In a perfect sartorial world, we welcome the arrival of spring with open arms and a fresh palette. As the weather brightens, perhaps you’re moved to wear a light gray suit and a beloved pair of loafers. That’s a good idea, but far too often this plan of attack proves too optimistic. Your best intentions are greeted with rain clouds, stiff winds and, worst of all, mud, mud and more mud. You head back to your wardrobe to reconsider matters.
What are we to make of this conflicted season? We quite rightly want to evolve from the intensity of winter (especially winter in Minnesota!). The flannel and tweed feel like overkill. We hear birds singing and start thinking about baseball season and want to let a little sunshine into our lives as the days get longer. Here are some ideas to help you through those in-between days, when the weather could go either way.
Yes, you hear about layering, and it can sound exhausting. Well let’s keep it simple: A good cardigan goes a long way. If it’s not too heavy and can easily be worn under a sport coat, then it goes an even longer way. We’re talking about spring, so how about a friendly, cheerful color, like lavender or pale green? Remember, if it’s under a jacket, then you’re not seeing too much of that color, so you can experiment. The great English company Drake’s makes lovely knitwear as well as button-up sweater vests that look great under a chore coat. If you’re feeling daring, then a Fair Isle sweater in a winning pattern is just the ticket.
Welcome the Rain
A well-dressed man is ready for the elements and embraces the vagaries of weather in style. In practice, that means a good raincoat. Barbour, of course, is a trusted standby that looks superb. But in spring, I love a raincoat that’s on the lighter side, say a tan or khaki. Mackintosh is the benchmark and is still made in Scotland, where they know a thing about the weather. Some of us remember Macs of old that were basically a rubber furnace. These days, their jackets are more breathable (in the modern parlance), keep you dry and look absolutely terrific.
Own the Transition
One strategy I embrace in spring is to wear the fabrics of fall, like corduroy or lightweight wool, but in lighter, more seasonal colors. If fall is about the colors of the changing leaves, then spring is focused on the festive hues of Easter. Now we’re not going crazy here — nobody wants to look like an Easter egg — but a pale gray suit can be very effective. You can start at Ralph Lauren, whose excellent Polo suits are always in season, or move up to the more exalted Purple Label. If you’re feeling very specific, you can have a herringbone sport coat made at New York City tailor J. Mueser in the family of wheat, caramel and pale brown. This will look very upbeat with a light blue shirt and tan cords.
Experiment with Pastels
A dash of color can be really expressive; it just makes you appear cheerful, like an antidote to the storm clouds. Now a blue and white oxford cloth shirt is a staple for many men, but why not try something a little brighter? I recently got a J. Press lavender and white oxford that I can’t believe I’ve lived without. Or yellow and white, pink and white — it makes me feel good just thinking of how good you’re going to look in these shirts. Again, if you feel that’s too jaunty, then wear it under a dark blue chore coat and you’ll be giving your fans just a hint of your charm. J. Press still makes great shirts here in America. I also like the J.Crew Secret Wash shirts, which are already broken-in and very comfortable (especially the poplin), but these are more casual and don’t work as well with ties (you remember ties, right?).
Solve the Shoes
Now this is the big one: what to wear when you might step into anything from a puddle to a snowbank. There’s no single solution here. Crockett & Jones makes very good shoes in England. Their Chelsea boot in scotch grain is treated so it can get wet, plus it looks quite dashing. The Islay boot is a more involved lace-up but still very handsome. A more casual option is an actual rain boot from Hunter, who’s famous for their Wellingtons. Those are still great, but if you want something less bulky, the brand’s rubber Chelsea boots (available in a variety of colors) will keep you dry and stylish wherever you go. Which, after all, is the equation we’re after during this wonderfully tricky season.
A Minnesotan turned New Yorker, David Coggins is the author of the New York Times bestseller Men and Style and writes a style column for Artful Living.