A black suit with a crisp white shirt is the last word in sophistication. Or is it? On catwalks, red carpets, yachts and even in offices, colourful tailoring is stealing the limelight. Proof of its cultural power came via the new music video for “Apeshit”, featuring Jay-Z in a mint green double-breasted suit, and Beyoncé in a bubblegum pink version. The twist on traditional tailoring suggests that the couple write their own rules. And real men can wear pastels.
Colourful tailoring has also been shaking up power dressing for women. As well as Beyoncé, see the female members of the recent Cannes jury, or the actress Busy Philipps, whose new book finds her in a Pepto-Bismol pink suit and pussy-bow blouse. This is an equal opportunities trend.
Maybe it’s the fact Ultra Violet is Pantone’s colour of the year— or the enduring Prince effect — but purple suits for men appeared on the catwalks at Calvin Klein and Kenzo for SS18, while Dolce & Gabbana, Ermenegildo Zegna, Paul Smith, McQueen and Richard James all offered bright tailoring, from hot pink to turquoise. And it wasn’t just trouser suits: vivid shorts and blazers cropped up at Ami, Thom Browne and Gucci.
Donald Glover is a shining example of how to wear rock-star bright tailoring. At the Solo: A Star Wars Story premiere in May, his combination of scarlet suit and shirt should have made him resemble an A-list tomato. In fact, he owned his man-of-the-moment status with a style statement that made celebrities in more traditional dress look a little bit boring.
“The red suit was a last-minute choice,” says Glover’s stylist Ilaria Urbinati. “We had another one picked out and at the last minute I thought, ‘this isn’t special enough’. I’m a sucker for a tonal look, and I love Donald in a silky shirt, so when I saw the red Kenzo shirt I knew we had our look.” He wore a pale lavender suit on the red carpet in Cannes and a mauve Gucci suit to the Met Ball, embellished with an Eye of Providence beaded on the back in gold. Urbinati says that Glover needs no coaxing to wear bold shades: “He is always all in.”
The sorbet-shaded suit is catching. Harry Styles was an early adopter of a trend first trailblazed by showmen such as Mick Jagger, Elton John and David Bowie. His world tour wardrobe has included a glittery blue disco style by Gucci, a millennial pink suit by Edward Sexton and a purple suit by Calvin Klein with orange-backed trousers. Karamo Brown from Queer Eye has a penchant for dusty pink suiting, worn with a matching polo shirt, while the actor Tom Hiddleston likes cobalt.
Even in the City, the shades people are comfortable wearing are getting brighter — even electric
Most of the men Urbinati styles “are into bright tailoring for sure. Especially when they see my other guys pulling it off it emboldens them.” But what about away from the red carpet? Does wearing a loud purple suit to the office risk you looking like The Joker?
Apparently men everywhere are becoming more confident with colour. Davide Taub, Gieves & Hawkes’ head of bespoke, reports that “coloured Italian linens are proving really popular, not only because they are lightweight but because they tailor beautifully. Many customers have ordered them again as suits to wear for work. The most popular colours include tobacco, lilacs, moss green, burnt orange, bright blues and more. The trend started with clients from the Middle East and the Mediterranean but now everybody is appreciating this casual elegance.” One client commissioned half a dozen pairs of bespoke brightly coloured cotton drawstring gym trousers to wear on holiday on his yacht.
Taub adds: “Even in the City, the shade of blue that people are feeling comfortable wearing is getting much brighter, almost electric. Worn with a white shirt and plain, very dark tie, it can look very smart.” When your tailoring zings, a subtle tie — or even better, no tie — is crucial.
For those feeling less brave about head-to-toe colour, tone down punchy separates with neutrals. Think sharp, streamlined cuts and contemporary styling: try offsetting a bright jacket, such as the green workwear jacket, with ankle- baring navy chinos, a white T-shirt and white tennis shoes.
Personal shoppers at Selfridges and Mr Porter both report their customers are keen to try brights for summer weddings and parties. At Mr Porter, buying director Fiona Firth says that vibrant shorts “are very popular with our customers”.
Designer Paul Smith, known for his exuberant use of colour, has used shades of magenta, petrol blue and scarlet in both his summer and autumn collections. “It is certainly the case that, since I have been designing, men have become a lot more comfortable with the idea of wearing colour,” he says. “In the past people associated [it] with peacocking, and being particularly extrovert, but that is changing. In my new collection I have a lot of jewel tones in my tailoring which I am expecting to be popular.”
But will a suit the colour of a Love Island spray tan still seem so appealing when summer draws to a close? For Gucci’s AW18 tailoring campaign even Harry Styles is hanging out in a chip shop wearing grey heritage tweed (albeit with embellishment).
Asked whether bright tailoring can work “in real life”, Urbinati suggests going a little more muted with “rich colours like royal blue, maroon, deep green and brown”. But she ends with a caution: “Maybe not the bright orange.”
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018.