We’ve talked rather a lot in recent weeks about building up the basics in a wardrobe, but less about the statement or accent pieces that can set an outfit apart.
This is because statement pieces are so much harder to get right. They exist outside the normal rules, or customs, and indeed often become statements because they subvert those rules. The key is to subvert just one thing: take a classic piece of clothing and switch its colour or texture, keeping everything else the same.
My favourite statement item is a pair of bright red shoes. I used to know an Italian lawyer who wore these wonderfully. Everything else would always be strictly conservative: navy suit, white shirt, dark tie. But bright red brogues. Often statement pieces require this kind of conservatism elsewhere.
I have a pair of red whole-cuts from JM Weston that perform this role (similar model, above). Lovely shoes, well maintained and polished, worn with the simplest of suit/shirt/tie combinations. Few other bright colours work for shoes. Green, blue, yellow – none of them work with a navy suit unless much darker and so subtler.
Second, the black suede shoe. Where the red shoe introduces an unexpected colour, this is an unexpected texture. Black suede stops the eye dead as it runs over the outfit. Suede absorbs the light where you expect it to reflect. Again, keep it simple elsewhere. Cary Grant, predictably, was a master of this.
Third, the cream waistcoat or sleeveless sweater. Sweater is perhaps safest for those experimenting for the first time. For a neutral colour, cream makes an outfit look remarkably dressy – probably because of the associations with cream and pastel-coloured waistcoats with formal daywear. Because it is so dressy, keep the rest simple still. I like grey flannel myself, with a white shirt.
Other statement accessories are lime green ties (with blue shirt and navy suit) or indeed pastel colours. Ties are particularly difficult to pull of as accents, so make sure to keep the quality high and the patterns simple. Handkerchiefs are a safer bet – ones that go with nothing obvious in the rest of the outfit. I like pink with grey flannel, green or purple with navy worsted.
Have a try once every other area of the wardrobe is covered. But remember: just subvert one aspect, whether colour or texture. Woollen ties with woollen suits work well for similar reasons: it’s exactly what the rules tell you not to do.