Why Not Take Olive Me


About a year and half ago I wrote a piece about olive and gray — the olive part didn’t exactly go over well with some readers.

I forgot about the colors for a while, but when I did a more stringent than usual closet purge this fall, I rediscovered the color I’ve always been most comfortable in since my twenties: gray. Not bland IBM gray, more like Grant and Astire gray: charcoal trousers with a light gray patterned sportcoat. Perhaps a black knit tie and black cordovan tassels from Alden.

At the same time I decided to make olive my primary earth tone (in other words, what to wear with brown shoes). Above is some of what I scooped up in various shades of olive and green. In the center, the MTM olive herringbone Ivy-styled sportcoat from H. Freeman, which I’ve had for a few years, is joined by cords from Lands’ End, ties from Ralph Lauren Purple Label, a sweater from Paul Stuart, Polo scarf with lavender overplaid, gloves from Barbour, and other items.

More on gray next time.  — CC

Headline reference explained.

31 Comments on "Why Not Take Olive Me"

  1. Funny, seeing the image I thought “Paul Stuart”. My idea of olive is harder than yours.

  2. Vern Trotter | January 30, 2015 at 5:42 pm |

    At what point in time did the noun “olive drab” lose the adjective “drab?” My first trousers in that color were from Harvey Ltd in St. Louis (Clayton) in 1955. There was a belt and buckle in the back and were the same material as khakis.

    Then Brooks came out with an olive wash and wear suit and also an olive gaberdine, both heavy and also light weight. Always a big decision whether to wear brown or olive socks.

  3. You fellows introduced us to olive through your military uniforms – ‘olive drab’ as above; I like it very much as a colour for coats or a suit, less so for trousers. No discernible logic to that.

  4. Redcoat
    There is not always “logic” to one’s personal taste. I on the other hand wear OD drill and gabs with navy blazers and tweeds more than khakis.

  5. Drab fan here. Olive cords are fanatic and my olive surcingle is worn more often than any of the others.

    Also, there is nothing wrong with IBM grey. In fact, it is cool.

    “IBM at midcentury was the epitome of corporate-drone conformity, a punchline for beatniks, a monolithic organization where souls went to die.” After all it is hip to be square.

    More on IBM here from the Ivy Style Vault: http://www.ivy-style.com/drones-club-ibms-new-hq-in-62.html

  6. I think olive lost its drab about the same time that navy lost its blue.

  7. Olive cords truly are fanatic, aren’t they?

  8. Style is indeed a personal matter, and also a matter of suitability for complexion. There are those of us who look yellowish when we attempt to wear browns and greens. Having long ago determined that the English country gentleman look was not my thing, I purged my entire wardrobe of everything in earth tones, with the exception of chinos/khakis, which I wear with a navy blazer. Navy, charcoal, medium-to-light grey, and black are my colors of choice, and I highly recommend them to those who unwillingly feel obliged to wear earth tones simply because they feel they are compulsory part of the Ivy look, even they know full well that such colors do not look good on them.

  9. Well said, Philly Trad. Only those with certain skin & hair tones can wear olive drab and other earth tones, typically those with warm complexions and a reddish tinge to their hair. The rest of of should steer clear.

    Interestingly enough, those with olive skin look terrible in olive the color.

    Anyone wanting to find what colors suit them best should pick up a copy of Color for Men by Carole Jackson. Though the pictures and some of the styles are dated, the advice is sound.

  10. Oh, and chinos in stone, rather than tan, are the way to go for those of us who don’t look good in earth tones and other warm colors.

  11. There seems to be a general dislike for olive among the younger generation. I don’t understand this. You see many negative comments about olive on the forums.

  12. @Henry

    Thanks for making me a member of the younger generation at the age of 65.

  13. That’s interesting you guys who think — perhaps rightly so, perhaps not — that certain colors look bad on you.

    According to Flusser’s books, blue-eyed and fair-haired guys like me are supposed to avoid high-contrast outfits. Those are my favorites!

    Near the face (where your hair and complexion are) I wear everything from black cashmere sweaters to bright preppy polos in kelly green, lemon yellow and hot pink on the tennis court, colors like forest green and burgundy in golf sweaters, plus plenty of neutrals like tan, gray and navy.

    In other words, just about everything, and without a second thought.

    Bruce Boyer recently said he doesn’t pay attention to whether colors are supposed to work for him, either:


  14. Christian
    I agree, but I only wear black while pretending to be a motorcyclist road pirate. 😉

  15. What kind of charity function is that?

  16. I’ve always been a big fan of olive, or OD. I have worn my dad’s Vietnam-issue M-65 for several years, and these days, the chinos that I cycle through most regularly alongside sport coats are olive as well. Heck, cords too.

  17. Stylistic color is so much more democratic than what Fussler would allow. While some colors may play better than others due to the wearer’s hair, skin and eye color, it’s borderline style bigotry to say that someone shouldn’t or should wear a color.

  18. CoolidgeRedux | January 31, 2015 at 8:21 pm |

    I have like olive outerwear, but I have a hard time with the pants. They seem like they should look good but I can never seem to make them work. Maybe olive with some gray or brown mixed in…

  19. CoolidgeRedux | January 31, 2015 at 8:22 pm |

    whoops, I meant to say “I like…” That’s the kind of typo that you expect from an Ebay scammer

  20. I’m the first two Henrys above. This is not the first time that someone else has posted under the same moniker. Oh well. So Dutch Uncle, your comment goes to The Other Henry, rather than me, Original Henry.

    WFBjr, the idea is that some colors are flattering to certain complexions, and that others are not. The notion that this is some sort of bigotry is bizarre.

  21. Someone explain, how OD pants can conflict with the wearer’s complexion and hair? 😉

  22. @MAC,

    Pants occupy a far greater percentage of a full visual image of a person than do his face and hair. Hence, it is no surprise that there may be a clash between trousers, complexion and hair.

  23. In addition to Palette’s excellent observation, MAC, the clothes one wears look better when the colors harmonize with each other. For example, a shirt in a cool pink with a bluish undertone will not look good with olive drab pants, while a shirt in salmon pink could. Bluish-pink is a cool color, while olive drab and salmon pink are warm ones.

    I’ve seen on-line discussions where people have pointed out that white and tan don’t go together, and they’re right—they don’t. White is a color that flatters those with a “high contrast” complexion (in Flusser’s terms), but tan does not.

    As for Christian’s observation that he likes high-contrast outfits, it’s possible to like colors and outfits whose colors do not flatter us. I love my tuxedo, even though the stark colors wash me out and make me look paler than usual. On the other hand, Christian shows his non-high contrast coloration in the many pictures of himself he’s shared here, where he often wears light, warm colors, the ones that flatter him best. Even without consciously learning what colors flatter us, we naturally gravitate towards those colors that do.

    As another example, Giuseppe Timore of An Affordable Wardrobe has struggled with olive suits. He observed that the color doesn’t work with white shirts, but does with ecru shirts—but he hates ecru (probably because it doesn’t flatter him). He had an olive jacket that he turned into a blazer, and it still didn’t work for him. His problem was solved when he found a green doeskin blazer in a shade that complements his high-contrast coloration, and he ditched the olive drab blazer.

    So if you like olive drab, go for it! However, if you don’t, then avoid it; you probably don’t like it because it doesn’t make you look good.

  24. Charlottesville | February 2, 2015 at 11:55 am |

    I too am a fan of olive, especially cords and sport coats, but I don’t find any item of clothing off limits to a touch of olive, except on more formal occasions. I remember an olive herringbone sport coat in my elder brother’s college wardrobe around 1965, and today, I am wearing a repp tie in olive, tan and navy stripes with khakis and a tweed sport coat. My Burberry is olive, and I even have a J. Press suit in glen plaid that combines olive with tan and rusty red. Summer will see the ancient Brooks olive poplin suit come out of storage for one more season, and I think olive gabardine trousers are fine with a navy blazer. While generally I tend toward blues and grays, olives can make a nice change. However, I still believe that they reach their apotheosis in a martini!

  25. IBM gray? I thought IBM salesmen were famous for all wearing blue suits. Hence the nickname “Big Blue”.

  26. I thought they were the epitome of the grey-suited company man at midcentury.

    But you’re right, maybe it’s just the black and white photos:



  27. I think “Big Blue” comes from the color of the corporate logo, as well as the color used in packaging.

  28. I had an olive corduroy sports jacket I wore for years to teach in during the winter months. It finally wore out the year before I retired.

  29. First of all, if downtown I waded through a sea of IBM men in grey suits I’d be happier.

    Second, can anyone name a Marine that doesn’t look striking in his Service Uniform?

  30. Evan Everhart | July 15, 2018 at 3:15 pm |

    Olive and olive drab are the Best! I wear a polo in olive and its near-kin; avocado, trousers in olive, a corduroy sport coat in olive, a 1960s BB wash and wear poplin in olive, as well as assorted sweaters, woolen socks, argyles, neckties, a surcingle belt and even a Stetson Open Road. Olive is the best! For reference; I’m extremely pale, have dark chestnut brown hair, a tow peppered moustache, ginger sideburns, and green leaning hazel eyes.

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