Wednesday, December 20, 2006
I don't believe that a classic wardrobe requires many odd jackets. They are very useful when you need something to throw on above a pair of cords, but a flannel, tweed or linen suit looks as good or better at other times.
That doesn't mean odd jackets are not perfectly acceptable for lunch at the club, Sunday worship and any business trip where you'll arrive too late for a meeting. It just means that they are a discretionary purchase once you have a few of them. I think four or five cover the basics, with several pairs of trousers that you can wear with each jacket.
For spring and summer, it makes sense to have a navy blazer of 10 oz. fresco. Tan linen for a second coat is a good change of pace. Complementary trousers could include cream linen, light gray fresco, and khaki cotton drill.
For fall and winter have another blazer, this one of blue flannel or serge, and one or two tweed jackets. Medium and dark gray flannel trousers go with almost any jacketing. Tan cavalry twill is also a classic with the navy jacket and corduroy looks great with tweed.
A great feature of odd jackets is that they give you quite a bit of room to exercise your creativity in the details while remaining appropriately dressed. A belted safari jacket, or safariana, can be a different look in warm weather. Patch and bellows pockets on a tweed coat, developed to hold shotgun shells, are a good place to put your iPhone.
That flexibility is probably enough reason to have more than four or five of them.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
I get questions by email and by PMs on message boards in addition to the ones posted here. Whatever the source, some of them ask questions that are of general interest. Here are two.
I was very pleased to see your thread on overcoats. When I was much younger, someone whose opinions I still respect told me that the outer coat is in a sense part of the suit, not an extra solely for wear in cold or wet weather. Someone wrote in The Style Forum that he is seeking an overcoat not so much for warmth as for "feeling finished" when he leaves the house. If this strikes a chord with you, I'd be interested to have your opinion.
As I mentioned, many stylish men in Naples agree with you. The climate there is mild, with temperatures typically ranging from lows of 40 to highs of 85 degrees Farenheit (4 to 30 degrees Centigrade) during the year. Neopolitan tailors do a healthy business in topcoats made from 13 ounce cloth. That's just barely enough weight to drape and give a man a coat that finishes his look when it's as much as 55 degrees F. Living as I do in Northern California, I approve.
As a suggestion for a future blog entry, you might talk about why you use two different tailors. Are you looking for a variety of styles? Do you prefer to go to one tailor over another for certain items? Does it cut against building a relationship if you spread out your orders between different houses?
Many men use more than one tailor. This year is the first time in my life that I'm trying two new ones at the same time, but I normally work with two or three. One of them makes country clothes for me, one specializes in "soft" tailoring, my preferred style, and I use another to make what the other two can't or won't.
For example, one of my Savile Row tailors prefers not to work with cloth lighter than ten ounces, and seems to have have little experience making minimally lined jackets for hot weather. They also make a straight cut jacket that looks great without a vest, but shows too many vest buttons. I'm trying Peter Harvey for a coat that will show just one button above the coat closing.
I don't think it hurts the relationship to use more than one tailor. Once your pattern is perfected, it's there to be used as long as you maintain your weight. And in the larger houses, you may remain loyal but your cutters now come and go faster than they once did. Each cutter has his own idiosyncracies within the broader outlines of the house style, so you can lose some consistency while remaining loyal to one house anyway.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Most of my favorite suits and jackets are too informal to be worn in office settings, probably because they remind me that I won't be chained to a desk while I'm wearing them. I like linen in warm weather and in cool weather, tweed.
Tweed is a moisture-resistant and very durable woollen cloth used for suitings, odd jackets and overcoats. Developed in Scotland and Ireland, it was originally woven from Cheviot sheep whose wool produces a relatively rough twill that may have a check or herringbone pattern, or a plain ground comprised of a mixture of different colored yarns, often with an overcheck. Later, the term was expanded to include smoother cloth from Saxony or merino wool that is often woven as a Glenurquahart design (also known as a glen check). Tweed weights range from heavy estate tweeds at 22 ounces per yard down to relatively refined suitings at 11 or 12 ounces.
The wide variety of tweed patterns that we enjoy today were developed beginning in the 19th century to identify the family members and staff of individual estates in Scotland. These cloths were made for heavy duty outdoors and had to stand up to the harsh climate as well as disappear into the local countryside when worn for hunting.
Tweed clothing is as useful as ever for Fall and Winter wear in the country, on the weekend, for travel and in less formal situations such as university settings. Jacket stylings can include sporting details such as slanted and patch pockets, bellows backs and half belts. The rough texture pairs well with wool and casual neckties and silk paisley pocket squares.
The photo at the beginning of this post illustrates five tweed suits and jackets, including
- a 15 ounce brown and gray twill suit with blue and white threads
- a 15 ounce green suit with orange, blue and red checks
- a 15 ounce black and white glen check
- a 22 ounce odd jacket in yellow with blue and white ovechecks
- a 22 ounce odd jacket black and brown check on a tan ground, with red and blue overchecks
The brown and the black and white suits can be worn for casual Fridays in the city. The others are better suited for a mixture of indoor and outdoor activities on a brisk winter's day. Scotland's principal contribution to classic men's clothing will keep you warm, dry and well dressed.
Friday, December 15, 2006
A man needs a coat, or several of them, for the rain and the snow.
Every wardrobe has to start somewhere. If you have one coat it should be a tan raincoat with a zip-in lining that will help keep you warm when the temperature falls below freezing.
Your second coat should be designed to get you to and from your work in cold weather, like the navy guard's coat in the drawing. Less useful than a raincoat in the rain, an overcoat can literally keep you from freezing on very cold days.
Variety being the spice of life, larger wardrobes have five or more coats for different purposes. In addition to the raincoat and an overcoat, you could constructively add a topcoat, like the covert coat pictured in the center of the drawing, for milder days.
A more formal overcoat, such as a charcoal Chesterfield with a black velvet collar, will be more appropriate than a conventional coat at solemn occasions and in the evening.
Finally, a tweed coat with raglan sleeves will look fitting worn over tweed suits and odd jackets.
We differentiate between overcoats and topcoats because a topcoat is lighter than an overcoat and more appropriate for spring, fall and milder winter days.
Coat fabrics come in several different weights. Very heavy overcoat fabrics, suitable for a Moscow winter, weigh as much as 30 ounces and are increasingly difficult to find today. Normal overcoat fabric runs 20-22 ounces, and topcoat cloth 17-18 ounces. In warmer climates such as Naples or San Francisco, topcoats may be made from suiting fabric weighing as little as 13 ounces.
The classic colors for overcoats and topcoats are the usual navy, charcoal and tan. For variety, you should acquire one of each color before considering a second or third in a similar color. For example, your closet might contain:
-Navy guard's coat
-Fawn covert coat
-Brown and cream houndstooth tweed
If you prefer other choices, such as a camel polo coat instead of the navy guard's coat, you can maintain color choices in your closet by substituting, for example, a black and white herringbone topcoat for the covert.
If you've earned an indulgence this winter, remember that coats may be the best opportunities to employ luxury cloth in your wardrobe. Cold weather is significantly less uncomfortable when you're wrapped up in a cashmere overcoat.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Bespoke clothing customers generally have it pretty good. The stuff usually fits, and most of the time will outlive its wearer. The suppliers are low pressure and polite, and ordering another pair of shoes or a batch of shirts is as easy as sending an email describing what you want. Several months later, your order arrives without further ado. But life is not all cashmere and vicuna.
There's an old saying that a bank will only lend you money when you don't need it. The corollary to that is that you should only begin a relationship with a new bespoke clothing artisan when you don't need new clothes.
Beginning a new relationship with an artisan feels like you're living life in slow motion, particularly if you don't get to the artisan's home city and have to wait for a semi-annual visit to see progress. For example, it was two years from the time I placed my first bespoke shoe order with George Cleverley & Co. until they would accept my order for a second pair. After measurement and payment of my deposit, they made my last. Then we had a fitting for the shoes, some adjustments, another fitting, and a few more adjustments before the shoes were delivered more than a year after the order. And then they had me wear the shoes for another six months to ensure that the fit was right.
Now, I'm not complaining about Cleverley. They get it right, and an order placed today takes only a couple of months. But if I then want a pair of shoes from, for example, Tony Gaziano (whose black bluchers are pictured to the left), the process starts all over.
Tailored clothing is the worst. It's prudent to begin a relationship with a new tailor with a single suit. Tailors being only human, it's rare that the first suit approaches perfection - usually it's OK, the second one is fine and the third is about good as you're ever going to get from that source.
In addition, most tailors visit my city twice a year. So unless I get to their home city in between their visits, the basted fitting occurs in six months and the second fitting in a year. If the suit is perfect, the buttonholes can be cut and the garment sent to its new owner, but more often than not it takes another fitting. Eighteen months from start to finish and only then can you order more clothes.
Despite the obstacles, circumstances caused me to venture into the unknown twice this year. After the professional demise of one tailor, I sought out Peter Harvey of Fallan & Harvey and commissioned a tan fresco odd jacket for summer with gold metal buttons. Peter makes a middle of the road coat with a higher button point that will be a new experience for me.
I also finally met with Thomas Mahon on his visit last month, and he has started a double breasted suit in a ten ounce mohair and wool blend. Thomas's style is the classic 1930's soft and unstructured drape, which I prefer.
I'm hoping I can enjoy long relationships with both men because it's a lot of trouble to switch.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Where I live, it rains for much of the winter. That means you have to expect that at least twice each round a perfectly straight drive will plug so deeply it's never found. And you have to dress for mud.
Walking a muddy golf course is when veldtschoen style golf shoes come into their own. A veldtschoen is a field shoe designed to be as waterproof as possible, with a bellows tongue and a welt sewn to create a water resistant seal. It works - I've played rounds where my rain pants soaked through and my feet remained dry. The shoe in the photo is from Edward Green.
Judging by the initial reaction at my club, my other mud suggestion is likely to be a little less generally accepted. I took the idea from golfers of the 1930's, including the famous guy to the left. Like the late Payne Stewart and a host of other men with lower handicaps than I'll ever carry, he's wearing plus fours, so-called because they fall four inches below the knee. That happens to be an inch or two above the mud splatters that you get when you hit a shot a little fat, and it means you only have to clean a pair of socks instead of your trousers after each round.
Now if Titleist would just embed a locator in a golf ball...
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Walking in the sun and driving a car with the roof open call for headgear, and hopefully something other than a baseball cap. Yes, Esquire considers the baseball cap to be one of America's contributions to men's dress but author Paul Fussell would almost certainly describe that entire list as clothing for proles, including as it does such other contributions as sweat pants and the hoodie.
So what does that leave us? Classic dress offers a variety of options, including the straw boater and the trilby. But I like the cap, particularly the slightly oversized versions like the late Duke of Windsor wore as a young man.
Caps perform all the functions of other casual headgear and offer an advantage that's unique to them. They are made from the same cloth that's used for suits and odd jackets, so you can get what you like.
Try them in linen for warm weather and tweed for cool.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Many of my favorite articles of clothing have histories attached to them. This is the story of a tweed topcoat that took about two years from thought to realization.
The best source I've found for ideas on classic men's clothing are drawings of what men were wearing in the 1930's. Most of those are found in back issues of the late and lamented Apparel Arts magazine.
The drawing to the left of a topcoat for country wear struck a cord with me. I needed a light coat to wear over a jacket in the Northern California countryside and this design seemed just right. Unfortunately, I didn't see a cloth that I liked in the swatches that were available to me at the time. So, like many other of my clothing ideas, it went in a drawer and stayed there for a while.
Months later, I stumbled upon Magee in Dublin. The parent company of Magee is the largest weaver of Donegal tweed and Magee Shops in Ireland and the UK offer lengths of it that have been hand woven by artisans using traditional manual looms. Magee showed me swatches of a blue 15 ounce cloth that was a blend of mohair and wool, with nubs of maroon and other colors, and I ordered a length. It was out of stock but arrived eventually. When it did I sent it to my tailor.
Monday, December 4, 2006
When most of the customs about what to wear evolved, the automobile was in its infancy. Men might live in the suburbs, but they dressed for the city.
The past fifty years have seen the rise of suburban centers of employment like Oakbrook, Tyson's Corner, and Stamford in the United States, and Maidenhead, outside of London. Silicon Valley is an agglomeration of suburbs.
Classic dressing in the suburbs deserves its own consideration. Most country clothes don't look quite proper in suburban offices, and the city's navy pinstripes are usually equally out of place.
Men working in the suburbs have the same need to make a good impression as their peers in the city. The most effective way to do that is to wear a suit or odd jacket, or in very informal environments a cardigan sweater, with dress trousers and good shoes. A jacket gives you a more finished look as well as pockets for your stuff, so you don’t have to wear your cell phone on your belt.
Suburban clothes should usually be no more formal than the least formal city clothes, or what the English call Friday or town suits. That means single breasted two or three button suits or jackets that may have sports detailing such as ticket pockets or patch pockets.
The suburban setting also lends itself to mid range colors and less formal fabrics like flannel and gabardine. That doesn’t mean anything goes, however. Reserve your loud plaids and bright colors for resort or country clothes. Good suit fabrics include:
-Air force blue flannel
-Black and white houndstooth
-Black and white glen check with a blue or red overcheck
-Tan nailhead fresco
If you choose to wear an odd jacket and trousers they should be classically conservative:
-navy hopsack with mid-gray gabardine trousers (no brass buttons please)
-Black and white herringbone jacket with dark gray flannel trousers
-Tan, gray and cream glen check with brown flannel trousers
-Lovat Harris tweed with mid-gray flannel trousers
Shoes for the suburbs are colored any shade of brown as well as burgundy. Good choices include monk straps, derbies, and brogued oxfords with single leather soles. Plain city oxfords are too formal, but brown suede semi-brogues come into their own. Slip-on casual shoes such as tassel loafers may also be worn, however they are less suited to extended walking than lace-ups or monk straps.
Closing the Neck
In many suburban environments a necktie can be out of place. The popular way to deal with a tie-less look has been by omission, which is to wear a dress shirt and leave the collar unbuttoned. Unfortunately, this leaves the collar leaves flapping and looks unfinished.
A better visual presentation results when you wear a sweater with a turtleneck or mock turtleneck, or a crew neck with a button down collar dress shirt underneath.
Classic dressing without neckties cries out for a sleeveless crew neck sweater to wear under a jacket but of course you can’t find one anywhere.
That’s not to say that neckties are out of place in the suburbs, although the most formal ones are. Choose Irish poplin stripes, for example, instead of silk Macclesfields and Spitalsfields.
The suburbs are mid-way between the formal city and the informal country, and classic dressing for the suburbs should be the same.
Men who wear suits need shoes that look as though they have been made by hand and are composed of natural materials such as leather. Like other natural materials, leather shoes need a day of rest after a day of wear. That means that a minimum of two pair are required so you do not wear your shoes out prematurely. More are required for variety. Seven pair will give you a basic wardrobe for wear throughout the week, to which you should add evening shoes if you need them.
The classic types of shoes worn today appeared in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The oldest type is the laced oxford, which is worn with suits in the city. These shoes should be plain, with either stitched or perforated toe caps. They are always correct in black calf. Dark brown or dark reddish brown may also be worn during the day and dark brown reversed calf and tan, like the shoes pictured on the left, are seen on less formal occasions.
The country and suburban shoe wardrobe, worn with or without an odd jacket as well as with flannel, tweed and linen suits, encompasses a broader range of models, including monks and derbies. Shoes are often more decorated, with wing tips, brogueing and flanged soles. They may include dark and light brown, tan, and burgundy choices.
“I own perhaps two dozen pairs of shoes.” Edward H.R.H. The Duke of Windsor.
Black Calf Oxfords
The basic town shoe is a black calf cap-toe Oxford with leather sole and punched or plain stitched toe-caps. Oxfords were made in England as early as 1830 and were widely adopted around 1880. They are correct with dark city suitings. Toe medallions reduce the formality of the shoe and render it less correct for very formal occasions like funerals. If you wear a mixture of black and brown shoes during the week, you should have at least two pair.
Brown Calf Shoes
Dark brown and dark reddish brown versions of the black oxford are correctly worn with city suitings. They usually carry slightly more decoration than their black relations. You should have two pair.
Brown Calf Monk Straps
The plain toe monk is a change of pace shoe similar to the plain derby in that it is more comfortable to wear than an oxford for people who have a wide foot or a high instep. The monk has a buckle closing instead of the derby’s two or three eyelets. Originally worn for spectator sports wear, today the monk strap shoe can be worn in the city on less formal occasions. One pair will see use during the work week as well as on weekends.
Brown Calf Derbies and Full Brogue Oxfords
The derby is a shoe with open lacing. The full brogue is an oxford decorated with holes punched into the joins and edges like the pair pictured at the left. The derby can also be decorated and the two shoes fill a similar function in the wardrobe, being appropriate for country and suburban day wear, with or without a jacket. You should have one pair of each to alternate with your monk straps and casuals.
Brown Calf Slip-on Casuals
Slip-ons are more casual than the monk strap. You may want a pair of Norwegian style casuals for lounge wear around the house or outdoors in warm weather.
Black patent leather oxfords with flat silk laces and pumps with grosgrain bows are the correct choices for either semi-formal (black-tie) or formal (white-tie) evening wear. Pumps are more formal than oxfords.
Many men these days wear a black calf oxford instead of either patent oxfords or pumps. While they are not ideal evening wear, they can also be worn during the day. If you do choose them they should be very plain, with no brogueing of any kind.
Expanding the Shoe Wardrobe
The only limitations on the shoe wardrobe are storage space and budget. H.R.H. Prince Charles is reported to have fifty pairs of shoes. Several additional types of shoes are worth considering when you are ready to expand your basic wardrobe.
Brown reversed calf shoes are appropriate for spectator sports, country wear or very in-formal town use. Unlined versions are cooler than calf shoes in warm weather. Brown semi-brogues are a stylish addition to the shoe wardrobe once the basics are in your closet.
Ankle boots, particularly in brown suede, are useful with odd jackets and flannel trousers in cooler weather. In cordovan, they will keep your feet dry in rain and snow.
White bucks, if you can find them, are also a classic summer shoe as are black and white or brown and white brogues, known as spectators. The white portions should be reversed calf, buckskin, or twill.
Well maintained shoes last indefinitely. Add a pair of good quality classic shoes every year and you’ll build a substantial shoe wardrobe over time.
Saturday, December 2, 2006
Men should not need to pull their trousers up several times a day.
That's the principal advantage of wearing braces with suit trousers. You put them on once and your trousers stay in place. They hang better too.
Adjustable Albert Thurston braces like the blue ones pictured on the left are the world standard for quality. They made from wool boxcloth with white hand stitched ends. The advantage of white is that you can wear them with brown or black shoes instead of maintaining a separate wardrobe for each color shoe.
The ends used to be made from a natural material called cat gut (and fortunately wasn't) which aged to a cream color, but they are now made from an unnatural material. It's too soon to tell whether they'll become equally mellow over the years .
All braces should be sized, rather than one size fits some, and that is the purpose of the metal adjustors. Properly fitted braces mean that the adjustors sit where they are supposed to, near the waist. They can be distracting if they are up by the face.
In addition to boxcloth, lighter versions made from barathea are made for warm weather wear. These should also have white ends.