Dress for Autumn…Regardless of the Season

Flat-lay of a men's outfit for autumn
Image is my own / All rights reserved

I take an embarrassing number of photos of the clothes I wear. I don’t mean fit pics for posting on social media — although I certainly take those as well — but rather just quick, disposable snaps of something I plan to wear on a particular day or for a specific occasion. Sometimes, woefully, the occasion in question is as simple as stepping through my front door, which I don’t do all that often now that I work entirely from home. 

I take these outfit photos as reminders, the pictorial equivalent of jotting down ingredients on a grocery list lest my mind goes blank once I’m in the supermarket. These decidedly unglamorous shoots usually involve me throwing some stuff down on my bed, figuring out what goes together, and grabbing a quick, furtive snap. I then send up a silent prayer that no one will look at my camera roll to discover the amount of effort I put into the sweatpants ensemble I ‘threw on’ to go to Tesco Express. 

I bring this up because when I was scrolling through my phone the other day and looking through a bunch of these photos (all of them guiltily staring up at me like perps in an identity parade) it dawned on me that I might be the world’s most literal-minded dresser.

Here’s what I mean. It’s officially autumn now and even I leave the house often enough to have noticed as much. Naturally, the change in season calls for more layers and warmer clothes — the beloved autumn wardrobe that every clothing fan I know looks forward to every year. But what I clocked looking back over the clothing photos I’ve taken in recent weeks and in previous years is that I haven’t just been dressing for autumn, I’ve been dressing like autumn. 

Autumnal nature scene
Image credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Cast your mind over the archetypal vista of the season in question. What do you see? Leaves in an array of oranges, yellows and browns. Some enduring patches of green among the surviving lawns and evergreens. The browns of the soil, tree trunks, and, as the season wears on, the mulch of fallen foliage. And then the striking blue of an autumnal sky and its reflection on increasingly bracing bodies of water. 

It’s precisely this colour palette that, without fully realising it, I’ve been imitating in a very literal way for the past few fall seasons. Basically every jacket I wear in autumn is either blue (denim or chore coats mostly), green (a Barbour Beauford and a vintage M65), or brown and orange (usually tweed in the case of the former and puffers for the latter). The button-down-, flannel-, rugby-, and chamois shirts I mostly wear at this time of year are nearly all in some shade of blue and green and occasionally even have a strip of yellow or a hint of burnt orange. The trousers are even more on the nose and include green corduroys and olive fatigue pants, jeans in every denim wash imaginable, and just about every shade of autumnal brown from russet cords to tan chinos to ochre-hued Carhartts. Only the shoes — nearly all of which fall neatly on the orange-to-brown spectrum — are somewhat more monochromatic. However, I will admit to seriously considering getting a green pair of Dr. Marten work shoes after seeing Brendan Babenzein wearing some in a recent Hypebeast profile. And in real time while writing this as I was trying to remember how many pairs of blue trainers I own, I looked down at my feet to find myself wearing a navy pair of Vans Authentics I had somehow forgotten that I’d put on this morning, alongside — no surprises here — some brown khakis and a green and yellow flannel shirt. It’s as though the season is doing the dressing for me; forget autonomy, this is clearly just autumn.

At first I was a little alarmed by this realisation. I generally enjoy dressing for an occasion, but this was a different kettle of particoloured fish. Mostly I was taken aback by the fact that none of it was done deliberately — or at least not consciously, I should say. I wasn’t concertedly trying to imitate an October landscape every time I put together an outfit. But it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to describe it as accidental either. If I’m taking the time to pick out what I’m going to wear and then photographing it for future reference, clearly some degree of thought is going into it. So instead I’d probably pin it down to a more subconscious impulse, some deep-rooted recognition of the harmony that exists between the colours in question.

As it happens, there is a long-established school of thought that explains precisely that. Known as colour theory, the study of which dates back to antiquity, this is a school of thought formalised around the time Isaac Newton produced the first colour wheel in the seventeenth century. If you’ve spent enough time in menswear circles, there’s a good chance you’ve heard people talking about colour theory and producing a rainbow-coloured pinwheel to illustrate their point. I’m about to do the same.

Moses-Harris's prismatic colour wheel 1766
Moses Harris’s Prismatic Colour Wheel from 1766
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Colour theory helps guide our understanding of which colours work well together to achieve a particular effect. Some popular choices in this regard are the use of analogous colours, which is to say immediately adjacent hues on the wheel above like red and pink, or complementary colours like purple and yellow which sit across from each other at opposing ends. 

Most relevant to our purposes here is the notion of triadic colours, which are three shades spaced apart at equal intervals on the colour wheel. With their equidistant spacing on the wheel, these colours balance each other out and create a sense of visual harmony. The triad of green, blue, and orange achieve precisely this effect. So while I wasn’t holding every garment to a colour wheel before wearing it, this ingrained sense of consonant balance was what I was tapping into when inadvertently building an autumn wardrobe composed almost entirely of autumnal shades.

What’s more is that this triadic grouping of blue, green, and orange (and adjacent hues like brown) work particularly well within the canon of men’s clothing. While you might struggle to find, say, a pair of red trousers or a purple jacket in the average masculine wardrobe, the menswear canon is littered with items of clothing that fit quite comfortably within this trio of hues (just take the many examples from my own closet cited above) And with ample options of trousers, shirts, and jackets to be found in various browns, blues, and greens, it allows one to build a kind of capsule collection in which nearly everything goes together, meaning you can cycle through seemingly endless combinations — whether in autumn or otherwise. 

So, if you’re in the mood for the season but you’re not quite sure how to dress for it, why not try dressing like it instead? 

Men's autumnal style
Image is my own / All rights reserved