Style / April 2018

How to Wear Purple

Although it’s been given a bad rap over the past few decades, purple is seeing a slow yet steady comeback. Whether light and airy or deep and elegant, here’s how to wear the regal colour.

Karl Edwin-Guerre wears a purple VBC cloth double-breasted jacket by Sciamat. Photograph by Massimiliano Cervone.

A few millennia back, purple dye was extracted using a long, labour-intensive process involving sea-snails. Thousands were required to produce even the smallest amount, making the dye – known as Tyrian purple – expensive and rare. Today, it is still linked with power and excess, but despite its regal associations, purple has developed a bad rap. Blame cinema: Batman villains, chocolate factory owners and one pussy-bow-collared international man of mystery characterised the colour as flamboyant and over the top, and the regal colour once worn by Roman rulers and the aristocracy unsurprisingly lost its mojo as a result. Last year, however, purple bounced back.

At menswear mecca Pitti Uomo, the gateway garments of choice were paisley scarves, silk neckties and artfully folded pocket squares. In the spring/summer collections, Hermès played with jewel-toned corduroy and plush outerwear and Ermenegildo Zegna embraced aubergine tailoring, while Anderson & Sheppard and Brunello Cucinelli both produced royal purple sports-luxe polos. In November 2017, Hugh Jackman collected a BAMBI award wearing a Ralph Lauren Purple Label amethyst velvet dinner jacket; not one to usually venture away from greys and blacks on the red carpet, Jackman’s pop of colour looked far from novelty – designer Ralph Lauren himself once told journalist Dirk Standen, on the subject of his brand's lines, that “Black is not as good as purple”. One month later, Pantone declared Ultra Violet the ‘colour of 2018’.

In it’s darkest form, purple can be surprisingly easy to wear. Plum, aubergine and grape aren’t just ways to get your five a day – these more subtle shades complement a palette of equally dark forest green, teal or brown. (That said, while dark greens and purples go well together, avoid a striped tie involving the two unless you’re attending Wimbledon.) Lighter lilacs and lavenders feel more appropriate for summer, and textured fabrics can have an uplifting effect; cross-dyed linen, seersucker and loose-weave hopsack can soften the intensity of the colour without dulling it down.

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Anna Prendergast

Anna is a freelance writer and former staffer at The Rake. She is passionate about travel, well made clothes and homemade chocolate chip cookies.