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Learn from Beau – Simple colours and fastidious fit

7 January 2011

It would probably surprise the modern suit wearer to learn that his clothing originated with Beau Brummel, a regency dandy pictured here in a navy tailcoat and an elaborate linen cravat in a famous caricature by Richard Dighton.

But you should see what his contemporaries were wearing. Brummel turned away from embroidery, britches and lace, in favour of plain cloth and simple colours. Clothes were fitted rather than draped. Tailoring gained greater importance.

It’s worth remembering these origins of the suit when building a wardrobe today. Brummel’s colour palette, as shown here, was largely limited to blue, white and buff, with black leather accessories. He rightly observed that elegance is achieved with simple, well-matched cloths that suit the wearer and don’t distract from him, throwing the eye from brocade to bauble.

Add in grey as an option for the suit or tie, and you have the foundations for modern business dress. Navy suit, blue shirt and silver tie; grey suit, white shirt and navy tie. With worsted and flannel, single and double-breasted, plus all the patterns in each, there are scores of permutations.

Then concentrate on the fit. It was a novelty in Brummel’s day to have clothes tailored to fit close to the body – wrapping and hanging from the body were the norm. Brummel’s cut was perhaps a little tight, and revealing, but then he was hardly a modest character, despite his choice of cloth.

Modern trousers shouldn’t show off your thighs. But great tailoring is incredibly and subtly flattering. Instead of spending £40 on a new tie or handkerchief, get the waist of that jacket taken in. Would you rather look better or just different?