Friday, 26 April 2013

Seersucker Suits

I was amused to read that a Missouri Senator has proposed a ban on seersucker suits. Although no doubt done in jest, it seemed a shame that he dislikes them so much. Although I can't quite imagine myself wearing one, at least not with the kind of weather we get over here, they have a glorious tradition in warmer parts of the world and can look very elegant if well-made and well-fitting.

Seersucker is a cotton fabric woven in such a way as to create a warped or bubble effect. Apart from the aesthetic appeal (or lack of appeal, depending on your point of view) this actually has practical benefits in a hot climate: firstly, it creates space for air to circulate through and under the fabric, and stops is clinging to the body. Secondly, it is relatively resistant to wrinkles and needn't (and shouldn't) be pressed, so perfect for sticky days in India or the southern states of America.

In the USA, seersucker is considered traditional southern dress and, until last year, one Thursday in June was seersucker day in Congress. I think it's a shame that particular tradition has fallen by the wayside, but there we go.

Perhaps more than almost anything else, seersucker has to be done right. In the right place, at the right temperature, with the right accessories and the right fit, it can look smashing. Get some of these wrong though, and it's easy to look ludicrous, and incur the wrath of Missouri Senators.

Image property of

Friday, 12 April 2013

Four current trends you should try

This blog is, emphatically, not about current trends. The fads that come and go from catwalks and the pages of GQ are of little interest to really stylish men. All the same, fashion is cyclical and so its inevitable that, sometimes, things that we consider 'stylish' and 'classic' will, almost by accident, end up also being fashionable. When that happens, you can take a quiet pleasure in being as stylish as always, but with the added joy of being just very slightly 'on-trend' as well. Here are my top four trends that are worth trying this year:

Pins, bars and clips
I don't know whether it's the Mad Men effect, the hipster love of vintage, or just retailers delight in being able to sell more pricey accessories, but men's style magazines are absolutely in love with tie bars and collar pins at the moment. Don't overdo them (and don't wear both at once) but a simple tie bar does look smashing, and collar pins are awesome with a reasonably slim tie. Although any shirt can be pinned if you're happy to stick holes in it, shirts with reinforced holes designed in to them are mostly only available in white, or at least white collars. I suppose that makes sense since it nods to the fact that last time collar pins were in fashion collars were probably all detachable.

While the collar can't be very cutaway, avoid those shirts with collar points that come almost straight down, or with very high collars. In fact, slightly rounded collars are a classic look that can look great with a pin. As far as the pin itself goes, specifically designed double-pointed rods with screw on ends are easily available, but a large safety pin does the job and has a nicely laid-back look.

Elbow Patches
I've been asked about elbow patches a few times, and I get more and more searches related to them. Over the last year or so they seem to have really taken off, particularly in the sort of Americo-British public-school/preppy world. Hackett, Ralph Lauren, Massimo Dutti, and even New and Lingwood offer both jackets and knitwear with elbow patches on. Hackett is even doing shirts with them.

Although not to be overdone, I do like their slightly louche, battered look. In Winter they seem particularly appropriate on the sort of heavy tweed jackets that look as if they've been worn and repaired for decades (when in fact they were bought yesterday on Jermyn street), while in the Summer, in a light-coloured suede, they're a nice addition to linen or cotton jackets or lightweight knitwear.

Bow Ties
I think it was 'shortlist' magazine that, this week, did a little feature on top bow ties to wear. In one paragraph it suggested that you could show how on-trend you are this summer by wearing one with a short-sleeved shirt and tailored shorts.

Don't do that.

Do, however, consider wearing them with a suit. Bow ties have always been awesome, but always tough to pull off, especially for younger men. This year, at least, you can take advantage of the fact that you might not actually be the only person in your tube carriage wearing one. You probably will, however, be the only person wearing a properly tied, elegant silk one with a beautiful tailored suit.
Best of both worlds.

Three-piece suits
James Bond wears them, Roger Sterling wears them, Harvey Specter wears them. Is it surprising, then, that everyone from Topman to Ralph Lauren is churning out three-piece suits at a rate of knots? Nope. Of course, as a well-dressed man you've probably been wearing waistcoats for years but, if not, take a few bits of advice that most people don't understand:
  • Your trousers need to be higher-waisted than you'd usually like. I'm sorry, I know high-waists aren't cool, but noone will know when you're wearing a waistcoat and it's far better than worrying about the fact that a bit of shirt keeps appearing in the gap between your waistcoat and your waistband.
  • You almost certainly need to wear braces. Sure, it's possible to wear a belt with a waistcoat (I think Mr Sterling does it) but it tends to either be visible between the waistcoat the trousers, or create a bulge underneath the waistcoat. I'm not sure which is worse. Far better to go for braces which will keep your trousers at just the right level all day.
  • Don't do up the bottom button. There's no good reason for this beyond a bit of fashion that's stuck around. It's just one of those things you need to do. It also makes the first point particularly important.

If you're especially stylish, you can improve the standard three-piece suit by either adding a lapel to the waistcoat, or making it double-breasted. Both are fantastic traditional looks which some of the big brands are catching on to, and which are easier to find off-the-peg than they would have been even a couple of years ago. At the cheaper end, Charles Tyrwhitt (pictured above) is doing very well at taking the lead in this sort of thing. Otherwise, Hackett is always a good bet.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Restaurant Review: Les Deux Salons

Les Deux Salons always seems to be good for a last-minute booking, even at relatively busy times. As a result, I've been here twice in the last few weeks, with two different groups of people. The experience (good and bad points) was fairly similar both times.

With seating both upstairs and downstairs (two rooms, you see?), the interior is reasonably large and buzzy. On both visits we got comfortable corner tables with as much space and privacy as the relatively crowded Parisian-style restaurant allows. Front-of-house staff were friendly but harassed and on my first visit we got a hint of the creaky service that was to come when we were inexplicably abandoned at the front-desk for a few minutes before being shown our table.

Image property of Ewan-M

The menu is French and meat-heavy, and the excellent wine list allows all but a handful of wines to be delivered as a 500ml carafe rather than a full-bottle. This is always a bonus, particularly if you want to properly appreciate the varied wine list by selecting something different with each course. Most of the main courses fall within the £20-30 range, although there are a couple of exceptions, and a three-course meal with wine would come to around £60-70 per head.

The food is very good indeed; on my first visit I had some stunning oysters followed by an excellent steak, brought to the table in the skillet and smothered in a shallot sauce, with decent skinny fries on the side. I was never asked how I wanted it cooked so, assuming that the chef had a preference for this particular dish, I did not specify and it was delivered suitably and beautifully rare. On my second visit three of my companions had the same steak and this time were asked how they liked it. Infact this was fairly academic since the waiter couldn't remember which was which when they arrived at the table. My point, which I am coming round to, is that the standard of the food was consistently far above the standard of the service.

The puddings were similarly superb, although marred on one visit by the fact that we waited a considerable time to be given our menus, and again to place our order. Then, despite one of my companions specifically asking for her coffee to be brought at the same time as the pudding and chasing the coffee at least once, it actually arrived some 15 minutes later. While you may join the French in their contempt of anyone who messes with the order of the universe by choosing to enjoy their pudding with a coffee, this particular bit of incompetence was not a culinary decision but simple mismanagement. I'd like to suggest that the restaurant has accurately captured the Parisian style by having far too few waiters for the number of tables, requiring what staff there are to rush madly around keeping everyone waiting. However, I'm not convinced that was the case. Yes, it was busy, but to the eye of this enthusiastic amateur the ratio of waiters to diners didn't look totally wrong, and I am sure I have seen other restaurants manage considerably better with far fewer staff.

When we finally received our coffees, we were left in peace to enjoy them for a good twenty minutes, all attempts to catch the eye of a waiter going ignored. When I finally managed to ask for the bill, we were ignored for a further twenty to thirty minutes until I finally went to the bar and asked to pay. None of this would have mattered if we had been polishing off a bottle of wine, or had been offered more coffee or after dinner drinks, but simply being ignored altogether for the best part of an hour after your meal is just infuriating. A similar wait happened on my second visit although this time, better prepared, I chased a little more aggressively and managed to pay and leave only half an hour or so after the end of our meal. On that occasion, when we arrived there was a couple on the table next to me becoming increasingly frantic in their attempts to pay and get out in time to make it to the theatre. Given the location, this is a prime spot for pre-theatre dining and that market cannot tolerate such long waits at every stage of the meal.

I probably haven't done the food or atmosphere justice: both are outstanding, and this is without doubt a great restaurant that offers excellent value given the quality and location. However, if they cannot drastically improve the service then it simply won't be a fun option to take friends to, or a practical place to go for pre- or post-theatre dining, or a business lunch.