The Formality of Texture – Understanding the role of texture in dressing well

Style leaves clues. Well dressed, stylish men are capable of pulling together a range of factors, in order to create a coherent whole. We all have varying levels of a natural eye for what works, but it’s a rare individual who has little technical understanding of how to dress well, yet still manages to do so. Most stylish men, whether they’ll admit it or not, usually have a particularly solid grasp on the underlying guidelines to dressing well.

Three of the key, overarching principles to be aware of when putting clothes together are colour, pattern and texture. In this instance, we’ll cover texture.

There are almost always exceptions to each guideline and as you develop your own eye and understanding of your personal style, you’ll find some exceptions which work for you, but the guidelines operate as lighthouses, a steady point by which to navigate.

As a general rule, the more smooth a surface is, the more formal it will appear. The smoothness conveys refinement and formality. One of the easiest ways to understand this is to take 2 identical items of clothing and imagine them with different surface textures.

Shoes: A highly polished brown cap-toe oxford, next to a matte suede cap-toe oxford

Lobb polished
My John Lobb City ii’s brown calf
Lobbs suede
The same Lobb’s in suede, with a much less formal feel

Ties: A finely woven silk navy tie, next to a wool or tweed navy tie.

Both the shoe and tie examples go from smooth, lustrous surfaces, to less refined, matte surfaces. They highlight textures at largely opposite ends of the range. Within those options, you then have numerous gradients of texture to play with, moving closer toward, or further away from, formality. The navy ties below (all from Drake’s) start at the most formal, then gradually move away towards casual, simply from difference in texture and cloth.

finely woven satin
Finely woven satin
Fine rib repp silk
Fine rib repp silk
Tussah silk
Tussah silk
Mohair wool blend
Mohair wool blend
Shantung silk
Shantung silk
Silk knit
Silk knit

With shoes, if suede feels too casual for a given day, a hatch-grain calf can be a step closer toward appearing more formal, without going all the way to a highly polished oxford. If you wanted to wear a more formal shoe, but want to bring it a step closer to casual, you can take the same polished oxford mentioned above, with antiqued leather or raised stitching. The texture remains the same, but the mottled antiqued appearance and raised stitching gives the impression of a small amount of texture.

Raised stitching on a pair of Gaziano and Girling "Hove's"
Raised stitching on a pair of Gaziano and Girling “Hove’s”

With that point in mind, think of the clothes many men will wear on a weekend or dress-down Friday. Tailored trousers or jeans, an open collared shirt and odd jacket. Polished oxfords may not quite fit in, with the other surfaces being more casual. This is where the option of suede, hatch-grain and antiquing can come in to harmonise with the rest of the outfit, with every element working together, none clashing.

Gaziono and Girling's "hatch-grain" finish
Gaziono and Girling’s “hatch-grain” finish

The same guidelines then work with ties, having the ability to apply numerous materials and weaves to fit in with the rest of your clothing. Grenadine weaves, shantung silk, wool, cashmere, linen, cotton etc.

Linen's open weave and ease with which it creases gives it's surface a less refined finish, allowing the cut of the suit to dictate the final amount formality
Linen’s open weave and ease with which it creases, gives its surface a less refined finish, allowing the cut of the suit to dictate the final amount formality

The different seasons offer new chances to bring in textures which suit the weather, when you’d like to move away from a finely woven wool suit every day. In suits and ties for summer, linen and cotton are excellent for less formal (but still professional, depending on your industry) work wear. In Winter, the more muted texture of flannel is excellent, allowing you to choose a more coarse or fine weave depending on which end of the formality scale you’re hoping to come in on.

Fox Brothers flannel trousers (courtesy of Drake's)
Fox Brothers flannel trousers (courtesy of Drake’s)

If you already have a largely professional wardrobe, buy a navy or grey (link to previous post on colours) wool or cashmere tie, or a pair of suede shoes and you’ll see how much they can change the way an outfit feels. You can then start to fill in other textural gaps with future purchases.

Most importantly, think of the outfit as a whole and select textures accordingly.

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