The Colors of Summer

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When it comes to summer dressing, most men like the idea of adding a little shot of color to their ensemble.  At the same time there is normally trepidation when it comes to modulating that extra splash of liveliness.  When does a little become too much?  How can I show some personality without looking like a caricature?

I am reminded of a fellow I saw on the street last year on a steamy summer day.  He was wearing the loudest pants I’d ever seen.  They looked remarkably like sofa cushions from a 1950s Florida vacation house; bright orange with giant palm fronds and parrots printed all over them.  These pants actually hurt my eyes.  But the guy wearing them looked cool as a cucumber; relaxed and suave in sockless loafers and a crisp white oxford.

Though most of us would run the other way when presented with such an outfit, it worked on this gentleman because it fit his particular personality.  For the rest of us, spicing up the warm weather wardrobe will likely include less extravagant exercises in color.  Though we still need to dress professionally for the work week– or at least wear long pants – there is still room for personal style in manageable increments.

As a general rule, please do not make the mistake of thinking that dressing for summer weather means wearing togs better suited to the beach or a weekend cookout.  Always assume that someone important will need to see you during the day and dress accordingly.  How then do you “responsibly” add that bit of personal color?  A favorite option of mine is to use accessories as a way to tone down the formality of office attire while still offering the world a little flash of style.

Ribbon watch straps a great option, especially for the summer.  You’ll be amazed at how a preppy grosgrain or NATO strap can change the whole feel of your favorite wrist watch.  Additionally, these straps give your timepiece a breezy, vintage feel.  People will think that your dad wore it back when he was studying archaeology at Yale.

Smart Turnout makes some of the best ribbon straps; from British military unit colors to England’s venerable colleges – even American Ivy’s – you can find something that fits your personal style.  They are easy to swap around, so keep a drawer full and match your watch your watch to your mood.  If needed, invest in the little tool that allows you to remove the pins which hold most watch bands in place – it makes life easier.

Belts are another simple way to add color to your look while falling well within the bounds of great practical style.  Tucker Blair needlepoint belts are a unique and thoroughly preppy way to add some fun and color to your summer wardrobe.  Though a new company, Tucker Blair’s signature needlepoint belts are a classic in a New Englandy sort of way.  They are an instant classic as well; each one is a little work of art and an instant heirloom.  They truly are unique and speak to both New England clambakes and Low Country boils.

Ribbon belts are a popular and less expensive way to give your style a little punch.  Great companies like J. Crew, J. Press, and Gap offer stripes, critters, solids and plaid versions that make choosing one an easy exercise in personal messaging.

Another summer staple of the past that’s getting a new shot of life is patchwork madras.  In the states at least, it seemed like back in the day everyone’s father had a shirt like this.  Each year it was debuted at the family Memorial Day picnic and was kept busy all summer long.

Each washing left the cloth a little softer and a little more faded – the sign of true madras.  Cape Madras, founded in 2004, has resurrected the real thing and built a unique company that is both dyed in the wool American and dyed in Madras, Indian. While the Cape Madras collection is designed by the creative team in the US, the company weaves all its own fabric designs in rural villages in India.

Unlike the traditional muted colors one associated with madras, they use colors not usually seen in traditional madras like bright pinks, greens and oranges.  With offerings of shirts, shorts, jackets, pants, you can find a classic summery look for any occasion.

To add an extra layer of individuality, choose a signature, something that people will associate with you alone.  A relative of mine wears round tortoise shell glasses. Since I can remember he has always worn them and by now anything else just wouldn’t look right.  Since he is particularly Ivy League in his style of dress, the glasses give him a living Ralph Lauren ad persona.  It’s just right on him.  So, what’s your summer signature of personal style?


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Chris Hogan, an association executive based in Washington, D.C., blogs at OffTheCuffDC.com. A lifelong interest in style and clothing led to sales and management positions at several Ralph Lauren stores and an active wardrobe consulting practice