Colour and pattern are the primary elements people use when mixing and matching their clothes, but texture is equally as important when combining different items of clothing. Just as we look for harmonious matches in colour and pattern, we need to be equally aware of textural matches and clashes when coordinating different cloths.
Forms of Texture
Textures are often on a spectrum, such as smooth to rough, shiny to matte, or flat to bumpy. The amount of nap is another textural spectrum. There’s no limit to the adjectives one can use to describe textures. Texture can be either tactile or visual, and it is usually both.
Texture is the cousin of pattern. Some textures are patterns, such as the texture created by a specific weave. When the texture becomes a large enough pattern, it needs to be coordinated as a pattern as well as a texture.
Fine patterns can read more as a texture than as a pattern, such as a birdseye, nailhead, sharkskin and end-on-end. Sometimes the pattern is related to a specific weave, where the arrangement of colours enhances the visible texture of the weave. This is the case with birdseye and oxford cloths.
Other textures don’t have a pattern to them, such as the fuzzy nap of woollen flannel. When multiple colours are twisted into a yarn, which is often seen in grey wool, it reads as a mottled visual texture that is unrelated to the tactile texture of the cloth itself.
A lack of texture is also a form of texture. A cloth that is smooth, flat and piece-dyed to be a single colour has no textural interest, but the lack of textural interest is important in how a garment can coordinate with other textures.
When combining clothes, the textures of the clothes should be in harmony with one another. Just like colours can clash, so can textures, and the methods to determine what coordinates and what clashes have some similarities.
Two colours that are too similar to each other clash, such as a light blue with a slightly lighter blue. For two different shades of blue to not clash, they need to be of noticeably different luminosity.
Likewise, if the textures of two different items are different in colour but the same or very similar in texture, they clash. A blue jacket pairs well with grey trousers, but if both are tweed—even if one is a herringbone tweed and the other is a Donegal tweed—they will clash with each other. The two textures compete with each other like two similar colours or two patterns of similar scale do.
Two different cloths in the exact same colour will also clash because the different textures make the colours look slightly different because of how they reflect light. For this reason, a hopsack jacket and gabardine trousers in the same exact shade of navy will clash and the outfit will look like a mismatched suit. However, if the texture is vastly different, like a velvet jacket with worsted trousers, it creates enough textural contrast that two pieces of the same colour or in similar colours won’t clash with each other.
Colours also clash when their undertones are too dissimilar, such as a green-blue paired with a purple-blue. Two different shades of blue need to share a similar hue. Likewise, warm colours pair well with other warm colours, and cool colours pair well with other cool colours. Cool blues pair better with cool reds than with warm reds.
Undertones in colours can be compared to sheen in texture. Shiny garments frequently clash with matte garments. A tweed suit pairs best with matte ties made of dull silk or wool rather than shiny satin ties. A mohair suit with a little sheen will pair better with a shiny satin tie than with a matte wool tie. However, too many shiny pieces combined will clash because they compete with each other.
Textures need to be similar to each other, but not the same, to coordinate well with each other. This is not only for visual harmony but also because texture is an important indicator of formality. Smoother and shinier cloth are generally more formal. Smooth and shiny clothes match with like, and rough and matte clothes match with like, both so the textures don’t clash and so the formalities match.
The weight of the cloth also has an effect on the perceived texture, and this is crucial when combining non-matching jackets, trousers and waistcoats. These three garments should always be roughly the same in weight, and practicality is the main reason behind this. Even though a Italian linen jacket and wide-wale corduroy trousers are both made of relaxed cloths with a gentle sheen, they clash with each other because the weights are too different and the cloths are intended for opposite types of weather. Linen has a summer texture while corduroy has an autumn and winter texture. Impractical combinations are the worst type of clash.
Shirt textures are less important when combining shirts with other garments except at the extremes. A cotton poplin shirt is smooth, and when the cotton is very fine the shirt has a slight sheen, so it pairs best with other smooth and more formal clothes. However, a cotton poplin shirt made of a less fine cotton does not have a sheen and is a more neutral shirt that can go with almost anything.
The rough texture of an cotton oxford shirt means that it needs to pair with other clothes that have more pronounced texture. The texture of a linen shirt, along with the additional texture it gets from the inevitable wrinkles, also means it pairs best with more textured clothes, but its seasonal wearability from being such a cool-wearing fabric means it only pairs well with other similarly seasonal clothes.
The texture of shoes is even less significant when combining with other textures, and the overall formality of an outfit is usually more important when choosing shoes. For dressier outfits, the choices are usually between smooth leather, grain leather and suede. Both grain leather and suede look best when the rest of the outfit is matte and textured. Shined calfskin and cordovan leather, however, work well whether or the not the rest of the outfit has sheen.
None of these above methods of combining textures are ‘rules’ that must be followed, but they are guidelines that can help us find harmonious combinations. As texture is on a spectrum with no absolutes, combining textures is open to personal interpretation. The main takeaway from this should be that texture in clothing is just as important as colour and pattern when pairing clothes together.
Bond’s Spring/Summer Texture Pairings
Here are three examples of how James Bond uses texture in warm-weather tailored and casual outfits.
The midnight blue mohair-and-cashmere suit in Quantum of Solace is a smooth suit with a sheen. The white poplin shirt is made of a fine cotton that has just a slight sheen, making it a natural choice with the suit. The silk tie has a blue-and-white basketweave pattern. The tie’s pattern small enough to look like a texture, but the pattern is large enough to be effective at breaking up the smooth, flat textures of the suit and shirt. The tie is smooth and shiny like the suit and shirt, but it’s shinier to stand out as the focus of the outfit. All three items have sheen and are thus very formal, helping them pair well together.
The navy hopsack blazer in The Spy Who Loved Me has a basketweave texture for a sporty look, and the off-white wool gabardine trousers have a steep twill weave that perfectly contrasts the jacket’s texture. Both are worsted wool and have a dull sheen, which helps them complement each other. The cream-and-blue striped silk shirt also has a sheen, but the large, uneven stripes make the shirt sporty rather than formal. The blue tie is silk shantung, which is shiny to outshine the rest of the outfit, but its slubby texture is nice complement to the jacket’s texture.
In Spectre, Bond pairs a tan suede blouson with a navy rayon polo and taupe cotton gabardine chinos. The jacket and trousers are similar in colour, but because the textures are so different the clash between the two colours is avoided. The blouson has a matte surface with a napped texture while the cotton gabardine chinos have a gentle sheen due to the tight, steep twill weave. The rayon polo has a little bit of a sheen, which helps it coordinate with the trousers, but the pique knit gives it a pronounced texture that pairs nicely with the jacket’s suede texture.
Bond’s Autumn/Winter Texture Pairings
Here are three examples of how James Bond uses texture in cold-weather tailored and casual outfits.
In Tomorrow Never Dies, Bond wears a charcoal suit in worsted flannel, which is a lightweight cloth that is best for cool weather because it is milled to have a fuzzy nap. The nap traps warmth inside the suit. In addition to the nap, there is the subtle visual texture of multiple shades of dark grey from the twist in the yarn. The shirt is light blue royal oxford, woven in a fancy basketweave with both blue and white yarns. The weave and the combination of two colours in the shirt give it a subtle texture that balances the suit’s texture. The shirt has a slight sheen, which dresses up the outfit. The tie is made of silk and features a large pattern. The tie’s gentle sheen also dresses up the outfit, but it isn’t too shiny to contrast too much with the flannel suit.
For Bond’s semi-disguise as James St John Smythe in A View to a Kill, he wears a light grey tweed jacket. The jacket isn’t patterned, but is has multiple forms of texture. The first comes from woollen yarns of non-superfine wool, which make the cloth tough, rough, hairy and heavy. The second is a very pronounced twill weave, giving the cloth prominent diagonal ribs. The third is from many shades of grey twisted into the yarns, adding to the visual texture and ensuring the cloth does not look flat in its colour.
He pairs the jacket with charcoal woollen flannel trousers, which share the heavy and hairy characteristics of the jacket but have a flatter texture with a short, fuzzy nap. Flannel trousers are one of the most classic pairings for a tweed jacket because of how well the textures complement each other. The light blue oxford shirt also has texture due to a large basketweave and a contrast of blue and white yarns, but unlike the matte jacket and trousers the shirt has a slight sheen due to it being made of a fine cotton. Still, the texture helps it coordinate well. The checked navy wool tie’s texture matches the matte texture of the rest of the outfit.
In Skyfall, Bond pairs a green waxed Barbour jacket with a blue jumper and brown corduroy trousers. The knit cashmere jumper with corduroy trousers is a classic pairing. Both are matte in texture with nap, but the nap of a cashmere knit is very different from the nap of corduroy wales. Also, the jumper has tiny ribs compared to the much wider ribs of the semi-fine corduroy. These similarities and differences are both why they pair so well together. The brown cashmere scarf has a texture that is similar to but different than the jumper’s texture, which helps them pair well. The jacket is made of waxed cotton. While it is shiny compared to the rest of the outfit, it isn’t smooth, which is why it coordinates.
Texture does matter when pairing odd jackets! I could not imagine anyone pairing seersucker trousers with a tweed jacket. I always thought texture with clothes was just common sense. I must say I really liked the formation with this article. You explained the why and demonstrated how Bond follows your analytical views.
I really enjoyed this post. Texture is one of those things that can make an outfit truly exceptional. It’s also a good way of making subtle outfits interesting, without having to rely on bold colours or patterns. The hacking jacket outfit from Goldfinger is the best example of this in my opinion – without the textures of the jacket, trousers and tie it would be a well coordinated but not particularly interesting outfit but the textures help make it one of Sean Connery’s most memorable Bond outfits.