Where the Boys Are: Color in Men's Fall 2011 Fashion

Any examination of color in men’s fashion is bound to be a study in minimalism. Recessionary pressures flatten the color palette still further. Yet there are glints of fascinating color treatment in the fall 2011 men’s fashion shows, just now drawing to a close this month. Don your boy-mode spectacles, and let’s see the sights.

A million shades of gray


Black as pitch, black as a stack of inky cats, black as the hopeful balance sheets for millions of bleeding-red corporations. The crushing parade of blacks continued apace this season and requires, frankly, no comment. The only glimmers in this Black Mass were supplied by winking sables and shiny black-leather pants, but really black only stretches so far for variety. That’s its point.

More interesting was the parade of grays. Another popular trope of men’s fashion shows, this season’s treatments showed a careful, even witty foray into monochromatism. Gray really is the universal color: practical yet elegant, knowing, perfectly attuned as a backdrop for mixing textured fabrics, infinitely subtle, strangely youth-making even as it colors old age with equal handsomeness. Chuck the black this season and invest in as many grays as you can lift. Everything matches automatically – and you may never reach the end of its multivalanced charm.

Yiga Azrouël

Grays tee you up for easy departure into other palettes, too. Paired with restrained coffee and taupe browns, gray affably picks up its neighbors’ shades and takes on a whole new personality by association.

Junya Watanabe

Alexander McQueen

Blue morphs into…

Another universal, if occasionally conformist color, blues this season showed their power to morph into other hues with intriguing results. Alexander McQueen’s slate-blues (above) recall the full galaxy of grays this season, plus every sun-mottled pair of blue jeans you’ve ever owned, and yet settles into sophistication when crisply handled.

Super-dark blues have always had an affinity with black. Medieval dyers, struggling to approximate a rich, lustrous, uniform black in fabrics, often dyed materials dark-blue as a “foot”, then constructed their blacks from there by layering on other shades until the right density was achieved. Givenchy, Dries Van Noten and others remind us of how midnight-blue, wavering over the dotted line into black, can draw the eye without any unseemly glare.

Dries Van Noten


Burnt orange and spicy khaki


Burnt orange is a damn clever color. It can go sleeper as hail-fellow-well-met khaki, or its intensity can be dialed up into something closer to a full-blooded citrus. I love this color, although admittedly I look terrible in it (as mostly anyone will, with a blue-tinted skin tone).

But burnt orange has staying power, for both men and women (as StyleCaster recently reported). Its brown cast tinges it with a sense of distance, so it feels almost legendary. It resembles caramels, warm clay, saddle leather, burnished gold bars locked safely in a semi-dark vault. What’s not to like about all that? If it doesn’t suit you in bold strokes, wear it discreetly in smaller touches, like jewelry. It answers nearly every fashion need pressing on us nowadays.

Agnès B

Ann Demeulemeester

Louis Vuitton

Burnt orange’s versatility leads it naturally into other, brighter, less cautious shades. It moves neatly into rust (D&G), a spiced chocolate (Etro), highly preppy mustard (Hermès), apricot (Maison Martin Margielas) or even crazy lumberjack turkey-red (Adam Kimmel).




Maison Martin Margiela

Adam Kimmel

Mineral gray-green

More positively a color-trend, a mineral gray-green crept onto the runway in many of this season’s collections. It’s masculine, evocative of the military, clear glass bottles or a turbulent seaside in winter, and it steps out from gray exactly one pace – without necessarily going any further.

Agnès B



A color that contains so many potential worlds as this one can push out in any number of vectors. It can bring out the hidden blues in a somber black suit (Maison Martin Margiela), or do the same favor for grays (Giorgio Armani). Taken one step further into greens, it takes on a scurfy, moneyed elegance, like well-thumbed banknotes (Yiga Azrouël, Costume National).

Maison Martin Margiela

Giorgio Armani

Yiga Azrouël

Costume National

Dabs of true color

Louis Vuitton

Back to the future, boys. Lots of cherry-red accents are probably inevitable with a palette so dominated by black, white and gray (not to mention the tantalizing memories of the go-go 1980s: ah, to be richly ascendant again!) Also expected are those snippets of sky-blue that peek out from heavy swaddlings of concrete and pearl, and give way to traditional French blues when they’re given a broader canvas, like a full shirt.

More unusual are the color-accents designers selected that may or may not pop into full-fledged trends. Given all the dwelling in very dark blues, I’m rooting for plum (as seen in Jean Paul Gaultier and Raf Simon below). It’s a startling color, like a throaty laugh at some comment others aren’t quite sure how to take. Only men with a sure color sense will gravitate towards this one, but it’s lovely when they do know how to use it.

Jean Paul Gaultier

Raf Simon

I called the trend for flame-pink in graphic design circles several months ago, and it shows no signs of flagging this season. Again, this isn’t a color for the uncertain, but well-handled it could well replace that aggressively “appropriate” salmon-pink daubing so many i-bankers’ dress shirts, which the Financial Times embodies so well in its pages.

Maison Martin Margiela

What’s your color-pick for men’s fashion in the coming months?

Branding & Identity Design, Color & Design, Imprint: Print Magazine's Design Blog, Jude Stewart

About Jude Stewart

Jude Stewart is a PRINT contributing editor. She has written on design and culture for Slate, Fast Company, The Believer, I.D., Metropolis, and Design Observer, among many others. She has authored two books, both published by Bloomsbury: ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color (2013) and Patternalia: An Unconventional History of Polka Dots, Stripes, Plaid, Camouflage and Other Graphic Patterns (2015). Follow her tweets on color at twitter.com/joodstew.

3 thoughts on “Where the Boys Are: Color in Men's Fall 2011 Fashion

  1. Jude Stewart

    Hey, glad to hear you liked this – it was certainly fun to write. I like the challenge of parsing color when the palette in question (in this case, men’s fashion) tends towards minimal variety versus maximal.
    Hope to catch you again on Imprint soon.

  2. On This Day In Fashion

    “It’s a startling color, like a throaty laugh at some comment others aren’t quite sure how to take.”
    LOVE this! It’s so cool when an author gives color the clever turns of phrases it deserves and this article is full of ’em. I’ll be back for more…