“Blue and green should never be seen. Fawn should never be worn. Only wear yellow if you are mellow. Never wear brown, when in town.”
So says the rhyme, which seems to have very little to do with style or dress advice, but is often used to persuade us that there are rules to obey with colour combinations. But who can deny the appeal of black watch tartan – especially in a kilt?
A few years ago, an article in The Guardian about men losing out on prime City jobs because they wore the wrong shoes (brown, apparently) got picked up by other mainstream members of the UK press and many local newspapers.
The grey shoes and white socks combination ‘no no’ rule was something I was all too familiar with – along with several others (see this BBC article for the list) but confess to being blissfully ignorant on the brown shoes front.
But I didn’t attend Eton, Harrow or Winchester which is, according to The Times article on the subject, where you are taught to avoid such breaches of etiquette; the unwritten rule of ‘the square mile’ – and probably many a Swiss banker.
All this came from a piece of market research published in September 2016 by the government’s Social Mobility Commission (SMC). So although my tone may appear glib, serious points and worrying issues were raised in the report. One problem it, and its accompanying press release, highlighted is perennial.
The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, the then Chair of the SMC, said:
“Bright working-class kids are being systematically locked out of top jobs in investment banking because they may not attend a small handful of elite universities or understand arcane culture rules.
While there are some banks that are doing excellent work in reducing these barriers, there are still too many that need to wake up and realise that it makes sound business sense to recruit people from all backgrounds.”
It is shocking, for example, that some investment bank managers still judge candidates on whether they wear brown shoes with a suit, rather on than their skills and potential.”
Both documents can be found here . They have some important things to say with regard to these dress codes and what is inferred by someone not looking or speaking the part.
Some dress rules seem odd, such as leaving the bottom button of a waistcoat suit undone. With this, and other more decorative buttons, this apparently shows that the suit is high quality.
Others, such as not wearing a white shirt with a navy suit, seem plain daft. Personally, I like that combination, especially when worn with a striking tie, as long as the shirt fabric isn’t poly-cotton! Yet another faux pas to avoid in the banking sector of the City of London, I hear.
It seems to me almost tribal. If you can appear to fit in with them, you’ll be accepted. That said, I suspect that if you went to one of the the right schools (see above) or attended UCL (University College London), the LSE (London School of Economics), Oxford or Cambridge, then you’re unlikely to be excluded due to a poor choice of shirt, or wearing the wrong colour shoes.
There is something immensely pleasurable on a purely aesthetic (yes, superficial) level in seeing a well-polished ox blood brogue or a beautifully-made dark brown Oxford. As long as the latter isn’t worn with a black suit.
Perhaps you prefer the current trend of something more casual? Not for the office necessarily, but when you’re out on the town and want to look dapper. There’s a vast array of [penny] loafers on offer this season (Autumn/Winter 2018).
Check out Tom Stubbs’ recommendations in his recent article for FT’s ‘How To Spend It’ and another mouth-watering selection in The Daily Telegraph Men’s Style section published in last month (scroll down to avoid alarming designer bum bag!).