What’ll It Be Sir, Patterned Or Plain?

One of my elderly relatives gave me some excellent advice in relation to ties; “The misconception” he said “is that ties need only complement the shirt, not the suit.” He advocated that shirt, tie and suit needed to be considered alongside each other to achieve the most satisfactory results. “A suit” he continued “is not an overcoat – it’s not just something you throw on to keep warm.” Flow and harmony is paramount when looking at the torso of a suited gentleman; this triangle of supporting elements must be carefully constructed – a brilliant shirt and tie combination will be undetectable if the suit clashes.

One of the most important things I have learned is that complete plainness, however consistent, is dull; no wonder that modern politicians rarely stray from the plain white shirt, the plain unpatterned suit and the plain satin-silk tie. This combination lacks any kind of character and renders them bland enough to appeal to a vast cross-section; a French collared blue striped shirt with a foulard or Club stripe tie would be far better companions for a suit lacking any ornament. Plain suits yearn to be played with.

A loudly checked suit benefits from the calm of a plain poplin shirt but plainness can be limited to that; the tie could be a foulard, Club stripe or even checked. It is possible to avoid plainness entirely, depending on the style of the checked suit – a checked or striped shirt can add to an attractive ‘riot’, as long as they are subtle and do not attempt to compete with each other.  A striped suit, pin or chalk, need not avoid a patterned shirt; stripes with stripes is a dashing combination and a club striped tie in sober colouring looks in perfect harmony with a striped suit.

Patterned shirts with French collars are a perfect foil for strongly patterned suits as they add a cool splash of white twixt the patterns and, lest we forget, the tie should offer some sobriety – a plain woven or subtle foulard would be an ideal choice, particularly if a pocket square offers a subtle pattern of its own. The key thing is not to hide good shirt and tie choices beneath an insignificant choice of suit; as stated, plain loves to be played with, and patterns get along together very well provided there is a sobering chaperone accessory that supervises the ‘noise.’

Plain, plain and plain is not ugly, but it is not particularly attractive; rather like the new glass block buildings that pop up over London, there is a coolness but no intrigue. A ‘triple plain’ is what I call the ‘Lego suit’; inoffensive but lacking. A little pattern goes a long way. A lot of pattern could lead you astray, but if managed properly, could create not an ensemble of three incoherent parts but a harmonious and characterful whole.