The object of the exercise in Building a Gentleman’s Wardrobe (BGW) is to have appropriate attire for each occasion, whether formal, business, smart casual, or casual. For some this is primarily a functional task, for others it is an exercise in creativity, for others it is a way to bolster self-confidence, for many it is some combination of the above.
Whatever your rationale, you have begun your 5 year project. Hopefully you have already Covered the Bases and started Building up the Collection. Now you are ready for the next stage, Broadening the Colour Palette.
In the early stages of building a gentleman’s wardrobe it is important to have clothing in solid colours or subtle patterns, which are interchangeable. This allows you to maximise the number of ensembles with a small number of items. However by year 3 of 5 you can begin to broaden your colour palette. This is important because men tend to be creatures of habit when we buy. We know the colours we like and often buy variations on that theme. Once you have the basics covered and have a collection sufficiently large to allow for a certain amount of rotation you now have the freedom to explore a broader colour palette.
This might be a very subtle broadening of the palette. For example, you might add to your plain charcoal suit, a suit in pale grey sharkskin, and another in mid grey with pinstripes. It could be as simple as adding a Winchester shirt to your collection. At the other end of the spectrum this may be an opportunity to explore a brown suit, or a shirt in a colour you do not already own.
In year 3 of my 5-year project I made a surprising discovery. I looked back at the last few shirts I’d bought and realised they were all blue, my favourite colour. Blue is a fabulous colour on a man and incredibly versatile so you can do a lot worse than having lots of blue shirts. Nonetheless, I had been unconsciously building up my shirt collection primarily with blue shirts: pale blue, mid blue, navy blue; blue Bengal stripe, blue block stripe, blue large check, blue gingham check. I could go on but you get the picture.
That was the point at which I realised that I needed to broaden my colour palette. I decided that any new shirts could be any colour but blue and began to explore other possibilities. Gentlemen, a whole range is out there: lilac, purple, grey, green, black, ivory, or perhaps even red if chosen carefully. Think about what colours are already in your wardrobe and perhaps underutilised and in year 3 focus on developing those areas. There may be colours you struggle with, for whatever reason. These colours might be ones that you choose deliberately to explore just to see what is possible for you. However, you have to be comfortable wearing whatever you do select, so you might be wise not to be overly radical.
Personally, I struggle with yellow. I’m happy wearing a yellow tie, cufflinks, or handkerchief. I even bought some socks recently with yellow stripes. But a yellow shirt doesn’t quite work for me, (unless it’s a T-shirt). For me it suggests a man of a certain age. Having said that, I am currently exploring this end of the colour palette and have come across a yellow shirt that I think I could wear. Haven’t decided yet whether to buy it though, I don’t exactly need more shirts in my wardrobe…
Seeing what other stylish men are wearing is a good way of developing your own ideas. Obviously, you need to recognise what others might have the confidence to pull off you might not dare to attempt. I remember complimenting a colleague wearing a pale pink shirt with a shocking pink tie. I probably should mention he was also wearing a navy suit at the time.. He promptly demonstrated that he was also wearing socks of a similarly bold hue. He looked fabulous. But I knew I did not have the confidence to buy, never mind to wear, such a bold colour.
Broadening the colour palette is not an excuse to draw attention to oneself, like a peacock. The best ensembles are subtle, rather than flashy. Rather it is a luxury that one has at this stage of the wardrobe building project. You can have some items that you don’t wear often which are in colours beyond your default choices which can be worn in contexts which allow such creativity.
My current area of exploration in year 5 is that of formal shoes which are not black or brown. In light of my attraction to all things blue, it is perhaps unsurprising that I am keen to try out a shoe in navy. I have seen a couple of pairs in green which looked to me unexpectedly stylish. And grey would be a great colour for a pair of brogues. I suspect yellow won’t make the shortlist though….