“But those trousers” she said “don’t match your jacket.” I happened to be socialising with a group of friends when a young lady in our company uttered these words. She was absolutely spot on; keenly perceptive and interested. “You are quite right. They don’t.” I replied “But the real question is; do they marry well?” Frowns, analysing squints and much silence passed before the response which was, in all honesty, rather positive. It set me to thinking about the sustained growth and influence of the suit culture; the culture that dictates one wear identical material on one’s legs to that on one’s torso. Consternation at the wearing of a plain jacket with patterned trousers, or vice versa, somehow smacked of other matrimonial appraisals: whispers behind the napkins and other mindless twittering about the ‘wholly unsuitable’ social match of an earl to an actress. My jacket and trousers were not such worlds apart. It was the simple fact that they were not equal that appealed to me and provoked initial disquiet in another.
Suits are splendid but I am easily bored by them. I always feel that I must liven them up with accessories and vests. Sometimes the result is a little ridiculous but I feel that the monotony of fabric needs breaking up. I seem to have the greatest fun in wearing jackets and trousers as a ‘mixture’; a plain black jacket with some grey houndstooth trousers, a light grey jacket with some charcoal chalkstripes. I don’t think there is anything ‘casual’ about such ensembles. The old gentlemen of the city, dressed in bowler hats and carrying umbrellas, were famous for marching around the Square Mile in their striped trousers and black jackets. Morning dress, one of the most formal forms of dress, is most often represented by striped or houndstooth trousers and a dark coloured tailcoat. It was common for Victorian gentlemen to wear morning coats and frock coats with alternative trousers – either matching the waistcoat to the trousers or to the jacket.
The other alternative is to wear a patterned jacket and waistcoat with plain trousers; for example a checked tweed jacket with matching waistcoat and white trousers as Jude Law demonstrates in the picture above. Mr Fry, as Oscar Wilde, sat next to him, looks rather like a gelato counter in comparison; the affectation in his ensemble is the ‘daring’ in wearing such a colour of suit. However, the affectation in Mr Law’s outfit, the pairing of a matching jacket and waistcoat with alternative trousers, is far more satisfying to my eye.
I think one must be careful in choosing the ingredients for these ‘cocktails.’ The cut of the jacket must not be too dissimilar to the intended style of the trousers; i.e. wearing skinny trousers with a substantial jacket could look rather odd. Colours are also very important and I always look to marry the shoes, trousers, vest and jacket through mutually complementary tones. Despite all the mixing, patterns and colours, there must be some logic; some connection between the individual items that is immediately discernible when making the selection.