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Style Guile: How to Combine Colour With Classicism

October 12, 2018

By M.J. Bale

M.J. Bale’s first in a series of guides to help guide the classical gentleman towards spring sartorial nirvana.

Ever wondered why the tuxedo (or dinner jacket in the UK) remains the undisputed king of formal event dressing, even 150-plus years since it was first conceived? Of course, black tie is democratic. No matter someone’s social, political or business status, every man in the same room looks similar in black tie when seen from a group perspective; only on closer inspection are the finer details revealed that separate the men from the boys, such as the quality of fabric or cut of the jacket.


More simply, though, the tuxedo works so well because the black and white palette is so difficult to stuff up. It’s an almost infallible ‘beginners’ dress code. However, when it comes to dressing in suits, tailored separates or casual tailoring angst can set in for the classically-minded man. What shirt and tie colour combination would I wear with so-and-so suit? What blazer goes with these trousers?


But in the often-dark sartorial arts there is a rough formula to follow, a method relatively simple and easy to understand: we call it the two-to-one rule.

The Two-to-One Rule: Whether you’re wearing tailored separates (a jacket from one suit paired with trousers from another) or a suit, shirt and tie combo, a handy piece of advice is to follow the two-to-on rule in terms of combining base and accent colours. A balanced outfit almost always has two base colours and one accent colour. Base colours are usually darker ‘colder’ colours such as navy, blue, charcoal, grey, brown, beige etc. Accent colours tend to be ‘warmer’, like pale or bright blue, green, pastels and more brassy hues like pink, purple, orange, yellow and red. Note: the accent colour can be in a similar ‘family’ of base colours, but should be a lighter tonal shift, as seen here with our grey Addy shirt paired with the navy check Acerbi suit and navy-grey Noemi tie.


Base Jumper: The easiest way is to start by selecting the base colour of your suit. It could be a navy, charcoal or grey suit colour. Then add another base colour for your shirt or tie and choose an accent colour for the remaining item. The above image has base colours chosen for the suit and tie, with a tonal accent colour selected for the shirt to give a two dark-one light ratio. Or you could choose an accent colour for your suit, such as our sand-coloured Robertson suit (below). We’ve matched the Robertson with two base colours – the Kelton demin shirt and Padua brown tie – to give it a contemporary but timeless feel.


Casual Caveat: Rules are always meant to be broken and while wearing two accent colours and one base can come across as brash, when it comes to casual tailoring for spring-summer more boisterous combinations can be accommodated. For example, below left we’ve gone for casual white Antigua shirt and white Chicago jeans (two accent colours) to wear with loud Tropico linen blazer (base). On the right we’ve doubled-downed on colour and pattern wearing the Nasio blue print shirt (base) with Abruzzi check jacket (base).


Game of Tones: Regardless if you’re wearing a tie or not, if you’re aiming for a tone-on-tone look, such as matching your suit and shirt colours (like our navy Giogione suit and navy Viertel shirt below), it’s not necessary to add a pop of colour through your pocket square. Simply choose another tonal colour from the same family – in this case navy – with a subtle secondary tone.

Imperfect Match: Please remember that when it comes to pocket squares one must never match the colour of your pocket square and tie. It looks cheap, like a game show host. A safe bet is to match the pocket square colour with a detail of the tie (i.e. a secondary colour of the tie). With regards to how to match shirts, ties and pocket squares, stay tuned to M.J. Bale’s channels in the coming weeks.


Oh, and it shouldn’t even need to be mentioned, but avoid wearing black unless you’re at an aforementioned formal event or funeral. Unless you’re a Johnny Cash impersonator or the All Blacks. In which case, be our guest