Monday, 27 December 2010

Upstairs, Downstairs

The end of 2010 has been a good time for period drama on television, with the outstanding Downton Abbey on ITV, and a revival of the 70s drama Upstairs Downstairs on the BBC. Upstairs Downstairs is of slightly more interest to this blog as, being set in the late 30s, it captures what many consider to be the golden age of mens dressing. More prosaically, it is at least an era where most of what men wore would not be unacceptable today, although perhaps rather outdated.

In fact, these sort of dramas are often a good place to look for particularly well-dressed men. The main character, Sir Hallam, appears early on in a stroller, perfectly suiting his job as a diplomat. This is a small step down in formality from morning dress as it replaces the tailcoat with an ordinary black coat, usually with peaked lapels but it was, at the time the show is set, the pinacle of formal businesswear. As a result, the stroller was worn so much by bankers and politicians that it remains a stereotypical uniform of the City gentleman long after it has disappeared from London's streets.


Today, strollers remain useful only on a very few occasions, the main one being at a wedding where most people will not wear morning suits. In this instance, a stroller with a coloured waistcoat will lift your outfit from an everyday suit, without appearing to be trying to out-do the wedding party.

Sadly, however, the show disappointed in a number of areas. Every single male character, with the strange exceptions of Anthony Eden and the butler, Mr Pritchard, was visibly wearing a clip-on bow tie. On numerous occasions, the clip itself was visible.


No doubt, most people will neither notice nor care, but for the BBC to be so sloppy in a headline costume drama is a serious lapse, in my view. Perhaps even more disappointingly, a scene with Sir Hallam and the Duke of Kent in evening dress shows both wearing cheap-looking jackets with crumpled, shiny, satin lapels. A great pity.

The show itself is the same odd mix of drama, melodrama and farce that the originals were, although without quite the same quality of script or acting. Still, they're worth a watch, if you are able to get the BBC. The first episode is available on iplayer, the second will play tonight, and the final part tomorrow.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Completion of the Tweed Suit

My Tweed Suit from Cad and the Dandy was actually completed months ago, but it's only in the last couple of months that I've had much opportunity to wear it. In the recent freezing weather, it's made a few appearances at the weekend and was especially useful on a couple of occasions when I returned to my parents' home for Christmas.


Seeing it going from a bolt of 30 year old cloth, onto the cutting table, through a basted fitting, and finally to a beautiful handmade suit has been fascinating and has made it firmly one of my favourite suits. Although the cloth is unusual, the fact that at a distance it blends into a soft grey colour means that it is actually less aggressively 'country' than a more traditional green or brown overcheck tweed might be, and it is equally well suited to a cold weekend in town. The basted fitting means that it is an even better fit than my dinner suit, and its construction shows the right balance of care and imperfection that can only be achieved by an experienced tailor working by hand.

It's worn here with a country shirt, one of my very few button-downs, and a soft knitted woolen tie which I think goes particularly nicely with the colour of the overcheck on the shirt.

Merry Christmas to all my readers.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Tailor Made London - A follow-up

Shortly after my previous post, John at Tailor Made London got in touch with me with a lot more information about his service. I don't intend to reproduce his entire email here but I will quote from it heavily and, I hope, representatively.

The delay in me making this follow-up post was due to me wanting some clarification around prices, as this is a useful way to benchmark tailors against each other and make a fair assesment of who is worth the money and who isn't.

I asked for two prices:
Firstly, a two-piece suit made in pure wool (non-super number) from a good manufacturer (I actually specified Holland and Sherry, but they only stock H&S in Super 100 and up, so the quote is based on Dugdale, another very well-respected cloth maker) with a half canvass, no basted fitting, and working cuffs. This would be around £349 from Cad and the Dandy.

Tailor Made London quoted me £560, which is by no means unreasonable, but it does suggest a generally slightly higher cost than the majority of other tailors in this corner of the market.

For a suit made in super-100s wool, with a fully floating canvas a basted fitting and hand-stitching (which is as close as you will get to a Savile Row suit) Cad and the Dandy charge £799, while Tailor Made London quoted me £950.

I won't comment further on the prices, as there are plenty of variables that may make comparisons between C&tD and TML inaccurate. I have tried to make the comparison as fair as possible, but factors like the quality of the workmanship are hard to quantify, and could justify a higher price. At any rate, TML suits are, as you would hope, considerably cheaper than a similar option from Savile Row.

My biggest question over the whole laser process, and one echoed by at least one of the people who kindly took the time to comment on my last blog about Tailor Made London, was the extent to which measurements taken by machine, even very accurately, necessarily translate into a well-fitting suit. I felt that the judgement of the cutter is more important here in being able to assess the whole body-shape, stance and so forth, in a way that a machine cannot.

John Buni, from Tailor Made London, says:
"What is inherent in our process is the use of the data to form a twin body image and then transpose that data to form the individual’s pattern for the cut. Here is where we differ from someone taking a multitude of measurements manually or otherwise in that we take into consideration the person’s stance and posture. The latter would be laboriously difficult to carry out manually first time. Of the thousands measurements taken about 100 primary ones are used by our head-cutter to produce an individual pattern to fit the 3D image and make any adjustments where needed."

I raised a number of questions about the way the suits are made, and the options available, and it appears that Tailor Made London do offer traditionally constructed suits with all the features you would hope for:

"Turning to suit construction, we offer a half-floating canvas with horsehair as a standard product, unlike majority of online/ visiting/ travelling tailors who would offer a fused canvas as the norm but some may offer a ½ floating canvas option at much extra cost. We do also offer a full floating canvas construction if requested."

I did wonder about how the cloth was cut, and it turns out it is cut by laser. Whilst the traditionalist in me recoils at this, I can't see any real problem and, as John explains, it keeps costs down by reducing cloth wastage. It would potentially make pattern matching difficult, but John says this isn't a problem, as the suit is "assembled by a skilled tailor to ensure pattern matching where necessary."

I suppose I remain unconvinced that the laser-scanning really adds value to the tailoring process, but the main thing is that Tailor Made London appear to be getting everything else right in terms of cloth selection and craftsmanship. Of course, I can't be certain of this without buying a suit and, perhaps unfairly, I don't think I'm likely to, but I wouldn't necessarily discourage anyone else from trying them, and I would be interested in hearing (and seeing) the results.

Many thanks, also, to the readers who left some unusally interesting and thoughtful comments on the previous post about Tailor Made London.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Braces

There are only really two materials worth making braces from. Silk braces are ideal with evening wear and, perhaps, in warmer weather. For colder weather, more casual wear, or just because you feel like it, boxcloth is the only other option.

Heavy boxcloth braces in bold colours, with their brass adjusters and leather attachments, look fantastic, and are the very antithesis or the sort of skinny, elasticated, clip-on braces that are all too common.


Albert Thurston is perhaps best known for this sort of thing, but my recent acquisitions come from Ede and Ravenscroft - an impulse purchase when I noticed that they sold them with the white leather fastenings that are so much harder to find that the more usual black ones, and which I just couldn't resist.

They also do a nice pair of dark green ones which may, I think, look rather nice with my new tweed suit. On the subject of the suit, in case any of you were wondering what has happened to it, it was completed some time ago but I have been waiting for autumn for an occasion to wear it. Now that the weather is getting colder, I expect it will make an appearance on my next trip to the country.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Dragons Den: Tailor Made London

Some of you may have seen a recent episode of the UK Dragons Den which featured John Buni, the managing director of Tailor Made London showing off his product and asking for funding (which he didn't get).

The basic premise is the same as any visiting/travelling tailor - he sets up for the day in a hotel or (more often, it seems) a large office, and people come to him to be measured and to design their suit, and then he takes the information away and has the suits made up. Information on the manufacturing process is very limited, but my guess would be that the suits go for a straight finish with no basted fitting but with the option for adjustments later, much like ASTF or the cheaper Cad and the Dandy options. There's also very little information about who makes the suits, or what techniques are used. There is a mention that they are made in Germany which is slightly unusual as most similar companies seem to use Hong Kong or China. To their credit, 'Tailor Made London' appear to use excellent cloth, including some from big names like Holland & Sherry. How much this adds to the basic price of £450 is not totally clear.

The 'gimmick' here, and the only thing that really interested me about what is otherwise a fairly unoriginal concept, was the laser scanner. This takes a full-body scan in a few seconds and saves off hundreds of highly accurate measurements. So far so good, and so far so very press-release-friendly. However, the obvious question that the Dragons didn't seem to ask is: so what? In my experience of tailoring, the accuracy and number of the measurements is not the biggest problem. Sure, the measurements need to be right, and the more that are taken the better (up to a point), but almost anyone can take a large number of measurements quickly and accurately with a minimum of training, and a really skilled tailor is looking for more than just objective measurements in any case. The bigger issue is what is then done with these measurements. Are they used to cut a brand new personal pattern, or to adapt an existing one? Is the suit cut by a cutter with years of experience who understands body shape and has thought about your stance, figure and personal requirements, or by an assembly line of relatively unskilled workers using a pattern generated by a computer? It is these issues that really define a good fit, and it is on these that Mr Buni is silent.

It is not at all clear to me what happens to the hundreds of measurements that the machine takes. In theory, I suppose, this machine could gather information on the customers stance and body shape (although without a human eye, I am not convinced this will be very meaningful) but a much harder job is then translating these measurements to a well-fitting suit. How this is done would fascinate me, but there is no information on it and I strongly suspect that it boils down to a printed list of measurements little different to those that any other tailor just writes down as he goes along.

Both the Dragons Den show and the website leave too many of the important questions unanswered for me to have any interest in ordering a suit from this company (even if I wasn't already loyal to my current tailor). For me, a personal service and an appreciation of the craftsmanship behind tailoring is far more important than gimmicks and technology. Still, I will pose some of my questions to Tailor Made London and, if the answers are of interest, I will post them on the blog so that you may make your own minds up.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Grooming: Geo F Trumpers

I've changed hairdresser recently and started visiting Geo F Trumpers, at their new premises on Duke of York street. They, like the other inhabitants of the Piccadilly end of Jermyn Street, have been forced to move while the Crown Estate conducts extensive work on their building. I never had my hair cut at the old shop but have, of course, visited it. Like many of the older Jermyn Street stores, it felt like stepping back in time, and not surprisingly as it probably hadn't changed much in a century. Sadly, this is a feeling that the new store, for all its beautiful interior, cannot replicate. Indeed, even when Trumpers returns to its old premises in a few years, as it intends to, I can't help but feel that something of its character will have been lost forever.



Nevertheless, the important elements of the Trumpers experience remain. The products are the best quality available, all beautifully packaged and displayed, while the staff are unfailingly knowledgable and courteous. Upstairs, the barbers work in a pleasantly quiet room that, despite feeling incongruously brand-new, has been decorated in a traditional style and, presumably, with as many of the old furnishings as could reasonably be used. Like Taylors, and other Gent's hairdressers in St James, Trumpers offer a full range of services that place it somewhere between the comfortably masculine environment of a traditional barber's shop, and the luxury and pampering of a spa. It's a very agreeable balance, and the ability to choose between popping in for a 20 minute haircut, or spending an entire morning on a trim, a shave, a facial and a head massage is a pleasant one.

Friday, 13 August 2010

101 easy ways to dress better. No 12: Proper dress shirts

I was inspired in this post by Kurt of Cultural Offering. He asked me to comment on the 'atrocity' that is a short-sleeved dress shirt. I am only too happy to oblige a loyal reader but, to try and disguise the rant that this might otherwise become, I thought I would address the question of what a proper dress shirt ought to be. I am looking, by and large, at those shirts designed to be worn with a suit or, at least, a jacket, since a certain amount more flexibility is possible with shirts worn casually. Although I might still draw the line at short-sleeved dress shirts.

Image from Turnbull and Asser

A proper dress shirt may be made out of any one of any number of materials, depending on taste and season. It may have any of a number of collar styles. There are even a fairly large number of options available in the cuff, although the majority of them are not to my taste. There are, however, two things on which I am dogmatic. Firstly, a proper dress shirt does not have a breast pocket. Secondly, and far more importantly, no dress shirt has short sleeves.

Why, you may ask, have I taken so strongly against two practical innovations? A breast pocket gives men somewhere to keep their pen or, if they are Don Draper, their cigarettes. Short sleeves, meanwhile, allow them to keep cool in the summer. Sadly, however, it is often the practical innovations that must be resisted the most. There is little that is, or should be, overtly practical about the well-dressed gentleman's outfit. It ought to speak of a traditional outlook combined with modern good taste and good tailoring to create a look that is no more prey to adjustments in the name of practicality than to changes in the name of fashion.

Sadly, a man who too obviously compromises his dress to make his life easier or more comfortable runs the risk of not being taken seriously. If you are hot, roll up your sleeves and, if you find you have nowhere to put your pen, then keep your jacket on. There are plenty of pockets in that.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Kilts

I was reading, yesterday, about Sir Walter Scott; a man who perhaps did more than anyone to create the Victorian and late Georgian obsession with an idealised version of Scotland. It was this obsession that led to the  building of Balmoral in 1853, a sort of fairy-tale Scottish castle decorated with tartan and moose heads in an odd highland pastiche that would be incredibly naff if it were done by anyone other than the Royal Family. Perhaps it still is, but a century and a half of use has softened the effect and made its artificiality less jarring.



All of this is by way of an introduction to my real topic, which is the wearing of kilts. Like building fairytale castles, kilt-wearing south of the border was popularised by the Victorian gentry who developed a sudden interest in noisily declaring a Scottish heritage. Unlike building fairytale castles, of course, almost anyone can wear a kilt and many people do with little or no meaningful Scottish connection. Kilts can be worn, with slight variations in the outfit, to white tie or black tie events, and to formal day events, and they tend to look extremely smart. Most highland outfits involve a waistcoat which, as you know, I think is almost always an improvement. In any case, the wearers usually take more care over their appearance than the average man in a tux, and they add considerably to the general variety of formal-wear at an event.

Image From Kinloch Anderson

Kilt styles, and their accompanying jackets and accessories, vary enormously and there are plenty of different options, perhaps even more than with black or white tie. I don't know nearly enough about them to attempt to explain them all; if you are unsure then taking the advice of a good Scottish tailor will be key. So long as you wear the appropriate version of highland evening wear, you should be able to be correctly dressed at any event. However, you may still wonder; should you wear one? Are you entitled to?

There aren't really any hard and fast rules. I have heard it said that a real Scotsman never wears a kilt south of the border, but this strikes me as a rule rarely observed and is, in any case, without any particular justification that I can see. Ultimately, it is up to you whether you feel you could justify yourself if, at a party, someone were to ask you why you were wearing traditional highland wear. Especially if the person who asked you happened to be a genuine Scottish Laird. If you are comfortable with your own reasons for wearing a kilt then go for it, but do bear in mind that if the only thing people can remember about you at the end of an evening is that you were in a kilt, then you are definitely doing something wrong.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Ede & Ravenscroft

Ede & Ravenscroft have had a sale on and I couldn't resist the cream pinpoint shirt reduced to £25. Even at full retail price, Ede & Ravenscroft's shirts are a good deal cheaper than the top end Jermyn Street shirt-makers like New & Lingwood. Perhaps that reflects the fact that E&R are best-known for providing form dress and, in particular, fulfilling the slightly unusual clothing requirements of lawyers, academics and the Peerage.



Still, their shirts are a beautiful step up from TM Lewin or Hawes & Curtis, my usual suppliers. Pinpoint is a tight Oxford weave which creates a lovely rich fabric with a slight lustre and, especially in this summery cream colour, looks great with a blue blazer and cotton trousers.

Aside from shirts and, of course, court dress, Ede & Ravenscroft do a nice range of suits, waistcoats and accessories. Regular readers will recall that my white evening waistcoat came from there, and they stock a decent selection of the sort of clothes that are hard to get elsewhere: tunic shirts, a variety of collars, brown foldable trilbies, and various other well-made and not-unreasonably price odds-and ends.

I must remember to shop there more often. Especially since I have noticed that their tailored shirts start from just £125, and that they have no minimum order.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Book Review: Bespoke - Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed

The majority of tailoring and style books seem best suited, as I usually observe when reviewing them, to the coffee-table. Full of pretty pictures, but short on really engaging content, they seem to lack a clear purpose.

'Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed' suffers from no such problem. Entirely free of pictures it is, instead, a genuinely fascinating and entirely gripping story. It is the remarkable autobiography of Richard Anderson, who started a gruelling Huntsman apprenticeship at seventeen and went on to become head cutter and then to found his own firm, Richard Anderson Ltd. at 13 Savile Row.



Mr Anderson's story is certainly interesting enough in itself, and his depictions of the many funny, horrible, tragic and simply mad characters on Savile Row, tailors and customers alike, are endlessly entertaining. However, he makes the sensible choice to intersperse his story with the sort of detailed descriptions of bespoke tailoring technique, process, protocol and culture that absolutely fascinate me. Few other authors touch on this for the simple reason that, however much they might like suits, they do not have Mr Anderson's life-long history on Savile Row.

Although the title might suggest a detailed examination of Savile Row itself, Anderson, perhaps wisely, restricts himself to his own personal experience, with the result that the focus is almost entirely upon Huntsman and then on Richard Anderson Ltd. The title's use of the tailoring term 'ripped and smoothed' is perhaps particularly appropriate for Mr Anderson's treatment of Huntsman, which is fairly thoroughly ripped apart for its management under Don Bargeman and Trevor Swift. Regardless, in both positive and negative aspects, the book gives an almost unique view behind the calm and traditional facade of Savile Row, and for that alone it is very well worth a read.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Rowing Blazers

I had a rowing blazer made for me in club colours by Tom Brown Tailors a few years ago. It's a decent made-to-measure, with just two fittings and seems to be largely machine stitched. Nevertheless it is, as you would expect from a tailor with such a good reputation, very nicely made. (Apart from the fact that second colour is not really correct, that is. Tom Brown always seem to make them this way. Perhaps they can't find any properly maroon cloth.)


Rowing blazers are a bit unusual. Typically they are fairly unstructured, with an absolute minimum of canvassing, and no chest piece. Mine has a three-roll-two button stance, which is best for the sort of soft, casual, look that is normal for this sort of blazer. The informal style is added to by having large patch pockets (the side ones on mine are about the right size for carrying a bottle of champagne. I'm just saying.) and just two cuff buttons. Most unusually of all, all of the blazers I've seen are, like mine, ventless. This strikes me as odd because it's not a particularly casual or informal style, as having a single vent might be. If anything, it is a rather formal cut that would normally only be seen on dinner jackets and, even then, only rarely these days. On a structured jacket this can give a very nice slim appearance, although on the softer rowing blazer it's less obvious. I still haven't quite worked out the reason for the lack of vents, whether it is simply a relic of when blazers were knocked up quickly from bits of cloth in the club colours, and anything that added to the tailoring work was avoided, or whether it is just to avoid breaking up the stripes that are common on rowing blazers.

A rowing blazer like this is very rarely suitable anymore, if it ever was. The material is far too heavy for it actually to be a comfortable option on a summers day, even if it was appropriate, so it is restricted to relatively formal summer sporting events. A more generic stripy blazer in a slightly lighter-weight wool might have more general use, but then that would take half the fun out of it...

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Sportswear

An almost inviolable rule of dressing is that if an item of clothing is designed to be worn to play sport, then it ought only be worn to play that sport. Of course, clothes do cross the divide eventually - polo shirts being a notable example, but they no longer bear much relation to real sportswear. Actually wearing items of clothing that would not look out of place on a sports field is rarely a good idea. Of course, this is particularly relevant at the moment because the streets are flooded with people wearing football shirts. More fool them, if you ask me, but its no skin off my nose.

Still, it did remind me that there is one item of clothing that still maintains a reasonably strong sporting link and which, nevertheless, I happen to think looks great as an item of casual-wear.


The cricket jumper is, of course, just a certain style of cable-knit v-neck, and rarely worn on the cricket pitch these days, so perhaps it too has made the leap to being just casual wear. Still, I think part of its appeal is that it retains an association with sport, and especially relaxed summer sports, that makes it the perfect jumper to throw on as the sun goes down on a summer evening with jeans, chinos, cotton ducks or linen trousers.

Hackett do a nice one, although the different coloured bands strike me as a bit odd and, in any case, I prefer sleeveless cricket jumpers. Ralph Lauren also almost certainly do them, although the one on their website is a rather non-traditional style. Still, if you're looking for a more reasonably-priced option, then you could do a lot worse than the Help for Heroes one. Traditional, with a club-style colour scheme that you're perfectly entitled to, and the money is for an excellent cause too.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Dress code: Henley

Apologies for my lengthy absence. A new job is distracting me from the important work of blogging regularly.

Ascot is only just gone, and another major sporting event on the social season begins this week. Henley Royal Regatta is a bizzare and wonderful occasion - a five day sporting and social fixture that is simultaneously one of the most prestigious rowing events in the world and also one of the most important dates in the traditional social season. It attracts spectators who probably never watch rowing the other 360 days of the year (except perhaps for the Boat Race), and international rowers who, in the words of a former Great Britain rower who once coached me, 'value a Henley medal more even than a World Championship Gold'.



Whatever your level of interest in the rowing itself, being a good spectator is a sport in itself. Dressing up in the sort of bright blazers and ties that are so rarely appropriate for the rest of the year, and choosing one of the many bars, enclosures or just beautiful picnic spots along the bank is all part of the fun.

Only the exclusive Stewards' Enclosure actually has a dress code (jacket and tie for men, dresses reaching the knee for women), it's well worth making an effort regardless of where you will be watching from. Although a lightweight summer suit is perfectly acceptable, a far more traditional option would be white cotton 'ducks' and a blazer (light chinos are a worthy substitute for people who have little use for white cotton trousers for most of the year). The best kind of blazer is colourful and, probably, stripey. However, at Henley more than anywhere else, I would strongly caution against wearing anything that could be interpreted as a rowing or club blazer if you are not infact entitled to one. The almost infinite variety of clubs and crews represented at Henley mean that anything but the very simplest blazers run a risk of being misinterpreted as identifying you as a member of a club; to the embarrassment of all concerned. If you don't have a blazer to which you are legitimately entitled then it is not important, you will hardly be the only one, just wear a plain blue or cream blazer or, at most, one with a simple and generic stripe.

More on the oddness of rowing blazers themselves in a few days, when I have dug mine out of the cupboard and found time to photograph it.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Supporting England

If wrapping yourself in a cross of St George and drinking lager all night isn't quite your style, then why not support a great English industry? Textiles used to be big business in England, especially in the North where fortunes were made by mill owners. These days we tend to value artisanship and are wary of mass-production, but it was the technological advances in English cloth manufacture that made it succesful, and which made it some of the best in the world. The people who designed and built the new and highly specialised machinery were not permitted to emigrate lest they give away the secrets to other countries.



Today, English cloth manufacturing is a much smaller affair, as the vast majority of the work has gone abroad to China or India. Nevertheless, those mills that do remain still have some of the best machinery, knowledge and expertise in the world. As a result, they continue to turn out beautiful worsted wools that few other manufacturers can compete with.

When you next buy a suit, it's well worth giving some thought to where the wool has come from. It's easy to be taken in by a high super-number and the assurance that the cloth is 100% wool. These are all very well, but they still don't tell the whole story. You may well make a big saving by buying Chinese or Indian wool, but the quality is unlikely to be anything like as good.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Dress code: Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot begins today for those of you lucky enough to be getting away from work. Personally, I shall have to wait until the weekend to dig out my tailcoat, top hat, and picnic basket and drive down.

For those of you who are going, and who have access to the Royal Enclosure, the dress code for men is very simple. Morning dress is the only option, and a top hat is mandatory. Nevertheless, this still leaves a great deal of room for manoeuvre. Indeed, the amount of variation possible in morning dress is one of its most appealing features and something that distinguishes it from White Tie, of which it is sometimes considered the daytime equivalent.


The basic requirements are relatively simple: A top hat, trousers, a waistcoat and a grey or black daytime tailcoat with tails which sweep round to the waist rather than being cutaway like an evening coat. With formal morning dress, the coat and trousers ought not to match. Indeed, the tailcoat ought to be a plain colour with, perhaps, a subtle herringbone, whilst the trousers are generally striped. The waistcoat can match the tailcoat but much more common is to have it in a third colour. Almost anything is possible, depending on the event, but most classic is buff linen or wool, especially if it is double-breasted with a lapel.


The top hat itself should also be either black or grey, but it need not necessarily match the tailcoat. Technically, the grey hat is slightly more informal but it is perfectly acceptably for the races which is one of the least formal events at which you might wear morning dress. As far as other accessories go, gloves used to be mandatory (as with any outdoor wear) but are now much less common, although they are certainly a nice addition. A pocket square is good, and a boutonniere is even better, especially at a wedding. A formal city umbrella is another classic accessory and is, in any case, a worthwhile addition at the races even in mid-June.

Any formal shirt and tie is acceptable, although contrast-collar shirts are traditional, as is a grey macclesfield tie. At Ascot, turn-up collars and (paradoxically) 'Ascot' ties or cravats are not really appropriate. Shoes should be plain black oxfords or, both more traditional and practical at the races, black chelsea boots.

If you are going, have fun; especially if you will be wearing morning dress. It is one of the very few occasions that remain when you can do so, and the atmosphere in the Royal Enclosure is really something to be experienced, quite apart from just enjoying a great day of racing.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The foldable straw panama

For a day or two it looked as if summer might have reached London, but now we're back to a nice June drizzle. Still, I am always an optimist and am looking to add a couple of items to my summer wardobe.

One of the first will be a straw panama hat. The classic panama is almost indestructible and, indeed, can be rolled up and carried in a tube, or just stuffed into a bag. Their relaxed smartness combined with ease of carrying and resilience to damage, makes them the perfect alternative to the ubiquitous baseball cap for wearing with anything more formal than shorts and tshirt.
Bates the Hatter do a very traditional Panama hat, or for a slightly cheaper version the Aspinal of London one (pictured above) seems like a good bet. It is available with a variety of different ribbons, although personally I would just go for the dark blue. Wear it with chinos and a blue linen blazer, or maybe just jeans and a white cotton jacket.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The tweed suit: basted fitting

Around ten days after I watched it being cut, the coat of my Donegal Tweed suit was ready for a basted fitting at Cad and the Dandy. At this stage, the coat is assembled quickly with basting thread. The collar, lapels and pockets will not be finished, and a minimal amount of padding and canvassing is used. None of the buttons are done, and the sleeves won't open yet. The point is to be able to check the basic fit of the pattern (and so is more useful early on in your relationship with a tailor), and to be able to correct any serious mistakes before the time-consuming hand-sewing and internal construction work is done. At this stage, relatively significant changes, such as changing the button stance or the shoulder width, can be made without requiring huge amounts of extra work as the basted coat will be completely taken apart after the fitting in any case. This is a substantial advantage over the approach of most made-to-measure tailors who simply offer as many adjustments as you want after the suit is finished.


There weren't any huge changes needed on my suit, but there were some that would definitely have been harder once all the padding and canvassing was in place; making the shoulders very slightly narrower, and taking a little bit of material out of the chest. The former is marked with chalk, although you probably can't see it in the photo, while the latter is pinned, and accounts for the pinched fabric just under each arm. The other changes were to shorten both the sleeve and the overall coat length slightly, which have been made only on my right hand side in the photo, so the difference is obvious. The trousers don't usually have a basted fitting, as their construction is so much simpler than any changes can be made easily enough after they are finished.

After the basted fitting, the suit is sent off for a straight finish, which ought to take about five weeks. Any last remaining tweaks will then be made after the suit is finished.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Book Review: Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion

There's a difficulty that all writers of men's style books have, which is what exactly is the book to say? Is it a guide to how to dress? A history of clothes? A discussion of men's fashion in general, or only that particular area of men's fashion that the author likes?

The days when men required a book to tell them the precise rules of dressing in polite society are long gone, except for one or two very niche dress codes such as Royal Ascot or a White Tie Ball. Indeed, those days probably never existed since men were presumably brought up to dress well according to their social status and, if they really had social mobility in mind, they need only observe and copy the dress of their social 'superiors'. Magazines covered the changes in fashion, but surely guidebooks of the type so popular now were superfluous?

My point being that a book (and there are many) which claims to tell men the rules of 'dressing for success', 'dressing as a gentleman' or anything similar is very difficult to write, for the simple reason that those rules don't exist. A book might very well tell you how to dress as a 1930s gentleman, or a 1950s gentleman, or perhaps a member of the elderly landed gentry in 2010, but all of these would be costume guides, not style guides. Therein, I feel, lies the problem with so many men's style books.

All of which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the subject of this review. Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion. I've got the more up-to-date 2009 edition, which has a pinstriped cover. The much older one has a red cover and a picture of a man in his underwear on the front. Take your pick.

Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion (Lifestyle)

I thought I would love this book, and I do... a bit. But not quite as much as I had thought. It suffers, I feel, from the problem I've discussed above in that the author seems to have set out to write a guide to the rules of being a well-dressed gentleman, and then wisely backed off at the last minute when he realised that such a task is impossible. Instead, the book is a mish-mash of the history of clothes, suggestions on where particular items might be bought, rare and timidly-worded guidance on what is and what is not appropriate in certain cituations, and the occasional incongruous bit of highly specific advice (a page on which socks to wear with which shoes, and pictures of the difference between Italian, US, French and English casual outfits, for example).

Areas where the author might genuinely have been able to offer some useful insight are oddly skirted around. For example, he hints at the vital importance of knowing when to wear gloves with white tie, but says nothing as to what the rules might actually be.

On the plus side, the book is incredibly wide-ranging; covering everything from underwear to shaving kit to golf shoes, and everything is illustrated with an array of attractive full-colour photos. It may well inspire you to buy a proper shaving brush, a few more cashmere jumpers, or a tweed suit. On the other hand, it's less likely to give you any practical guidance on which ones to buy. It, like so many of these books, is really best suited to the coffee-table or perhaps the five minutes before sleep.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The Double-Breasted Suit

Double-breasted suits are, apparently, making a return. This can only be good news, since it means that after a long period of being mostly unavailable off-the-peg, they are starting to reappear in collections. That said, you do have to be a little careful buying a double-breasted suit off the peg as suits without a slightly tailored shape can look a little boxy.

People have some odd ideas about double-breasted suits. They're often seen as a good option for bigger men as their wrap can envelope a larger stomach and avoid the acres of shirt that might otherwise be on display. This may be true, to an extent, but it ignores how well a double-breasted suit can flatter a slim figure and, indeed, add gravitas to younger men. The pointed lapels and sharp lines broaden shoulders slightly and this combined with a slightly tailored waist creates an attractive and smart V shape.

Perhaps the classic double breasted suit is a dark blue worsted wool pinstripe, but this can be a hard look to pull off, as it is a bit 'power-dressy', and I prefer the softer look of a chalk-stripe, a plain flannel, or a Prince of Wales check for slightly more casual occasions.


Above, the bespoke charcoal grey double-breasted chalk-stripe suit that I mentioned in a previous post. I think the dark material looks good with a white or almost white shirt and, in this case, I offset the lovely soft, muted fabric with a fairly bright silk tie.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Cad and the Dandy's London Cut

My Donegal tweed suit is progressing, and will be my second suit with Cad and the Dandy. This time, though, I've been lucky enough to be given a bit more of an insight into the process, as they kindly offered for me to come in and see their head cutter at work on Savile Row.

The above image is released under a Creative Commons CC-sa license.

I hadn't realised that I'd actually be seeing my own suit being cut, but when I arrived I saw my tweed spread on the cutters table with my individual coat pattern laid out on top. Especially for a suit where I'd provided the material, it felt rather exciting to be able to see so much of the process from a simple length of cloth to a full suit.


John, the cutter, carefully chalks around each panel, adding lines to mark button positions and pockets, and then measuring out extra material that will form the inlays necessary for any later adjustments. He explained to me the process of making a pattern, and the sort of adjustments that he is intuitively able to make for people with a slight stoop, a pronounced stomach, a prominent chest, or any of the other many quirks of physique that can't simply be expressed by a list of measurements. It's clear that a great deal of experience and intuition goes in to cutting a suit, and it's hardly surprising that apprenticeships take years to complete.


Finally, he cuts the patterns out, with the fabric folded in two and cutting through both layers, so that each symmetrical panel is consistent. Cutting along chalk lines is probably the easiest bit of this job, but it must still take a steady hand and steely nerve to cut into an essentially unique length of cloth, already barely enough to make a suit out of, while the customer stands there watching!

Not all of Cad and the Dandy's suits are cut on Savile Row, but if you go for their fully hand stitched suit then it will be, with the added advantage of a basted fitting before it is sent to be finished. The basted fitting gives an extra opportunity to make adjustments to the suit before it is made up to a point where certain things become almost impossible to change, and is therefore important in ensuring the best possible fit. It's also one of the key differentiators between a made-to-measure suit, and a truly bespoke one.

Going with the hand-sewn, Savile Row cut option from Cad and the Dandy will cost anywhere between about £650 and £1000 for a two-piece but will be, as Ian puts it, 'legitimately bespoke'. While a Savile Row tailor will likely offer a couple of extra fittings, Cad and the Dandy have got all the essential bespoke elements in place with their top-end option in terms of making a personal pattern for each customer, providing a basted fitting, using master craftsmen, and fulfilling the detailed specifications of the Savile Row Bespoke Association.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A Double-Breasted Chalkstripe

I had another particularly excellent charity shop find last week. As with the Hackett suit I posted about a while back, I'm sometimes amazed at the kind of things that occasionally end up in charity shops being sold for 1/50th or even 1/100th of their original price. Anyway, last week I stumbled across a particularly good find - a Savile Row bespoke double-breasted suit in charcoal grey with a chalkstripe. The label says it was made in 1996, so it's a good 13-14 years old but, as you would hope with a Savile Row suit, is still in outstanding condition.



It's made of a lovely soft worsted wool which is nicer than on any other suit I own. More importantly, the jacket fitted me almost perfectly, while the trousers were just slightly too small. After a number of people had recommended them to me, I decided to go to Graham Browne in the City to get the adjustments made. As I'd been told, they are very good value and did an excellent job.

The name on the suit label happens to be that of a multi-millionaire businessman and d-list celebrity much loved by Tatler and the like. I can't be certain that my suit actually belonged to this gentleman, and not to someone else of the same name, however I have a feeling it did. The suit has a relatively unusual feature which I have seen on other suits owned by this gentleman in photos, so it does seem likely it was once his. The feature is a turned-back cuff on the sleeve, something I have only seen a few times before, and generally only on bespoke suits although, as with almost anything, I don't doubt there are some off-the-peg manufacturers who offer it.


I don't know that I'd have chosen this myself, if I were commissioning the suit, but it's an interesting feature that I've come to quite like having on just one of my suits. I don't quite know where this style derives from, or why it is so uncommon now. I think it adds a touch of informality which helps soften the rather traditional lines of a double breasted pin-stripe or chalk-stripe. At any rate, it's something a bit new and unusual, which is always good.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

101 ways to dress better. No 11: Wear vintage

I was a bit unsure about this particular bit of advice. Unlike most of the ones that have come before it, I don't think it's universally applicable. Maybe I should change it to 'wear vintage sometimes' or just 'wear vintage if you feel like it'. A man who can afford to buy only bespoke or good made-to-measure suits can, I am sure, look well-dressed without ever wearing vintage. A man who has a flair for buying good value off-the-peg can certainly look well-dressed without buying vintage. That's ok though - all of these are supposed to be pointers and guides to be used or ignored as you like. My point is simply that for those of you who (like me) assemble your wardrobe on a budget; from a mix of made-to-measure, off-the-rack, and hand-me-down, there's a lot of extra value to be gained from vintage clothes.

The advantages are myriad: vintage clothes are (often) cheap, generally very well-made, and frequently slightly unusual. Their classic cuts and heavier fabrics make them stand out from the modern plethora of paper-thin, skinny-lapelled, grey and black suits that the crowds of commuters wear. If you are looking for something unusual, like a tweed suit, a morning coat or a white-tie tailcoat, you often cannot beat vintage. Even for more everyday items like blazers or dinner jackets, you will find that the vintage item may have few obvious differences to its modern counterpart, but will be of better fabric and subtly better made.

The Houndstooth Kid inspired this post with an excellent discussion of how to wear vintage clothes without appearing to wear 'costume'. This is key, since my aim is always to be well-dressed in a modern context, so spats, monocles and frock coats are out. This should not, however, stop you from adding a few vintage items to your wardrobe. Worn carefully, and avoiding costume, they'll add a bit of classic quality and elegance that it's hard to replicate any other way.

Savvy Row is a great bet if you can't make it to a vintage store, but personally I enjoy the process of looking around vintage shops and market stalls too much to do my shopping online. If you're in London, I can highly reccommend the Portobello Road market, as well as a couple of the shops around the Notting Hill Gate area. The Camden Passage Market in Islington is also worth a look, but is more antique-focused.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Choosing a lining

Good news on the Irish tweed, as Cad and the Dandy have said there is enough material to make a two-piece suit out of it. I was in their shop last week to place the order and give them the cloth, and to choose a few options. One of the biggest choices that has to be made with any new suit is the lining colour, and unfortunately it's not something I'm very good at. Picking a colour that suits your own tastes and personality, but also looks good generally, is not an especially easy thing to do. C&tD helped me pick a dark green which will look perfect, but it made me think a bit about the considerations when choosing a lining colour.

A signature colour?
One option is to choose a 'signature' colour and get it on all your suits. It helps if this is something a bit unusual like bright purple or lime green, but it could be anything really. Certainly, having a signature colour is a nice way to tie your whole wardrobe together, and it also saves difficult decisions. However in some ways it can also be a waste as picking a lining colour that really complements the fabric is a way to make your suit look that little bit better, and a signature colour is unlikely to do this.

A matching colour
Another relatively easy option is to have a 'matching' colour. Two of my grey suits have grey or silver linings which essentially match the fabric, and my tweed jacket from A Suit That Fits also has a 'matching' brown lining (although this is only because they, quite irritatingly, only give you a 'matching' lining as standard and change £20 or more for anything else.)


A matching colour is a safe enough bet, but it's a little bit boring. I always think that having a slightly unexpected colour for the lining, to be glimpsed when the jacket swings open, is much nicer than simply matching the lining to the fabric.

A complementary colour
This is probably the best choice, although it really covers a multitude of options. It's also where I struggle most, as picking a lining that goes with the fabric, but doesn't actually match it is a little tricky. One example, I suppose, is my dark red lining with my black dinner jacket, but that may be cheating as black famously goes with almost anything.


Perhaps a better example is the light purple lining in my dark blue self-stripe suit from ASTF. I can't take much credit for this one either as ASTF has a feature that suggests lining colours to go with the fabric you have selected, and I simply took their suggestion. It's a good one, though, and it does what lining can do well: being bolder and more unusual than the colour of the fabric itself, but still clearly related to the suit as a whole.


A Contrasting Colour
Anothing lining colour that I very much like is white in a dark grey suit. I have a double-breasted charcoal grey pin-stripe with a stark white lining and I think it looks fantastic. A lining like this would look great in any dark suit, perhaps even a black dinner suit. Equally, a black or dark grey lining might look really nice in a cream suit or dinner jacket.


Some people probably find choosing lining colours easy. Unfortunately I'm not amongst them, but it's definitely something worth giving thought to, as people will see the lining more often than you might think; as the jacket opens, around your sleeves, inside the pocket flaps, and so on.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Style Icon: Francis Urquhart

As the latest Old Etonian moves in to number 10, it seemed like a good opportunity to look at a fictional Old Etonian Prime Minister as todays style icon.

Francis Urquhart, unlike some people in the series House of Cards, dresses with noticeable sobriety. He favours dark blue suits with a subtle stripe, plan white or discretely striped shirts, and dark ties. In particular he wears his Old Etonian tie a great deal of the time, something that I suspect David Cameron is quite unlikely to do...


Nevertheless (OE tie notwithstanding), Urquhart's dress sense is good, if perhaps uninteresting. His neat three piece suits, perfectly adjusted tie with small four-in-hand knots, and slightly battered brown trilby all put todays politicians to shame. He is no less perfectly, if boringly, dressed when retiring to his country home, where he wears tweed suits and soft brown or green ties.


And, finally, like any true gentleman, he knows how to dress for dinner.

Of course, Mr Urquhart is a murderer, a liar, a fraudster and very probably a sociopath, so Mr Cameron may not find him an especially useful role model. Nevertheless, he could do worse than take a few pointers from Mr Urquhart's restrained, dignified and above all English dress sense.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Irish Tweed Project: Part 1

I've recently been given a length of Irish tweed which was, apparently, bought by my Godfather around thirty years ago but never used. It's a fairly unusual material for a suit; coarse and, as seems to be common with Irish tweed, without any specific pattern. Instead, it's mostly grey but tinged with green and flecked throughout with tiny amounts of colours as diverse as white, red and lime green.



I think it would make a wonderful, if old-fashioned, country suit, but sadly I'm not completely sure that the length I have is sufficient. It's about 3 1/4 yards, which is less than most people have recommended to me. That said, the fact that it has no pattern ought to make it easier to cut more usable pieces from a shorter length of cloth. I will speak to a couple of tailors to get an idea of whether they can make a suit from this and, if so, how much it will be. If a suit isn't possible then it will, at least, make a nice new tweed jacket.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Elbow Patches

A reader, Antonio, asks about jackets with elbow patches on, and whether they're a good addition to a jacket.

I have to say, I have slightly mixed feelings about this. The danger is that since they are unlikely to be worn for practical purposes, they can come off as an affectation and leave the wearer looking like an ivy-league professor. Perhaps that's no bad thing, it seems to be a look that many people strive for, but personally I would suggest that in this context elbow patches could simply be too self-consciously 'costumy'.

That said, their echoes of preppy, ivy-league dress, or even the more battered clothes that an English gentleman might wear at his country home, mean that they can still be a very interesting addition to a jacket. I think the key is in the jacket that they appear on, and most of all on the rest of the outfit. Enjoy the fact that elbow patches nod towards the Harvard Professor or the Country Squire, but don't try to 'dress up' as either.
Hackett seem to be using elbow patches a good bit in their newest collection, and I think they do this well - the patches are of lighter colours and placed on slightly more contemporary casual jackets which make them a good deal less costumy. A jacket like this would work well with jeans or lightweight cotton trousers and an open-collared shirt. I don't think it would really be appropriate for any smarter dress code, or anything when a tie would be required, but that may just be my personal preference.

Now, personally, I love elbow patches on cardigans, but that's another post for another time!

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Boat Shoes

As planned, I bought a pair of boat shoes from Charles Tyrwhitt over the weekend. Boat shoes are ideal for summer, and seem to be especially popular this year. The Charles Tyrwhitt ones are, I think, especially good, and quite classic in stye. The ones I ended up buying are dark blue with brown leather vamp and heel, and the traditional white soles.
The blue and brown style looks great, in my opinion, and is a classic style for these, although many seem to have the body made of canvass, rather than suede. I'm not sure if that's more original - it probably is a little cooler in warm weather.

If you do get some, try them with light coloured jeans, with chinos or sockless with shorts. Their yachting background makes them inherently casual shoes, so more appropriate for weekend wear or a very laid-back working environment, but they'll still be a step up from trainers or flip-flops in the summer months.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Still Open

The other day my brother found a brilliant little book which he bought for our coffee table - Still Open: The Guide to Traditional London Shops is full of the fantastic boutique shops, bars and cafes that make London such an exciting city to live in.
Although it's by no means exclusively about clothes shops, it's pretty hard to write about 'traditional London shops' without dedicating a fair amount of space to the gems of the style industry. Bates the Hatter (in its old location), John Lobb (including a frankly amazing picture of a room containing hundreds and hundreds of wooden lasts), and James Smith and Sons are all included, as are delicatessens, barber shops, and the wonderful Brick Lane Beigel Bake.

Still Open undeniably makes a great coffee table book, but personally I've found it an inspiration to go and explore some of the shops it includes that I've not yet been to and, in many cases, not even heard of. For Londoners and tourists alike, I reckon you could do a good deal worse than just spending a few days exploring the recommendations of this wonderful book.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The sad decline of the tie

A particularly appropriate sketch over at Nicholas Bate's blog.

I was in the City yesterday meeting with a client based out of a large, smart office complex housing a few big-name financial service businesses. The lobby was swarming with men in suits, and yet a surprising number of them weren't wearing a tie. Style forumites often talk knowingly of things that 'of course, wouldn't be acceptable in The City', as though finance remains a bastion of old-fashioned clothing values. The reality, of course, is rather different. Suits may still be generally required, but for the non client-facing majority of of junior and mid-level workers, ties are becoming increasingly optional.
Does it matter? Maybe, maybe not. Many men seem terrified of dressing smartly, but dressing as casually as you can get away with is shortchanging yourself. Ties are a key part of a formal outfit, and give you an opportunity to vary your daily atire far more cheaply than suits or even shirts do.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Pad

Ever since I've gone back to writing with a fountain pen, and ditched the black and red notebooks in favour of legal pads, I've been on the lookout for some kind of holder for my notepads. In the past, I've had a sort of 'conference folio' with space for pads, pens, business cards and various other junk, but I think what I really need is something a bit simpler - just an attractive way of carrying and protecting a legal-size pad.

Aspinal of London, still one of my favourite stores despite their incompetence at selling fountain pens, do a few nice things in this line. I love their briefcases and attache cases, infact, but I have less use for one of these, so I think I'll restrict myself to one of the pad holders.
Now, if only I could decide on a colour...

Friday, 23 April 2010

Summer wear: boat shoes

The weather in the South of England just keeps getting better and, ever optimistic, I am looking forward to a beautiful summer. I'm less good at summer clothes, to be honest, I find it harder to wear temperature-sensible clothes and still look smart.

One item of clothing that I think will be a good purchase this summer is a pair of deck shoes. They may be fairly ubiquitous, but they have the advantage of coming in so many colours and styles that it's not too hard to find a pair that match your particular tastes. From fairly smart brown leather deck shoes that could easily be worn with chinos and a blazer, to suede ones in a variety of colours, which will look great with shorts, there's no shortage of options.
As something I'm likely to wear fairly casually, I quite like the idea of something a bit more interesting than plain brown, and I'm quite attracted to a nice looking pair of blue and white ones from Charles Tyrwhitt. They ought to look nice with shorts, and dark blue jeans. They're probably fairly eye-catching, but that's ok, and they also have a nice summery appeal.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Election Style 1

The UK General Election campaign is well underway, and the news is full of pictures of the three main party leaders; at schools talking to kids, at rallies, in their campaign bus, on the train, etc.

I'd have liked to do a series weighing up the personal styles of Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg but there's really not much to choose between them; all three favour plain, bold ties, plain light-coloured shirts and sober grey or blue single-breasted suits. After last week's debate, an 'expert' judged that Brown and Cameron wore tailor-made suits, while Clegg's was off-the-rack. This may be true, but I doubt that the slight differences were noticable to most of the audience.


To be fair, I suspect that sadly the public doesn't really want a Prime Minister who wears braces and a pocket square, or anything that looks too obviously 'flashy' or expensive. Surely, though, we could at least do with a Prime Minister who knows to keep his jacket and tie on when he's speaking in public? I note that Cameron in particular has a nasty tendency to take his clothes off at the first opportunity, but he's not the only one. Many politicians seem to favour the 'jacket off, tie off, sleeves rolled up' look, and perhaps miss the fact that it strips them of a great deal of much-needed dignity and gravitas.

Monday, 19 April 2010

White Tie

Well, my first attempt at white tie was fairly successful. I never really got the shirt sorted to my satisfaction, but I'll fix that next time.

Opportunities to wear white tie are relatively few and far between, but I think it's always fun, and sometimes enlightening, to assemble and wear an outfit like this that's been almost unchanged for nearly a century.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The white tie project - a collar!

Although, as mentioned, I already had a detachable wing collar from my school days, I decided there were a couple of problems with it. The first is that to me it looks a little bit on the short side for white tie. White tie collars ought to be pretty high - significantly higher than an ordinary soft collar - and my school one isn't. This may well be because it's an academic collar rather than a dress collar and is intended as day-wear so is shorter.

The second, and perhaps less justifiable reason for buying a new collar is that my school one has, of course, been washed and so is no longer starched. Finding somewhere to starch a collar properly isn't all that easy, although it's certainly possible as both the clergy and the bar require starched collars. However, in my case, I need a starched collar by tomorrow, and so the easiest thing to do seemed to just buy a new, ready-starched one, and deal with finding somewhere to re-starch it later.

This style of collar is a good couple of inches tall, and rises slightly at the front, so that it should come almost to the chin. This is important as it needs to stand well above the coat collar by nearly an inch. It's affixed at the front and back with metal and bone (or mother of pearl, or possibly plastic) studs and has large, bold wings at the front.

If you do wear white tie, a detachable collar is infinitely preferable to a modern attached wing collar shirt, for reasons of the height and stiffness that are an important part of the whole formal ensemble.

Monday, 12 April 2010

101 easy ways to dress better. No. 10: Put a dimple in your tie

I'm not sure why - whether it's mere convention or whether there's some objective reason to it, but elegant and stylish dressing often requires small imperfections, slight variations, subtle differences in texture. It's one of the reasons why I'm opposed to the perfect triangle and neat lines of a windsor knot, and it's also why introducing a dimple to your tie will look so much smarter.


To me, the dimple prevents the body of the tie from simply being an uninterrupted flow of bright fabric coming straight down from your collar. It breaks up the line slightly, and will add areas of shadow that enhance whatever colour or pattern is on the tie.

It's easy to add a dimple when you're tying your tie, just slide your finger into the knot and push the middle down, while rolling the edges up slightly. Pull your finger out as you tighten the knot and, with a bit of practice, you should be able to create a neat, and very smart, dimple.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Evening shoes

Until now, I've always worn black oxfords with my dinner suit. This is perfectly correct, albeit the most informal option, so long as they are plain black and well-polished. However I've always been meaning to take the step up to a pair of proper patent leather evening shoes. The super shine adds a bit of extra elegance and formality to evening wear, and patent shoes are especially important with white tie, which is one of the reasons why I've finally gone out and got a pair.


Evening shoes should be plain fronted black patent oxfords, with as thin a sole as possible. The only option more formal than this would be a pair of evening pumps, which are traditional with white tie and, to a lesser extent, with black tie. These are low cut with a decorative silk bow which should, presumably, match the facings on your dinner suit... although I'm unsure how many men would actually go to quite that length. They can look great, especially with white tie, but are increasingly rare now and also not wildly practical for those of us who might have to walk or use public transport to get to an event.

Friday, 9 April 2010

At the races

It's the Grand National tomorrow. Sadly I shan't be going - I'll be watching on TV - but for those of you who do go, it's nice to make the effort to look smart. Although there's no specific dress code, and it's a much less formal event than Royal Ascot, appropriately smart country attire is traditional at race events.

Brown suits or odd jackets are a good bet, as is a silk scarf and a decent covert coat to stave off the cold. Knee-high riding boots may be a bit much for the average spectator (although don't let me stop you, if you really feel the need) but thick-soled derbies, or even chelsea boots, might be a good move if you're likely to end up tramping around in damp grass.

Of course, the thing to really appreciate in the above picture is the importance of keeping a decent supply of drink with you.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The White Tie project

I have a couple of events coming up this year where, for the first time, it looks as if I will be requiring white tie, so over the weekend I have begun assembling the necessary items of clothing. White tie is a pretty expensive dress code to put together since it has a lot of individual parts, almost none of which can be taken from black tie. As a result, whilst it would be lovely to buy a brand new rig off Savile Row, or have Cad and the Dandy make me one, I have decided to save a bit of money by doing as much as possible through vintage and second hand stores. I'll be doing my best to stick to 'correct' white tie, but buying vintage is rarely perfect, so this first attempt will, realistically, have to be 'as near as I can get it', and can then be improved upon in the future. If you want an explanation of 'perfect' White Tie then The Black Tie Guide has a small but expanding section on it.


'The Ball Room' in Oxford, where I was visiting my family over Easter, is good for second hand evening tails, and here I found the necessary very high-waisted trousers (with double braid piping, rather than the plan silk found on black tie trousers) and a lovely old tailcoat from the now sadly defunct Barkers of Kensington. The above picture shows the first slight problem with a second hand tailcoat - getting the precise fit necessary to ensure that waistcoat is not visible beneath the tailcoat. Although the effect is much exaggerated by hanging on a coat-hanger, the tailcoat I found is ever so slightly too short for the only trousers I could find. Since it seemed most important that the waistcoat covers the top of the trousers, this results in a small amount of waistcoat peeking out. However, while this may be a breach of the strict gold standard, it's a small and common enough error that I think I am happy enough to put up with it for the time being.

The waistcoat itself is not a money-saving vintage purchase. Rather, it is a quite expensive one bought new from Ede & Ravenscroft on Savile Row. It was probably a bit of a mistake even going in there, but once I had seen it I was too enamored of the high-quality cotton and the beautiful mother-of-pearl buttons to go anywhere else.

The next problem is the shirt. Strictly, a white-tie shirt ought to be made of white cotton with a plain or marcella bib front, single (but cufflink fastening) cuffs, and a starched detachable collar. This is worn with a marcella cotton bow tie. I am lucky enough to have the bow tie and collar from my school days, but the shirt is a more difficult matter, since these are fairly uncommon and cost over £100 in the few shirtmakers that still do them. I shall have to keep a keen eye on vintage stores for the next couple of weeks, I think, unless any readers have any good ideas?

Friday, 2 April 2010

Cotton Jackets

Although I personally see no evidence of it so far, spring is well underway and summer is not all that far off, so a number of retailers are bringing out a fun range of linen and cotton jackets. As someone who isn't called upon to wear a suit everyday, I like odd jackets that can be worn casually with jeans or dressed up a bit with a shirt and tie. As the weather gets warmer, I'm hoping that I'll be replacing my tweed and corduroy jackets that currently fill this role with something more lightweight.

Hackett does this sort of thing particularly well and has a particularly wide range in store now, taking a bit of inspiration from collegiate-style boating blazers without creating something that can only possibly be worn at Henley Regatta. A jacket like the one below can cover a whole range of different levels of formality, and would be as appropriate in a fairly casual office environment as it would be at a more formal barbecue or summer party.
I have a much-loved blue linen jacket which will be making an appearance at some point. Like most weaves of linen it crumples almost as soon as you look at it, but that's all part of it's charm. Cotton duck is a bit more robust though, and keeps a neat, crisp look which is particularly attractive in cream or khaki, so something along these lines might well be my first purchase for the summer. Let's just hope we actually get some sunshine in London.