By Aleks Cvetkovic cc Thomas Mason.
What is it about men when it comes to wearing colour? We’re just not great at it are we?
“A dark brown suit? I couldn’t possibly, I’ll stick to grey, thanks.” Or, “A green striped shirt? No no, I’ll only wear blue.” Or even, “a patterned tie! Gosh no! I like my plain navy.” Our partners, lovers, wives and girlfriends have tried for untold generations to break us out of our distinctly beige wardrobe habits – and now, you lucky lot, it’s my turn.
Let’s start with a quick preface: there is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with sky blue and white shirts – they are, and should be, the backbone of your wardrobe – particularly if you work in a formal environment Monday to Friday. They’re timeless classics for a reason (I’ll be bringing you more rumination on white shirts later this year) but, nevertheless, there’s a whole world of colourful fabrics to embrace out there.
On my part, I’ve spent the vast majority of my teenage and adult life wearing a ridiculous quantity of colour and pattern – I was seriously into the whole dandy thing in the early 2000s. When “#menswear” was at its height, I was at a comprehensive Sixth Form college in Southern England, but I may as well have been an extra in Boardwalk Empire. My first suit was a three-piece black and white chalkstripe number with a crimson lining, which I wore with a bright crimson poplin shirt to match, plus a black, silver and red satin tie. I had a lot to learn back then.
This youthful disaster story reveals the flip-side of the colourful shirt coin. As with everything in menswear, there’s a fine line to walk. Too much colour and you’ll look like a muppet, but breaking out of the blue and white safe-zone can really help to develop your personal style; the right shirt, paired with the right jacket can give you the edge on a first date, at an all-important client lunch, or turn heads for the right reasons at a party.
This is where Thomas Mason comes in, along the many shirtmakers it supplies. Thomas Mason is, arguably, the king of colour when it comes to shirting fabric, and even though this age-old English name is now in the safe hands of Albini Group, the company’s fabric designers pay close attention to Thomas Mason’s surviving 18th and 19th century catalogues to ensure the colours in their collections are rendered just as they should be. Authentic shades of magenta, racing green, purple and English navy are all Thomas Mason signatures. Contrary to popular belief, it’s a very British thing to get into colourful shirts, and the company’s extraordinary archive proves it.
So, if you want to build a little bit of colour into your shirting collection, where do you start? Assuming you have a fair few blue and white shirts, and perhaps a mixture of blue stripes and plains, there are another three or four shirts you can throw into the mix pretty easily. The first is a personal favourite; a shirt in cream Oxford or poplin. Cream is that little bit softer and warmer than white, and complements every skin tone. Beneath a classic navy suit or blazer, paired with a textured burgundy tie, a cream shirt looks super-sophisticated – it lends itself to the kind of outfit your colleagues will admire, without really being able to tell why.
Next, it’s time to get into a couple of different stripes – and this is where you can have some fun. Dark green stripes are thoroughly underrated, as are dark red. Both are classic choices, and both will work comfortably with other deep colours, so they’re great under suits and sports coats. Thomas Mason’s Downing quality has some superb options with a wonderfully crisp handle, as does the Buckingham poplin from the Goldline collection. Thinner Bengal stripes are best suited to formalwear, and thicker butcher’s stripes lend themselves to shirts that are a little less dressy. For work, I have forest green and soft yellow Bengal stripe shirts that lift a sober suit, and for play I live in chocolate or olive butcher’s stripes layers beneath earthy tweed jackets, for example.
You should also apply this new-found love of colour to pastels – even in winter. I’m sat here writing in late February in a mint-green Oxford button-down shirt, which I also own in butter yellow. Salmon pink is a classic smart-casual shade, and in poplin, end-on-end, or Oxford, it’s extremely useful. Wear beneath a navy blazer, RAF blue suit, or even an indigo-dyed chore jacket for an easy look. Likewise, brushed cotton shirts are great for the cooler months, particularly in muted colours like indigo or taupe, layered over merino rollnecks with good selvedge jeans or cords. You might even treat yourself to Thomas Mason’s Balmoral, their cotton and cashmere quality, which comes in plenty of quirky plaids and checks to enjoy.
When all is said and done, clothes are meant to be enjoyable things to wear, and sometimes it can feel constricting, or a little uninspiring, to wear the same thing over and again. Working just a few colourful shirts into your closet can make all the difference, and although thinking in terms of green or pink can feel daunting if it’s not something you’re used to, it opens up an entire realm of possibilities.
And if you won’t listen to me, then heed the words of underrated style icon, David Hockney: “A life in colour is a life well-lived.”