How much is too much?

How much is too much?

Q. In a men’s dress blog, I saw this combination of clothes similar to some I have, but I doubt it would work for me. I think it probably has too much going on. If you can’t see the link, the suit is a gray single-breasted, worn with an off-white wool double-breasted vest that has lapels, and a gold watch chain hanging across it. The shirt has blue and white stripes with a white contrasting-collar and cuffs, a collar bar, red patterned tie, a pocket square, and a flower in the jacket lapel. He also wore a fedora hat and two-toned spectator shoes. Might something close to this be a fun look for a summer dinner party? Or is it really too much?

A. I am with your first reaction to this. I understand a man’s desire to wear interesting accessories to create a personal, individual look, but way too much is happening in this combination. The separate items add too many details. It reminds me of the couple who hire a few interior decorators to give them design ideas for creating a handsome room, and then proceed to incorporate all of their collected ideas at the same time.

Historically, one of the best pieces of how-to-dress advice came from Chanel: She said, when dressing with accessories, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” Here, it seems that the man has done the exact opposite by adding not one, but far too many, noticeable items.

The three most stand-out ones all involve sharp contrasts that are not traditional for these pieces of clothing: the white vest against the grey suit, the contrast-collar shirt, and the spectator shoes. If he had chosen any one of these and no other obvious “look at me” items with a quiet dark suit and tie, he would still have made a statement that expressed his fashion awareness and his unique style.  

Wearing a non-matched white wool vest with a dark suit is eye-catching in itself. A double-breasted version with lapels is much more unusual and more flamboyant. If you like the look and think you can pull it off, go for it; but please do not add those other accessories, especially the gold watch chain.      

As to colored shirts with a white contrast collar, they can add a note of  interest to your outfit. At times when an all-white shirt would be too plain or too formal and you want to incorporate some color into your shirt, a happy middle ground is to use a contrast-collar shirt, where you have the plain white collar to frame your necktie, but a colored shirt body. The shirt can introduce a bit of both worlds – the formal and the stylish – making it useful for some unique outfit combinations. Preferably this would not include a collar bar.

The most popular white contrast-collar shirt has either a plain blue body or a body featuring blue-and-white stripes. If you have never worn this type of shirt – an interesting halfway point between businesslike and dressy – this is a good place to start. Avoid contrast-collar shirts with wide or showy stripes in loud or bright colors; they are hard to build outfits around.

Wearing a pair of two-toned spectator shoes is not really something most men would be comfortable with. Sure, it worked for Fred Astaire, but I don’t know many men as debonair or self-confident. Even so, you are the only one who knows whether it suits your personal style, and if you are ready for such a major step. Again, these should not be combined with other singular styles/accessories. 

When I read your description of the outfit, I could not help but think of going with a look that is the total opposite: a sophisticated attitude that elegant Italians call “sprezzatura.” This is defined as an intentional and purposeful nonchalance, so as to conceal planning and make whatever one wears appear to be without effort, and almost without thought. In fashion, it is 180 degrees from overdone perfection. A sort of reverse snobbism, the point is to cover up the great effort that one takes in order to project the appearance of being just naturally chic and smart.  

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