Colour combinations, from casual to formal
The colour combinations that we discuss every week in regards to formal wear, can be applied just as readily to casual wear.
Although there will always be elements that don't crossover (such as the immense versatility of denim) a lot of the themes and lessons are the same.
This post is an attempt to illustrate that, using a progression of outfits similar to those in our popular 'Which office are you?' post.
1. Green, cream and navy
We start with a very casual outfit (for me, anyway). A green Vietnam-era M65 jacket, worn with navy sweater, cream denim and my beaten-up Common Projects.
As mentioned in our post on trousers to wear with grey jackets, cream is a fantastically useful trouser colour, but not easy to wear in England (where it is rarely consistently bright and sunny).
White denim is even harder, as it has associations all its own. But this cream from Japanese maker Boncoura - stocked at Drake's - is a lot less bright, and has a big twill with subtle flecks in it that lends it a nice rugged quality.
The knitwear is also one of my summer favourites: a very lightweight cotton/cashmere-mix hoodie from Anderson & Sheppard. Worn over a Sunspel grey T-shirt.
2. Brown suede slip-ons, rather than trainers
The outfit becomes considerably dressier when the most casual part - those trainers - is swapped for some dress shoes.
Brown suede is probably the most versatile of casual materials in a dress shoe, and the slip-on keeps it summery.
These are from Stefano Bemer, machine made on my bespoke last. The style is called the Janus because of the supposedly two-faced contrast between the round toe shape and squared-off apron.
3. Shirt and sweater
The next most-casual element is that T-shirt and hoodie, so they are swapped for an open-necked shirt and crewneck sweater.
Note that the colours are kept consistent throughout: if you know your cream trouser looks good with a green jacket and navy sweater, keep that palette but just dress up the pieces.
The shirt is ready-made, from Phineas Cole at Paul Stuart. The knitwear from John Smedley.
4. Cream woollen trousers
One of the wonderful things about woollen trousers, such as flannel, is that they look immediately smart in an age when everyone is wearing denim. But actually they are quite casual - and appear so, making them very versatile.
Any flannel would therefore happily work with this M65 jacket, the obviously worn-in nature of the one contrasting nicely with the sharp creases of the other. And even cream woollens, like this made in Holland & Sherry's super-heavy Pardessus cloth, work in that combination.
The trousers were made by Elia Caliendo, with some lovely finishing around the waistband and side buckles.
5. Finally, tailoring
The last thing to change is that jacket, swapping for my olive-green Escorial jacket from Solito.
As with the 'Which office are you?' post, these items could have been swapped in different orders - the shirt could have replaced the hoodie one step earlier, for instance. But the jacket can really only come at the end (unlike that earlier piece) as the cream denim is too rough (and too wide in the leg) to sit comfortably underneath it.
The important thing to remember is how different items can be swapped in the same colour combination, to alter its formality.
I particularly liked the olive-navy-and-cream combination here, but I could retain that while altering the formality to different days or occasions. And I could change it again replacing the brown suede loafers for oxfords, for instance.
Sunglasses by EB Meyrowitz. Vintage leather case from Bentleys.
Very good follow-up to the “Which office…” post. It’s fascinating to see the same colour mood and general idea of casualness play out very differently but equally well going straight from the first foto to the last. I can easily see occasions for each.
Please keep these coming, Simon.
Cheers Oskar, nice to hear
Which Smedley sweater is this please? Do you have experience with their different fits in pullovers (easy, standard, slim)? Thank you Simon
Cleves in midnight. Have a search around the site, there’s lots on here about Smedley.
I love their slim fit – first real genuine slim fit offered by a brand across a whole range.
I must say that final combination is beautiful! I am continually trying to see what tailoring I can wear in informal scenarios, would you say this can be worn as standard weekend wear without seeming overtly formal due to the casual, muted colours?
It would still be pretty smart by most people’s standards for the weekend – but it certainly could do. Perhaps for wandering down to a metropolitan cafe, rather than playing with the kids in the countryside….
Fantastic post. On this note, I am gradually building up my informal trouser collection, aka pieces to be worn with odd jackets and nicer knitwear, and I wondered what you think about the cream flannels. Do you think they have connotations with cricket or otherwise 1930s resort wear, or can they be worn as a legitimate alternative to the cream chino? Also, I wonder where they rank on the list of odd trousers? I have pale grey flannel and frescos and am wondering where to proceed? Thanks
The associations are the big problem. They are very versatile in terms of things they go with, but hard to wear on anything but bright days, and they necessarily stand out more than greys.
Love the Solito cut and style.
I’m just thinking, would this be more or less formal with either of the two grey trousers Thomas mentioned?
The formality would be less to do with the colour and more with the materials. The greys would both be more formal than the cream denim, and on balance probably more formal than the cream trouser – just because the cream would stand out so much more.
For casual weekend wear, how far along the list of jackets is this. I assume later than brown herringbone and navy, but what else goes before it?
Sorry, do you mean is this more casual than those two other jackets?
Sorry, I meant is this the 4th jacket you buy when building a collection, or the 20th? The point about formality is interesting though.
Ah, I see. For casual weekend wear, I wouldn’t put the navy so high on the list. Browns and greens first, probably, of which this could certainly the green (although it’s muted colour makes it more urban and a little less casual/country – see my full post on it, linked from the post). Then a grey, perhaps a shetland or donegal
Really like that m65. Was it vintage? or have you just worn it in well yourself. I have looked at a few before but they look far to new, stiff and “clean”. In the milder months i tend to just wear a Burberry but it is far to dressy with dirty trainers and t shirt. I need something in between. I have tried a Barbour in the same style (trooper) but never really worked well, possibly the bulky-ness of the padding.
It’s vintage yes – Vietnam era as I said. Have a look in the Vintage Showroom off Seven Dials. They nearly always have a good range. But pricier but nicely curated
What size do you wear in the M65? I notice all the real ones have short-reg-long sizing.
Mine doesn’t have a label or sizing I’m afraid
Is there any chance to buy in London well cut cotton pleated trousers with side adjusters or I do need to go for bespoke ? I do not like the idea of buying trousers on line and in Italy side adjusters are very rare and many tailors (apart from the top ones) do not make trousers with side adjusters.
Try Anderson & Sheppard haberdashery. Bit expensive but good quality and great range
Hi Simon – great article (as always). Love the M65 – where did you get it from? I’ve been after one for some time, but apart from brands like the Real McCoys have struggled to find any.
Also, and slightly / significantly off-topic, are you planning to do another Permanent Style annual for 2016? Was a big fan of the 2015 one..
Vintage Showroom in Covent Garden. We are looking at another Permanent Style publication, yes, but likely to be later in the year
Should the 1st outfit text read ‘navy hoody’ rather than ‘navy sweater’?
Yes, probably. I’ll change it
great post! Never thought you might wearing a casual combination like this. I like your post where the initial casual style becomes more sophisticated by changing a piece. Very inspiring! More of them
This is a great post! It’s really interesting to look at these various outfits up and downwards and pay attention indeed to the level of formality of each item, while keeping the harmony of the colors as a constant variable! Personally, I love these colors!
Not sure if this is the right place to ask this but I’ve been wondering about your opinion on this for a while. Out of all the mainstay colors for men – navy, grey, brown and green – it seems to me that there are not many options for the odd grey jacket in warm weather fabrics/patterns. Most of the grey options tend towards heavier material – tweeds, flannels, etc. With the exception of fresco, are there summer fabrics, patterns etc. that work well in grey?
It’s a good point. In general there is a lack of obvious summer jacket materials – which is why most are mixes, like wool/linen or wool/silk etc. It gives the needed texture in a jacket. For suits, you’re looking at all the lightweight and high-twist worsteds, which don’t have quite as many pattern differences in the weave etc as heavier cloths, but there’s still decent variation there
Great and very valuable post, thank you, Simon!
Wouldn’t want to be too critical but in comparision with the ‘Which office…’ post, for me the pictures feel much more relevant (showing the evolution and the effect) when clothes are actually worn rather than laid together.
Good point, thanks Adam. Mannequin posts are a little quicker and easier to put together, but I can certainly see how it’s easier to see the combination when on a person
Great post Simon!!
Inspiried by your post I was lucky to find a jacket which has a M65 style, but with little different details . I have found it in Lucca in the beatiful Tuscany in a small shop which runs only their own designed garments. I haven’t found an internet address …it’s called Stefano Veneziani, maybe worth to take a look for all who where looking for a m65 jacket.
Have you considered colours against skin tone? I tried to read up on this over Christmas but most content is focused towards women and make up. I’ve noticed that certain shades flatter me more, whilst others can make me look washed out. But I’m struggling to join the dots and build a reliable wardrobe taking into account this dimension.
I’ve written about it a little bit, but to be honest I find too much attention is often paid to it, and if followed too closely can lead to a very constrained wardrobe. It’s usually more about getting the balance right in your clothes – eg enough contrast between colours – rather than not wearing certain pieces.
You’re more likely to look washed out because of the combination than because of a single colour.
White denim: What do you think about?
Thanks a lot for your answer
Well I think it can work in some situations, as in this post. But it helps that they are off-white, and have casual flecks and texture to them. Brighter whites are much harder – sunshine helps!
Can you let me know which style navy Smedley you are wearing in this post or that you would recommend. Building on your recent casual wardrobe post i’d Like to get a versatile navy crew (20% off everything on Smedley website at the moment). Thanks Malcolm
Hi Malcolm. This is a merino Smedley, but in the slim fit that they no longer do.
If you don’t mind about the fit, you just want their standard crewneck navy in merino.
is the PS knitwear a good alternative to Smedley ‘s slim fit?
Yes, the fit is similar; the make is much finer, as is the merino though.
Also, we have almost none left – so you’ll be lucky if there’s one in your size…
I am a bit between sizes and tend to wear my knitwear slim. So I guess S would fit, what if it is too tight? M is already out of stock. Is there possibility of refund?
Appreciate your help!
Hi Christopher. Yes, we offer refunds and indeed free returns
Great! Good to hear, already ordered….
Dear Simon, S fits perfect…
The knitwear is really fine, I am excited if the durability is also good as expected. Mostly my knitwear get holes at the armholes, but they are not comparable. Both in price and material…
I have decided for your knitwear to reduce the volume of my knitwear. I guess it is more sustainable and comfortable to have only some selected items with high quality.
the fit is great! Are there any special care instructions, especially for ironing?
Nothing particular, just wash as you would any good knitwear – hand wash cold or on a woollen setting on a machine if you’ve tried it before and have confidence it is gentle enough. Then roll in a towel to remove most moisture, and dry flat on a rack, don’t hang
Thank you Simon!
Thanks for the reply. And would you only wear merino crew with a shirt rather than t-shirt. Waiting for reintroduction of your Dartmoor- any plans? In the meantime if you had to choose a Smedley merino long sleeve polo, what would it be? Appreciate your help
No, I’d wear a T-shirt as well sometimes.
The Dartmoor should be here soon actually – hopefully next month
I really like this kit. Wearing a crew neck sweater with a tweed jacket feels very comfortable. If I could do so with impunity every day of my life, I should not mind never again wearing a suit or any other sort of clothes.
Any chance, Mr. Crompton, we shall see some examples of you wearing these or something similar? I am sure the bespoke pieces – the jacket and the shoes – make it that much better. Incidentally, do you know any tricks for maintaining the elasticity of the gorge in crew neck sweaters?
And actually it will be included in an upcoming video, yes.
On crew necks, there isn’t much you can do beyond not overstretching them, and buying quality
You wouldn’t know in what size you got your Boncoura Jeans? And are they shrink to fit?
No, sorry, though they did shrink noticeably. I actually ended up giving them away
It is pleasantly surprising to see this classic color combination keeps on in our wardrobes even when lifestyles have largely changed.
I know that Navy-Grey-White is ultra classic and on the higher end of the formality scale, and this one perhaps on mid-lower end. Would you have any thoughts on formality of color combinations? I would appreciate your comment.
Interesting point Cormac.
I think we cover it in articles like the wardrobe building ones – navy and grey are more formal and business-like, as you say, then green and brown are more casual and rural. In the shirts one, you see white is always the smartest, then pale blue, but textures make a big difference. And in knitwear also navy and grey, followed by the other colours. These aren’t combinations, but they work in the same way – eg a navy jacket with a brown trouser is more casual than with a grey trouser.
Thank you Simon.