E.J. Topper’s “Colorful Thoughts” – Purple
The wearing of purple was once restricted to the elite of ancient Greece and Rome. Imperial purple was for the biggest of big shots only, including emperors themselves. The reason? The purple dye itself was almost impossibly difficult to manufacture, derived as it was from boiling (or milking, yes milking, people had more time on their hands in those days) special varieties of sea snails.
Happily, today we can all enjoy access to the joys of wearing purple. And for a color that at one time was worth more than its own weight in silver, it’s still true that Topper’s advice on making this rather special shade work is worth its weight in gold. Topper says: “In my youth, purple was still rather formal, somber even. But I’m delighted to say that nowadays we’ve moved the color purple on from funereal to real fun!”
Topper’s view is that purple is a great way of combining real warmth with a touch of presence and gravity. For example, when you learn to tie the tulip knot in a dashing purple necktie, you can be assured of attracting just the right kind of admiring attention all day long. But there are certain purple moments worth avoiding. Here’s Topper’s selection of prime purple panics.
Purple Peril #1 – "The Purple People Eater"
Too many different shades of purple or just too much purple can make you “disappear”. Topper says: “Purple is the color wheel child of blending primary colors blue and red, both substantial in their own right. This means some shades of purple can be very rich indeed. Too much in a single outfit can make the color dominate the wearer. Choose your amounts of purple with care. There’s a not-too-fine line between just enough and the risk of ending up looking like a grape!”
Purple Peril #2 – “The Purple Patch”
Topper has this to say about the Purple Patch: “A single garment in purple that has no relation to the other color choices in the outfit, and just sticks out on its own, can detract from your desired look. A well thought through choice of purple accents – a necktie perhaps or a shirt in a lighter purple shade – is a subtle color statement that can really work well. Out of context, bright purple socks, or a scarf, or a purple tie on purple shirt risk standing out for all the wrong reasons.
Purple Peril #3 – "The Accidental Emperor"
Otherwise known as “The Part-time Pontiff”, this is the undesired effect that can follow when an outer garment, such as a jacket or topcoat, unintentionally ends up resembling a robe. Topper explains: “In particular, deeper shades of purple are dense block colors. They carry a lot of visual weight and they can look very heavy indeed. So unless you are attending a State occasion, be sure to lighten your look with some paler colors.
“Purple Reign” - Topper’s Top Purple Tips
Yes, there are risks. Purple can be unforgiving – in severe combination with black, for example, you could end up resembling a character in “Highlander” – fine if that’s the effect you desire, likely a little disconcerting if it isn’t. But experimentation is the cradle of sartorial progress, so don’t be shy, let the purple fly! But do it in a controlled way that gets you the best possible look for your own personal purple reign. Here are Topper’s Top Tips in purple.
Purple Pointer 1 – Take It Gradual
Ramp up to purple, don’t dive in hastily. Topper says: “If you are feeling adventurous, make purple a central feature with a sports coat or even pants. But a slower route, that allows you to experiment without too much risk, may well be preferable. An accent such as purple socks or a purple necktie will give you a chance to discover if this color is really for you. And if you are pleasantly surprised, you can graduate to larger pieces such as a shirt.”
Purple Pointer 2 – Match Colors Carefully
In theory, purple will contrast well with green and orange. But Topper’s years of experience make him a tad skeptical: “Purple, orange and green can end up looking like a bonbon tray at a fancy reception. Color theory can only take you so far. In reality, you need to feel comfortable in your own clothes. Departing too far from our own instinctive tastes can risk undermining confidence and that’s the last thing we want from a new outfit. So be careful when combining the colors!”
“Purple Pointer 3 – Avoid “The Bruise”
As with most colors, purple offers an almost infinite range of shades and weights, from full-on imperial impact to subtle spring hues. And this is where Topper sounds another note of caution: “One can wear too much purple in a single block. Equally, one can risk too many shades of purple in a single outfit. Pants, shirt, necktie, sport coat, socks, topcoat and even shoes in a range of purples might sound like this season’s coming style statement. The risk is you may end by resembling a black eye, a week after the punch!”
Progressing in Purple - Next Steps
In reality, most discerning dressers will avoid extremes of purple. They will likely pair this noble color with white, creams and browns or oatmeal. Sport coats with a fleck of purple, jacket linings and neckties are all great ways to enjoy rich color variations without getting swamped. Mixing and matching is key with this color. As Topper says: “A purple shirt, gray cardigan and brown lace-ups makes a great downtime outfit that’s also interestingly upbeat. Or for more formal situations, a white shirt with a purple necktie is the perfect way to celebrate this noble hue.”
Get more of Topper's advice on any of the color pallets here: