me to pair best with patterns if there is one solid separating them. A checked suit, solid shirt, and striped or paisley tie, or a pair of checked trousers with solid coat and patterned shirt. For mixing checks, tweed provides the perfect canvas. It just somehow seems more acceptable for these hearty cloths to be bedecked in bold patterns without impacting what they accompany.

Subtle patterns and textures, like birdseye and herringbones, allow one to shake things up without screaming too loudly. I almost never find myself buying completely plain cloths, for better or for worse. Sure I have a hopsack blazer, where the weave is only discernible from an all-too-close distance for anyone to notice, but I usually prefer a subtle pattern or texture. Herringbone suits make great backdrops for striped shirts and ties, with the diagonal lines carrying through, albeit a bit under the radar. And birdseye and dots achieve much of the same effect.

So lastly, flourishes of pattern can inject a bit of excitement to an otherwise sober kit. Dogtooth handkerchiefs, paisley socks, and colorful neckties are all great ways to take a selection of solids and make them a bit more interesting. As long as you keep things from being too matchy-matchy or screaming too loudly, you can step outside the box a bit and keep dressing exciting.