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.