We all know the traditional English rhyme of wedding day advice for women (and also useful for triggering the return of Time Lords wiped from history):
Each item is intended as a token of good luck for the bride. But there is wisdom contained within those words that can serve a style guide for men as well. We can take each of these elements as a helpful principle for men’s attire.
“Something Old” are your standards, your wardrobe’s foundation, so buy carefully and slowly. The man’s closet should not be an ever changing carousel of radically different options, chucking last season’s must-have because it is now so very last month. Building step by step over seasons, years, and even decades, a man should purchase well established classics to serve as a rock solid wardrobe foundation.
You can safely pull out the grey flannel suit from five years ago because you chose well and carefully at the time of purchase. Your decade old black captoes are kept polished with shoe trees inserted, and while not purchased as part of an “outfit,” go perfectly with your suit. That’s how a well thought out classic wardrobe works. Turning to Something Old is almost always the right place to start.
When stopping in to explore a men’s shop’s new seasonal offerings, the co-owner said to me, “It’s always nice to freshen things up a bit.” Now of course it was in her best interest for me to buy something, but she was conveying just the right idea. Even the most classic wardrobe will suffer from attrition, old items needing to be replaced. But we also enjoy a bit of novelty, and sometimes we are after something new just to freshen things up.
Classic though we want the wardrobe to be, ossified is something else entirely. It is well that we add in that Something New from time to time. This is often done the in the field of accessories. While one might claim to have a timeless wardrobe, it is an ideal impossible to realize fully. We will always be influenced by what is around us.
It doesn’t hurt to give a nod to shifts in stylistic preferences with a new tie or pocket square. The season’s trend may be toward narrower, printed ties, or muted paisleys, all well within the parameters of tasteful style. Such additions keep things fresh, and buying something small can often sate our urge to spend before we get carried away.
I am an advocate of Generational Style, and that’s what I have in mind here. I love vintage items, and with careful selection, vintage items can be well blended into a classic and contemporary wardrobe. These things are Something Borrowed because we simply serve as custodians of what are being passed down from those who have gone before. Perhaps you have something you inherited—I hope you do—but if not, careful purchasing from eBay, Etsy, and even local antique shops can yield Something Borrowed.
The line to walk is narrow here. I am not advocating period correct reenacting in your attire. While I do happily embrace a certain retro look, and maybe more so than most, one ought to avoid the oft decried “costume” (the decrying of which has itself become cliché).
Like Something New, Something Borrowed might consist of soft accessories like ties and pocket squares. But “hard” items made of precious metals, like Deco cufflinks or lapel pins, or items made of leather, like a vintage briefcase, are excellent choices here. After your time with them is over they can be passed along as someone else’s Something Borrowed.
Perhaps it’s the inner Civil War buff in me, but I am a firm believer in the blue and the grey forming the palette foundation for a man’s wardrobe. While shades of brown cannot be discounted, particularly in the cooler seasons, blue and gray will be your cornerstone. And for day to day wear, blue has an even greater versatility than gray. It’s hard to imagine going long without some splash of blue; whether shirt, tie, or pocket square, blue demands to be used.
I noticed that maker of beautiful ties Vanda Fine Clothing speaks of the power of blue in a blog post, “Every other client that comes through our door says he has enough blue ties – but guess what tie colour he ends up buying…?” There is good reason for that.
All blue all the time would certainly be dull, but if your default is to reach for Something Blue then you are doing well.
Keep in mind, then, that old advice for brides when you dress in the morning. If you are wearing a combination of Something Old/Something New/Something Borrowed/Something Blue you are likely finding the right wardrobe balance.