Adding interest to a navy blazer and grey trousers 

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We used to do a lot of posts called ‘Reader questions’. Someone asked recently what happened to them. 

Well, we still do them - it’s just that the site is now so big that posts normally reflect a half dozen readers asking similar things. Today’s post is an example. 

In the comments to the post ‘Flash vs fuddy’, a few readers asked how to make more standard outfits - those neither flash nor fuddy - more interesting. Another reader then asked, on a separate post, specifically how to add interest to the ‘menswear uniform’ of navy jacket and grey trousers. 

I have a couple of more obvious, general points, before illustrating some specific options around shirts. 

Quality and cut

The first point might be obvious, but it’s important. 

The things that make these conventional outfits interesting are precisely the ones that I’ve been banging on about for the past dozen years: quality and cut. 

If you want to look good in tailoring, don’t wear a double-breasted jacket, a pinned collar and double-monk shoes. Get quality shoes that look better as they age, good trousers that flatter your shape, and a quality jacket that’s been made for you. 

This doesn’t have to be expensive. Most people don’t look after their shoes, have their trousers adjusted, or buy flattering styles of jacket. Do all three and you’ll be better dressed than 99% of the population. 

Then, buy quality when you can afford to. Slowly and intelligently, buy fewer clothes but the same amount of money. The effect will be telling - especially where materials make a big difference, as with shoes and ties.

Shirts one: Add pattern

While you’re waiting for that policy to take hold, you can experiment with some little changes around the jacket and trousers. 

Shirts are by far the easiest way to do this. You’re unlikely to be wearing a handkerchief in your pocket these days, and may not be wearing a tie. A scarf is a great option without those other two decorative pieces, but decorative scarves aren’t for everyone either. 

There’s knitwear, but that’s weather dependent, and there are options around shoes. I particularly like black suede, for example, as a way to shake up a pretty conventional, formal outfit. But there aren’t many more options than that. 

So, shirts. First option is a nice stripe, like the ‘shadow stripe’ pictured above. This pattern is nice because it’s not too bold, as an awning stripe might be, nor something that looks like it’s still missing a tie, as a hairline stripe can. 

If you want to go less corporate, pick a coloured stripe instead. Swap the blue above for a lilac or a pale green. 

Shirts two: Texture

Second option: change not the pattern, but the texture. 

This is our old friend the denim shirt. (It’s a very old friend of mine, being an eight-year-old shirt from Al Bazar that’s literally falling apart at the seams. About two years ago the dissolution had an old-world charm to it, redolent of frayed cuffs and faded carpets. Now it’s just as mess, but I haven’t found a replacement I like. So it’s the only example we have.)

I shouldn’t have to tell readers why denim is nice here. But as briefly as possible: it’s the same colour as a business shirt, but a different texture; its associations are of workwear rather than formalwear; so it’s a little unexpected with fine tailoring, which subverts it pleasingly, if subversive is what you’re after.

Denim adds personality, basically, which was the desire of all the readers that brought this subject up. 

If you want more personality, less corporate, less smart casual, you can add more design details to the denim shirt or change the smart blue colour. A Western shirt - with all its points and snaps - would have more details (see here). A darker denim or chambray shirt (see here) would change the colour. 

Shirts three: Dark colour

Which brings us onto option three, where we ditch the business blue and go to the darker end of the colour spectrum instead. 

Navy on navy still looks elegant, but less formal. I wear it a lot, probably too much in fact. It’s just so easy yet no one else seems to be doing it. (That I see in person, not that I see in my echo-chamber of a social media feed.) 

Here the navy is an old version of the Friday Polo - our heavy cotton-piqué shirt that Permanent Style first offered back in 2015 (which launched with, I now realise, me wearing navy on navy). 

The colour change makes this an interesting option, but we have the change in texture as well. The cotton piqué immediately suggests sport, activity. And this colour even fades a little over time, in some of the same way as the denim. 

And four: Knitwear

Final option. Not a shirt at all anymore, but knitwear. 

The impression knitwear gives under a jacket - at least in my head - is one of relaxation. It just looks soft and comfortable in there. 

The material is soft, the edges soft. There’s no sharp cutaway collar or tight little tie knot. The appropriate activity is lounging in a club chair, not (like the polo) swinging your arms at a tennis ball. 

And it certainly looks interesting, which again is the whole point of this. 

In the US, I’ve noticed, there is a tendency for security guards to be given a uniform of navy blazer and grey trousers. 

First of all, I’d like to say, be grateful for what you’ve got. I wish guards in the UK were granted at least this semblance of seriousness by their employers. 

Second though, I do see how the prevalence of this look could make guys a little less keen on the ‘menswear uniform’ of blazer and flannels. It’s like wearing a cream jacket to a restaurant where you realise all the waiting staff are wearing cheap, synthetic versions of the same thing. 

But still, I do feel that the combination of quality, cut and options one through four should sufficiently separate the elegant man about town from any security staff. Perhaps the knitwear most of all. 

And there are plenty of other ways to add more personality, if that's what you want. That's where things like jewellery come into their own.

Do please tell me if you disagree, or indeed have any other helpful suggestions. Those from other readers are always at least as useful as mine. 

Clothes shown:

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt

Below: some other old examples from PS of navy jackets and grey trousers


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Noel

Good suggestions here Simon.

The only minor additions I’d add are: 1. An OCBD shirt to make it feel less corporate and more relaxed. You could even go with pink or some other non-blue colour to move further away from business associations. 2. Some grey ‘tailored’ chinos like your Stoffas instead of flannels.

Edric

Hi Simon, what about changing the buttons on a navy jacket? I have a few navy jackets as part of my “menswear uniform” but they all have buttons which match the fabric. I was considering changing the buttons to make them more interesting. I am considering a change to matte medium-light brown horn or gold metal buttons (think traditional blazer). I am however worried that the former would limit the blazer’s use and the latter would lean towards fuddy.

Tamaki

What do you thi k about mother of pearl? I think they are not as contrasting as brass and still make it a bit different. Mark Cho has some videos in which he uses a jacket with mother of pearl from liverano and I think it looks really nice

Peter Hall

Would you say that the combination of grey trousers and black shoes is becoming rarer(never mind blazer).
I balance that knowing, if we are attending any sort of event requiring a degree of smartness, my wife will always, without fail, suggest(!) black shoes, grey trousers and navy blazer. Indeed, it has been the saving of my silk tie collection.

Kevin

Hi Simon – Excellent post.
I am due to have my third bespoke sport coat made – having made one navy hopsack and one large herringbone in dark green/brown. I have been thinking of being adventurous and get something with patterns; but feel that my navy hopsack is still my go-to (I live in Sydney, so that can be worn in three seasons). Do you think I should get another pure navy (different shade) for my third commission, given its versatility?

Francisco

Hi Simon, thank you for this useful article. I already knew you like to wear black suede shoes and indeed they add interest. What about navy shoes (dark enough) in suede or also calf? I believe they can work well with a navy blazer + grey trousers and it’s definitely unexpected. Please, can you share your views on it? And give some tips to wear navy shoes. If you don’t recommend to wear them at all, please explain why. Thank you and have a nice day

Bruce Le Maire

Hi Simon

I think navy suede loafers would work well in this context if you were to go with white/cream/ecru trousers.
By the way, unless it’s the photography, the blue in your blazer looks to be going further towards grey than I would like to see, and thus getting too close to the grey in the trouser. Less muddy but truer blue would give a tad more contrast which I think would be a good thing.

PM

Hi Simon,
Thank you for another insightful article. As someone who is becoming more interested in classic menswear, I am interested, would you characterize your top as a blazer or sports coat? And for you, what characterizes each?
Thank you so much

PM

Thank you for your reply. I realize, I misread your comment above as you didn’t like blue blazers, instead of bluer. I had noticed in previous articles that you have several blue jackets. I was not sure if you were making a distinction between a blazer and sports coat.
Thank you again for another great article and all the insights.

Bruce Le Maire

Thanks. I agree that the “bright” blues these days do look cheap and less elegant, but a classic true navy has to be the benchmark; other blues can be lighter or darker to taste. A deep blue navy with black overtones is not to my taste sadly, as the black moves it too far from blue. The thing which can change a navy blazer so easily is the choice of button; plain gold of course is again the benchmark, but my current favorite is a greyish white mother of pearl. Simple elegance.

Stephen

Hi Simon,
Good suggestions for ‘taking the edge off’ navy and grey. You mentioned knitwear. A roll neck (turtleneck) takes it a little further – a different shade of grey, wine or camel, or indeed navy. Similarly- crew necks with an OCBD underneath- for a slightly looser fitting jacket.
Thanks also for the point on navy on navy, one of my favourite looks.
There is a menswear designer whose name escapes me for the moment (I’m sure you can tell us) who wears shades of navy throughout his styling.
Thanks for another interesting read.

Barry Kearney-Luc

Very easy solution for the Denim shirt, i.e. short sleeves

Aaron

Good article, Simon. I try to sometimes make my outfits at work slightly interesting if I can, though it’s more difficult when it’s a suit rather than separates and at court! In your other articles I’ve seen you (and Mark Cho on YouTube) wearing a pen in your breast pocket, which I do sometimes.

Fritz

Simon, is there a way to wear very dark shirts and look elegant?

I tend to always revert back to white/blue just to be save: A black shirt plus a dark tie might best fit into The Matrix, black shirt plus a light tie reminds me of sleazy used cars salesmen, and just a black shirt feels like night club or being mistaken for the waiter.

Craig

Great article!
In colder months I’ve taken to wearing thin roll neck sweaters under my sportscoats. It’s another way to make this outfit more casual, and potentially add color, but it may be a bridge too far for some. But I think they’re fantastic, and it’s become part of my go-to look.
Another way I mix this look up is to replaced the grey trousers with brown ones. Brown doesn’t always need to be casual and a cold, dark brown in a worsted or flannel has about the same formality as grey ones, but is more interesting to me.
I haven’t yet come around to black suede, though.

Fatih

Great article Simon. What I found goes really well with a navy jacket and grey trousers are shoes in that Alden No. 8 color. Be it loafers or some Brogues.

JJ Katz

A really well thought-out piece, Simon. (as usual).
A good navy blazer and grey trousers really an carry a lot of less classic/traditional stuff ands till look smart.

Kev F

Something of a paradox, isn’t it? What are possibly the two staples of the ‘smart-casual’ ie the grey trouser and the navy blazer can be tricky to combine. Lovely combinations though, Simon – very useful to have the pairings thought out and explained. I’m drawn to the darker shirt with the LA polo though another factor to consider is the cloth of the jacket. My navy jacket is a hopsack with quite a pronounced weave and doesn’t provide much contrast at all with my navy pique polo. I do like the idea of a colder brown trouser as an alternative as opposed to grey and this leaves me with a question – your options above all have a darker tone of grey trouser. Would a lighter tone of grey, or mid to lighter affect your choice of shirts or might this have an overly corporate look to it?

PB

For my taste, this look improves with age. The clothes’ age, that is. When I see a meticulously dressed young man in a navy blazer and gray trousers, however correct his look might be, it almost always pales in comparison to the interesting looking fellow with a mended sport coat and going-threadbare trousers. His implies a story the former doesn’t. There’s a line after which it looks bad, and the line is different for all of us. But I err on the worn side, when possible. It helps to shop vintage. But I even occasionally wear out the clothes myself, haha.

Liam

Simon, I really appreciate how you analyse this sort of challenge and then put some logic to the process of solving it. You’ve certainly helped me to start to think these things through based upon what I have in my wardrobe.
I find dressing down is becoming more of a challenge in my workplace as most guys (old, younger, senior or junior) tend to just drop the tie and go open neck with the same suit and shirt combo’s they always wore. I always want to be a little different so my response to this is to wear more ties (if they zig then I zag) but at the same time I don’t want to come across as formal. If anything I want to look just as casual but in a more considered way.
As a result, I’ve been tending to wear soft tailored sport coats, such as Boglioli or Man1924, with a more relaxed oxford (say Gitman) and a knitted or wool tie. This look works perfectly with the uniform and means I can use the tie colour and texture to change things up. If I’m wearing a more formally tailored sport coat then a Gitman Oxford doesn’t work and as it happens I’d just put a couple of denim shirts onto my shopping list to cover this gap.
Another move I’m pondering, again with the right style of tailoring, is a denim or Oxford popover which I think could work really well in dressing things down a notch. No tie this time and probably a chukka boot to finish the outfit off. Again, thanks for the inspiration.

Matt H

“If you want to look good in tailoring, don’t wear a double-breasted jacket, a pinned collar and double-monk shoes. ”

I’m curious what you mean by this, as you own both double-breastfed jackets and a pair of double monks.

Matt H

I didn’t mention pinned collars as I don’t think you wear them, but what would you say is the problem with wearing a double-monk with double-breasted? It’s not something I’ve done, so I’m not reacting due to that. I’m just curious as it’s not a combination I’ve known people to be against.

James

As more of a wardrobe-building question, do you find there is a place for buying multiples of an item you find especially suits you or is particularly versatile? I’m thinking of your Al Bazar shirt. It’s found its way into a number of different posts, but is now almost at the end of its life with nothing to fill the void. I have a couple of shirts like that too — things I tend to default towards because they work with everything and would be disappointed to lose. Do you think some things worth stocking up on, or is more variety a better aim?

Thomas A Powell

Simon, It has become ubiquitous to the point of cliche to see all manner of small checks, tattersals, and other small plaids as part of the ” uniform” these days combined with a navy jacket, at least in New England, where I live. The shirts are clearly nicely tailored, although cut too slim for my taste and figure. I guess it’s a way to appear dressed for business, but without really appearing to do so.

BB

Hey Simon, I’ve often wondered if you ever tire of answering our questions. You are ever so polite and graceful even when I would be tempted to haul my laptop out of the window! (*which queries rile you the most? I won’t ask you about sandals again … until next summer)

Alexander

I feel like this might be a given (and perhaps falls under texture or a combination of color), but I’d say seasonality of fabric would add interest too. Adding linen or cotton linen blend shirts for summer, and brushed cotton and wool for fall winter.
I’d also say just wearing a nice popover or something like your Friday polo works well, and distinguishes it. I live in the US, and can safely say I have never seen a security guard, or most people really, wear a popover, let alone with a trouser and blazer.

RTK

The “rules” have changed since I was growing up in the fifties and sixties on the east coast of the US. You would never wear brown shoes with blue or gray tailored wear. You would normally wear black shoes but dark cordovan or oxblood colored shoes were acceptable. It was OK for younger men to wear cordovan colored penny loafers or weejuns with tailored clothing of any color. Brown or tan shoes were only worn with clothing in the brown, green or tan color spectrum. I still follow these “rules” to an extent although I do find dark blue or gray shoes go well with clothes in the blue/ gray color group and provide a bit of variety.

Mike Rowley

Permit me to be a cat amongst the pigeons.
I have been wearing bespoke for 30 years, and enjoy mixing things up.
I get a lot of favourable comments generally, but never more so than when I wear a navy SB blazer, white OCBD, bashed up denim jeans, cardinal red socks and espresso suede loafers.
Nothing could be simpler really, and it works across pretty much all activities, from theatre, to gallery, to lunch in all but the swankiest of venues, to the pub.

Mike Rowley

Great to have differing views!

I think it is precisely because the blazer I wear with this outfit is SO formal in cut and cloth that it attracts so many positive comments. I think a Neapolitan cut as you mention would be less remarkable, and therefore garner less as it would just end up looking “ordinary” when compared with the rest of the ensemble.

Mike Rowley

Ok, I am not in fashion, nor am I prominent, so sorry to hear you don’t think it would look good on anyone who isn’t. Many people seem to think it looks good on me! Wearing bespoke for over 30 years has given me the confidence to dress with nonchalance, and without having to seek advice.
The idea of wearing a £4K blazer, a £35k PP and bashed up jeans seems so counter intuitive; that is WHY it works.
Love your articles.

Henry

Might I ask what a £35k PP is? I seem to have gotten mine free of charge!

Mike Rowley

Correct.

Henry

Ah I could’ve thought so!
However, crying out the value of one’s watch certainly does not resemble any form of nonchalance I have been made aware of.

Mike Rowley

Well Henry you’ve missed my point I think. The value of the watch in itself is irrelevant; I was trying to make the point that extremes can be perfectly harmonious.

Dan

Simon, do you know where the term “menswear uniform” came from? Or why the combination of navy blazer and grey trousers is so iconic/ ubiquitous? Is there any history to the particular combination?

Toby

I was excited to read this article after reading the title but was a bit disappointed by the end. I feel like the scope of the piece is so narrow, 3/4 points are suggestions to wear blue shirts. Surely the neutral ground of Navy Blazer, Grey trousers would allow for some more noteworthy experimentation?

Perhaps, a Breton, colourful knitwear, Madras shirt, strong coloured/patterned shirts, t shirts, your previously feature mock neck, layered pieces, canvas shoes, a variety of leather shoes and lastly material and cut of the two core items?

Just a thought

Toby

That makes perfect sense, I hadn’t clocked that everything was aimed at a work environment.

Emerging Genius

The last photo is the best one. The others aren’t particularly inspiring.

Nico

I agree that you look your best in the last photo. At least among the tieless outfits. And my guess is … it’s because the coat is unbuttoned.
This is something where I would be interested to have your opinion.
Much to my sorrow I am feeling increasingly compelled to wear sports coats without a tie. From principles I mechanically button them when standing up. But I frequently have the feeling that something seems to be at odds.
Surely the principle is that a coat does the best it can do to flatter you when buttoned. But I am feeling this is based on a somewhat architectural approach, and strongly linked to the presence of a tie in the ensemble.
The tie having been ditched for the sake of casualness and at the cost of losing the complete framing for the face, also the other components might be reconsidered.
I think shirt opening has, spontaneously and universally. Just one undone button doesn’t do, whatever the setting. I often get a chill from some of your pics in bleak British weather with two buttons undone, but acknowledge that just one would be somehow worse.
So I’m figuring out that a similar thing happens with the coat. Unbuttoned it fits in better with the more open shirt collar, and coherently elongates the figure. Also contributes to the relaxed appearance. Specially in hotter weather.
Thinking of the flip side, maybe a good cut can do enough to reasonably keep the V shape.
Curious to learn which your own perspective is.
Cheers,

Nico

Mm. Only to some extent. But I think mostly from a feeling that it seems a somewhat incongruous attempt to win back an already surrendered territory.

Old Bostonian

No need at all to make the classic combination more interesting, I daresay

Alan

Great piece and very useful as this I wear the navy jacket and grey trouser combination a lot and am always looking for how to make it more varied. I particularly like the navy shirt with navy jacket – something I have wanted to do for a while but was unsure how to pull off.

What are your thoughts on using patterned navy sport coats to add more interest? I have a navy jacket made from a bamboo fabric that has a lighter blue Prince of Wales check pattern. I find that the pattern immediately differentiates it from the “menswear uniform” without making it too bold or unusual looking.

Off topic but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on bamboo fabric if you ever get a chance to handle it. Huddersfield Fine Worsteds has two jacketing bunches that feel and wear very nicely in my opinion.

Alan

Good point about a patterned navy jacket looking less corporate. It’s an easy way of wearing the navy jacket, grey trouser combination outside of a work setting.

I have found the sheen on bamboo to be less noticeable than on some smooth wools but your sheen tolerance may be different to mine. I originally bought my bamboo jacket because I saw it on sale and was curious about it he fabric but I would consider having another one made up in a different colour because I was so pleased with it. It’s nearly as breathable as linen but with much less creasing and I found the soft texture particularly pleasant. I’m surprised that no one has done an in depth review of it in the way you do when you have pieces made.

azim

Thank you for all the valuable insights – why is a double breasted jacket & double monk strap shoe a no when it comes to tailoring?

Wouter de Clerck

Hi Simon, thanks again for a nice article and for the inspiration. It happens often that articles like this one simmer in the back of my mind (not sure if that is correct English, but you get the idea) and a couple of days later I end up wearing clothes in the combination or within the framework that you described. Today: navy hopsack jacket, light blue denim shirt, and mid-grey fresco trousers. I particularly enjoy the contrast in texture and formality between the latter two garments.

Russ

If you belong to or are a veteran of a British army regiment, the blue blazer with regimental tie and grey or red trousers are ‘de rigeur’ for evening get-togethers, especially when there is a trip away. My old unit is the Honourable Artillery Company, a bit of an upmarket organisation, whose second regimental motto might as well be ‘It’s bad form to look naff’. Cocktail parties can be an object lesson in how certain people have a careless panache (sprezzatura) about what they wear, even though it is basically the same outfit as everyone else’s. Here there will be one fellow with a slightly worn but much loved trilby hat or panama; over there a chap will have a crimson pocket handkerchief tucked into his breast pocket. Another will have lined his jacket in army crimson, the edges lightly revealed as the jacket flaps open. Others will have a threadbare shirt collar which is nonetheless worn with confident ease, even though the time for a repair or replacement has arguably arrived. The great joy of menswear ever since the days of Beau Brummell is the subtle differentiators between a common outfit gracing the same room. And the peculiarity of the British love of the well-worn look just adds further interest.

Jay Weir

Love that last photo (navy jacket, black shirt, light gray trousers). The pocket square is just right.
All that you do with clothes is just right.

BRENDEL

The dark Denim shirt with the navy jacket and tie – not sure. It works for you Simon – but the white pocket handkerchief is superfluous -I would wear the very smart jacket without it —- it certainly works with the other shirts- but in someways this white handkerchief detracts one from that very elegant tie.

Thomas

What on earth do you have against pin collars?Take a look at pictures of Cary Grant and Gary Cooper from the 30’s and 40’s–some of the most elegantly dressed men of modern times and often they’re wearing pin collars. I’ve never worn a double-breasted jacket, nor monl-strap shoes, I can’t for sure tell you how I’d look, I can tell you I look great wearing collar pins, and as no one else is wearing them, I look distinctive–and distinctively elegant–much more so than were I to stick with the now ubiquitous spread collar. That said, someday please explain your argument against these three items of clothing. None of them would seem to be current, but you caution wearing them not for that reason, but because one wouldn’t look good, which is rarely the same thing.

Mike Rowley

Edward Sexton is an advocate of the pin collar though.

Neil

It’s well-worth spending the extra money on a quality blazer, I find the older traditional Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers wool/cashmere three or two-button to be the best, or a quality DB if you can find one.

You can just about get away with one blazer for an English Summer, but money no object, I would have a linen, middleweight and heavyweight blazer to cover all bases.

I’m still a tie man, but I’m happy to go open-collar if the occasion demands it, I just find it only works with certain collars, and by that I don’t necessarily mean those ridiculously high-collared shirts that make you look like a certain short television comedian with over-sized spectacles; in fact, I think a camp-collared short-sleeved shirt probably looks better than some dress shirts that seem to shrink away.

I always wear a pochette, I think it works whether tieless or not.

Chris

As my wife noted, I’m built like a fire plug. I’m barrel chested, I’m just under 5’8” (172 cm) tall and was wondering if there is a brand of jacket anyone would recommend?
bespoke is not out of the question, but I wasn’t sure if there was a quality brand I could have tailored?
thank you!

Alexander

Dear Simon! Why is the PS everyday denim not a replacement for the Al Bazar shirt? Because the PS denim is finer and less casual, so they are not in the same category for you? Cheers

Alexander
Zeke

I think a nice green shirt in spring/summer and maybe a brown one in fall.

Jeevan

Hi Simon, I just stumbled across your YouTube vids recently. I’m a brand new reader and I’m curious if you have a starter post that highlights (aggregates) a few key posts you’ve put up in the past that you think are a great way to get into your ethos?

I see many posts and different directions to take on your site. It would be awesome if you had a starter kit so to speak. Pardon my ignorance if it already exists.

I’m definitely in the showy camp. I’m interested in digesting your different perspectives and integrating your wealth of knowledge into my style.

Thanks for the great content!

Anonymous

I noticed for the first time that you’re selling a version of the Dartmoor in cream. Is this a new color? I noticed that the Dartmoor page on the PS shop site does not have any pictures of the sweater in cream.