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Men’s Fashion: The Least Embarrassing Way to Wear Color This Spring

OH NO: COLOR. Every spring the notion blooms anew that men should shun ever-reliable navy, spurn the safety of gray and reject the slimming sanctuary of black. Instead it’s time to embark on a reckless summer affair with racier tones. Pink! Orange! Fluorescent Lime!

Come off it. Because sure, while the odd flash of ka-pow has its place (behind the barbecue is good), no man—unless he is a golfer, a surfer or a children’s entertainer—can ever emanate authority while dressed like a rainbow. Thus, quite rightly, many of us view bright color with deep suspicion. And it is no coincidence that you can always pick up extremely cheap clothes in violent shades for a snip when the sales come around.

Inside the upper echelons of fancy menswear, that penny appears to have dropped. Look at the outfits on this page. Undeniably, they all have a kick of color to them, yet thankfully it never amounts to ocular assault. The secret to their appeal is deep rich colors more typically seen in fall collections as opposed to the brights that spring and summer supposedly demand. As designers have discovered, using less pulsating shades provides a pop of color that’s more akin to a good cocktail than cheap candy.

At Burberry Prorsum, Christopher Bailey said he was inspired by Bohemianism. That translated into trench coats, felt hats and velveteen trousers cut in mostly single-tone looks, colors Oscar Wilde might have favored for his Jermyn Street-made dressing gowns—emerald, tourmaline, dark teal, wine.

Similar flashes sparked more gently at Dunhill, where creative director John Raysubverted prosaic summer looks such as blue chinos and a khaki field jacket with a rich, ruby-red knit polo. He proved that mixing an olive jacket and a navy shirt with ochre trousers in April looks natty, not nuts.

Over at Ermenegildo Zegna Couture, Stefano Pilati presented loose tailoring (his credo is to let the breeze in when the mercury rises) in a mixture of more boldly against-the-grain deep-color combinations: Think dark teal green trousers with a purple shirt and brown jacket. Bally and Boglioli both played this new strategy more safely, casting one jewel-hued piece—such as a suede bomber—as the headliner with an otherwise neutral ensemble as the supporting cast.
Berluti, left, and Ermenegildo Zegna CoutureENLARGE
Berluti, left, and Ermenegildo Zegna Couture

At London department store Selfridges, the menswear buyers hedged their bets with both brights and rich, jewel-like tones. (Change is a slow thing in menswear.) “We thought [the darker colors] looked fresh,” said Luke Mountain, a menswear buying manager for the store. And by his account, they’re doing well in all categories, from tuxedos to chinos.

Mr. Mountain cited Burberry Prorsum and Berluti as exemplars of the look. Berluti’s artistic director, Alessandro Sartori , said that he thought long and hard about his use of deep color. “Bright colors represent that feeling of Côte d’Azur, that retro feel, or active sport,” he explained. “What I think is more interesting is something more elaborate and rich.” His shades of the season include “aubergine, petrol blue, deep forest and pond green.”

Mr. Sartori was so serious about his hues that he brought the color mixer at Berluti’s workshop in Ferrara, Italy, sand from a tennis court and photographs of a particularly green forest scene to ensure his palette was just so, before having the shades deep-dyed, Japanese style, several times over into his yarns to achieve “layers of color that look deeper, more intense.”

Hmm…intense. For any traditionally color-averse but potentially jewel-curious man, that word might be worrying. But Mr. Sartori has simple advice for wearing so-called intense colors with harmonious results. He, too, suggests starting with one jewel color, maybe two, which work with your skin tone. He draws the line at three, “so you do not look like potpourri or an ice-cream.”

Thus, quite rightly, many of us view bright color with deep suspicion.

Then as a canvas for your chosen shade(s), wear “master colors” such as navy, gray, white and arguably beige/khaki. (But avoid black which can appear jarringly wintry when worn with other dark colors in summer.) If you are mixing jewel colors, certain combinations work particularly well, like shades on the eggplant-to-ruby spectrum against blues and greens.

More pragmatically, Selfridges’ Mr. Mountain suggested that before you commit to a big-ticket buy in an uncharted shade—say, Bally’s beautiful berry suede trench coat, or a moss green enzyme-treated leather jacket from Berluti—that you sample the same color via a more affordable purchase that’s more lightly regretted if you later rebel. A polo shirt is particularly useful here. Trust us, these gateway hues for the color-averse are well worth giving a spin.

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