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Dressing more smart-casual, with neckerchiefs

A neckerchief worn with a grayish-beige crewneck sweater and a burgundy jacket from Steven Hitchcock.

2020 has yet to wrap up (with God knows what mishaps are up in the alley for the remaining two months). Still, it is already safe to say my style has slightly changed (or devolved?) due to the ongoing situation.

Yes, you heard that right — even the guy who dresses in a three-piece flannel suit and contrasting collar shirts on a daily basis has succumbed to the lethargy of skipping his ironing duties and, in return, wearing more T-shirts and crew neck sweaters.

Yet, if anything, my proclivity to dress for my own pleasure, rather than dressing for the occasion means that I am far from plunging from the apex of sartorial excellency to sweatpants overnight.

What I found myself to be doing for the past couple of months is to innovate and look for alternative ways to wear my garments instead. Simply because dressing up has become a gratification, if not a ritual.

How exactly you may ask? Well, being the person who has always favored some form of accessorizing, I have since been allured by the pulchritude of neckerchiefs, hence shifting the center of gravity from the breast pocket to the neck.

The purpose of today's write-up is to first touch on the perceptions of neckerchiefs, before moving onto the techniques of how to wear them well. Enjoy.

Neckerchief as an inseparable of 30s French Riviera beachwear. (Photography from "Men in Style".)

As far back as the BCs, men had always donned some forms of scarves, whether it was to accessorize themselves or to simply keep themselves warm. The history of the cravats is, in any case, well-documented. For that reason, I won't be dwelling on the details here. (If you are interested to learn more, you can check out this piece.)

What is more intriguing, at least to my curiosity, is how this former connotation of high-noble society and French Rivieria style of the 30s, the Apparel Arts-certified vacation accessory liquidated into its current disdained form.

One way to look at this is that some outdated, or worse, misleading theories regarding the 'rules of masculinity' propose that men shall avoid all behaviors that even remotely suggest the feminine.

It then goes without saying that since women have been accessorizing themselves with patterned scarves as often as most men did throughout the first half of the 20th century, the neckerchief ultimately became a female gender-exclusive accessory.

But this response is neither satisfactory nor explanatory enough, considering bandanas were commonly worn as recently as the 1970s with denim and plaid shirts as a part of the cowboy-attire culture, one that was championed by the likes of John Wayne.

It would, perhaps, then be the 'power dressing' mentality of the 1980s, one that instilled the 'no-fussiness' and 'black is the authoritative color' interpretations of classic menswear which is still heavily persistent in many people's mindsets to this day being the primary driver.

Taking a step back from the talks on cultural shifts throughout the decades, however, one message is clear — social perceptions of a certain piece of garment, or even more so, a clothing style inevitably change as the years go on.

Then, there is a certain limit as to how sustainable one could be with their garments as long as he or she is bound to conform to the dominant social attire.

Logically, neckerchiefs may well be one of those pieces which require some gents to unlearn their existing perceptions towards the accessory, in order to fully appreciate the latter's addition to an outfit in this day and age.

So what do you pair them with? Well, chances are you may already have these pieces in your wardrobe.

1) T-shirts and Crewneck sweaters

Starting with what I have mentioned at the start of this write-up, the appeal of these two styles of clothing could be elevated with a touch of a neckerchief.

A tailored jacket, to me, always needs to be complemented by something around the neck to look right, considering much of the features of a jacket are designed to accentuate the wearer's facial features, particularly with his or her jawline.

That is why a shirt or a turtleneck sweater, in my humble opinion, would always harmonize well with the coat.

Unfortunately, most T-shirts and crewneck sweaters made these days with the exception of pieces such as The Anthology's knitted t-shirts, which are inspired by 1950s sportswear are cut with a low neck opening. Needless to say, this can be a more severe issue if you have a long neck like me.

Putting on a square scarf not only allows that void to be filled, but also it helps bridging the formality gap between the jacket and the t-shirt or the sweater.

I should also mention that not all T-shirts can do the job properly. A T-shirt that is made in a thicker cloth would always be superior to its thin and floaty counterpart as the latter simply draws a stronger connotation to an undershirt.

2) Open-neck shirts

Well, this is historically how men wore neckwears before the tie was invented. It has since manifested itself as an ascot, or an accessory to be tucked within the Cuban collar of a summer shirt, most likely featured repeatedly in Apparel Arts' illustrations.

As for today's standing, the same logic remains not every man wants to wear a tie at all times, yet equally, they don't feel comfortable wearing nothing in between their shirt collars.

This is perhaps an even more sensible way to dress for readers who reside in hotter climates — think of Italian summers and the humid weather in Hong Kong. It is, no wonder, why many #menswear guys would time and again choose to don a neckerchief with a linen shirt and trousers each summer at Pitti Uomo.

Regardless, the square scarf can always effortlessly add a flair to an otherwise dull semi-formal outfit.

Cotton scarf worn with a navy rollneck sweater.

3) Chunky rollneck sweaters

OK, this is interesting.

Logically speaking, the rollneck part of the sweater should be adequate in covering the exposed part of the neck for both practical and aesthetic considerations. It doesn't make much of a sensible argument to wear both at the same time.

Yet, an outfit could at times look rather flat if there are no variations of patterns nor textures on the other pieces of clothing. Even more so, some rollnecks could loosen up over time and fail to deliver their essential 'neck-warming' duty.

Under such circumstances, wearing a thin square scarf, ideally in a silk/ cotton material, would complete the look.

Silk bandana from Spacca-neapolis, worn with a knitted T-shirt from The Anthology.


Speaking of the material of the neckerchief, it is worth pointing out that it makes quite a difference when you go from silk to cotton.

A silk neckerchief would always make a timeless piece. It produces a smaller knot than any other materials would, and it also retains its shape more effortlessly. Yet, its biggest flaw is that while it is light in weight, it is also quite insulating; resulting in it being the less favorable option to pair with a summer ensemble.

Meanwhile, a cotton neckerchief would make a bigger and heavier knot. It is more likely to stay in place, though it creases more easily from my personal experience.

The best of both worlds, undoubtedly, is a silk and cotton blend.

Lastly, you can find neckerchiefs made in woolen materials, such as cashmere. While they could make a fine piece of clothing to warm you up, its knot would most likely be too thick for it to tuck in your shirt or sweater seamlessly.

But then, of course, it all comes down to how thick the fabric is.

Pairing with other accessories

Finally, it is worth considering the position of the neckerchief in relation to other accessories.

Simply put, I would advise against wearing any other accessories on your jacket, and this ranges from a lapel pin to a pocket square.

In my humble opinion, a neckerchief is more overbearing than a tie could possibly be, such that adding an accessory would only distract the attention from the center, rather than complementing it.

Apart from that, I would still wear other accessories like I normally would.

One last word. Like my other write-ups, I should again emphasize that these are just my suggestions. At the end of the day, you should dress in the way you are most comfortable.

Anyway, take care and bye for now.

Photography: as cited, otherwise own



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