The end of March is as good a time as any to begin thinking about warm weather in the Northen Hemisphere, and it was fun poking around the storage closet this weekend for things to pack for a trip where the temperature is expected to be above 80 degrees F (27 degrees C).
One warm weather wardrobe staple is the unlined safari jacket in cream linen (the one in the photo was made by Hemrajani Brothers). Without the structure of lining and canvas, linen as heavy as 14 ounces wears cool in combination with tees, polos or lightweight dress shirts. And a safari blends well with the scenery in tropical areas where the only conventional jacket anyone recalls was worn by HRH Prince Charles or one of his relations when they last visited.
Cream jackets and a suntan are complemented by shirts of blue, yellow or white worn with a cotton scarf, or dressed up with an ascot. Just add a straw hat; linen, fresco or cotton trousers; and unlined slip-on shoes.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
The heir to one of the great names in clothing for the American establishment is a talkative tailor with a collection of rare fabrics. Paul Winston is his name, of Winston Tailors and Chipp2, Chipp being one of last century's clothing pillars of the American establishment along with Brooks Brothers and Tripler.
I was at Winston's 11 East 44th Street atelier in pursuit of one of those rare fabrics, the printed wool challis in the photograph. It is a light cloth that was printed by Evans before they closed years ago, and I had been looking for a piece for quite some time. The weight makes challis just about perfect for an odd vest that will be worn in the temperate weather where I live.
Winston Tailors may be the best remaining place on earth for commissioned articles in the Ivy League tradition of sportswear, from patch madras to embroidered corduroy trousers. The very nice Shetland safari jacket in the photo, sewn from a piece of cloth woven by a mill that has been defunct for decades, is a conservative example.
At the other extreme, a man looking for a necktie printed with one of former President Lyndon B. Johnson's best-known sayings - testiculos tene: capiuntur mens et cor - will find it here.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
A careful reading of the headstone in the photograph indicates it marks the final resting place of George Brummell, Esq, better known to many as Beau, who died a pauper in France on this day in 1840 at the age of 62.
Brummell of course popularized the combination of jacket and trousers, paired with a predecessor to the necktie, that has been the principal gentleman's costume in the West for more than 150 years.
Friday, March 27, 2009
In his column for the January 31 Newsweek, Nick Foulkes opined that becoming a successful bespoke customer takes almost as much time and instruction as becoming a maker of bespoke items. His thought is that most men require guidance for a bespoke purchase, and lacking that guidance a bespoke garment is not necessarily better than one bought ready-made. Amen brother.
When one first goes to a world-reknown bespoke tailor, the experience can be overwhelming. There is a table with as many as two or three thousand fabric samples (I swear the first one I met with had more). Against this is matched the customer's vague desire for a nine month suit of some sort that may be double breasted if the tailor will deign to entertain such a radical idea. In the face of this timidity, the tailor will throw down a dozen swatches while muttering something to the effect that they "can give you whatever you want."
And that's the problem you see. For god's sake, when a man's previous experience is limited to a choice of the three things that the local department store has on the rack this season how can he be expected to know what he needs, let alone what he wants?
In retrospect, I know I got poor advice from my first tailor. There was no Q&A to establish what level of expertise I might have or what was already in my closet. Instead, the representatives of the firm that is generally considered to have the most American business seemed to be in "wham bam thank you madam" mode. And of course, that was one of the manifold reasons they lost me in less than three years.
Before becoming a bespoke client, it behooves any man to spend some time learning about cloth as well as tailoring. From my perspective, the best first suit is one of conservative cloth in a winter or summer fabric. For it is the in-between cloth that a man tends to regret sooner rather than later.
Fashionable details are equally regrettable. A bespoke suit that lasts decades is the antithesis of fashion. The customer should begin with middle of the road selections and then branch out as his understanding of his tailor and his choices grow into understanding.
For what a man doesn't know can indeed hurt, and is likely to.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
It does not seem like I met with Thomas Mahon of English Cut just yesterday morning, but that might have something to do with the midnight flight I took to New York some hours later, and the resulting zombie state of mind that was mine on Wednesday. Lack of sleep will do that to a fellow, particularly when he is meeting four tailors in five days.
Thomas made what we hope are final adjustments on the mid-gray fresco double breasted that was fitted in the fall. The collar needed work and, rather inexplicably, there were no vents in what was supposed to be a side vented jacket. But all will be made well and hopefully before the end of warm weather.
I am still learning the timing of ordering from Thomas. There doesn't seem to be any need to order when he is in town, as he won't be cutting cloth until not terribly long before his visit following this one. And any items ordered with the intention of fitting at that visit are unlikely to be completed until some months afterwards. So where I had been ordering spring cloth in the fall and fall cloth in the spring, I have shifted to ordering fall cloth in the fall and spring cloth in the spring in the hope that the finished clothes will arrive in time for their intended season.
If that makes no sense blame it on lack of sleep.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
At A Suitable Wardrobe, the most obscure tailoring details are grist for the mill. In the photo, trousers with an English back are on display while Patrick Chu of Hong Kong's W. W. Chan tailoring firm assists with a jacket. The split waistband helps trousers to move with less strain as the body moves.
I visited Chan with a friend who had had several nice looking jackets from there this year, and I wanted to see the firm in action. The measuring process was perhaps the most thorough I've encountered, which is good practice for an organization that strives to minimize fittings. In addition to the usual measurements, the customer is pinned into a trial jacket, photographed for reference and has the slope of his shoulders calculated with a special device.
I look forward to learning about the rest of their customer experience.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
It often seems to take several wearings before it becomes second nature to choose a shirt and necktie that is a good complement to a new suit, particularly when the suit in question is not one of the standard colors. In the photo a navy dot bow tie is paired with an ivory shirt and a tan herringbone suit with red undertones but the combination did not make it out of the house. There was too much contrast - a tie with a mid-blue ground blended better.
A man tends to notice little things about suits after the tailor leaves town, and in this case there's a slight pull at the center button that is more evident in the photo than it is in reality. But that will get cleaned up when I next see him again this coming summer.
Monday, March 23, 2009
There are other shades but the three most elegant linen suits to my eye are colored french blue, cream and mustard, the shade of Neapolitan tailor Antonio Panico's suit in the photograph.
I am thinking about linen today as I will be spending some time with Mr. Patrick Chu of Hong Kong's W. W. Chan and may order another. The price is half that of my English tailors and that is a considerable advantage for what is essentially just a warm weather walk in the park pleasure suit. Quarter lined blue single breasted with patch pockets is the most useful.
I have written before that the key to successful linen wearing is the weight of the cloth. The lighter stuff creases where the heavier versions rumple. Rumples make for a more useful suit than do wrinkles.
Flâneurs who are looking for linen cloth might want to spend some time with Scabal's linen swatches. Their half-width 13 ounce (400 gram) stuff is a bit lighter than Holland & Sherry's 14 ounce book, and it has a softer hand as if its been washed in the River Tweed or something. I have several pair of trousers from it and, if I do overcome my reluctance to add another tailor to my mix, it will be from Scabal's fabric.
So much for my plan to post swatches of the three linen suit colors as I cannot seem to get on to Scabal's web site today.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
It was a length of cloth in January and two months later almost to the day this 14 ounce (420 gram) Shetland herringbone tweed is taking shape as an odd jacket. Like the gun club Peter Harvey made before he became a brand within Davies & Son last year, this coat will be a little longer than normal two button with crescent pockets and a button point above the waist.
As jackets go it did not need much fixing but still demonstrated why a fitting is good practice any time clothing is made for an individual (and why the visiting Hong Kong tailor practice of doing without is less than ideal). In this case, even with a close to perfected pattern, the quarters (lower center front) need to be opened a little more.
Despite that minor modification, the jacket ought to be ready for pickup in June. The intervening months are just enough time to think about a necktie or two that will give it some pop in combination with a blue shirt. And since the plan is to wear it at least part of the time with gabardine trousers that complement the rust-colored overcheck, a complementary necktie could take more than the usual amount of thought.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Just a little green for St. Patrick's Day this week. The brown paisley square left Brooks Brothers to join my wardrobe while I was an undergraduate, demonstrating that silk lasts indefinitely. Worn with green hose and dark oak punched cap oxfords.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
There is nothing understated about the dress of author Gay Talese, a man who sets his own fashion. Talese, who was named to the International Best Dressed List in 2007, is outspokenly bespoke, from the suede and calf oxfords through the trousers with lapped seams and the very individual lapels on his jackets and waistcoats.
His wardrobe may add to his recognition and help him sell books but it also provides him with more personal forms of reward. For "Putting on a beautifully designed suit elevates my spirit, extols my sense of self, and helps define me as a man to whom details matter."
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
There are 34,000 clothing cleaners in the United States. Most of them will quickly destroy bespoke clothing.
Clothes cleaning is a business driven by the desire to turn garments around quickly, and at the lowest possible cost. Unfortunately, those objectives are at odds with quality cleaning of bespoke clothing where, for example, the best way to remove soil from a shirt is to soak it. Soaking and same day service are completely incompatible.
In San Francisco we have a high profile cleaner that for many years was voted best in the Bay area. Prices are very high, and clothing is returned in more packaging than it had when it was new. And yet, shirts are returned with dirt ground into the cuffs and jacket lapels pressed so that the collar no longer sits properly. Fortunately, there are alternatives.
Serious clothing requires a serious commitment to clothing care. I've written in the past that San Francisco men once sent their laundry by clipper ship to China to have it hand cleaned and returned. And as recently as twenty years ago the now defunct haberdasher Sulka offered a laundry by mail service for bespoke shirts.
Laundry by mail is still a viable alternative but men in eighteen cities in Australia and North America may not need to go that far. The members of Leading Cleaners Internationale meet the cleaning industry's only rigorous standards for quality. Each of them treats every garment as if it is a museum-quality textile.
And for those of us who don't live in one of those eighteen locations but do live in North America, there is RAVE FabriCARE's clean by mail service. I have only used the service for shirts but the results were outstanding.
There are 34,000 clothing cleaners in the United States. A few of them actually know how to treat clothng properly.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The slightly less formal coat for spring is the raglan sleeved tweed, like the examples on the left and right of the Esquire illustration. A mid-weight (15 ounces or 500 grams) tweed provides warmth in milder temperatures and repels rain well enough to provide shelter from most storms.
Choose brown for a coat that will not be worn to the office in town, or blue for city streets. Personally, I find gray too dull for the season.
Monday, March 16, 2009
So what options are there? Well, the first is to recognize that all breast pockets lose their tension over time. The ways to compensate begin with squares made from heavier silk or linen as they will tend to move around less.
Size is important as well. An 18" (48 cm) silk square has the bulk to fill a properly sized pocket (not all pockets are the same size and if one is large enough to swallow an 18" square take the jacket to an alterations tailor to have the pocket shortened). 12" (30 cm) silk squares tend to disappear. The same holds for linen though 12" may suffice for less extravagant folds as linen's rougher surface tends to keep it in place better than silk.
The other major consideration is the fold itself. The Sam Hober web site has a useful guide to the various pocket square folds and one in particular warrants attention. The variations of the rolled puff leave the most bulk at the top of the pocket and that bulk helps keeps them in place over the course of a long day.
Careful attention to details will bring a man closer to what should be his goal. And that is, "stuff and forget."
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Swatches and blankets are what clothiers depend on to choose neckties for the coming season. When the cloth is not yet woven, either the combination of an existing swatch and colored threads (top right), or a blanket (lower right) are used to visualize the new combinations. Click on the photo to enlarge it.
Clockwise, from the upper left:
-Orange dots on navy repp silk
-Navy grenadine that will have light blue and mid-brown stripes
-A blanket of gray and ivory
-Gray, navy and brown striped cashmere
-Navy, dark green and pink wool tartan
There are four colorways on the blanket (only two are visible). The tones at the left of the blanket differ from those on the right.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Men who dress in the English fashion usually wear button cuffed shirts with odd jackets and less formal suits, and turnback cuffed shirts with more formal suits and evening clothes. But what to do when an odd jacket is called for and the only available shirts have turnback cuffs?
When jewelry would be too much, as it is with tweed, silk knit links can be just right. Colorful and inexpensive, they close the wrist without looking out of place.
The pair in the photo were party favors from San Francisco's Borrelli store, worn on the way to the country for the weekend.
Friday, March 13, 2009
On my way to meet some Bay area Style Forum members at the Borrelli store in a couple of hours, wearing plum colored Marcoliani Circo hose with espresso quarter brogues and a navy nailhead double breasted suit with a faint blue overcheck.
Above the waist, a silver gray twill shirt with white collar and cuffs, antique periwinkle enamel on sterling cuff links, a white Irish linen pocket square and an almost indescribable Luciano Barbera necktie with small plum-colored stitches sewn onto a gray ground.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Speaking of Milan (pronounced Mylan) straw hats as we were yesterday, straw hat season will be upon us before we know it and Chicago's Optimo Hats for a change has a reasonable inventory of high quality natural colored Milan braided straw. The company will turn some of that straw into a gentleman's hat in three weeks for about $400.
Now I am not a hat expert but I have been around a bit and, so far as I am able to tell, the United States makes the best hats in the world (perhaps the only article of clothing where the country holds that estimable position). Within the United States, Optimo is arguably the best bespoke hat maker, and they are without a doubt the best source I have found for authentic Milans.
The Asian version of the better known and more fragile Monticristis of Ecuador, the sporty Milan's straw originates in a single village in China. The material gives the Milan a soft golden glow that has kept it in demand -- I had tried unsuccessfully to obtain one last year and the year before --for more than a hundred years. That glow may be had in the same shapes as the Monticristi.
They are a fine summer hat for the man who wants something just a little different.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
The gentleman at the left in the illustration (from a 1937 Esquire) is wearing what is today an all but extinct suit, in pale gray and cream flannel. It has not been common for decades because the colors are the colors of spring, and 16 ounce flannel , once summer clothing, is thought too warm for the heat.
Today of course the mills can make us 10/11 ounce flannels that provide flannel's soft comfort without all the warmth. That may not be stuff for mid-August inland, but it will do nicely for a coastal city in June. Time to resurrect pale gray and cream flannel? I think so.
Wear it with tan oxfords in calf or suede and replace the yachting cap with a Milan straw with a gray band.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
I have learned that I have been wrong and it has only taken five years for me to arrive at that conclusion. You see, I used to have my pajamas made by my shirtmaker. Unlike shirts themselves, where better fit and fabric costs no more than ready to wear, made to measure pajamas do cost somewhat more (the exact amount will vary wildly depending on the brand of pajamas and the shirtmaker). And so one day I decided there was no point to that expenditure and began buying the products of Derek Rose.
Of course, there is a fallacy in this reasoning. I have found over two generations of sleepwear that instead of the nearly two hundred washings I was accustomed to before my made-from-fine shirtings pajamas were worn out, I have been getting perhaps fifty before seeing noticeable wear in my ready to wears. There are great rents in the cloth before a hundred washings and I find myself thinking about replacing this pair or that almost weekly.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Mr. Edwin Deboise, principal of Steed Bespoke Tailors, began publishing a blog titled Steed's View not too long ago. He and Thomas Mahon were partners for a number of years after leaving Anderson & Sheppard, and both men base their operations in England's Lake District today.
All that is a long winded way of introducing Mr. Deboise's version of the London Lounge Best of Both limited edition tweed made into a classic three button suit.
Very nice Mr. Deboise, and I look forward to reading your blog.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
A conventional choice, but considerably more deserving than the fourth runner up, U.S. President Obama, would have been.
Even Princes can sometimes let standards slip though. Follow the link and look at the suit he's wearing in the center photo. It is perhaps the worst fitting thing I have ever seen him wear.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Then Foreign Minister of Britain, The Right Honourable Anthony Eden was photographed at his country house during the Second World War. A man usually dressed so formally that he had a black silk brimmed version of the Homburg hat named after him, Eden is wearing a silk neckerchief, short sleeved sports shirt, sweater, faded espadrilles and heavy striped trousers that look as though they might once have been part of a suit.
With the exception of the trousers, he would look at home in California today.
Friday, March 6, 2009
I don't know that I've ever thought about it this way before but there are two kinds of suits. The more common is the business suit, like the one Luca di Montezemolo wears in the photo to present Michael Schumacher's F2004 steering wheel to His Holiness. The business suit is inconspicuous so it can be worn frequently without drawing attention to the wearer's clothing.
The second, and to me more interesting type, is the considerably rarer suit that a man wears on less formal occasions or his own time, like the mustard linen suit Ed Hermann wore at last summer's Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (just to stay with an automotive theme).
These two types may overlap (the classic example is the black and white flannel glen check), but the less formal versions are usually more at home at a sporting event than in the financial district. I think of them as pleasure suits. And whether a large check or a decidely unbusinesslike color, I find them more elegant than an odd jacket and trousers for most occasions.
The world would be a richer place if suit-wearing men had at least one, and preferably two or more, pleasure suits for each season.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
It is visiting tailor season again, or rather, it will be in ten days. And that means I go on alert whenever the door bell rings, anticipating the delivery of a suit just in time for Mr. Mahon to look at it while he's in town (eleven months is a bit of a wait for any clothing, in my opinion, but such is life).
As each new garment is delivered it is time to commission another, to be fitted either three or six months from now (the wait is less in the case of Mr. Harvey as I see him in London when I visit). This cycle will be clothes for autumn and I am planning two heavier 15 ounce suits for cold weather. That weight is about as heavy as a man can wear comfortably in heated rooms but the warmth is welcome during a twenty block walk in a Manhattan winter.
One of these is likely to be a gray double breasted from a cloth out of Smith Woolens' Whole Fleece book. The other will have a single breasted jacket with a double breasted waistcoat. It will be a rus in urbe (country in the city) suit made from the pictured London Lounge Limited Edition tweed that has been sitting in my office for some time.
Lead time of course is the bane of this travelling tailor business and that applies to Hong Kong's W. W. Chan as well as the English. When a man can regularly visit his tailor in Naples, London, New York or other cities he may be suited in as little as two months.
That said, with visiting season about to begin the waits are forgotten. Hope does indeed spring eternal.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
On a day too gloomy for photography, thanks be to Esquire's illustration of Raffles Bar in Singapore so many years ago. The color scheme reminds us of the lighter palette that men should don when the sun returns, as it surely will. For cream, tan, light gray and mid blue are the staples of warm weather clothing.
The drawing is also a reminder that the shirt jacket is a fine fair weather friend. In cotton drill or linen, it provides carrying capacity without the warmth of a fully constructed coat.
Wear them in lighter colors.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
I haven't written about the ascot, more formally known as the day cravat, since this past summer, and the other day brought a box containing two dotted silk twills that I had ordered from my friend Anit at Cravate Royale (the third one in the photo came from Ben Silver). That package brought the subject to the top of my mind once again so here we are.
First and foremost, be not deterred by residual memories of ascot-wearing idiots in old television series. Worn with a jacket instead of a necktie, or with a sweater, ascots add a little color and fill in the space left by an open shirt collar. And, unless a man wears his with three open shirt buttons, the effect is nothing more than a subtle improvement of the day's look. He was wearing a neckerchief rather than an ascot but think Cary Grant on the motor boat in To Catch a Thief.
Between most men and such elegance lie three barriers. First, he must own one. Fortunately, Cravate Royale's ascots are available at Wilkes Bashford and Stanley Korshak on the United States.
Second, men who are uncertain how to knot their ascot will find a short video at the web site of clothier Ben Silver (the only quibble I have with the instructions is that I find the ascot considerably easier to arrange if I don it before I put on my shirt).
And finally, a man has to wear one publicly to prove to himself that others will not stare, nor will small children hide behind their mother's skirts at the sight. Wearing an ascot for the first time is much like trying out a fedora. After an initial successful experience, pride in the improved look will surmount any residual discomfort.
Remember the ascot.
Monday, March 2, 2009
In time for a spring odd jacket, I am offering cut lengths of a mid-weight silk and wool cloth in a 350 gram (11/12 ounce) weight. My own jacket will be a three button single breasted coat with patch pockets, side vents and lapels that roll mid-way between the top and middle button. It will pair beautifully with mid gray or cream trousers and mid-brown suede shoes.
Woven at a century old mill in the Scottish Highlands, it is priced at $85 per meter (full width), plus shipping from San Francisco. Your tailor knows best but two or two and a half meters should suffice for a jacket. As usual, I will take a 50% deposit with orders. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
Spring comes but once a year.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
The polo coat may have begun as a wrap coat but for me the quintessential version is double breasted, as worn by the man on the left of the Esquire illustration. Camel colored, with sleeve cuffs, patch pockets, a half belt and the show stopper: white mother of pearl buttons.
The gray flannel chalk stripe suit is icing on the cake.