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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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,