Michael Alden has this great line over at The London Lounge. I’m paraphrasing here, but it’s something like: for all the overthinking, rule touting, and pseudo-scientific analysis these days over how men should dress, it’s notable that the most stylish men in history have been creative types. Painters, musicians, poets, actors, etc. Not the kind of people you can imagine pouring over their wardrobes and wrestling with the minutiae of how things must be worn.
Among the creative sort, there were few people who dressed better than Pablo Picasso. And oddly, he looked best when he was at home – dressed for private life, rather than public. Just do a Google Images search of him in Cannes, where he had his villa. You’ll pull up hundreds of photos of him dancing around his studio in baggy sweaters and drawstring pants; paint splattered smocks with sport shirts; and trim-cut shorts with leather woven huaraches. He loved patterns, often sporting plaid trousers and striped Bretons (he favored ones with navy stripes against a white background), and almost always wore slip-ons (presumably because they were comfortable and easy).
Picasso’s style wasn’t always so relaxed and carefree. In 1919, when he was in his late-30s, he was hired to design the costumes for a Ballets Russes production of The Three-Cornered Hat. He had to travel to London for the job, and while there, fell in love with all things English (so much so that his father nicknamed him “El Ingles”). Before he left, he had his friend Clive Bell take him around the city, so that he could buy three-piece suits from Savile Row and all the proper accouterments of an English gentlemen – the perfect linen hanks, gold watch chains, and rabbit-felt bowler hats.
It’s hard to deny that Picasso looked great at the time, even if his English clothes never seemed to suit him, but it’s how he dressed later in life that really defined his style. I like the photo of him at the top of this post in that thick, burgundy terry-cloth pullover (Orelebar Brown has something similar), as well as the image below, where he’s shown wearing a striped shirt with some muted-checked, boucle-woven trousers and a pair of slip-ons with burgundy socks.
Picasso always looked like he just came back from a swim or randomly gabbed half-clean things laying around his studio. His relaxed sense of dress allowed him to focus on art, but it also had this playfulness that I think rule-bound guys lack. Maybe some useful takeaways: clothes don’t always have to coordinate, and things can look great when they’re cut a little looser. I also think certain workwear items could be worn for similar effect. Looser chinos with a long shop coat, for example, suddenly look different if you wear them with leather espadrilles instead of work boots.
Before I start to overanalyze, I’ll end with this quote from Picasso. It’s about art, but can just be as easily applied to clothes:
Everyone wants to understand painting. Why don’t they try to understand the song of the birds? Why do they love a night, a flower, everything which surrounds man, without attempting to understand them? Whereas where painting is concerned, they want to understand. […] Those who attempt to explain a picture are on the wrong track most of the time.
Maybe the only rule worth following: wear things in a way that make you look great.