Most holiday style guides stop at suggesting a few T-shirts, a pair of swim shorts and some sunglasses for your travels. And we get it. All three are essentials when hopping across borders. But what if you skipped arm day, have no desire to take a dip and enjoy forcibly squinting at the sun? (Okay, no one enjoys that.) The point is that this approach overlooks one very important (and one very stylish) way of getting dressed abroad.
As practical as it is good looking, Riviera style remains as relevant today as when it first took shape almost a century ago. Emerging as one of the first modern resort areas in the late 18th century, the list of those who visited the French Riviera reads like a who’s who of stylish cultural tastemakers (Messrs F. Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso were particular fans).
From the 1920s onwards, Europe’s most affluent flocked in their droves to cities like Nice, Marseilles and Cannes, as well as Portofino and San Remo on the Italian equivalent.
Riviera style itself began as a means of translating European elegance to a much hotter locale where daily activities included little more than sunbathing and maybe some yachting for those feeling energetic. While fashion has changed over the years, the fundamentals of men’s Riviera style have remained the same.
Of course, you don’t just have to be on the Côte d’Azur to channel this simple, laid-back style. Whether you’re keen to cut a debonair figure on the coast or just recreate a little of the Riviera back home, here’s what you need to know.
Accurately channelling the Riviera aesthetic is as much about the sensibility as it is ensuring your wardrobe is stocked with key pieces – and colour plays an integral role.
At the core of the classic Riviera palette you’ll find light neutrals like white, beige, stone, tan and ecru, all of which, helpfully, look their best in sunny weather and combine easily with most other hues while keeping you cool by reflecting rather than absorbing light.
For interest, nautical reds and blues are worth adding, as are pastels like mint green, sky blue, pale yellow and lavender, which provide the perfect accents to a low-key base.
The Polo Shirt
The polo shirt is an indisputable Riviera must-own. So synonymous is it with the south of France that premium basics brand Sunspel even dubbed its collection of Bond-approved cotton mesh polos the ‘Riviera’ collection. And it’s plain to see why.
Coming collared – unlike a T-shirt – a polo protects your neck from exposure to direct sunlight while providing a more comfortable solution to looking refined in the heat than a long-sleeved Oxford shirt.
Traditional cotton piqué styles are inarguably classic here – and will serve you well for many years to come – but it’s also worth exploring other fabric options like lighter weight Egyptian and Sea Island cotton, which will guarantee comfort for Côte d’Azur temperatures.
Alternatively, keep an eye out for unusual textures in the form of knitted polos, which hark back to the mid-century style of icons who first made the destination famous, and towelling, which is especially good for wear post-swim.
Layer yours under a lightweight blazer, or try wearing it alone with chinos or tailored swim shorts for a relaxed yet spruced-up finish.
The Breton Long-Sleeved Top
There are few items of clothing as quintessentially French as the Breton striped top. Once the uniform for all French navy seaman in Brittany – each with 21 stripes to mark Napoleon’s victories – now a year-round wardrobe workhorse on any soil (or sea).
While you’ll find plenty of short-sleeved T-shirt versions on the market, we suggest going classic with a long-sleeved, lightweight cotton example featuring navy, black or red stripes to your summer wardrobe.
Whether or not you plan on boating, this maritime staple lends any Riviera get-up some understated nautical charm. However, to avoid looking like you’ve set sail for a fancy dress party, steer clear of pairing it with items like boat shoes or, you know, a sailor hat. Instead, keep the rest of the look simple and classic, with dark colours on your lower deck.
Lightweight, Unlined Tailoring
Owing to its idyllic setting and romantic charm, the Riviera is a popular location for summer weddings. If you’re dressing for one, or an evening cocktail or boardwalk dinner date, a polo shirt and a pair of shorts won’t cut it.
A few pieces of lightweight, unlined tailoring will allow you to look sharp without the need to accessorise with a sweat towel.
It’s here that fabric choice becomes extremely important. Lightweight cotton, seersucker, linen and blends of each all make for sound summertime tailoring, being both light in weight and breathable.
To maximise ventilation without skimping on style, look for a cut that’s slim enough to flatter your form, but not so restrictive as to compromise airflow.
Tailored Shorts & Chinos
Slightly looser runner-style swim shorts might be good for an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas, but this stretch of the Mediterranean coast requires something more streamlined.
Well-cut shorts (ending just above the knee, slightly tapered through the thigh) will save you from looking sloppy when you need to bare your legs. A similarly cut pair of chinos (either cropped or rolled at the ankle to facilitate a sockless look) is also a good stand-in when you realise you forgot to steam those linen trousers.
As with tailored separates, fabrics like cotton and linen are favourable. You should keep colour choice conservative (think white or navy) to maximise the mixing-and-matching potential. However, if that’s not much of a concern, opt for a pastel shade or subtle print to stand out from your fellow sun-worshippers.
Tailored Swim Shorts
Taking a dip needn’t mean your style standards have to dive, too. With more and more labels crafting masterfully tailored swimwear, it’s possible to look just as put together by the pool as at a villa party. Well, almost.
Whether you go designer or find a pair on the high street, the principles remain the same: consider your skin tone when choosing block colours or be prepared to crank up your confidence to pull off printed styles. Keep them above the knee. And lose the flip-flops.
Although the only way to do the beach is barefoot for optimal Riviera insouciance, there will be times when you’ll need to cover up on the shore.
Classic leather sandals in black or brown work well, teaming effortlessly with the rest of a Riviera wardrobe, while espadrilles are a good alternative for men who don’t rate sandals but still want to keep things relaxed and refined.
For bar-hopping or grabbing a bite to eat, sub in a timeless pair of loafers or driving shoes, preferably in suede for an additional flush of luxury that’ll mark you apart.
Once you’ve acquired these key pieces, all that remains to bring your look up to Riviera level is a few judiciously styled debonair touches.
Given that even the glitterati would concede that ties are unnecessary in the summer heat, swap yours out for a silk pocket square placed neatly in your blazer’s breast pocket. Or if that leaves your neck feeling naked, sub in a Pitti favourite – a loosely knotted neckerchief – to fill the void.
Other worthwhile additions include a straw fedora or Panama hat (partly for instant style points, partly for sun coverage) and a pair of classic tortoiseshell sunglasses (pick the exact style according to your face shape) to add some final polish.