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.

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.

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.