How to Wear White Tailoring

As bold as it is resplendent, white tailoring is a risky sartorial move that can go badly wrong. Yet when executed well, it’s hard to beat…

Sam Waterston stands with Robert Redford wearing a white three piece suit as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, 1974. Photo by Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.

When, in the depths of a New York winter, Mark Twain debuted the white tailoring he’d adorn himself with throughout his later years, he explained to observers, “I have found that when a man reaches the advanced age of 71 years as I have, the continual sight of dark clothing is likely to have a depressing effect upon him. Light-coloured clothing is more pleasing to the eye and enlivens the spirit. Now, of course, I cannot compel everyone to wear such clothing just for my especial benefit, so I do the next best thing and wear it myself.”

Explaining why he wears the brilliant white suits that have become his signature, the novelist Tom Wolfe is fond of quoting Twain: “The last thing in the world I want to be is conspicuous, but I do want to be noticed.” A white suit will certainly achieve that end, but there’s a risk of standing out for all the wrong reasons if you fail to deploy this potent sartorial tool properly. (For his part, Wolfe says the outfit helps in his journalistic endeavours, making him, in the eyes of the people he’s observing, “a man from Mars, the man who didn’t know anything and was eager to know”).

Twain pointed out that “the fear of criticism might prevent (a man) from indulging his fancy” and wearing white tailoring. To help you along in that regard, casting trepidation and doubt from your mind, here The Rake provides five points on how best to achieve what the great American author called “pleasing colour combinations in dress”, working white tailoring with Wolfean confidence and Twain-esque expertise.


July 2017