Monday, 31 December 2012

2012: A style retrospective

It's that time of year where all the mainstream media are busy filling column inches with lists of stuff from 2012 - from best movies to worst political mishaps. After a relaxing and laptop-less Christmas break, I thought I might as well seize the opportunity to get in on the action. So here is a hastily assembled selection of notable style 'stuff' from the past year.

Least hideously dressed Apprentice contestant
The nice thing about The Apprentice is the certainty of the format: there will always be essentially the same set of tasks, most of the contestants will be frighteningly deluded about their own abilities, and all of the men will be appallingly badly dressed in one of a handful of separately ghastly ways. It's rare, nay unheard-of, for me to watch the show and think "I might actually go out in public in what that chap's wearing". This year, however, was an exception. Ladies and Gents, I give you Mr Tom Gearing.

Modern cutaway collars, tie bars, a pocket square in a colour other than white, and a matte tie with a discrete pattern tied with a sensible knot, all give his outfits personality whether or not they happen to be your particular cup of tea. More than anything, though, I love the fact that he's wearing a suit that's not plain (shiny) blue, grey or black. I have a particular personal dislike for plain coloured suits most of the time (though there are obviously exceptions) and anything that adds a little bit of texture is good news.

Best dressed movie character
The latest James Bond divided style bloggers. Many loved his restrained British dress sense, others bemoaned the strangely tight fit of his suits, which looked as if he was almost ready to burst out of them. For myself, both factors felt like deliberate choices, illustrating either side of his conflicted character: a suave English gentleman, and a violent, muscled, goon. Regardless, it's hard not to love those beautiful Tom Ford suits.

I'm not normally a fan of the restricted palette that Bond wears - plain blue shirts with plain grey suits rarely look great, and a plain blue tie on top risks looking bland, but of course that is partly the point when one is a spy. In this case, the costume-designers lift the outfit out of mediocrity with restrained touches of personal style: a slightly broader than usual herringbone on the suit, a quirky but oh-so-2012 tabbed collar, and a neat, businesslike pocket square. If everyone dressed like this for work, the world would be a better place.

Best Oscars black-tie outfit
The terrific Black Tie Guide website does a far better break-down of the hits and misses of the red carpet than I could hope to, and has done so for several years. All the same, I was struck by one particular outfit that couldn't go without a mention. Hollywood royalty looking like Hollywood royalty, it's Tom hanks:

It's a double-breasted shawl-collared dinner suit, and yes, that's 'legal' though highly unusual. It's by far the most casual dinner jacket, a mere toggle and trim away from a smoking jacket, which is itself only one step removed from a dressing gown, and historically would be appropriate only at a very private dinner in ones own home. These days, that distinction is rarely important and certainly not at the Academy Awards where merely wearing a bow tie and a white shirt makes you one of the smartest men there. No, Tom Hanks has got everything right - from the beautifully proportioned suit to the simple white pocket square and the inch of cuff. If I were to be picky, I would personally wear a slightly smaller bow tie, but that's a personal choice, and doesn't detract at all from the most classically elegant outfit seen at the Academy Awards in quite some time.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Perfect gift 3 - Style books

Always a good option for the chap who likes his clothes but is too difficult to actually buy clothes for (and the two things tend to go together) - there's a fairly large crop of style books out there, which range from the desperately earnest to the wry and self-aware, from the trite to the informative, and from the densely written to those who's main appeal is in their pictures. Here are a selection of my favourites, all of which have also been more thoroughly reviewed previously in the blog.

Debrett's Guide for the Modern Gentleman (full review)
Definitely a favourite, and one of the few that may actually contain some useful information even for those who prefer not to get their dress sense from a book. It covers a huge range of topics including how to order a suit from a tailor, a selection of home-decoration styles, and lists of must-have music, films and books. Its flaw is that it covers few of the topics in any real detail, but it's attractive, amusing and diverse, and may actually be of some help to someone about to leap into an unfamiliar situation like a weekend shooting party, or a Savile Row tailor.

Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion (full review)
More of a coffee-table book than a real guide, it's hard to quite figure out who would find this book genuinely useful except, perhaps, for a man who simultaneously won the lottery and was overcome by a powerful desire to develop the perfect male wardrobe. All the same, noone with an interest in clothes can fail to enjoy the detailed breakdown of every possible outfit and clothing type, nor to be suddenly struck by the feeling that their existing wardrobe is hopelessly inadequate.
Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion (Lifestyle)

Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed (full review)
Unlike the others, this is less of a coffee-table book and more of a read-in-a-single-sitting page-turner. If you have any interest in bespoke suits then you will find Richard Anderson's description of the techniques, secrets and characters of Savile Row absolutely fascinating. You will also crave a bespoke suit. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Shoes: Chatham Marine Deck Shoes review

A couple of summers ago, I bought my first pair of deck shoes. Unless you're the sort of chap who can stomach the thought of wearing loafers without socks all summer, deck shoes are really the best option for wearing with shorts or casual trousers. While they won't be acceptable in a city club, they're pretty much de rigeur in many yacht clubs and, dressed up with chinos and a shirt, are unlikely to be frowned upon in most restaurants. Especially if you're within a mile of the sea or the temperature is over 30 degrees.

All of that was my thinking as I prepared for a mostly fictional summer of beaches, cocktails, sunbathing, and lounging by pools. A pleasingly fashionable pair of blue suede deck shoes from Charles Tyrwhitt followed and, given the undemanding purposes to which I meant to put them, I didn't really care when the insole came loose within a week and a year later, the soles started falling off. Now, unfortunately, they're completely unweareable so it was extremely timely to receive a new pair from Chatham Marine, a company with a proper sailing heritage and enough confidence in their products to provide the classic deck shoes with a two year guarantee.

And, of course, it's only the wrong season for deck shoes if you think their main purpose is protecting your feet as you stroll up the beach for another mojito. As an enthusiastic but reasonably infrequent sailor myself, I tend to forget that good deck shoes have really been carefully designed and built to wear on a boat. Their distinctive white soles are designed not to mark the white fiberglass that most modern boats are made of, and are cut in patterns known as 'siping'; jagged, razor-thin cuts that open up as you walk and create suction (and therefore grip) on a smooth surface. Fashion deck shoes may look the same, but if they're not constructed properly they'll be worse than useless on a slippery deck.

The insole on these is not only properly secured, thank goodness, but also includes a double-layer perforated edge which, I presume, helps air to circulate under the feet. The upper is made of sturdy leather in a rich, reddish-brown, double-stitched and embossed with a very discreet Chatham Marine logo. They're also available in blue (been there, done that) or white, which is suddenly very appealing for that mediterranean look. No harm in having a second pair, of course...

They're extremely comfortable, surprisingly warm in the current grim weather, and curiously elegant for a casual shoe. More than anything, though, having a decently-made pair of deck shoes reminds me that these are really a feat of engineering, carefully designed for a potentially dangerous environment. If that makes them all the more enjoyable to wear season-round as a hard-wearing, versatile casual shoe then that's part of the joy of it, whether or not you actually ever find yourself on a boat.

Note: The shoes in this article were provided by Chatham Marine for review. No payment has been made for this post, and acceptance of items for review does not guarantee positive coverage.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Luxury: silk dressing gown

Long-term readers, or people who've delved into the archive, may remember this old post about my hankering for a Bertie Wooster style silk dressing gown with quilted collar and cuffs. Such things are still available, from a fairly small number of places, but cost many hundreds of pounds and often over a thousand, and even I cannot really justify that.

However, there are always ways and means, when it comes to this sort of thing, and last year I was fortunate enough to have just such a dressing gown made for me. The body is actually very fine wool, the lining a light blue silk, and the collar and cuffs also silk, painstakingly quilted and piped.
It's extraordinarily comfortable, very warm, and very beautiful. I don't know if that's particularly important given the small number of people that ever get to see it, but these days there are more occasions when wearing a dress gown to breakfast is not unacceptable, so it should at least be a nice one.

You may ask why, in this photo, I am wearing it over white tie. Well, aside from the fact that it's better than posting pictures of me in my pyjamas, and I was dressing for dinner in someone else's house, it seemed appropriate. You see, this sort of dressing gown is called a dressing gown for a reason. There is (or was) a difference between a dressing gown and a bathrobe that goes beyond the 'U/non-U', or the fact that as far I as am concerned a bathrobe is the sort of thing you only find in hotel rooms. No, a bathrobe is presumably designed to be worn while the wearer is still damp, and so is made of toweling or some other suitable material. A dressing gown, on the other hand, is intended to keep the wearing warm while dressing or undressing. It makes more sense, of course, in a time where rooms (particularly bedrooms) could be very cold, where servants might be nipping in and out, and where merely putting a shirt on could take 15 minutes and seven or eight individual pieces of gold and brass. These days, all that is less relevant, but the desire to wrap up in something warm and comfortable remains.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Perfect gift 2 - Made to measure shirts

Buying clothes as a gift is never easy. Not only do you have to be sure of getting the size right, but you have to guess at the style, colour, pattern and so on that will please the recipient. The more sartorially aware the man the harder, in many ways, it becomes. There's a good chance that if the chap you're buying for cares about clothes, he's developed a strong preference for, let's say, shirts with a medium cutaway collar, rounded French cuffs, no gauntlet button, lengthy tails, and only plain colours in end-on-end fabric.

If you can get all that right, you'll impress him no end, but your chances of guessing it are slim. That's not to say anyone ever really objects to a shirt that is not quite precisely what they would buy themselves, but there's something to be said for a gift that still gives the recipient the flexibility to make all those finicky choices that make it perfect for them. That's why I'm a big fan of the made-to-measure shirt gift that a few more suppliers are doing. They have the advantage of being easy to buy, easy to claim and, crucially, you only have to buy one. Many of the old-school shirtmakers have minimum orders of four or five shirts which makes them less than suitable for gifting.

Here's a selection:
Thomas Pink
Starting from £140, and going up to over £250, you just have to pick the fabric type you are prepared to pay for and then leave the rest for the gift recipient to choose. Of course, you need to have something for them to open on Christmas Day, so Pink provide a pair of brass collar stiffeners in a gift box, which act as the 'token' - quite a neat idea.

But are the shirts any good? Personally, it's not where I would choose to spend £140, but they're decently made from good cloth and this would make a particularly nice present for someone who already has a few off-the-peg Pink shirts and likes them.

Ede & Ravenscroft
Ede & Ravenscroft always used to do rather a nice gift shirt service, not dissimilar to the Pink one except that the 'gift card' came in the form of a length of shirting cloth in a box. This meant that you could still impose some of your own taste on the gift, by picking the cloth to use, with the advantage that in reality the recipient could still swap it for a different cloth when they came to have the shirt made up.
Of course, typically, as I come to write this post I can find no trace of this service on the E&R website, and only a newly expanded page about the made-to-measure shirt service. That said, I'm sure that they do still offer the gift option, or would be happy to do so if you asked.

As I recall, the shirts started at around £150, although most made-to-measure shirts at E&R are closer to £190. I'm a big fan of Ede & Ravenscroft shirts so this would probably be my gift shirt of choice, and they are certainly well-made enough that even someone who normally buys shirts at New & Lingwood or Turnbull & Asser would be unlikely to be disappointed with one of these.

Cad and the Dandy
Like a few of the more modern tailors, Cad and the Dandy offer gift vouchers, and you can buy one for any amount, meaning that you could either fully cover the cost of a tailored shirt (starting at £125) or, for a slightly more reasonable gift, give them some money towards one. I've never (yet) had a Cad and the Dandy shirt, but their suits are terrific and the shirts I've seen have been well-fitted and nicely made. That said, the voucher itself is a little unimaginative - an e-voucher that you can put in your own card.

Henry Herbert
Like Cad and the Dandy, Henry Herbert just offers a gift voucher for a 'bespoke' shirt (at £180), although they do at least come with quite an attractive voucher. The recipient can order online by entering their own measurements which is never ideal, but may be more appealing to someone who is busy or intimidated by the idea of going to be measured by a tailor. That said, the consultation stage is part of the experience and arguably the most fun bit, so I'd recommend organising a meeting with one of their tailors.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Perfect gift 1 - cufflinks

In the run-up to Christmas, here's one of a handful of posts I'll be doing looking at a great gift for the stylish man, and some different options to suit all budgets.

First up, cufflinks. They may be obvious, and some might even consider them a slightly staid choice, but given some thought and care they are perfect. Any well-dressed man needs them, and given the number of days per year when they can be worn, its hard to see how an extra pair will ever be unwelcome or unwanted. They can, with luck and care, last a lifetime or longer, and you have plenty of flexibility to show you've given some thought to the recipients particular taste and personality.

Reasonably-priced option
It's not easy finding a pair of cufflinks for less than £20-30 that I'd actually wear, but it's not impossible. TM Lewin do a wide range many of which are at best unexceptional and at worst hideous. However, they do offer one or two decent, plain, classic gold or silver ovals. My preference would probably be these which have the advantage of being sterling silver, reasonably elegant, and chain-mounted which is a rarity in this price bracket.

I'm personally not a fan of more showy or colourful cufflinks, but a discrete coloured enamel can work perfectly nicely, just be sure to avoid anything that comes as a set with a tie...

Mid-range option
If you're prepared to spend closer to £100, your options open up a lot. Smarter versions of the silver ovals mentioned above are available from, for example, Aspinal of London for £99, and can be engraved with initials for £20 more.
Image propert of Aspinal of London

Alternatively, Ede & Ravenscroft offer gold and mother-of-pearl cufflinks for just £75 (and the same again for a set of matching dress studs. Go on, you know you want to.)

Stretching the budget a bit further, New and Lingwood do a range of attractive enameled oval cufflinks for £250, here. As I've said, I'm more of a fan of plain gold or silver, but these are a classic style and suit many men very well. They're also not a bad bet if you know the man you're buying for already has the classic gold and/or silver chain-linked ovals, which many will.

To my mind, the ne plus ultra of cufflinks for the well-dressed man are classic chain-linked ovals in 18ct gold, either plain or engraved with his initials. Rebus, who made my signet ring, offer a fine example here for a mere £1,860, or £1,920 including engraved initials. If that's too much, you can always go for 9ct gold for rather less, and I'm sure noone will mind. Either way, the best ones are made of decent thick chunks of gold and, in my opinion, have the advantage of being wearable with almost anything from full evening dress to a shirt and cords.

If you're looking for something a bit more unusual or showy, the independent jeweller De Vroomen in Belgravia makes some beautiful enameled cufflinks at a range of prices (all fairly eye-watering) and also does individual commissions.
Image property of De Vroomen

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Preparing for Winter 2: Gloves

The second in my round of 'buying things I need every year, and think about buying every year, and never quite sort out' came in the form of a pair of very nice Paul Smith gloves.
I don't buy a lot of clothes from Paul Smith. Although I like the quality and some of the style, I prefer more straightforward and classic colours, patterns and cuts. I couldn't resist the gloves though - made from very soft, very dark brown leather with a thin wool lining, they're exactly the thing for the increasingly chilly but not quite 'brass-monkey' weather that heralds the run-up to Christmas. People who particularly like wearing gloves can always go for an unlined pair, but my personal view is that if it's not cold enough to justify a wool lining then it's not worth wearing something that makes it impossible to use a smart phone or fish change out of my pocket.

I personally like very dark brown gloves as a fairly all-purpose option. Black is fine, and can look smart with a suit when you are (presumably) wearing black shoes, although I personally think it's a little less elegant than brown. If you have more than one pair, then grey is a traditional but increasingly uncommon possibility for day-wear.

The slimmer and better-fitting your gloves are the better, of course (and the easier it is to do that fishing for change) and the ideal is to get them custom-made. I've never done so, but it's not outrageously expensive from places such as Walker Slater, and also gives you complete flexibility in your choice of colour, leather, and lining. Wool is comfortable and straightforward, fur is fantastic but too warm for all but the coldest days in London, and silk is lovely but generally more expensive.

It's having the choice that's nice, of course, and that inevitably is wear trouble begins. Now that I have one pair, I immediately start to realise all the other pairs I really need...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Mr Cameron and White Tie mishaps

Poor Mr Cameron seems to have suffered a slight white tie wardrobe malfunction at last night's Lord Mayor's Banquet. I don't especially wish to post pictures of the PMs chest on this blog so, if you wish to see for yourself, you shall have to visit the Guardian, which has no such compunctions.

As far as I can tell, what happened is that he has used a type of stud designed for shirts so stiffly starched that it is impossible to push the stud through, and so they must in fact be inserted from either side and screwed together. Perhaps his are an old family set and the threads are worn, but it seems that several have come undone at once, which is highly unfortunate.

Ah well, such are the perils of wearing a wardrobe that requires you to be screwed in to your shirt, but at least he made the effort and generally looked jolly smart.

Still, those of you with an eye for correct formal attire will no doubt notice that he has committed the classic white tie sin of wearing a waistcoat that extends well below the bottom of his tailcoat.

Of course, he's hardly the first man to have this problem. The difficulty arises because the coat must be short, coming to barely below the ribcage, and the waistcoat must (obviously) cover the waistband of the trousers. Therefore, one is left with two options: either the trousers must come to somewhere around your navel, which is correct but unpopular these days, or the waistcoat must extend below the tailcoat. Finding sufficiently high-waisted trousers is all the more difficult if, like the PM, you hire your white tie. Mr Cameron gets his from Buckleigh in Chelsea which is, I am sure, a step up on Moss Bros but no doubt has likewise given up on trying to talk the modern customer into wearing trousers that sit a good half a foot higher than those he is used to.

It's a shame, and Mr Cameron of all people could surely justify buying his own evening suit and having it properly fitted. Even Gordon Brown, he of the baggy suits, eventually shelled out £3,000 (of his own money) on his own. That said, he probably didn't get as much use out of it as he'd hoped, so perhaps Mr Cameron is still hedging his bets.
The moral of the story? Buy evening wear that fits, and be sure that your studs are up to the task before you step infront of the national press.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Style icon: Patrick Bateman

Ok, so he's either an extremely sick and evil man or (more likely, in my view) has a very sick imagination, but it's hard to be interested in clothes and ignore the fact that the protagonist of Bret Easton Ellis's famous book is utterly obsessed by what he, and everyone else around him, is wearing. The beginning of every chapter reads like one of those strange 'what am I wearing today' threads on the more naval-gazing clothing forums and, not only that, but he and his friends obsess about the minutiae of how to wear certain items of clothing in a way that cannot help to attract the interest of a blogger like myself.

"Is it proper to wear tasseled loafers with a business suit?"
"The tasseled loafer is traditionally a casual shoe...[but] as long as it's either black or cordovan it's ok."

"There are definitely dos and don'ts ... of wearing a bold-striped shirt. A bold stripe calls for solid-coloured or discreetly patterned suits and ties."

And so on, and so on.

I'm not sure the film really does justice to the range of his wardrobe and, in particular, the way he carefully chooses exactly the right thing to wear for each event. To a U2 concert, it's "a wool jacket with wool flannel trousers, a cotton shirt, a cashmere V-neck sweater and a silk tie". I'm not sure anyone dresses like that to see bands anymore, but it would certainly do for an evening at the theatre or at a classical concert. For a day in the office, perhaps a more formal lool: "a mini-houndstooth-check wool suit with pleated trousers by Hugo Boss, a silk tie... a cotton broad-cloth shirt by Joseph Abboud, and shoes from Brooks Brothers".

Of course, Bateman's real problem is the same as some other well-dressed men I've come accross: he's enthralled (to an unhealthy degree) by details, by labels, and by what other people are wearing. There's no indication of any real flair, style or enthusiasm. But perhaps that's not surprising; he is, after all, a psychopath, desperately trying to fit in.

If we can learn anything from Patrick, it's that. Stop worrying about 'the rules', stop obsessing over every component of each day's outfit and where you bought it from, and stop worrying how other people see you. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Closing of Ralph Lauren Rugby

The always excellent 'Boxing the Compass' blog has drawn my attention to the fact that Ralph Lauren Rugby is closing, with an amusingly mocking take on the brand. I'm not a huge fan myself; while I quite like the preppy look, and occasionally veer a little in that direction with my outfits, I'd prefer to construct the style myself from decent clothes made without necessarily any conscious preppy intention than to buy it, fully formed and largely falsified, from a single store. I think I only own one item of clothing from there - a nice-fitting pair of chinos that have nevertheless largely fallen apart within a year.

I'm not quite sure what's inspired Ralph Lauren to do this - supposedly they want to focus on their own brand, and on accessories. That may be no bad thing, they actually make terrific suits and other clothes, but seem often to be overshadowed by weirdly stylised spin-off brands that feel more like costumiers than clothes-shops.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Preparing for Winter 1 - Boots

For the last two Autumn/Winter periods, I've spent an inordinate amount of time wanting, looking for, an ultimately not buying a pair of brown brogue boots.

On the one hand, they are exactly what I need. A little warmer, a little chunkier and a little more suitable for wet (or even snowy weather) than normal shoes and yet (if well chosen) able to pass for a pair of casual, but perfectly smart, brogues when your trousers cover the ankle section.

The trouble has always been finding the right pair. It's important that they basically have the shape and style of a normal pair of brown brogues, so anything overly chunky was out. On the other hand, ideally I feel it needs to have rubber soles since it is at least in part a practical purchase. Colour, too, becomes tricky when, of the half-dozen or so shoemakers I would consider buying from, each may only make one or two varieties of boot, and some offer none.

And so time passed, and I never bought a pair. Finally, though, I have bitten the bullet and gone for what is very nearly my perfect pair of brown brogue boots.

They're made by Crockett & Jones, and are a neat and smart pair of open-laced boots with a classic full-brogue that, when I am wearing trouser, are barely distinguishable from many shoes. The colour is beautiful - a properly dark almost mahogany tone that I've taken years trying to polish into my other brogues. If they have a flaw, it's that they are not rubber-soled. Crockett & Jones do offer it, but it required returning them to the manufacturer and paying an extra £60. The money isn't so much of a problem, but the wait was. Deferred gratification has never been my strong point. I shall wear them as they are and, when they need resoling, will probably have them changed at that point.

They're warm, comfortable and beautiful - form and function combined, which is always nice, particularly if you enjoy walking for miles around London as much as I do. Although largely designed for country wear, they're perfectly acceptable to wear with pretty much anything you might wear brown brogues with. I particularly like them with one of my pairs of fairly casual, but brightly coloured corduroy trousers. At the same time, they could certainly be worn with a tweed suit and possible with other very soft, casual or light-coloured suits.

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:

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.

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.

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.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Designing Bond's Look

An nice little featurette here on designing James Bond's look. I was particularly interested in the first bit about the turn-back cuff, something I'd not noticed in the old films, but which is an unusual suit feature that I have on one of my suits.

A nice mention of Anthony Sinclair, Connery's original tailor, who still make suits today with the original 'conduit cut' style, and also how he came to end up wearing Brioni.

A little thin on real detail, but still well worth a watch.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Royal Warrant Round-up

Last week's post about Penhaligon's reminded me of an interesting aspect of choosing a supplier: the Royal Warrant. Described (by the Royal Warrant-holders Association, to be fair) as the 'Peerage of Trade', it is the stamp of approval by one of the three senior royals (The Queen, Prince Phillip, or Prince Charles) and therefore seen as the ultimate product endorsement by many retailers.

Of course, it's only a mark of quality or taste insofar as you assume that the Royals are supremely aware of quality and arbiters of taste. We might point out that companies as diverse as Coca Cola, DHL, and Carphone Warehouse all have Royal Warrants (though some choose not to display them, depending on how they believe it will be viewed by their target market).

All the same, I still believe that most Royal Warrant-holders are legitimately somewhere close to the best in their particular field and, if nothing else, it may give some satisfaction when your own tastes align with those of the Royal Family. Penhaligon's is one, of course, but here are a few more suppliers who get not only the Royal Warrant but also the highly prestigious St James Style Seal of Approval.

Ede and Ravenscroft
Still my favourite source of most things non-bespoke, although their tendency not to produce their beautiful short-run seasonal suits and jackets in sufficiently small chest sizes does mean that I mostly restrict myself to shirts, trousers, ties, pocket squares and various other odds and ends. The shops are beautiful, the staff are generally excellent, and the quality is terrific.

Ede & Ravenscroft actually hold their warrants (all three) as Robe Makers, which is their speciality. They are still the premier supplier for not only academic and court gowns and robes, but for the more obscure pieces of finery sometimes needed by Royalty and the Peerage.

Probably my favourite gin. Gordon's (also a warrant-holder) is terrific, and a little cheaper, but Tanqueray makes a slightly better martini and is still cheap enough to put in a gin and tonic. And, if you're feeling flush (or its on offer) you can spring for Tanqueray no. 10 which makes a still better martini albeit, at 47% abv, a slightly more lethal one.

Loake Shoemakers
Arguably the cheapest of what I'd consider the 'real' English shoe manufacturers, even pipping Barker to the post, Loake manufacturer an incredibly wide range of proper classic Goodyear-Welted shoes, along with a few more modern options, and sell most of them for less than £150 a pair. That is the way to my heart, and clearly it is the way to Her Majesty's heart as well.

Paxton and Whitfield
Churchill supposedly once said "A gentleman buys his hats at Locks, his shoes at Lobbs, his shirts at Harvey and Hudson, his suits at Huntsman and his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield". Three of those five hold Royal Warrants, and Paxton & Whitfield is one of them. Of course, in reality, I mostly buy cheese from supermarkets but, for dinner parties or other special occasions you simply cannot beat the expertise, range and quality of Paxton and Whitfield. And nothing quite makes Christmas-time feel Christmassy like joining the long queue at the Jermyn Street store to pick up some cheese to take back for the family.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Answering the questions I never get asked: part 2

Back at the beginning of last year (goodness me... so long?) I noted that the Google searches that lead people to my blog also occasionally suggest questions that people are curious about but my blog is failing to answer. Back then, I decided to answer a few that particularly interested me in this post, and I have decided to do the same again now. So here we go. These are all Google searches that have landed people on my blog.

Are brown brogues acceptable for an interview
Good question! I could write a whole post on interview clothes (and probably will soon) but, in answer to your specific question, I'd say it depends on the job and what you plan to wear them with. If you think the interview demands a business suit, and that's what you'll be wearing, then I would suggest that brown brogues are a risky choice. You might well disagree with restrictive rules about not wearing brown shoes with a suit and, if so, I'd say that on your first day at your new job you should feel free to flout convention and express your individuality. A job interview, however, is not the time - wear black Oxfords if you have them and, if you don't, then buy some.

That said, I increasingly don't wear suits to job interviews. I always used to, but the reality is that my profession simply doesn't expect or require it, and most 'interviews' now take the form of relatively informal chats before reaching a mutual agreement on a role. The key is showing that you can look presentable when needed, and that you respect the process and the interviewer, and I can achieve that with a smart jacket and chinos. Under those circumstances, well-polished brown brogues are absolutely ideal.

Can a black old top hat be refitted
Yes, within reason, although it may not be cheap. I would recommend Lock & Co.

Can I wear double breasted waistcoat with lounge suit
Oh definitely - I think this looks absolutely terrific. I assuming this means a waistcoat that matches the suit, though. Odd waistcoats with lounge suits are controversial enough without going overboard.

Can you wear a waistcoat that doesn't match
I actually seem to have loads of people Googling this or similar questions, such as 'can I wear a grey waistcoat with a blue suit' or 'can I wear a plain grey waistcoat with a grey checked suit'. Ok, so I do understand the temptation - you've realised that three-piece suits look unbelievably awesome and glamorous but, even now they're popular, relatively few cheaper stores sell them and, besides, you already have as many suits as you can afford, so can you pick up and odd waistcoat and use it?

You can, if you do it judiciously. I wrote a post some time ago about this, and I stand by my views. Nevertheless, it's a tough look to pull off well, and if you really want the full effect of a three-piece suit then there's no substitute for just biting the bullet and buying one.

Advice for artillery officer
Keep your head down and come home safe.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Top 5 accessories you (may) need to own

Many thanks to one of my readers for suggesting this post. I hope it is somewhat useful.

Listing the top five accessories you 'need' is somewhat harder than my previous post. Most of the ones I can think of you could easily get through life without, and none are quite as broadly useful as a blue blazer, for example. All the same, I would suggest that any man who wants to at least have the capacity to be seriously well-dressed needs to own most of these.

Sure, you don't have to wear cufflinks and, if you never wear a suit, then you can probably get away with only ever wearing button-cuff shirts. Indeed, I am not personally a fan of wearing double-cuffed shirts with casual jackets, but that may just be me. All the same, it's generally considered smarter to wear cufflinks with a suit and, more importantly, it is one of the very few opportunities men have to wear a bit of jewellery.

The options are limitless - gold ovals are classic, perhaps engraved with your initials or a club or family emblem. I personally prefer the type with a front and back linked by a chain, as it looks far smarter, although I'll admit that the 'bar and swivel' type are easier to put on.

Other cufflinks with jewels, coloured enamel or other decoration are also options depending on your taste. Having something a bit showy is fine, but simpler is generally better.

Aside from that, simple silk knots are a cheap option available in an almost infinite variety of colours. They have the advantage of hardly being cufflinks at all, which may appeal to men who wear a suit all the time for work and prefer to avoid the added formality of metal cufflinks on a daily basis.

Or suspenders, for my American readers. Fewer and fewer men seem to wear braces, but I consider them almost vital for wearing suit trousers properly. I personally think that belts are pretty much unacceptable with a suit, despite their ubiquity these days, and it really requires braces to get suit trousers hanging comfortable at the right height without being uncomfortably cinched around the waist.

I favour the heavy boxcloth braces with leather attachments from Albert Thurston, but colourful silk ones are also an option and, since they should rarely be visible, you can feel free to go fairly wild.

I wasn't completely sure about including a watch on this list. If you like wearing watches then, no doubt, you already own one. If you don't like wearing watches then I wouldn't suggest that you rush out and buy one simply on the basis of this post. All the same, I love watches for all sorts of reasons, not least their ability to simultaneously enhance an outfit and enable a man to tell the time without fishing in a pocket for his smart phone. These alone make wearing a watch something a stylish man ought to seriously consider.

As to the type, I wouldn't presume to dictate to you on something so personal. My own preference is for watches that are as simple as possible, with the minimum of additional dials and buttons, and I slightly favour leather straps. You don't have to share my taste, but I would recommend avoiding overly 'sporty' or chunky watches with a suit. You may think they hint at a secret life of extreme sports, but I would suggest they hint at having never grown up. Unnecessarily fully-featured watches are equally problematic - the manufacturer may imagine it's a positive that their watch is designed to help solo pilots circumnavigate the globe but, unless you actually own an aircraft, such a watch is more likely to make you look deluded while also failing to fit properly under your shirt cuff.

Ok, so I would presume to dictate to you on something so personal. Sorry.

Yes, I think you should wear braces with your suits, and yes a belt does very little for trousers worn at the natural waist, but the time has long since passed where odd trousers were made with side adjusters or worn very far above the hip, so a belt is both a necessary and potentially very attractive part of the wardrobe.

Every man really needs a good, solid, brown leather belt. Avoid the hell out of fancy buckles, particularly anything with logos or images. A belt like this will go well with brown shoes to wear with chinos or other odd trousers. You may also want a black belt, although I would suggest that the occasions when you will wear black shoes with odd trousers are probably fewer. 

Aside from that, a couple of more casual belts can also be worthwhile, particularly to wear with tailored shorts or just to make a change in more relaxed outfits. I'm a big fan of stripy canvas belts, which generally end with leather attachments and a brass buckle. Smart Turnout do this sort of thing in school and regimental colours which is fun, though probably not strictly necessary.

Pocket Squares
Pocket squares, which for a long time seemed to be seen as the preserve of slightly 'dandified' men, are making a pleasing resurgence. It might be the Mad Men effect, or just a general enthusiasm for (albeit generally rather distorted) formal style. 

I love them for the opportunity to add another bit of colour to an outfit, and because of the small amount of additional care they show that you've taken. If appropriately selected with a careful eye, to compliment or contrast with the ensemble of shirt, tie and jacket, they complete an outfit in a way that makes their absence start to seem almost striking.

I personally favour an carelessly style with a mere half-inch showing in unstudied peaks or waves, but a neater line or triangle fold can look extremely smart, particularly with a plain white pocket square. The secret is to show neither too much or too little, and certainly to avoid great mounds of silk flowing from your top pocket. A variety of colours, patterns and materials are available, and if you start to build up a collection you'll always have the right thing for the occasion, whether it's a dark green paisley cotton square to wear with a tweed jacket, or a spotted silk one to tuck into your most sober business suit.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Scent: Penhaligon's Sartorial

Penhaligon's is easily my favourite source of cologne, shower gel and so forth. It's a little on the pricey side but the beautiful old stores, outstanding service and unusual products make it more than worthwhile. Unlike almost all of their competitors, Penhaligon's don't create new scents based on trend analysis, figuring out what is popular and then making something to suit. Instead, they develop their own ideas, exploring a concept and producing a result so good that people will buy it regardless of whether or not it is currently 'on-trend'. The fabulously '20s Juniper Sling is a good example of this, and makes you smell slightly like a gin martini. In a good way.

Perhaps of particular interest to my readers, though, will be the 'Sartorial' scent. Inspired, they say, by the smell of the cutting-room at famous Savile Row tailors Norton & Sons, it is said to be the 'scent of Savile Row'.
It's not that you necessarily want to smell like a tailors cutting room (although I can certainly think of worse things) but this is a terrific men's scent in its own right. Subtle and waxy, it strikes me as a the perfect thing to wear as autumn sets in.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Shoes: Loafers

Brown brogues may be, in my view, amongst the most versatile and practical of shoes, but loafers have a special place in my heart. Comfortable, sleek and relaxed, they offer a diversity of style and a range of decorative potential that particularly appeals to me.

All through the summer, loafers are the ideal thing to go with chinos or linen suits and can even be worn sockless. Even as autumn approaches, though, they're a great staple for everyday wear with a jacket and flannels. I'll happily even wear the suede Eton loafers with tweed, although I'll admit they're not best suited to wearing in wet weather...
The tassel loafers are a slightly bolder choice, and have seen their fair share of friendly mockery, but I love them. There's some satisfaction to be had from wearing something just a touch more showy on your feet, I find.
As I've said before, brogues and oxfords are a great staple, but loafers are just a bit more fun, and well worth owning to give your wardrobe some added flexibility.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Cad and the Dandy - A suit is born

If you haven't seen it, Cad and the Dandy have added a great video to their website:

It does a great job of showing their very talented head cutter at work, and I also like the nice shot of the meticulous sewing of the buttonholes - one of my absolute favourite details on my hand-made suits.

More than anything, it reminds me of how long it's been (nearly a year) since I last had anything bespoke made. Definitely getting that itch again...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Magazine: The Rake

It's taken me a while to find a men's fashion magazine I really like. GQ isn't really my style, Esquire is often great but doesn't really cover the same sort of clothes as this blog. The fact is, of course, few people consider my kind of clothes exactly 'fashionable' so they just don't get that much coverage in most magazines.

I've heard mutterings about The Rake for a while - published in Singapore, with an annual subscription that would buy you around five years of Esquire Subscriptions, they claim to cater to the "mature-minded gent who draws his satorial inspiration from icons such as Cary Grant, Fred Astaire , the Duke of Windsor, Gianni Agnelli and Sean Connery"


No doubt partly the cause of its high subscription costs, The Rake is considerably lighter on advertising than other magazines, which often seem to blur the line between telling you about clothes, and just letting manufacturers pay to fill the magazine full of pictures of their clothes.

Instead, The Rake focuses on quality content, with lengthy articles and plenty of full-pages of nothing but text. As it says, it's inspiration is classic tailoring and style, with a healthy interest in the way clothes are made as well as how they are worn. Despite its headquarters, much of the focus is on London, with articles about specific organisations and individuals on the tailoring scene. It's all topped off with a healthy dose of lifestyle content, briefly covering food, drink and travel.
It's also beautifully produced in a slightly less glossy, more 'made-to-keep' style than most magazines, which may be some comfort considering the cost. Definitely worth the investment, and worth taking the time to read rather than simply glancing at the pictures and then leaving on the coffee table.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Top 5 items of clothing you need to own

Maybe you're starting at uni, starting a new job, starting a more senior position, or just growing up a bit. Whatever the reason, you've realised that your wardrobe needs a revamp. Three pairs of jeans, a dozen lumberjack shirts and a shapeless jacket for special occasions just aren't going to cut it any more.

The trouble is, starting a proper wardrobe is hard work. And expensive. Which is a bad combination. Starting from scratch and becoming the sort of chap who has the perfect outfit for any and every occasion takes time, money and effort. I can't promise to reduce the money needed (although I can offer some pointers) but I do have some thoughts on how to make a start with slightly less time and effort. Buy the following five items (I cheated on some, and combined items. My blog, my rules) and you'll be fairly well set for the modern environment.

A blue blazer
Not a double-breasted, brass buttons type. Much as I love them, they're just no longer appropriate most of the time, especially if you're a younger fellow. No, what I'd recommend is something single-breasted, made of softish material, with horn or wooden buttons (or, you know, plastic. That is fine too). Get something that fits nicely, and you can wear it at practically any occasion. Dress it up with chinos and a tie, and you'll be suitably dressed for a private club or client meeting. Dress it down with an open-necked shirt and a jumper, and you'll still be the best-dressed man in most restaurants.

If you're going to wear a blazer and chinos as suggested, then there's one more thing you'll need. Yup, chinos. You can get them anywhere, and it's easier to tell you what not to go for. Don't get ones with the twisted seams, or elasticated bottoms, or any other modern nonsense. By the same token, don't get ones with a high waist and double-pleats. My preference is for flat-fronted, straight-leg, slim but not skinny, and in a nice soft cotton. For your first pair, I'd recommend khaki as the most versatile colour, but after that feel free to go wild - red, pink and yellow can all work nicely, and blue is useful so long as you've got something other than a blue blazer to wear it with.

A suit (and a shirt, and tie, and shoes)
Yes, I'm cheating, this is four items of clothing, but otherwise this list would just be 'things you need to wear with a suit', which would be dull.
Ok, so if you're only getting one suit then I'd recommend fairly plain blue or grey, darkish, single-breasted with two buttons. It doesn't have to be expensive, but it does have to fit.
Other than that, a reasonably discreet shirt, a tie with no more than two or three colours, and a pair of nice black oxfords with round toes, and you're sorted. Job interviews, smarter dinner and drinks parties or client meetings need hold no fear for you.

Brown brogues
Loafers are also useful, but brown brogues are pretty well the dressiest casual shoe around, so they're a very handy thing to have in your wardrobe. If, like me, you rarely wear a suit but like to look reasonably smart, then you could probably wear brown brogues five days a week if you only had enough pairs. Wear them with those chinos and blazer mentioned above, wear them with jeans to smarten up a bit, you can even wear them with a suit so long as it's tweed or otherwise very casual. 

A tweed jacket
This last choice was a tricky one but, in the end, I decided on a tweed jacket. Why? Because it provides a crucial alternative to the suit or blazer options discussed above. When you want to dress smartly in the country, at the weekend, or perhaps even on a Friday to give the vague impression that, come five o'clock, you're popping on a train to your second home in Kent, a tweed jacket is the best option. Better yet, it's maybe the most flexible bit of clothing you can own: perhaps the only tailored jacket that actually looks good with jeans, but equally something that looks hugely smart with a pair of tailored trousers and a tie.

It's only a start, and I could offer so many other more possibilities, but I honestly believe that if you bought all of the above (along with a couple of nice shirts) you'd be able to make a pretty good fist of being appropriately dressed for any occasion you might come across.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Linen Jacket

Twice this summer, in between our torrential rain, I've found an opportunity to wear a favourite new item of clothing. My Shepherd & Woodward linen jacket was an extremely fortunate last-minute find before January's trip to India. There, it got a reasonable amount of use. Here in London, even in July, it's stayed mainly in the wardrobe. Nevertheless, on the rare occasions where I do manage to get it out, it's a real pleasure to wear.

A good linen jacket is cream, not white, and usually unlined and fairly unstructured. Although a full linen suit is a wonderful thing, a jacket worn with darker chinos or flannels is slightly more restrained as well as being more resilient to wear in the office or on public transport. A casual (but not linen) shirt, probably with single-cuffs, and a reasonably plain tie tied with a narrow knot completes the look.

It's the perfect summer alternative to the blue blazer or tweed jacket, suited to most occasions where a suit isn't required from a client meeting to a cocktail party or dinner out. After a day of wear, it's bound to end up pretty crumpled, especially around the arms, but that is part of the charm. All that is generally needed is to hang it and give it a quick steam before putting it away.

Aside from Shepherd & Woodward (a venerable institution based in Oxford, and well worth a visit if you're in the area), such jackets are available from most tailors in the spring and summer months, but the key is picking a colour and construction you like. They vary in material from very thin and unstructured to fairly crisp and, in colour, from nearly white to pale grey and everything in between. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

As Ascot kicks off, here is an argument for dress codes

"Evening dress is cheap, simple, durable, prevents rivalry and extravagance on the part of male leaders of fashion, annihilates class distinctions and gives men who are poor and doubtful of their social position (that is, the great majority of men) a sense of security and satisfaction that no clothes of their own choosing could confer, besides saving a whole sex the trouble of considering what they should wear on state occasions."
George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, 7 June 2012

A survey

I am keen to get some answers to a few simple questions on people's opinions on men's clothes shops. We've put together a fairly quick and dirty survey and, while I appreciate it's difficult to categorise opinions simple, any data gathered would be very interesting for me in proving some points for a project I'm working on.

If you could possibly spare the time, the link is here:

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Value for money

If anyone can take the (dubious) credit for being my inspiration in starting this blog, it is Will from A Suitable Wardrobe. Unlike me, he still manages to post almost every day, and has a large and dedicated following. Anyway, I was particularly interested in one recent post of his, in which he quoted a large chunk of Evelyn Waugh discussing the difficulty of being well-dressed on a budget, and a possible solution. Will's post in full is here.

I think the entire quote is worth reproducing in full:
Of course, there is really only one way of being perfectly dressed - that is, to be grossly rich. You may have exquisite discrimination and the elegance of a gigolo, but you can never rival the millionaire if he has even the faintest inclination towards smartness. He orders suits as you order collars, by the dozen. His valet wears them for the first three days so that they never look new, and confiscates them after three months so that they never look old. He basks in a perpetual high noon of bland magnificence.
It is useless to compete against him. If your object in choosing your clothes is to give an impression of wealth, you had far better adopt a pose of reckless dowdiness and spend your money in maintaining under a hat green and mildewed with age a cigar of fabulous proportions. If, however, you have no intention of deceit, but simply, for some reason, happen to like being well dressed, it is essential to have at least two tailors.
There are about a dozen first-rate tailors in London whose names you may always see quoted by the purveyors of ‘mis-fit’ clothing. Below them are about a hundred rather expensive eminently respectable unobtrusive shops in fashionable streets, where your uncles have bought their clothes since undergraduate days. Below them are several hundreds of quite cheap very busy little shops in the City and business quarters. The secret of being well dressed on a moderate income is to choose one of the first-rate and and one of the third-rate tailors and maintain a happy balance between them.
There are some things, an evening tail-coat for instance, which only a first-rate tailor can make. On the other hand, the difference between a pair of white flannel trousers costing five guineas in Savile Row or George Street and one costing two guineas in the Strand is practically negligible. The same applies to almost all country clothes. It is not necessary or particularly desirable that these, except of course the riding breeches, should be obtrusively well cut.
The chief disadvantage of small tailors is that they usually have such a very depressing selection of patterns. It is a good plan to buy all your tweeds direct from the mills in Scotland and to have them made up. Another disadvantage of the small tailor is that he never knows what is fashionable. At least once every eighteen months you should spend fifteen guineas in getting a suit in Savile Row, which will serve as a model for him.
It is never wise to allow any one except a first-rate tailor to attempt a double-breasted waistcoat; in some mysterious way this apparently simple garment is invariably a failure except in expert hands. But you can safely leave all trousers which are not part of a suit, even evening trousers, which ought, in any case, to be made of a rather heavier material than the coat, to our less expensive shop. The most magnificent-looking traveling coat I ever saw had been made up for four guineas from the owner’s own stuff by the second -best tailor in a cathedral town.
It is usually an economy to buy your hosiery at an expensive shop. It is essential that evening shirts and waistcoats should be made to your measure; cheap ties betray their origin in a very short time.
There is only one completely satisfactory sort of handkerchief - the thick squares of red and white cotton in which workmen carry their dinners. Socks wear out just as quickly whatever their quality, and are the one part of a man’s wardrobe which ought never to attract attention. Expensive shoes are a perfectly sound investment, particularly if you keep six or seven pairs and always put them on trees when they are not in use.

The strategy holds good even today, although I would argue that good-quality off-the-peg 'tailors' have largely (although by no means completely) replaced the sort of second-rate tailors that Waugh refers to. By the same token, I would tend to adapt his advice for today's gentleman and suggest that, if you are not a millionaire (or even close), you are well advised to find one very good bespoke tailor who you trust and can just about afford, and one or two good off-the-peg suppliers who you like and can more easily afford. As Waugh correctly says, there are many items of clothing that don't really justify top-quality tailoring. These days, I would suggest that unless you have a lot of money, flannel trousers might as well be bought from Ede and Ravenscroft or Roderick Charles rather than on Savile Row.

Likewise, Waugh has a point about country clothes. While a bespoke tweed jacket is a wonderful thing, you might feel that it is not the priority if you can only afford one or two bespoke jackets a year, and that a well-made off-the-peg one will do nearly as well.

So what should be bought from your tailor? Top of the list, as Waugh says, is evening wear. These days, this is more likely to be a dinner suit than an evening tailcoat, but the principle is sound. Even the finest off-the-peg dinner jacket will lack the elegant figure, clean lines and tailored waist that make such a difference to an evening suit. Better yet; since you will likely be wearing it relatively infrequently, it could easily last you a life-time and so is perhaps more palatable to a man on a budget about to spend a considerable sum of money with a tailor.

Whether you can have all your business suits tailor made depends entirely on your budget, but there is always a balance to be struck. There is no harm at all in buying the majority of ordinary grey and blue suits off-the-peg, and having just one or two suits tailor-made, perhaps in finer cloth or more unusual patterns.

The good news is that, perhaps unlike in Waugh's day, most men dress so appallingly badly that it no longer requires you to be a millionaire, or even wealthy at all, to look conspicuously better-dressed. The smallest modicum of good taste and care when buying clothes and getting dressed in the morning will lift you far above the crowd. These days, even the millionaires dress badly, as is unfailingly demonstrated every time a group of premiership footballers or hollywood actors assemble for an event.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Knitted waistcoats, and the finished POW jacket

At this time of year, I'm always on the lookout for decent knitwear. One of the designs I particularly like is a sleeveless wool cardigan, close-fitting, made of thin material and cut like a waistcoat so it can be worn under a suit or jacket. They're not an easy thing to find these days, despite featuring prominently in the recent TV series 'The Hour'.

I was delighted to find that Hackett offer just such a thing in a variety of colours, and even more delighted when I received one for Christmas. It goes well under my Donegal tweed suit, similar to the one Freddie Lyon wears in the tv series, but also with the (no longer) new prince of wales check jacket from Cad and the Dandy, which I realise I have still not shown off properly. So here it is, as worn to a weekend lunch in the city, with my knitted waistcoat from Hackett underneath for a little extra warmth.