The (Not So) Arbitrary Rules of Menswear

As I write this, May 24th is upon us. Why is that date of importance? It is the official start of being able to wear the colour white. That is right, Memorial Day in the US (and Victoria Day in Canada) signify the start to wearing summer clothing. Back even 30-40 years ago, this was gospel. Men's dress has historically been regulated with rules. Some well meaning, others very arbitrary. In modern day, most of these are only touted by the overly fastidious or reactionary few. However, I think it is appropriate to take a look at a few that still hang around and explain why we should still care about them and why they began in the first place.

  • No White After Labor Day: This rule is fairly easy to understand in a historical context. Certain colours and fabrics just look better in a certain environment. Dusty tweeds and madder ties look better against the leaves of Fall. Grey flannel suits look amazing paired against the backdrop of winter. And yes, lighter colours, white being the lightest of them all, looks best when the sun is shining bright.
  • No Brown in Town: This goes back to when Great Britain was leader of the world, whether economically, navally, and yes, sartorially, and London its greatest city. Brown was considered the colour of the country, grey and navy are the colours of the City, thus wearing brown was a sign that you were a bit of a bumpkin.
  • Belt Should Match Your Shoes: This one is more of matter of good taste. Generally if you are wearing black shoes, you should be wearing a belt in black as well. This goes with metal colours as well. If you are wearing braces with gold hardware, then cuff links should be gold as well. There are exceptions, like when one wear white bucks, belt colour is up to you.
  • Never Button the Bottom Button: You can thank an overindulgent King for this one. Yes, the main touted theory of why we do not button the bottom button is because Edward VII became so large that he could not properly button the bottom button of his jacket. Court followed suit, and the people followed the King and the Court. Weird, right? So why do we still follow this rule? Well, suit jackets (normally) are no longer made to be buttoned to the bottom, thus never button the bottom button.
  • A Suit deserves Lace Ups: There is a great moment in the movie Frost/Nixon that simply exemplifies this for me. This is because it is thought that loafers or a slip on are simply too casual to be matched with a suit. This I can see. If you are walking in to a Bay Street office in a smart charcoal pinstripe suit, loafers would seem inappropriate. A black oxford shoe would match the seriousness of the outfit. However, what about suits that are more casual by their nature and absolutely pair wonderfully with a loafer? One of my personal favourite pairings is a brown penny loafer with a cotton chino suit. Why it works is because it matches in formality.

There are many other rules historically, but many have gone the way of the Dodo. The important aspect of dressing is giving it some thought, but not to over think it. Have some fun with it. And in that vain, dust off your white bucks and break out the seersucker -- the summer season has begun.

Jason Byron Reynolds

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