Double brown: Just a touch less subtle

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I think there's a useful variable in considerations of how we dress that we haven't talked about explicitly before: how subtle or showy clothes are.

I might write a longer piece on it at some point, but I think it's essentially a spectrum from the very understated at one end to the very in-your-face at the other. 

It implies nothing about genre of clothing, or execution. Streetwear can be subtle or showy too, and you can do showy outfits better or worse. It's more a question of style, and it's there clearly when we say outfits are loud or quiet, or more of 'a look'.  

Permanent Style has generally stayed down the subtle end of the spectrum, while trying to become neither dull nor archaic. 

Today's outfit is intended to illustrate a very small move away from that subtle end of the range. 

If you were to wear a white shirt and brown knit like the V-neck pictured, the more expected trousers with them would be charcoal, mid-grey or beige.  

This would be more harmonious, subtle - the kind of combination someone might not even remember in detail, merely recalling that you were smartly dressed. It's the kind of simple style that business clothing aims for, because your clothes should not really be the focus. 

Wearing trousers in virtually the same brown as the knit, as shown, is a little more unexpected. Not a lot, by any means. Again most people may not notice. But it is a small step away from the orthodoxy. 

I think it's a look worth highlighting because some readers may like something a little more interesting, a little less classic. I certainly do sometimes. 

It belongs in the same category as double denim, or the black-on-black we discussed earlier this year (both pictured above). But it's more subtle than both, because brown is less striking. 

Paler colours - say white on white - are also a step along the showy spectrum, and usually look best with a layer over the top (as shown here).

A more similar combination would be double navy, or double charcoal. Though navy is a touch more ordinary. 

I particularly like a charcoal rollneck with charcoal flannels. 

Separating the two blocks with a belt helps a lot. In this outfit, a black alligator belt from Rubato that goes with the black Piccadilly loafers. 

It helps so much that you’d be forgiven for making sure that belt buckle is on display most of the time. Personally I wouldn't tuck the knitwear into the trousers (one more step along that spectrum) but I certainly understand the impulse. 

The polo shirt, while we're listing everything, is from Trunk. I increasingly like long-sleeved polos like this and of course the Friday Polo under knitwear. The glasses are Eyevan from Ludovic Lunetier.

And the coat is of course the PS Donegal in light grey. Only a couple of those left, though there's still good stock in navy

Often when we feature less classic clothing on PS, readers comment that the looks are more 'fashion'.

That's sometimes true, but I think it can conflate being more showy with being trend-driven. 

It is possible to dress a little less classically, perhaps with more personality, and not be connected to what designer brands and their high-street copycats are selling. 

Fashions are of course insidious, seeping into our consciousness from everyone and everything we see around us. But this doesn't feel particularly fashionable to me. 

Oh, and when it comes to tailoring - a jacket and trousers - I'd want more difference in the browns on top and bottom. Otherwise it could look like a slightly odd suit. 

Photography: Christopher Fenimore

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I’m a fan of wearing the same / similar colors on the top and bottom. The outfit certainly looks good, but I would use a little more – though not by much – contrast between the two shades of brown.
On a more general note, I would be great if you could even write an article where you discuss the benefits and downsides between tonal dressing (same / similar colors) and complimentary dressing (different colors that go together, like navy and grey) as this seems to be a question where most articles revolve around.


An outfit with the same colours on top and bottom is, in effect, a suit so why not wear one? When the weather is wet and dank, dark monotone outfits (very 1980s!) only add to the depressing dullness. Such days need brightening up with contrasting and vibrant colours.


To Markus’ point, Simon, please cmii, didn’t you wear the same sweater but with darker brown flannel trousers in the NYC popup last month? The whole outfit looked elegant (in fact, I had to search through the PS archives to find the provenance of the trousers) without veering into the showy category.

Il Pennacchio

I wear similar colors on top and bottom when I can because it makes me look taller and slimmer by creating an uninterrupted vertical field of color in much the same way a suit does.


I love the look of Rubato knitwear and could quite happily buy it in every colour they offer (apart from the Riviera yellow!), but the fit is just too short for me, unfortunately. I understand that’s the style, made to wear with higher waist trousers, but they’re a little too short to work with my preferred mid-rise. Ah, well…
Having got that off my chest, I have to say that I like this look. I think it works with browns in a way that it wouldn’t with black, as you say. At least, it would be a very different kind of look. I wonder if it works with the browns here because of the textures and subtle colour variations within both the pullover and the trousers. Black would usually be a more solid colour. I’m not sure if I’m expressing myself well here, but hopefully you know what I mean.
A question I have is whether it works best with a v-neck pullover, which shows a little more of the white polo shirt underneath, compared to a crew neck, which would show less of the contrasting white.


At very first I thought the trousers were actually charcoal, until I read the title and looked closer. Looks what I’ve seen called a charcoal brown. I like the fact the buckle is gold too. Feels tonal, and silver would’ve stood out too much.

Also on this topic just last week I was talking to a friend about how much I liked the outfit of yours with the brown Shetland jumper and the brown square silk scarf. Alas, I have not been able to find any solid/tonal square silk scarves.


Ah – I keep forgetting to ever check A&S.
They don’t seem to have any silk or square scarves currently available on the website, but I will keep an eye out. I do see they actually have some simple checked scarves though.


I don’t think it works well. It’s not about rules, it just does not feel good to look at. I’m a guy who loves dark brown and charcoal wools, and I can’t make it work either. For me, double dark brown could work as, say, trousers and jacket of some sort, perhaps suede? It really feels like the bottom layer needs to break the shades up, and you can’t have that with a sweater. Big cardigan, perhaps?


I thought „Belgravia“ is only the name for the EG tassel loafers, or is that a new penny version?


Nice clothes but the glasses and baseball cap combo make you look like a 1980s serial killer!


decidedly on the subtle end of the Halloween costume spectrum


Who can forget Jason’s short-lived move away from hockey mask and overalls to preppy attire.


What a strange article; none of the featured glasses look the same.


Hey Simon,
Is this the new “earth” coloured V-neck from Rubato? This one here looks a bit colder in colour – but maybe I’m crazy.


Hi, Simon!

I quite like the subtle look of the outfit. Looking at the details of the combination, I have a question that is slightly tangential – how are you finding the black Utah Piccadillies you wear in the photos? (you mention Belgravia in the text but I presume that’s a typo.)

I’ve been thinking about a black loafer and how it may be more suitable for certain outfits than, say, a Belgravia tassel in brown/dark oak. Sometimes I find the brown colour a bit too light and informal. For instance, when paired with more somber grey trousers/navy jacket combinations or with outfits where the colour scheme is darker overall (such as the one in this post).

Do you think a black loafer would fit that bill well? I am also very interested in what made you choose a textured calf penny loafer compared to the smooth black calf tassel Belgravia.


Peter Hall

I’m not sure it works for me. I’ve tried brown on brown,with both roll and crew, and it just seemed…a little bland?
However, I will return to it with a vee over white shirt. Double charcoal works and is very smart.
If I was thinking of wearing a jacket, would you go for a large tonal contrast I.e grey


nice, i like the longer beard 😉
id say this outfit, as good as it is, is more subtle than, say, beige trousers. because with beige trousers, the knitwear talks…and imo Rubato knitwear is loud-ish. when you wear all brown, the knitwear takes a backseat. suddenly its more about the silhouette, which to my eyes is more subtle.


I was inspired by Stoffa’s website, where they do this a lot, to play around with more monochromatic outfits and I find I like them quite a bit. It works best, IMHO, when the top and bottom are in different fabric types. This prevents them looking like a jumpsuit. They don’t even need to be dramatically different – a wool jumper and flannel trousers is all that it takes. Despite this, and at the risk of contradicting myself, I think it was a good choice to go with black loafers, which I also do when I’m wearing brown on top and bottom.


True, jumpsuit ist one pitfall, chocolate teddy another – both leading to the importance of quality and fit. Fabric diversity, V-neck with shirt, well-chosen belt and smarter shoes should help to overcome.


Hi Simon, I agree with most of what you say, which tends to be pretty much my personal taste. I particularly like a charcoal (marl) cashmere roll neck and grey flannels. I like the way you describe it as harmonious which I hadn’t really thought about beforehand and explaining that this approach isn’t boring, rather an understated style. My own taste precludes tucking in knitwear. It can however look good with high waisted trousers with bit of a vintage feel on some.
Interesting your use of the word insidious in relation to fashion. In my opinion seductive yes, but not necessarily harmful or evil. Fashion is a systematic influence for sure in my opinion, one which I would say does generate significant economic growth.
Can I just ask about the polo – is that in the Trunk Moxon, Finamore or Fideli?
Thanks for an email informative article.


Hi Simon, can I ask what size you have in the Moxon polo? I’m planning to get that and I think I’m a medium but could be a large due to the slim fit – we have a similar build so your experience would be helpful!


I always struggle to find correct shoe colour for dark chocolate trousers.
For me, the dark brown look too similar, too boring, especially with matching socks and lighter create too much contrast.
Do you have any ideas what could really work?


Hi Simon, sorry I meant to ask this question regarding the Donegal coat, in my earlier comment. Do the coloured flecks show less in the grey than the navy, which is suggested by the photographs? The more I see the grey the more I like it and see that it’s now available for preorder from Private White VC.


Excellent! But where did this deep V-neck come from? I seem to have trouble finding them. RS


Did you go with the medium or large in the Rubato V-neck, Simon? I’ve almost purchased the same one a few times but have vacillated on sizing. Thanks.


Oh, so they are a bit longer now? That’s good news.


Hi Simon, lovely combo as usual – May I ask what colour of shirt would be your second choice? Also I guess there is a typo when it comes to loafers as they are not Belgravias – If I’m correct they are black Piccadilly’s:)


On the subject of what should and shouldn’t work …….Black shoes with brown trousers ?
That’s something that shouldn’t work (but it does as you’ve perfectly illustrated ).
I mean brown shoes with grey doesn’t really work so according to that rule black shoes shouldn’t work.
On the subject of brown …. a brown suit is a really tricky colour . Brown jacket , yes . But a brown suit ? Not sure why that is .

Eric Michel

I am a big fan too of similar colours on the top and bottom, and as mentioned brown/brown, navy/navy and black/black work really nicely with V necks, cardigans and turtlenecks. I may (or not) select my shoes in a different colour, black shoes with brown trousers, burgundy with black, dark brown with navy… But this concept does not work for me with any kind of green or with summer colours like white, beige or lighter blue…


Lovely colour in the Rubato V neck and great Dahmer specs!


I am not a big fan of this look. Maybe I would like it better with a little more contrast, and the sweater being less casual and darker than the trousers.
Apart from that, why wear a belt with tailored trousers? I think it just adds noise to an otherwise calm outfit (especially this rather flashy one). I also believe the light grey socks are unfortunate here. Can’t nail it down, but somehow they make the shoes look cheap.
Finally, adding those trendy (but already a little dated) glasses and the collegiate cap looks a little studied to me here, it’s just too much of a discrepancy. Sorry for the negative tone.
What is your opinion on those high-quality wool, cashmere or linen caps popular these days (


Hello Simon. I would enjoy your thoughts on caps. I believe from previous articles yours was a gift (or possibly that was your red one), and I recall you saying you prefer the writing on it to it being completely plain.

– do you prefer structured or unstructured?
– yours appears to have a Velcro fastening. Are leather or plastic fastenings not to your taste?
– is wool a luxury material you dislike, or cashmere only?

I’ve found it difficult to find a cap that meets the relevant requirements. They either have horrible logos (Boss in large capital letters is the worst), are cheap and low quality, or fall into the luxe category you dislike!


Thank you Simon. Ps More articles like this one please.


This look would be considered showy? I get the exact opposite impression. For me it would work when I want to keep low profile, either because feeling a bit antisocial on a particular day or wanting to get things done, skip the fluff. Saturday at the office.
I like it because I generally like monochrome outfits in navy, black or brown but still I feel contrast top-bottom to be a more pleasing combination.
Interesting that this outfit features two prominent elements that I’ve gotten negative feedback on from women specifically. First the Rubato V-neck, which I like because how it allows for trousers to shine, I’ve been more than once said that proportions look off on it. I wonder if it’s just that people are not exposed enough to the style or if it really is something that offends some peoples sense of symmetry.
Then there is the brown which I have been leaning heavily towards lately, no doubt due to Italian influence. Some women seem to not like brown on men for some reason, they much prefer navy or greys, any idea why is that?


When you give example like that, yes I can see it now, thanks for explaining. Actually I think it would be quite interesting to see how different people see the spectrum from understated to showy. At first it seems quite obvious and you’d think that people perceive the scale in similar matter, as is defined by the “rules”, but after giving it some thought, I guess this scale can be very individual and based on persons cultural and social background. If you ever decide to write an article about it, please do consider involving multiple perspectives, I feel it could add a lot of value.


Funny that you say you receive negative feedback on your Rubato knitwear, I have experienced the opposite!
My charcoal grey Rubato V neck is probably my most complimented garment.
Even though I find them terribly expensive, I was thinking about buying another one based on this alone.
However, I do think you need to have a certain body type for the Rubato knitwear to suit you, tall and slim is best.
If you are already built like a barrel ofl Lager, having something that is short and certainly won’t help.


Well, I’m not really that shape either so I’m not providing much of an informed opinion, but when I see some men who are already portly wear those big puffer jackets or baggy hoodies (especially with skinny jeans) they almost resemble humpty dumpty come alive!

From what I have seen, most men who are overweight benefit most from wearing long garments such as sports jackets or suits cut with a long skirt and overcoats reaching until the mid calf.


I think in this case it has more to do with the distinctive cut. I admit that it can depend on how a person styles it but even when on Rubato models body it strikes me as a look. While I personally like the fit, I can see how it might seem unusual for some.
I’ll try to soften the look by lessening contrast and assemble more tonal combination like this article demonstrates. This won’t be as easy with the verdant aka pale green colour though…

Bradley Tompkins

I have ventured into the double-denim look here recently and it worked more easily than I had expected, as I would venture brown-on-brown would as well. Great look!


Some good thoughts here, Simon. Certainly worth thinking about as one considers colours and shades. I do have a question about the greenish/khaki sports jacket you are wearing in the second picture within the body of the text. It looks lovely. What brand is it, or what tailor, if bespoke? Have you written a piece about this jacket here? Thanks.


Can I ask you about your choice to leave your beard longer in the chin area? Thinking of growing mine that way to cover up my weak chin.


I like this look as I like brown a lot. Concerning the shoes, would a lighter shade of brown shoe work well with this ensemble or would you stay with black? I also really like the grey rollneck with grey flannels idea, very sophisticated.


Gave me some inspiration again! Going to try some more tonal fits this week. No brown though! I find brown doesn’t suit me since my hair is quite gingery


Big thumbs up from me, especially considering that jumper (and just due to shoe combo options, to a lesser extent) trousers are also able to pair with other items easily.
On the topic of charbrown shoe options, this has been the clearest example of black being “right”.


Wonderful elegant look Simon. Brown, with black shoes and grey coat. I think it’s a very nice alternative classic look. Do you think black suede shoes would work well also ?

Spencer Lambert

Did Edward Green make these trousers?


Fun outfit. I wear similar. As a short guy this type of look helps to not cut me in half (visually, of course). I find there is a delicate balance between complimenting without clashing. Sort of like avoiding the uncanny valley, for me, the key is making sure things aren’t too close but also have subtle visual interest.


I like the outfit in the first picture. It looks modest. It’s similar to what older Turkish men like to wear.


Thanks Simon, for some reason i was looking forward to some comments regarding the monochrome outfits. I was never sure how it would look on me, something that i was willing to experiment with..i know your opinion when it comes to tailoring but what about casual outerwear? for example i see people wearing navy chinos, navy knitwear and a navy suede blouson..would that be a acceptable, or it would look like a dull uniform?


Personal thought on color and combination: Browns (dark or light ones) should be – somehow – “artifical” in color or texture (f.e. mixed with grey, blue, black), what can be a subtle task itself. Tending to more “natural” appearances, on the other hand, this seems to lead out of decent combinations (like double brown), basically.


Hi Simon,
Great article further exploring tonal dressing. I have to say I love this and have been experimenting with it for some time now.
I even sometimes manage to make the entire outfit variations of one colour (changing shade, texture and shape only). A particular favourite is based on blue, managing to achieve this in suiting and less formal attire.
From the top:
Navy suit
Light blue shirt/Dark Blue Shirt
Light blue or Dark blue tie (solid or knit)
Blue socks (navy or a slightly brighter blue)
Navy shoes (sounds God awful I know, but it works)
Watch with navy leather strap
Your Navy PS Indulgent cardigan
Blue top (shirt, knit etc)
Dark blue (lighter than the cardigan) jeans
Dark blue socks
Navy leather Common Projects
Same Watch/Strap
Variations of all the above have done in different materials etc inc swapping jeans for flannels but the contrast of denim against the cardigan looks better.
It’s difficult to get right and I don’t do if often but when it works it’s really satisfying.


I thought you might say that (cue mild embarrassment on my part).
I will switch around the shoes and watch strap to start – I have a lovely burgundy strap that could be fun and a small pop of colour and balance out with black shoes maybe.
Let me play around with what you have suggested and will let you know the outcome.


I do like the brown on brown, it does feel rather elegant. The only change I would make is I feel the black leather loafers simply don’t go, they come across as ‘these were the only shoes I had’. Perhaps a cognac grain leather or a suede derby? Different strokes for different folks of course!


Great color palette. What’s the cloth of this trousers?

Dan Fortaine

Hi Simon,

A word of advice. Having followed your experiments with eyeglasses over the years (I am an optometrist and sell frames out of my shop) I can see why you’ve chosen to play with this particular style of eye wear (lighter and opens up the face). Your eyes, however, are set a little too close together to make glasses work well. I commend your efforts but would recommend contact lenses in the future.


Simon, would you consider wearing a sports coat over a rubato knit, such as this one or do you think that it would be too heavy for layering?


Hi Simon,
May I ask what size is the knit from Rubato?
Thank you


What would be more budget-friendly brands than Rubato for this kind of knitwear ? (deep V, shorter cut


I have a similar V-neck from Spier and McKay, also in dark brown. I think Natalino has shorter knitwear, but don’t remember if any V-necks. Natalino also costs more, but is still cheaper than Rubato I think


Hi Simon, what do you think about wearing a coat and trousers in similar colour? For instance, navy flannel trousers with PS navy donegal coat or dark grey flannel trousers with PS dark grey donegal coat? Personally, they look okay to me as they have different textures, and the donegal cloth has white speckles mixed into it, but I just wanted to ask if you have ever tried this style too.

Many thanks,


Hi Simon, I often struggle to choose a pair of shoes when I’m wearing dark brown pants or a dark brown overcoat. I have a (silly) averse to wearing black with brown, and dark brown shoes with dark brown pants or coat often seems a bit too matchy. Wearing shoes that are lighter in color than my clothing also feels a bit off sometimes.
What would you wear as an alternative to black shoes in this case?


Oh! How perfect that you’ve already written about the exact answer to my question. Thanks, Simon


Hi Simon, does the polo collar neatly from the front when you wear a crew neck sweater?

Many thanks,


Hey Simon.

I’m considering commissioning a suit in a color similar to the dark brown flannels you’re using in these pictures. However, I’ve heard black shoes and shades of brown that are lighter than the suit should be avoided. This makes me uncertain as to how versatile the suit would be. Would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks in advance!


All minor points but, I am curious what you think. Do you think tonal outfits look better if the top remains darker than the trousers? Would the outfit look even more subtle if both are close to the same shade?

What about if the trousers are darker? The trousers in your outfit are darker than your brown sweater, but for some reason, the combo still looks good.