Friday, 26 October 2012

Dressing the hill

I'm not always a fan of GQ - their content, contributors and clothing style irks me enough that I rarely buy the magazine. That said, this online article really appealed:
http://www.gq.com/style/wear-it-now/201211/project-upgrade-washington-dc-capitol-hill

It exposes what I would describe as the 'everyday bad dress' of most men (not just political wonks either - you'd spot all of these problems in a single tube carriage during rush hour in London). What I mean by 'everyday bad dress' is not dressing terribly badly, but simply dressing without either thought or understanding. It's wearing a suit that's one size too big, because you lack the confidence or knowledge to get it really fitting. It's wearing boring shiny ties because they're what you've worn every day for the last ten years. It's wearing clunky shoes because they're a bit cheaper and you assume noone notices and, deep down, you're worried there's something a bit feminine about a neat pair of leather-soled brogues.

So, men everywhere could read this and learn something from it. My five key 'take-outs' (if you'll let me slip into management-speak for a moment) would be:

  • Fit. I cannot emphasise this enough! All of the men featured have enough material pooling around their ankles to make another suit out of. You don't need to know much about clothes to know that's just not right. Getting a jacket to fit may be harder, but have the confidence to ask a salesperson for advice, and if they can't give it to you then shop somewhere they can. Fit matters so much more than anything else (cloth, manufacturer and style included), that it just can't be ignored. 
  • Shoes. So easy to ignore, and so often the one thing that ruins an outfit. More than half the men in the article are wearing shapeless shoes made from cheap leather that won't age well or take a decent polish. Despite the current fashion, I'm a big fan of slim, round-toed shoes and I loathe the random seams running along the top and sides of shoes that seem to be in fashion at the moment.
  • Textures. Many of the men benefited from swapping shiny, plain grey or black suits (or suit trousers) for something with a bit of texture. For day-to-day work wear, plain worsted suits are always going to be useful, but some kind of colour, texture or pattern can really lift it out of the mundane. The 3rd man in this article is a particularly good example of that.
  • Ties. In almost all cases, then men in this article looked a million times better wearing ties with smaller knots, fewer colours, and less shine. GQ is also a big fan of slimmer ties, which isn't necessarily something I'd always advocate, but there's definitely a balance to be struck, and overly-wide ties are both a bad look and also currently very unfashionable.
  • Accessories. GQ just loves tie clips and pocket squares and, as you'll know from my previous post, I'm not a big believer in jamming every possible accessory on to your outfit for the sake of it. It's possible to be very well dressed with just a good suit and tie, and very badly dressed with a pocket square and tie clip. That said, a well-chosen and discreet pocket square can make a good outfit great, and a tie clip both looks pleasing in its own right and, if position correctly, can add form and shape to the tie.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Choosing not to

The other day, my father sent me a joke he'd seen somewhere: A gentleman is a man who can play the accordion, but chooses not to.

Well, perhaps 'joke' is the wrong word. A wry comment, which amused me, all the same. Leaving aside for a minute what precisely it means in this day and age to be a 'gentleman' and whether that is even necessarily desirable, it did make me think of a number of other ideas along the same lines. Here's one for many of my friends: a gentleman is someone who can talk at length about any wine on the wine list, but chooses not to. Or, easing slowly but surely back on-topic, perhaps: a gentleman is a man who can wear a three-piece suit, a tie-pin, a pocket square and a trilby, all at the same time, but chooses not to.

My point, if I have one, is that being well-dressed seems to me to be as much about choosing what to leave out as it is about getting everything 'right'. As I've developed my enthusiasm for clothes, I'm aware that my interest in doing everything just because I can (wearing a pocket square every day, obsessing over the details of 'correct' black tie) has waned, and I have developed what is (I hope) a healthier interest in wearing outfits that look pleasing, and that please me. On occasion, to the horror of some readers of this blog, I choose not to wear a tie. Of late, when wearing a double-breasted dinner jacket to more casual events, I choose to follow the example of one of my friends and not wear an evening shirt, but an ordinary white shirt.

You don't have to like or agree with, let alone follow, my choices but I hope you'll see the importance of occasionally letting go of the 'iGent' obsession with doing things because you can, and because it's 'correct', and choosing instead to let your personality, style, confidence and even 'gentlemanliness' just speak for itself.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Weekend tweed

I certainly don't wear a jacket and tie every weekend, but sometimes smartening up is called for. When it is, you can't beat a tweed jacket and a sleeveless v-neck jumper for giving that 'sure, I've got to work, but it's also Sunday' look.


The jacket is a mid-weight tweed from Roderick Charles - a classic olive green with blue and gold over-check, which I chose as a more traditional alternative to my Donegal tweed suit. The tie is knitted silk, which is slightly more casual and, to my mind, goes nicely under a jumper.

Wearing too much of one colour is a dangerous game, but I like the mix of different tones of blue here, particularly as it's offset by the green of the jacket. The key, I think, is that items should be different either in shade or material, or both.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Interview: Cad and the Dandy

I've been using Cad and the Dandy (albeit relatively infrequently) for about two and a half years, and my first review of them was my 16th ever post on this blog. Since then I've had four beautiful suits, jackets or coats made by them, so I like to think I've been well placed to see the company change and grow over the last couple of years. Now, to mark their 4th anniversary, I caught up with co-founder James Sleater, to find out how he thinks things have gone.

Image property of Cad and the Dandy Ltd.

St James Style: James, how have the last four years been for Cad and the Dandy, and how has the company changed in that time?

James Sleater: The last four years have flown by and we are so pleased with how far our company has grown. We started of with two of us front of house and now we have 10. Our workshop is now at around 45, and when you consider that what we do is very artisan, that is a considerable number. Fundamentally, we get the chance to do something we love every day and hopefully that shines through in our work.

StJS:You started at the height of the recession selling a product that many men, faced with tightening budgets, might see as a non-essential luxury, and yet you seem to have gone from strength to strength. Why do you think this is?

JS:Yes, at the time people thought we were crazy! Those within, as well as outside of, the tailoring industry thought we should just hold tight and wait for the market to flip back, but I think the challenge just made us work harder and also look at the costs, in order to keep our offering as competitive as possible. It certainly helps that our price point is considerably lower than the traditional Savile Row houses, as it has enabled us to offer a viable alternative product, which is more affordable but which does not compromise on quality.

StJS: And what has been the reaction of the Savile Row old-guard to a new enterprise like yours?

JS: We work in a traditional industry and everyone on the Row has, without exception, been wonderful to us. Many have sent us referrals and when we got our first one a few years ago, when we had only recently started out, we were genuinely humbled. Once we were stopped on the Row by one of the old-guard, who told us, with a twinkle in his eye, that his company had made it their business to make sure their website was better than ours. Friendly rivalry is great and if you do things the right way, with regards to production methodology, how you support the industry and your approach to business, it is a friendly and fantastic place to work.

StJS: So what do you think marks out a really great suit?

JS: One that has been crafted and not just machine sewn. The fact that the cutter, coat maker, trouser maker has cared for the suit, by applying their own specific craft, rather than it being made in a production line, means it will look 'alive' and not just be fabric that has been sewn together.

StJS: What's your own favourite suit, and why?

JS: I think it has to be the morning suit I wore for my wedding, not just because obviously it had a special function, but also because it is made with a cloth that is no longer made, as it is no longer commercial to do so. It was a gift from a fabric merchant and it truly is remarkable, the way it holds and shapes is incredible. There is something so elegant about a morning suit and the fact that you don't get to wear it every day only adds to it being special.

StJS: Now, feel free to disagree, but over the last four years, I get the impression your bespoke offering has been a big focus, and has got better and better, to the point where there is little or nothing to distinguish it from a traditional Savile Row tailor. Would your ultimate aim be to move entirely in that direction, or will you always want to offer the cheaper, more made-to-measure option?

JS: You are most definitely right, a flight to quality is something we have strived hard for and if you are in such an industry, you want to match and better your peers, that's natural. We are not happy to rest on our laurels and we are always looking to improve our suits, range of cloth and website. It's a constantly evolving story. Having said that, we want to remain as accessible as possible and and not scare people before they walk through the door.

StJS: Finally, what else lies ahead for Cad and the Dandy?

JS: Exciting things I hope. We are growing in America, where traditional Savile Row gets its lion's share of business. We are developing more interactive aspects on our site, not to push it as a merchandising platform, as such, but to help people get more of a feeling as to what we are about. We want to keep our business at the obtainable end of luxury, price wise, but getting our name out there as THE tailor to go to for a cracking suit is key.

StJS: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us, and best of luck with the next four years. I certainly hope to be back in before too long, as I've been itching for a new bespoke suit for some time...

Friday, 5 October 2012

Lifestyle: Restaurants

Today marks the release of the new Michelin Guide and, no doubt, a lot of analysis, discussion and naval-gazing in the restaurant world. It seemed only right to contribute with a short list of my favourite restaurants. They may not be the finest in London, they may not have Michelin stars, some may not even appear in the guide. Nevertheless, for whatever reason (usually a combination of low price, high quality, and an ambience that suits my taste) they have become either favoured haunts or preferred treats, depending on how often I can afford to go there...

Brasserie Zédel
Big and brash, with slightly naff interior décor, a few too few staff, and that nasty policy of pointedly giving you a limited time at the table before turfing you out; this recently opened Brasserie underneath Sherwood Street has become a new favourite nevertheless. The main reason is its almost impossibly cheap set menu, which allows you to eat two courses, plus coffee and a small cake, for less than £12. So long as one of those courses is Steak Haché, that is (and it might as well be, since it's absolutely excellent). That, in central London is absolutely unheard of, and goes a long way to both justify and excuse the restaurant's other failings. Combine this with a pleasantly art deco cocktail bar, and all the ingredients are in place for a very pleasant evening.

Le Caprice
The Ivy's slightly less well-known, slightly less overhyped cousin; Le Caprice is by no means cheap, but it never fails to offer terrific food and great service. Perhaps more importantly, it retains a busy lively atmosphere even for very late bookings (particularly important for those on a budget since, after 10.15 pm, the very reasonable 'post-theatre' set menu kicks in again), not to mention offering brunch at the weekend and occasional jazz on Sunday nights.


Wiltons
Incredibly English, pretty expensive, and much more traditionally 'fine dining' than others on this list, Wiltons is aimed squarely at the well-heeled businessman or resident of central London, open only during the week and still requiring gentlemen to wear a jacket. Formerly the possessor of a Royal Warrant as the supplier of oysters to Queen Victoria, it still has an excellent oyster bar and a great range of seafood. The rest of the menu deals heavily in traditional meat dishes, particularly seasonal game. It also offers that mark of the traditional English menu, rarely found outside of clubs these days; the savoury. Ideal for those who tend to find they finish a meal with just enough room for a little cheese on toast.

Yauatcha
It seemed only right to include one restaurant that's not broadly Anglo-European, and since I absolutely adore dim sum, Yauatcha is the perfect choice. Trendy, colourful, modern and bang in the middle of Soho, it's a 'reinvention' of the traditional Chinese tea-house and complements its selection of dim sum with an incredibly wide range of tea, along with macaroons and other deserts. It might not have quite the refined atmosphere and quietly courteous service of Wiltons, but the staff are helpful, polite and efficient, and the dumplings are outstanding.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Book review: Gentleman's Clubs of London

For years, a friend of mine has had an interesting book kicking around their house, and whenever I'm over there I take the opportunity to flick through it. It lists, completee with beautiful pictures and reasonably interesting (if not enormously insightful) prose, all the major London Clubs. Now, Anthony Lejeune's The Gentlemen's Clubs of Londonhas been reprinted, and I could buy a copy of my own.



There aren't too many changes from the old one - much of the text has remained exactly the same, although it's interesting to note how many clubs have come, gone or merged in the period since the book was first published. The amount of detail about each club varies depending, presumably, on how important Mr Lejeune thinks it is, or perhaps just on how much there is to say about it.

Most cover off the basics of where the members hail from along with a few entertaining bits of history, but it is probably the photographs that will be of most interest to readers, and this is certainly more of a coffee-table book than one to read from cover-to-cover. For those who don't get the opportunity to visit clubland much or ever, this will probably serve as a fascinating insight into a bizarre but rather beautiful world. For those that do, and may be a member of one or more of the clubs listed, it is perhaps just a handy reminder of good dinners had in the past, and invitations to wangle in the future.