Building a classic wardrobe
Part One - The Navy Jacket
Fashion is a fickle business - as likely to tear down it’s heroes one day for the bold choices that won them acclaim the day before. It is, like no other industry, one where everyone is the expert, no one truly the authority - in expressing the individual, no one truly can give a definitive view other than the individual. It is with some trepidation that I even think to offer advice to the world at large, not knowing even a fraction of a percent of the whole encompassing audience.
The role I take with the gents I am lucky enough to know on a professional basis is one of a confidante, a sounding board and a mirror. There is no one man I’ve met that should be dressed in Ethan’s style other than the one i see in the mirror each morning, so to give sweeping advice or direction is always going to miss as many as it hits. Luckily for me, the men that shop with me take the time to share a little of their personality, so together we can put together a wardrobe that best represents who that man is, or more appropriately, who he wants to be.
It’s an odd dynamic - no where is ego more important than in the designer, no where is it more of a setback than in the tailor or haberdasher.
But nevertheless, here goes.
In the time I’ve spent building my wardrobe, and those of the guys that shop with me, I’ve never met a man that wouldn’t find use for a nice blue blazer. Whether the self made millionaire that retired to live on a yacht, and lived in a double breasted 4x1 hopsack in junior navy, with rolled up chinos and topsiders, or the young professional marrying in to a family of much greater means than his own who needed a midnight suit where the jacket could accompany grey flannels for dinners with his inlaws. Or a multitude of others. The navy blazer has been a utility for so many men I’ve met - something worth investing in, because of it’s practicality.
I currently wear three - a navy linen Herringbone made by my friend Patrick Johnson - 2 button and single breasted, the Ariston Linen is full in the hand, nearly denim in it’s depth of colour and flecking, and the perfect complement to a light summer trouser, with loafers sans socks and a knit tie. It’s cold weather counterpart is an Orazio Luciano dark navy woollen twill, this time a 3 roll 2 with Spalla Camicia and patch pockets. It feels bullet proof, may even actually be so, and needs pale oatmeal coloured cords and cordovan boots for stomping through Florence in January. It’s as substantial as a leather jacket in how I wear it, and one of the many reasons I love winter.
Finally I have an RAF blue suit, the jacket a 6x2 double breasted with ticket pocket and a long skirt. It feels like an englishmans jacket, and works as well with a full trouser, forward pleated in a mid grey flannel, as it does as a suit.
The versatility of blue comes down, in my opinion, to it being a rich colour that remains formal. While grey can often be too formal, and black a very flat and dusty shade, navy can vary from vibrant French to stoic English midnight, can pair successfully with nearly any shade of shirting, and feels rich enough to complement brown, black, chestnut or oxblood in shoes.
I have always favoured a richer blue - coming from Sydney where the light is brutally honest, black worsteds look dusty and midnights dull. I like a blue that is either indigo in it’s depth, or closer to a junior navy in it’s vibrancy. When worn with browns, greens and burgundies, it feels clean enough to keep the whole looking city appropriate. And as I usually wear deep twills, knits or cashmere ties, the overall effect is balanced.
I also suffer from a skin colour I describe jokingly, though accurately, as corpse white. I have long been jealous of the darker skinned of us for their ability to wear colours without bound. If my skin tone was from brown to black, I’d be wearing the oilier, darker navy options, particularly in weaves like Herringbone or nailhead to keep the cloth looking rich.
My advice when investing in a first blue jacket is to keep it looking like a sportcoat - as it needs to work with any number of odd trousers, the more all round it is the better. For me this would mean a 3 roll 2 front, with a reasonably soft shoulder and flapped pockets. Ticket pockets, hacking pockets, centre vents - all feel to limiting and suit to me. And though patch pockets and elbow patches are a step too far in the other direction, the happy medium errs slightly toward relaxed.
While I’d never say that your budget precludes you starting a classic wardrobe, indeed there are great options in cotton at an entry level price point, this is an item worth investing in. If you can afford to have it made, great - this is a piece that will never become redundant so fit is doubly important. But if not, don’t worry - it’s a piece you’ll also update with regularity, improving till you have that perfect piece. It would be my first go to when testing a new tailor, and the one jacket I’d keep if I was allowed only one.