Sunday, January 22, 2012
Dressing is not an isolated art. The principles which govern coat, tie, and shoes, at least the most fundamental among them, are not specifically about clothes at all. Things like proportion, color combinations, craft-value, etc. can be found elsewhere and for the clothes-minded man applied back to what lies in his closet.
I could recount a few hundred anecdotes of style-education, but instead I will restrict myself to a few recommended pieces of reading and inspiration.
Food is a good place to start. Think about it for a minute - how is food typically presented? You usually get a solid white or off-white plate, with something centrally presented and peripherally adorned. Not a far cry from the effect of shirt, tie, and accessories. This might sound sort of weird at first, but looking through haute cuisine cookbooks is a great way to get a sense of balance, restraint, and how to make various elements of your kit pop against others. The Lever House Cookbook is a particular favorite of mine. Just do not go around telling people that my white shirt, green tie, orange pochette combination was inspired by a lamb chop with herb frittata and piquillo vinaigrette.
My next recommendation is a little more obvious. I do not think anyone would argue with you if you told them that color appeared other places than in clothing. Eve Ashcraft's book The Right Color is a masterclass in balancing the bold and the reticent to get exactly the right feel you're looking for. I am not saying you need to breakfast in a cerulean lounge with lemon accents and eggshell trim, but you could take a powerful blue suit and offset it with more subtle partners.
Ashcraft is particularly good at taking colors we might deem too much and making them look just right. A great lesson for all of us. It really is a book as much about theory as interior design.
Finally, we can look to architecture. There is no easy book recommendation here, though Assouline's offerings in this department are pretty solid. Generally speaking, it is not lessons in color I take from buildings, but instead suggestions of form. When you are dealing with objects hundreds of meters high, the ability for something a foot or two wide to still be subtle is miraculous. Thinking about how shapes are elongated, where the broadest parts of skyscrapers are, and how lines of various shapes and sizes craftily guide the eye to just the right place is a productive exercise.