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The new rules of wearing brown for men – and yes, you can wear it in town

Susan Downey and Robert Downey Jr, David Oyelowo and Andrew Garfield style brown
Earthy elegance: Susan Downey and Robert Downey Jr, David Oyelowo and Andrew Garfield - Getty

“No brown in town,” the old adage declares. Curious, given that brown is one of the most adaptable, flattering and, as it happens, on-trend colours to wear this spring.

Indeed, the S/S ’24 menswear collections were awash with brown tailoring, designed specifically for metropolitan wear. From chocolate blazers at brands such as Our Legacy and Louis Vuitton, to roomy coffee-hued suits at Dries Van Noten and chestnut separates at Ermenegildo Zegna.

A model walks the runway during the Dries Van Noten Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2024 fashion show, June 2023
A model walks the runway during the Dries Van Noten Ready to Wear Spring/Summer 2024 fashion show, June 2023 - Gamma-Rapho
Models walk the runway at the Zegna Spring/Summer 2024 fashion show, June 2023
Models walk the runway at the Zegna Spring/Summer 2024 fashion show, June 2023 - Getty

Sales of brown suits are increasing, too. We have seen an increase in sales of brown tailoring, whether a full suit or a blazer,” says Sophie Jordan, the menswear buying director at luxury retailer Mytheresa.com. “But for next season there will be an even bigger focus as almost every brand offered brown within their collections.”

Celebrities are embracing the hue, too. Andrew Garfield is rarely seen on the red carpet wearing a suit that isn’t in some way related to brown, while both Robert Downey Jnr and David Oyelowo looked resplendent in the shade on the Golden Globes red carpet in January. The former wore Dior; the latter, Berluti.

Broeke: 'Andrew Garfield is rarely seen on the red carpet wearing a suit that isn’t in some way related to brown'
Andrew Garfield is rarely seen on the red carpet wearing a suit that isn’t in some way related to brown - Getty
Susan Downey and Robert Downey Jr. at the 81st Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Jan 2024
Susan Downey and husband Robert Downey Jr – wearing Dior – on the red carpet at the Golden Globes - Getty

With so much brown doing the rounds, the question begs, does the old style rule still stand? Or should it be sent to the sartorial scrap heap, along with matching one’s belt to one’s shoes and avoiding colour combinations such as pink with red, or navy and black?

“I don’t think the ‘no brown in town’ thing is relevant any more,” says Nicolas Gabbard, the founder and creative director of chi-chi tailoring brand Husbands Paris, which does a great line in city-friendly brown suits. “We’re currently seeing a lot of demand for the colour, especially in its darker, almost chocolate version. This probably reflects a return to the 1970s, when brown reigned supreme.”

David Oyelowo attends the 81st Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton on Jan, 2024
David Oyelowo in Berluti at the Golden Globes - Getty

Yet, in the decades prior to the hue’s heyday, it was confined firmly to the countryside. In the early 20th century, wealthy men who worked in the city kept to a strict uniform of greys, blacks and navy blues, changing into earthy tweeds for weekends spent at their out-of-town abodes. It is a marked contrast to today, when most city-dwellers spend more time struggling to grab a rung on the property ladder than they do worrying about building a wardrobe for countryside jaunts.

Even the Duke of Windsor, who led men’s style during brown’s rural confinement, was happy to flout the rules. Edward VIII was often pictured wearing chestnut shoes with a blue suit in the city. If the dictum was flexible enough for the most stylish British man of the 20th century to ignore, then you can probably afford to give it a swerve, too.

“The ‘no brown in town’ rule stopped applying officially in the 1970s when ‘city dress’ – navy suit, bowler hat and umbrella – was no longer required and the city ceased to be a reliable exemplar of sartorial finesse,” says Tom Chamberlin, the editor-in-chief of The Rake. “Brown can be a heroic colour when in tweed. See Indiana Jones in his professorial garb, or Connery’s Bond in Thunderball and Goldfinger.”

A model on the runway at the Louis Vuitton Menswear Collection Fashion Show, June 2023 in Paris, France
Brown took centre stage at the Louis Vuitton menswear fashion show in Paris last June - WWD

Another good reason to embrace brown is simply because it is such a lovely big hug of a colour. Easy to wear with most other hues – pinks, blues and creams, in particular – it is also flattering against pretty much every skin tone, bolstering rather than draining, and unlike the navy, black and grey tones that dominate most masculine wardrobes, it possesses a delicious warmth.

“I’ve always been a fan of brown,” says menswear tastemaker Ben Cobb, whose personal wardrobe is a symphony of chocolates, tans and taupes. “It makes a statement without being brash, it feels grown-up and sophisticated. At the moment I’m never out of a big brown teddy-fur coat from a bygone era of Bottega. Today I’m in a brown pinstripe shirt from my upcoming collection for Tiger of Sweden. But I don’t just wear lots of brown, I live in it too: the walls of my entire home are painted a dark, rich brown. It creates such a calming, enveloping space.”

When it comes to absorbing streams of chocolate, caramel and fudge into your own wardrobe this spring, there are a few key style muses to keep at the front of your mind. The first is Richard Gere, whose turn in syrupy caramel Giorgio Armani suits and overcoats for 1980’s American Gigolo was a masterclass in tertiary-hued dressing. The second is Gregory Peck, who was often pictured in a roomy single-breasted brown suit, and the third is Yves Saint Laurent, whose way with a tan safari suit was second to none.

Richard Gere in American Gigolo: 'A masterclass in tertiary-hued dressing'
Richard Gere in American Gigolo: 'A masterclass in tertiary-hued dressing' - Shutterstock
American actor Gregory Peck with a horse during the filming of Stanley Donen's 'Arabesque', 1966
American actor Gregory Peck was often pictured in a roomy single-breasted brown suit - Moviepix

In terms of the pieces to buy, a good place to start would be where we began – with tailoring. Stefano Pilati’s brand Random Identities does an excellent double-breasted suit, while Husbands Paris is great for something slimmer in profile. Alternatively, you could pick one key piece – a brown silk kimono bomber from Bottega Veneta, for instance, or an oversized chocolate blazer from The Frankie Shop – and work it in with your existing garments.

On picking the specific shade of brown, don’t be afraid to go the full Godiva. “If you want to delve into brown, start at the darker end of the palette,” explains Chamberlin. “It is far easier to wear dark tones, especially if you are trying to grow your sartorial confidence.”

These days, the colour looks far better worn in urban environments than it does in the country, which can feel a touch pastiche-y, truth be told.

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Brown suit
Brown suit

Twill suit, £1,430.40, Husbands Paris