David Coggins considers the ultimate summer palette.
Our relationship to colour is elemental. It describes a basic level of attraction, mood, intent, and, in its lack, mourning. It’s how you know if somebody is embarrassed, or know a fruit is ripe. The sartorial-minded obsess over silhouette and all sorts of details (you know who you are), but what communicates more than color? What sets the stage more than something vivid, the equivalent of a wide smile? Or something aggressively neutral, like raising one eyebrow?
We think of blue as a solid, dependable—it is a workhorse after all. But it’s so much more than that. Consider the opening of Alexander Theroux’s essay from his truly extraordinary book The Primary Colors when he describes blue:
“It is the color of ambiguous depth, of the heavens and of the abyss at once; blue is the color of the shadow side, the tint of the marvelous and the inexplicable, of desire, of knowledge, of the blue movie, of blue talk, of raw meat and rare steak, of melancholy and the unexpected (once in a blue moon, out of the blue).”
Wow! Blue is so much more than we realised. But perhaps we do realise it because we’re drawn to it again and again in different ways. It can reassure or be daring, but above all blue is good in summer because it draws us outside, to the fresh air, with cloudless skies above.
Summer is about the possibility of lengthening days, of farm markets, of flowers, of gelato even if you’re dieting. These are cheerful things. Colour works well in summer because heat heightens our senses. And what’s more exclamatory than a burst of orange? For me, colour comes in small doses and that means accessories. Pocket squares, scarves, maybe a shirt under a sport coat. Something so strong is effective in small bursts. But when I see a man who’s given over to bright colour (especially if he’s Italian), I am very impressed and a little jealous. Could I be so bold?
Strong personalities respond to strong colours. But in Naples a few years ago I started seeing men wearing a more neutral palette. Khaki—the beloved warm weather staple—had evolved into more olives and browns. These were very effective, they implied sand and desert, of going towards the heat to survive the heat.
Maybe not. But my latest obsession over the last year or so has been the colour brown. And yes, you can wear it in town. In fact it’s one of the most versatile colours around. Brown has more depth than black, which often comes across as flat. And, unlike black, it flatters most skin tones. A brown sportcoat sings with a crisp white shirt, and what about a blue and white striped oxford? Pale pink tie? Keep going. Brown is fantastic.
You say you’re not ready for brown? Or at least you want to try it in fall? Khaki is the gateway neutral. You love it for chinos, now’s the time to make it your summer suit. I think a short-sleeve polo hits the right note with a summertime suit, not too formal, just what you want. I’ve always liked how a khaki suit looks with a pale blue shirt. This, in my imagination, is what you wear to the French Open; when you’re walking on the Arno or in Central Park. It’s a very fresh look without the ever-present danger of all white.
I hadn’t worn pink since I was a boy. My parents put me in a pink Lacoste shirt and it was a pretty good look. When I started to make dressing decisions for myself then pink was abandoned for about three decades. Now I’m making up for lost time. A pale pink shirt, or pink and white oxford is such an easy way to capture the lightheartedness of warm weather. Nothing wrong with pink, the same way there’s nothing wrong with drinking rosé. You don't have to think too hard about either.
Colour connects us with nature and is part of our nature. When it’s worn with purpose it can’t be ignored. Your mood and your worldview come into focus. And whether vivid or neutral, it sets the stage for you to set the tone.