Riviera style Part 2 – Permanent Style

I really enjoyed Tony’s evocative piece last week on Riviera style. The image of the rose-coloured hotel with palm trees cooling its flushed façade, in particular, has stayed with me

I also thought there was more to explore. Given how challenging men can find casual summer clothing, it seemed worth looking at ordinary, everyday applications of the style; combinations that don’t involve a jacket, but don’t resort to a T-shirt and shorts either. 

The evolution of men’s style that took place in places like the Riviera – as leisured classes met in a new environment, often adapting their clothes to heat and to new activities – can offer real inspiration I think. The more informal aspects even demonstrate a sort of summer casual chic

There’s a bit of a formula with this style, I find, and it comes down to three things:

  • An easy shirt or knitted polo on top
    • Could also be a knitted T-shirt. Could be a short-sleeved shirt if done elegantly. Main point is it’s not a bog-standard T-shirt
  • Tailored but easy trousers
    • Relaxed fit, non-formal materials. Could also be shorts, but like the top it makes a big difference if it’s noticeably different to the T-shirt-and-shorts default
  • Soft, breathable shoes
    • Everything from an unlined loafer with no socks, to an espadrille, to a fisherman’s sandal. Nice if more elegant, but the hard work has been done by the two pieces above

Let’s take the images above to start with. 

It’s all shirts, trousers and bare ankles. The shirts are casualised in some way – sleeves rolled up, chest unbuttoned one or two more buttons than usual. The trousers are linens, cottons, nothing too formal – but they are trousers, not shorts. 

And the shoes, if there are shoes, are soft, open and comfortable. There are no socks. All of those things, of course, are why Dickie Greenleaf looks so much more appropriate (and so easy and stylish) than Tom Ripley. 

Then there are these images from photographer Willy Rizzo, republished recently in Where Is The Cool magazine, showing scenes from St Tropez in 1949. 

Notice the preponderance of shirts, sleeves and trouser legs. Rolled-up trousers, rolled-up shirt sleeves, shirts often tucked in – yet everyone looks relaxed, easy and comfortable. (Often the first thing a man complains about when you suggest a shirt or trousers.)

There’s not a T-shirt to be seen, and the shorts are pretty much only on the women. (Who themselves then usually wear long-sleeves – a decent rule of thumb, if you can do it: long sleeves or long trousers, one or the other.)

More images from Rizzo above, this time in a few different locations and a few years later – some on the Riviera, the beach shot apparently taken in Tahiti in 1959.

There are T-shirts in the cafe scene, but they’re tucked into trousers, and coolness comes from those ever-present soft sockless shoes. Note also the simplicity of the clothing – blue and white predominates, and there are no logos, no flashy designs. This is how casual clothing is elegant.

Then on the beach and the harbour, it’s trousers and easy shirts again. The woman in a Breton top and presumably shorts or a bikini. 

In the well-known image of Gianni Agnelli above, he’s smarter than our other examples, but it’s still a relaxed shirt (here a long-sleeve polo, very PS), trousers and soft shoes. He manages to look more elegant than the two members of his posse behind him, despite them wearing suits. 

And Sean Connery – that menswear nerd’s favourite – makes a helpful contribution with the second image, demonstrating a polo, trousers and bare ankles. 

If we revisit some of those archive images in Tony’s article, these kinds of looks are all there, just scattered among a variety of styles. 

The image above is also a great demonstration of the role these pictures played. This is clearly not a real situation, given the huge variety in formality. Rather, its intention is to show every current summer fashion – every level of formality, even type of look, every optional accessory. 

The gentleman smoking a pipe is wearing a breton and shorts, like many in the photographs. But the magazine is not saying you need to also wear a matching white belt and beribboned espadrilles – just that these are all options, and hopefully you’ll like some of them.

Then the gentleman on the far left. He’s wearing something similar to our casual-chic formula – just with a beret and what look like Hollywood-top trousers. The lesson again here is not that you need a navy beret or have to wear socks with your espadrilles (though that’s a discussion for another time). It can be simply that a nice knitted tee, tailored trousers and soft shoes elevate a warm-weather look. 

Then the lead image of Tony’s article, below, shows how this was actually worn in practice – much more normal and understated. All three gentlemen are wearing good polos, tailored trousers and sockless shoes. 

Your beach holiday is unlikely to be as sophisticated as any of this. And in any case, most of the sophisticated places on the Riviera have had the taste drained out of them by lots and lots of money. 

But when you do go to the beach this summer, with the kids, you could consider a light, loose untucked shirt rather than a T-shirt. You might actually find it breezier and more comfortable. 

Or could consider espadrilles rather than flip-flops – easier to drive in, arguably as easy to get on if you tread on the backs. Certainly more flattering. 

And then the full casual-chic look is for summer working from home, or the weekend. Much more appropriate for a trip to the shops than a T-shirt and shorts – both because that look so easily makes men look like boys, and because no one in Caffe Nero wants to see your hairy toes. 

Top image courtesy of Adret. Second image of me taken from this post.

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