Charcoal topcoat and khakis: inspired or insipid?
December 3, 2005 9:19 PM   Subscribe

Can I wear a long charcoal overcoat with khaki pants, and look presentable?

While packing to go on a trip on which I will be wearing mostly khaki and the like, it occurred to me that I could bring my long wool charcoal-colored overcoat (it's rarely warm enough here to wear it), rather than my short leather jacket. The little advice I saw elsewhere was mixed. I sure would like to wear it, but do actually care about looking decent (undoubtedly the subject of future questions).

The coat looks similar in style to this. I, too, am male in case you haven't figured that out and are still wondering. My attire would generally be button-down type shirts, your boring business casual.

Feel free to suggest alternatives if you wish of coats to wear with the style (or lack thereof?) or styles to wear with the coat (hey--I like the coat!)
posted by RikiTikiTavi to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (51 answers total)
It sounds lovely, as long as you're wearing nice shoes (No sneakers!).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:20 PM on December 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

Should work fine, yeah. Fill in between the lapels with a scarf, since it'll look odd not having a tie there.
posted by mendel at 9:22 PM on December 3, 2005

I usually wear zip-up sweaters (or just sweaters with relatively high necks) with my similarly-styled coat. Mendel's scarf suggestion is solid, though.
posted by jenovus at 9:27 PM on December 3, 2005

Absolutely, wear a scarf and darker shoes and you'll look fine.
posted by fshgrl at 9:27 PM on December 3, 2005

Hmm, I'm not so sure - like you say, I too regard khakis as boring business casual. But a coat like that - wool, charcoal - is much more high-end. Which in turn is going to bring out the lower-endness (?) of the pants. I mean, you wouldn't wear a dinner jacket with jeans, would you...?
posted by forallmankind at 9:32 PM on December 3, 2005

I don't think that's comparable, forallmankind. My coat works great with corduroys and (dark) jeans; the discrepancy in style is not as great as you seem to be implying.
posted by jenovus at 9:35 PM on December 3, 2005

Response by poster: Good idea on the scarf, although I have none. I've packed a sweater or two, but sweaters are so much bulkier than long sleeve shirts to pack. :(

forallmankind: I'm not sure (hence I asked). I do see a lot of wool sport coat with jeans thing going on, although not so much anymore.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:36 PM on December 3, 2005

really it comes down to if you're one of the people that thinks black and brown go together, or if you're one of the people that doesn't.

personally I don't, but then I don't claim to be right.

so it's basically up to your own tastes.
posted by dorian at 9:47 PM on December 3, 2005

But it's not that easy, dorian- I don't think black and brown go together, but I don't think of khaki as brown. It's like denim- it goes with everything.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:50 PM on December 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm visualizing a discrepancy in style *and* a discrepancy in color - I think the two combined are just a bit much is all.

It does seem rather a nice coat to not bother getting some rather nice pants to go with it....
posted by forallmankind at 9:53 PM on December 3, 2005

I thought that it was generally accepted that black and dark brown definitely go together. Whether or not you choose to attempt lighter shades is a measure of your own wackiness.
posted by jenovus at 9:54 PM on December 3, 2005

dnno, anything brown/tan/cordovan/etc. to me does not at all go with any shades of black. even tho grey flannel with tan shoes seems to be popular for some god-forsaken reason. guess I have been malignantly influenced by the preppie handbook or something.

(but then personally I find khaki kinda offensive anyway, so it's hard to say ^_^ ps I also hate denim)
posted by dorian at 9:56 PM on December 3, 2005

I agree about khaki, dorian- I've completely given up on khaki pants. They are just not me.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:58 PM on December 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

Haha, I just tonight wore a black coat with tan corduroy pants. No one complained, although it may have been because I took it off inside. My dark blue sweater probably saved the night!
posted by jenovus at 9:59 PM on December 3, 2005

(I don't hate denim on other people*, I just don't own any meself)

*er, some other people
posted by dorian at 10:00 PM on December 3, 2005

(and, like I said, I don't claim to be right, just righteous and prejudiced...)
posted by dorian at 10:02 PM on December 3, 2005

That's exactly how I feel about khaki, dorian (in almost all forms- I will cop to owning a khaki skirt I don't hate) I don't hate it on others, just on me- I always feel strange in it. I think a boy in khaki pants and nice shirt is SO CUTE.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:05 PM on December 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's like denim- it goes with everything.

Or not. The colour of the trousers is the problem here, not the style. Chocolate brown, or olive green, or even something like a tweed? Sure thing. A full length dark coat and classic khaki makes me think 'popsicle'.
posted by holgate at 10:05 PM on December 3, 2005

I'm going to vote that it depends on the pants. A nice pair of pleated chinos (something like you'd get from Faconnable), good shoes and the right attitude, and why the hell not?

Purely casual flat-front tan pants, not so much.
posted by I Love Tacos at 10:07 PM on December 3, 2005

It's not the casualness of khakis that's the problem, it's the color. You don't need to wear wool slacks with a creas (though it wouldn't hurt) — gray or black cotton pants ('chinos') would work fine, but I'd recommend against charcoal and khaki.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:10 PM on December 3, 2005

I used to own a really great denim shirt -- I think I gave it to goodwill when I moved this year. I kinda miss it, but in my heart I know I looked stupid in it.

anyway, to wit: someone dear to me always told me that blue and green do not go together regardless. whereas I have always felt that they do (unless it's like an olive green with a blue that has some non-olive green it it). so, go fig.

again, it's up to you. wear what you like and fsck anyone who cares differently.

on preview: pleats?! only if they are going the right way, and maybe not even then...
posted by dorian at 10:11 PM on December 3, 2005

s/creas/crease. Or, what holgate said.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 10:12 PM on December 3, 2005

also: anyone wearing khakis and black shoes is going straight to hell.
posted by dorian at 10:12 PM on December 3, 2005

Hmph. Khaki isn't brown to me. Charcoal isn't black, either.

There are no colors that "don't go" together. You just have to find a context in which they both make sense. Hint: a scarf can help. Remember The Dude's rug?

For people who live in cold climates, long coats don't seem as explicitly formal as they do to warm-climate people. With presentable shoes and a scarf you'll be fine.
posted by tangerine at 10:21 PM on December 3, 2005

Khakis alone will buy you a ticket to hell if you ask me.

And personally, I wouldn't wear that coat without neckwear. Again, just my 2 cents.
posted by drpynchon at 10:23 PM on December 3, 2005

Response by poster: also: anyone wearing khakis and black shoes is going straight to hell.

With presentable shoes and a scarf you'll be fine.

My shoes are black. Pity. I do not own a scarf, either. Hey--at least hell's warm.

I do enjoy it when there's such differences of opinion on a question of mine. Mostly it means my indecision isn't merely complete ignorance...
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:32 PM on December 3, 2005

your indecision is most likely you being you. conflict of opinion is most likely us being us.

we're just voices. so, be you. do what feels/looks good to you.
posted by dorian at 10:39 PM on December 3, 2005

khaki definitely goes with gray. Just wear good shoes--black.
posted by amberglow at 12:06 AM on December 4, 2005

There seems to me to be two answers to this, depending on the question you are asking. If you are asking "Will I look like a fool in this?" Well, then, the only answer is "will I feel like a fool in this." Only you can judge that. Whereas if the question is "Will others think me a fool in this" Well then the answer is HELL YES.

Much of the opinion you hear here is "Well, it seems to me..." which is completely useless to you, in terms of answering question 2. You want Goldman Sachs status quo? Here it is: If you are trying to impress an upscale/corporate crowd that will actualy judge you by the way you look, then I'll tell you how the will think of you: "That guy went to the biz caz section of Costco and they had a firesale on khakis and coats." You know what it looks like? It looks like you have exactly 1 suitable coat and exactly 1 suitable pair of pants, and hell, perforce thats what you wore. I live in NYC (adressing here the "in cold climates nobody cares what kind of coat you wear" myth) and anyone showing up to biz caz in an overcoat, or anyone showing up to professional in khakis would get laughed out of the room.

If you are in khakis and in a business setting (versus advertizing, fashion, transgender studies conference, etc.) the coat goes to the waist. Period. If they are high quality pants that happen to be light brown, then we can talk. But khakis? In an overcoat? Never.

Khakis call for L.L. Bean. Not Brooks Bros.
posted by ChasFile at 12:09 AM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

I think khakis would go fine with charcoal (which I don't equate with black). Though I think black shoes with khakis are gross. Actually, I think black dress shoes are gross in general unless you're wearing a tux, but that's just me.

The formality of an overcoat with the casualness of the khakis is slightly questionable, but I don't think it'd look foolish. I own a coat that looks very similar to the one you link to, except it's navy. I just threw it on over jeans and a sweater and I think it looked fine. Maybe if you avoided buttoning it up or even flipped the collar, I think you're good to go.

And fuck the "Goldman Sachs status quo." Unless you're going to pitch the CEO of a Fortune 100 company on some huge merger, I wouldn't worry about it. And if you are doing that and you don't already have a closet full of Savile Row suits, you've got some sort of iconoclast thing going on that must be working pretty well.
posted by mullacc at 1:24 AM on December 4, 2005

I have no fashion sense, but I'll point out that I saw some charcoal and khaki-colored scarves at Target for only $12 yesterday.
posted by leapingsheep at 2:05 AM on December 4, 2005

The disparity in style of the outfit will come off more casual than if you just didn't have the coat at all. In contrast to mullacc, I recommend you adopt a habit of trying to dress slightly higher drawer than everyone else while still not outdoing the dress of whoever you intend to impress. The question should not be "will I look presentable?" it should be "will this be too much?" You may react by thinking that what I mean is wear a suit when everyone is wearing business casual, but no, what I mean is wear nicer casual than everyone else. I do not mean price, but simply quality. If you approach the issue that way, your problem will resolve.

Failing that, I think having a coat of a wildly different color than your pants is a grand err (i.e. blue blazers with khaki pants, what possesses people to wear such an outfit?) I'd recommend changing the pants to something that matches closer. One method of finding what matches is to first lay the two peices of clothes atop one another, allowing some fabric of each to be compared side by side. Now looking at them side by side, if they are of the same hue(s) they match, if they are of the same hue(s) but of different shades or tints, they'll match, and if they are of very similar tints or shades but different hues, they'll match, but if they are of different hues and different tints, no. Of course, there is much more to it than that, for instance if their contrast is too great it'll be a bit too jarring. But for the most part, just try to find something more similar in color. If you ever took an art class, try to remember whatever you were taught about color wheels and composition. Style of course is also an issue, but colors are the one of the first thing people notice.

Though if your intent isn't to impress but to just not to stand out, it really doesn't matter, wear whatever you want.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:37 AM on December 4, 2005

I tend to think that a coat is a coat and only crazy people care about whether their outdoors-wear matches their indoors-wear. In my opinion, if that coat is the only thing you own that's suitable for the weather, that's what you should take with you, I don't really see how it matters whether it matches your khakis, since it's not like you'll be wearing it all the time, it's not like it's a suit coat or sports jacket (which do need to go with your trousers). But then, I'm from Canada, and eschewing weather-appropriate clothing because of fashion can get you killed up there. /lumberjack

That said, I think it would look okay - not the best possible combination of colours or styles, but certainly not point-and-laugh territory (unless you're likely to be seeing Patrick Bateman on your trip).
posted by biscotti at 5:34 AM on December 4, 2005

i'd suggest you put the clothes on, stand in front a mirror, and see what you look like. if it looks ok, it's, well, going to look ok. the idea that you're going to get anything useful by asking complete strangers to imagine clothes they've never seen on someone they don't know, whose sense of style is impossible to guess in any detail is interesting, but not likely to produce anything very useful, unless all you just want is a warm fuzzy from people saying "yeah it's ok" without any real idea (which is itself fine, but doesn't have any connection with what you actually look like).
posted by andrew cooke at 5:48 AM on December 4, 2005

It really depends only on who's going to judge you
posted by elpapacito at 7:00 AM on December 4, 2005

TwelveTwo is exactly right: the issue is contrast. If there is too much contrast between the coat and the pants in either color or texture, it won't work. So if the khakis are gray or brown and dressy, it's probably fine; if they're white or actually khaki-colored and more 'broken-in,' no go. My rule with my own winter coat--which is actually more casual than that one--is that it gets worn with wool slacks, very nice fine-wale corduroy or jeans--but always with dark colors that don't create that 'popsicle effect.'

So, my suggestion is: (a) pack a scarf *or* flip the collar; (b) pack dark-colored pants. And in general, follow that Goldman Sachs dress-code *and* the advice to dress only slightly up.

P.S. This thread is hilarious.
posted by josh at 7:01 AM on December 4, 2005

"I'm from Canada" -- well, deep in the Canadian wilderness, it's unlikely that anyone would care. Since the question is about how other people will perceive the clothes, it's essential to consider who those people are. Almost nobody in Canada would care all that much, but as the the people in NYC eventually convinced me through much ridicule of my flagrant disregard for the conventions of fashion, it's a more important question there.
posted by sfenders at 7:03 AM on December 4, 2005

You can make anything work, and different is good. But if you're looking for easy, khaki does not go with dark gray, no matter what shoes you're wearing.
posted by justgary at 8:40 AM on December 4, 2005

the idea that you're going to get anything useful by asking complete strangers to imagine clothes they've never seen on someone they don't know, whose sense of style is impossible to guess in any detail is interesting, but not likely to produce anything very useful

I agree so completely I am willing to revisit my opinions on Americans and wine. I have no clue why anybody asks these sorts of questions here except as an anthropological study, or for comedy.

Seriously. Behind all these usernames you never know which one is 60 years old and oozing pus. Now if you'll excuse me, I've gotta go get a bucket for this.
posted by furiousthought at 9:46 AM on December 4, 2005

Contrast is not an issue between dark charcoal overcoats and khakis (traditional tan-colored), provided your shirt is a lighter color than your pants.

That's the trick. Wear a white shirt with tan pants and a dark overcoat with confidence. Wear a dark shirt with khakis and an overcoat, and all of a sudden you look like a pair of disconnected legs walking around.

The issue of shoes, pants-style, etc. are all important but irrelevant to the color issue.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:04 AM on December 4, 2005

We travel a lot, and I've gotten my (relatively fashion-conscious-although-likes-to-pretend-he-isn't) man's packing down to a science. It's about a working palette and everything is in support of the dominant piece -- in your case, the overcoat -- which I like a lot too. The overcoat instantly communicates that you're grown up and like to look good. Also you can hide in it when you're hung over or disheveled, and it's blankety on an airplane!

Lay it all out on your bed and make sure everything goes with everything else. Resist the urge to pack anything colorful, unless it's an accessory that jazzes things up a bit. Sorry to all the khakistas, but stick with dark cords, moleskin (kind of brushed cotton), jeans, grey flannels. Mix grey, black, blue and brown with confidence -- although try not to mix more than two at a time; add a couple of thin wool v-neck or crew sweaters, wear white or grey t-shirts underneath, let them stick out of the bottom of the sweater for a little funk (button-downs are too bulky, wrinkly for travel), always pop on a casual scarf (I actually found one for my guy with grey, black, brown and blue stripes), no sneakers (ever, except for sports). Add a dark sports jacket and a fleece. Don't forget socks and undies.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:19 AM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

Why don't you have a scarf, and why do you only own one nice pair of shoes? I'm guessing that the answer is either that you don't have much money, or that those things just aren't a priority for you.

And either way, that's fine. The three items we're talking about here - the shoes, the pants, the coat - are all in neutral colors. You can wear all three of them with almost anything and not look ridiculous. And, if clothes aren't (or can't be) a priority for you, that's good enough.

However, if you are going to start making this sort thing a priority in your life, then I'm here to tell you that you're jumping the gun with the specific question you're asking. Get a scarf, in a neutral color, to keep warm and to complete the outfit. Get some decent brown shoes, so that you'll have more than one pair of nice shoes, and so that you won't rattle the cages of those who don't like to see black shoes with khakis (looks fine to me, but it's such a widely-accepted standard that you should at least break it on purpose if that's what you choose). Get a brown belt to go with your new brown shoes (I'm assuming you already have a black belt that you're wearing with your black shoes...?). And get yourself some charcoal, navy, or taupe pants (in that order of preference) to go with your black shoes.

Far, far down the line (e.g. by next winter), you might start considering ideas such as bothering to match your overcoat with your trousers. But consider: What about the color of your gloves and hat, wallet, watchband, luggage or briefcase? You don't have to care, but once you start to go down that road, you need to realize that you just can't do it all at once. And any style-conscious person in your socioeconomic bracket is going to understand that.

There are some strange comments in this thread. Khakis and Brooks Brothers are discusses as if they are mutually exclusive, but I was in the Brooks Brothers store on Madison Avenue yesterday, and it's overflowing with khaki. The idea of khakis and blue blazers together is held up as ridiculous, but it's such a widely-accepted standard that it's actually regarded as fairly conservative. You don't have to like it, but when you're talking to someone without a lot of options who simply wants to avoid ridicule, it's not a bad thing to recommend. And yes, there is a risk in asking advice from people you meet on the web on any subject; being able to see the answerers demonstrate their knowledge of whatever the subject is firsthand would be a nice confidence-booster, but it's rarely possible, and sartorial style is no different. "Stand in front of a mirror and see you how you look" is not good advice to give to someone who is not used to thinking about this sort of thing; they may fall prey to their own bias ("I'm a happy person, and my bright yellow jacket reflects that"), miss a nuance ("My shirt and my jacket both have narrow pinstripes, so they look kind of cool together"), or just plain not be aware of a widely-regarded rule they're breaking ("My brown pants and black shoes *seem* to go together...").

In conclusion, here is the short version:

It's fine. Now go buy some brown shoes.
posted by bingo at 11:51 AM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

bingo is a very fashionable fellow; his advice should not be taken lightly.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:48 PM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

Eh, no, I wouldn't wear khakis with such a nice, formal coat. In my mind, that'd seriously clash. You'd be better off with jeans, doing the high/lo thing. You'll still to wear shoes, or boots at least.
posted by nixerman at 3:54 PM on December 4, 2005

Chasfile says it a bit more forcefully but is still on the mark. Some advice for the future: if you have to ask then it's probably a bad idea.
posted by nixerman at 3:57 PM on December 4, 2005

If you have to ask then it's probably a bad idea.

I don't know about that. If that was true, nobody would ever take risks, and I find fashion risks can be exciting sometimes (And how will you know which times unless you try?).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:10 PM on December 4, 2005 [1 favorite]

Black shoes and khakis is considered harmful? I have honestly never heard of this "widely accepted standard".
posted by Triode at 6:51 PM on December 4, 2005

Khaki and charcoal clash? Navy blazer and khaki pants look ridiculous? You people are crazy.

And "Goldman Sachs dress code", judging by the bankers I've met, seems to consist of digital watches and those god-awful skimpy Ferragamo and Hermes ties featuring cartoon animals.

This thread sucks.

TwelveTwo writes "In contrast to mullacc, I recommend you adopt a habit of trying to dress slightly higher drawer than everyone else while still not outdoing the dress of whoever you intend to impress. "

I never said that. I said that, in this particular case, RikiTikiTavi will be fine. If this guy was asking what kind of wardrobe to buy as a new investment banker, I'd probably give the kind of advice you mention except without your crazy notions about navy blazers and khaki pants.
posted by mullacc at 7:33 PM on December 4, 2005

Kahki & charcoal! = attire NYC natives would associate with the Bridge & Tunnel crowd.
In a number of alternate locales, it's considered presentable, but not something to wear at a funeral or wedding (though it's known to happen at wakes).
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:39 AM on December 5, 2005

It sounds like you are going to a conference with lots of people with polo shirts with corporate emblems. Try to wear nice pants instead. I don't mean to be harsh, but I try to avoid khakis (and button down collars) unless in Washington DC, or looking to be very casual. I perceive khakis as being something people wear who aren't really fashion conscious, hence they buy something that is "universal" and versatile.
posted by _zed_ at 10:51 AM on December 5, 2005

For the record, I would so wear a dinner jacket with jeans. And Chucks, and a white belt. Doubly so if the dinner jacket is burgundy velour with a shawl collar.
posted by mendel at 10:56 AM on December 6, 2005

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