Herringbone Is Having a Style Moment. Here's How to Take Advantage
Arriving for his hotel-room tryst with Mrs. Robinson, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman’s post-collegiate layabout in The Graduate) is the opposite of a smooth operator. Nervous and bumbling, he’s a blunderer in every sense—except for his dress sense, which is impeccable. Matched with a knit tie and button-down shirt for a sophisticated play of texture, Benjamin’s herringbone sport coat is dapper in a dynamic way.
Imagine that th telephone booth in that scene were a time machine whisking Benjamin to the next chilly day in 2016. He’d look just as correct now as he did in the mid-'60s, as this classic is experiencing a revival. After half a decade of creeping popularity, herringbone—a twill weave named for the v-shaped X-ray of a tasty little fish—is set to achieve omnipresence in a variety of sophisticated circles.
Zigging and zagging between opposed modes of style—between the city dude and the country gentleman, between the prep-school kid and the natty professor, between the downtown artist and the Midtown ad man—herringbone offers its slubby elegance to every fellow on the street. (Every lady, too, as indicated by its prominent presence in the new collaboration between Uniqlo and Carine Roitfeld, the Parisienne generally more associated with black leather than with gray tweed.)
Why should herringbone be enjoying a grand renaissance? Maybe because its traditional vibe goes well with the aura of heritage brands; perhaps because a herringbone jacket is relatively casual and looks sharp when worn with the raw denim of a laid-back age. Maybe we should put the question to one of the Freudian psychoanalysts who once treated herringbone like a job uniform. While we wait to see how they feel about that, let's ensure that you’re living up to the potential of your au courant overcoat.
Should you doubt how to wear it, study, first of all, the Ivy League Look. The greatest generation of herringbone wearers were the East Coast college students of the late 1930s. Take a peek at this vintage Life photo spread admiring the way kids at Princeton—“Hollywood’s conception of how the well-dressed college boy should look”—contrasted unstructured herringbone jackets with dark flannel slacks.
The lesson here? Contrast is key in the herringbone arena: Striped shirts, dotted ties, tartan-plaid scarves all manage to marry nicely with herringbone—and maybe, in that context, with one another. The fine busy quality of the base brings the whole thing together. But I’d think twice before wearing a herringbone jacket over one of those gingham shirts you guys insist on wearing every night. I wouldn’t think at all of wearing a herringbone coat with a Glen plaid suit, a houndstooth scarf, or a shepherd’s check shirt. I could imagine someone of exceptional confidence wearing all four at once, but that’s a high-degree-of-difficulty move best left to Italian playboys with sprezzatura to burn.
If the golden age of herringbone began in the 1930s, the period’s bookish bookend is the 1970s, when Robert Redford played a scholarly CIA analyst in Three Days of the Condor. We could all look to Redford’s character for tips on layering a herringbone jacket over a solid sweater with a neckline low enough to flash a richly colored, boldly patterned necktie. If you prefer Clint Eastwood to Redford, then you can instead gain the same layering wisdom from Dirty Harry, wherein a three-button jacket makes Detective Callahan’s day.
This is all by way of giving you a heads-up that just because a pattern is everywhere doesn’t mean it goes with everything—just with more things than you might think. In 2016, Benjamin Braddock’s herringbone jacket is a bit like the animal-print coats favored by Mrs. Robinson (and Mme Roitfeld): a vivacious arrangement of shape that nonetheless reads like a neutral, if you’ve got the sense to handle its energy with care.