Friday, August 3, 2012

The Need for Tweed

Chapter 78
This week: a clarification of one of the tenets of dressing well, by way of some handy examples. In a recent installment, I emphasized the importance of "tone matching." The Average Guy who desires to dress like a grownup may have a bit of trouble with this concept, if he is not properly introduced to it.

The Average Guy's  knowledge of "matching clothes" usually comes from the observation of his mother. Women are voracious matchers, as a rule. It has been beaten into girls from a very young age that every article of clothing worn must have at least one precisely-matching color amongst them; including shoes, jewelry, accessories, even cosmetics. There are further rules as to what colors and patterns "should" and "should not" be worn together.

It stands to reason that a young lad, barring any specific male tutelage, will adopt the aforementioned rationale as a universal maxim. Unfortunately, the history of menswear bears out that the concept of "matching" is vastly different among men than it is with the Fairer Sex. The difference is this: women match their clothing to itself. Men match their clothing to their environment. The reasoning is simple: historically, women worked largely in the home, and men worked largely outside. When you are tracking a mobile protein source, you don't want to stand out.

In other words, suits are camouflage. In today's world, where many men don't set foot outside at all, this may be a puzzling concept for some. If you agree with Poirot when he says, "If the outdoors are so good, Hastings, why did they invent indoors?" then you may have particular trouble with the idea.

Fortunately, there is a simple exercise which will make the whole concept crystal clear: we must turn our attention to Scotland, and its national fabric of tweed.

If you have spent any time at all in a secondhand shop hunting for suitable jackets in your quest for adulthood, you have run across tweed jackets. In addition to the grey or tan plain twills and herringbones, you have probably seen plaids and checks that to your untrained eyes looked strangely garish; yellows and blues and reds all together.

In order to make sense of it all, one merely has to look at the colors of the heaths, heathers, and glens of Bonnie Scotland. You may not think that plaids and checks of red and green can be camouflage; but observe!

For instance, take this hillside...
...and compare its rusts, greys, and browns to this example of tweed.
Let's take another example of a Scottish hill, this one in tan and brown and grey-blues:
And again, compare the tones and colors to this dogtooth check.
Let's give another example, this time a foggy blue-grey with lush greens:
And one more:

As you can imagine, this is no mere co-incidence. Wealthy landowners chose "estate tweeds," that were unique to that location. The man of the house would stand upon his balcony, and send his employees out, each with a different bolt of fabric across his shoulders. As they walked away and up the hill, the cloth that most closely matched the colors of the landscape would disappear from view first on the hillside, and that bolt would be chosen as the tweed for that estate.

In other words, "tone matching." Of course, it's impossible to choose your clothes in such a manner today...but the idea of matching your clothes to your environment is a timeless and valid one. This is, in fact, the very essence of the division between "town wear" and "city wear." Cities are dominated by greys, charcoals, and blacks, clean lines, and smooth textures; thus, that became the "city suiting." Likewise, when out of the city, look around you --take a picture if it will help-- and pull those colors into your outfits. Keep track of the changing of the seasons, and continually adjust your colors accordingly.

Of course, you needn't try to combine every hue in one item. Unless you get very lucky with a secondhand estate tweed, your jacket, shirt, and trousers can capture single hues in broad strokes, and your accessories can add the stronger ancillary colors. Autumn is the best season for putting this into practice, due to its abundance of strong, manly, earthy colors.

Into the winter, (and yes, it will be just around the corner,) the colors of your autumn attire should gradually wash into the monochromatic. This isn't to say winter wear need be bleak; the peculiar bright crispness of winter light can be woven into your attire as well.

The hues of spring are in many ways the brighter, more saturated versions of those of autumn. Unlike the gradual transition of autumn-into-winter hues, traditionally, Easter is the time for exploding the color back into your attire all at once, to kick off your spring wardrobe. And summer, as you well know, is the time for getting a little crazy.

Don't be caught up in matching socks to slacks, or ties to shirts, or hats to coats. Be more concerned with matching your adult clothes "outward" to the tones of your environment, and you need never fear being mis-dressed.

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