Season to Taste

Sartorially speaking, summer is loud in a crowd, all stark contrast and bright colors, reflecting the glare and shadow of hard midday sun and the plastic glow of pools and popsicles. Autumn, on the other hand, is a solitary early evening stroll through long golden light, dry leaves rustling on crisp woodsmoked breezes into soft flannel cuffs. Sentimental? You bet your ass. Dressers tend to be an earnest lot, and we live for this stuff. Traditionally, good dressing was largely an art of organically harmonizing with one’s environment, gamely playing a small role in holistic tableaus of town and country. In no other season is such a genteel conceit still so pleasantly plausible.

Fall color isn’t its own spectrum so much as a transposition of basic colors to a mellower, minor key: red are rusted, oranges are burnt, yellows are ochred, and blues are slated. Greens ripen to golden olive, deepen to alpine loden, and fade to Highland lovat -- a beautiful and largely forgotten range of bluish-greens redolent of dewey lichens. In richer woolens, these softened and subdued hues will tend to suffuse each other in complementary melanges that can be mixed almost indiscriminately. Indeed, a good seasonal wardrobe, being tuned to itself, should invite improvisation; this stuff is meant to be played with.

And color is just the beginning. Wiry tweeds, fuzzy flannels, chunky knits, dusty madders, and loamy suedes make texture the signature note of the season. They’ll also turn you into a human swiffer that’ll pick up every stray pet hair in your home, but you won’t notice or care: this is leaf-raking, apple-picking, hay-riding clobber. Whether or not you actually do any of these activities is quite beside the point; the clothes are essential talismans of the eternal fall fantasy, etched like a Currier & Ives plate onto the American soul whether we live in New England or New Mexico.

Just don’t get too carried away by the rich earth tones of the season, as I once did, emerging from the bedroom resplendent in an extravagantly layered cornucopia of forest greens, chocolatey browns, and russet reds that my wife adroitly condemned as “Autumnal Elf” and insisted I remove forthwith. Remember that it’s the clear blue sky that really makes fall foliage pop, for which the classic blue Brooks Brothers oxford cloth button-down is a perfect sartorial analogy. Perhaps the best counsel against overindulgence in the season’s heavier temptations is Coco Chanel’s famous dictum that “one should always remove one thing before leaving the house.” Over-accessorization more generally is reaching epidemic proportions among many noted and aspiring dressers today, encrusted as they are with various buttonhole blossoms, neckwear restraints, wrist frippery, fob foppery, pocket poofery, and assorted other knick-knacks; when compounded by the bales of Faire Isle sweaters, tattersall waistcoats, argyle hose, and tartan scarves now emerging from seasonal storage, the overall effect can be less Edward VIII and more Edward VII.  

Season to taste.

[Originally published in A Suitable Wardrobe.]