Drinks parties, dates, dinner and beyond. These are the awkward limbo events for which a full suit is little much, but smart casual could be seen as a cop out. Thankfully, for the style-conscious man, there exists another option. Albeit one that tends to strike fear into the hearts of those who’ve never attempted it.
We’re talking, of course, about suit separates.
The majority of gentlemen tend to write separates off as some sort of advanced-level style move, reserved only for the street-style elite and Pitti peacocks. However, we’re going to let you in on a secret: it’s not anywhere as hard as they’d lead you to believe. The trick lies in knowing when to wear them, which colours work well together… and which ones don’t. Once you’ve got that pinned down your wardrobe options will increase dramatically. So allow us to fill you in on the fundamentals.
What Are Separates?
At their core, separates are any items of tailoring – i.e. blazers and trousers – that don’t come from the same suit. Mixing the colours up keeps things more laid back than wearing a two-piece, without straying into sports jacket and jeans territory.
It can be a little more complex than that, though. For example, the trousers don’t always have to be tailored. A pair of suit trousers could be swapped out for chinos in most cases and still be classed as separates. It’s all about how it looks as a whole, and pairing the correct colours is a big part of that.
When Should I Wear Separates?
Any time the dress code is a little bit fuzzy would be a good time to opt for separates. They’re always a great option for weddings, business casual offices and cocktail attire. As long as you don’t work in a corporate office, and the invite doesn’t state black tie, you can consider yourself good to go. And if in doubt, check with the host.
How To Pull Suit Separates Off
Done right, suit separates are the perfect vehicle for flexing your sartorial chops. Done wrong, you’ll look like you got dressed in the dark. To insure you always get the most out of mix-and-match menswear, these are the rules that should be adhered to.
Obviously, colour is hugely important when it comes to separates. That’s why they call them separates, right? But there’s another dimension to consider if you want to take your casual tailoring game from good to godlike.
Texture is often overlooked but highly impactful when deployed with a little thought. The key lies in selecting fabrics that work together and the crucial thing to pay attention to here is seasonality.
Generally speaking summer and winter fabrics don’t pair well, so pay attention to the temperature and mix your textures accordingly. That means a big no to voile cloth with moleskin and a big yes to corduroy with heavy cotton twill or pique cotton with linen.
When talking in terms of dress pants, blazers and Derbies, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking separates should be formal. This is far from the truth.
At the core, suit separates are casual. Smart? Sure. But would you wear them to Buckingham Palace Garden Party? Probably not. For this reason, structured tailoring is best avoided in place of more relaxed pieces. Anything that is very obviously part of a matching two or three-piece is a big no no.
Instead stick to more laid-back jackets with natural shoulders and think outside of the box in terms of materials. Also remember to exercise your freedom in terms of footwear. You might be constrained to leather Oxfords or Derbies with a formal suit but there’s much more room for manoeuvre where separates are concerned.
It may sound obvious but it’s worth repeating: nailing the perfect blazer and trouser combinations is all about creating contrast. Colours should look good together but shouldn’t be too similar in tone. Get this wrong and you risk looking like you were trying to match and failed.
Of course, tonal separates can work but it’s important to make the colour of top and bottom different enough from each other to retain some semblance of contrast.
It’s also a good idea to use a unifying colour theme to bring your outfit together as a whole. This can be achieved through accessories or pattern. For example, olive pants could be worn with a patterned blazer featuring olive as a base colour in the pattern. It’s a subtle yet effective way of creating visual cohesion.
This really is menswear 101 but it’s relevant here too. Fit is the most important part of any outfit. It doesn’t matter what you paid or whose name is stitched into the label, if the garment doesn’t fit it’s meaningless.
However, when it comes to wearing separates it’s not just a good fit that’s important, it’s that the garments have uniformity in the way they hang on your body.
For example, wearing an oversized blazer with slim-fit jeans would be a mistake. Instead, pay just as much attention to matching your fits as you would to colour and textures. It’s just as important, if not more so.
Blazer & Trouser Colour Combinations
Some colours work beautifully with one another. Others, not so much. Here we look at the failsafe options you can keep referring back to time and time again to ensure your separates are perfectly matched, no matter what.
Navy Blazer With Khaki Trousers
There are very few colours navy doesn’t work with, but there are a select few that it complements so wonderfully it was almost as though they were designed to sit next to each other. One such hue is khaki. The beauty of this combination is that it works both ways round (top or bottom), but we’re going to focus on a navy blazer with khaki trousers.
First, use a base layer to anchor the outfit. A white shirt, earthy roll neck or dark T-shirt would work nicely. If the occasion calls for it you could even add a waistcoat – something autumnal like a brown or beige textured wool would work well. Then it’s just a case of matching the suit trousers to your shoes. Try going for Oxfords or loafers in either a deep brown or black.
Blue Blazer With White Trousers
White trousers and tailoring is a bold style move, but one that can really pay off. So don’t let the Italian menswear mavens have all the fun, grab yourself a slice of the high-contrast action too – just watch where you’re sitting when you’re out and about.
This one is best pulled off with a hearty dose of sprezzatura. Jacket wise, why not go double-breasted? If it’s colder weather you could even introduce a tonal waistcoat to give this combo an extra dimension. Other touches like a Panama hat, a scarf and/or a vibrant pocket square will help you to achieve that sense of effortlessly nonchalance, without coming across try-hard (it’s a fine balance).
In terms of shoes, your options are numbered but black, dark brown or oxblood will always look great with this tried-and-tested pairing.
Green Blazer With White Trousers
For spring and summer occasions, there are few blazer and trouser combinations better suited than green and white. Shade-wise, the jacket should be somewhere between olive and forest green, but equally important as colour is texture.
Thick, tactile fabrics like heavy cotton twill or tweed work very nicely when paired with a light-coloured pair of pants. If pure white feels a bit too showy, opt for cream instead and go for something with a high waist and pleats for bonus style points.
In terms of the footwear, leather and suede will both work nicely, anywhere between beige and chestnut brown. If in doubt, a pair of brown suede loafers is a foolproof option.
Tonal Blue Blazer & Trousers
Suit separates don’t have to sit at opposite ends of the colour spectrum. In fact, both jacket and pants can be the same colour, provided the shades are different enough from one another to create some contrast.
This is what’s known as tonal dressing and it’s a good option for events and occasions that sit on the dressier side of things. Think cocktail parties and evening dos as opposed to summer weddings and outdoor daytime affairs. A light blue jacket and navy pants is a good place to start. If you want to add another element, a waistcoat can work either in navy to match the pants, grey, or in a different shade of blue altogether.
Brown is best for the footwear and stick to something classic like leather Derbies, loafers or Oxfords to keep it smart.
Tonal Grey Blazer & Trousers
Perhaps the best option (and the smartest) when going tonal with your separates is to work with neutrals and grey is king when it comes to those. Piecing together an entire look around a grey colour palette may sound sinfully boring but it can be surprisingly eye catching when executed well.
Dark upstairs and light downstairs is the best approach here. Go for a dark jacket and light grey pants for maximum contrast. Again, the addition of a waistcoat can work well to bring things together, particularly when chosen in a shade that sits between that of the jacket and the pants.
Black leather is the obvious choice where footwear is concerned. However, that’s not to say a brown shoe can’t be worn, provided the shade complements the pants.
Beige Blazer With White Trousers
As previously mentioned, a summer wedding presents the perfect occasion to wheel out your separates. But unless you want to be on the verge of passing out from heat exhaustion by the time the speeches start, you should avoid dark colours and heavier materials.
A beige jacket in linen, layered over a blue chambray shirt, is a good place to start. It’s smart yet summery and will keep you cool. Match this with a pair of crisp white tailored trousers or chinos.
Then it’s just a case of nailing the footwear; black, dark brown or oxblood loafers are a solid option here.
Grey Blazer With Black Trousers
From a summer favourite to a winter one. Mixing black and grey may not sound like the most festive combination around but keeping your jacket and trousers low key and muted gives you some leeway to create a focal point elsewhere within your ensemble.
A good place to start is with your base layer – i.e. whatever you’ve elected to wear beneath the jacket. A roll neck is a sophisticated choice and as the rest of your clothes aren’t screaming for attention, you can opt for a bold colour or even a pattern – a seasonal Fair Isle perhaps?
As for your shoes, keep things nice and simple with black Derbies, brogues or monk-straps.
Burgundy Blazer With Grey Trousers
When dressing for impact, a statement jacket is your best friend. A colourful top layer is a foolproof way to bring an outfit to life, making it ideal for parties and functions that allow you a little room for manoeuvre in the dress code department.
We’ve said it before many a time, but it’s worth repeating: if you’re going to wear a statement item – be it a jacket and shirt and tie or whatever else – you need to ensure the rest of your getup is pared-back. Nothing should be fighting for attention. That’s why a pair of grey trousers is such a good accompaniment in this instance. Grey is classic, understated and will complement a statement burgundy jacket without stealing any of the limelight.
On your feet, you’ll need to make sure the colour of your shoes is a good match for grey. To get this right, always opt for either black or dark brown.