In relation to men’s clothing, the color olive tends to evoke images of corduroy jackets, checks on cream brushed cotton shirts, field coats, and moleskin trousers. Autumnal articles all, but olive is not just a seasonal hue. Consider, for example, olive gabardine, which does just as well under the bright sun of June as amid the wet asphalt grays of late September. Olive knit neckties also look good in both the cool and warm months, as becomes clear when under a light navy linen blazer or dark brown tweed. Of course, this isn’t news to men in the northeastern U.S. who have been wearing olive poplin suits in summer for at least the last sixty years, and always in a shade so unchanged from the autumnal articles, a shade so perfectly olive, it could pass for old fatigues. And it is this ability to work across the seasons without much lightening or darkening of shade that makes olive a very useful color, particularly for accessories.
You see, most of the colors men choose to accent their dress tend to have hues limited to season. Violet, burgundy, gold, and forest all look best adjacent to the dead-leaf dun of tweed. Likewise, lavender, brick, canary, and kelly green seem affected when not adorning the creams and beach-bright tans of the warmer months. Even the ubiquitous browns, blues, and grays are best when lighter or darker with the seasons. But with olive there is little need to vary shade so significantly. Sure, one can opt for a drab olive challis necktie in fall or a yellowed-olive handkerchief in spring, but the middle shade of olive, the one usually associated with Spanish manzanillas, is just balanced enough to be employed throughout the year.
While a closet full of year-round this-and-thats is quite limiting, there are advantages to selecting a few to complement more seasonal items. The most notable of these occurs toward the end of the season, when a man who dresses accordingly finds himself in the sartorial doldrums, bored with so many fresco trousers or cashmere neckties. When used as an accessory, olive can look to the next season without leaping into it. A silk foulard handkerchief with an olive ground is usually sufficient. Just place one in a charcoal flannel suit in February or in a tan linen jacket in August to see the effects.
Another way to use olive is to help break the monotony of common sportswear color combinations. Blue with gray or tan, brown with gray, and dark gray with mid-gray can each be altered by substituting olive for the more neutral color. In most cases, wearing olive flannel or gabardine odd trousers instead of the same in gray or tan is just enough to eliminate the feeling of wearing a uniform, but one can just as easily wear an olive odd jacket in place of one in blue, brown, or dark gray in order to vary the look further.
One other particular case where olive proves useful is with mid-gray odd jackets. It is common to pair these with British tan, lighter mid-gray, or charcoal gray trousers, but the first is perhaps too collegiate, the second contingent upon just the right shades of each, and the last is difficult for most men to wear, as are most light-on-top dark-on-bottom combinations. Wearing olive here is much the same as wearing brown trousers but with more vibrancy, marginally akin to pairing gray with bottle green. Nonetheless, this use of olive is rather limited, and best when done infrequently, merely to daytrip from the all-protein diet of the usual sportswear colors.
One last reason to wear olive is that it looks quite chic next to black (see Bond, James, in the photo), and though black neckties are the normal complement, an olive suit (whether gab, poplin, or linen) brings out the best in black leather shoes. This might be particularly useful for those who relate black shoes to grey suits (raises hand) and would like to get more use out of them.
Though olive has yet more uses, none seem as important as the variety of palette it allows a man without venturing too far. That is, olive might well keep one from buying that pair of pink cords that tempts every autumn, and this is beneficial to most because variety needn’t be as bold as that; it just needs to be bold enough for you.