Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Chapar Review: UK Subscription / Curated Clothing Service

I'm back! No one expected that.

Well, for one post only. I've recently tried out a new service that I wanted to review, and I didn't really think it was suitable for my current outdoors and adventure blog, so I thought why not put it here just in case anyone is still reading!

For those not familiar with the process, The Chapar is a subscription (sort of - I'll come on to that) clothing service, whose stylists pick out clothes that they think you will like and send them to you in a trunk. The benefits are that a) you don't need to shop for clothes, b) you get someone else to guide your style and pick out outfits that should be coherent and interesting and c) you may be exposed to brands or clothing types you wouldn't normally consider, which broadens your style a bit.

I say it's 'sort of' a subscription service because, firstly, you're not tied in to a monthly box - you simply order a trunk as and when you want. I would hope that the more boxes you order, the better they should get as your stylist starts to learn what you do and don't like and what fits you (and bear in mind in this review that this is my first box). Secondly, you're not tied to any cost since you only pay for what you keep. If you send the whole box back, you'd have paid nothing, since postage both ways is free.

Anyway, the process starts on their simple but effective website. You provide a bit less information than I'd expected - basic sizes of course, but not much about your personal preferences other than to choose a few brands you like. However, a few days later I got a call from my personal stylist who talked a bit more about what I am looking for. Again it was fairly formulaic, obviously working through a checklist of questions rather than just letting me talk about how I like to dress, but that's fine as long as the end result is good.

Anyway, a week or so later I got my 'trunk', which is box about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage, with a handle, so it can be easily carried from work to home, for example, if you have it delivered to your office.

Inside, there's a little intro booklet with a list of all the items you've been sent and their prices (which should be the same as high street prices, although of course it probably doesn't factor in the possibility to shop in sales etc.) and some notes from your stylist, including which items are intended to go together as an outfit.

The clothes themselves were broadly bundled together in outfits, plus a few loose items such as a belt and a tshirt. It's worth noting that shoes and outer coats could also be included, I'd just said I didn't need any, so my focus was on shirts, jumpers and trousers mainly.

I was pretty immediately impressed with the selection. Just glancing at the bundles when I opened the trunk gave me a good feeling that the clothes were broadly the kind of thing I'd wear.

The process of trying them on is fun - it's rare for me to have 15+ items of clothing to try on at once, and putting together the recommended outfits and seeing what worked was a nice part of it. Of course, how much fun you get out of all this does partly depend on your budget to actually keep the clothes. I forgot to tot up the value of the whole trunk but it won't have been far off £1,000, so keeping everything wasn't going to be an option for me on this occasion. In fact, I'd done this on a whim as an experiment and then realised I don't actually have any money to spend on clothes, so I kept a lot less than I'd have liked, and the fact I only kept two items doesn't reflect how good the overall selection was in any way.

Unsurprisingly a few items didn't quite fit, or 'fitted' but not in a way I like (such as some Lee's jeans which were the right waist and length, but just far too skinny) but most things were pretty spot on, and there were a lot of styles of clothing that I really liked and which I felt reflected my style well, so I was pretty pleased with the results. Importantly, since this is part of the point, there were things I might not have bought for myself but which I really liked, such as a Ralph Lauren half-zip sweater (which I sent back with great regret as I just couldn't afford it).

The great triumph was a lovely pair of Levi's dark blue cords which a) fitted perfectly and b) were exactly what I was after as a slightly smarter alternative to jeans for everyday office wear. They were also surprisingly cheap, and so they got kept. The other item was a lovely cotton Ralph Lauren jumper which fitted so well that I couldn't resist keeping it. Sadly, everything else went back but there were probably three or four other items I'd have happily kept if I could have afforded to.

There were few things that really didn't work, though I didn't love a couple of checked shirts I was sent, and a plain blue polo shirt was just a bit dull - if I'd been starting a wardrobe from scratch I might have kept it as a useful staple, but I already have a decent wardrobe and am looking for little extra items to fill small gaps, so a polo shirt wasn't really a must-have.

Anyway, I wrote an email with some feedback to improve the selection next time, and sent the box back - which is an easy process either by dropping it somewhere that handles DPD parcels, or by arranging for Chapar to come and collect it again. I can definitely see myself ordering another trunk in the future, the only thing I'll change is that I'll wait until I have a bit more to spend, so that I don't feel so constrained and I can keep more of the items I like instead of sending them back.

I definitely recommend it, and if anyone does fancy giving it a try, use this link to get a £30 credit on your first order (disclaimer: I'll also get a £30 credit if you use it, but that's win-win eh?)

Friday, 26 June 2015


Just thought I'd post to state what is, I am sure, blindingly obvious to anyone looking at this blog: I am no longer regularly updating, and I do not anticipate posting again in the foreseeable future.

I loved doing this blog and I am delighted to have made a number of friends through it, to have met and spoken to some people I'd never otherwise have met, and even on many (well, two) occasions to have been approached by total strangers who recognised me from the blog. That's a fun feeling - thank you to both of you!

However, in some ways this blog has charted my own exploration of classic style from first developing an interest to reaching a point where it's simply part of how I dress, and no longer something I think particularly deeply about, so I find it increasingly difficult to consistently cover new topics. In addition, I am increasingly busy with a lot of new projects and other interests and if I ever do start blogging again I think I'd be more likely to talk about some of the other things I'm up to (the trouble with a blog about clothes is that it never seems like the right place to talk about my other interests - and I do actually have some!). So, watch this space for maybe another blog appearing at some point.

I am, however, fairly proud of (most of) my posts over the last few years and I hope that, if you have not already, you might delve into some of the backlog. The nice thing about writing about classic menswear is that it does not really get out of date.

Thanks for reading!


Update: next year I am running the Marathon des Sables, known (not entirely accurately) as 'the world's toughest footrace'. I will be blogging a bit about the experience, including my training and planning, as well as other general running and fitness stuff. Will be very It different to St James Style blog and may not be of much interest to my readers but, if you want to take a look, you can find my first few posts here:  Marathon des Sables 2016 blog

Monday, 26 January 2015

Cords for winter

It's not that Britain ever gets really cold, not ridiculously cold like some places. But I'm a bit rubbish with cold weather and I like going out in something that keeps the legs warm. Corduroys are absolutely perfect for that - a combination of heavier material and the wales (ridges) in the material make them better insulators and thus warm and comfortable on a cold day.

That's the practical side but, more importantly, they can be worn in a wide range of colours and are pleasingly versatile: as appropriate with a soft shirt and scruffy jumper as they are with a tie and a blue blazer. As long as they are smart and tailored they are perfectly wearable in a club or at a semi-formal country house party. 

Like any casual trousers they should be worn with brown shoes, and I particularly like them with my brogued boots, which gives them a suitably rugged, practical air that belies the fact that I largely wear them for Sunday brunches in Soho or casual Fridays in the office. They also go perfectly with a classic tweed jacket although avoid the temptation to ape the window displays in Jermyn street and wear cords that are the same colour as the over-check of your tweed. That's a bit too 'matchy-matchy' to be truly smart.

Both my favourite pairs of cords come from New and Lingwood, which has an enormous range of colours and a couple of different styles, including some rather nice ones with thicker, heavier wales than is usual - my yellow ones are in that style.

Warm trousers will be a joy for several months yet, and as far as I know cords are still on sale at New and Lingwood, so give them a go.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The walk-through wardrobe project

For years I've been suffering with a common complaint of the well-dressed man (particularly the well-dressed Londoner, who often lives in a fairly small flat): a crippling lack of wardrobe space. When I moved into my flat, the main bedroom was equipped with a single built in wardrobe and a utterly ghastly 'over-bed' style wardrobe in a hideous shade of beige. The large wardrobe just about fitted my suits in, and the narrow cupboards that made up each leg of the over-bed wardrobe more or less fitted shirts in one and coats in the other, but as my (metaphorical) wardrobe grew and my (literal) wardrobes did not, the whole situation became more and more unsatisfactory. For a time, I used the smaller spare room as a dressing room which was nice if a little over-the-top, but lately I have had a friend living with me and so was forced to return my clothes to their inadequate home in my own bedroom. The suits were too cramped, there wasn't enough room for the shirts so they got crumpled, and there was nowhere to hang trousers or store jumpers folded. What space I did have was split over several locations, one of which was stuck at the far side of my bed and awkward to get to. All in all, just not good enough. If possible, a chap wants to be able to look at most of his daily wardrobe in one place, at the same time and easily see what's there, take things out, and put them away again neatly. A walk-in or walk-through wardrobe is ideal, but it's not all that easy to achieve in a fairly small London flat.
The original wardrobes. Hideous, inadequate and difficult to access.

I was inspired, however, by a video on (of all places) the Ikea website, demonstrating how even in a small room, by using a wardrobe as a divider, a walk-in or walk-through wardrobe could be created. It wasn't nearly as easy to do in my room as in the Ikea video (funny that) due to the relative positions of door, window, radiator and built-in wardrobe leaving me with very few configurations that would work, but in the end I worked out a layout that placed two full-size 100cm wide wardrobes alongside the door, blocking off the bed, and thereby creating a walk-through wardrobe that is entered as soon as you enter the bedroom. 

Although it makes everything a bit less spacious than it was before, the joy is that I now have acres of wardrobe space, all in one place, so I can finally store my clothes properly and get to them easily. 

Much better

Monday, 22 December 2014

"Country attire day"

Today is a special day. Today is "country attire day". What is that, you ask? Well it's something I've just made up, of course. But more specifically it is the day of the year, typically the last Monday before Christmas, where all the usual rules about dressing for the office and not wearing brown in town suddenly stop applying (actually the no brown in town rule never applies as strictly as people think but that's another post for another day) and you can, nay *should* start dressing as though you are at your highland estate or Oxfordshire country pile. Which is, of course, where you want to be.

No sane man likes to work the week before Christmas and yet, sometimes, we must; usually because we are so junior that we have to stay and answer the phones, or so senior that we simply cannot take time away from our emails. Either way, the consolation is that the rules of dressing officially change and from now until the 1st of Jan you must put on your brogues, your cords, your tweed suits, your wooly jumpers, and your casual ties, and go forth to the office with the look of a man who has one foot already by the log fire in his library and one hand trying to prevent his labrador from eating the presents under the tree, and who has only deigned to step onto the district line and come to work because he is very busy and important.

It really can't fail. If you are very junior your boss will probably ask you where you shoot and if you fancy taking a peg on a grouse day next year*, and if you're very senior your team will be delighted to see you looking relaxed and approachable**.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Naadam - Cashmere sweaters and ethical fashion

I don't often talk much about the ethical side of fashion. In part that's because my main interest is in clothes made in the UK by experienced craftspeople who, I believe, are generally well-treated and reasonably well-compensated. Nevertheless, I don't think we can ignore the fact that clothing production has an important ethical dimension. It's not just sweatshops either, throughout the production chain there is the opportunity for big western designers and retailers to take advantage of suppliers and manufacturers, and many do. And then there is the questionable behaviour at the other end of things as well - certain large brands have a reputation for simply destroying tonnes of clothes at the end of each season to avoid 'diminishing' their brand by allowing clothes to hit the market on the cheap through thrift stores or charitable donations.

All of this is a rather uncomfortable side-story to our enjoyment of nice clothes, and so it's nice to be able to support brands that take the ethical side of things seriously. I've been talking recently with a company called Naadam Cashmere, a relatively recent start-up based in New York that imports super-fine cashmere from Mongolia and turns it into beautiful cashmere sweaters, hoodies, cardigans and other accessories. What's cool is that they've made the ethical approach part of their business model from the very beginning, and are committed to re-investing part of their revenue in livestock insurance for the nomadic herders from whom they buy the cashmere. It's a nice approach, and it's producing some really lovely products.

They also recently released a great little video of one of the founders giving away samples and products with minor flaws to New York's homeless, prior to a particularly cold snap. It's a nice gesture, and a good antidote to the Abercrombie & Fitch approach...

Declaration of interest: I have a financial interest in a company that has been consulting on Naadam's website.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Back to Cordings

In case it wasn't sufficiently apparent from my post about shooting breeks, I've rather fallen in love with Cordings, the 175 year old country outfitters on Piccadilly, which is half-owned by Eric Clapton. It really is the most amazing environment; wood-panelled walls just visible between the rows of different tweeds, and staff in country ties and v-neck jumpers floating around taking customers under their wing for as long as necessary to help them make a purchase decision, whether it's a five-piece shooting rig or just a new pair of socks.

What I really love about it, though, is that while it sells beautiful and very traditional clothing, it is quite sincerely a practical country and sporting shop with as much of a focus on quality and hard-wearing construction as any modern store selling fleeces and polyamide jackets. That's part of the joy of any really great suit - being fit-for-purpose doesn't preclude being beautiful, and flawless construction contributes to flawless appearance.

There's no better example than my new Cordings jacket in their house check tweed. It's a beautiful, heavy but fairly smooth tweed in a classic olive green with light blue and turquoise stripes. As befits a country jacket, it's three button with a single vent, and has the attractive and traditional Cordings cut: generous but with a nice shape to the waist and an elegant roll to the collar.

It has an extra row of stitching around the whole edge of the jacket; a touch that is commonly appropriated for purely stylistic reasons, and is undeniably very stylish, but which also strengthens the jacket and makes it more resilient to damage when worn in rough countryside.

There are a few other nice features like working cuffs, which are unusual on an off-the-peg jacket (it was something of a disappointment to me that my off-the-peg Gieves and Hawkes blazer doesn't have working cuffs) and, while arguably more symbolic than truly useful, are a sign of the care and attention that is put into each jacket.

It is, of course, available as part of a three-piece suit (and multiple other pieces, like a shooting waistcoat, a field coat, breeks and I think a cap). I don't (yet...) have any of these, but I'm a big fan of a tweed jacket worn with cords or chinos. Blue works well, particularly if the tweed has a blue overcheck, but bottle green works as well, as do the Sloaney standbys of red or mustard. I favour shirts that are casual but not too aggressively 'country'. That's a fine balance that may only make sense in my head, but by which I mean that blue checked is good, green and brown check is probably a step too far. Tie-wise, a subtly country tie like the one pictured above is obviously appropriate, but a club tie or softer paisley could work fine. The main thing is to avoid a city power-tie, but then I'd probably give that advice whatever you were wearing...

An outfit like that is well-suited to smarter weekend events or, for those unfortunates like me who work in a field where suits are almost unheard of, informal client meetings and casual lunches. The full suit might be more of a challenge in the city unless you particularly want to cultivate the impression that you have merely deigned to visit London for a few hours and will shortly be returning to your shooting estate. And that's fine if you do (or actually are).

Note: The jacket in this article was provided by Cordings for review. No payment has been made for this post, and acceptance of items for review does not guarantee positive coverage.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Frederick Lynn

In the Spring, I'm planning to go out to Chicago - a city I've never visited, but one with a thriving fashion industry and one that I associate with a business-like but sharp and stylish dress-sense. I'm excited to visit some tailors there, and particularly excited to already be talking to one. Frederick Lynn is the creation of Aaron Comes, a 'refugee from the corporate world' of big garment manufacturers who started his own business three years ago making handmade suits and accessories and, in December, opened a beautiful new showroom in Chicago.

With a range of cloths including both very traditional English makes like Scabal and the Italian mill, Marzoni, Frederick Lynn is clearly ready to cater to a variety of tastes and styles. This much is clear from the sample photos they sent me of their suits, which include both a beautiful muted soft three-piece business suit and the sort of bright purple checked sports coat that I imagine ex-Ivy-Leaguers wearing to their country club but which, I fear, I could never pull off.

Like many of the modern generation of tailors and, indeed, increasingly of the old-school ones, Frederick Lynn offer their suits at different price points depending on how much of the work is done by hand. Although I'm a big believer in the advantages of a hand-made suit, I'm also a big believer that a suit that fits properly is more important than anything else, so it's nice to be able to go to a decent bespoke tailor and order a suit that will fit right but won't break the bank.

The range also includes a number of elegant-looking leather accessories, and both bespoke and off-the-peg outerwear. As someone who has long been hunting for a properly long trench-coat instead of the thigh-length ones that are all anyone seems to sell these days, the made-to-order outerwear is of particular interest and something I will be certain to look at when I visit.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to a proper look round the shop in May, at which point I will report back with a more detailed post. In the meantime, if you're in the area and have a chance to pop in, or already have any experience of Frederick Lynn, do leave a comment as I'd be very keen to hear what you thought.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Cad and the Dandy three-piece: the finished article

I realise that I never quite did a post on the finished Cad and the Dandy three-piece suit. Despite the fact that it has been complete since late August, and I have worn it on numerous occasions since then, I was lacking in any decent photos of it and this has made me hold off on doing the blog post. Alas I am still lacking in decent photos but I think it's silly to hold off any longer, so here is the finished article as good as I can get it. I apologise for the dreadful quality of the photos!

The suit is, as I fully expected, utterly beautiful. There's nothing quite like a handcrafted suit, totally unique, and made precisely to your own specifications. I love the look of three-piece suits, and this is a perfect combination of a cloth and cut that is conservative enough not to draw undue attention, but unusual enough to be interesting and clearly bespoke. It's seen use at a wedding, at work meetings, and at numerous semi-formal dinners at clubs and smart restaurants. It fits all these tasks perfectly, and always attracts a nice comment along the lines of being smart and well-cut, but not 'dandy', 'dapper' or 'snappy'. None of which, by the way, are bad things if that's what you're after, they're just not quite what I was looking for with this suit.

I think, over the last few posts about this suit, I've covered off almost everything that needs saying, so at this point I'll just finish up with a couple more photos. The lines of the waistcoat are beautiful, and well worth a look - you may recall that the lapels were hand-drawn on the basted cut by Phillipa. That tie, incidentally, is a very purchase from Gieves and Hawkes which I am very pleased with - I have a tendency to almost exclusively wear school, club and society ties, and am lacking in good ordinary ties. This was an attempt to redress that balance, and I think it's turned out rather well.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Winter activities, and Cordings (and What To Wear on a shoot)

My pursuit of country pursuits, and the right clothes in which to pursue them, took me last week to Cordings on Picadilly. While I've often looked longingly in at the window, which has amongst the most elegant displays of tweed you will see anywhere in London, I've never actually ventured inside. However, when I realised I needed some new shooting breeks at the last minute Cordings immediately sprung to mind as the obvious place to go. Farlows on Pall Mall is also an excellent choice, and possibly even a bit cheaper, but it's a little more 'sporting' and a little less traditional than Cordings and, more important, closes earlier in the evening. As I was in a hurry after work, I didn't have much choice.

Cordings, which is now half-owned by Eric Clapton, has a tiny space on the ground floor, but rather more room in the basement, where most of the menswear is. It has a remarkable selection of traditional men's country-wear, with a particular emphasis on shooting. Many of the tweeds come in up to 7 pieces: breeks (sometimes the option of plus-twos or plus-fours, but I'll count that as one), trousers, waistcoat, shooting waistcoat, jacket, field coat, and cap. They have a variety of patterns ranging from the very conservative to the extremely 'bold' as well as all the accessories you could possibly want, including some very lovely and implausibly expensive shooting socks, of the knee-length variety needed for wear with breeks.

I went for plus-twos, which often better suit the taller and slimmer chap, but managed to resist the full 7-piece suit. I did, however, make sure to check that I was buying a check that was kept regularly in stock and not a short-run seasonal piece, so I could return to get other pieces at some later date. 

What to wear on a shoot

And for those who have landed on this page because they're desperate for some advice, here's my view:
On most shoots, there is a 'smart' dress code, but that doesn't necessarily mean full-on three-piece tweeds, nor is that often a particularly practical option for all sorts of reasons (warmth, water-proof-ness, and a decent shoulder surface). So, the standard outfit for all but the very smartest shoots seems to be breeks, a shirt and tie, a jumper (assuming it's cold enough) and a field coat of some variety. I am modelling this popular and broadly-acceptable look in the picture above. The long, warm socks are held up by brightly coloured garters, the tassels of which hang from the folded tops of the socks and add a nice bit of colour and panache. If you have an eye for colour, or the assistance of a very nice man in Cordings, you can coordinate socks, garters and breeks to great effect.

If you are somewhere hugely smart, or simply like dressing up a bit, then you can go considerably more formal than this without raising any eyebrows, though. Adding a waistcoat that matches your breeks is a good alternative to a jumper, while a shooting waistcoat (which has large bellow pockets for cartridges, and suede-covered shoulders) can be particularly useful if it's warm enough to shoot without a coat. Equally, a matching field-coat is a straightforward addition and makes your shooting 'outfit' into more of a shooting 'suit'.

If you do want to wear an old-fashioned tweed suit, you can up the practicality levels a bit by adding suede to one or both of the shoulders, and bellow pockets. That would probably call for a bespoke request, although no doubt there are places that will do these off the peg. Cordings is probably one of them, but my visit was so brief that I didn't see.