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Riviera Summer: Dressing For The Med
Summer is well and truly upon us at last, and with it our attention turns to taking a break from the familiar nine-to-five rituals and heading off for some well-deserved ‘r and r’. But how do we ensure that our style standards don’t slip along with our levels of productivity whilst away?
Popular for decades with sun-starved Europeans, the French and Italian Rivieras burst into life during the summer months, proving an irresistible draw for stressed-out urbanites. Bathed in sunshine and glamour, this sleek corner of the Mediterranean has inspired a sartorial legacy synonymous with well-heeled elegance that will keep your style credentials in check.
The Origins Of Riviera Fashion
The origins of Riviera style stem from the 1920s and 1930s, when sunbathing and sport became fashionable pastimes. At this time of great social upheaval, the European smart set began to flock to the cities of Nice, Marseille and Cannes on the French Riviera, and to Portofino and San Remo on the Italian side.
With this influx of travellers from cooler climes, fashion required alteration to suit the warmer conditions. Heavy wools and dark business dress were swapped for lightweight linens and cottons in neutral shades. With the rising popularity of yachting and water-based pursuits, maritime-inspired dress heavily influenced Riviera style; this was the birth of modern resort wear.
Whilst the decades past have seen the style adapt with the times, the fundamental elements of Riviera dressing endure, and maintain an ageless sophistication today.
In this article, we take a look at how the modern man can successfully execute a refined look that will stretch beyond the confines of the beaches of Cannes and grand salons of Monte Carlo…
Whilst it may be tempting in warmer climes to lose all your layers, certain occasions call for a more formal dress code. Tailoring for Mediterranean resorts should consist of unlined, summer-weight linen and cotton jackets and relaxed fit, single pleat trousers. Garments in seersucker fabric are also worthy of consideration.
A cooling effect can be achieved with tailoring if the correct materials and pieces are chosen; layer a thin unlined jacket over a simple cotton tee or slim-fitting white shirt. Opt for tailoring in light and neutral shades to avoid absorbing extra heat from sunlight.
To forego a tie is acceptable nowadays, except perhaps at the most formal events. If the rest of your attire is respectably smart, a tie will not be missed. In its absence, introduce a simple silk or ivory lace pochette to your breast pocket to add interest.
Summer tailoring can now be found everywhere, from high-end houses to high street retailers, and will become a versatile investment for your next jaunt around the Med. Some key labels to look out for include Gieves & Hawkes, Hackett and Mr. Rick Tailor, whilst Topman and Reiss provide more wallet friendly options.
Warmer climates provide the opportunity to dress down. It should be remembered that if a simple t-shirt is the primary component of an outfit, then quality should always be the first factor of consideration when building the look. Opt for high-grade organic cotton tees that will wash well and also remain cool due to their absence of synthetic fibres.
Brands such as American Vintage, COS and Acne provide an array of high-quality basics that will serve as a strong foundation to your Riviera wardrobe. Basic, solid-tone tees can also be easily dressed up by pairing with a tailored jacket and smart chinos.
The polo shirt comes into its own in the Mediterranean, with the light material and short-sleeve construction helping maintain a comfortable body temperature, whilst the collar can provide protection for the neck in direct sunlight. Synonymous with 1950s nonchalance, the polo is a core element in the Riviera portfolio and has remained a failsafe summer style.
Sunspel’s aptly named Riviera polo range is the perfect choice for any warm weather trip. Worn by none other than Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, this quality staple is a fine example of elegance in simplicity.
Key Piece: The Breton Stripe
Heavily inspired by menswear, the legendary Coco Chanel firmly believed that the classic Breton stripe top would always remain a timeless and sophisticated style throughout the sartorial shifts and changes of the years.
Originally the uniform of the fisherman of Brittany, the iconic striped design was adopted by the French navy and has become synonymous with maritime pursuits. A navy or red stripe Breton paired with beige chinos and espadrilles makes an enduring statement that works well both in the city and abroad. Jigsaw’s navy stripe Breton tee (below) captures the look seamlessly:
All synthetic fibres should be avoided in warmer climes as they will only serve to exacerbate perspiration and discomfort. With this in mind, Oxford cotton and linen styles are a solid backbone to a summer shirting repertoire. The classic Oxford shirt should feature a box pleat on the back for a looser, more comfortable fit.
With its breathable and absorbable qualities, linen is the ideal fabric for the majority of summer occasions. Durable and multi-faceted, an organic white linen shirt will work perfectly with a tailored jacket, or worn solo with shorts and deck shoes. For a more modern feel, pastel linen shirts are a smart and on trend option.
Italian label 120% Lino and premium swimwear brand Orlebar Brown have a great range of quality linen apparel for the discerning gent.
For those of a more contemporary inclination, short-sleeve chambray or bold print shirts are also worthy of consideration. Menswear designers’ enthusiasm for micro-prints and flora and fauna motifs has led to a seemingly endless choice of options in this genre, with styles from high street to high end to suit everyone. Strong labels in the offering include Hentsch Man, A.P.C. and Topman.
Trousers & Shorts
Cotton and linen are once again key fabrics in this category. The chino reigns supreme for trousers, with slim fitting or pleat front styles both sound choices.
Shorts should finish above knee level and neutral tone, ice cream shades or eye-catching optic prints are all key elements to add interest below the waistline. Just remember if your bottom half is patterned, it’s best to keep things simple on top.
As a substantial amount of your time will be spent ocean side, swimwear will be one of the most important components in your Riviera-bound suitcase.
A high quality pair of swimming shorts are a must, and with the recent rise in premium swimwear labels for men, there’s never been a better time to upgrade from those faded baggy board shorts.
Orlebar Brown is the market leader in quality swimwear and has something for everyone, from Mr. Classic to the exhibitionist. Their iconic ‘Bulldog’ and ‘Setter’ styles are a considered choice and available in a range of colour-pop hues, whilst their photo imagery print shorts are a playful tongue-in-cheek alternative.
London-based label MYO also offers a range of bold and youthful styles for the avid beach-goer. For those looking to stretch their pound a little further, there are some great options available on the high street.
When the mercury begins to climb, the footwear department can be one of the trickiest areas for men to negotiate. In the British Isles our feet spend a pale, sun-deprived existence cocooned in socks and leather for approximately 360 days per year, making most men somewhat reluctant to expose them to the world when the sun finally rears its head.
In recent summer seasons, the sandal has been creeping ever higher in the sartorial consciousness, with designers creating some imaginative and practical styles that even the most toe fearing gents can give a go. Leather cross-strap sandals in a dark tan are a multi-faceted option and have come a long way since the ‘Jesus sandal’ faux pas of the 1980s Brit and German abroad.
For those not brave enough to work some ‘toe and mankle’ action into their look, deck shoes and espadrilles are a more viable option, whilst suede tassel loafers will serve for formal occasions.
Try Jil Sander, A.P.C. and Sebago for stylish solutions to your footwear dilemmas.
Accessories are an essential component of the Riviera look, with a good quality pair of sunglasses and a lightweight straw hat key investments.
The range of skilfully crafted eyewear available on the market has reached an all time high, with manufacturers offering increasingly sophisticated materials and technology, coupled with vintage design elements. Brands such as Illesteva and Han Kjobenhavn offer a smart and sleek range of eyewear that is ideal for the Riviera.
Borsolino, one of the foremost Italian milliners, makes a superb range of handmade straw fedoras and panamas that will see you through many a summer, with equivalent styles readily available on the high street.
Champions Of Riviera Style
When in doubt, take your cue from those in the know. There are certain men who can pull off Riviera style like it’s their second skin.
One of the most sartorially elegant legends of the silver screen, the Swiss-French actor Alain Delon effortlessly made Riviera panache his own and remains one of the most charismatic style icons of the 1960s.
In this photograph, Delon shows how neutral-tone tailoring is done:
Another cinematic legend, no one wore the Breton stripe tee quite like fabled US actor James Dean, who died tragically young at the age of twenty-four in a fatal car crash. Who knows what the sartorial icon had in store for us if he had survived:
This dapper group of gents in Florence show how to work elements of Riviera style into a city wardrobe. The off-white trousers, retro-inspired eyewear and lightweight tailoring are particularly sharp:
Shot in 1960s France, the gent below [left] demonstrates the art of casual summer insouciance; the canvas espadrilles are a particularly apt Riviera touch.
Bringing the look bang up to date, this dapper Londoner [below right] has dressed appropriately for a summer’s day in town, with a well-cut lightweight cotton suit and an intricately woven straw fedora. Note the natty pocket square:
The Talented Mr. Ripley, staring Jude Law and Matt Damon, features some of the strongest and most inspirational Riviera style in silver screen history.
Set in late 1960s Italy, the film boasts a continual sequence of aesthetic perfection from one scene to the next. See our full break down of this cinematic masterpiece in our Celluloid Style series:
Off-whites, beiges and neutral tones are synonymous with classic Riviera style, as are primary tones of reds and blues for more nautical-inspired pieces.
Pastel and ice cream shades will also add a fresh and contemporary feel to the look and can easily make the transition to your city wardrobe:
All of us can work an element of Riviera style into our wardrobe through the simple addition of light-coloured linen, unstructured cotton tailoring and a pair of playfully printed shorts.
The key factor to remember is that each component should be both practical and comfortable; the style itself evolved from the necessity to have a freer form of dressing for an active lifestyle in sunny climes.
However it adapts and evolves with the passing decades, the core spirit of Riviera style remains in the form of elegant simplicity and functional panache.