02 November 2011

Brownie Points

My first brown suit sighting was in 1990. In that sea of navy and gray that was the underwriting room at Lloyd's of London, it looked refreshing and anachronistic all at the same time. Like a first meeting with someone who is intrusive and aloof. It's jarring. The suit was double breasted, chalk stripe with side vents. Suede shoes, a cornflower blue shirt, and a green print Hermes tie completed the look. So did the testicles this guy was swinging. He was standing on the City's sartorial cliff edge and he knew it.

Afterwards, I looked on and off for a brown suit of my own but, unless you had custom tailor money, they were impossible to find. In 1992, I had a new client who wore a brown chalk stripe, double breasted suit with side vents. I know it was custom. I'm guessing it was Pucci of Chicago. The chalk stripes were too wide and gangsterish. His shoes were alligator horsebit Gucci with the green and red webbing. The shirt collars were long and pink and the tie was Countess Maria.

Furnishings, I prefer the term over accessories, are key to doing brown in town. Shoes can be suede or a brown brogue or wingtip. Blue, pink, ecru or even pale yellow shirting is richer than the stark contrast of white. I saw a blue, brown and pink rep tie that knocked a brown suit outta the park. In a good way. Keep the branded-Tom Ford- Gucci-whatever to a minimum. You're gonna get enough attention as it is.

The client ate at an upscale Loop restaurant every day of the week. At our first lunch, he was seated at his regular table and served the largest glass of iced tea I have ever seen. He leaned toward me, "You gotta start with the lobster bisque." and returned to sucking through his straw. "Is it good?" I asked. He broke away from the straw shaking his head wildly and in a swallowing- guttural growl said, "Everything here is good!"

Brown has made a comeback. If the Wall Street Journal is onto it, then brown may well have come and gone. But like a Rolex Sub or Ray Ban Aviators, that's no excuse to avoid a classic. The fad will move on and years from now you'll have something of enduring value. As long as you stay away from carbs. Alan Flusser recommends it for the sandy haired, blond or red head. My brownie is a alternating double and single track stripe. I'd avoid solid brown if I were you. If brown ever made anyone look like shit it was Ronald Regan. Tan with jet black Jerry Lewis hair -- he lost the contrast. He should'a gone gray...and stayed in California.

Brown has to be rich. Something like a 70% Valrhona would work. Pleated trousers are not only allowed but I think required. This isn't so much Trad as it's Apparel Arts circa 1936. Today's narrow lapels and tightly buttoned jackets are too hard and forced for brown. Look for pleats, wide lapels, deep rises and comfort. Red braces with tan fuzzy bears let everyone know just how relaxed you are.

And this isn't a suit for a sales call. I've said it before, you don't want a prospect to remember you by what you wore in a meeting. This is what to wear when you're the prospect. I moved on to another agency and heard that the client had sold his business. I ran into him years later at R.L. He bought me a drink and I asked him how it felt to make all that money. He looked at me and smiled, "It's like watching some stranger take what you love and screw it up the ass." I shook my head, looked down at his alligator Guccis and smiled.


  1. Lovely. Amazing how the British still adhere to "no brown in town", especially in the City and around Lloyds. By the way, it's "Mara", Countess Mara.

  2. I always wear brown or navy suits to work (even tough I only go to work during the summers as I'm still in graduate school). Blue shirts to match, black knit tie and single strap black monk shoes..

  3. NYT stated: "Brown is the new black" quite a while ago...
    I still mindlessly adhere to no brown in town school....

  4. Love that you suggest brown should be rich, like a good dark chocolate.

  5. Actually I bought a very nice choc brown, chalk stripe, flannel off the peg in Paul Stuart in about 1994. Unfortunately, in about 2005 the moths got to it one summer. End of a beautiful relationship.