Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Some summer suits

As I said in my last post, there's a sad lack of understanding amongst men of the importance of summer suits. So what are the options? Well - here's a (rather over-simplified) summary. I've broken it down into the three main materials - wool, linen or cotton - but it's worth noting that blends are relatively common, although one material will usually still dominate. As always, my thoughts and ideas are just guidance, and you're best off being guided by your personal taste and the actual qualities of the suit you have in front of you.

Probably 90% of a gentleman's suits and jackets will be made of wool and the summer is no exception. Nice though the thought is of dressing exclusively in fabulous cream cotton suits for two or three months over the summer (your mileage may vary. Especially if you live in the UK), that's hardly practical for those of us who still have to dress smartly for work, or even just for occasional social engagements, during most of that period. So, if you still need to wear a business suit then wool needs to be your first port of call and, simply by going for cloth in the 8-10 ounce range, you can have suits that are perfect for summer and needn't look drastically different to your everyday attire.

Of course, it may be that you want a summer suit that looks like a summer suit, and that's also an option in wool although it is, almost by definition, a little less formal. If this is what you are after, then a paler grey or blue is ideal; even a sky blue can look fantastic. Cream or brown wool suits are an option, although lighter brown works best. Single-breasted and two-piece are perhaps the obvious choice for summer suits for reasons of temperature, but don't ignore the possibility of either a double-breasted or three-piece summer suit. Both are classic and needn't be uncomfortable so long as the cloth is chosen carefully.

Linen is perhaps the 'classic' summer suiting material. It's most common in cream, closely followed by blue and then probably brown. It's a great choice, cool and breathable and with a tendency to crumple so quickly after being put on that it actually seems to hide any further heat-induced dishevelment. It is, of course, very casual and probably not suitable for the most formal office environments. It also requires steaming or pressing at the end of almost every day it is worn and, particularly in cream, can become dirty quickly.

Cut is important, I think, particularly with the trousers. If badly made or badly fitting, linen suits have a tendency towards an inelegant shapelessness and bagginess. It's also important to choose a suitable shirt and tie; my own preference is for something relatively smart, thus emphasising that you are wearing the suit because it is hot and not because you are, in any way, dressing down. Thus cutaway collars, formal ties and double cuffs are by no means incongruous and often preferable.

It's Bond again. But then, when it comes to Summer suits, nobody does it better.

As far as colour goes, I would caution gently against anything too brown and firmly against anything too white, particularly in town. The former can work if it fits perfectly and the rest of the outfit is good, but is hard to pull off. The latter often just makes you look like a novelty waiter, a disco dancer or a cheap gangster.

In almost all cases, shoes should be brown. George Lazenby appears as Bond in a lovely cream suit wearing white shoes but then he was in Portugal. Perhaps that makes it ok.

Often ignored in favour of linen or wool, cotton can and should have a place in every man's wardrobe. Cooler and more casual than wool, it can also (when made right) be crisper and smarter than linen. Cotton duck is a form of plain cotton canvas which, in weights of around 7oz, makes for fantastic summer clothes. The bright white trousers most traditionally worn by real rowers with their blazers are made of cotton duck, as are many of the better cotton jackets. Almost every year, Hackett has one in their summer collection and they are, without fail, crisp and elegant.

Cotton can, of course, also be worn as a suit, in either blue or cream. Ideally it could be half-lined, and has a natural shoulder and relatively little waist suppression for a smart but relaxed look.

So, stock up, and hope that the sunshine returns. Or just leave the UK and go somewhere hot...

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Three things not to wear now the weather is hot...

Summer seems to have finally arrived in London although, let's face it, by the time you read this it could be pouring with rain again. Perhaps it's not surprising that in a country where our practical fashion needs seem to largely revolve around warm and waterproof coats, we're not very good at dressing for hot weather. Here are a few things to avoid (and, because all problems need a solution, some things to do instead).

Short-sleeved shirts
There might be a place for short-sleeved shirts but, if there is, I've yet to be convinced of it and it certainly isn't in this country, even on the rare day when the temperature reaches the giddy heights of 30C. They make grown men look like schoolboys, or postmen, which is rarely a good look. Besides, if you wear it with a tie you can never never take your jacket off and, if you wear it with a jacket, you won't show any cuff which, on a jacket with sleeves of a suitable length is bound to look a little strange.

So no. Avoid short-sleeved shirts like the plague. Instead (and it's so easy you'll wonder why you didn't think of it) just roll your sleeves up. Any way you fancy is fine by me, but why not try the 'Italian' method. Undo the cuff and pull it up above the elbow, pulling the shirt sleeve inside out as you go. Then, just fold the rest up to just below the cuff (more or less on the elbow is best). It's quicker, involves less rolling, and keeps the sleeve (especially the cuff) slightly flatter and less creased.

Baseball Caps
No. Obviously not. And if you need me to tell you why, you're in the wrong place.

Panama hats are really the best alternative for keeping the sun off. It is possible to get ones that roll up in a tube, which makes them particularly practical. Otherwise, more conventional types are relatively inexpensive.

Boaters are an option but are a) not really suitable for city wear and b) a bit of a statement. In the country, especially by a river, they are of course ideal. Pith helmets, otherwise known as solar topees (the name, incidentally, derives from the shola pith they are made from and has nothing to do with the sun that they keep off) are marvellous but utterly impossible to wear with a straight face these days.

Inappropriate Suits (and shirts)
Men these days pay very little attention to the cloth their suits are made from. A fairly good way to differentiate a really well-dressed man from a typical besuited office worker in one question would be to ask them what percentage of their suits are summer, what percentage winter, and what percentage year-round. Men who really know and care about what they're wearing will be able to tell you, indeed they may even put some of their suits into storage when their season is over. They'll have taken care, when buying suits, to ensure an appropriate balance and to wear the right suit depending on the weather.

It's not the obsessive attention to detail that you necessarily have to follow, it's the appreciation that hot (or cold) weather isn't necessarily anathema to wearing a suit. Most of us in our climate-controlled offices no longer pay any attention, wear the same suits year round and then, when it gets hot, take our jackets and ties off and look sweaty and crumpled. A suit in a light 7-ounce cloth, particularly one with a relatively loose weave, can be comfortable even in the hottest weather. Similarly, a light and open-weave shirt is a must. All that's needed is to pay attention to what you are buying and be ready for the hot weather with an outfit in which you can look as smart and as crisp as on any other day of the year.