A Reader’s Thoughts on Smart Casual

The Cream Odd Vest

The Cream Odd Vest

(Purple tie, lavender shirt, grey flannel, cream vest and lime green pocket square. More in the — hopefully — elegant rather than easy vein.)

Hi Chris,
I enjoyed your blogs on smart casual. Since you’ve asked for reader input, here goes. In terms of dressing smart casual, California, has a couple of other of influences – first, it’s not just warmer here year round, there is also a lot of sunshine. It’s not uncommon to get a day in January that’s 75 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. This tends to lend itself towards lighter colors. Secondly, we also have a hip urban thing going which tends to lend itself to darker (black) and unusual colors (french blue and purple).

So how do you reconcile the two? I find the easiest way is to go with a darker top, such as a black single ply cashmere crewneck sweater with lighter pants such as tan, taupe, or light/mid grey. I think this works a lot better than dark pants and a light top or navy, both of which are seen as too conservative East Coast.

In addition, high end designer jeans are a uniform here. You can’t ignore them but you can upscale them – a black three button sports jacket (which works better without a tie), an open shirt in an unusual color, and shoes such as derbies, monk straps or chelsea boot. Accessorize with a bright silk pocket handkerchief and cool shades and you’re good to go. I remember about a month ago you wrote a blog of Glamour vs Elegance. I think I’ve come to the conclusion that elegance in southern CA is hard to come by but Glamour affords limitless possibilities.

Nicely put dear reader. I like the idea of strong colour, and while I tend toward white and tan in the warmer months and charcoal greys in the winter, I’ve been playing with more colour during the shoulder seasons of Fall and Spring. Here are a few combinations that might work very well. Sky blue and chocolate brown. Orange and loden green (or olive green.) Purple and navy blue. Canary yellow and charcoal grey. French blue and cranberry. And, as noted above, black and tan.

Largish party here tonight and author Stephen Elliott will be reading from his newest novel “The Adderall Diaries” next door, so if you’ll excuse the short post, I’ve got some polishing to do after I fire up the crock pot.

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An Easy Starter for Fall


Fall is tricky here in Central Virginia. Last week it felt like winter when evening temperatures plunged to 39ºF and daytime highs didn’t get out of the 50’s. Today, of course, the mercury is supposed to top out at 76ºF. The solution to all this up and down sartorially is to layer.

And so, too, with the evening’s meal. Soup, makes an excellent first course or in sufficient quantity, a hearty and warming meal.

This recipe came about as a result of a very hectic schedule, paltry offerings in the icebox and the cold front referenced above. I needed to be able to plate dinner in 20 minutes or less and I was cold. The week before I had made a chicken and from the carcass, I made a batch of chicken stock that became the base for three meals, including this soup. (If I don’t have homemade stock I like College Inn’s boxed version.)

So, I knew I had stock, but not much in the way of vegetables for a soup. Until I peered into the paper bag on the counter and found three medium sized sweet potatoes. Potatoes, no leeks, no onions. But I do own an Immersion Blender. Thus was born:

The Easy and Elegant Life’s Curried Sweet Potato Soup. (Serves two as a main dish, four as a first course.)

Cut a cross into the sweet potatoes and microwave until soft. Peel and drop into your soup pot. (Or peel, cut into chunks and boil. Drain.)

[If you do not own an immersion blender, add all ingredients into a blender or a food processor and liquify.]

Add a cup of milk or cream (Or if you have it, coconut milk.)

Drop in two tablespoons of butter.

Add about two tablespoons of Madras Curry Powder. (Or more to taste.)

Dash of salt.

About two to three cups of chicken stock.

Have at it with the immersion blender until it looks like soup. Bring up the heat until just about ready to boil, stir, reduce heat, cover and let it sit for a bit to warm through. Garnish with crushed peanuts, shredded coconut, chopped scallions, parsley or whatever is at hand.

Serve with a green salad and some crusty bread. We drank a South African white wine with the meal.

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Smart Casual: The Power of Pattern

Photo 50
(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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