It’s basically accepted wisdom that it’s difficult to look good at the height of summer. Pulling together something stylish and reasonably comfortable in warm weather can be a challenge, and so plenty of men turn to the easy option: casual wear, often identikit in appearance.
But the alternatives have been there all along, and you can get an education in cinema history while you’re looking. All you have to do is just keep an eye out for films set on the French Riviera... With its stunning vistas and louche, sun-dappled seaside resorts, the south of France has long been a setting for stylish films – from French classics of the ‘60s to Casino Royale four decades later.
No one personifies French Riviera style better than actor Alain Delon. In Purple Noon (1960), the Patricia Highsmith adaptation that came before The Talented Mr. Ripley, he plays the consummate playboy wearing crisp shirts in white and coral, open at the collar; loose, cropped trousers, and a striking navy blazer with wide deckchair-style stripes. His clothes become an important marker for his devious social-climbing, but he sure looked good doing it.
Then there’s La Piscine (1969), which, as the French-speakers among us might know from the title, is set around a swimming pool. Here, Delon sports bronzed skin, half-buttoned chambray shirts, and light knit jumpers for the post-swim evenings. Maurice Ronet, the other leading man of the film, is stylish from the moment he arrives in his Maserati to his donning of a pool-side kimono.
It takes considerable panache to dress like a ‘60s Frenchman, to be sure. It’s not an entry-level aesthetic for summertime, and men’s style errs on the safe side most of the time – if you want to wear loafers, you’ll probably wear them with jeans, or save the striped blazer for only the most important occasions.
But making a tiny bit of extra effort with summertime style paid off for Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief (1954) – he ends up with the beautiful Grace Kelly. Set against the sparkling Cote d’Azur backdrop, he dons everything from swim shorts to a tuxedo over the course of the film. In one particular scene, he pairs a wide grey blazer and a white white collared shirt, tucking a black cravat neatly into his neckline. And another a thin charcoal sweater with a blood-red collared-shirt underneath. But one of his lessons for modern men seems particularly astute: Why wear slim-fitting, tight trousers or jeans when the weather is warm? Why not invest in a pair of comfortable slacks?
Sartorially, taking risks or going all-in never hurt anyone, especially when men’s summer style can be so uninspired. As long as you adhere to generally-accepted rules – good tailoring, a sense of proportion – there’s no harm in braving some wide, cropped cream trousers or a pair of butter-soft leather loafers. Suits and jackets in light, breathable fabrics like linen or seersucker help keep you from too much sweat-related suffering.
To cop the look, colour schemes are also important. Work from a palette of navy, cream, camel, powder blue – anything that looks good against brown skin. Trendier S/S ‘17 colours – pale rose or stone – are also flattering for all skin tones. Sean Connery’s Bond was excellent at this, as in Never Say Never Again, where he strolls through St. Tropez in an oatmeal-coloured linen suit. Underneath, he wears a light blue shirt that makes for the perfect summer contrast. While talking to Mr. Bean.
Maybe most vital of all is to achieve the slightly undone, bohemian approach to dressing that the French did so well. Basically; you have to undermine the smartness of the clothing, and thus avoid looking like a smug, overdressed millionaire at a yacht party. You have to unbutton a few buttons, not mind if your linen (inevitably) becomes rumpled, and dispense with too many accessories. Invest in a pair of Ray-Bans or Persol sunglasses. Inevitably, that slight bit of extra effort will stand out against the trainer-wearing masses.
Borrow the light grey, gold-buttoned blazer from Grant, the black wrap-around sunglasses from Delon, and the elegant restraint of Sean Connery’s Bond. If you watch closely enough – and work up the requisite nerve – cinema can teach you everything you need to know to copycat the best of French Riviera style.