In an age where suits no longer dominate the workplace, more and more men are wearing separate jackets and trousers. But while the dress code is more relaxed, the outfit is suddenly more complicated. There is much broader range of cloth, colour and pattern to choose from, and two decisions to make, rather than one. It doesn’t help that the suit is the worst place to start from:  almost nothing is going to go with your navy jacket or trousers.

The key to wearing separates is contrast. Both items must clearly be differentiated from each other. The easiest way to do this is through colour, then pattern. Design details such as contrasting buttons and patch pockets can also help differentiate the jacket from a suit. And although contrast in cloth is also worth considering, more often keeping the two materials similar in their formality is the best option.

First, colour. Grey flannels and cream summer trousers have always been popular as separate trousers because they are neutral in colour and provide sufficient contrast to any dark jacket. In my case, above, the pale-grey flannels are even more versatile, and contrast with the brown Rubinacci jacket where a darker grey would not.

This of course leads to the classic separates outfit: navy blazer and grey trousers. Bear in mind, however, that any navy suit jacket will not work as a blazer – it needs something to set it apart from a suit, such as brighter/paler buttons or patch pockets.

A stronger blue not normally associated with a suit would work, as would a strong pattern such as a windowpane check (see image at top).

Colour is always the easiest thing to vary, however. Mariano Rubinacci does so admirably above with a gingery linen jacket (Happy Birthday Mariano…), while Luca Rubinacci prefers stronger colours.

Note, too, that the materials are similar in their formality – and for formality, read roughness. Mariano’s linen jacket with his fresco trousers; my donegal-cashmere with flannels; Luca’s linen/silk jacket with gabardine: all have a similar-enough texture on bottom and top. The only exception, I find, is when the materials might be too similar to allow contrast. My Liverano jacket, for example, works best with smoother gabardine or worsted trousers.

See also post here with large selection of photos (only some of them of me…).

If you’re starting from scratch, keep it simple: just grey trousers, perhaps mid-grey flannels and pale-grey frescos; then any dark jacket that is obviously not part of a suit. Once you start looking around, you’ll find plenty of other combinations you’ll want to mimic.