Difficult though it is to believe that another year has run its course, A Suitable Wardrobe and its readers passed a couple of significant milestones recently. For one, we were visited for the one millionth time in December, and that's a number I never dreamt of reaching when I first began posting two years ago. For another, we also exceeded 100,000 visitors in a month and to that, ditto. I hope ASW's readers have found the journey at least as interesting as I.
The photo sums up this journey in the way I'm musing about the year (or perhaps the woman on the cover of the magazine) when I should have been straightening the frame to the upper right. The clothes include a gray 3 roll 2 herringbone suit, brown striped club collar shirt (seen in yesterday's monologue) worn pinned, midnight blue Irish poplin necktie, white linen pocket square, dark brown brogues, and a brown fedora.
Best wishes for a successful 2009 to you and yours. And please wear a dinner jacket tonight.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
This monologue on monograms is for men who wear their initials on their shirts, or are thinking about doing so. It's not intended for men who wear the initials of a shirt designer on their shirts, for they are not yet ready.
It's said that shirt monograms were first used by men to identify their shirts in the laundry. At the time most shirts were white and looked alike, so some form of identification was a necessity then just as it is today. After all, when a shirt doesn't have identification, the laundry applies its own mark, and that's usually something fairly unattractive. So monogrammed shirts serve a very practical function, one that is generally available only to men who have shirts made for themselves, as all dress shirt wearing men should.
A monogram of course is a motif made by overlapping or combining two or more letters to form a single symbol (a series of uncombined initials, such as my own initials on the shirt in the photograph, is properly referred to as a cypher rather than a monogram, but most of us fail to distinguish between the two).
Now since a shirt's wearer presumeably knows who he is, we can ask ourselves who an identifying monogram might be intended for if it's not for the laundry. And the only conceivable answer is vanity. Which is why monograms should be placed out of sight, where the laundry can see them but not casual observers. The best location to my mind is inside the collar. Another that's barely acceptable is the lower left shirt front, below where the pocket would be if there was one (and of course there isn't). Initials there are covered by a man's jacket, and if he doesn't wear one all the time he shouldn't have his shirts monogrammed on his shirt front.
There is a reason for this discretion, and it's fairly simple. No-one will ever think less of a man for not having a monogrammed shirt, but there is a significant portion of the population that will think a visible monogram is showing off. Wise men who monogram do so out of sight.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
These are the days when it can seem as though spring will never come, but it does follow fall and when it does it will bring straw hat season with it. And, though their wallets may not have recovered from the depredations of the holidays, men who need a new panama hat should think about ordering theirs soon so as to be prepared. For the panama is to my eye the prince of hats, and well-dressed men should have at least one.
I've not tried him myself, but hatters I respect tell me that perhaps the best straw values are to be found at the Panama Hat Works of Monticristi, where the man called Panama Bob does good for both his customers and the straw hat making families of Ecuador. The firm offers hand woven hats from both Cuenca and Montecristi, the village most noted for its hats because it is the central marketplace for the weavers to sell their hat bodies. There are half a dozen styles in half a dozen grades, from inexpensive $40 beach hats to $1,100 Espinal Fino Optimos.
I like to wear an Optimo, probably because that was the style I saw on Sir Winston Churchill many years ago. But HRH Prince Charles appears to be wearing a Cubano in the photo and it's very handsome.
Time to order!
There is nothing better looking to my mind than a strongly patterned suit like any of the ones in the Esquire illustration, but suits like these should be the final stage in the development of a man's wardrobe. Starting out, a man's suit wardrobe should contain exclusively neutral patterns in fall and spring weights until there are at least a dozen, and in temperate climates as many as twenty, in his closet. For the first suits in the wardrobe are going to be worn repeatedly and, beyond the general impression of fit and appropriateness, should make little impression on the minds of those a man sees regularly. After all, when the suit is remembered instead of the man the wearer cannot be considered well dressed.
Failure to fill out a wardrobe with neutrals is probably the most common error made by the young, who in their understandable desire to look outstanding can forget that they must also dress the other 364 days of the year. Whether a prominently checked tweed or a cream linen, a memorable suit seen several times gives others the impression that the wearer has nothing else to wear.
So start with neutrals. But once there is a variety of neutral clothing in the closet, a couple of strongly patterned choices for each season take a man's dressing game up to a new level.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
I'm happy to be able to report that the initial order of ASW's Suitable City Shoe (pictured) is shipping to customers next week. Impeccably constructed by Northampton's best shoemaker, the shoe's black calf and gray suede is designed to complement the colors of semi-formal daywear.
The next ASW limited edition City Shoe will be be an elastic sided slip-on with a straight line of brogueing across the toe cap. It will also be made by Gaziano & Girling and I expect to have photographs shortly after the New Year.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
To add stylishness to a wardrobe, consider neutral pieces that are just a little bit different. Here are two suits that take familiar colorings and change them slightly to make them more interesting.
The first is a Super 100 11 ounce worsted flannel in a dark grayed brown with a light grayed blue pencil stripe. It's worn like a gray suit.
The next photo shows a Super 100 11 ounce wool gabardine in a French blue that's appropriate for either sunny days or evening, where it will look black under artificial light.
In other words, change the familiar without letting go of it.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
For most men, so much attention seeking is inappropriate. Tomorrow, provided the sun shines brightly enough for photography, we'll look at several suits that manage to be stylish without drawing a second look.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Any clothing you have made will arrive after the end of the season for which it is intended.
In the photo, a summer shirt jacket made of 10 ounce linen in a herringbone weave. The idea is that it provides pockets without the weight of a fully constructed jacket.
In fairness to shirtmaker Joe Hemrajani, who did his part flawlessly, I didn't order it until after warm weather had ended. But Will's Law applies nonetheless. I should be able to try it out in April.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
I have a new Shetland tweed odd jacket cloth offering for the season (it's not suitable for trousers). This is winter weight for the warmer parts of North America, and shoulder season weight for the rest of the continent.
The design is a classic 8x8 herringbone in olive, the nicest green for men, with a dark red overcheck and a touch of black that makes it easy to wear in town. It is limited availability but can be re-woven in twelve weeks if there are men still standing at the altar after the current supply is sold.
A five meter single width piece (that's the right size for an odd jacket) is $300.00, plus shipping from San Francisco.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Dress of course is cultural. What men wear is different around the world and none of us should expect everyone else to dress as we do. It's the standard of care that I'm writing about. It's possible that a man can eat a holiday dinner with his friends or relations wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, sweat pants and flip-flops without much risk of imprisonment, but he impoverishes the lives of everyone around him.
This holiday season, emulate the men in the illustration. Dress better than the prevailing community standard.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
In warm weather, all tones of beige are appropriate for business wear. But what of brown, of which it was once said that it wasn't worn in town? Well, I blame Al Gore's adoption of the color for the election of George W. Bush in that famously close U. S. election. But lets's not hold recent events against it.
Indeed, brown is a very good look on men like the fellow in the Esquire illustration, who look washed out in gray and worse in many blues. These gentlemen have what is known as a muted complexion, made up of dark blond to mid-brown hair, eyebrows and lashes, light to olive skin and eyes in blended tones of brown, green, gray or blue. Brown tones are the easiest for them to wear.
For the rest of us, brown is a useful color when a suit is required outside a city center or in the suburbs. And brown cloth looks good with black shoes, something that can't be said of many men's suitings. But for me, living as I do in a sunny climate, I prefer beige. Indeed, spring will find me with four tan suits in my wardrobe to just one brown.
And that's what I have to say about brown.
Monday, December 15, 2008
When the going gets cool and a vest would be too formal for the occasion, try wearing a sleeveless sweater (v-neck pullover or cardigan) under a suit jacket, à la Jean Cocteau, the French surrealist poet, boxer, and filmmaker, in the photo.
Sweaters work best in different weights for different seasons. In winter, a tightly knit single ply cashmere is light but warm under a jacket (more plies are too much for indoor wear). For spring and fall, silk and linen blends cooperate with the milder temperatures. Either way, the sweater is often just enough to eliminate the need for a topcoat and its attendant bulk.
Add a silk scarf and a pair of pigskin gloves to be ready for the boulevards.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Blue odd jacket, brown foulard bowtie and a purple houndstooth silk square for an evening of Christmas choral music with the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus.
Below the waist, gray flannels and brogued elastic-sided slipons, with purple hose.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Turn that last bit of Lagavulin into a Rusty Nail by adding a splash of Drambuie. Three to one is a reasonable ratio, and lemon peel is optional.
For as Houseman wrote,
"And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man."
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Artic air brought freezing overnight temperatures to the Bay area this week, and heavy cloth is the appropriate response. Away from the office, an 18 ounce gunclub tweed jacket combined with a tan nailhead tab collared shirt, blue madder necktie and navy silk pocket square. Below the waist are 17 ounce dark brown flannel trousers, brown and tan argyle socks and brown slip-on casuals.
It's a combination that's too warm for sustained wear indoors but just right for running around outside in temperatures under 55°F (12°C).
Sunday, December 7, 2008
The color gray is the quintessential man's suiting for city day wear. This of course includes suits that are actually black and white designs but appear gray from a few feet away. That combination comes fairly naturally to gray as most of it, like gray flannel, is woven from a mixture of black and white yarns.
Gray is essential because it's the one color that looks good on more than 90% of the population, both young and old. Wear light gray in the sun and dark gray in the gloom, solid frescos and mohairs in the heat, chalk striped flannels in the cool and worsted birdseyes and nailheads any time.
If I had to choose one color for my wardrobe I'd wear only gray in the day.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
In keeping with the U.S. public television tradition of interrupting the regular programming repeatedly until a fundraising goal is obtained, please donate 10-12 minutes of your free time to take my Blog Reader Project survey (click the underlined area to begin) if you haven't already done so. The information is of interest to our advertisers, and those are the people that enable me to keep posting.
The survey is conducted by SurveyMonkey.com for a project funded and organized by Blogads.com, which sells advertising for 1500 leading American blogs.
Once enough people have replied, I'll post a summery of the aggregate information we collect so anyone interested can see what you say about yourselves. We learned some interesting things last year and there are a lot more of you this year.
Thank you for your support.
Posted by Will at 7:00 AM
Friday, December 5, 2008
Wool tartan necktie worn with a gray chalk stripe on navy flannel suit, linen pocket square and blue broadcloth shirt. The cloth used in the necktie is very fine, with most of the qualities of silk including some lustre.
A tartan necktie is perhaps more interesting next to a conservative suit than a tweed jacket, by far its more common application. In the United States, it is another of those looks that are both unexpected and familiar at the same time.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Most of us think to dress up for grand occasions that specify black tie on the invitation, but those are not the only evenings when we should take some care. The well-dressed man ideally changes his clothes any time he goes out at night, even when going out is nothing more than going down for dinner in his hotel. And to me, that means he should be wearing something that will complement a woman's black cocktail dress (this will be particularly useful when he's with someone who's wearing one). Not black tie, but not a typical business suit either.
The late Hardy Amies called this intermediate formality "late day dress," and it's accomplished with either a blazer or a peak lapelled suit in a luxurious material. For either choice, the ideal color is not dark navy but something closer to a French blue, with a green cast to it instead of a red. It's a nice look for the late afternoon sun, it turns appropriately black under artificial light, and it combines well with black shoes and a white shirt under either condition.
Dress up the blazer with a bow tie, or the suit with a satin four in hand. And that's late day blue.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
If black tailored clothing is generally misapplied, white, like the jacket worn in the photo by the late Duke of Windsor, is also a challenge. White is as difficult as black to combine with many complexions, and loses some of its attractiveness as it acquires a yellow cast over time from oil in the wool (fortunately, cotton shirtings do not have this problem). That failing is of course why most of what we call white is actually cream, a shade that's more flattering to wear and less likely to age badly.
White also shows every bit of dirt, making it about the most expensive color a man can wear. If he's not having his white clothes cleaned, he's disposing of them prematurely because of some stubborn spots that refuse to come out. I know my own cream linen trousers last less than half as long as do the brown versions next to them in the closet.
Instead of white, the prudent man will choose lightweight black or midnight blue mohair for warm semi-formal evenings. Mohair wears cooler, and it will be out of the closet much more often than a white jacket that is, after all, only appropriate for outdoor and seaside occasions in warm weather.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with white or cream for day wear, mind you, particularly next to tanned skin. Cream flannel, linen or gabardine trousers are as elegant as anything in a man's wardrobe, cream cashmere sweaters are delightful, and an odd jacket of cream silk herringbone is particularly good looking. But all these things are relatively expensive to begin with, and their short lives make the cost even greater.
White is a challenge.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
It's a shame that black is the color of the tailored clothing pushed by so many retailers at young men and women who need to begin dressing professionally. After all, despite the tens of thousands of black suits purchased each year by young women who incorrectly think their sex is born with some innate understanding as to how to dress, black tailored clothing isn't seen on an elegant women before six o'clock, when her black dress becomes chic for cocktails, dinner and the theater. Nor on most men either.
Now whenever I repeat this assertion I hear howls of protest and demands for my rationale from the offended (you know who you are). And to them I say that the reason is simple. Black combines badly with most colors, and the parts of the spectrum that it complements, such as white, are less than complementary on those of us with lower contrast complexions in the light of day. In other words, black usually makes the wearer look bad.
There is an exception or two, for black is an excellent choice for light-reflecting mohair evening clothes. But even the dark jackets of formal and semi-formal day wear should be charcoal gray. And, at night, many better evening clothes are midnight blue, like director Steven Spielberg's bespoke dinner jacket in the photo. That's because midnight blue looks blacker than black under artificial light while most black has a greenish cast to it.
And so I say, reserve black for accessories such as dress shoes, belts, neckties, homburgs, small leathergoods and the dress of the woman on your arm in the evening. Eschew it for shirts, trousers and lounge suits.
Don't misuse black.
Monday, December 1, 2008
I'm of the opinion that a man should remain dressed during the day, and that means keeping his jacket on at all times. Not only does the line of the jacket cover what may be a less than perfect waistline, but a coat also serves as the professional man's equivalent of a utility belt, providing storage for accessories that would otherwise have no proper place to roost. For being well dressed precludes those nasty plastic belt holders for cell phones and similar electronics.
Now when I make this argument the first thing I hear is that so and so's office is too warm for a jacket. To which I say, wear lighter suits. Personally, I prefer to wear heavier cloth without an overcoat until the temperature falls below freezing but there's nothing wrong with the combination of a topcoat and a lighter suit. Trousers of 11 ounce wool will (barely) suffice for anything short of a February day in Moscow when they are partnered with a below the knee overcoat, and that weight is still comfortable in an over-heated work space. During warmer months, ten ounce cloth is perfectly comfortable in air conditioned rooms.
Like the young man in the Esquire illustration, there's no good reason not to remain dressed during the work day.