Smart Casual: The Power of Pattern

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(When I won this shirt, I had no idea when I would ever wear it. I couldn’t imagine a far more casual world. Brown and white herringbone shirt with hidden collar buttons, orange, brown, white scarf, charcoal grey wool polo neck sweater with brownish buttons, gunmetal grey twill wool trousers, scotchgrain cognac plain toe blucher with lug sole. UPDATE: Detail Photos below.)

Just when I thought I’d be wrapping up the smart casual discussion, a thought occurred to me. When dressing casually (actually almost any time at all) I tend to rely on three elements: texture, colour and pattern. It is the third of those three elements that is up for discussion today.

Pattern wearing, in particular mixing a number of patterns, is an art unto itself. There are rare heady days when I am wearing a total of five visible patterns comprised of stripes, spots, checks and whatever else I can find. It sounds sartorially cacophonous, but it works most often because of scale. Balance is everything.

During casual days, it is even rarer that I combine that many patterns, simply because I may not be wearing a tie, odd jacket, pocket square or socks. And that is when the beauty of a strong pattern really becomes a focal point.

What do I mean by a strong pattern?

Perhaps only a personality as large as The Architect could pull off the wonderful late summer look of a paisley shirt worn open collared with a light colour suit; it was brilliant.

Paisley frighten you? How about houndstooth trousers worn with loafers and a black sweater? Or a glen check shirt under a blazer paired with grey flannels? Or a large window pane checked cotton flannel shirt with grey flannel trousers and a neckerchief or scarf ? If you’ve got a copy of “Dressing the Man” lying about, flip to pages 264 and 272. Mr. Flusser shows beautiful examples of just this sort of thing. I suspect that the reason this style hasn’t caught on is that it takes some thought.

If you dress tonally, pattern mixing can really enliven what can look like too much like a uniform. Brown corduroy trousers, a gold-ish brown glen check shirt, deep cognac brogues (another pattern!) and a camel sweater thrown over your shoulders would be a marvelous combination. Add that orange/gold/green Hermès square as a neckerchief and things really take off.

Here’s what to avoid if you are thirty years of age or older. Checked trousers, multi-striped candy-coloured shirts, stingy brim houndstooth hat and spectators. Come to think of it, avoid it if you’re under thirty as well.

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