The Lawyer Background

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British lawyers have a penchant for a particular suit/shirt combination that allows them to sport brightly coloured ‘fun’ ties. It’s an object of derision but holds lessons for all of us.

A while ago I wrote about the Italian background: the tendency of Italian men to wear a plain blue shirt and dark blue tie as a neutral support to more outlandish suits or accessories. This neutral, conservative combination is an easy fallback for the stylish man. If you’re not sure what will go with a particular suit, just opt for blue and blue.

The English lawyer’s background is similar, but transposes the blue/blue from shirt and tie to shirt and suit. This is practical combination to support a certain type of tie, namely that of a pale, light colour.

This tie is often from Hermès. It often has small characters printed on it (hippopotami, say, or squirrels). But most important is the fact that it is a light yet pale colour.

This is not an easy shade of any colour to wear. A white shirt makes the lightness of the tie too stark. The contrast is too great and both can end up looking cheap. A blue shirt is much better able to support such lightness, being a more muted colour itself and so creating less contrast.

However, being a pale version of this light colour, it could easily fade into nothing if worn with a pale or mid-grey suit. So a navy suit works perfectly – it provides a solid base for the tie’s colour, and also harmonises with the shirt to produce a single background block. There is little contrast, but still a solidity in support.

Consider the tie on the far right of the picture. It would be washed out against a white shirt; so wear blue. It would be washed out against a pale suit; so wear a dark one. It also needs to minimise contrast everywhere, so wear a blue shirt and navy tie – similar tones that become pure background (exactly like the Italian shirt/tie combination).

If you are ever stuck for what suit and shirt to wear with a pale-coloured tie, this is your answer.

I won’t comment at anywhere near the same length on the images used on these ties. Suffice it to say that there is a correlation between lawyers generally being dull, introverted people, and a compulsion to display childish animals. I will also mention in passing that some accuse these lawyers of wearing their entire personality around their neck.


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.