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

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.