How to Master Tonal Dressing

The art of tonal dressing – matching garments of similar shades – is not as simple as it looks. Here’s how to get it right.
BEAMS Fashion Director Shuhei Nishiguchi showcasing how brown tonal tailoring is done with a duffle coat hanging across his shoulders at Pitti Uomo 93. Photograph by Jamie Ferguson.

Used in a sartorial context, the word ‘sprezzatura’ – which was coined in 1528 by Italian Renaissance polymath Baldassarre Castiglione in The Book of the Courtier to describe “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art” - is beset with paradox. Effortless elegance is evidently an attainable reality; affected nonchalance is clearly a contradiction in terms; the difference between the two is impossible to ascertain without the kind of mind-probe technology that, once invented, will only be utilised by government agencies and nefarious criminal masterminds.

Certainly, those celebrated Pitti Peacocks – resplendent in their brassy alkecks, jaunty hats and pocket parachutes, rolled-up newspapers held aloft in the hope of catching the attention of passing street-style photog…. Sorry, taxi cabs, would hope to be judged on the right side of the line. But arguably, a vastly more profound, authentic nonchalance par excellence can arguably be achieved by ditching the imperious patterns, quirky affectations and bolder-than-thou juxtapositions of colour in favour of tonal dressing: matching garments of similar shade, such as pearl grey with charcoal or eggshell blue with navy.

“Tonal dressing has many advantages when handled correctly,” Joslyn Clarke, head of design at Grenfell, tells The Rake. “There are many classic examples such as military combat gear or the all black style often sported by the fashion cognoscenti.” Kit Blake founder and creative director Chris Modoo agrees. “When done well, tonal dressing is supremely elegant and can be quite formal,” he says. “A Marcella cotton bow tie with a starched collar is the classic combination in the gentleman's wardrobe, where we rely on shape and texture to create visual interest, and we can learn from this example for informal dressing too.”


March 2018


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