Tradition has it that when British men came back from the war they only had two ties they felt they could legitimately wear – that of the military regiment they belonged to and that of the club they were a member of. Both were relatively plain, either a series of crests on a dark ground or a club stripe in two colours.
Eager to partake in the new openness in men’s clothing, these men wanted to dress up their ties. So they turned to more colourful shirts. Jermyn Street sprang up to service them.
This is the reason that, to this day, a pink shirt and most forms of stripe are perfectly acceptable as business attire in London. Even lawyers who rarely stray from a navy suit, black shoes and black socks (sad but true) will happily wear a pink or striped shirt and not consider themselves any less formal.
Not so the Americans, for whom the white shirt is the business staple, blue or stripes a little casual, and pink ever so slightly effeminate. Loosened from the formalities of London’s business regime, Americans are more likely to wear patterned suits or brown shoes (particularly in Boston). But not pink shirts.
Which is a shame, as pink shirts suit many people. Smarter and cleaner than blue or a stripe, they add a little frisson of colour while remaining very formal.
I was reminded of this the other day by a colleague who was wearing a pink shirt for the first time. In fact, he admitted it was probably the first time in his life he had ever worn anything pink.
Which was a particular shame, because pink suited him. Anyone with slightly ruddier features or more than average pink in their skin will suit a pink shirt, perhaps more than any other colour.
The great Alan Flusser tells us that a blue shirt goes with more people’s skin tones than white. And he’s right. While white may be cleaner and smarter, it tends to wash out people with paler skin, leaving them looking even whiter than they are. It looks best on high-contrast complexions – broadly speaking, those with darker skin.
Blue, on the other hand, is more forgiving on all types of skin tone. That is one of the reasons it is universally the most popular colour for casual shirts.
Pink, logically, tends to suit those with a little red or pink in their skin. Contrary to what you might expect, it will look more manly the paler the colour, as Hardy Amies informs us. Nothing will look worse than a strong, deep pink.