The Conscious and Somber Decision of Solid Jacketing

I don’t typically do New Year’s Resolutions (because I can never keep or remember them anyway), but one thing I have been doing is letting my checked jackets rest in favor of solid jackets and suits.

I swear I’m still the same Ethan!

Introduction

IMG_9952
I’m almost always found in a checked jacket.

A lot of the recent content on this blog is basically a written declaration against “defaulting” when creating outfits. I mentioned a bit of this on stream, but I like to ensure that each outfit is completely intentional and not something that I lazed into. This usually means that the clothes I put together point toward an aesthetic or specific inspiration, even if the pieces are different in the final execution (still gotta be original). While there have been instances of monochrome (like dark colors) in those fits, it’s much more about making something interesting-yet-slouchy in my never ending pursuit of making classic menswear look natural.

That last point results in my preference for checked jackets over solid ones. Yes, brown is the superior variety of checks, but I still have some other plaids, like one in grey and another in green. I learned early on that checks, plaids, and houndsteeth were all patterns that were “rare” in general menswear- you couldn’t get them at the mall, at least until #menswear and Suit Supply came in full force. On the flip side, a lot of 1930s-1940s tailoring I collected had some sort of pattern on it, even the ones that appeared solid from afar. IN short, wearing a jacket (or suit) in these “vintage patterns” was a great way to separate yourself from the guys wearing bright blue suits and tan shoes. It intentional for me to point away from that mainstream aesthetic.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I have no issue against solid suits and jackets. On the former, I just like them over patterned suits, which can feel a bit too dandy for me (hence why all of the suits I currently own are solid). As for the latter, I think they’re incredibly important for new menswear converts, since I know plaids can be intimidating.

As a guy who didn’t want to “default”, solid jackets seemed like too much of a temptation to fall into that trap. That’s why security guarding (a navy jacket with grey trousers) is considered the classic menswear uniform. Obviously variations and alternates exist, like wearing a dark brown jacket or an off-white one, but I always felt like a bit of pattern like a subtle check or tooth would be better since it results in a much more intentional outfit. It’s just so corporate to me or at times, a holdover from Mad Men hype, where solids were so common, especially in contrast to my original love for the 1930s-1940s.

IMG_7317

This is all just a big part of my personal taste, where sportcoats play a big part in the “interest” of the outfit. Yes, I do own a few solid sportcoats (my Spier hopsack and RJ Balloon come to mind), though in retrospect they don’t get worn as much as the patterned ones in my closet. It just makes sense to me that checks take the lead or at the very least, play with the other components like a striped shirt and patterned tie. It’s that same logic why I seldom wear my solid shirts- I prefer the artistic challenge of coordinating jackets, shirts, and ties, though I definitely wear black knit ties often (more on solid ties in the future). Fun to me comes in the form of details, like how my Fun Pants are based on big pockets and rugged materials rather than loud patterns.

I would just that I’m typically never in a solid mood. Typically.

The truth of the matter is that I do like wearing solid jackets, from time-to-time. There’s just a specific look that comes to my mind that makes it become “acceptable” to wear as a plaid jacket outfit. And as you all know, pointing directly to a look or inspiration is absolutely necessary for me to make an outfit. It’s also a hearty exercise to expand that POV so you don’t get too boxed in; maybe this is a sort of New Year’s Resolution for me.

And before you ask, this move of wearing solids is mainly used when wearing a tie (which I know I do more than the average person). I’m perfectly aware that a solid suit can look great with a rollneck, tee shirt, or sportshirt.

Opting for a Solid Jacket

IMG_8214

Obviously this isn’t really a specific style move advocated by a brand or menswear personality- I can’t imagine having a style trademark based on solid jackets and suits! However, to no one’s surprise, I got the framework for this idea from Drake’s.

As you know, the famous London-based brand has quite a few bold shirts and ties in their repertoire. None of them are quite so wild to appear like Pitti Peacocks, but it can be a bit intimidating for some dressers. What I noticed is that when styling a mannequin or when a sales person is being featured with a bold shirt or tie, they usually have them in a plain jacket (usually navy blue or brown). The effect is quite calming, almost done to sober-ize the “fun” choices which usually feature checked shirts, paisleys (which I used to find difficult to wear since their patterns are “larger” than foulard/geometrics), club motifs, vibrant repps, and on the flip side, solid knit ties. I like all of those pieces (and own quite a few), but I needed direct inspo on how to wear them in a way that made sense to me.

I’m not sure if this just an English thing, as Anglo-Italian has also been known to favor muted palettes and dark, solid suits overall, instead opting to add character in their striped shirts and checked ties (though they are much more conservative than Drake’s). Perhaps my attention to this is also due to the fact that I’m currently watching The Crown, where there are plenty of plain jackets and suits.

A cream foulard is wild for some, but a solid jacket brings it home.
The hey-day of Drake’s NYC saw a lot of navy jacket looks.
Dark jacket with a checked tie (and striped shirt)
A fun tie and a bold striped shirt feels at home with a deep navy jacket.

Using solid jacket (or suit) to calm down an eccentric (I mean a tattersall shirt isn’t that eccentric, but YMMV) isn’t something new. In fact, I’m sure you could find variations of that advice all over the internet, from r/MaleFashionAdvice to the essays written by Derek Guy. But here it just seems like an intentional choice. I definitely think a checked jacket (or herringbone) would have made a fine choice, especially as we know how versatile they are (in brown). The playfulness of a checked jacket against a striped shirt and patterned tie makes the outfit interesting- the conscious decision using a solid jacket to go against that is a ponderous one, considering that looking “corporate” isn’t the goal of these brands. Safe, maybe, but not boring.

This is all because solid sportcoat envelopes the shirt and tie, making it feel a bit formal, even if it is technically considered separates (which are more casual by comparison). For example, a checked shirt and repp tie with a brown checked jacket appears quite “English Country” or professorish. Replace the jacket with a deep navy hopsack and it becomes more serious, almost as if you are to emphasize the the shirt and tie, rather than to use a jacket to play along with it. With big plaid checks, stripes, or even a fun paisley a solid jacket just seems right for it. I’m not Hannibal after all.

There are certainly times that a brown checked jacket worn with a striped shirt and patterned tie are much too wild for me to take myself seriously- adding in yet another piece in terms of an odd trouser can take it over the top (in my head) necessitating a need for a solid jacket. It also works for pieces that are too interesting on their own, like a turtleneck base layer or a workshirt. Sometimes you just need a solid jacket to feel secure, even if those other pieces are plain in terms of pattern. You could even call it mature or intentionally restrained.

It’s also similar to the approach I have when wearing black, of which the entire purpose is to be minimal and edgy. Obviously doing it here in conjunction with a shirt and tie (that are usually patterned) isn’t edgy in terms of formality, but it’s that idea of encasing a fit in a solid color instead of breaking it up. Adding in loucheness in a floppy tie or pocket fisting will help tone down the rigid vibes of full suiting (or a plain jacket).

On that note, it’s nice an exercise to keep things rather plain overall. Bringing in that feeling of formality, but allowing the details speak for itself, whether it is emphasizing the interesting tie choices, the plainness of the shirt/jacket, or perhaps the cut of the tailoring. It’s those small features that turn a plain jacket or suit into something creative, rather than appearing too corporate. However, all the sources of inspiration here are menswear guys- I’m not sure a regular businessman or lawyer would be into these looks, even if they are rather plain on the whole.

IMG_7382
A conservative look on the whole, but a mix of elegance (the tie) and slouch (the cut)
IMG_3175
Plain jacket works to soberize the casual workshirt and vibrant tie.
IMG_1942
The juxtaposition between a workwear chambray and a dark suit is quite nice. A checked jacket would’ve played too far into it.
Repps look so good with solid suits!
IMG_1249
Bold stripes + solid jacket.
I think checked ties only look good with solid jackets.
IMG_8315
A solid jacket doesn’t have to be navy or brown!
Somber, yet playful. This could just be because Jason Jules looks natural in everything.
A mature suit is great with a striped tie, if you can’t tell.
IMG_0754
Let the tie shine with a plain jacket!

I consider this as a way of inserting the vibes of a suit but by the use of a jacket. It’s a weird thought process I know, but I think it’s valid! You see, a solid suit really does calm down a look by surrounding the shirt and tie in one color. Sometimes a bit of contrast is used, like in the case of a vibrant cord or a white Palm Beach suit, but even then it still emphasizes the shirt/tie combination. I also think that bold tailoring is best done as solid suits, but that might be a topic for another time.

The whole thing feels rather ivy, as a solid navy blazer (though with brass buttons) staples of such a wardrobe- there are definitely times when I wear a solid jacket in order to emphasize the striped shirt and repp stripe tie to feel like a classic university student! Taking it further, I also like taking the “traditionalism” of a solid jacket to not only tailored separates, but denim jeans and military pants, which is quite a nice vibe for me. For some reason, it just right in its downright lazyness: instead of trying hard to emphasize the casualness of wearing “rugged” pants by wearing a patterned sportcoat, a solid jacket is easy to slip on. It almost feels like you said “fuck it” and separated your suit jacket from it’s matching trousers.

Honestly, sometimes wearing a checked jacket with jeans feels a bit too stuffy to me, like I’m trying too hard to be a hipster English/History professor. I mean, a solid jacket does that too, but it’s a bit more covert. It also circles back to feeling quite ivy, or at the very least American. You see the classic combination of a solid navy jacket with a striped shirt (mainly an OCBD) and jeans from Sid Mashburn and Drake’s quite often. It’s a good go-to that doesn’t feel overly formal or too casual- perfect for someone like me who wants to make menswear quite slouchy. I know a few guys don’t like doing that look since it’s “basic”, but perhaps that’s why I like it as an intentional aesthetic rather than a default.

I will also say that a navy jacket pairs is the “right match” for a certain pieces, like foulard bowties and club motif ties. Adding in a checked jacket there seems like it would just be overkill. The combination also seems very Sid/Drake’s since it feels quite preppy. After all, a fun tie is the way conservatively dressed men would have fun with their wardrobe. Perhaps that’s why solids jackets and full suits (particularly in navy) are worn often in those circles- it’s a nod to their affluent, plain-jacket wearing customers.

So whenever I want to invoke that Sid/Drake’s vibe or even just a hankering for a particularly fun club motif or repp, I’ll put on a solid jacket. It doesn’t have to be navy or brown, but its what is most common!

IMG_4696
IMG_1397
A checked jacket might have been overkill here. It makes the novel vibes of a club motif tie much more serious.
G. Bruce Boyer.
IMG_4263
A Mashburn (or Drake’s?) move.
Alan See in Musella Dembech.
IMG_8172
Another outfit where a patterned jacket would be too much.
IMG_1581
The blue 3PC suit surrounds the gingham and lion motif tie. It’s fun, but not too fun.
Michael Hill is one of the main guys who love to wear solid tailoring to calm other bold choices.
IMG_6568
I don’t think bowties look good with patterned jackets. I tend to wear them with solids.
A navy jacket, OCBD, and jeans is rather classic and easy to throw on, shown by Glenn of Junior’s. Seems pretty American too!
IMG_3491
Matthew Coles and Michael Hill of Drake’s.
The combination is rather Mashburn.
Feels like an orphaned suit jacket, but in the best way.
Jake Grantham during his Armoury Days. The grey suit allows the pink stripe and club motif to pop. Jake
IMG_5066
Mark Cho doing some English ivy with a solid DB.
IMG_8544
You can’t deny that a geometric bowtie adds fun to a stoic look. That contrast must be intentional.
IMG_8013

On that ivy note, I find that a solid jacket looks particularly smart with solid ties, whether it’s just a normal repp or a black knit. This double combo (that I think looks best paired with a patterned shirt) looks playfully somber to me. It’s also related to when I decide to wear a full suit, except this time it definitely feels elegant, yet relaxed (probably due to my preference for wider fits, soft shoulders, and loafers). It also ties back to ivy, where solid suits against solid knit ties look pretty damn smart. This is my preferred method of minimalism, chosen over rollnecks and crew neck sweaters/tees with suits, but then again, you guys know that the 3-dimensional nature of a sloppy tie is important for me to look slouchy.

Obviously, the decision to wear a solid tie (like a black knit) is always an easy one as its much more versatile than a repp stripe, which gets muddled with different checks. It’s also the best (or only) choice to consider when you’re already wearing a checked shirt. Ginghams, tattersalls, plaids, and even certain stripes are immediately calmed when found between a solid tie and jacket. With the holidays coming up, this might be useful to those of you who want to get sartorial in the season (without having

Now while a solid tie can clearly go with plaid jackets, I rather enjoy the intentional decision to pair it with a solid jacket or suit, playing again into that subdued style. The idea of “defaulting” sometimes comes to mind, but here I see myself as doing a specific aesthetic. And like I said earlier, the other details like 3-roll-2 closure, soft shoulders, or even your shirt choice separate this plain look from a run-of-the-mill businessman. I often wonder if other menswear guys who wear plain ties with plain jackets/suits have a similar thought process.

IMG_2928
Ascot Chang suit, with a workshirt and plain tie. Rather simple for once!
Alex and Jake of Anglo-Italian.
IMG_0453
A restrained look.
IMG_4011
A restrained look that still has fun, due to the trousers and socks/shoes.
IMG_9513
Plaid shirts need a plain tie and a plain suit!
IMG_2007
Ryan is a big proponent of solid jackets and black knit ties.
The old Drake’s boys all knew the easy-going nature of a solid jacket and tie.
IMG_5269
Let the shirt be the focal point. And what a bold shirt it is.
Always loved this restrained outfit from Mark, who is actually wearing a shirt with an interesting pattern.
IMG_5066
Honestly, this shirt only looks good with plain shirts and ties.
An old Drake’s lookbook.
IMG_6833
I definitely think this checked shirt is fine to wear with bolder checked jackets, but it always seems to find its way to plain partners.
IMG_3068
IMG_3751
IMG_9398
IMG_1605
IMG_9445
I consider this a solid jacket.
IMG_3449
IMG_6128
Matt, fully formed in J. Mueser.
Triple plains. I’m usually not a fan, but its nice here.
IMG_8512
Love the checked shirt against the solid suit and tie.
Textures keep this from becoming too boring.
Marks’ outfit on the left is one of the GOATs.
IMG_5692
That shirt would look quite weird with a patterned tie or jacket.
IMG_9579
The tie and shirt are quite busy, but not under a solid suit!

Lastly, I do like challenging myself to start with a plain jacket or suit. Most of the time, I tend to pick a shirt and tie combo before the jacket, but this is different. If know I’m going to bearing something solid up top, it lets me have fun with the rest of the outfit. Usually this leads to the use of a “bold” shirt, like one that uses a hearty stripe or a plaid. If it’s really wild, then I’ll typically stick with a solid tie, which you see a lot of in this essay already. This might be the only way for me to get into wearing the dreaded gingham shirts that plagued #menswear (and J. Crew catalogs) for years, this time bringing them into a much more mature execution.

However, this is also the main way I get to wear other wild pieces, like paisleys or the occasional bold tie. Like I said earlier, a checked jacket would be fine too, but there’s just more power in a solid jacket or suit. It feels mature, knowing that you’re putting on something traditional (or accepted) but having a bit of fun with the others. I think that this clip from Sid says it best. It’s old and I just found it last year, but it’s a good one.

IMG_0138
This paisley looks so good with navy, enveloping the fun pattern and colors.
IMG_7868
The brocade tie would be quite out of place with most patterned jackets.
IMG_1064
Polkadot ties absolutely need a solid jacket.
IMG_0213
IMG_2838
Jan of the Armoury. Gingham and paisley? Solids are needed.
IMG_0331
I love the black foulard against the navy, but obviously a solid jacket was needed to calm these orange chinos.
IMG_0110
Chris of Drake’s.
IMG_6514
The shirt and tie are calmed yet emphasized by the off-white jacket.
IMG_8419
I wonder what choice came first: the repp or the suit.
IMG_0256
Our good friend Nguyen.
IMG_0311
Normally this tie is a bit tough to wear, though now it is something relegated to suits.
Tailor Caid suit made for Dick Carroll.
IMG_4391
This bold, vintage needed a solid suit.
IMG_3277
A good example of a “suit” look, but separated. The navy jacket brings that suit vibe to the rig.
A solid jacket also allows for the injection of color without being too wild. Its still lets you have fun with the tie choice!
Arnold Wong is a master of utiolizing bold ties against conservative outfits.
Even a vibrant solid jacket is fine!
IMG_2861
Wild brocade tie with a patterned shirt and plain suit.
IMG_7700
IMG_6726
Cream foulards make another appearance, again surrounded by a solid navy. If I ever get a similar tie, this is how I’d wear it.
IMG_5585
Ethan Newton of Bryceland’s.
IMG_3548
IMG_0821
IMG_6924
Solid jackets can be traditionally used to calm other loud pieces, like this fair isle.
Excellent outfit on Michael Drake. Do you see that paisleys look great with plain jackets?
IMG_7873
This plain jacket seems wonderfully restrained, yet the tie makes it playful.
IMG_9864
IMG_0490
A plain suit, but yet so slouchy.
Ben is an excellent master of this move.
Great shirt and tie choice for this suit.
IMG_1958
This tie always gave me trouble.
Geometrics on checks deserves solids!
IMG_4073
Another Mashburn look that is restrained, until you look at the tie.
Perhaps this is why I like foulard ties: they are just perfect against a solid suit or jacket.
Kaga-san with tonal look that provides patterns in the shirt and tie.
Mark Cho shows that any of these wild ties would be great with this plain look.
IMG_8318
The vibrancy of this almost-teal tie always looked bad with my other jackets.
Jonas of J. Mueser.
IMG_7357
IMG_8375
IMG_7524
IMG_9579
IMG_0136
I love how then navy surrounds the paisley here.
IMG_1364
IMG_7725
More paisley!
IMG_7560
IMG_8148
As you can see, I pair ginghams with solid jackets and suits almost everytime.
IMG_5324
IMG_5242
Solid brown suit, solid knit tie.
IMG_5249
IMG_6905
IMG_1381
IMG_3262
IMG_3392
IMG_1835
IMG_9494
IMG_6494
IMG_5374
IMG_3808
IMG_3307
IMG_1974
IMG_8666
IMG_5242
IMG_0346
Navy jackets with an OCBD and chinos/denim feels very American to me. Kinda serious, but fun at the same time, without having to resort to too many patterns.
IMG_3605
I love how the dark navy flannel envelopes the deep colors of this paisley.
IMG_3900
Solid colors are fun!
IMG_6862
Navy helps calm down the paisley tie and reverse stripe shit.
IMG_5135
img359
Seriously, I gotta shout out Ryan for playing a big part in the inspiration on this.
IMG_3836
A wild tie like this can only be done with a solid jacket or suit.
IMG_2425
IMG_7087
The solid brown suit helps calm the double pattern mixing of blue check and green/yellow repp stripe.

Conclusion

This must be such a banal post to read, but I hope you got some inspiration from it! Honestly, I can’t believe I ever thought I’d be inspired to write about simply considering solid jackets and suits but here we are. As you know, it always takes a specific aesthetic to get me locked in, whether its a specific piece or simply a style move. And that specific aesthetic simply just means to let the jacket take a step back and put the emphasis (or lead singer as Sid would say) on the tie or shirt (or both). I actually took breaks from wearing solid jackets and suits when I started picking up checked jackets, but it’s nice to make a return to something a bit more somber, yet freeing. It’s even slouchier than pattern mixing!

The jackets might be plain in most respects, but I don’t think of it as defaulting kike I normally would. It actually makes me happy that I’ve found the perfect way to wear some pieces that seldom get worn, like paisley ties and checked shirts, as they always felt a bit too close to the #menswear era. Now, with a solid jacket or suit on top, it feels natural. Sure it may not be as “complicated” as when you commit to triple pattern mixing, but there are always going to be days when you just want to be simple, or at least when you want to put the focus on another piece of your outfit. Whether you opt for something navy, brown or even off-white or some other vibrant color, a solid jacket will securely “envelop” your other choices.

I’ve also undergone a “newfound” love for suits thanks to this exercise, which is nice to have as I move forward into the new year. While I definitely love a matching pair of jacket and trousers, I definitely wore separates much more, mainly due to the “casual” and intentional nature of it- for a while, suit felt too basic and a something to “default” to. Now it’s the perfect pair for certain shirts and ties in my wardrobe. Enveloping those two pieces in a way that simultaneously sobers them up and puts them at the forefront of the fit was a new mindset for me. It makes me feel like a tailor, as most of the artisans I’ve followed seemingly prefer solid suits over separates. And as I said earlier, wearing a solid sportcoat provides that same vibe, at least when the top half of the outfit is concerned.

As I look back over this essay, I realized that all of this really points to a sense of “sartorial maturity”. The term is quite tricky, as a person mature in style can seemingly wear whatever they want (perhaps that’s menswear nirvana), but in this case, to me means that I chose a solid over something patterned. You guys know that despite owning solid jackets and suits, my taste points me toward my checked jackets, even when my shirt and tie are already patterned. I don’t consider myself a peacock, but I thought that I’d be “defaulting” or at the very least coming off as too corporate and boring.

Instead, I find myself intentionally evoking other stylish guys who are able to balance restraint with interest. Obviously its a great tool for toning down wild pieces, but there’s also that trend of seeing bespoke guys prefer solids. I think this is quite clear in guys like Matt Woodruff, who really does rock solid jackets and suits now that he works in J. Mueser. Obviously there are a few bespoke checked jackets around, but honestly, if I was going to get something completely made from scratch, it would be a solid suit or jacket. It feels somber, which really does open you up to having fun with everything else. Unless of course, you want to echo it with a plain tie as well.

I’m not sure if other guys intentionally do this aesthetic, but it is a welcome change to what you typically seen worn by #menswear boys the world over. After all, a variety of checked jackets is a great way to flesh out a wardrobe, but it can get a bit meme-y at times. This overt restraint also feels very “salaryman”, as described by my friend Ryan who typically wears solid jackets and suits pretty often. I actually like that, as suits (or solid jackets) shouldn’t technically feel more formal; a slouchy attitude helps you pull it off without being too stuffy (more on that later).

So yeah, maybe try a plain sportcoat or suit. You probably have been this whole time- I’m just trying to talk myself back into it.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan M. Wong

7 comments

  1. David McQ · January 31

    One of your best essays ever. A real pleasure and a lasting source of inspiration. I do notice that some of those drapey thrifted vintage styles work very nicely with your new slouchy look, even with your preference of Ivy/Drakes. I myself find that I prefer 30s styles on other people but something closer to Ivy on myself.

    Like

    • Ethan M. Wong · January 31

      Thank you! I’m glad you understand what I’m after, haha. Just you wait- I have a piece on “slouch” coming out soon!

      Like

  2. Pingback: The Conscious and Somber Decision of Solid Jacketing « Fashion
  3. Pingback: Reflections On Commissioning Custom Menswear (So Far) | a little bit of rest
  4. Pingback: The Softs of Rolls of the OCBD & Button-Down Collar | a little bit of rest
  5. shem · 28 Days Ago

    HI ethan can i get your take on the anglo italian DB jackets (https://angloitalian.com/products/sport-jacket-linen-double-breasted-navy-herringbone)? I’m thinking of getting my first DB jacket and am considering this or the armoury/ring jacket ones. The curve of the lapel for the AI is pretty eye-catching though I’m not sure in a good way

    Like

    • Ethan M. Wong · 28 Days Ago

      I like it! I’m not the HUGEST fan of that lapel curve, but I do like everything else about it.

      Like

Comment Away!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s