Despite the possibly limitless choice in checks, there are two types of men who might hope for something else. The first is the man with two dozen checked odd jackets in varying scales from the demure to the frightening. The world is his oyster, but he longs for still greater variety. One can hardly commiserate. The second and perhaps more interesting fellow has a tighter purse. He has a modest collection of checked odd jackets--say three--in differing scales and colors. He wears them often, and is confident only the pedant would take note of his rotation. He is considering a fourth odd jacket, and while both louder and more subtle checks exist that would not go unworn, he resists in favor of versatility. His choice? The dark brown herringbone.
The navy blazer of course is the classic useful jacket, and our fictitious gentleman may or may not already possess one, (although I’m not in the business of supplying the order in which someone ought to acquire what). I have found though that the blazer, for all its famous utility, perches awkwardly between genres. It’s often too formal for casual social activities, but usually when I wear mine to something where it would seem a sensible choice, I come away wishing I had worn a suit. I suspect this has something to do with its collegiate and club associations, a sort of sub-genre where funny things happen to the rules of the masculine universe.
By contrast, an odd jacket made of a dark brown herringbone seems capable of consistently striking the correct note. It dresses up wonderfully with flannels and a woven tie, say in a deep burgundy, works more casually with corduroys and a knobbly navy knit tie, and, if you are into this sort of thing, will always seem at peace with little more than denim and a pale shirt. The magic, I think, is that herringbone is one of those unique self-patterns that appears in both suiting and more casual cloth, seeming at once sporting and restrained.
Of course the key to this jacket must be the cloth. If we assume a four-season climate, eliminating summer as an outlier, I find 12-14 ounce comfortable. Texture is important too; it ought to have some, otherwise risk looking too suit-like. Last, and perhaps most importantly, I think it should be quite dark. Mine, pictured on a dummy below, is made from 14 ounce cheviot tweed. It has a mottled, almost donegal effect, achieved by alternating flecked brown chevrons with black ones. I’ll sidestep the classic debate as to whether black and brown can coexist by pointing to the resulting loveliness of the cloth. The overall cast may be brown, but the black introduces a moody richness--the very quality that permits the jacket to be worn from day into the evening. That’s important if practicality is the aim.
Finally, a word on just that. Many would suggest the very premise of practicality is unsexy. The line of thought might be that expensive clothing should be far removed from the ordinary, made from extravagant materials and in daring designs. Practicality--that is, the idea that something is useful beyond its beauty--introduces a pedestrian quality at odds with glamour. By contrast, I am suggesting practicality as the height of glamour. Is the man who must check his bags for a three-day trip glamorous? Indecisive, perhaps. To return to our fictitious hero for a moment: a mid gray suit, three shirts, two ties, a pair of brown casual shoes, dark denim jeans and his new practical herringbone, makes three distinct outfits and fits easily into a carry-on. There is swagger in packing light, and authority in confidently deploying items from that well-edited collection.