Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Resoling

Following on from my post about soles a couple of weeks ago, I thought a brief mention of resoling might be in order.

One of the tricky things about owning leather-soled shoes is the need to get them regularly resoled at some expense. For those of us with more money than sense, shoes can usually be sent back to the manufacturer to be completely rennovated but, in reality, just getting them resoled as they wear through is more than adequate. The difficulty is finding somewhere that will do a decent job of replacing the soles without charging more than the shoes cost in the first place.

The best bet is to have a look at other shoes they've done - there ought to be some kicking around - and check that you're happy that the soles are neatly stitched, made of decent quality leather, and that the edges have been trimmed and polished.

I was delighted to discover a place in Putney, not far from where I live, staffed by the sort of elderly gentleman who inspires instant confidence in his ability to do a cracking job. I was even more pleased when they quoted me just £35 to half-resole and to replace the heels.



Half refers to the way the replacement sole only covers the area that is actually in contact with the floor (and therefore wears down). It looks slightly less neat to anyone who might happen to be looking at the soles of your shoes, but is much cheaper as it doesn't require the removal of the entire heel.

Anyway, Cobblers of Putney did a terrific job and I shall certainly be going back.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Polo Coat - Completed

Cad and the Dandy, true to their word, got me the polo coat finished in time for my trip to the US. I was glad they did, as Washington was extremely cold for at least a couple of the days I was there.



I could not be more pleased with the coat. It's exactly what I was after. The cloth is a lovely golden colour, and soft without being either too delicate or too heavy. The herringbone pattern is subtle, but just noticeable enough to add a bit of interest.

It fits perfectly, although this is shown off best when I'm wearing a jacket underneath, as I asked to have it cut to wear over a suit. This means if I wear it with only a jumper, it's very slightly too large in the shoulders, but there's no real way to avoid that, and it's the kind of coat that looks fine without being perfectly fitted anyway. Besides, I'm happy to mostly wear it with a jacket.




The thing I like about it most, and which also seems to get the most attention, is the length. Almost no modern coats go below the knees, but this one comes right down to the top of my calves, which is exactly what is needed for a polo coat. I think such a relatively heavy garment, especially as it's double-breasted, would look unbalanced if it were much shorter. In any case, it would fail to keep my knees warm when standing on the edges of a freezing cold polo pitch.




We went for hand-stitching around the lapels, and all down the front edge of the coat. This is more than just a style feature as Cad and the Dandy actually recommended it to help hold the heavy material together and make the coat more durable. I hadn't really considered that as a factor, and wouldn't otherwise have gone for the it as I'm not particularly bothered by visible stitching. However, it's good to get that sort of advice and, in the end, I think it looks really nice anyway.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Hero of the week: Colonel Barry Jenkins, Royal Artillery

A number of British news sources are reporting on an amusing news story today. It seems that Colonel Barry Jenkins, of the Royal Artillery, sent a lengthy email to be distributed to his younger officers giving them some advice on dress. Most of the papers have predictably focused on a single throwaway remark he made at the very end about taking Princes William and Harry as a model for good civilian dress. I find that far less interesting than the rest of his comments which, from the full copy I managed to track down, seems to contain a good deal of wisdom!

A few highlights:
"Only the middle button of a 3 button (M) suit is fastened. It is a coat not a tunic. If your suit has a belt, so be it, but a slim elegant leather suit belt and not a Harley Davidson Buckle Belt is to accompany it."

Top advice there. It's unbelievable how many men do up all the buttons on a suit but, as he references, it's perhaps understandable for officers used to a military tunic (on which all the buttons are fastened). Most of the papers have reported his advice to wear a 'slim elegant leather suit belt', but have missed a much more revealing phrase: 'If your suit has a belt, so be it'.
The point he is making (I assume) is that suits really look better without a belt, and should be held up by side adjustors and/or braces. However, he's absolutely right that if you are going to wear a belt, then slim, plain and discreet are vital.

"The tie should be correctly tied, close to the collar and checked regularly. The knot must not be big fat Grange Hill special or be seen adorning the neck of a semi finalist on the Apprentice (M&F). The tie should just reach over the waist belt, not 6 inches above or below."

Couldn't agree more. I wrote before about how little I like big knots in ties, and a fair few people disagreed with me, which is fine. However, the fact remains that the sort of traditional style espoused by Colonel Jenkins does ask for a smaller knot, and big knots (especially with shiny ties) will make you look like an Apprentice contestant or an estate agent. Your call.

"Oh yes, diving watches/laptop/GPS type watches furiously scrunched up against your shirt cuff look awful. Try and use a thin elegant dress watch"

I've not done much about watches because it's so much of a personal choice that I wasn't sure I could say much about it. I think the Colonel is right, however, that sporty watches don't do much for a suit, especially if they are too chunky to comfortably slide under the shirt cuff as you move your arm around. If you only wear a suit occasionally, and like a sportier watch the rest of the time, then I would still advocate finding a slim, fairly plain dress watch to wear with a suit. It really doesn't have to be expensive.

"We are a broad church and we should not exclusively ape the armed wing of Boden, Primark, Fat Face or New and Lingwood, but I am constantly amazed by what some think is acceptable dress. It is not just the quality but the untidy scruffy manner in which it is worn –this must sharpen up."

This is a great point, and one that was disingenuously trimmed by every single paper that covered the email. They all removed the words 'or New and Lingwood'. When you read it in full, you realise that the Colonel is not snobbishly condemning Boden, Primark and Fat Face. Rather, he is clarifying that he would not want his dress standards to create a regiment filled with identikit officers all dressing from a single store, whether that is Primark or New and Lingwood. As he goes on, it is not so much where a man shops that matters, or exclusively the quality of his clothes. Instead, it is about some basic standards in how collars fit, how ties are tied, how shirts are ironed, and so forth. This matters for soldiers, but it matters just as much for anyone who wants to look like an adult.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Food: Cornish Grill at Redhook



It's hard to beat a Sunday morning spent lazily working through the supplements while polishing off a couple of reviving Bloody Marys, especially if that is then followed by a late (and very lengthy) lunch.

Redhook, one of the restaurants owned by the Rushmore group, the people behind Milk and Honey in Soho and New York, have teamed up with Cornwall in your Kitchen, a supplier of top-quality meat and fish to London restaurants, to offer exactly that experience one Sunday a month. A couple of chefs from big-name restaurants, a four-course fixed menu of fantastic seafood and meat, and an invitation to show up early and enjoy the selection of newspapers and the make-your-owen bloody mary buffet? That's my idea of a Sunday well-spent.

Redhook follows the Rushmore Group recipe for success of creating a quirky but relaxed and comfortable environment, paying proper attention to making really good food and cocktails, and filling the place with friendly, knowledgable staff. It's such a simple formula, but so often ignored by other, much better-known bars and restaurants.


Image property of Redhook London.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Got sole

I'm always aware of how little most people seem to care about their footwear. Otherwise well-dressed men still wear the most apalling shoes. Perhaps they think that all black shoes are essentially the same. Unfortunately not. A good outfit can be ruined by shapeless shoes, made from dull leather that won't take a shine, with thin, bendy rubber soles.

People should care, though. As a starting point, it's worth giving some thought to how your shoe is constructed, and what this might mean.

Arguably the ne plus ultra of shoe construction, at least in the UK and the US, is the Goodyear welted shoe. Good shoe manufacturers will proudly advertise their shoes as Goodyear welted, so it won't be hard to spot, and this is not a bad indication of some level of quality.

What does it mean, though? Simply, that the leather upper is built with a welt, a strip of leather, running around the bottom edge. The sole is then stitched to this, with the stitches going all the way through the welt. This results in the sole extending by a few milimetres from the side of the shoe, and the stitches are visible running around the top. This can be faked, and sometimes is, but it's not too hard to spot. If the stitches are real thread (i.e. not molded into a rubber sole) and match up to stitches on the underside of the sole, then it's real goodyear welting.

The advantages all stem from not having the stitches going into the inside of the shoe. Firstly, this means that water drawn into the thread by capillary action doesn't end up in the shoe damaging the inner sole and getting your feet wet. In addition, when the time comes to resole the shoe, it's considerably easier to remove the old sole and stitch on a new one because there is no need to touch the upper or the interior of the shoe at all.

An alternative method, reputed to be more popular with Italian designers, is Blake Construction. In this method the sole is stitched directly up into the bottom of the shoe. The disadvantages are esentially the reverse of the advantages of Goodyear - the stitches are inside the shoe, meaning that water can be brought in, and it is somewhat harder to resole the shoe. It's not impossible, though, contrary to what some people might tell you.
The advantages of Blake construction are that there is no need for the sole to be any wider than the shoe itself. This allows for the narrower, lighter shoes that some Italian designers prefer.

Another option is for a cemented, or glued, sole. That sounds pretty unpleasant, and it's certainly not ideal, but it does have its place. The disadvantages are that the sole is glued firmly in place and therefore very difficult to remove and replace when worn down. The advantage, though, is that the sole can be extremely thin. This makes a glued sole best suited to evening shoes, as the fact that they are worn rarely (and mostly indoors) means they wear down very slowly, and they look most elegant when they are as slim as possible. Chunky soles on an evening shoe just looks wrong, as illustrated by the pictures below. The first is an Allen Alden evening shoe with a Goodyear welted sole (and open laces, which is not great, but never mind). The second is a Barker shoe with a cemented sole. My view is that, on a patent leather evening shoe, the cemented sole looks considerably better.



Other types of construction exist, although many are just variations on the above, but these are the most common and the ones you are most likely to need to choose between. Hopefully, this quick guide is of some use.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Style Icon: John F Kennedy

The timing of this post is actually somewhat of a coincidence. I was inspired to write it only after a recent trip to Washington, and after reading Stephen King's excellent new book, 11/22/63.Still, I obviously have to note that tomorrow is the anniversary of Kennedy's death. I can't comment in detail on Kennedy's politics, or what he was like personally, but that's not especially important. It is tragic that a young man, who put himself in harms way to serve his country, had what would likely have been a remarkable Presidency, and life, cut short by the actions of a deluded individual. Perhaps its a good moment to remember that behind all the political rhetoric, disagreement, and occasionally vicious arguments, are real people with families trying to make the world a better place as best they can.

It might seem odd me choosing JFK for this post. For one thing, he's credited with beginning the decline in men wearing formal hats after he appeared bare-headed at his inauguration speech.

That, fortunately, is as much a myth as him accidentally calling himself a donut. He did not wear a hat to give his speech, it is true, but he arrived looking splendid in full morning dress including a formal overcoat and a very lovely top hat.



Sartorial fault can be found elsewhere, though, in his unusual tendency to do up the bottom button on his jackets, a fundamental error in dressing.



However, this was a deliberate choice, an example of Kennedy's very personal, individual and almost careless style and elegance. Indeed, he actually had his suits tailored specifically to allow him to do this. The above photo illustrates the fastened bottom button, but more importantly shows off a terrific example of relaxed summer style. Like much of Kennedy's dress, it is classic Ivy League, with the white trousers, loafers, and brass buttons on the blazer.

Of course, like any great man, Kennedy knew when to stick more closely to convention and don proper formal wear, something that the current President could probably learn from. His evening dress in the picture below is absolutely flawless, and a great example of how to really pull off white tie. Note the rigidly starched shirts, which are very difficult to achieve nowadays, except at a very few specialist laundries.




I've bemoaned before the utterly bland dress sense of most modern politicians, terrified to be caught in anything but a plain charcoal or navy suit and, increasingly, reluctant to even wear a tie. Kennedy, managed to take pride in his appearance without it ever seeming to affect his ability to run the world's most powerful nation.



(I have never yet censored any non-spam comments on this, but I'll make it clear now that any discussion of conspiracy theories on this thread will be deleted without reply. It's not the place, and I'm not interested.)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Borrowed Heritage

Last year, while in New York, I noticed this Ralph Lauren Polo advert in a men's magazine:


Does the crest on that tie look at all familiar? I would say it bears an uncanny resemblance to the crest of a British school that is rather older than the USA itself.


If you look closely, you will probably determine that the Ralph crest is infact the mirror image of the Eton one.

This is hardly the only instance of this. When I visited the store, I saw that they had a whole series of ties that, um, 'closely reference' the crests of English Public Schools. None were described as such, presumably no permission was sought (or required?) and it seems unlikely that most purchasers knew or cared. They are simply a seemingly generic crest that gives that vague impression of educational privilege and sporting excellence that is a part of the Ralph Lauren brand.

Does it matter? Several of my friends argued that it doesn't. A wearer of the tie pictured above is not deliberately intending to give the impression that he attended Eton, any more than one of those people who insists on wearing a Guards tunic with his skinny jeans and converse intends to imply that he served in the army. It is simply fashion, and Ralph Lauren are by no means alone in appropriating exclusive symbols to sell to the wider public. New and Lingwood has built a well-respected business out of this very activity without doing any particular harm.

Yet I think a problem remains. Borrowing an old school crest isn't such a big deal, but it's indicative of a pre-packaged approach that bothers me. It's a shame that instead of individual style and heritage, shops offer a facsimile, more costume than anything. It's particularly a shame when this is done by quitly appropriating genuinely ancient symbols.

What do you think? Should anyone care when brands do this sort of thing?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Poppies





Photo property of Katariina Järvinen (http://www.flickr.com/photos/katariinajarvinen/5799935426/)

Those in the UK and several other countries will start to see the annual bloom of poppies on coat lapels over the next week. While there's undeniably a certain amount of social obligation behind it, I find it impressive that this symbol still unites the whole nation nearly a century after the armistice. It is, of course, more relevant than ever and it's moving to see a whole stream of commuters queuing up to buy poppies from a heavily-medalled sergeant at Waterloo station.

It's appropriate to wear the poppy from when it goes on sale at the beginning of November, up until Armistice Day or Remembrance Sunday, although it's unlikely anyone would take offence if you wore one outside of these dates.

Of course, the choice to wear a poppy or not is entirely a personal one, and noone should feel forced into it by social pressure. However if you are attending a remembrance service or a military event of some kind, courtesy probably dictates that you make the effort to wear a poppy, and preferably a new and uncrumpled one.

Men conventionally wear the poppy on their left breast, and ladies on their right, although this distinction is often ignored these days. I believe it is also acceptable for ladies in military uniform to wear the poppy on their hat, but no doubt their own service guidelines will provide the best advice in this case.

The important thing, of course, is not the etiquette but the gesture of a small donation and of common acknowledgement of our national gratitude to our armed forces. For this reason, I can't help feeling that extra-large poppies or ones made of fabric or metal are perhaps less appropriate. Since neither style nor permanence should be a consideration, the standard paper (or plastic, in Canada) poppy remains the simplest and most dignified symbol.

You may note that this blog has been a long-time supporter of Help for Heroes, another charity which does amazing work with injured soldiers from recent conflicts. This might be an appropriate time to consider making a small donation, and you will be able to do so using the link at the top right of this page.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The completed jacket, and my modelling career

My Cad and the Dandy jacket was finished a while ago, but I've been lacking a decent photo of me in it. I had hoped to make use of some that were taken at a garden party back in August, but it seems I spent my entire time either with my eyes closed or with half a canape stuffed in my mouth. Not the sort of elegance we're after on this blog.

It's actually a little ironic that I don't have any photos of me in the jacket, seeing as I recently wore it for a Cad and the Dandy photoshoot, to help them produce some material for their website. They've promised me one of the resulting photos to use on the blog but, in the meantime, here is a video in which I feature (briefly and somewhat strangely) wearing the new jacket. Don't ask me what the newspaper was about, although I can tell you the final photo does work better than you might think!



(The very paranoid amongst my readers might question whether my volunteering as an occasional Cad and the Dandy model makes me a less objective blogger, or suggests some sort of suspicious business relationship between me and them. All I would say is that I volunteered to be a model because I like Cad and the Dandy, and I like Cad and the Dandy because they make terrific suits. I wouldn't have gone back after the first couple if I wasn't extremely happy with them, and if I continue to write positively about them then it is entirely hearfelt. They have only a passing awareness of or interest in this blog and have never tried to influence what I write. Nor would I let them. Nuff said, I trust.)

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Polo Coat

Summer, confusingly, seems to be back upon us in the UK. Still, no doubt it won't be long before the cold and rain returns and, when it does, I plan to be properly equipped with a new coat from Cad and the Dandy.

I already own an overcoat and a covert coat (for a slightly inadequate explanation of the difference, read this old blog post). What I don't own, and have always hankered after, is a proper polo coat.



As with many items of clothing, a polo coat is defined less now by its original function (keeping polo players warm between chukkas, it seems) and more by certain specific features. Some variation is probably 'permissable', but the more of these features it has, the more of a proper polo coat it is.

Firstly, it must be double-breasted. I think that's pretty much non-negotiable, if it's to be a polo coat. Like a double-breasted suit, it should have peaked lapels, and generally a buttonhole on both sides. However, it is associated with sport and therefore more casual than a simple double-breasted overcoat, so is almost always light brown, camel or fawn, and has patch pockets. It should come to slightly below the knee, and may have a half-belt or even a full belt, although that is perhaps less common.


Cad and the Dandy have promised to make me look like this chap. Fact.

The most proper place for a polo coat is at a sporting event, including the races. However, as a less formal winter coat I expect to be able to wear it with casual clothes, or even with a suit. It's a versatile garment and has that great feature of coats that it doesn't have to match what's being worn underneath in colour, style or level of formality.

My own will be made of a very slightly lighter cloth than the traditional coats, to make it more versatile, especially in London which is generally several degrees warmer than elsewhere in the country. It will also, in a slightly unusual take on the general style, have a subtle herringbone pattern, which I think will work nicely.



It should be ready in time for a trip to New York in November, when I expect it will come in very handy indeed.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Guest Post - Why style should never be costume

I can only apologise for the recent dearth of posts. A number of 'real-life' issues have recently occupied much of my time, and it's been hard to focus on the blog. I do have a number of posts coming up, though, and I appreciate all your continued visits, comments and emails!

In the meantime, one of my long-time readers has kindly offered to fill the gap with this guest post:

Why style should never be costume

Jake’s earlier post on wearing a jacket without a tie got me thinking. Thinking hard. The innumerable fashion rules that have built up over the years are about as useful as they are subjective and contradictory. The more I read and see and try on clothes (and experiment with whole styles at a time), the more I realize what a limited impact style ‘rules’ can, and ought, to have.

There are of course times when a good style guide is indispensible: your first black tie event. If you are so fortunate, even your first white tie event. Beyond that I feel they occupy a shaky patch of ground. Aside from such situations that need absolute ‘dos and don’ts,’ rules of style should provide no more (and please, no less,) than a helpful guiding hand – something to second-guess your occasional less well thought through instincts with. One might ask a friend what they thought of an outfit, but would you let them dress you? If the answer is yes, stop reading and come back in a few years. If not, then why would you let a set of rules have such an impact? Worse still, the rules have no idea who you are. Ignoring black/white tie occasions, style is used best as an extension of your own self, and when it comes to personality one size does not fit all.

Deep down, other people know this. It is why they avoid men who frequently wear excessively jazzy ties, (and use the word ‘jazzy’ to describe them) – their personalities will often prove to be similarly excessive and irritating. Fakery can be spotted a mile off as well. A man who wears a contrast collared shirt with a diamond stud tie-pin next to his pocket-watch chain and three-pointed pocket square, and who is not at least a minor royal, may be wearing everything the Ralph Lauren advert told him to, but comes across only as faintly greasy. Very few members of the male population look like Ralph Lauren models, and therefore sadly few of us have the build and facial structure to support such accoutrements. This is not to say that traditional smartness can be thrown by the roadside: clothes can be used to change your own mood and attitude along with how others perceive you, without a whiff of pretension. A general feeling of Monday morning malaise will be cut short by the ritual of putting on a suit and tie. Similarly, no matter how lazy you feel on the inside, a well fitting suit that matches the shirt, tie and shoes projects the image of a composed and competent man.

Given how varied we all are, shifts in fashion should be regarded as essentially irrelevant. Skinny fit suits were fashionable, but if you ever played Rugby in your life they probably did not look good. Double-breasted suits are seeing a resurgence now, but will look just as good on some as they did before, and as unflattering on others as they always have. ‘Mad Men style’ suiting has been popular for some time, but adjusting what you wear to account for this will neither impress your boss nor make members of the sex that interests you any more likely to be interested by you. Dressing to suit fashions really serves only to boost your confidence, a boost unnecessary to those who have a real grip on their own personal style. Chasing the endless changes to the appropriate lapel width for a suit will only result in the feeling of style slipping constantly through your fingers. If Tom Ford, for instance, feels that he looks best in a dark suit with an open necked white shirt then that’s good for him: he does. He has the charisma, looks and style at other occasions to pull it off with plenty of margin to spare. Telling him he would look better with a tie is as absurd as it would be to tell Gordon Brown he would have looked sexier and more charismatic without one.

This is of course a sprawling topic, with exceptions and examples to be found in every corner of Google images. In general though, there is only one hard and fast style rule*. A style guide might stop you from looking your worst, but it will never have you looking your very best.
*Never wear black shoes with jeans.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Style Icon: Sebastian Flyte

Lord Flyte (and I am referring to the Anthony Andrews incarnation here. Accept no substitutes.) is nostalgia personified. He is the past we all wish we'd had (even if he has a future we'd rather avoid) - a past of magnificent houses, lazy summers and, of course, elegant clothes.

Clothes are important in the book and tv series. Charles Ryder is advised to dress at Oxford as he would at a country house (not bad advice, so far as it goes), and does so with a mix of tweed suits and Fairisle jumpers. It is one of the signs of his falling in with the 'wrong' crowd when he begans to ape Sebastian's style of dressing, much to cousin Jasper's annoyance.


Sebastian dresses, at least in the television series, with unstudied elegance. He also appears to have an endless wardrobe, rarely if ever appearing in the same suit twice. Having a wide enough selection of clothes that you can be dressed flawlessly, and not merely acceptably, for any occasion is a great situation to be in, and one that Sebastian takes full advantage of. Whether it's a soft grey three piece (and the ubiquitous OE tie) worn around his country house, or shades of cream and white for a long lunch in his college digs, Sebastian manages precisely the mix of flamboyance and classic good taste that is so hard to get right.



Thursday, 28 July 2011

The scourge of enforced casual

I noticed an interesting story buried inside yesterday's Evening Standard about Peter Bingle, a PR man, who was banned from Soho House (one of London's new breed of modern private members' clubs) for wearing a suit. All very strange. It seems that Soho House, in keeping with its role as being the members' club for people in the creative industries, has decided to not only permit, but actually enforce a casual dress code.

How incredibly naff.

I have nothing against private clubs that permit a casual dress code. I am myself a member of both a 'traditional' private club, and a more modern one. The latter suits me when I want later opening hours, trendier cocktails, and not to have to wear a suit and tie. The former has a very different role. That's all fine, but one of the things I like about the more modern club is that I also know that if I happened to turn up in full white tie, neither the staff nor any of the other guests would so much as bat an eyelid. I simply cannot understand the sort of institutional insecurity that leads a private club to actually insist upon a casual dress code.

It is, of course, an attitude deeply ingrained in the creative world that Soho House was formed to serve. I should know, I work in the industry myself, and there is certainly an attitude in some quarters that casual dressing is not just permitted but actually required. Happily, though, this sort of pretentiousness seems to be losing traction and a few agency types, perhaps inspired by Mad Men, are beginning to see that dressing smartly doesn't prevent you from being 'cool', creative, or whatever it is they aspire to. Hopefully, people are finally beginning to ditch the idea that the suit represents conformity, The Man, being boring, and so forth. Instead, they may start to see the infinite possibility for variety and self-expression possible with good tailoring.

Perhaps then, Soho house will also appreciate that, by enforcing a casual dress code, they are pandering to exactly the sort of stale, desperate, conformity that they were, presumably, trying to keep out.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Jackets and ties

The other day, I got one of those bits of drive-by snark that most bloggers in this genre occasionally find left in their comments. Style is so utterly subjective that you don’t need to look far to find someone who disagrees with you, and little further to find someone who’ll express their disagreement in a short, uninteresting, and anonymous comment. Normally I’d ignore it, but this particular one suggested an idea for a post, and I’ve been short enough on posts of late that I thought I’d worth writing.

The comment was along the lines of ‘never wear a jacket without a tie' [Edit: I got this the wrong way round previously, meaning that the rest of the post made little sense. doh].

Well, it’s not terrible advice. To look their smartest, men should always wear a tie, and jackets tend to look better with something to cover the expanse of shirt which is otherwise on display.

The problem I have with this ‘advice’ is the same problem I have with any subjective opinion stated as an objective rule. Do jackets look better with a tie? Yes, often, but not always. Does that mean it’s somehow unacceptable to wear a jacket without a tie? Of course not. Suits look pretty bad without a tie in my view, as the smartness of the suit sits uncomfortably with the casualness of an open collar. The same isn’t necessarily true of a casual jacket or blazer, worn with jeans or chinos and brown shoes. Such an ensemble may have been unheard-of forty years ago but times move on and men, at least those who wish to look stylish and not merely ‘correct’, move with them.

Jeans, a shirt and a casual jacket is now the default smart-casual for most men, and a perfectly good option it is, yet it would look positively odd with a tie (I’ve seen it done, and it’s not a good look). Similarly, a man who works in a fairly casual environment, such as myself, can get away with sometimes wearing chinos and a tweed jacket without attracting anything but polite compliments. If I added a tie, I suspect I would tip over the edge into pomposity or even eccentricity.

The point always worth bearing in mind when dealing with people who insist on this sort of thing is that ‘rules’ for dressing well are often most beloved by people with no particular natural sense of style. I know I occasionally come across as dogmatic, but I suppose that is the nature of writing a blog like this, and I do my best to couch all my comments in terms of advice and guidelines, rather than rules for rules sake. Someone, I forget who, once said something to the effect that a man is not well dressed if he is not appropriately dressed. Stick to the dress standards of the 40s, and you may look smart but rarely stylish, and often simply odd. Accept that times change, but be guided by the best from decades past and don’t bend too easily to passing fads, and you are far more likely to be genuinely well-dressed.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A new jacket: The basted fitting

I returned to Cad and the Dandy over the weekend for the basted fitting of my new jacket. It's looking great, the cloth looks even better in a larger volume as the loud black and white check blends into a soft grey at a distance. Cad and the Dandy have, by now, got a pretty good idea of my fit, and fewer changes are needed. All the same, it's nice to have the opportunity to check everything. The shoulder width in particular is very hard to alter once the jacket has been made up, and moving the buttonholes is close to impossible, so the basted fitting is a particularly good opportunity to check these.


Even the lapel width could be tweaked at this point, but I'm perfectly happy with it as-is. In the end, the only changes necessary were to mark the shoulder position accurately, and to pin the chest to exactly where I want it. Getting these fine adjustments right without a basted fitting is difficult or impossible, and it is why it makes such a difference. Adjustments to a finished suit can make large improvements, but there is a limit to what they can fix.


After this, the whole jacket is ripped apart again, and sent to a coatmaker to finish. A handmade suit takes around 50 hours of work, and most of that is in the coat. It will, therefore, be at least a couple of weeks before I'm likely to get this back. A painful wait, I think.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Top Hats

Another Royal Ascot has been and gone and, this time, I made the wise decision to expensively upgrade my top hat from the rather poor example I wore in previous years.

Top hats come in a variety of different shapes, sizes and styles, and at least two colours. I wouldn't claim to be an expert on top hats, but here is some general guidance which I have picked up and which may be useful.


Black or Grey?
At Ascot, there is probably a slight slant towards black top hats, but there are still plenty of grey ones to be seen. Grey hats may be slightly more casual, but I am not aware of any event (with the possible exception of a strangely formal funeral) at which it would be unacceptable to wear a grey top hat. Grey top hats are a must with a matching grey morning suit, but otherwise the choice is entirely yours. My own preference is for a black hat, partly because good ones have a particular beautiful shine that grey hats lack, and partly because a black hat can also be worn with evening tails. Not that it is easy to do so without looking like a broadway chorus-singer, but it's a nice option to have.

Grey top hats are generally a little cheaper, it has to be said.

What material
This is where it gets more tricky. You have essentially three options in the 'serious' top hat range, by which I mean not a costume hat picked up for a fiver on a market stall.

Felt:
These can be made from fur felt or wool, and could be hand-made and quite expensive, or available for as little as £30. The key thing is that the black or grey covering has a matt finish, and a slightly furry texture. This looks fine in grey, but is a bit cheap-looking in black, and lacks the shine that is the hallmark of the proper Edwardian topper.

Melusine wool:
This is the next step up, and is what you will find on all decent quality new top hats sold by anyone from Moss Bros (for about £200) to Lock the Hatter (for closer to £400). In between, Ede and Ravenscroft, Hackett, Bates the Hatter and numerous other places also sell them. Most are hand-made and the visible difference between them is minimal. Melusine, when carefully brushed, has a shine that is close to that of silk, and this is as good as you are likely to be able to get from a new top hat.

Silk:
The top of the heap in top hat terms. Edwardian top hats were made of silk, and there are plenty scattered around second hand shops for a few hundred pounds or less. The issue is that larger hat sizes tend to be rarer, and therefore much more expensive. Some hatters, such as Lock, will do you a refurbished and refitted silk hat but, depending on your head size and the provenance of the hat, this is likely to set you back several thousand pounds. That said, a good silk hat does look fantastic, and is clearly a cut above even the best Melusine ones.


If you're likely to wear morning dress more than once or twice a year, owning a top hat is worth the investment. Even if you're not, it's a great thing to own and will give you a good excuse to seek out opportunities to wear it.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Retailer: Upper 10

One of the minor frustrations of a blog that achieves, while not exactly worldwide fame, at least a steady stream of visitors, is the spam. Blogger automatically detects a lot of it, and the rest I quickly spot and delete, so it's not that big a deal, but it is a bit irritating. Most of it is borderline nonsense and links to dubious websites selling poly-blend suits at rock-bottom prices.

So it did slightly attract my interest when I spotted some clear spam that seemed to point back to a serious business, Upper 10. A serious business located a stones throw from my old prep school, no less, in a nice part of the City of York. One friendly conversation with whoever monitors their twitter account, and I had forgiven them their SEO-related indiscretions and was intrigued by the company.


They focus on Gentleman's accessories and their range is small but well-selected, mostly made up of top brands in each category. I suspect you would find that they have more on sale in the shop itself, and it would certainly be worth a visit if you are ever in York.

The appeal of this company doesn't end there, though. Upper 10 actually seems to be the accessories-selling branch of Mullen and Mullen, a proper bespoke tailor run by the eponymous brothers. Yorkshire is home to some of the best cloth-makers in the world, and Mullen and Mullen rightly make good use of them, so you can be fairly sure the results will be excellent.

I can't judge their quality accurately, of course, but the suits pictured on the site look fantastic, and all the signs suggest that they know what they are doing. Prices are good, at around £600 for a suit and the even better news is that they make regular visits to London, so perhaps a shirt will be in order at some point. Or an overcoat - I definitely need a new overcoat.

I'd be delighted to hear from any of my readers who have experience of the shop or the tailors, and I would certainly recommend a visit to anyone who is in York. You can take in one of the most magnificent cathedrals in the country, and then swing by High Petergate to commission a tweed suit.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Harris Tweed

2011 is the 100th anniversary of the Harris Tweed trademark. Although we've all heard of it, and may even own some clothing made from Harris Tweed, I for one did not fully appreciate how specific the requirements are for cloth to bear the brand. Remarkably, it must be handwoven on the island in the weaver's own home.



There's plenty of debate around how much we overstate the importance of local manufacture. People have a tendency to assume that it guarantees a level of quality that clothes made abroad cannot possibly hope to reach. That's not true at all, of course. Nevertheless, while a cynic might suggest that demanding that cloth be made in the weaver's own home has more to do with protecting history and employment than it does with ensuring quality, it can't be denied that the strict controls placed upon materials such as Harris Tweed does ensure a level of quality that cannot necessarily be easily found elsewhere. Perhaps equally important, there is a pleasure in wearing clothes into which so much expertise and care has gone, that has nothing to do with its relative quality.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A new jacket

I've been thinking for a while that I'm in desperate need of a new jacket. A blazer, perhaps, or a sports coat, if you're American. Either way, I need something to wear when the dress code, or my own inclination, calls for making an effort, but a suit would be going overboard. Lunch with my parents, dinner with friends, tea with in-laws, and so forth. My beloved double-breasted blazer is, alas, rarely suitable on these occasions. It goes badly with jeans, is a little too visibly formal when paired with chinos, and looks uncomfortable (even a little caddish, or so one of my friends insists) without a tie.

The obvious, and practical, choice would be a single breasted blue blazer. Perhaps herringbone, and with horn buttons rather then brass, to tone it down a little. Of course, never one for the obvious choice, I have instead been attracted to the idea of a grey jacket in a relatively brash check. Something, I thought, a little like the one here, which I found while browsing around for ideas.

In the end, a trip to Cad and the Dandy decided me upon a rather lovely Glen check with a little blue running through it.



It's made by Dugdale and is a particularly beautiful cloth which should make me a lovely mid-weight, single-breasted, Spring/Autumn jacket. I have, with my usual impeccable planning, ordered it so that it will be ready just in time for the Summer.

Monday, 16 May 2011

101 easy ways to dress better. No. 13: The right colour shoes

I don't know why I hadn't done a post on this before. It may be because I consider it so blindingly obvious as to not be worth mentioning but it seems that is not the case, so let me reiterate: gray or blue suits must, with only a very very few exceptions, be worn with black shoes.

Is this just me being old-fashioned and dogmatic? Perhaps, if the state of men's footwear I see on the underground is anything to go by, I am hopelessly alone in this view. Nevertheless, I stand by it and believe it will remain correct long after more fleeting fashion norms have come and gone. Why? Is it simply a subjective convention, that only looks odd to my eye because of what I am used to, or is there an objective reason why brown shoes with a business suit generally looks disastrous?


My first job was working for a video production agency. My boss taught me an important rule of thumb for setting up a shot, or adding post-production effects. When looking at an image, the eye is generally drawn to the brightest or lightest object on the screen. Much the same applies when someone is looking at you. Their eyes will, even if they aren't aware of it, flick all over you and become drawn to lighter and brighter options. Hopefully these should be your tie, the part of your shirt that is visible and, perhaps, your pocket square. This draws the eye upwards, towards your face. The rest of your suit, however beautiful, serves in large part simply to frame this. What about your shoes, though? So long as your shoes are darker than your suit, or similar in shade, they won't distract the eye and pull it downwards, away from your face. If, on the other hand, you wear lighter coloured shoes with a dark suit, or simply shoes that are drastically different in shade from the rest of the suit, they will become a distraction and jar with the rest of the outfit. That, at least, is my theory for why I find it such a distasteful style.

From another point of view, brown shoes are significantly more casual than black, and so look very strange with an otherwise smart outfit. But then, perhaps brown being casual is, again, mere convention. Break the rules if you wish, you certainly won't be alone. However, there will be places where people will notice and will judge you unfavourably. Since these places will include law firms, City banks and private clubs, you may find it to your advantage to follow the convention.

Wait, though - I'm not going to leave it there. You can wear brown shoes with a grey or blue suit so long as you do so discriminately. I would suggest that at least a few, if not most, of the following conditions need to be satisfied to make this a success.

  • You are in the country or, if in town, it's a weekend (or, at the very least, a Friday)
  • Your suit is light coloured
  • Your suit is made from a soft or more casual material such as flannel
  • Your suit is plain or checked
  • Your trousers have turn-ups
  • The shoes are dark brown or, better yet, oxblood
  • The shoes have closed laces
Many well-dressed men probably instinctively know when they can get away with wearing brown shoes, and haven't even considered the above criteria. Those who are less certain might find it a useful guide. Good luck.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Cigars

Since the ban on smoking in public indoors, enjoying cigars has become a lot more difficult. Smoking is banned, ironically, even in my club's smoking room and they're not exactly the kind of thing you can nip out and have in 10 minutes with all the other smokers. Nor would you want to. Cigars should be kept for the right time and place and properly enjoyed. So, it's mostly at this time of year when I start to have them a little more frequently, as I'm more likely to end up outdoors somewhere after dinner.

The Partagas factory. Like most, this now makes a number of other brands including Romeo and Juliettas.


Cuba leads the market in cigars by a vast margin, although in fact a number of the big brands manufacture non-cuban versions on other Caribbean islands so that they can be imported into the US. Regardless of where they are made, the best cigars are hand-rolled from whole leaves. A bunch of three or four leaves scrunched and twisted together and then tightly wrapped in another leaf makes up the main body of the cigar, and it is the mix of leaves chosen that defines the flavour and is the major difference between brands. Around this rough tube, another leaf is painstakingly wrapped to create the proper shape and the smooth, even, outside of the cigar. Being able to form the correct length, width and shape for the cigar brand at this stage is the result of a training course that takes several months, with brands that feature unusual shapes, such as the torpedo, requiring particular care. Over the course of this training, hundred of cigars are produced that may be perfectly serviceable, but are not good enough to be sold. These are used to make up the part of the workers' pay that consists of three cigars a day. Others, which may be close to perfect, are sometimes smuggled out and packed in forged or stolen boxes, and it may occasionally be these that you will end up buying if you try to get a bargain by purchasing cigars on the street.

I'm not sure where the strange legend comes from that Cuban cigars are rolled on the thighs of virgins. In fact, at least in the Partagas factory, they are rolled on neat rows of wooden tables, by men and women proud of a job that is skilled, prestigious, and well-paid by local standards.

The resulting cigars are pressed, trimmed and ultimately boxed and shipped out. Cigars are boxed to try to get as little variation in colour within a box as possible, and spot checks are done to ensure that the quality and consistency remains high. It is, all in all, a remarkable process and the care that goes into a handmade cigar is reflected in the enjoyment you get from it.

Cheaper cigars are machine made, and the filler is made from chopped tobacco leaf, rather than whole leaves. Often, it is the discards from one of the hand-made cigar factories that are then bundled up and sent off to make machine-made cigars, or even the strong cuban cigarettes that, for some reason, don't seem to have caught on elsewhere.

Cigars must be stored in a humidor to keep them at their best. An even temperature and humidity is important and, while preferences vary, most people agree on something around 70F and 70% humidity. The climate of the tobacco-producing areas of Cuba is remarkably close to this for much of the year, which is probably an indicator of why it makes the best cigars in the world.



A good humidor is lined with cedar-wood, and serves the dual purpose of keeping your cigars in the best possible shape, and of looking beautiful on your desk. Most of your friends will be delighted and impressed if, very occasionally, you offer it around after dinner.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Royal Wedding Style

Unlike most of the press, I have little interest in ladies' hats and dresses, and my interest in military uniform is limited to the jealous admiration that is the only refuge of a man who will never have a legitimate excuse to wear a sword or that much gold piping. Instead, I shall restrict myself to looking at what a well-dressed civilian male wears to a formal wedding.

Cameron, despite (or perhaps due to?) early reports that he would wear only a lounge suit, ended up being fairly well turned-out in classic morning dress including a smart double-breasted waistcoat, and a well-chosen tie. No pocket square, buttonhole or (so far as I can see from the external shots) top hat, but that's probably not surprising for a man who is desperately trying to shake off images of him in the fancy tailcoat of the Buller. Dull but appropriate, which is probably the best we could have hoped for.


Mr Clegg went for the more unusual choice of a morning suit. That is to say, a fully matching three-piece suit with a morning tailcoat. These are technically a little less formal than morning dress, and are even less common. When they are seen, they often seem to fall in to one of two categories. Either they are bespoke and beautiful; worn by men with taste and confidence in their dress. Or else they are slightly misjudged rentals. I have a nasty feeling that Mr Clegg's fell into the latter category. The coat is too large, and makes him look like a child, while the trousers pool around his ankles. Still, at least he took the time to wear a pocket square.


And what of the less naturally conservative class of public figure? David Beckham went for a slightly fashion-forward take on morning dress with some success. I'm not a fan of the wing collar, but at least the suit fits perfectly and, unlike almost anyone else, he's got a top hat. Bravo, say I.


Fit is always key, but it seems all the more important with morning dress. An outfit that should be trim and formal looks dreadful when the constituent parts hang sloppily, or the coat tails reach your calves. An ordinary shirt and tie is vital to avoid crossing the line into costume, and novelty waistcoats are acceptable only in circumstances so specific as to be not worth mentioning here.

Above all, though, if you are given the choice between wearing a suit or wearing morning dress then be bold and choose the latter. There is no shame in hiring it, so long as you do so with sense and discernment, and you will be helping to maintain a marvelous formal dress code that is perhaps second only to evening dress for making you look your best. It is also probably the only way we civilians can ever compete with those soldiers and their swords and sashes.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Is the Prime Minister going to dress-down for the wedding?

While I am not certain how reliable the source is, it seems highly likely that Mr Cameron will be wearing a lounge suit for Prince William's wedding next Friday, as will Mr Clegg. If true, this is very disappointing news.

It is true that the wedding invitation permits 'Uniform, Morning Dress or Lounge Suits'. However, this was also the case at Prince Charles's wedding in 1981, and yet as far as I can tell every male politician in attendance wore morning dress. Clearly, the then Prime Minister did not, but her husband did and so did Mr Whitelaw, the deputy Prime Minister (immediately to the right, and second to the right of Thatcher, respectively.)


So what has changed, and why does a man who was educated at Eton and Oxford, and is notorious for spending much of his time at the latter swanning around in the custom evening tails of the Bullingdon club, think it is appropriate to wear a lounge suit to the wedding of the future King of England? It is almost certainly the most formal wedding he will ever attend, and there is absolutely no doubt that morning dress is the most appropriate attire for a civilian. Not to wear it is to make a deliberate statement, whether Cameron intends it or not. It will make his appearance at the wedding look more like just another political engagement, for which he has not even bothered to change out of his safe politician's uniform of a plain dark suit, a plain light shirt, and a plain coloured tie.

Why is he doing it? Because he is terrified of public opinion and terrified especially of the prospect of a photo of him in a top hat and tails appearing alongside every store about his privileged background, for the rest of his time in office. To that, I would say that he needs to have the courage of his convictions (or, at least, the courage of his upbringing) and confidently dress for the occasion.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Choosing a tailor

It's brilliant to see that more and more people are being turned on to the idea of getting a tailored suit. Often, people seem to first get interested for a wedding; now that they are unlikely to wear morning dress, but still want something special, a tailored suit is a perfect choice. Whatever the reason, lots of new businesses are springing up to cater to people prepared to invest a few hundred pounds in a good suit, but not the several thousand that Savile Row demands. The problem is that not all of these companies are necessarily very good, and their target market is often largely made up of people who don't know enough about tailoring to spot the bad ones. So, if you're in this position, here are a few tips.

As an aside, note that these are primarily about assessing the quality of a mid-range made-to-measure or semi-bespoke tailor. Applying these ideas to a Savile Row tailor will likely be nonsense, since with them you can take a basic standard of quality for granted, and then need to make your decision based on other factors.

Look at the suits on their site
Most of this type of tailor will have a decent website, often one allowing you to order online (don't though), so this is a great chance to look at some suits. Believe me, if they can't even make the suits look good on a mannequin or a model then they definitely won't look good on you. Equally, if they know so little about dressing that the suits on their home page have all the jacket buttons done up then they are unlikely to be able to advise you effectively on what looks good.

When looking at pictures, pay particular attention to how the shoulders and collar fit, and the shape made by the sides of the suit between the armpits and the waist. One of the advantages of a tailored suit is that they should be able to give you a nice snug fit here, creating a slight V-shape, and giving plenty of space between the arms and the body.

Find out where their cloth comes from
You should be able to look at a swatch book (I did say not to order online, didn't I?), or ideally several from different wool manufacturers. You almost certainly want the wool to be English, although Italian is also good, especially if you favour Italian suit styles. Wool manufactured elsewhere, regardless of whether it's 100% cashmere or has a high super-number, is almost never as good or as durable. It will look wrong and feel wrong and the money you are about to spend on tailoring will be wasted. Certain English mills have a particularly good reputation, and you will obviously pay more for big names, but at the mid-range of tailoring that is probably less of a concern.

Find out how the suits are made
Ignore any claims on the website of being 'bespoke', 'tailor made', 'Savile Row' or anything else. Any tailor worth their salt should be able to tell you exactly how the suit is made. If they can't, then don't buy your suit there.

Exactly what you are looking for here is up to you (and how much you are paying), but the main things to interrogate are:
  • Will they be drafting you a personal paper pattern? Ideally, yes, but some tailors will simply store your details on a computer and that is fair enough. What you don't really want is for them to simply use a standard pattern and adjust it slightly for your measurements.
  • How will the suit be cut? The gold standard here is that it will be cut by a Savile Row trained cutter, who will be the same person who sold you the suit and talked to you about options. He will have mentally assesed your figure and stance and will cut a suit to fit. You're unlikely to get that from the sort of tailors we're talking about, however, so you should aim for a tailor where the suits are cut by hand by experienced (and preferably Savile-row-trained) cutters. Whether it is cut in the UK or not doesn't really matter as much as some tailors might pretend, but I would tend to avoid places where the cloth is cut by machine, or by unskilled factory workers.
  • How much of the suit will be hand-stitched? For this kind of price, you must expect some machine stitching, and that's not a problem. However, more hand-stitching is usually a mark of quality and will result in a far better end product. Don't be fooled by 'hand-stitching around the lapels', though. This is a particular bug-bear of mine as it has become a fashionable aesthetic quirk that does not imply the suit is of high quality or even that it has been hand-stitched. If you want hand-stitching, great, but get it because it means the suit will be the result of the hard work of a skilled craftsman, not because you will have fancy stitching around the lapel.

'Features', and do you pay extra?
A serious tailor will make all their jackets with working cuffs, and not charge you any extra. If they don't, then you're not off to a good start. By the same token; things like side adjusters, brace buttons, slit pockets, wider or narrower lapels, cuffed trousers, and so forth are standard options in choosing your suit, not 'extra features', and should not be charged as such.

Can they do exactly what you want?
A real tailor should be able to make you whatever you like. If you insist on a precise width of lapel, want double inward-facing pleats, like cavalry-cut trousers or demand a fish-tail waist, their response should be a quiet "excellent choice, sir" and a scribbled note. If they look nervous and mumble that they're not sure if they do that then they probably have a handful of set suit patterns that they adjust, and will not cater well to your customisations.

How do the tailors look?
When you go in to the shop (you didn't order online, did you?) take the time to look at the tailors clothes. In traditional Savile Row establishments it's considered somewhat infra dig to make your own clothes, but modern tailors are likely to wear their own suits. Either way, you would expect a tailor who is going to advise you on how to spend several hundred pounds to wear a decent suit themselves. Their particular style may not be to your taste, but they ought to be smartly dressed in a well-made and well-fitting suit.

When you do start asking for advice (and you can do this before you commit to anything) then you should expect confident and helpful answers that take polite account of your particular physique. Hopefully, they will have samples that you can look at and try on.


Hopefully that's a start for now. What else do readers look out for when weighing up a tailor for the first time? Any particular give-aways of quality, or lack thereof?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Reader question: Odd Waistcoats

A reader asks:
Speaking both as a keen reader of your blog and as a student on a somewhat limited budget, I'd be interested to know what liberties might be taken with the colour/fabric of a waistcoat worn with a lounge suit.

The suit I have in mind is black (I have a grey one too but I doubt I'd be able to find a waistcoat in the same shade). Unfortunately I can't seem to find many waistcoats on my budget that are simply black without pin stripes or other patterns. Must waistcoats always match the rest of the suit in formal settings (either in colour or in fabric)? Would a navy blue waistcoat work?

I'd be very grateful for advice on this - perhaps next time I'll just have to make sure I buy a three-piece suit in the first place!


Great question. I suspect that a lot of people with a limited amount of money to spend on suits find themselves attracted to the idea of a three-piece suit, but without the budget to buy a whole new suit.

First of all, I would give up on the idea of finding a perfect match for the fabric. Unless you are spectacularly lucky, it's simply not going to be possible and, even in black, a slight difference in the cloth will probably be noticeable. Don't worry, though, your waistcoat doesn't have to match your suit, so long as you are careful. It's an unusual look, but if you pull it off it can look very smart. A good example, I think, is Duck Phillips of Mad Men.


Ignoring the fact that he has done up the bottom button on his waistcoat, this is a really nice look. The smart, classic pinstripe suit paired with a waistcoat in a clearly non-matching colour is a nice twist, and a particular quirk of Duck's that sets him apart from a lot of the other men on the show.

I think there are a few things here that are going to be important to getting this right. Firstly, the waistcoat must clearly not match. A waistcoat in a very similar colour will look very wrong. So, for your black suit I would try (as you suggest) dark blue or dark grey but, in both cases, not so dark that they look black. For the grey suit, a significantly darker or lighter shade of grey could work nicely.

Secondly, it must not look as if you are wearing an outfit cobbled together from other suits. Getting this right may be down partly to trial and error, but I would suggest that you avoid waistcoats in fabrics or patterns that are typical of lounge suits. For example, a blue pinstripe in lightweight worsted wool may look as if it has been stolen from another suit, and the effect will be jarring. On the other hand, a plain blue waistcoat in soft fabric such as flannel should blend nicely into whatever else you're wearing, and will look like a deliberate choice - just as if you were wearing a v-neck jumper under your suit.


I hope this all helps. Do let me know how you get on.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Answering the questions I never got asked

Like many bloggers, I expect, I tend to keep half an eye on my visitor statistics. These are provided in fascinating detail by Google Analytics, and tell me all kinds of things about where in the world my visitors come from, which posts are popular, and which sites send me a lot of traffic (thanks The Natural Aristocrat!). One of the most interesting bits of information is what Google searches brought people to me. It can be very cheering to see that someone searched for a topic on which I have written, and apparently enjoyed what they found on the blog enough that they spent twenty or thirty minutes looking through other posts. The best example of this lately was someone who searched for "upstairs downstairs clip on bowtie" and ended up on my blog. I don't know who you are, but it makes me very happy to imagine that at least one person was as incensed at this as I was and, perhaps, found reading my post cathartic.

Anyway, in amongst the Google results, I occasionally come accross things people have searched for that I haven't ever covered. Most of these people promptly leave and never come back so, although it may be too late for them, I thought I might take the opportunity now to answer some of these, the questions I have never actually been asked.

Are flannel suits in style?
I don't know about 'in style' but they are wonderful in the right situation. Not necessarily the best bet for everyday wear, especially in a heated office or a warm country, but as a winter suit for occasional wear they are a smart and classic look that is hard to beat.

Best way to drink gin
In a Martini. Dry, very cold, with at least one olive. Alternatively, if practically neat spirits aren't your thing, a gin and tonic is a perfect drink for all occasions.

Blue suit for dinner dance?
Yes. Assuming the dress-code is not black or white tie, then a dark blue suit will be just the thing.

Cad and the Dandy is the hand stitching worth it?
That's actually quite a tricky question. For the hand-stitching itself, most people will not notice the difference, and there is actually a certain amount of debate as to whether it makes any difference at all. Some people argue that hand-stitching allows for a bit more stretch in the seams which will extend the life of your suit. Hand stitching can be made particularly obvious around the lapel, an effect that some people like, but is now commonly replicated by machine on much cheaper suits. However, the fact that the hand-stitched suits are also half or fully-canvassed and come with a basted fitting is definitely worth the money, and will make a very noticable difference.
Image taken from ASuitThatFits.com

Can't find a white marcella exact size bowtie
Ede and Ravenscroft do them. An exact size white tie is a good idea, as it will be worn with an upright collar, meaning that the adjuster would be visible at the back on an adjustable tie.

Chemistry behind adding an olive to gin?
It's delicious. What more do you need to know?

Do you starch a marcella tie?
No. If you starched it to the same extent as your collar, it would be impossible to tie! In any case, you don't want it to look completely rigid.

Is a mens tweed jacket okay to wear in the spring?
Yes, especially in the country, at the weekend, or if it's very cold. Later in spring, however, you may want to switch to cotton jackets and blazers.

Mens shirt step up from Lewins?
Ede and Ravenscroft and New and Lingwood are a good step up in both quality and price, with shirts from around £80, although both have sales on currently. Both also offer a made-to-measure service for whenever you feel ready to upgrade to that.


More to come, I expect. And may I remind readers that if you do visit this blog and find your question unanswered, I welcome emails and will happily answer you privately, or by posting on the blog, or both.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Guest post: why fit beats brand every time

As you may have noticed, my posts have become more infrequent of late. This is a combination of the pressures of a lack of time, and a lack of recent purchases about which to write. Fortunately, a couple of people have offered to step into the breach with guest posts. The first is by a long-time reader and a man whose fashion sense I admire greatly. Until recently, he worked for a major high-end fashion label and has a unique insight into the amount of money that can be wasted by men who think that buying big names is all that is needed to look good. So, over to my guest blogger:

A suit tailored specifically for your own body shape, be it from Savile Row or a cheaper alternative, is the ideal, and one that I am sure all the readers of this blog aspire to. However, off-the-peg suiting remains the choice of the majority despite the relatively recent explosion in companies offering everything from made to measure to a few steps below full bespoke, at a price point well below that of the traditional Savile Row tailor.

C&TD, A Suit That Fits and others like them have been well covered in these pages, but as well as these start ups competing for those unable or unwilling to spend three thousand pounds or more on Savile Row, other more established companies such as Austin Reed also offer made to measure suits at very reasonable prices.

With so many options available to a male population perhaps more fashion conscious than ever, it is hard to understand why off-the-peg suits still dominate the market so strongly. Certainly, if you find a brand whose suit pattern coincidentally fits you perfectly, then you are a lucky man. Stock up. If all it needs is the waist taking in or the sleeves shortened a touch, then buy away. You will, however, be in the minority, and far too many men appear to believe that a well know brand or a high price are guarantees of a good suit. Though this might make life easier, it is sadly untrue. The fit of a suit is far and away the most important aspect of a suit, and one that will make the greatest impression on those you wish to impress. So, while the Ermenegildo Zegna suit might be constructed of the most beautiful cashmere and wool blend and have the smoothest silk lining, if it doesn’t fit you properly then, for you, it is a bad suit.

For the highest priced designer off-the-peg suits, the comparison becomes more and more absurd. A Dolce and Gabbana dinner suit will set you back just over nine hundred pounds. Tom Ford’s website has such an overpowering ‘if you have to ask, you cannot afford’ vibe that I dread to think how much even a blazer costs. On another scale altogether, Georgio Armani’s made to measure suits cost anywhere between five thousand, and seventy five thousand pounds. Will it fit you far worse than a Savile Row suit would for half the price? Yes. Will the construction, cloth or aftercare be half as good? No. But it will have Georgio Armani’s name inside it.

Men, on whatever type of budget, need to realise that not only is their choice not limited just to Boss or Armani, Paul Smith or Ted Baker, but also that the designer route is far too often far from the best one.