Starting Point: Carlos Castillo in Florence

by Drew Shiel

My first starting point is going to be an image of a fellow called Carlos Castillo, depicted in Florence on The Sartorialist. Carlos has appeared on The Sartorialist a few times, and even a cursory glance shows some common elements of style there. However, I’m going to concentrate on that image in Florence. Here’s a small version of it; for the full version, go see the original.

A bearded man with a brown coat, a woolen vest, and a denim shirt.
Photograph by Scott Schuman

So, first off, Carlos has a beard. I have a beard, and therefore it’s reasonable to assume I like beards. I’m not going to so far as to say all men should have beards, because I’ve seen a few that were really not suitable, but in general, they seem to be good. More character than a clean-shaven face. Old-fashioned. Possibly traditional, although there’s a fair argument to be made that since the early 20th century, clean-shaven has been far more ordinary, and that’s a long tradition. So I may have to look into why the magnificent beards of the Victorian era went away.

Next, he has a very fine jacket. I’m not well up enough on fabrics to say what it is – a fine chequer of light brown and black, or maybe a darker brown. Except on closer examination, it’s not a chequer. It’s a very light brown background, with horizontal strips of alternating shades of darker brown, crossed by vertical strips of mid-brown. I think it’s probably a woolen fabric of some kind. The word “serge” comes to mind. I should identify what it’s actually called, in both material and pattern. I should also see if that kind of jacket has a particular name – I know of blazers and sports jackets, but I don’t know the exact differences. This one has elbow patches, which I think I like – they seem like a practical augmentation, but could be an affectation. They seem to make it more a working jacket than otherwise.

He has one button of the jacket done up. I don’t much like that – it looks kind of like the rest came undone – and in any case, I’m still much too large for that to work for me. From the distortion of the fabric, though, that’s not an element of the garment itself, just the way he wears it. He has a scarf in the pocket, too – a sort of fawn brown, lambs wool, maybe. There’s too much texture to it for cashmere, I think. There’s something in the left breast pocket of the jacket, too – it might be a handkerchief, or what I think is called a “pocket square”, or it might be a ticket or other piece of paper. Scarves are an interesting element of outerwear; they’re very practical in cold climates, and they function as accessories in terms of colour, texture, and so forth. I don’t recall seeing them in pictures from before… let’s call it the 1870s or so, but they can’t be that new an idea.

He’s wearing a vest or a sweater. I don’t know if those are useful terms for anyone else, but here’s how I use them: a sweater is a light woolen garmet, single piece, covering the upper body and arms. A vest is similar, but only covers the torso; the arms and shoulders are clear. I like vests, and the variant form which buttons up the front like a woolen waistcoat. This one is a very light brown, a few shades lighter than the scarf, and has a v-neck.

Under that, he has what looks to me like a blue denim shirt. It’s quite loose on him, and has translucent white buttons. The collar seems to sit fairly high, and there are buttons under the points of the collar, which are undone. Denim is an interesting fabric; it seems intrinsically modern, but I know it’s been around for at least a couple of centuries. I think it’s cotton based. It was very popular in jackets and shirts in the 80s, I think, but hasn’t been seen all that much since except in its native realm of jeans, and maybe in Converse sneakers, if that’s denim.

Trousers aren’t all that visible, and footwear not at all; I’m going to call them off-white slacks, and concentrate on the rest.

So what makes this look good? Well, colour coordination has a lot to do with it. Brown coat, brown scarf, brown vest – in different shades – and then the blue shirt to contrast. You won’t find brown on a colour wheel, since it tends in paint terms to be a mix of lots of colours, but orange is a close substitute, and blue and orange are opposites. The contrast is muted by having brown instead of orange, and so becomes less stark.

Also, Carlos has blue eyes, which makes the shirt work a little bit better again, and brown-toward-red hair, which helps with the other browns. This is a case of clothes which “suit” the wearer, and that’s actually a remarkably hard call to make. Eye, skin and hair colouring make a difference, but they’re only guidelines. I don’t think that’s a problem I can solve for anyone else, so apart from occasionally mentioning it when it’s as relevant as here, I’m not going to mention it much.

The shape of the garments also helps; there’s an echo of a three-piece suit in the jacket, vest and shirt, which gives a good air of solidity. The strong patterning of the jacket draws away from this, and gives the whole a slightly tweed-ish look. Of course, I don’t have a proper definition of tweed, either, so that’ll be something else to look into. It doesn’t look artificial or overly formal or constructed, so it keeps a friendly feel about it – something that’s often important for me, particularly in work clothes.

From this one outfit, then, I’ve a number of things to research: beards since the Victorian era, the name of the patterning in the jacket, and a guess or direction on what the fabric is called, the name of different shapes of jacket, a look at when scarves came in for men (if that can be traced at all) and what’s been done with them, and a look at denim, to see how far it goes back. That’s plenty to get started on.

Associated Research: Jackets