June 21, 2010

Browned Off

It has always been my intention to interweave the weighty with the light hearted, and I want to take the opportunity to beg a question of no importance whatsoever. Why all the fuss about wearing brown in town? The maxim is repeated endlessly among sartorialists and yet almost universally ignored in practice. The most self-conscious clothes horses might even opt for brown to feign a lack of care, but the truth is that this rule basically no longer applies; unless you work for a big bank, that is, in which case you have my sympathies (I have seen stories in recent times of big-bank employees wearing brown so that they wouldn’t be recognised as bankers. It’s something akin to American tourists stitching Canadian flags onto their suitcases). Common sense is the order of the day, and one only need ask if one’s dress is appropriate for the situation at hand. This is a matter of the whole ensemble and the cultural practice of your daily setting, rather than any taboo about a particular colour. To wit, I must cry foul with regard to some of the displays I witnessed as I returned to London on Saturday, coincident with the returning of the crowds from Ascot.

The fellow who had this suit made knew a thing or two.

Now, Ascot is a strange event by anyone’s standards. I have something of a penchant for morning suits and top hats, and it’s such a pity that – save for weddings and Ascot – they are mere badges of eccentricity. Still, if you’re going to do it, it is worth doing well. A properly bedecked man in morning attire really looks the part, but if there is a piece missing it begins to look ridiculous. Why go to all the trouble of renting (presumably) a morning suit for Ascot if you plump for polyester? Trim your first couple of stakes at the Tote and you’ll save the difference for a proper job. And presuming you have kitted yourself out appropriately, why then would you wear un-shined, everyday shoes of various descriptions? Ascot is not a fancy-dress party (a ‘costume party’, for the North Americans among you), but a formal event. If you do not have the cash or the class to scrub up properly, then find a different stand and wear a suit.

But don’t wear a black suit. Now here’s the thing: much as I don’t see the quibble with brown, I do have a problem with the excess of black. Black has a number of purposes – evening wear and funerals being two – and its current universality risks its special functions. While I’m at it, I might also beg that those men who begin the day, at Ascot or otherwise, sporting a necktie should try to end the day with it still on, and with the top button fastened. There is only one reason why wearing a tie is ever uncomfortable, and that is that the shirt does not fit. And there is no more sure-fire way to look like a ‘punter’ than to undo that button or to remove the tie and sally forth with chest hair aplenty. Please, save it for after dark (i.e. when nobody can see you).


  1. I quite agree with your disdain for black suits. I am also horrified by 'slim fit' suits and also shiny suits. I bought my first bespoke suit this week, a delightful navy pinstripe 3-piece masterpiece. A cheap suit makes one look like a shop assistant.

  2. If I might play the Devil's Advocate for a moment; even though it might be considered eccentric to wear a morning suit and top hat, if it makes you feel well dressed, why not?

  3. My dear Rhubarb,
    Nothing devilish in this, or indeed in any of your comments, for which I offer humble thanks. I saw a man in morning dress at the British library today and yearned for the time that it was commonplace.

  4. Dear VB,

    Thank you for the compliment.

    I'm a bit jealous of your sighting this morning, I would have been tempted to ask him all sorts of queries. However, that most likely comes from my work-related obsession with period clothing. I barely restrained myself from stopping a group of men dressed as Regency Naval Officers while in Bath last Fall.


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