The ultimate guide to Riviera style

There’s always been something particularly enviable about those who inhabit the Mediterranean, for us Brits at least. Perhaps it’s the weather or the laid-back lifestyle, or a combination of both. Indeed, the British have always been intoxicated by these warmer climes, to the point where, at the turn of the 19th century, a large portion of Britain’s upper class holidayed to the South of France on an regular basis. Its close proximity to us meant that it was relatively accessible for many, but it was far enough away to offer that unbeatable combination of sun, culture and exoticism.

Resting on France’s southern-most tip, Nice was a popular destination and, due to the large number of Brits who flocked there, a large promenade was built and named after us in the mid-19th century. The Promenade des Anglais ran parallel to the beach, acting as a hub of activity and giving visitors the chance to take in the many sights and sounds of the French Riviera. It was here, among other places, that tourists first caught glimpses of the continental way of dress.

 

During the peak of travel to Nice, from the mid-19th to early 20th centuries, formal suits were very much de rigueur, especially for Britain’s wealthy classes. Heavy wools, starched collars and substantial dress shoes were somewhat out of place by the sea, but traditions of the time dictated that there was no other option. It wasn’t until post World War II that things started to loosen up, and the locals led the way with more relaxed tailoring and a certain nonchalance that was hard to replicate.

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(Photo: Sud-Pacifique Films)

With hindsight on our side though, a full, matching suit just seems wrong against the backdrop of the riviera. Enter the 60s then, and for us, a period that came to define what is commonly thought of as ‘riviera style’ today. Whilst there are few images of the period available widely, it is the medium of film that’s given us a glimpse into this heady, golden age. Both on and off screen, there are certain movie stars who perfectly encapsulated the effortless way of dress that somehow manages to look smart and relaxed simultaneously.

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(Photo: Pathé)

For a beginner’s lesson on riviera style, one need look no further than Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Documenting the heady lifestyle of Marcello Rubini (played by Mr Mastroianni, above) as he floats through the journalistic world of Rome, the film won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, which is easy to see why when you look at the softly tailored suits that fit so perfectly within the context of the film.

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(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Whilst Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief didn’t win an Academy Award for its costume department (it was nominated), it’s still one of the most stylish films to ever grace the silver screen. Set in the French Riviera in and around Nice, our style icon Cary Grant played a retired burglar expat who adopted the Mediterranean lifestyle, tending to his backyard of lush vineyards.

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(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Grant’s character also adopted the way of dress, donning luxurious separates in soft cottons, but he also took on the mindset; throughout the film he possesses an effortlessly laid-back attitude but remains ever the gentleman, an enviable combination indeed.

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(Photo: Paris Films Production)

Whether he was behind the camera or going about his often-mischievous business, Alain Delon was the epitome of cool. The French actor starred in myriad films but, for the purpose of this article, three stand out. Indeed, these three define riviera style; Plein SoleilMelodie en sous-sol and La Piscine.

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(Photo: Paris Films Production)

Given that he was born in France, Delon may have had a head-start in the style stakes and judging by every picture we’ve seen him in, it shows. His ability to wear a suit was almost unrivalled, but it’s his casual attire that’s perhaps most relevant for the riviera style of today.

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(Photo: Paris Films Production)

Linen shirts with sleeves rolled up and unbuttoned half way, knitted polo shirts of the striped variety and neutral trousers with a slim cut were all worn with élan. Delon wore simple outfits, making them easy to replicate, but notice the way he wears them. His unwavering confidence and aloof charm allowed him to make a plain white shirt look like a million bucks; which is no mean feat, and one that probably requires a substantial amount of life experience, or in Delon’s case a not-insignificant prison sentence (he spent nearly a year in prison for being “undisciplined” in the military).

Blazers

Dressing for warmer climes means opting for lightweight, breathable fabrics. It also means a change in colour, too. Riviera style is synonymous with neutral tones like stone and – just look at one of our style icons above. Perfect for a warm summer’s evening, particularly at an al fresco restaurant a stone’s throw from the beach, an unstructured jacket is perfectly smart, yet not stuffy.

Trousers

Again, neutral shades like cream and white are the order of the day here. They’ve proven popular in the Med, perhaps because of their ability to reflect sunlight, keeping the wearer as cool as possible. That said, navy is a fail-safe option, especially when worn with a knitted polo shirt. Look for something in a washed cotton, which should nicely marry comfort with style.

 

Polo Shirts

The full-placket linen shirt would be the obvious option to wear for a riviera-style look, but for us, the polo shirt trumps it. Firstly, a short-sleeve garment wins when it comes to functionality, but the polo remains smart, so you’ll never look sloppy.

Shoes

The tassel loafer is the quintessential riviera shoe. Whether finished in burnished calf or cordovan leather for the evening, they simply can’t be beat. For the beach, a quality espadrille finished in canvas or suede act as a proverbial middle finger to the Satan of the footwear world; the flip flop. Avoid the latter at all costs.

Whether you’re lucky enough to be jetting off to the South of France this summer or you just want to inject a dash of Mediterranean flair into the city, adopting a riviera aesthetic, as you can see from above, is a smart move gentlemen.

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(Photo: Pathé)

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(Photo: Pathé and Medusa Films)

 Main and featured image: Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief , Paramount Pictures

Further Reading