Men's clothing has relied on the same small collection of staple items for a very long time. Styles come and go, lapels and neckties go from narrow, to wide and back again. But the triumvirate of Navy Blue suit, Charcoal Grey suit, and Blue-or Grey- with-Faint-White-Stripe always hold court. And then there are the questionable cousins, the "extra suits", such as olive green. Recently one found it's way into the Affordable Wardrobe,
a vintage 1960's number, 3/2 sack, plain front cuffed pants, for just $7.99from old manufacturer Palm Beach, and old long gone Boston men's shop Kennedy's. (sadly, no linkable info available for either).
A nice light weight number, and a slightly less dressy suit option for Spring.
Olive suits are a tricky thing. Though the color may be quiet and dull, they can be surprisingly difficult to match with shirts and ties. They don't always work well with white shirts, they sometimes work with blue shirts, and they go best with ecru shirts, only I hate ecru shirts. They don't go with brown socks or grey socks, but rather tend to defy logic and work best with bright socks. And though we live in an increasingly too-casual society, many offices that require a suit will frown on them. They occupy some sort of weird middle ground, being somehow less dressy than even a navy blazer and grey slacks. No wonder they only enjoy brief and short lived moments of popularity.
I remember back in the nineties when I worked at Simon's they were the new thing. We used to call them "earth tone" because you just couldn't sell a guy a green suit, no matter how hard you tried. But we would only sell them to a guy after he had a blue suit, and a grey suit, etc. In fact, we'd even talk guys out of it if they didn't already own the basics. No man really needs an olive green suit, myself incuded.
But what the hell, it was only eight bucks. I'm thinking with a bow tie, argyles and penny loafers, it will make a great suit for a casual Friday.
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Something I have seen neither you nor your arch-nemesis discuss is the idea of colors or seasons.
You probably already know this, but for those who don't, a brief primer.
Color theory holds that some colors go together and some don't. Color for people theory holds that there are four "seasons" of people, corresponding to the four seasons of nature, and that each season has its own palette of flattering colors. Different authors will vary on details, but I believe the basics are more or less the same.
I, as a Summer, look best in blue-toned pastels, whereas my wife, a Winter, looks best in cool, bold colors like black and white, as well as "ice tones" (i.e., colors fainter than pastels). On the other hand, my Autumn mother looks best in strong, warm earth tones, while my Spring father looks his best in gold-toned pastels.
So what? Well, the basic business suit colors work best for Winters and Summers, and it's only the Springs and Autumns who are flattered by an olive suit (exact shade dependent on season).
So, I suppose where I'm meandering with this is, one, do you really care? and two, if you haven't had an olive suit until now, perhaps it was because some part of you recognized that it wasn't the best color for you. (Of course, I could be completely off base, and am happy to be wrong here).
Just my 2¢.
Thanks for the colro primer. It really is something most people, myself incuded, tend not to think about on a concious level.
My Barbour jacket is olive, and I wear that all the time. But I do think the color can be tough when worn head to toe.
Or maybe the damn thing just makes me look jaundiced. Who knows, I'll try it out later in the week and let you know.
Great point by Young Fogey above, and a great post Giuseppe.
Olive suits had a bit of popularity in the mid eighties, I remember. That was California where sun and endless Spring can help keep a healthy looking tan. Olive suits can, in some cases look good with a tan.
I have a grayish dark green flannel suit. (wouldn't know how else to define the color). It works in the country. Not always in the city. My approach is to keep shirt and tie very simple when I wear it in town. A black knit tie, very light ecru shirt, and a reddish pocket square. Or a solid gray wool tie. It can work in a formal business setting, but only on Monday..like I just got back from a hunt or something.
But I'm happy to see an interesting post on how color is such an important element in the wardrobe. Thanks.
G...Palm Beach...one of the first suits I owned was a Palm Beach...when I was finally old enough to wear a man's size 36 reg.
I agree with the whole idea of specific colors being complementary to or detrimental to one's overall look. White dress shirts and navy blue anything are not colors that suit me but I cannot imagine having a wardrobe sans white dress shirts and navy suits/blazers. Men require basic warddrobe components regardless of your coloring. The whole color coding thing, like everything in life, can be taken too far! I had a buddy whose wife went freakin' postal when he bought something out of his "color pallette" ...silly.
Regarding your green suit...I loved my old olive poplin Haspel suit from years past. The only dress shirt that I could make work with green was blue. Couple that with one of the many regimental ties that have green as a componenent and you are good to go.
I am wearing a vintage olive three-piece sack in a business setting as we speak. Worn with brown shoes and belt, blue oxford, tie with tones of gold and light blue, and a yellow/blue dotted pocket square. No "frowns" or remarks, as your post fears might be the case.
I enjoy your blog and I mean this with the utmost respect, but I can't help but find the humor in the fact that someone whose arms look as if he spent the last 20 years in a Russian prison is worried about the "business appropriateness" of an olive suit.
I hate ecru shirts too. Hate, hate, hate. I don't know if I could rock an olive suit, it seems like an old trend that isn't quite "traditional" yet. It reminds me of seinfeld, or just 90's "smart casual" in general.
But hey, I'm a college undergrad, I own several hand-me down suits of absurd patterns and not one single standard (besides a tux of course). I'm trying to say that I have little experience with suits, but what about trying a pink shirt with this guy??? I know it's not really GREEN, but pink and green never fails.
John T. Malloy's book "Dress For Success" from the 70's touches on color theory. Seems to make sense. I tend to shy away from earth tones when suits are involved.
I learned almost all I know about matching the color of clothing to an individual's complexion from Carole Jackson's Color for Men. Although the photos are a wee dated, the information is timeless.* She also has a section on clothing "personality," which goes a long way towards explaining why, for instance, some people love pleated pants and others hate them.
The only problem with the whole color scheme is that until you're up to speed on it, it's easy to misjudge your own season. For too long, I labored under the misapprehension I was a Winter, but finally figured out that I am a Summer. Since then, I have bought clothes (almost) exclusively in colors from my palette, and so everything I have goes together (I wear a lot of black shoes and belts, because they're good with my gray & blue suits and slacks, but I also wear burgundy/cordovan/whatever you want to call that reddish brown).
If something makes you look jaundiced, it's not a flattering color for you. You can wear colors outside your season, but they should be away from your face. Anyway, we're all looking forward to reading your report on how the olive suit works for you.
*Caveat: Ignore everything she has to say on formal wear (i.e., tuxedos). If you need to know, visit The Black Tie Guide. I find it interesting and entertaining, even if not useful for me now.
I remember when my father bought an olive suit in the 80s. Paired with an 80s yellow tie, he looked very smart. He intuitively knows what colors work for him, so he chose the right shades. I think the best way to put it is this: the outfit was fashionable without being trendy.
However, he wouldn't be caught dead in that outfit today--he knows its time has passed.
Which is not to say that the olive suit is passé--more like the 80s yellow tie is.
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