How To Wear It: Should You Match Your Watch To Your Clothes – Or Your Clothes To Your Watch?
In his HODINKEE debut, former Ralph Lauren designer (and current Atlanta menswear impresario) Sid Mashburn addresses the eternal conundrum.
My name is Sid Mashburn. I’m not a freak about watches like I am about clothes … but I like them a lot. My dad collected early American clocks and had his workshop on the other side of the carport, so I’ve been around timepieces my entire life.
Compared with him, my collection is pretty tight – I’ve got just three watches in the rotation. An everyday watch (Rolex Explorer ref. 1016 from the ’80s), a crossover watch (a Tudor Prince from the 1960s with a handmade camel suede strap), and a dressy watch (an early ’70s gold Zenith, usually with a navy NATO strap.) So it’s kind of a spartan selection but covers a lot of ground. In the bullpen, I have a couple of old Heuer Chronos, an Omega, and a Zenith pocket watch. But between the first three, I can go almost everywhere.
I’m sure some guys pull their outfit together around their watch – especially the kinds of guys cruising HODINKEE – but for me, my watch is the last thing I put on before I walk out the door every morning. It’s definitely a part of the look though. In fact, we design our shirt cuffs with the buttons kicked back just a hair so that a wristwatch can fit more easily underneath. It’s a small thing – figuratively and literally; it’s like a quarter-inch, and it’s not gonna feel weird on the other wrist or anything – but it goes to show you that the watch is not an afterthought.
Ultimately, I think of a watch as the final lever to pull, style-wise. You can pull it to give a touch of formality to what you’re wearing, to chill your look out a little bit, or just to play into the color story. Here’s how I approach it.
First off, I looooooove a high-low mix. When I first started my business in 2007, it was really important to me to have a fairly broad spectrum of menswear. I wanted suits and shirts handmade in Italy as well as blue jeans and swim trunks … all in fairly close proximity. In the same way, I think a Timex looks super cool with a navy suit, and a Rolex Explorer can be great at the beach.
Word of warning here: Don’t take extreme contrast too far. For example, I might do my Zenith – my most formal wristwatch – with jeans and a poplin spread collar dress shirt, to give the rest of the look a bit of a lift. But that same watch with jeans and a polo would be one toke over the line … not quite right. The outfit’s just too casual for a watch like that. So I guess Rule No. 1 is that the rules are looser than you think, but there are rules. It gets easier the more you do it.
Rule No. 2: Whether it’s watches or clothing (or rock ’n’ roll), I’m big on the philosophy that your outfit should only have one lead singer. Maybe that’s a blazer with a strong glen plaid pattern, or a pair of colorful garment-dyed jeans, but not both. In the same way, a statement watch looks its best when everything else is fairly quiet … so the watch can sing lead. Consider maybe wearing a JLC Polaris Memovox with a graph-check shirt and a pair of blue jeans. That’d be good. But you don’t want a colorful strap AND a bright cashmere sweater AND a bold stripe shirt … unless you’re David Hockney, in which case, go on with your bad self. For most of us, though, too much is too much.
Rule No. 3: Your watch doesn’t need to match everything, but I like it when it hooks back to something. Just a small tie-in. Like today, I’m in a tan and brown tweed jacket, sky blue pencil-stripe shirt, and I’ve got a Prince of Wales wool tie with a bit of orange and navy in it. The Explorer would have been great … a layup. Instead, I grabbed the Tudor Prince because I liked the hookup of the cream dial and the suede strap with the kind of caramel-y, wheat-y color situation I’ve got going on.
Again, I made this decision 15 seconds before heading out this morning. It was a small thing, and I’m sure hardly anyone notices it, but it makes me feel good and a bit tighter.
I think that’s the deal with watches, in general. No one really needs them to tell time – we’ve all got our phones and our computers and the dashboards in our cars – but we love them. I wear mine more because it looks cool, which makes me feel cool, too. Which, hey, is exactly what clothes do! At least for me.
Sid Mashburn is a designer and the namesake proprietor of five menswear shops, located in Atlanta, Washington D.C., Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, and online.