Compared to women, where vibrant colour and pattern have flourished through the centuries, men, on the other hand, look positively pedestrian in comparison.
When considering a first suit one can be for forgiven for opting for the conservative hues of dark grey and navy. They work well with most shirt and tie combinations, and they allow the suit's cut to come through. It's the same for both our bespoke and made-to-measure customers. These two colours are comfortable and acceptable; a fall-back for most men, which more often than not goes on to inform their second and third suits.
At Meyer & Mortimer, we love our blues and greys, and will continue to make suits for ourselves and customers in them, but when was this unwritten rule enacted, who had a quiet word in our ears?
Wearing it well: Beau Brummell
Well, we have the original dandy, Beau Brummell, to thank (We wrote about Brummell and his impact on tailoring in a piece called The History of the Suit). During the Regency period, he famously rejected the frills, frocks and powdered wigs in favour of simple jackets and tight trousers. He persuaded men to think that dark, well-cut clothes were smarter than colourful ostentatious ones. With Brummell at the very epicentre of London's social scene, and with strong relations with Prince Regent, it meant that whatever he said or wore became the mode du jour. We will never know, of course, but even with Brummell's propensity for grandeur and ego inflation, he may even be surprised to discover his style decisions still inform our dress today - some 200 years later.
Director Paul Munday in his navy pin-stripe suit
The Birth of the Necktie: A Small Concession to Individuality
If any era were going to cement these darker hues into man's subconscious further, it would be the Victorian. It was a time of industrialisation, religion and the reigning in of naughtiness of every kind. It certainly was not a time to explore one's inner self through fashion. So our blues and greys bedded down into a morality you not only lived but wore. It wasn't until the 1860s, and the introduction of the necktie, that any embellishment, however small, was allowed. Although it was a subdued start for the tie, it came into its own in the early 1900s with hand-painted ties becoming fashionable in the US. So it fell squarely on the tie, averaging at 4.5 inches wide, to communicate any sense of individuality.
One can only imagine the colour used on Roosevelt’s tie
Blue and grey continued to dominate men's style, and it wasn't until after the Second World War that its position was challenged by the double envelopment of jazz and rock 'n' roll. Up to then, any changes in men's fashion mainly came top-down from royalty and the upper classes. Fuelled by bebop's fast tempo and the four on the floor of rock youth culture was born and came at convention with an aggression matched by their music. The Teddy Boy was born and with it their take on Edwardian styling (a la Brummell) with tartan, velvet collar and clashing colour between lapel and suit.
Bill Haley & his tartan Comets
Tommy Nutter & Edward Sexton: Revitalising Savile Row
Rebellion is not only for subcultures. Over on Savile Row, Tommy Nutter and Edward Sexton were challenging not only conservative colouring but also other aspects of bespoke tailoring. The Tommy Nutter website adds:
He delighted in rebellious interpretations of classic British designs, in exaggerated proportions and traditional tweeds and worsted cloths reinvented in bold, often clashing, colours, prints, and textures.
In challenging the status quo, they revitalised Savile Row and made it cool. Nutter and Sexton would go onto dress the Rolling Stones, Elton John and three of The Beatles on the Abbey Road album.
V&A: men's suits by Tommy Nutter 1969 (L) & Victor Herbert 1974 (R)
Courtesy of Moorina via Flickr
By the 1970s, any remaining restraint was shuffled off with the arrival of Marc Bolan & Co. Where previous rebellions had built their insurgencies on existing style forms, Glam Rock appeared to put grey, blue and traditional tailoring into a silver rocket ship and fire it into the cosmos. Fashion and style were other-worldly and didn't concern itself with any gender constraints. Finally, men had embraced colour and pattern in ways women had always done – and the makeup too.
20th Century Legend: Marc Bolan (Sadly in black & white)
By the 80s, glitter was gone, and colour dialled down to the subtler pastel tones seen in the suits worn by Crockett and Tubbs in Miami Vice. Another excellent example of 80s suit styling and colour is in Duran Duran's video, Rio, with bespoke garments provided by London fashion designer Anthony Price.
Her name is Rio…Duran Duran
Since the 80s, there is a feeling that colours have toned back down to the traditional blues and greys that so many have fought against. If anything, it shows colour, like art, is affected by society and culture. While we may not see anything like Glam Rock anytime soon, we do still have the opportunity to express ourselves in the colour we choose for our suit. The good news is, cloth is available in a vast array of colours as seen below.
Brummell to Bowie
For those who wish to experiment, we hope this short discourse on colour inspires. The scale between Brummell and Bowie is wide; with ample opportunity to express anything from restraint to rock 'n' roll – may you find the colour, or colours, that suit you best.
If you would like to speak to someone about the colour of your next suit please call into our Mayfair showroom or contact us here.