Thursday, 19 December 2013

Cad and the Dandy three-piece: the finished article

I realise that I never quite did a post on the finished Cad and the Dandy three-piece suit. Despite the fact that it has been complete since late August, and I have worn it on numerous occasions since then, I was lacking in any decent photos of it and this has made me hold off on doing the blog post. Alas I am still lacking in decent photos but I think it's silly to hold off any longer, so here is the finished article as good as I can get it. I apologise for the dreadful quality of the photos!

The suit is, as I fully expected, utterly beautiful. There's nothing quite like a handcrafted suit, totally unique, and made precisely to your own specifications. I love the look of three-piece suits, and this is a perfect combination of a cloth and cut that is conservative enough not to draw undue attention, but unusual enough to be interesting and clearly bespoke. It's seen use at a wedding, at work meetings, and at numerous semi-formal dinners at clubs and smart restaurants. It fits all these tasks perfectly, and always attracts a nice comment along the lines of being smart and well-cut, but not 'dandy', 'dapper' or 'snappy'. None of which, by the way, are bad things if that's what you're after, they're just not quite what I was looking for with this suit.

I think, over the last few posts about this suit, I've covered off almost everything that needs saying, so at this point I'll just finish up with a couple more photos. The lines of the waistcoat are beautiful, and well worth a look - you may recall that the lapels were hand-drawn on the basted cut by Phillipa. That tie, incidentally, is a very purchase from Gieves and Hawkes which I am very pleased with - I have a tendency to almost exclusively wear school, club and society ties, and am lacking in good ordinary ties. This was an attempt to redress that balance, and I think it's turned out rather well.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Winter activities, and Cordings (and What To Wear on a shoot)

My pursuit of country pursuits, and the right clothes in which to pursue them, took me last week to Cordings on Picadilly. While I've often looked longingly in at the window, which has amongst the most elegant displays of tweed you will see anywhere in London, I've never actually ventured inside. However, when I realised I needed some new shooting breeks at the last minute Cordings immediately sprung to mind as the obvious place to go. Farlows on Pall Mall is also an excellent choice, and possibly even a bit cheaper, but it's a little more 'sporting' and a little less traditional than Cordings and, more important, closes earlier in the evening. As I was in a hurry after work, I didn't have much choice.

Cordings, which is now half-owned by Eric Clapton, has a tiny space on the ground floor, but rather more room in the basement, where most of the menswear is. It has a remarkable selection of traditional men's country-wear, with a particular emphasis on shooting. Many of the tweeds come in up to 7 pieces: breeks (sometimes the option of plus-twos or plus-fours, but I'll count that as one), trousers, waistcoat, shooting waistcoat, jacket, field coat, and cap. They have a variety of patterns ranging from the very conservative to the extremely 'bold' as well as all the accessories you could possibly want, including some very lovely and implausibly expensive shooting socks, of the knee-length variety needed for wear with breeks.

I went for plus-twos, which often better suit the taller and slimmer chap, but managed to resist the full 7-piece suit. I did, however, make sure to check that I was buying a check that was kept regularly in stock and not a short-run seasonal piece, so I could return to get other pieces at some later date. 

What to wear on a shoot

And for those who have landed on this page because they're desperate for some advice, here's my view:
On most shoots, there is a 'smart' dress code, but that doesn't necessarily mean full-on three-piece tweeds, nor is that often a particularly practical option for all sorts of reasons (warmth, water-proof-ness, and a decent shoulder surface). So, the standard outfit for all but the very smartest shoots seems to be breeks, a shirt and tie, a jumper (assuming it's cold enough) and a field coat of some variety. I am modelling this popular and broadly-acceptable look in the picture above. The long, warm socks are held up by brightly coloured garters, the tassels of which hang from the folded tops of the socks and add a nice bit of colour and panache. If you have an eye for colour, or the assistance of a very nice man in Cordings, you can coordinate socks, garters and breeks to great effect.

If you are somewhere hugely smart, or simply like dressing up a bit, then you can go considerably more formal than this without raising any eyebrows, though. Adding a waistcoat that matches your breeks is a good alternative to a jumper, while a shooting waistcoat (which has large bellow pockets for cartridges, and suede-covered shoulders) can be particularly useful if it's warm enough to shoot without a coat. Equally, a matching field-coat is a straightforward addition and makes your shooting 'outfit' into more of a shooting 'suit'.

If you do want to wear an old-fashioned tweed suit, you can up the practicality levels a bit by adding suede to one or both of the shoulders, and bellow pockets. That would probably call for a bespoke request, although no doubt there are places that will do these off the peg. Cordings is probably one of them, but my visit was so brief that I didn't see.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Alexander and James - some seriously unusual spirits

I don't talk about alcohol all that much on this blog, although I think I've done one or two posts on cocktails before, and definitely one on whisky which, in my opinion, is the king of spirits. It may not be quite as subtle and elegant as a really good cognac, as drinkable in a beach bar on a warm evening as rum, or as quaffable at all times and in all places as gin, but it has the advantage of both total reliability and endless variety. My old favourites (Balvenie doublewood is high on the list, since you ask) never let me down, but whenever I end up in a decent, specialist, liquor store or in a bar that takes itself seriously (or just about any pub in Scotland) there's the chance to try something different. Whether it's a different expression (that's the industry term apparently. I apologise) of a brand you already enjoy, or something entirely new, there's something exciting about the prospect of exploring a genuinely entirely novel flavour.

Anyway, all of that is by way of an introduction to why I was particularly delighted to end up with a bottle of Caol Ila Distiller's Edition generously provided by Alexander & James. This is, for those who don't know their scotch, an Islay whisky. Islays have arguably the most distinctive regional character, with a smoky, peaty flavour that tends to be a bit of a love it or hate it thing even with whisky-lovers. Personally, I'm not always an enormous fan but I like it occasionally for variety and I particularly like it in Penicillins. Although cocktails probably aren't quite the thing for a Distiller's Edition. 

The reason I chose the DE, in fact, is because Alexander & James recently featured it in an article about pairing wines with cheese - a fairly unusual combination that appeals to me, and not just because it allows one to skip the port and move straight on to hard liquor. The whole article is well worth a read and it suggests there's some real enthusiasm and knowledge of spirits behind the website. Incidentally, they don't only do whisky although that's arguably where their selection is widest. In the rum, gin, vodka and tequila categories they've wisely selected one top brand and offer it in a few different versions at different price points. The whisky selection, on the other hand, is diverse, pleasingly eclectic, and occasionally quite breathtakingly expensive. The collection appears carefully curated and is mixed up an interesting range of gadgets, glassware and other spirits-associated odds and ends. All the bottles come beautifully packaged in custom boxes, which is a nice touch especially if you're buying as a gift.

As far as my own bottle goes, it's not breathtakingly expensive but still definitely better than I would usually buy a whole bottle of for consumption at home, so I was interested to see how it would compare both to my usual favourites and to the Caol Ila 12 year old that is also occupying my drinks cabinet. Distiller's Editions are often (though not always) spectacular, offering something really unusual for only a very slightly higher price. In this case the main difference seems to be an extra couple of years of age to mellow it out slightly (though it's not clear how many years and I suspect it's a blend of different ages, which is no bad thing), and that it is finished in Moscatel casks, which give it a little extra sweetness to further offset the aggressive smokiness that characterises the 12-year old. 

Cask finishings are one of the most interesting factors in whisky selection, and one of the reasons that (as I mentioned) there is so much pleasure to be had from sampling different offerings. In this case, the Moscatel is just about detectable at the finish without being in any way overpowering, or making the drink unpleasantly sweet. The peatiness of the 12-year old is undeniably present, but it takes a slightly more back seat to clean, mild flavours of honey and coffee. Perhaps unusually for a Islay which, as I said, are something of an acquired taste, I'd see this as very much the sort of drink that you could serve to a range of friends not all of whom are enthusiastic whisky drinkers. It's has little fire and, particularly when opened up with a drop of water, is easy-drinking enough to be a crowd-pleaser while interesting enough not to be mistaken for a cheap blend that lesser hosts might fob their uninitiated friends off with. 

Note: The whisky in this article was provided by Alexander & James for review. No payment has been made for this post, and acceptance of items for review does not guarantee positive coverage.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Handmade Advantage

When talking about bespoke suits, it's sometimes complicated to articulate what the advantage is. Partly that's because 'bespoke' is so misused that it can cover a range of options anyway, and partly it's because true bespoke has so many benefits that arise for many different reasons. So in this post I'm going to isolate just one, and look at the benefits of hand-made suits.

Even the term 'hand-made' allows for some variation - there's no harm in doing certain tasks with a sewing machine, but the really key thing is that the padding and canvassing is done by hand. The reason is that this allows them to be not just sewn as 2-dimensional aspects of a 2-dimensional suit, but shaped in three dimensions. Imagine the front-piece of your favourite suit jacket - it's one piece of material which, to all intents and purposes, just hangs from your shoulder. Without canvassing, you're limited to shaping it by roughly manipulating how it attaches to the rest of the suit and, perhaps, by putting in a single seam above the pocket to pinch the cloth in a bit. even with these, it's always going to just 'hang' a little shapelessly. Attaching canvas to the cloth helps add structure and weight but, if it's just attached flat to the cloth, it's not going to help much with shape.

A talented coat-maker, however, sews the canvas to the cloth in such a way as to give it shape as he or she goes. By varying the tension on each individual stitch, they sculpt the exact shape they want, and create the sort of smooth lines around the chest that distinguish a bespoke suit.

Image property of

The same process is even more important on the lapels and around the collar, where it is almost the only way to create a perfectly shaped collar that clings properly to the back of the wearer's shirt collar. In these areas, even more stitches will be used, and you can often see any of this if you look at the underside of the lapel on a bespoke suit (depending on the fabric used).

The other aspects of a handmade suit are attractive features like beautiful hand-sewn buttonholes, and the sometimes-visible stitching around the lapels and pockets. These, however, are just signs that your suit has been hand-sewn and, especially the lapel-stitching, are increasingly replicated on very poor suits. The hand-stitched canvas, however, directly contributes to the fit and quality of your suit, and is a good and easily-ignored reason to sometimes pay the extra for proper bespoke.

Incidentally, all of the above is easily ruined by thoughtless dry-cleaners who press the suit flat, so it's worth taking your bespoke suits somewhere that knows what they're doing.

Monday, 9 September 2013


Last week I was invited to the launch part of ShirtSmart, a new service being launched by Barrington Ayre, a well-respect Cotswolds-based tailor who previously provided me with one of his beautiful pairs of tweed house-shoes. Aside from enjoying the surroundings of the Century Club on Shaftesbury avenue to which, alas, I no longer have access since they fell out with the Rushmore Group, it was fascinating to talk to Tom about his latest project, and what his plans are.

The service, which is now live, neatly appeals to men who wear shirts regularly and need a certain number a year, often ordering the same selection. It allows you to set up your basic order of 5, 12 or 25 shirts per year and then have them repeat for a monthly or annual fee. Perhaps more importantly, though, these will be custom-made, by hand, based on your individual measurements and with a wide array of options over collar, cuffs, fabrics and other options such as the button colour and even the colour of the buttonhole thread.

As Tom says, it's very difficult with a shirt to get a good fit off the shelf, and inevitably you seem to end up compromising on something. The fact that so many retailers size purely by collar-size (which is pretty much non-negotiable - it has to be right) means that it's very easy to end up with sleeves too long or too short, especially if you want just the right amount of cuff to show under a suit, or a body that is big and billowy. Just having the basic measurements added can remove a lot of these issues and result in a far, far better shirt. In addition, it's always nice to be able to choose all the elements, since I seem to spend an unnecessary amount of time debating whether to buy the slim-fit shirt in the lovely fabric but the collar that's not quite as cutaway as I like, or the shirt with a fabric I didn't really want but the collar that I prefer. A service like ShirtSmart means you can get exactly what you want, and then continue getting it at regular intervals for as long as you need.

Of course, the measurements have to be right and it does rely to a large extent on your own measurements, although ShirtSmart do have their travelling 'shirtettes' who can take measurements when they're in your area. Either way, when the first shirt arrives you can make as many adjustments as you need and then have them applied to all future shirts, so in the end it shouldn't be hard to get a perfect fit.

From the samples at the event, the quality seemed excellent although I haven't yet had an opportunity to try it myself, and some of the customers were wearing other Barrington Ayre shirts which looked beautiful so he certainly has the skill and experience to make this work. Of course, it may not appeal to people who like popping into their shirtmaker a couple of times a year to be talked into some new fabric or to be remeasured to take account of any physical changes over the Christmas period, but it's clearly excellent for people who are increasingly used to being able to order online and still get top-quality service. It definitely has the potential to take a lot of the hassle out of maintaining a decent wardrobe of well-fitting shirts for wearing every day. 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Three-piece suit: Forward fitting

Generally the final stage in the bespoke process is the 'forward fitting', although (particularly with your first suit with a new tailor) you could actually end up needing more than one appointment to get everything perfect, and any decent bespoke tailor will be happy to accommodate - indeed they will probably want to, rather than let you walk out with a suit that's not quite right. The key thing with the forward fitting is that, at this stage, the suit is complete, with all the canvassing and internal structure in place, buttons on, pockets done - finished basically. This means that you can see everything together properly but are slightly more limited in the kind of changes that you can make. At this point, the sort of adjustments that can be made are the kind of thing that a really good off-the-peg store would offer for its suits: adjustments to trouser length and waist, tweaks to sleeve length (within reason, bearing in mind that the cuff buttons will now be on), and limited adjustments to coat waist and so forth.

I needed a couple of little tweaks, but it's looking fantastic. The trousers are (partly of necessity, so the waistcoat looks right, and partly as a style choice) high-waisted with a fish-tailed back and, because they're designed exclusively to be worn with braces, don't need to be tight-fitting so are looser than many of my trousers (but not in such a way as to be visible). This makes them extraordinarily comfortable.

Suffice it to say it looks smashing - I love the quite traditionally English fit of the trousers with their single pleat, and the bold peaked lapels on the waistcoat, while the cloth is (in my opinion) and absolute masterpiece: lightweight and smart but a lot more interesting than it first appears, it looks almost blue in the right light. Anyway, decent pictures of all this will follow, along with a few more details, and I also plan on doing another post or two on the bespoke process. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Style Icon: Bill Nighy

An exciting landmark for the St James Style blog as we requested our first ever celebrity interview yesterday and were unceremoniously turned down. To be fair, I didn't expect much else but as someone in my life probably once told me "it can't hurt to ask". I thought of asking because I've only ever seen Bill Nighy in person twice and both times were on Savile Row. That made me wonder who his tailor is and led to a bit of Googling which resulted in the discovery that, off-screen, he is a man of considerable personal taste and style with some very interesting opinions on clothes. Famously, he owns dozens of bespoke suits but (equally famously) they are all navy blue, and that is almost exclusively what he wears.

I'd have loved to interview him, of course, but I can't really blame his agents for saying no. Anyway there's more than enough material out there for me to do a Johann Hari and just acquire quotes from elsewhere and pretend he said them to me...

I wouldn't do that though.

This interview with him on Mr Porter (oh, so they can get an interview, can they?) is interesting and I love the Jarvis Crocker quote which I'd not heard before. I wish, though, that I could have asked why he prefers single vented suits. These are less formal, but arguably less fussy and that seems to be what he prefers, with a 'simple' suit - two piece, 'not particularly styled', 'not a waisted jacket' and so forth. I can't say I particularly agree with all of his choices but that's not the point - I admire the fact that he knows what he likes and cares about how he dresses; that's what matters (and what people online so often forget in their search for some kind of objective standard of dress). As he himself points out in the interview, he doesn't compromise and I admire that too. No matter how much you like suits, I think it takes confidence to continue to turn up to Chamonix 'looking like the Blues Brothers' - it's so easy to dress down when you know that that's what everyone else will be doing, and Mr Nighy's unswerving commitment to wearing what he likes and knows he looks good in is a model for all men.

When I have seen him wearing suits of his own they're undeniably very elegant, and clearly bespoke - in one shot that comes pretty high in a Google image search the hand-stitched buttonhole is especially obvious. It goes to show that even with a suit that is 'not too styled' and without a waisted jacket bespoke makes an enormous difference. Actually, given his preference for this sort of thing and the search he mentions for a structured but softer shoulder, going bespoke is arguably more important. And, of course, as he says - it's desperately difficult to get trouser lengths right (and they must be right) without a really good tailor. Even good off-the-peg shops that sell unfinished trousers and pin them for you are going for a rough approximation, that you are then expected to assess and approve, and then hope that it's achieved when the trousers are hemmed. When you consider that with bespoke it can take comprehensive measurements and two or more fittings to get the trousers right, you'll see how inadequate that approach really is.

Anyway, despite all that, I didn't actually ever find out who his tailor is. In the Mr Porter piece he is wearing a Richard James suit but I imagine that was supplied by the stylist. He does mention John Pearse, a 'tailor to the stars' and a Daily Mail article (not linked - I don't link to the Daily Mail) mentions Dunhill, which offers a limited (but serious) bespoke service in a handful of its big stores. The only thing is, neither of those are based on Savile Row so that doesn't get me any closer to who he was visiting there. Or perhaps he just lives nearby, and likes wondering through!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Three-piece suit: Basted Fitting

Back to Cad and the Dandy on Monday for a basted fitting of my new three-piece suit with the double-breasted waistcoat. At the basted fitting stage, the suit (or at least the jacket; not always the trousers as they are much simpler) has been stitched together quickly using basting thread with no lining and a minimum of canvassing to give it just enough structure to wear. This allows the tailor to see it on the client and make, if needed, the sort of major adjustments that would be difficult and expensive to achieve once the suit is fully made up. After the fitting is completed, the suit will be completely disassembled so almost any change can be made at this stage without much impact. This is particularly useful with something like a double-breasted waistcoat where the exact shape and style is very much down to personal preference and is difficult to gauge until you see it on you. As it happened, I was extremely happy with what Philippa proposed, but had I wanted it to have a much narrower overlap, or deeper lapel line to show more shirt, both of these could easily have been managed.

It's this sort of thing, or the fact that Philippa waited to see the waistcoat on me before drawing on the shape of the lapels in chalk, that really make bespoke stand out. Sure, it's about 'fit', but decent fit alone can probably be achieved by many made-to-measure tailors. Real bespoke is about crafting a suit in three dimensions, on the person who will be wearing it, and as a collaborative effort between cutter and client. That is what achieves the best results. It's why the Savile Row Bespoke Association consider a basted fitting one of the mandatory requirements to describe your product as 'bespoke', and it's why that is one of the main questions I would ask any unfamiliar tailor in trying to determine what sort of service I would be getting.

As far as this particular project goes, I couldn't be more delighted. The cloth that (as she reminded me!) I was talked into by Philippa looks even better when I saw it in greater volume than just a swatch. When seen as a suit, the effect of the fairly unusual cheque softens into a really elegant deep grey that suits this quite formal and classic style perfectly. It probably goes without saying that the fit is terrific - of course a couple of adjustments are needed but that is the whole point of the basted fitting. Already, though, it's got that amazing fit around the chest, the high comfortable armholes and the collar that perfectly follows the back of the neck that I've never even got close to in non-bespoke jackets. It's already clear that this is going to be one beautiful suit, and I cannot wait to see it finished.

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.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Hitting the Summer Sales 1 - New and Lingwood Shirts

I mostly buy shirts in the sales - twice a year I can pick up a handful from New and Lingwood or Ede and Ravenscroft and then not worry for another six months. It generally keeps me stocked up, and means I get the shirts I like at prices I can (more or less) afford. On this occasion, it seemed wrong not to take advantage of New and Lingwood's very generous 3 shirts for £175 offer...

They're slim-fits again, which fit me much better. Last time I bought slim fits I noted that, as well as the cut, the style was different - with a French front (i.e. no placket) and square tails with no gusset. I'm not sure if that was on the dubious but oft-cited basis that a French front flatters slimmer people, or the even more dubious notion that people who favour a slim-fit shirt inevitably also favour a 'modern' style. Either way, I'm quite pleased to note that all three of these shirts are identical to the standard New and Lingwood style aside from the narrower cut. I assume that's a decision across the board, rather than a coincidence of my selections, but I could be wrong.

Two of the shirts are useful informal shirts with button-cuffs of the sort I tend to wear with a casual jacket or jumper, one in pink herringbone and the other in blue houndstooth. The third is more formal with a double cuff and the sort of very cutaway collar that I am increasingly keen on. I don't often wear a checked shirt with a suit, but I'm quite pleased to have this as an option particularly on occasions when I want to wear my striped three-piece Hackett suit without too much of an overload of stripe...

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A new suit begins

I've been meaning to get a new bespoke suit for ages. It's been over six months since I bought my last (off-the-peg) suit and about a year and a half since I order a bespoke item. The interim has mostly been spent stocking up on odds and ends like tweed jackets, jumpers and a lot of new shirts. Anyway, the time has definitely come for something new and, for a long time, I've had a hankering for a single-breasted three-piece suit with a double-breasted waistcoat. This is a classic look which is increasingly popular with well-dressed men but is still almost impossible to find off-the-peg. Actually, it has hit a couple of top-end off-the-peg stores this summer but only, as far as I can see, in cream or off-white and I assume this is mainly the Great Gatsby effect (albeit more Redford than DiCaprio I think).

All that is by the by, because it is as a smart town suit that this style looks best and where it can be made with a sufficiently understated cloth to avoid the whole ensemble being totally overpowering. It's tough to find an example, but here's a good shot of... yes, Robert Redford as Gatsby. This picture is cunningly cropped to hide the fact that he's wearing brown shoes, but let's ignore that. 

For my own purposes, what I am after is something in a fairly sober business-like grey, but with a bit of texture and pattern that only becomes obvious closer up. I'm not really a fan of very plain cloths and, even when I'm keeping in check my passion for checks, I'd prefer a nailhead or birdseye to something totally plain, so it was with that rough brief in mind that I went for my first appointment at 13 Savile Row, the new premises of Cad and the Dandy

As I explained in my previous post, Cad and the Dandy has come a long way in a short time. For years they've been carefully following the bespoke process, hiring talented staff and turning out increasingly Savile-Row-quality suits but I get the feeling that recently they've taken another significant step up. Their Savile Row operation is overseen by Philippa May; a cutter who previously spent five years at Huntsman and, before that, at Gieves and Hawkes. And for a while they've used the same coatmakers and finishers as elsewhere on Savile Row (including many who've previously worked for big-name tailors). This and their permanent premises makes them, finally, not so much a 'good-value alternative to Savile Row' but simply a true Savile Row tailor.

So what's changed? Well, if anyone had asked me before what differentiated Cad and the Dandy from a traditional bespoke tailor I would have said it was the fact that the main customer-facing contact was often not the cutter. This wasn't a huge problem - James and Ian are talented and knowledgeable, and their head cutter was often around the shop - but in a real Savile Row tailor it requires the cutter to meet with the client so they are working not just from blunt physical measurements but from having personally seen how the customer stands and walks, how their shoulders slope, what they tend to fill their pockets with, and all sorts of other little details. The experience of working directly with an experienced cutter is a big part of the Savile Row process and it's a definite improvement for Cad and the Dandy now that their bespoke clients have their first consultation in person with Philippa.

As well as all the details of the suit requirements, around 20 measurements are taken and jotted down in Philippa's notebook (which probably tells you everything you need to know about the sort of places that claim to be able to make you a 'bespoke' suit on the basis of a handful of measurements entered online). Although Cad and the Dandy already have a pattern for me, Philippa will draft a new one to her own style. Naturally, given where she's spent much of her career, this will owe something to the classic Huntsman cut; one of the most recognisable Savile Row house styles. Although since my preference is for a two-button suit we've avoided directly aping their style, which is probably for the best. Huntsman is arguably (and I use the word advisedly, since any statement like this is bound to provoke an argument...) one of the best tailors in London so I'm definitely looking forward to wearing a suit cut by someone who spent five years there.

Of course part of the service is advice on style, cloth selection and so forth. Despite my vague idea of a nailhead or birdseye, I was eventually steered (with practically no resistance) towards a very elegant dark grey check in a lightweight cloth that will make this suit suitable for an August wedding when I hope to first wear it. The lining, which is especially visible on most three-piece suits that also use the lining fabric on the back of the waistcoat, will be a nice dark red and gold paisley pattern. The end result will, I think, be very smart indeed.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Cad and the Dandy: New Savile Row Premises

Last Thursday (13/06/13) I was privileged to be invited to the opening of Cad and the Dandy's new Savile Row premises at 13 Savile Row. My first meeting with them was just over three years ago and took place in the borrowed premises of (I think) Chittelborough and Morgan, at no 12 just next door to where they are now. While, as I described at the time, the experience was excellent and the service exemplary, that quiet downstairs room now seems a million miles from the grand and beautifully decorated surroundings on the 1st floor at no 13. Most important of all, it is all Cad and the Dandy's own, where their own cutters will work side by side with their own coatmakers and finishers, with every step done on site.

Even on Savile Row, doing everything on-site is relatively unusual, and I think is as indicative of James and Ian's enthusiasm for the whole process of tailoring as it is for their stated objective of removing some of the mystique that surrounds the process. A large part of the secret of their success is in making bespoke suits accessible, both from a financial and cultural point of view, and it's clear that ethos will continue even now they are permanently ensconced on the Row.

In a couple of weeks I shall be there for an appointment to kick off the process of having a new suit made, and will then be able to report more fully on how successful the whole venture is. In the meantime, I'll leave you with one final remarkable part of the party.

In the back of the premises, near the changing rooms, is a small room where some of the shoes that Cad and the Dandy sells are displayed. Currently, though, it's all taken up with an enormous antique loom. Acquired from a friend, and repaired with parts that had to be borrowed from a museum, it is fully functional and over the last few weeks was used to weave a completely unique length of cloth in a Prince of Wales check. James, one of the owners, was then measured (if I were feeling cruel I might suggest that James was used for this exercise rather than Ian in order to reduce the amount of cloth they needed to make...) and the cloth was cut, made and finished all on site.

Finally, on the evening of the party, James appeared standing on the cutting table and wearing the completed suit.

Although I'm not sure this is an exercise that is likely to be repeated on a regular basis (the effort involved in making small lengths of cloth on-site is unlikely to be worthwhile in comparison to buying in from a dedicated clothmaker) it's an impressive achievement and is apparently the first time a suit has been made completely from scratch, including the cloth, all on the premises of a single Savile Row tailor.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Luggage: Pierre Cardin suit carrier

You may recall that a few months ago I posted about my search for the perfect collection of gentleman's luggage. Both the most important and most difficult to find part of all this was a perfect suit carrier. I was looking for something that would comfortably fit not just a suit and a couple of shirts, but also had pockets for wash kit, shoes, and other bits and pieces. That way, if needed, the right suit carrier could contain everything I'd need for a weekend away.

The trouble was, it seemed to be almost impossible to find what I was after. Suit carriers seem to come in one of two types: a) large with lots of pockets, but extremely ugly and made of lots of hard-wearing black material or b) elegant leather or canvas covers with no room for anything but a suit.

Despite a fair bit of searching, I couldn't find anything that combined the best of both worlds, with the exception of Aspinal of London's offering for £500. Tempting, but just too expensive.

In the end, it took a trip to eBay to finally find exactly what I was after. And it only cost me £16 plus £32 to have it couriered to me because it was collection-only and I was too lazy to go to Croydon. Still a bargain though. It's a Pierre Cardin suit carrier made of smart blue canvas edged with leather. The main compartment could easily hold a suit and a couple of shirts, probably even two suits at a pinch, but there are also two zipped pockets inside for shoes, and two large external pockets to carry assorted other items needed for a weekend away.

It's literally exactly what I was after, and I actually find it slightly surprising that what I wanted clearly does (or did) exist, but it took me going to ebay to find it. Perhaps its a question of what is fashionable - as far as I can tell even Pierre Cardin no longer makes bags quite like this but, like everyone else, only offers the ugly black nylon ones.

And now I can't help wondering if PC ever made a matching grip or weekend bag. If anyone spots one, do let me know...

Monday, 27 May 2013

Two Socks (better than one?)

I'm pretty keen on socks. As soon as you get over the idea that they should match your trousers or shoes, they become one of the few items of clothing where you can indulge in wearing the sort of patterns, colours, and fabrics that would probably be illegal in a suit. So I enjoyed my recent introduction to a lovely UK-based company called Two Socks. Founded in 2011, they stock a huge range of different designs from the classically preppy (and appropriately named) 'Team Captain' socks to a genuinely unique pattern that looks like a classic golfers check but is infact a colourful multi-spiral.

Two Socks were kind enough to send me a couple of pairs to try: one pair of the 'team captain' socks which are a heavier, ribbed cotton more suitable for casual wear or colder days, and one thinner pair in a vibrant pink herringbone pattern. They definitely live up to their claims about using the finest cotton - they're remarkably soft and comfortable without any of the sense of fragility that some premium socks have. They come attractively packaged in cardboard wraps that reflect Two Socks's strong sense of personality. This comes through particularly in their nicely-designed website which allows you to search for socks not just by colour or pattern, but also by your personality (corporate socks for the week, perhaps, and 'megalomaniac' socks for weekends...)

The socks themselves are mostly either £7.50 or £8 - easily cheap enough to buy several pairs of and wear regularly. Despite their obvious taste for rather, um, 'eye-catching' colours and patterns, there are plenty of socks that would make for good and very comfortable business-wear, and a number that are actually rather elegant and restrained.

Well worth a try next time you need to stock up. You can justify it to yourself by buying a handful in black and grey, and then perhaps one pair in bright green and orange. It's perfectly acceptable, I promise.

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.

Monday, 25 March 2013

New Ties - Atkinson's

I was wandering around Selfridges yesterday, on the look out for a couple of new ties, when I came across a manufacturer I'd not heard of before. Atkinsons specialise in ties made from Irish Poplin, a distinctively matte cloth made from a blend of merino wool and silk. The company has been around for nearly two hundred years, and is proud of having been popular with a number of royals over the years.

For myself, I particularly liked the soft look of the poplin. It seems to go better with some of my suits than the 100% silk ties that make up the bulk of my wardrobe, and is particularly suitable as a casual tie to be worn with a jumper and a button-down shirt.

Although it's not too obvious in this picture, the tie is a large, very dark, green and blue check. It's completely unlike anything else I own, and I love it. Although I think it goes nicely with the casual outfit above, I also think it will go rather well with a white shirt and a dark suit as sub-dinner-jacket evening wear, when the tie will look almost (but, crucially, not quite) black.

The other purchase was a black and white tie in a large houndstooth pattern and the same soft, matte poplin. This will be particularly suitable for Ascot, where a macclesfield check is traditional but any black-and-white tie is ideal. In fact, however, I think it will work nicely as a smart and restrained tie for any relatively formal occasion. It also makes a nice chance since almost all of my favourite ties currently are some variation on dark blue silk, so it's definitely time for some variation.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Dress code: Cheltenham

At most races other than Ascot and the Derby, the dress code is somewhat 'flexible'. Suits are sometimes recommended in certain enclosures, but often its more a matter of choice.

The most usual approach taken by men with any sense of style is to go for a fairly smart country look - heavy on tweed and, often, soft waistcoats in bold country colours. Personally, I chose my grey Donegal tweed suit. It gets relatively little use, and I like the fact that it's not quite as much of a statement as a full suit in a convention green overchecked tweed or something. 

A dark green waistcoat sets this suit off nicely, and gives that all-important opportunity to get out the recently-inherited pocket watch. Other than that, I favour a slightly less aggressively 'country' shirt and tie, to slightly up the smartness and avoid looking as if I'm going on a shoot...

Off to the races? Tweed in cold weather, light grey or blue suits in the Summer. Either way, smarten up and ditch the jeans.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Gammarelli: Infallible socks.

My thanks to reader KB for pointing me in the direction of the marvelous socks made by Gammarelli. A business that's been around for over 200 years, it is one of the many historic shops in Rome selling clerical attire but with the added honour of having served the former Pope, Benedict XVI. In particular, they are known for making the white socks that Pope Benedict wore, and for making other versions in black (for priests and, well, anyone really), purple (for Bishops) and red (for Cardinals). They come in either cotton or fine wool, and are knee-high (which I like, as you may know).

Of course, I am neither a bishop nor a cardinal (and not currently in the running for Pope, to my disappointment), but I don't think that should preclude anyone from wearing beautiful socks in bold colours, so I bought myself a red pair and a purple pair from Mes Chaussettes Rouges, a French company which is the only authorised online retailer of these socks. They have a charming delivery style, with the socks coming neatly wrapped in brown paper with no business franking but an array of colourful stamps to make up sufficient postage. Above the printed address is

l'impeccable Jacob Bate written neatly in ink. (Although, as one friend pointed out, it looks a fair bit like l'impossible Jacob Bate which is equally suitable.)

Inside the package is an attractive felt drawstring bag, containing the socks. I'm an absolute sucker for nice packaging, it's an important way for high-end companies to demonstrate the customer service and attention to detail that is an important part of their brand, even though they increasingly have to trade online. Still, it's the socks that really matter, and they are great - a perfect fit (as you'd expect for socks that come in not just individual sizes but half-sizes) and beautifully soft and thin. The red ones are a good look, and went particularly nicely with my black tie on Saturday night - even more so since they matched my favourite red braces. And yes, I wear red socks with black tie. I happen to like it.

The purple ones are a bit more unusual (and perhaps a bit more explicitly clerical although, to be fair, I think Roman senators got there first) but that's no bad thing.

Give them a go, you won't regret it, and you can wear them over the next few weeks as you speculate on the outcome of conclave.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Hero of the week: Greg Rutherford

Not only is Greg Rutherford a sporting hero, but he's a sartorial one too. Many thanks to an anonymous contributor on a previous post for pointing me in the direction of this marvelous picture.

This is flawless morning dress. The tie is in a Macclesfield pattern - a tight check in black and white which gives a grey or silver impression at a distance. While by no means mandatory, it is the most traditional and formal tie to wear with morning dress, and gives a sense of classic elegance as well as the impression that the wearer understands what he is wearing.

A similar tie from Burton

The waistcoat is a double-breasted buff morning waistcoat. Again, this is about the most classic choice you can go for. It looks fantastic, although to really show it off to it's best, Mr Rutherford MBE ought to leave his coat undone. The white shirt is a good choice, particularly for such a formal occasion, although a light blue shirt whit a white collar is perhaps more traditional and would add a little colour to the ensemble.

Is Mr Rutherford an extremely good dresser, or did he just go to Ede and Ravenscroft and say 'give me correct morning dress'? I don't care, because knowing when to ask for (and take) advice on dressing is just as important as knowing correct dress codes, and plenty of other public figures (Mr Obama, sir, I'm looking at you) would be well advised to ask around a bit before they try and do formalwear.

Congratulations to Mr Rutherford MBE.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Best blog posts of the week

A roundup of particularly worth-reading posts from my fellow style bloggers:

The Suit Room: The Real Traditionalism
Beautiful suit, and a great post about how much more important it is to dress in a way that looks right and feels right, and not to worry about classifying yourself too much.

To the Manner Born: Another One Bites the Dust
A sad post about an all-too-familiar occurrence. I didn't know about the shop feautred, but I am wondering if I should try to visit it before the end. Sadly, it's hardly alone - one of my favourite shops, a completely obscure but totally traditional bespoke tailor on the corner of Gwalior Road in Putney closed last year when the owner retired. Sad, but perhaps inevitable.

Grey Fox: What Shoes Should I Wear?
A sensible answer to a reasonable question. What I particularly like is that the fox doesn't enforce his own style on a man who has made it clear tends to wear more casual clothes, and finds him something that is (in my opinion) absolutely suitable for what the reader is looking for, but still stylish, beautiful and traditional. Ideal.

Mensflair: Awarding Costume not Design
Fascinating and timely post by Winston Chesterfield about the way that costume design in film is now seen as primarily about recreating historical fashion, rather than reflecting and even furthering present-day style.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Review: Otto Originals

There's a nice scene in the film of Another Country (which is well worth watching, if you haven't already seen it) where the pupils (at a school that is not Eton but pretty much definitely is Eton) are playing cricket. They are casually dressed in that fantastically casual 'public schoolboy on the playing fields in summer' look that brands like Ralph Lauren would so desperately like to capture: rumpled white shirts, hand-me-down cricket jumpers, and grass-stained white trousers held up with school ties. Later, if I can track down my DVD copy, I shall try and get a suitable screengrab.

Anyway, it's that look of using a tie as a belt that I particularly like. Trouble is, it's a bit self-consciously preppy, ruins your ties and can look a bit odd when you're no longer 17 so it's not something I tend to go for. That doesn't change the fact that a flash of striped silk at the waist of casual trousers evokes endless summers, cricket games on green meadows, post-rowing beers in a pub with a lax policy on ID, and all sorts of other wholesome visions. Is it any wonder, then, that I particularly love the belts made by Otto Originals, a start-up company created by a brother-sister team based in the Cotswolds. They've taken a slightly more grown-up approach to holding your trousers up with a tie, and make the ties into proper belts with leather ends, brass buckles, and hidden webbing to support the silk.

It gets better though, because they're not just selling belts made from any old ties. While they do sell a range of one-offs made from ties found in charity shops (and thereby indirectly supporting a range of charities!), the core of the business is a clever model where you pay online, send your chosen tie to a freepost address and, in a couple of weeks, get back a beautifully made and carefully packaged belt, plus a little bracelet made from the offcuts.

This is one of those ideas I just wish I'd come up with. In retrospect it's obvious, but I'm not aware of anyone else who does this and (if they exist) I doubt anyone else does it with quite the same combination of efficiency and charm as Otto Originals.

The belts are all handmade in the Otto studio in the Cotswolds and the quality is obvious - soft tan leather, neat stitching, and a solid brass buckle. How long the belt will last depends a lot on the tie you send in, but they're more robust than you might expect and I would imagine they'll wear well and look more distinguished with age.

Having a belt made from your own tie costs £44 which is extremely reasonable given the individual work that goes in to each one. I suppose if you were to buy your own tie specially then the whole thing would come out quite pricey but, for me, the real appeal is in finding a use for an old tie that, for whatever reason, you don't get much use out of otherwise. A stripey school tie that doesn't quite seem suitable for business-wear could make a great belt, as could a slightly more flamboyant one that you love but can't pull off in the office and have no other opportunities to wear. Or you could always do your own charity-shop hunting and find something suitable.

Whatever your choice, you'll end up with a beautiful and genuinely unique casual belt. Oh, and you can get 25% off until the end of March in their Spring promotion, by entering SPRINGBELTS into the voucher code box. So there's no excuse not to.

Note: The belt in this article was provided by Otto Originals for review. No payment has been made for this post, and acceptance of items for review does not guarantee positive coverage.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Complementary but not matching

Understanding the meaning and vital importance of 'complementary but not matching' is probably the most difficult part of wearing a pocket square. I'm not sure my own grasp of colour is really up to the task, so I tend to go with 'whatever I happen to think looks nice'.

If I were to post-rationalise this particular outfit choice, I might point out that the pink in the pocket square picks out the pink shirt, while the blue flowers are the same shade as the blue overcheck on the jacket. However, all I really care about is that I found a pocket square with little elephants on, to go with my Oriental Club tie.

Sometimes, that's all that matters.

(Pocket Square is from Thomas Pink, Tie by Dege & Skinner)