Separates & How To Wear Them

Separates & How To Wear Them

By Sean Longden

There is nothing quite like wearing the perfect suit – the fit, the colour, the feel of the cloth and, more importantly, how it makes you feel.

However, there are times when a suit is too much for the occasion. Times when something more casual is needed, when you don’t want to stand out, or when you simply want the comfort of being in something less structured and less formal. This is when it is time to consult Cathcart's Made to Measure Jacketing and Trousers


Think of a warm summer’s day: You might want to look just right, you want to wear a nicely creased pair of flannel trousers and polished brogues but it’s too warm to wear a wool jacket. The answer is simple. And it’s an answer that’s been known to well-dressed men for a long as the suit has existed. Simply wear the basic suit but replace the jacket with something lighter, maybe a linen, cotton or silk jacket. Keep the tie, in fact keep everything else – including the waistcoat if the weather isn’t too warm, but that lightweight jacket is going to keep you cool and help make you the best dressed man in the room. And, if there’s a pattern in the jacket that you can replicate on the tie, your look will only be improved:

Using a suit as the basis for such an outfit can be a challenge, but it is a challenge that can be worthwhile. Even pinstripe or checked cloth will look good if the jacket is plain and is the right colour. After all, there aren’t any rules, just some guidelines that will help you on your way.

Just to show that there aren’t any rules, whilst we have just suggested taking suit trousers and waistcoat and adding a summer jacket as a way of wearing separates, why not go the other way? So why not keep your suit jacket and waistcoat and swap your trousers for flannel trousers? It can certainly look good:


Perhaps the most obvious outfit consisting of separates is the combination of double breasted blazer with light coloured trousers – grey or cream flannel trousers being the classic combination, although linen and cotton trousers also work, especially in warmer climates. Check out our made to measure King Cole and Vanderbilt DBs that pair perfectly with light coloured flannels.

When planning an outfit of separates, there are some basic questions to ask:

Do these colours work together? Do the textures of these fabrics combine well? Do these patterns complement each other?

So let’s look at colours.

In most cases, when creating an attractive outfit from separate garments, the main focus will be your jacket. In theory that will be a sports jacket. However, it doesn’t matter with its made from the most beautiful tweed, the finest Irish linen or even something as eye-catching as a vivid two-tone mohair – or whether it has the fanciest belt back and most intricate pleated patch pockets – none of these details will matter if you aren’t wearing the right trousers.

If there is one secret to creating a successful outfit it is to start with a strong base. As previously mentioned, grey worsted flannel trousers are the perfect starting point. A good light to mid-grey flannel will work with almost any colour, weave or style of jacket.  And the smoothness of a solid worsted flannel will combine equally well with the hairiest of Harris Tweed jacket or the smoothest silk summer jacket. As a result, the grey flannel trouser is perfect for any season, although adding grey linen will also offer you additional options.


Once you have the perfect grey flannels in your wardrobe, the next colour to look at will be light cream trousers. As previously mentioned, these are ideal for building a summer outfit.

When considering colours, one should try to make sure the colour of the jacket and trousers are not too close. Getting the colour combination wrong will risk making your outfit look like a mismatched suit. As a result it is worth keeping contrast in mind. You just know that those cream trousers are just crying out to meet a Tweed jacket made in rust wool!

The true joy of using a solid trouser as a basis for your separates outfit is that it allows you to wear the loudest patterns and colours, the boldest checked tweeds, the fluffiest of Harris Tweeds, or the most vivid flecks. Imagine all those fabrics that you love but which you feel are just too much to wear as a full suit. And since, as has already been established, flannel trousers in grey or cream will work with so many colours, so there are no excuses not to let your imagination run wild when designing your perfect sports jacket.   


And don’t forget, it isn’t just the fabric that you can enjoy selecting. A sports jacket with interesting pockets is always an attractive option:

Of course, you don’t have to select bold colours and weaves or fancy details. With the right colours, well-chosen fabrics and good style, you can wear the simplest of separate jackets and still look fantastic:


Where you can really have fun creating an outfit of separates is in the autumn. The colours and shades of autumn – an array of browns, rusts, yellows and faded greens – and that special seasonal texture of leaves drying and falling can be replicated in the colours and cloths of your autumn outfits. As someone once described dressing for autumn “the icy leaves, bristling with the tendrils of the year’s first frost, mimic the fibrous feel of Harris Tweed on a winter’s morning.” Or some such pretentious nonsense …

Of course, you can build your outfit on smooth grey wool worsted trousers, or you might prefer a heavier grey flannel, or maybe in a wool with more texture. But, however elegant this is, don’t limited yourself to the simplest option. There are plenty of wonderful fabrics out there ready and waiting to create an outfit for autumn and winter.  

A strong alternative choice would be heavy moleskin trousers, maybe in olive, brown, green or mustard, which will combine perfectly with tweed jackets in autumnal colours. The true beauty of moleskin is in its softness and warmth.  Unlike some wools, moleskin has a smoothness that means it is never itchy and has a strength that means the trousers drape well, holding their shape when worn and making the wearer feel protected at whatever the weather might throw at him. It also ages impressively, fading and creasing in a way that reveals how much you have enjoyed wearing them.

Then there are corduroy trousers which, with their fluffily warm texture, seem almost naturally suited to the colder months.

Or there is my favourite fabric for autumn and winter: Bedford Cord. Originally used mainly for riding trousers, Bedford Cord is a hardy and warm cloth, similar to corduroy, but with a strength that is a revelation to those who have never experienced it before. 

 You will also have fun choosing a luxurious doeskin waistcoat to match your outfit. Maybe a subdued fawn or a vibrant gold, perhaps a bottle green or a deep red … All the colours of an autumn leaf. 

Or choose a beautiful Tattersall cloth. It is a simple way of adding a touch of colour and pattern to an otherwise simple understated outfit: 

Maybe, like this fellow, you will take the courageous step of teaming a tattersall check with a Prince of Wales check:

On the subject of patterns, since it is routine to combine a checked jacket with solid trousers, it would seem logical that a solid jacket could be mixed with checked trousers. But no, that just isn’t done … until it is …


… and, if you look closely, maybe you’ll also find a way to combine striped trousers with a solid jacket:

So, if you want to push your style, but don’t think that this is a style you could wear, why not try something less risky? How about a solid jacket with Donegal Tweed trousers. For me, for this to work it would be a good idea to select a solid jacket that has some texture in the weave in order that it balances with the trouser fabric.

And sometimes, despite all of the so-called ‘rules’, all of the advice (from people like me), you just need to have the confidence to do whatever you want. Want to wear striped trousers with a bold check? Well, they are your clothes, so wear them how you want. If you wear them with style and confidence, you’ll make a good impression. Despite the checked jacket clashing with the striped trouser, the well-chosen knitwear, which mimics the jacket, means he looks good. 

That said, I really can’t recommend this combination of checks and stripes! 

Of course, you can’t really learn how to build an outfit of separates from reading about them. How better to learn than by looking at some combinations that we think are interesting, successful, stylish and fun. As the Americans say … “Enjoy!”:


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