The generalisation that the English experiment with their shirts and the Italians with their jackets broadly holds, particularly in business wear. While the English tradition of checked and plaid wools is a fine one, it was always largely restricted to the country (or at least the weekend) and has died out slowly as fewer English men wore suits casually.
The Italians are more willing to experiment with suit cloth at every occasion. This necessitates a shirt and tie combination that makes no attempt to compete with that cloth – the Italian Background.
The Italian Background is simple: a plain blue or black tie on a plain blue shirt. (Occasionally the shirt will be white, but this can look a little formal.)
The combination works well because a blue shirt suits most people more than white, and it fades more into the background; because a dark tie fades more into the background than a pale tie; and because the dark blue tie is the most similar in tone and harmonious combination with a blue shirt – without being too similar and evoking tone on tone.
But this is analysing the obvious. It works as the plainest and yet most sophisticated of supports to an otherwise daring suit pattern – or indeed odd jacket. It equally supports an adventurous pocket-handkerchief, gloves, hat or jacket. When trying to balance an outfit, the Italian would much rather tone down a tie than go without one.
Four examples are displayed here, all courtesy of The Sartorialist. The top one brings out a particular aspect of the Background – its fruitful combination with beige or tan. The gentleman on the bike shows that the Background is the best choice for what could otherwise be a very hard suit to find combinations for.
If in doubt, go for the Italian Background. (Oh, and buy yourself a nice, plain blue tie.)
Hmmm . . . Well, I’ll soon have two colors of blue shirt. I guess I really should go buy a good dark blue tie.
The gent on the bike is so cool, wearing that cotton(?) suit with such louche comfort.
Good read. Ricocheted here from link provided on recent Pirozzi suit review. Appreciate the links you frequently provide back to your archived articles.
Oh good, nice to know Richard.
Can’t believe this article was 13 years ago!
I was wondering if it would still be considered the Italian background if you wore a striped shirt (Like the PS striped oxford). Thank you very much in advance Simon.
It’s not quite the same, but it would do the same job most of the time Kyle, yes
Do you have any examples of when it wouldn’t work? Also, thank you for getting back to me so quickly.
I’d say it wouldn’t be quite as good with paler coloured suits, where you’d want a plain blue shirt rather than white and blue. But it’s pretty marginal. Most of the time it will just be a different look – a bit more pattern, a little less simple – than not working