It seems to me that there's a fundamental misunderstanding about Super-numbered cloth. People are worrying over it because they are concerned that it doesn't "wear." I have to ask, "Compared to what?"
Luxurious feel (known as the "hand") is what has made the Supers so popular and the suit is a luxury item for many men. They own a few that they wear on special occasions and aren't worried about them holding up for years under a once a week pounding. As more and more men indulge themselves in more expensive suits with a more luxurious feel, the wool industry has been encouraged to take greater care of Merino sheep that yield the finest fibre and to sort those fibres into separate lots. The finer the hair, the higher the Super number and the higher price for it when it becomes cloth.
Now walk into the nearest Nieman Marcus and look at the suits on the rack. Some may be cashmere, or cashmere blends. The rest, at least the ones worth discussing, are made of wool. And, until the invention of the Super grading system, "wool" was the only information the consumer was given. The supplier of the cloth doesn't matter at the point of sale because it is not specified, but the Super number does matter because the higher the number, the higher the price. At the high end, the Super 170s suit from a good source commands thousands more than the unlabelled one in the next rack. And if you don't care about Super numerology, the only other cloth-related considerations are color and pattern. The only thing a consumer can do to compare the expected life from one maker's Super 120 cloth from an anonymous mill with another maker's Super 140 from another anonymous mill is guess, and probably guess wrong.
He'll guess wrong because where there's money involved there's a lot of mis-labelling and mis-direction. The UK has a grading system but the Italians, Chinese and Indian mills often don't pay any attention to it. And the width of the fibre is but one consideration in durability. Weave, for example, is another. I'll take Barbera cloth of any Super number for durability over Loro Piana versions any day because Barbera uses a traditional 2x2 weave and Loro Piana sometimes compromises. I had one of those compromises split, unstressed, at the hip on the third wearing.
Leaving Nieman's, walk into the nearest bespoke tailor and look at the cloth selection. Every bunch is identified by source, weave and weight. Most men of my acquaintance spend more time considering the choice of cloth for their next bespoke suit than they do any other detail. They're not thinking just about color and pattern either, but weight, weave, surface interest, guts and the reputation of who made it in addition to the hand. If they want a Super they can have one (many tailors charge no more for most of them than they ask for non-Super cloth), or they can make their choice based on the other criteria. Most do.
I have to conclude that the Super number provides useful information for ready to wear suits, in that it's just about all the information that a buyer can get his hands on. And it's one of a portfolio of considerations that a man can take into account when he is choosing his own cloth. But in my opinion, questioning its durability is much ado about very little for the ready to wear buyer that represents 99% of the market for suits.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
It seems to me that there's a fundamental misunderstanding about Super-numbered cloth. People are worrying over it because they are concerned that it doesn't "wear." I have to ask, "Compared to what?"
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Jacket lapels should fall straight down the chest without buckling or pulling away from the chest in any other way and the jacket back should not have horizontal creases anywhere along its length. If a coat does buckle or crease it is almost certainly too small, and no amount of alteration can make a RTW coat larger.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
I nominate Rudy Giuliani as the best dressed Presidential candidate from a weak field of Republicans. The man must be in ball rooms nightly, and I can respect that. Here he is in a shawl collared jacket with a bow tie that was knotted by hand and shirt sleeves that appear to be the correct length. If only his shirt collar was a bit higher in back.
Unfortunately for Mr. Giuliani, he is running against quality competition in a Democratic year. Joe Biden's shirt collar shows a proper half inch at the back of his neck, and the rest of his dress is equally put together. I wish he didn't wear dress shirts with breast pockets, but I can live with that. He gets my vote as the best-dressed candidate.
Next week we'll take the competition up a level and compare the dress of the leaders of the West when they meet for the 33rd time as the Group of Eight (G8), the international forum for the governments of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, in Heiligendamm, Germany. Thank you to Karl89 for the suggestion.
Monday, May 28, 2007
"I am just starting a collection of quality shoes, and recently purchased a pair of brown cap-toes that I really like. Should I buy the same shoe in black as well? Or should my first black pair be a different style altogether?"
Cap-toe'd oxfords are worn with city suits and, if you wear a suit most days, you should have at least two pair. Personally, the cap toe is my favorite style. I have two pair in black as well as dark brown, chestnut and tan versions and they get as much wear as anything in my wardrobe. G. J. Cleverley made the very conservative pair in the photo.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Just look at JFK. Pin stripes, polka dots and a white pocket square. Further, I would bet there are discreet gold cuff links under his jacket sleeves, and bespoke oxfords on his feet.
Contrast JFK with John Edwards, whose official web site is full of 'man of the people' photos. Call me cynical, and I am, but I have a hard time taking wrinkled chinos and scuffed shoes seriously when they're worn by a man with a $400 haircut that flew in on a private jet. And, when he is wearing a suit, his necktie seems perpetually to sit a quarter inch too low.
Joe Biden does business casual the right way, substituting a blazer and gray trousers for the navy suit in his official portrait. Of course, he needs a pocket square.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, will hopefully soon begin taking wardrobe lessons from Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, who usually looks statesperson-like in her Armani suits. Clinton, on the other hand, is frequently photographed in jewel-toned blouses and badly fitting pastel pants suits. I've only chosen the photograph above to be kind.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
"We had a very set routine on the VC10s.* Once we were on board, off would come his good suit and he'd change into cords and a sweater. We had to be careful doing this. Windows on planes have a habit of being at knee level, and he might have been treating the outside world to a glimpse of the Royal knees. His suit would go on a hangar, ready to be put on again on arrival, unless of course he was leaving the plane in uniform for a State occasion or visit."
Friday, May 25, 2007
I give Rudy Giuliani props for seeming more comfortable in black tie than the other candidates. At least, he's photographed in it more often, and in those photos he's put together reasonably well. But his day to day look is the same old same old. At least add a white pocket square!
Fred Dalton Thompson cuts a Presidential figure, but the clothes don't demonstrate much leadership. His sleeves need shortening and there's no pocket handkerchief.
Then there is Mitt Romney who, as a former governor of Massachusetts, has apparently been influenced to adopt John Kerry's style of dress. He spices up his otherwise boring look with Vineyard Vines style neckties and could take it up another notch with a touch of white at his breast pocket.
Overall, the Republican Presidential candidates dress is undistinguished. We'll see how the Democrats fare in the next installment of this series.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Spring season is coming to an end, one of the two times each year when perhaps two dozen of the world's better tailors and shoemakers (and the occasional poseur) go on the road to meet their customers. Most days during the Spring and Fall, a few hotel suites in New York, Zurich, Chicago and other major cities are filled with men speaking quietly while they leaf through cloth swatches and leather samples, or cross the room to test how their new shoes, or new trousers, fit. London's Henry Poole has perhaps the most ambitious schedule, visiting the U.S., continental Europe, China and Japan.
It's a process that works well for men that value bespoke clothing but live in cities without world class makers of their own. Most visiting artisans come twice a year. A man orders during one visit and has a fitting on the next, so that the completed item can be completed, paid for and sent to the customer several weeks later. The downside is that if a man is very picky about small details, he had better be prepared to fly to the tailor's regular domicile, or wait a very long time for his clothes.
There are risks to this approach of course, but they can be minimized by dealing with makers that have been making the rounds for decades. And some relative bargains may be there to be had from new guys who are out to build their reputation. Thomas Mahon and Gaziano & Girling each began business with a series of trunk shows early on, and both they and their customers benefitted. Of course, G&G in particular had a reputation from the first day.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
As I write this, a dozen or so men and at least one woman are working just about every waking hour to become the next President of the United States of America. Now I know that how they dress will not be the defining factor of their campaigns. There have in fact been but a couple of twentieth century American Presidents with more than a mediocre sense of dress, proving that dress does not a President make. A recently seen turndown shirt collar worn with white tie is but one of a list of sartorial transgressions committed by at least three of the current and former Presidents in the photograph. But Presidential candidates are forced to conform to certain clothing expectations in order to compete.
As Robin Givhan, fashion editor of the Washington Post, wrote, "The rules are different in politics. Campaigns are filled with an endless series of symbols and metaphors all meant to evoke common ground. Politicians: They're just like us! Even though they are not." Over the course of several essays I will attempt to report on how well some of them succeed.
This is a blog about men's dress but Hillary Clinton will be one of the candidates considered. I don't believe we can hold a candidate's sex against her, particularly since the current mode of Washington political dress is a jacket and trousers irrespective of the sex of the wearer. The John Edwards "I Feel Pretty" video on YouTube shows us that some formerly feminine wiles have crossed the sexual aisle, so welcome Hillary.
The coming series will have two primaries and an election. We'll select the best Republican in one essay, the best Democrat in another, and then choose as winner the person least likely to wear a parka, snow boots and a ski hat to represent his country at a ceremony to honor the dead at Auswitch as Vice President Cheney chose to do this past March. Fortunately for our sense of propriety, he's not running.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Tab collars are appropriate for both city and country wear, and they seem proper with either button or French cuffs. If you're a tie-wearing man that hasn't had the pleasure, treat yourself.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
"I am in a quandary as to my second bespoke suit. My first was a two button, SB 11oz Lessers navy worsted. I absolutely love it. I find it hard to wear anything else. I am now considering a DB but the practical side of me says go for the same thing in a dark grey or a 3 roll to 2 SB for a change of pace. I am a big fan of HRH Prince Charles and he looks so cool in DB's but that is all he wears. I am 45 years old, 5'9" 150lbs., and an amateur marathoner and triathlete that is somewhat fit. I wear suits once or twice per week, usually with out a tie (I know that is blasphemous) and I can wear whatever I want.
What do you recommend?"
A lot of people don't like 3 roll 2 as the top buttonhole is visible on the lapel. This doesn't bother me - I have several of them - but the point of the roll 2 design was to show more necktie and when you're tieless you're left displaying a lot of uncovered shirt buttons. If it were me, I'd get a 3 roll top (like the Henry Poole jacket in the photo to the left) for wear without a necktie.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
"You're in a nightclub, it's 4AM and you're on the dance floor cutting a dash. Rather than take your jacket off, you do up the middle button because it looks good, and looking good is far more important than comfort. Comfort is over-rated. Feeling sharp and being witty, dancing to great music and one liners flying - this is comfort. It's the difference between being hip and being straight, between Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney."
Friday, May 18, 2007
The safari pairs well with a panama hat or linen cap and, in Southern Europe if nowhere else, can be dressed up with a silk scarf at the neck. It needs only a polo or a tee shirt under it, a pair of trousers, and summer shoes that can range from espadrilles to spectators.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
The estimable Esquire magazine surveyed nearly two million male readers in 2006 for their advertising media kit, and the results tell a sad tale about the state of men's clothing in the United States. Of this "affluent and successful" readership, just 10% had purchased a suit in the year prior to the survey. Roughly 30% purchased dress shoes and dress shirts, and a quarter bought dress trousers (37% bought a pair of jeans). Even if I wasn't trying to make my point sound modestly amusing, given that I believe that Esquire's readers are more clothing aware than the average man I am forced to conclude that the majority of American males must dress in some combination of sweat pants, tees, sneakers and similar garb. Of course, that's what I see on the street.
Whether a man's budget accommodates Savile Row or thrifting, dressing well requires a modest combination of taste and consistent expenditure. As I've written before, the key is to build a rotation that prevents wearer boredom and gives clothes time to recover after wearing, as well as for cleaning and other maintenance. I think a man should probably strive to acquire four to six changes of clothing each year (that's for wool jackets, trousers and coats - he'll need more if he wears cotton most of the time) and at least one pair of shoes. Until he's filled out his closet, the shoes and four of those changes of clothing are likely to be replacements for worn out items and a higher level of acquisition is probably required to expand the rotation.
I suggest that every man should sit himself down periodically to plan what he needs to buy in the coming year, and what he can afford to spend. His target price per garment is a simple function of his annual budget and he just needs to continue abusing his credit cards until his closet has what he decided it needed. When that initial rotation is filled out, the budget can be reduced or the number of items purchased can be reduced and the quality level increased.
If every man in America bought one pair of dress trousers, a shirt and a pair of shoes each year, production would have to triple and, once supply caught up with demand, we might begin to see a reversal in the tremendous increase in the cost of quality clothing that we've experienced as demand has declined over the years. Get shopping!
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
I'm probably writing about hats a bit too often since many if not most men, even suit-wearing men and particularly men under 30, don't wear them (baseball caps do not count). Jack Kennedy and the automobile get most of the blame, but that's not the point. There are occasions when wearing a hat is smart (intelligent), as well as smart (good looking). By the time a man begins to lose his hair he should own a few.
There are several styles of hat, in two basic constructions for spring and fall. That's straw in the summer (May 15 to September 15 in temperate Northern hemisphere climates) for protection from the sun, and felt, preferably beaver felt, the rest of the year for protection from the cold.
Formality in headwear descends from top hats to homburgs to bowlers to fedoras to trilbys to more casual hats like the pork pie and finally caps. A man chooses the right hat for the day based on the rest of his clothes.
Top hats of the right sort aren't made any longer and high quality used ones cost more than many automobiles. But that's OK unless you are going to be attending a full dress ball or Royal Ascot. The rest of the time, a black felt Homburg does nicely with black tie and dark city suits.
For less formal occasions, dark gray or navy fedoras look very elegant with suits as do brown trilbys on the weekend and tweed caps to complement - but not match - your tweeds.
In summer, the Panama hat comes into its own as does the straw boater, seen at Henley Regatta and in the evening, and linen caps for casual wear.
That amounts to half a dozen hats and as many caps:
-navy and gray Fedoras
-Two Panamas (alternating them gives the sweat bands time to dry out)
-Three tweed caps
-Three linen caps in cream, buff and light blue
And that's all I'll have to say about hats for a while.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
The not-quite fifty year old firm of G.J. Cleverley & Co Ltd is "Savile Row's preferred bespoke shoemaker" according to the Savile Row Bespoke Association.
Founder George Cleverley joined Tuczek, a high society London shoemaker, after the first World War and remained there until 1958, managing the shop for much of that time. He began his own business shortly after leaving Tuckzek where he continued making some of the world's finest shoes until he died in 1991.The current partners, George Glasgow and John Carnera, worked with Cleverley for more than a decade and have maintained his high standard. I met with George Glasgow during his recent visit to San Francisco, part of the firm's month-long tour of the United States.
G. J. Cleverley makes 7-10 handmade pair of shoes each week as it has for many years. The shoes are made much as they were a century ago and to much the same acclaim. Just a few years ago, the U. S. magazine Robb Report rated the firm as the best shoemakers in the world for five years running.
I've been a Cleverley bespoke customer a couple of times over the years, and was interested to see the firm's samples, which had more of an emphasis on exotic leathers than I had noticed in the past. Glasgow said that the United States is Cleverley's most important market and the exotics are well received here. A Cleverley customer kindly allowed me to photograph the shoes he was wearing, a spectacular red-toned pair of Adelaide brogues made from the famous pre-1800 Russian Calf.
While I was looking at a pair of crocodile oxfords, another customer dropped off two pair of crocodile slip-ons for re-furbishing. Many of the shoes have the distinctive Cleverley shape, a chiseled toe that can be seen on well shod men in major cities around the world.
Cleverley's bespoke shoes are priced from about £1500 (the crocodile, sadly, are roughly double that amount). I'm dreaming of a pair of stitched toe oxfords, in black buckskin.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Felt hats, if you have them, should be put away until September 1, which makes perfect sense in most places as straw wears much cooler because it lets air circulate. And protection from the sun seems to me a better reason to wear a hat than winter's "75% of your body's heat loss occurs through your head" rationale. So break out those Optimos and boaters tomorrow!
Sunday, May 13, 2007
"I’m getting married in Vegas in August. We have decided to not go the usual formality route. I’m planning to wear a tan cotton 2B poplin suit and brown shoes (perhaps G&G Astaires if they get my October order to me).
A couple of questions: Would a contrasting collar, say blue with white collar be too “business like”? Should I do French cuff and links /bars? Regular tie or bow tie? I just want to look nice for warm weather, without wearing screaming white or standing there in wrinkled linen."
You should have your Astaires this month, or so Dean Girling assures me. To complement them, I like bow ties in summer. Navy with white mini-dots looks good, especially with a light blue shirt with a white contrast collar, white french cuffs and some silk knots.
And remember a white linen pocket square!
Saturday, May 12, 2007
"Floral shirts should be worn with caution: it's all too easy to take on the appearance of a playboy who's gone to seed or; worse still, a big girl's blouse. The trick to wearing a flowery shirt is to make it look sporty by wearing it unironed and dressed down, with a T-shirt worn underneath, and the sleeves rolled up. I wore mine several times while I was away and on a visit to a winery in the middle of nowhere, the Aussie behind the counter asked me if I was a Pom*: perhaps he had noticed the socks with flip-flops? No, 'it's the Liberty print, mate.'"
-Mr Classic, Jeremy Hackett
Friday, May 11, 2007
The death of Ahmet Ertegun (to Eric Clapton's right in the photo) last year at the age of 83 opens for competition the position of hippest geriatric on the planet. Ertegun, who founded Atlantic Records in 1947 in an office in a derelict Manhattan hotel, was a world class dandy, impeccably dressed in blue blazer, grey flannels, tasselled mocassins and silk-knit tie. He was reknowned for his taste in music as well as his Patrick Ewing lifestyle (former NBA star Ewing had 15 extra minutes of fame for his statement that "We make a lot of money but we spend a lot of money.")
Ertegun told one reporter that his reputation early in life was partly a facade. "The truth was that I lost my drivers license so I traded my Aston Martin on a Rolls Royce and hired a chauffeur and, even though I didn't have that much money in the bank, when I'd go to El Morocco the columnists would refer to me as `the Turkish millionaire.'" But it wasn't all facade all the time. Ertegun lived in a townhouse on East 81st Street in New York, had a house in the Hamptons and another in Turkey.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
I'd been thinking about a straw homburg for next year and thought it time to re-acquaint myself with Paul's Hat Works. Founded in 1918 and occupying a small hatbox of a shop out on the Avenues in San Francisco, Paul's is one of those completely original places that should probably be famous but isn't known outside of a small circle.
Michael Harris, who became the current proprietor in 1980, is the third to own the business. A hatmaker's apprentice early in life, Harris hand blocks, hand stitches, and crafts Ecuadorean straw and beaver felt into some of the finest hats in the world using machinery from the 1930s. B. Brent Black, the leading American importer of hatting material from Ecuador, calls him one of only five or six craftsmen in the United States capable of high quality hand blocking of Montecristi hats.
That reference sold me on his straw hats, which start at $500 and go to the stratosphere (I asked the price of an exceptionally fine sample and was told "It's a car"). And then I got a look at the beaver felt fedoras.
Felt hats were fashionable in Europe from 1550 until 1850 when silk hats took over, and a beaver hat was so desireable that the European beaver was hunted to the brink of extinction. Beaver was held to make the best hats because, after a wetting, beaver holds its shape better than felt made from wool or other types of fur. Water off a beaver's back, so to speak. That matters in San Francisco, and for that matter most of the other cities in the Northern hemisphere.
There are very few true custom hatters remaining in the world today. The best known high end hatters in the world, such as London's James Lock, don't make custom hats any longer, but Harris does. He measures your head individually and takes that individuality into account when he shapes your hat, so you get a height and a brim that works for your head. His fedoras are made of "100% beaver, unlike that stuff they sell you elsewhere." Even the hat bands are made from pre-war material, which he buys up as the few remaining traditional hatmakers go out of business because it resists the elements better than anything made today. $1500 each and worth a special trip to San Francisco.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Father's Day is just around the corner in the United States and U.K., and it used to be a difficult day for me. That was when I used to break my own rule and let the women in my life shop for me if they chose. It just seemed mean spirited to stop them, even though all clothing gifts were automatically recycled to Goodwill with the tags still on.
That was because, much as I love women, most of them can barely clothe themselves and, despite their sex's genetic assumption that they are shopping goddesses, they know nothing about clothing for men. Naturally, this point of view caused a certain amount of friction over the years.
I'm pleased that after several false starts I've arrived at a reasonable compromise. It wasn't even that hard once I got the idea, which is kind of a guy's version of a bridal register. I pick a menswear catalog with a selection of things that I like, such as the pictured Arnys Forestiere jacket (I should be so lucky). I mark ten or twelve acceptable or desireable items at various price points and give the catalog to any interested woman. She can get me any of the marked items knowing I'll be somewhat surprised and truly greatful (this is quite a change - for years I would behave badly to any woman that bought me clothing as a matter of principle). Of course, the same approach can be taken with sports gear, alcohols, and other good stuff.
Now if you've got one of those rare ladies who knows instinctively that the best gift she can get you is a bottle of single malt or two seats behind the first base dugout, you don't need my help. But if there is still stress in this part of your relationship, try giving them a catalog. If you're in the same boat I was, things can hardly get any worse.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
My friend Noah, the manager at the Crocker Galleria location of A Shine and Co., was kind enough to let me photograph him as he shined a pair of shoes the other day.
The process begins with wetting a toothbrush and scrubbing any dust out of the welt. The shoes are Edward Green Cardiffs in Edwardian Antique (from Leather Soul in Honolulu). I don't usually wear bluchers with a suit, but sometimes you have to bend the rules to get a shine.
After the shoes are clean, Noah puts on layers of polish. This particular pair didn't need conditioning so he's using neutral Lincoln wax.
Noah brushes the shoes after each layer of polish. Shoes like polish after every second wearing, and I'm getting three coats today.
Sunday, May 6, 2007
"I'm wondering how you store your trousers. I've tried a lot of hanger options, but the creases always bother me, especially with rough cloth like woolen flannels. Would you advise folding them instead and storing them on a shelf, or is that not advisable either?"
The best way to store trousers is to hang them by their heels, but I don't believe anyone with a wardrobe actually has enough room for that. The trousers in the photo to the left belonged to the late Duke of Windsor, and I store mine the same way. Solve the creasing problem with a trouser press, which will remove hangar bar rumples as well as any wrinkling behind the knees before wearing.
"I have been reading up on your comments on getting slightly heavier linen pants and having some trouble, despite living in New York City. I am not aware of any tailors in the city that has these trouser fabrics. I am wondering if you have any recommendations for me for tailors, retailers, or mail order companies that'd have some good cotton and linen pants for summer that don't wrinkle too badly. "
I can't speak to the New York retail scene but Irish linen cloth should be widely available. Any New York trousermaker should have access to Holland & Sherry's Emerald Isle 14 ounce linen (the book is HS289). If they don't, Hemrajani (mytailor.com) does and they are visiting New York in June.
Saturday, May 5, 2007
It's also a reason to resurrect the seersucker suit, white bucks, and perhaps even a ribbon belt and a bow tie, especially if they haven't seen duty since the end of last summer.
Friday, May 4, 2007
A good suit was once said to be 'well cut', and the fit of a bespoke garment depends on the skill of the man cutting the pattern. The cutter, as he is known, takes the instructions and measurements from the customer and feeds work to the tailors who sew. The measurements, up to twenty of them for a jacket and six more for trousers, are used to make a pattern with chalk on stiff brown paper, like the one Thomas Mahon is making in the photo to the left. The pattern is used to cut the cloth (some tailors chalk the cloth without making a pattern but this adds time to the second and subsequent suits).
This matters because properly constructed bespoke suits usually fit better. Made to measure suits are cut using standard block patterns with dimansions that fit a so-called average man. That works well for average men, and is less satisfactory for the many men with a sloped shoulder, well developed shoulders and a trim waist, or an unusually long or short torso relative to height.
If the pattern were the only difference between made to measure and bespoke suits, keeping them straight would be simple. But it's not, and it isn't, for there is no such thing as a standard construction. Just as we have machine made shoes on bespoke lasts and hand made shoes on standard lasts, so Kiton and Oxxford hand sew jackets to standard patterns while hundreds of individual tailors make custom patterns and then make bespoke jackets with sewing machines. Unfortunately, machine sewing makes a relatively lifeless coat. Hand sewn jackets look better in an almost indescribeable way, moving as if they are part of the wearer.
That said, the differing qualities of machine and hand sewing are for another essay. For now, suffice it to say that if you're trying to classify a suit as made to measure or bespoke, ask if a paper pattern is made before the cloth is cut. If the answer is yes, the jacket is bespoke and you can focus on the quality of construction knowing that the fit should be as good as it gets.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
The polo shirt was the first sports shirt, created early in the twentieth century for men who played, you guessed it, polo. Originally a short sleeved white knitted wool pullover with a turned-down collar, the polo was the pattern for the tennis shirt of the late 1920's. Men kept finding new uses for it and today the polo is as ubiquitous for casual wear as the dress shirt is for more formal occasions.
We arguably have the polo to blame for the current glut of clothing items with cute little logos. 1953 saw the introduction of the short-sleeved Lacoste shirt, a cotton knit with a long tail and an alligator on the breast. It was a high quality shirt and quickly became popular.
I've never been fond of long sleeved polos but I like the short sleeve versions in both linen and cotton. In my opinion, properly made polos should have a tail, so they stay tucked in while the body is moving, and both logos and breast pockets should be avoided (Bullock & Jones, which offers some otherwise attractive versions, seems unable to execute a polo without a breast pocket). Solid colors are best, particularly classics such as white, navy, chocolate brown and wine. And contrast collars can add a stylish touch.
My favorite source for polos used to be a U. S. mail order company named Tuttle, which had its own, now apparently discontinued, line of double mercerized cotton shirts in two weaves and what must have been thirty colors. Some of them are still available on the company's online clearance page where they are good values at $54.50, and there are still a variety of other versions at prices ranging from $45 to $125, including the original, resurrected and rehabilitated Lacoste. Unfortunately it still comes with a little alligator on the breast.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Two of the things I like best about summer are the sweet smell of a lady's gardenia and dancing under the stars on a Saturday night (or, once or twice every lifetime, at a prom). And when the ladies are wearing evening clothes it's appropriate to break out a white dinner jacket like the one worn by actor Patrick Stewart in the photo.
Now the white dinner jacket is often misunderstood. Unlike black and midnight blue jackets that are always correct, it's not a general purpose semi-formal coat. It should be worn only at outdoor evening events in the summertime, or aboard ship. Originally seen single breasted and shawl collared on Englishmen in Nassau, the white linen jacket with self faced lapels has had its principal popularity in the United States. It can be worn by men with a variety of figures and that helped it replace the short-lived mess jacket, a tailcoat without tails that could only be worn by men with washboard stomachs, in the 1930's.
The popularity of the white DJ was driven by its comfortable weight and linen's better-than-worsted air circulation, and in keeping with that theme men accompany it with a cummerbund instead of a waistcoat. Introduced to America during the 1920's, the cummerbund was originally nothing more than a black silk or satin sash wrapped two or three times around the waist. It's popularity has since waxed and waned with other dinner clothes (and I think it not as good a choice as a waistcoat with a dark jacket), but in black, midnight blue or patterned madras it remains the standard with a white dinner jacket.
Young men who visit tuxedo rental shops for their prom garb should resist the temptation of colored coats in light blue, lilac or tan. Black and midnight blue are always correct, but white and cream are the colors of summer evenings. Add a pink carnation for extra style points.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
According to the census of 1851, there were 28,000 shoemakers in London, or roughly 2% of the population. The machine age put most of those people out of work, and today there are but a handful of firms making bespoke shoes by hand.
One of those firms is Gaziano & Girling, whose partner Dean Girling was in town last week with some new bespoke shoe samples as well as the good news that the company's first made to order shoes from last Fall's launch are finally in customer hands. After we enjoyed a cup of coffee, we spent a few minutes going through the bespoke ordering process.
From the customer's perspective, the process of having a pair of shoes made hasn't changed in decades. First I stood on a sheet of paper while Dean traced the outline of each foot and measured its height at three different places.
Once measurement is complete, the customer is asked to describe the shoe he envisons. It helps to arrive with an idea in mind, but this is also where the maker's supply of bespoke sample shoes helps illustrate the possibilities. For example, a reversed calf elastic sided brogue looks great with suits and odd jackets, and a man won't see many shoes like it in the United States.
Of course, a pair of Adelaide semi-brogues like the shoes pictured might be more practical. And then there are the details to specify. Espresso calf. Smart round toe. Fiddleback waist. Cuban heel. Steel toe caps. Natural beech shoe trees. And perhaps a plum colored lining.
Once the order is written and a deposit taken, all that remains is the waiting.