When the sun comes out, so do Britain’s eccentric style habits. Chris Modoo, co-founder of Kit Blake, shows us how to dress up as the mercury rises.
The British do not have a good reputation for dressing well in warmer weather. The unpredictability of the English summer has always been our stock excuse, and we never seem to get it right. Either too stuffy and dressed-up or overly casual but without being comfortable. And we seem to be going backwards: in the days of the Empire, we successfully adapted our strict Victorian dress codes to create new conventions that were supremely elegant and are still relevant today. We added cummerbunds and khaki, madras checks and chukka boots. But not much since.
SHOP KIT BLAKE TROUSERS
The key to elegant summer dressing is picking the right cloths. Linen is the most comfortable warm-weather shirting and is the perfect vehicle to introduce a little colour to your wardrobe. The open-weave texture and melange weave makes these usually tricky colours easier to wear than if they were executed in a flat cotton — and the sun should make us all a little braver in our choices. I generally prefer long-sleeved shirts for summer, as they can underpin a smart blazer or be worn with the sleeves rolled up for a sportier look when combined with bathing trunks. An ideal piece for throwing on for lunch or cocktails around the pool.
David Niven in 1958’s Bonjour Tristesse, the Anglo-American movie set on the French Riviera, illustrates how to wear the summer shirt with style: he rolls, scrunches and unbuttons it to perfection. For a modern take on his look, the summer linen shirt could be layered as a jacket over a simple plain-coloured T-shirt and pleated fuller-cut trousers finished with a generous turn-up. And following Niven’s lead, no socks are required with your loafers.
For summer occasions, you will probably be invited to something with a cocktail dress code. This ‘Johnny-come-lately’ to the dress-code dictionary is unique in the sense that it is the only one that is based on what women will be wearing rather than focusing on gentlemen’s attire. It first appeared in the 1960s as an alternative to ‘lounge suit’ and with an emphasis on dressing for the evening. A midnight-blue suit would have sufficed, worn with a white shirt, but it soon grew into something more glamorous. A blue or black dinner jacket worn with cream or ecru trousers is a reverse of the traditional white dinner jacket and dark trousers, and is spot-on for cocktail dress, especially when worn with velvet Albert slippers. In fact, wearing velvet slippers will add a cocktail twist to most ensembles (sans socks). A cocktail jacket is simple to dress down, and my preferred method is to layer a simple piece of fine gauge knitwear underneath.
But we should also take inspiration and learn to dress up our sports jackets. A Regatta-striped blazer worn with evening trousers and traditional furnishings is an imaginative take on cocktail dress. But you could try the same with a denim blazer. Historically, it was acceptable to substitute your dinner jacket with a blazer while at sea, so the look is not completely without precedent. And while it takes a brave soul to wear black tie just for the hell of it, cocktail dress succinctly adds a little elegance to the most understated summer soirée. Perhaps with a little more effort, the British will lose their reputation for dressing poorly in the summer months. I won’t hold my breath.