The case for giving your accessories a starring role

“I experiment and enjoy the playfulness of clothes,” Ralph Lauren once said. “I break the rules to expand the thinking about what we wear.” But, he was careful to point out, breaking the rules didn’t mean dispensing with them entirely. “I believe in dressing appropriately,” he went on. “You don’t need to challenge the system, but you need to express your individual taste—it’s the personal details that become the truest form of self-expression.”

Perhaps no item in an outfit offers more opportunity for self-expression than a well-chosen accessory. It can be a tie or a belt buckle, as Ralph himself ably demonstrates. A bold sneaker, perhaps. Or an eye-catching bag, possibly contrasted with the sobriety of a well-tailored suit. And there’s no better time than spring, and the coinciding return to color and light that it offers, to get excited about defining your personal approach, and your arsenal.

Those who embrace this philosophy—the idea that an accessory can be at the center, rather than at the periphery, of a look—will find much to admire in this season’s Polo collection. There are wallets, bags, even sneakers with the same varsity-inspired color-blocking, collegiate patches, and drawn-on details found in the collection’s clothing.

“I love experimenting with accessories,” says Luke Edward Hall, the artist and interior designer with a keen eye for color, and no stranger to a statement accessory himself. “The key is to allow one thing to shout at a time, to avoid the costume-y vibe.”

Finding that right balance rather than piling it all on in a single outfit is key. Just as with other aspects of your wardrobe, it can be a matter of trial-and-error and should be done incrementally, piece by piece, deliberately, and with intention. At the end of the day, it’s all about picking the pieces that speak to you, and speak for you.

It also helps if your accessories mean something a little special, serving as a type of sentimental talisman as you go throughout your day—a bag that transports you back to a more halcyon time in your life, or bright kicks reminiscent of an especially memorable summer. “It’s a nice way to think about the way we dress,” says Christopher Wallace, US editor at Mr Porter. “As if there are all these various branches on our identity tree, and it’s nice to build a little mélange, a nod to this part of my ethos.”

For his part, Wallace, an RL Mag contributor and fan of the Southwestern sensibility (check out his piece on traveling in Taos here ), is not afraid of pushing his accessories collection in new directions. “I dipped my toe into turquoise and silver for a time, though not all the way into Dennis Hopper territory,” he says. “Then I steered myself back to zero on that spectrum. I’m not ready to go full speed again; it would take an incremental process, like a signet ring.”

Paying attention to how items pair together is equally important as what they are. That’s especially true when you’re playing with bright shades. Hall adds, “I always like to get the color balance right, so if I’m wearing orange corduroy trousers with brown shoes, for example, I’ll wear pale blue socks to get that nice mix of tones—pale colors with bolder and darker ones.”

Or as the man who pioneered wearing a cowboy tie with a tux and has been known to favor the occasional statement belt buckle (including one engraved with the silhouette of a longhorn) puts it: “If a suit is called for, then express your taste through its cut, but also through the patterns of your tie.” And, of course, don’t forget to spend an extra minute picking the perfect socks.

PAUL L. UNDERWOOD is a former editor at Ralph Lauren. He is based in Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife and two children.
  • © Ralph Lauren Corporation