Saturday, 30 January 2010

Book Review: Sharp Suits

I had intended to visit Child and sons today, to get them started on the alterations to my blazer, but unfortunately they close at 4pm on a Saturday, and some of my other engagements overran, so I didn't have the chance. I shall try to go next weekend, and in the meantime will content myself with the lovely replacement buttons which arrived on Wednesday.
Instead, I thought I would briefly mention a book I recently bought myself, and which I have been very much enjoying. Sharp Suits by Eric Musgrave is a look at the history and changing styles of men's suits. Musgrave's detailed examination of how suits have developed, the styles of different tailors, and the influence of English, American and Italian tailoring on suit fashions is fascinating in itself. However, it is the pictures that accompany it that many readers will find particularly inspiring. These make up a large percentage of the book, and are scattered liberally throughout each chapter, as well as being occasionally grouped together in double-page spreads covering some feature such as 'Striped Suits' or 'Double-Breasted Suits'.
Sharp Suits
Musgrave is undogmatic both in his writing and in his selection of pictures; as happily including a picture of The Beatles in collarless suits as a picture of Prince Charles in flawless Anderson and Shepherd bespoke. The upshot is that while the book by no means serves as a guide as to how you should dress, it does tell you enough about different styles and how they have failed, succeeded or been developed that you can make your own decisions.

There is something to be enjoyed, and appreciated, in every picture but especially in some of the remarkable images of people like the Duke of Windsor; whether you are interested in a readable history of the suit, or simply in an attractive coffee-table book littered with excellent photographs, this book is a very worthwhile purchase.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Style Icon: Tom Wolfe

I'm reading The Bonfire of the Vanities at the moment, so it seemed like a good time to mention the unusual style icon that is Tom Wolfe.
Wolfe adopted the white suit as his trademark after accidentally buying one too heavy for summer in the American South and deciding to wear it in winter. He enjoyed the attention that this attracted, and has worn only white suits ever since, albeit in a number of different styles, including this unusual 6x1 double-breasted.

If only wearing suits of one colour seems boring, Wolfe livens it up with a wide array of interesting shirts (such as the club-collared one in this photo), ties and pocket squares as well as, occasionally, two-tone shoes or a white homburg.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

101 easy ways to dress better. No. 3: Wear less black

Wearing black suits before 6pm has traditionally been appropriate only at funerals. For some reason though, more and more people seem to be wearing black as their main business suits. I can't fully explain its popularity, but I think it may partly be the increasing association of black suits with attractive celebrity men.

The trouble is that it's easier to look good in a black suit when you're trim and tanned and wearing a white shirt open at the neck, and also when you're mostly photographed in the evening clutching a cocktail. For those of us who have a healthy English pallor and mostly wear suits in a city boardroom, black is less of a good choice. It flatters few men's skin tones and, while you may think it is a 'safe' colour, it actually doesn't serve as a particularly good background for coloured shirts, ties, or pocket squares.

Dark grey or dark blue is a far more stylish choice for daytime, especially if you only own a couple of suits. There may well be a time to add a black suit to your wardrobe but it's only going to come when you've got the basics covered and, when it does, you still probably want to keep black mainly for evening events.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The useful blazer project

The double-breasted blue blazer is a wardrobe staple, and an incredibly handy item of clothing. Wearing one is a good way of making an effort, but it has a sporty informality that helps to avoid looking over-dressed. Amazingly, I didn't actually own one until last December, when I found myself going to a series of semi-formal Christmas events, and decided my wardrobe was lacking an appropriate blazer. The run up to Christmas isn't generally a good time for me to be buying expensive clothes, so I ended up falling back on Marks & Spencer, a surprisingly good source of better than average ready-to-wear clothes. My first few suits were from M&S and they're extremely well made for a very reasonable price, so it seemed like the obvious place to go for a blazer at about 1/5th the price of a Ralph Lauren or Brooks Brothers one.

Matched with sober accessories for a business lunch

The problem (or not, in my view) with buying ready-to-wear clothes is that they generally need some adjustments or improvements, whether it's just a few tweaks to make them fit better, or changing some more egregious fault to bring them in to line with your tastes. Personally, I don't see this as a problem at all because I enjoy finding good value clothes and then making small improvements to them, with the whole result still costing much less than what I might have paid for tailor-made.

In the case of my M&S blazer, I decided to have the body very slightly adjusted to give a bit more shape at the waist and, more self-indulgently, to replace its very ordinary plain brass buttons with a set featuring the crest of my West End Club. My plan is to get this done at a local tailor, WG Child and Sons, which appears to have been in existence for well over 100 years and is now so out of place in it's rather down-market surroundings that it has attracted my attention and I have, for a while, been eager to try them out. A simple adjustment job like this isn't a great test, I suppose, but it should at least give me an excuse to meet them and get a feel for what they can do.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Lightweight tweed for spring

My second order from ASuitThatFits is a lightweight tweed jacket to serve me for a number of events through Spring. Tweed is incredibly versatile, looking as good with cords and a tie as it does with an open shirt and jeans, which means it suits me perfectly. It ought to be something I can wear easily in my fairly casual office environment, to stay in the country, or to a weekend lunch.

This jacket is a two button in mid-brown, slightly less green than many tweeds, with cream and light blue check. Small amounts of blue is quite common in tweed and I really like it, especially for something that I will often wear with jeans or (I am hoping) with a new pair of sky-blue cords I got for Christmas. Worn with a fairly muted shirt and pocket square, the jacket also makes a nice background for this vibrant blue tie.

Friday, 22 January 2010

101 easy ways to dress better. No. 2: Undo your bottom button

This particular bit of advice will probably seem obvious to most of the readers of this blog, but the number of otherwise well-dressed men I see around London with all their suit buttons done up (or, worse, only the bottom button) suggests that the point is still worth making.

You might well argue that surely a suit has buttons on the front because they are designed to be done up, and leaving one undone is purely a style convention that you are free to ignore? Well, not really. Suits, like most clothes, have any number of elements that are essentially functionless and should remain so. The bottom button on your suit has been merely decorative for so long that it is almost certain that the suit will not actually be cut in such a way that it can do up neatly, and this is the real point of this post. Quite apart from any subjective feelings about style conventions, modern suits simply aren't designed to be worn with the bottom button done up.

The above picture (stolen from another site, for which I apologise) demonstrates my point quite clearly. The top button on a two button suit, or the middle button on a three button suit, is positioned at your waist - the area between your ribcage and your hips that is, or ought to be, the narrowest point on your torso. Fastening a button at your waist pinches the suit in slightly here and gives an attractive and neat silhouette. Below this, as you can see in the picture, the edges of the jacket part slightly as the jacket widens over the hips, meaning that the second button is at least an inch from it's buttonhole. Forcing the two together to do up the button would ruck up the material between the first and second button, it would distort the way the bottom of the suit jacket lies, and it would create a second pinch around your hips, ruining the silhouette and making you look 'pear-shaped'.

A small change but one that will make you, at a stroke, better dressed than about 50% of men I see in London.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Classic Drink: Single Malt

Single Malt, perhaps the Gentleman's drink. It's as complex and diverse as wine but, like wine, you can know as little or as much about it as you want, and still enjoy it hugely.

Most bars in England lack a good range of Single Malts. Even the smartest bars may have a couple of very nice varieties, but are unlikely to stock the breadth and range that you'd find in many pubs in Scotland. That's a shame because, while I've certainly got some favourites, one of the real joys of drinking Whisky is trying new varieties.

When you are choosing a bottle, either in a shop or in a bar, one of the first things to look out for is that it ought to say Single Malt prominently on the label. If it doesn't, it may be either Pure Malt (a selection of Single Malts from a number of distilleries) or a Blended Whisky (a mix of malt and grain whiskies). Both of these can in fact be perfectly good, and sometimes excellent, but this article is about Single Malts.

The next main thing to look out for is the age. Generally speaking, the older the better (and the more expensive) but this is by no means foolproof. In any case, many of the best whiskies, the 'cask strength', will not have an age on them at all, as they have tiny amounts of young whiskies blended into them to perfect the taste. They may, instead, have the dates of distilling and bottling. These are often an excellent choice as they will generally be a limited run taken from a single cask that has been identified as a particularly good batch, and then bottled without being diluted, making them a good bit stronger thank most.

You could also look for a whisky that has been matured in different types of casks. The Balvenie Double Wood is an excellent example, matured first in a whisky cask and then in a sherry cask, so it takes on some of the flavour of sherry. Rum, port wine and other casks are also common.

Finally, when you've chosen, it ought to be served straight up in a short tumbler. In a good bar in England, and almost any bar in Scotland, they may give you a small jug of water to dilute your drink with. While diluting whisky may seem bizarre, the addition of a tiny amount of water can actually open up the flavour and greatly improve the drink.

It's a great after dinner drink, and complimented perfectly by a bar of dark chocolate. And cuban cigars, of course.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

101 easy ways to dress better. No. 1: Proper Shoes

If you read a lot of men's style blogs, it would be easy to get the impression that dressing well requires spending thousands of pounds on bespoke suits, hand-made shoes and seven-fold silk ties. There's nothing wrong with that, and I certainly aspire to dress like Will one day, but in the meantime it's perfectly possible to dress really well on a much smaller budget. That's the aim of this new series, which was inspired by one of the best-dressed men I know who told me that 'people like series'. I hope that's true, and I hope you enjoy this one. I also hope I can think of 101 items. If not, one day you'll see that this post has been discretely edited to say '23 easy ways...' and we'll never speak of it again.

I've been told a number of times that you can tell a lot about a man by his shoes, and I can increasingly see the truth in this. It's almost universally true that a man wearing decent shoes will have taken care over the rest of his dress, whereas plenty of men wearing lovely suits take no care at all over their shoes, and the effect is spoiled. It's perhaps easy to see why you might assume that so long as you are wearing something black and made of leather on your feet, noone really notices the difference, but this is not the case. Ignoring the elements of your outfit that you don't consider important makes your dress look superficial and incomplete. Keep the trendy footwear with seams running down the front to wear with jeans, and get a decent pair of classic goodyear welted, leather soled dress shoes to wear with your suit. If you only wear a suit occasionally, a single pair of plain black Oxfords will serve you brilliantly, and can be worn with almost anything, including a dinner suit.

Image property of Barker Shoes

I recommend Barker. Visit their new store on Jermyn street and you can pick up some excellent shoes for around £130, which is a small price to pay for making you look considerably better dressed with no effort at all.

Monday, 18 January 2010

When a tie isn't required - indulge yourself

I can probably count on one hand the number of public restaurants in London that still require a tie at dinner. Nevertheless, I prefer to dress up a bit when I go out, and not wearing a tie seems a shame. Instead, I find that a relatively casual dinner with friends, when a tie isn't really required, is a good chance to wear something a bit more unusual.

This particular one was given to me by my father and is a really lovely loose knitted woolen tie in dark red (it looks a bit orange here, but that's poor photo quality I'm afraid). It's too casual for many occasions, although it does look great with a plain grey suit, but I find it's perfectly suited to wearing out to dinner with this rather worn black blazer for an effect that's reminiscent of evening wear, but still firmly at the 'casual' end of 'smart-casual'.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Cad and the Dandy: First review

Last November, I managed to ruin my black tie trousers by slipping and tearing a hole in one knee; a hole which probably cannot be repaired to a level that will make the trousers acceptable to wear again as my primary dinner suit. I can almost certainly buy some new ones from the original store, and ought to get a good enough match on the fabric, but this accident did open up again the possibility of buying an entirely new dinner suit, something I've been thinking about for a while.

For a start, my old dinner suit is an off-the-peg one. It's very nice, and was adjusted when I bought it to give a reasonable fit, but I have noticed that the collar has a tendency to sit away from my neck if it is not regularly adjusted. The result, I suppose, of a poor fit across the shoulders, and a constant frustration at a dinner party when you really ought to be entirely comfortable in your clothes.
A suit that does not quite fit

So, I decided that a new suit was required, and this time it would have to be tailor made to my measurements. Furthermore, I would take the opportunity to get a double breasted suit. Partly because this would mean I could replace or repair my other trousers and have two different styles of dinner suit, and partly because I happen to really like double breasted dinner suits. Unlike with a business suit, with dinner suits single breasted is seen as more formal, double breasted being more related to a smoking jacket. However, it is precisely this more relaxed, informal feel that I like.

As far as getting it tailor made goes, I initially considered going back to ASuitThatFits. However, they have two examples of their dinner suits in their 'reviews' section, and I can't say I like them very much. They appear only to offer satin facings, and the results look cheap and nasty. In any case, for a while now I have been keen to try out another tailor who provides a similar service to ASuitThatFits. Cad & The Dandy, much like ASuitThatFits, offer what I would describe as 'Made-To-Measure Plus'. It's not quite bespoke, but the level of service and range of customisation available makes it slightly more than Made-To-Measure, in my view. However, Cad & The Dandy have some crucial differences to ASuitThatFits which made them more attractive to me.

Firstly, C&TD have a much simpler pricing structure. Instead of starting with a basic price and then charging a small amount extra for every change you make; £2 here for an extra button, £20 there for a different lining, etc, their prices essentially only vary depending on the fabric you choose and the construction method (more on which later). Things that, at ASTF, are either expensive optional extras (like working cuffs) or simply unavailable (like a half-canvassed construction) are standard at C&TD. The result is that while a fairly basic suit at ASTF could certainly be very cheap, any amount of customisation pushes the price up to the point that it would be comparable to, or even more expensive than, a C&TD suit. Factor in the half-canvassed construction as standard, and suddenly C&TD seems like better value.

C&TD have recently opened a proper store in The City, where they do fittings Monday to Friday. However, they are also available twice a week from premises beneath Scabal on Savile Row. It is there that I went this morning to be measured for my dinner jacket. I must say, I was immediately very impressed. The whole experience of being measured for a suit in premises on Savile Row is a wonderful one and Ian, one of the co-founders of C&TD, only enhanced this by his attentive service. My appointment took a full hour, the result of Ian taking the time to fully explain the order and construction process and the options available to me, before going through their wide range of fabrics (far more than are on the site, by the way) and then measuring me and taking my order. Going back to the construction options that I mentioned, Ian explained to me that they have three different levels. The half-canvassed, machine stitched, construction is standard. For an extra £150 you can get half-canvassed and hand stitched, while for an extra £300 you get a full floating canvass, and an entirely hand stitched suit. Furthermore, for this top end option, the suit will be cut and initially assembled on Savile Row, allowing you to have a basted fitting before it is sent off for stitching in China. This strikes me as extremely good value for a service and quality that would be relatively close to getting a bespoke Savile row suit.

What pleased me most about Cad And The Dandy, though, was the love and enthusiasm that Ian obviously had for his business. He seemed rightly proud of the fact that they carefully source all their fabric from English mills, and was able to give sensible and helpful advice on selecting options and fit. I shall be interested to see what the service is like when I return to try the suit on and, of course, I very much look forward to seeing how it actually turns out. My first meeting has set me up with high expectations but, if C&TD can meet them, I suspect this will be the first of many orders I will place with them.

(Update: Part 2 of the Cad and the Dandy review now available here)

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Accessories: Umbrella

Given the weather that greeted me this morning, today seems like as good a day as any to talk about umbrellas.

In London especially, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has spent any amount of time here, a plain black umbrella used to be such a ubiquitous accessory that they have become a symbol for businessmen in general, and bankers in particular.

Such a useful tool can't possibly go out of fashion, but it's certainly much less common to see them being carried, furled, on a day that shows no particular sign of rain beyond the general unpredictability of British weather. In part this may be because those people who do like to be prepared against bad weather are more likely to tuck one of those tiny folding umbrellas into their bag or briefcase, and in part it may be because men are less inclined to be encumbered by clothes and accessories that require keeping an eye on when out and about.

I can't help feeling this is a shame, and I prefer to see a furled umbrella, carried even when it's not raining, as both a practical precaution and also a classic and stylish accessory. Whether carried like a walking stick, held in the centre as you stride through crowds, or hooked over an elbow as you examine your race card; a good black umbrella needn't be an uncumbrance, and you (and anyone with you) will be extremely grateful for it when it does end up raining.

My own, a gift from some friends, is a classic city umbrella from James Smith and Sons, who I cannot reccomend highly enough. It's black, of course, with the traditional 'whangee' handle, ten spokes (rather than the more usual eight), and a wooden tip capped in sterling silver. The band that holds the spokes together when it's furled is brass, I think, and my friends had it engraved with my initials, which is a nice touch. Go and get yourself one!

Monday, 11 January 2010

A dark blue suit for the evening

At the end of the first decade of the 20th century, a man didn't have to worry much about how he dressed for the evening. In his club, or at an event at which only men were present, Black Tie was acceptable. At almost anything else, only White Tie would do.

One hundred years later, things are not nearly so clear cut. Only the most formal of evening events requires Black Tie and, at most, a suit will suffice. That's fine, but it does make it seem worthwhile having a suit that's a little bit different to everyday office wear for such occasions.

My new purchase for these events is a navy blue self-stripe three-piece. Dark blues are particularly good for an evening event and are, generally speaking, better than black for anything other than a dinner jacket. Having the stripes in the same colour adds texture to the suit without an overly distracting pattern. It's an ideal suit to wear with bright accessories like this beautiful tie and pocket square (both recent gifts from my brother).

Three piece suits have a particular advantage at parties in that wearing a waistcoat means you will continue to look smart even if you remove your tie and/or jacket later on in the evening. Of course, you ought not to, but we all know that after a few hours of dancing, the temptation to remove your jacket often becomes overwhelming, and if you are wearing a waistcoat you will be grateful not to have your smart outfit reduced to a sweaty shirt billowing around your midriff.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Classic Drink: Dry Gin Martini

I enjoy leafing through a thick drinks menu in a good cocktail bar and picking out something I've never drunk before, carefully crafted by a skilled mixologist. However, the cocktail bars that can do this well are few and far between, and the majority will simply churn out the same few staples with little skill or flair. In any case, there is a time and a place for flamboyantly named and unusual cocktails, and it's well worth being able to order a few classic drinks, which any hotel or airport bar worth its salt will be able to serve.

The first in this list has to be the dry gin martini. It's one of almost infinite variations on the martini, but it's a solid choice and has the benefit of avoiding looking like a James Bond wannabe by ordering something overly complex. Sadly, it is a drink often made very badly. So, here are some instructions, either so you can make it yourself, or so that you can check that your bartender is doing it properly.

What to ask for: A dry gin martini

  • Take a cocktail glass, fill it almost to the top with crushed ice and top up with water. Place to one side.
  • Take a mixing glass and fill it with cubed ice.
  • Add a single shot of dry vermouth. Stir the ice and vermouth gently, with the intention of coating all the ice in vermouth.
  • Strain the vermouth into the sink, retaining the ice in the cocktail shaker.
  • Add a double measure of gin. As this drink is almost neat gin, it's worth choosing a brand you really like. I recommend Tanquery, but it's really up to you.
  • Stir the gin and ice.
  • Empty the ice and water out of your cocktail glass, and strain the gin into it.
  • Add olives on a cocktail skewer. I like to have 3, but more stingy bars might only give you one. A twist of lemon peel is an acceptable alternative, although I'm not a fan personally.

Pringles optional.

Other alternatives are not to ask for the martini dry, in which case the vermouth should be actually left in the drink in a ration of 1 part to four parts gin, as opposed to simply being used to coat the ice. My preference is to order the martini 'dirty', which means adding a small amount of brine from the olives to the gin when it is stirred.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Grooming: The Usefulness of Badgers

I can't say I particularly like shaving. Spending time making myself look nice is one thing, but spending time every morning simply returning myself to the same state of grooming I was in 24 hours earlier is just a bit depressing. Still, I suppose one can at least take a certain amount of pleasure in the ritual of shaving, and using the right tools and products for a good result.

Unchallenged at the top of the list of 'right tools' sits one at least two hundred years old, and still unbeaten for achieving the best possible result. A good quality badger hair shaving brush is an absolute must for any man, and if you're thinking of spending money on designer grooming products then I'd seriously recommend a trip to one of the traditional Gentleman's Perfumers of St James's to pick up a shaving brush. I highly reccomend Taylors of Old Bond Street or Geo F Trumper, but there are a number of others in the area.

A shaving brush is traditionally, and best, accompanied by a dish of solid shaving soap, which is then worked into a lather with the brush and applied to the face. This isn't tradition for tradition's sake - the advantages of shaving with a brush are myriad: The shaving soap cleanses your face as you shave, and is far better for it than most gels or foams. Badger hair is chosen specifically because it holds large amounts of water - applying the soap with lots of hot water softens hairs, making for an easier and more comfortable shave. At the same time, the action of the brush lifts hairs, allowing you to get a closer shave.

There are several types of badger hair brushes; the main difference being where on the badger they were taken from, which affects the softness and water-retention of the hair. This is undeniably important, but it also greatly affects the price and a large silvertip brush can cost over £100. On the other hand, for only around £20 you can easily pick up a small pure badger brush and still get the best shave you've ever had.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

A Silk Scarf

Given the weather across most of the UK today, it seemed like a good time to mention one of my first new purchases of 2010, a silk scarf. I've been looking out for one for a while, and, while I was tempted by a polka dot one from somewhere like Paul Smith and Aspinal of London, what I really wanted was one in a traditional Paisley pattern. They're a bit more interesting, and, if I'm going to wear a silk scarf, it may as well be a colourful one. Sadly, these sorts of scarves seem to be slightly harder to find.

In the end, I found this fetching red and blue one. As seems to be common with this sort of scarf, it's printed silk on one side, and plain blue wool on the other. This gives it a bit more weight, and probably makes it warmer too, which is nice. Silk is surprisingly warm anyway and, even when it's not tightly tied, as below, it makes a big difference against the wind and snow.

Like anything, it's probably not something to wear every day, and I shan't stop falling back to a very conservative charcoal grey cashmere scarf a lot of the time, but the paisley certainly brightens up your outfit when you're wrapped up in a dark overcoat.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

'Fun' Socks

Every public schoolboy, City banker and succesful barrister knows that the rule about matching your socks to your trousers is made to be broken. So long as, and this is important, it is broken so absolutely, and so boldly, that it can only be deliberate. Wear blue socks with a grey suit and you run the risk that people will think you can't dress yourself. Wear bright red socks with a flower motif, though, and you'll probably get away with it.

My most 'fun' socks come from Paul Smith. So far they've all been gifts (thank you to my siblings and their kindness and good taste for the last couple of Christmases) and they vary from some classic Paul Smith colourful stripes to the bright and wacky patterns in the picture above.

I think these kind of socks go especially well with more casual outfits, such as the odd trousers and brown brogues above, but they can be perfectly acceptable with a suit, so long as you judge the occasion right.

A few things that might be worth considering:
  • Don't wear them all the time. If you're best known for your colourful socks then your life probably needs a drastic rethink.
  • Get the situation right. Not all bosses will appreciate you wearing pink socks to a client meeting.
  • Don't go overboard. Wearing your most fun socks with your most unusual suit, brightest tie and snazziest pocket square will make you look like an idiot. Whenever you wear one unusual item of clothing, everything else needs to be fairly conservative.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Accessories: Fountain Pen

Men are generally pretty restricted on jewelry and accessories. Generally a signet ring, wedding ring and watch are about as far as you can go. All kinds of bangles and necklaces are becoming more popular, and there's nothing especially wrong with something simple and tasteful, but men will certainly find it harder to justify extra jewelry.

One option is often overlooked, perhaps because it can't easily be put on display all the time, but that is in fact one of it's best features. A well-made fountain pen isn't flash or attention grabbing, it may only come out briefly to sign a receipt or a cheque, or be used discretely at business meetings. However, when the opportunity does come to use a fountain pen, you will be glad to have an appropriately beautiful one to hand, and can be sure that doing so will mark you out as a gentleman with real style.

I have long been a fan of writing in fountain pen, and have been on the lookout for a chance to make the step up from my current range of fairly ordinary Parker steel-nibs to something a bit more special. As related in a previous post, I had my eye on an Aspinals pen but am very glad that I made a much wiser choice and selected a Parker Duofold in black.

I'd hesitate to try and review this pen - I'm not sure I know nearly enough about pens to know the criteria by which to review them and, in any case, choosing a pen is really a personal thing. For anyone who does intend buying a new fountain pen, I'd strongly recommend visiting a good boutique, such as PenFriends in the Burlington Arcade, and picking one with the help of an expert.

As far as the Duofold goes, it's exactly what I wanted. Slightly heavier than similarly priced Mont Blancs, which I found too light and flimsy-feeling, it's got the simple, classic look that I was after (although there are much fancier designs available, if you like that kind of thing). It's trimmed in 23 carat gold, with a gold and platinum nib, and the difference in writing quality between this and one of the cheap parker steel-nibbed pens is incredible. It's made writing my Christmas thank you letters almost a pleasure.

Now, go out and get yourself a decent fountain pen. It'll last you a lifetime and make handwriting really something to be relished.