01 October 2011

Reader Question

This is the first in An Affordable Wardrobe's "Reader Questions" series. We welcome your inquiries on all matters sartorial and thrifty, and a question will be chosen for feature here bi-weekly. For more info, click the tab above.
Reader Michael writes:

I was wondering what your thoughts were about pairing brown accessories with black and white tweed when I saw your 10/30/2010 post in which you paired a black and white tweed and a surcingle belt with brown leather fittings.

I guess I've always been touchy with the black/brown accessory divide. Only recently have I gotten comfortable with pairing gray sweaters or slacks with brown shoes. The problem is that I have a particularly rugged-looking black and white Harris tweed (the weave is coarser than the one in your post) that I picked up--is there a point when a tweed becomes so coarse that you can no longer get away with treating it as gray? In other words, if a black and white tweed gets too coarse, am I dooming myself to black accessories? Am I just being ridiculous, as my wife insists?

In another blazer question, I have several tweed sport coats that fit perfectly with just an oxford shirt; however, as the weather gets colder, I plan on layering by wearing sweaters or sweater vests underneath them. The problem is that, when I button the coats in question over a shirt and a sweater, it looks a tad too snug in the gut. I see a lot of people at our church wearing unbuttoned coats over sweaters, and I've been wondering: are they doing it because, like me, they'd be too too hemmed-in if they buttoned their coats, or do they probably have plenty of room but are just leaving the button undone because they feel like it? In short, should I refrain from wearing a sport coat if I can't button it over a sweater without it looking too snug, or is wearing such a coat open an acceptable alternative?

Michael poses some good questions for the kind of guy who not only bothers to think about these things but actually enjoys it. And  yes, in the opinion of 95% of humanity, he's being crazy. But it's the other 5% that tend be readers here, so let's proceed.

Black shoes with black and white tweed will always be correct, if maybe a little boring. Brown shoes, in my opinion, are the way to go. For one thing, tweed is a fabric with it's origins in British country clothing, so in a sense brown shoes are more appropriate than black, which are for city wear. For another, I find the rich texture of tweeds, flannel and wool tends to look well with the warmer tones of brown leather rather than the colder tones of black. Though it may be actually black and white, I find it best to think of tweed as being grey. Charcoal and dark brown or cordovan shades is a hard combo to beat for what was once considered "casual" attire. Pictured above is my favorite go-to herringbone jacket. You'll notice that the manufacturer has finished it with brown buttons. That pretty much seals the deal.

Personally, I'm almost exclusively a brown shoe guy, reserving black for formal wear and the odd occasion I wear a navy suit with a white shirt. Even then I frequently opt for brown. For some men, they can be tougher to wear than black, as there are so many variations of color. Black may be easier, but brown offers more choices and room for personal flair.

As for the matter of open sports coats, I do think this may have something to do with the additional bulk of sweaters underneath and I think it's fine to wear them open. Remember, you may be in a coat and tie, but a sweater and tweed was once considered casual, and wearing it in a relaxed way is no problem. The purists will kick and scream, but it's best to wear things with a little less attention to perfection sometimes. Tailoring them to fit over sweaters can cause the opposite problem of making a jacket too roomy to wear with just a shirt underneath, which I think would be far worse.

As for what the other guys at church are doing, I think you should be grateful to live in a community where any part of the adult male population is still taking the effort to dress properly for a church service.

p.s. new items this week in the shop.


stylez G.Write said...

Also,I have noticed that 3 button sport coats look better than 2 button sport coats when worn open,perhaps due to the fact that 3 button sport coats are closer related to shirt jackets due to the third button....not that I advocate wearing ones sport coat *ahem*unbuttoned.........

Dutch Uncle said...

Most men wear jackets that are at least one size too small in the waist. Buy one size larger than usual and have the shoulders taken in.

Giuseppe said...


Altering a jacket in the shoulders is a dicey propasition at best, impossible at worst. Always fit the shoulders and have your alterations done on the body of the jacket.

Roger v.d. Velde said...

Giuseppe's observation that black/white tweed (herringbone, hounds-tooth..) is actually grey is what makes me feel okay wearing brown shoes with such a coat.

I used to prefer black, but now I wear neither brown nor black exclusively, but rotate them with as little bother for matching them to the cloth as I can get away with. Which is why both brown and black shoes are fine with grey, brown and occasionally blue for me.

Adding a sweater under a coat, I always use the thin cotton variety, or thin single-ply wool, which adds very little real bulk and allows the coat to close comfortably. Omitting any undergarments like vest/t-shirt helps with this.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, wearing a sports coat open is definitely OK unless it is a DB... yes, DB sports coats are definitely back, at least here in Central Europe, massively influencend by what Northern Italy is wearing. The herringbone jacket with the brown leather buttons looks great with brown accessories - I like my grey hb coat with oxblood shoes as well. Thanks for a great inspiring blog! Regards from Vienna/Austria, Guillaume

Anonymous said...

Dutch Uncle wins the award for the worst advice ever given on this site.

The truth is entirely the opposite. Most men wear jackets one size too large with shoulders drooping down towards elbows and cuffs dragging below knuckles. This is what dutch deems appropriate.

Zach said...

I totally understand brown shoes with black/white tweed for all the reasons you list, but I don't think a jacket's button color has anything to do with what color shoe should be worn with it.

I have a navy pinstripe "city suit" (to be all #menswear about it)that has brown buttons. Am I to only wear brown shoes with it when black shoes with navy pinstripe is considered to be the most conservative, businesslike combination?