Stripes with stripes?

Stripes with stripes?

Q. When I wear a striped suit (one where you can only see the stripes from very close), what patterned shirts can I wear with it? I’d rather not always combine it with a solid white shirt; can yellow and white stripes be worn for instance?

A. The truth is that men aren’t even wearing pin-striped suits these days, because they look too formal for our current more casual way of dressing. Striped suits have always fit into the very top of the scale of formality for suits. The hierarchy for suits has always begun with formal wear’s white-tie and black-tie dressing, then, when considering business and social dressing, the list progressed from most formal to most casual:  

  • Striped dark suits (pinstripes, chalk stripes, shadow stripes, etc.) 
  • Solid dark suits, navy or gray
  • Medium to dark blue or gray suits in small, subtle patterns such as tick weaves, mini herringbones  
  • Medium to dark blue or gray glen plaids 
  • Medium to light blue or gray (not too light) solid suits
  • Tan suits 
  • Summer cotton khaki suits 
  • Cotton seersucker suits

So, yes, you are right, if you do decide to wear a dressy striped suit, you are safest and correct to pair it with a white shirt (the dressiest of business/social shirts). The solid white shirt is your best option, ranging from a dressy fine cotton broadcloth with French cuffs to a less formal white pinpoint Oxford cloth (one without the preppy button-down collar). More on that later, but let me explain further about your suit. 

You would not (or, at least, really should not) wear a summer suit in the winter, and you shouldn’t be wearing your very formal suit in anything short of a very traditional work or life setting. Appropriateness is an essential element of being well dressed.

I don’t like the idea of a yellow and white striped shirt with your striped suit . . . for two reasons. First, it is too casual for the suit, and second, there is too much pattern going on.

While it’s true that a lot of how-to-dress guidance for men says you should never wear two patterns together, that is not part of my usual advice. I believe that, with great care, a man can mix more than one pattern for a great look, but it is not ever easy. It is more difficult when one of those patterns is a stripe, and most difficult when the stripe is in the largest item, the suit. While you may find blogs showing stripes with stripes, I see no reason to seek out the challenge of trying to find a striped (or any patterned) shirt to go with your suit. Far easier, and more attractive, would be to choose a fine white shirt and a subtly patterned necktie, perhaps a small dot, an almost-solid jacquard weave, or a elegant small foulard pattern. 

And, if you are a man who likes to wear suits without a tie, that is one more good reason to give your striped suit a rest. Striped suits are too formal for the open-at-the-neck look. Again, appropriateness.  

To return to my original advice, if you do plan to wear an offbeat striped suit these days, stick with a quality white shirt and an elegant solid dark tie.  

But here’s my best advice regarding your striped suit: I suggest you store it away for a while. It’s a classic enough style that it will eventually return to being part of a man’s regular suit rotation.  

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