I don’t like fussing too much when I choose clothes in the morning, and I suspect many men, even those interested in clothes, don’t like it much either. There are a number of ways to simplify the process, of course, the most common being to keep suits on a rotation and wear whatever is next. While that is a functional approach for most, I find that neither my lifestyle nor my neurosis lends itself well to a rotation. One problem is that I mainly wear odd jackets and trousers, and putting them together successfully can require some extra consideration and time, the last a singularly disheartening problem when one’s four-year-old son learns to cross his arms, frown, and say “Again?” when one reaches for a different necktie.
My solution so far has been to limit the range of colors in my wardrobe. For jackets and trousers that means mostly navy, brown, tan, and gray; and for shirts it means blue, lots of blue, in many shades, patterns, and weaves. Earlier this year, though, I became bored with blue shirts and found myself reaching more often for others in my closet, pink linen or chambray, pine green Bengal stripes, and maroon on cream graph checks, all three of which I find more versatile than lavender, peach, or gray, which I don’t keep. The problem I encountered is that regardless of how versatile these other colors, it remains odd to wear them three or more days out of the week without looking the dandy, or as if one’s color sense was acquired from the costumes of comic book characters. Men a bit more insouciant may be able to pull off such colors repeatedly, but I can’t, not without triggering the snickering laugh-track in my mind anyway, something I suspect is the result of having lived mostly in university towns where wearing a necktie is a type of academic dishonesty. This, of course, is simply a verbose way of saying it has taken me years to realize something Will noted long ago: tan shirts help cleanse the palette and are more versatile than one might assume. In my own case, I would have kept assuming tan shirts weren’t very useful had I not done the completely impractical thing and acquired ten of them. A bit of what I learned follows.
- Tan shirts work with all but the darkest of blue jackets, but do best under those from powder blue to the deep mid-blue now regrettably known as blogger blue.
- Brown and tan do well next to one another, especially a deep chocolate brown or a brown with some black in it. Both shades add some contrast to the combination, and save it from the muddled look one is often warned against with earthy colors. Choosing a light tan shirt helps in this regard, too.
- Next to olive, tan can look yellow and thus make many men appear sallow, despite a few AA illustrations that suggest otherwise.
- Paired with gray, tan shirts may do once in a while, but it can be a pedestrian combination, the success of which is largely contingent upon one’s necktie, and no color works quite so well there as black does, adding to the potential drabness of the look.
- In the colder months tan shirts look best with a pattern. In the past, Will has suggested white stripes on a tan ground, but I think the tan shirt’s country origins makes it well-suited for a puppytooth pattern. If puppytooth is too informal, however, nailhead may dress up the color just enough for wear with suits that aren’t too formal.
- While tan linen trousers and jackets do best when they are background to the stronger colored shirts and accessories of the warmer months, tan linen shirts do best when they have a bit more brown, giving them a mottled look where the white in the weave nearly looks like a pattern. That is, tan linen shirts look better when they are deeper in color than the light tan appropriate for the rest of the year.
- Tan shirts are a very nice accompaniment to white trousers, and for this reason tan might be the second best color for polos after navy. This was an important realization for me because the humid and lazy Mediterranean city where I now live makes wearing a jacket in July and August almost impossible. The stark contrast of navy and white in summer, furthermore, seems now nearly taken over by women, at least here, and replacing navy with tan allows for a more subtle look that calls to mind sand awash in bright summer light.
- Other uses for tan shirts include wearing them with air force blue flannel anything and under navy sweaters, a useful combination because a navy sweater usually looks better when worn without a jacket and blue on blue in this instance is quite dull.
If one needs yet more reasons to own a tan shirt or ten, I’m sure one could find them, but tan doesn’t have to be endlessly versatile. Providing a respite from blue and washing away the spice of the green, pink, burgundy, yellow, gray, or lavender in your shirt wardrobe is enough, particularly if you can look good without having to fuss in the morning.