Part 3:Color & Pattern 

These days, even men can wear all kinds of shirt colors to work and not be snickered at. Flowers are still fairly outre, except in ties. Your mileage will vary, depending on what your role is at work. For example, Programmers can usually wear anything they wish to, unless they work for IBM. So what you need to know is not what to wear, but how to decide what you want.

Undyed fibers come in many different shades, depending upon the source.

These days, dyes are very vivid and are made with complex chemicals that cause them to be relatively unfadeable. The vegetable dies of centuries past tend to fade more rapidly by comparison. The tradeoff for this greater performance is that modern dyes are generally highly toxic to the environment.

The most reliable dyed colors are those that are applied to the thread before they are woven; they sink through the fibers and thus they are more lasting. Other garments are made as a whole and then thrown in the dye bath.  Some fabric colors or patterns are merely printed on the top of the fabric, leaving the underside a pale shadow of the top pattern. Some of these can be very nice, but the drawback is that they will look odd if you roll up your sleeves or if your collar is open, because the underside will show.

One of the types of shirts that I like very much are those that are woven with a pattern in the weave. This can produce such classics as herringbone (little chevrons, ie, stacked greater-than signs >>>>) subtle striped effects, and other textures. There are a lot of shirts available of this kind. It should be noted that a quality knit shirtmaker can do these things with knitting as well.

Of course, the usual principles of stripes and diagonals apply to shirts as with other uses of pattern. Vertical stripes make one look taller; horizontal stripes make one look broader, and diagonals belong in the early 1970s.

When buying a shirt with plaid or stripes, it is important to make sure the stripes match at the button-front, at the pocket, and at the back yoke (that horizontal seam across the sholderblades, often with a little loop in the middle) if there is one. There is also a spot on the front and the back of the sleeve where the stripes should match the body of the shirt; for now, think of it as halfway down the sleeve opening from the top.

Matching the stripes assures you of two things: 1) it's an indication of the quality of the garment--the manufacturer has cared enough about details to do this relatively small, yet important thing, and 2) you won't look like an idiot wearing mismatched stripes.

Should you ever purchase suits with tiny little stripes in the weave, the same concept applies. For men's slacks, the stripes should meet on all seams, forming little mitered angles.  If you buy plaids, the most-noticable lines/grid of the plaid should also match at these points.

As far as colors go, there's a lot of different thought on the matter.

In general, people (whatever their ethnic group) tend to fall into two groups: some of them have golden-toned skin (even if they are pale) and some are more blueish-toned. People who have yellow tones look good in colors that are "warm," which is a weird way of saying the colors have more orange and yellow tones in them. The bluish people (me, for example) look better in colors that tend toward the "cool," ie, blue toned colors.

Tones will vary across families; my mom and my sister can wear oranges, browns, yellow-greens, etc. I prefer greys, blues, dark browns, dark greens.There have been hoards of books written on this subject, and color specialists have gotten a lot of money over the years figuring these out for people.   This is the crux of the whole "Color Me Beautiful" fad of the early 80s.  I think it is a useful way to look at this issue, and I've just saved you a lot of money, since you now don't need to "have your colors done."

In general, I believe that anyone who is not colorblind will be able to figure out what colors look best on them. By the time you're an adult, you probably won't feel as comfortable in a color that looks bad for you. For example, I loathe bright orange. And, coincedentally, I look like a corpse if I wear it. My sister and my mother can't figure out how I could possibly have six blue dresses in my closet and wear them all regularly....

Next time: More about weaving
All material (c) 1999 Cynthia Virtue Email Author with comments
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