This Esquire illustration helped make me hesitant about summer scarves. Plenty of men have been photographed wearing scarves to fill their jacket vee in warm weather, but I couldn't get my mind around the idea of a man wearing a scarf on an airplane. Especially in company with a passenger wearing a pith helmet. It was just too André Leon Talley for me (nothing against Mr. Talley but he is far more fashion forward than I).
In life of course, until recently things never got to the point of deciding whether one could wear a summer scarf. The most determined shopper would have had difficulty finding something that looked as if it would stand up to a little sweat without putting him in danger of heat stroke. But that has changed now. Modern textile technology has made summer scarves that are light as air.
Summer scarves are back. But you should not wear them when travelling with anyone wearing a pith helmet.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
I have a couple Esquire and Apparel Arts illustrations showing men with their jacket openings filled with a scarf in what is obviously summer weather, but I never thought to try wearing one myself until Michael Drake showed me his lightweight desert cloth and linen scarves. Neckerchiefs and ascots, sure, but never a scarf. So I asked myself how often a man gets to experiment with a new look that has a grounding in my favorite clothing era?
Risk taker that I am, I now find myself having spent a not inconsiderable sum on a couple of summer scarves with the vague intent of wearing them on weekends with a polo and a shirt jacket or safariana where they will presumeably keep the sun off of my neck and wick away the odd bit of sweat.
Mr. Drake's scarves are of course beautiful stuff, but that is evident from the photo. Wearing them out of the house will obviously be the test. I shall report back on whether I felt uncomfortable.
Friday, May 29, 2009
A representative of New Jersey's Mel Gambert Custom-Bespoke Shirtmakers contacted me two weeks ago to pitch me on that company's made to measure shirts with to-attach collars. I had no previous experience with the company, but a call to a shirtmaker friend established that the 75 year old Gambert firm should be qualified to make anything I could think of in the way of shirts. So I decided to see whether they would put their skills to the test.
You see, for the past couple of years I have had a vague not-acted-upon idea that I would like a classic formal shirt, suitable for wear with white tie even though I would usually wear it with black. No doubt there are others but the only makers I know that definitely have the experience to make a shirt with a cotton pique besom front, link cuffs, a cotton voile shirt body and sleeves, and a proper to-attach wing collar are New York's Kabbaz Kelly and London's Budd. I thought that if Gambert would like to take the project on we might both enjoy the process.
When I asked the Gambert representative whether the company would be interested in working with me on this shirt I got an enthusiastic response, and that is the reason a friend and I found ourselves at a Gambert dealer, Gene Hiller Clothiers in Sausalito California, where Peter Domenici measured me for my shirt.
To the extent there is risk in this project it most likely has to do with the shirt collar. A to-attach wing collar may be something the company may not have made for some time. The attached versions cannot be made as high or as stiff as they ought to be, and Gambert's regular wing collar offering looks typical of what I hope to avoid.
But we will know the outcome in about a month.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
There is a tension in men's dress, a tension between looking good and looking as though one did not spend time considering how to do so. The tension arises because for centuries the male ideal was the man in a military uniform cut to perfection. And though military officers' dress regulations have usually given their wearers a great deal of latitude, the presumption was generally that men in uniform were wearing ensembles that they could don blindfolded because everything had been specified for them.
Carried over to civilian clothing, the ideal has traditionally been that a man should not look too "put together," a state that might apply to a basic combination like a navy suit, light blue shirt, mid-blue necktie, and a patterned blue linen pocket square where every element relates to or matches everything else.
The simplest way to avoid looking too put together is to minimize repetition of colors or patterns in the day's dress, where an example might be a gray flannel suit worn with a white shirt, navy necktie, and a white linen square with a maroon border. Or, consider a combination similar to the one in the photograph: tan suit, light blue shirt, brown and ivory necktie and a maroon linen square with white dots.
It takes thought to arrive at an unstudied look.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Funny really. I received part of an order I had placed with Drakes London the other day and as I looked at the neckties I was struck by how conservative my taste has become. Just in neckties mind you - I doubt whether any man who wears polka dot socks with his checked suits can accurately be called a conservative dresser.
But here we have four neckties. From the left, they are a light green twill solid, a subtle silver herringbone, a brown and ivory gingham and a lilac houndstooth. They are all one or two colors, and only the gingham has a pattern discernable from more than a couple feet away (there was supposed to be a madras silk in the bunch but it was the one that was back-ordered).
At any rate, as I wrote, I thought initially that the selection was just too dull this time. And then I reconsidered. There should be no more than one noticeable element in the day's clothes. Pair anything but a simple necktie with a suit or shoes that stand out, and there is considerable risk that one has gone too far.
Better safe than sorry.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
If I could have only one shoe, I would ask that it be a graceful cordovan colored oxford with a bit of brogueing, like the Vass Old English II model in the photograph. For the oxford is the best shoe for suits, and, in colors other than black, flexible enough to wear with odd jackets.
In place of black I find myself wearing cordovan (the color rather than the eponymous horse leather) much of the time. It has black overtones that are dark enough to be conservative while still leaving the eye something to interest it.
Style and color being settled, the amount of brogueing as the critical question. Too little and the shoe is boring. Too much is too casual a look. A line of punches across the toe and a bit of side decoration is just about right.
If I could have only one shoe...
Monday, May 25, 2009
It is a holiday in America today, and on this day of leisure there may not be two people in the country wearing the deservedly short-lived fashion on the left (the illustration is from a 1936 Esquire). But that leisure suit is not the point.
The man on the right wears a tan jacket (cut to roll to the center button), gray trousers, tan and white spectator shoes and a madras necktie. A perfect summer combination.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
The fog was cooling the coast yesterday and as I reached for a coat I was reminded of this photo of Charlie Watts, who paired a suede blouson with a tweed topcoat on an October day in 1982.
The unexpected juxtaposition of the two differently textured pieces of outerwear is brilliantly unexpected, by one of the world's best dressed men.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Peter Liem, whose Besotted Ramblings blog is the best wine writing I have found on the web, has started a subscription site on his specialty, champagne.
ChampagneGuide.net profiles about 110 producers currently, with more added all the time. A subscription is $89 annually (about 79 Euros). Highly recommended to champagne drinkers.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Properly knotted neckties are supposed to have a nice arch at the knot, like the one worn by Ol' Blue Eyes. Said arch is achieved by holding the tie out at a 90 degree angle away from the body as the knot is tightened at the neck but, depending on the construction of the tie, it may need assistance to remain in position. Enter the collar pin.
Worn with club or straight shirt collars, the proper collar pin is a gold safety style that is poked slightly askew through the collar under the necktie to give it support. This may sound injurious to the collar, however the holes close up again in the laundry (I have collars that are beginning to show a bit of wear but they have had perhaps fifty pinnings).
Mind you, a proper pinned collar does not use those collar bars that are made to be inserted through sewn holes in the collar. Author Alan Flusser scorned them and I agree they look entirely too pre-planned. And that is a problem for, if there is a disadvantage to collar pins, it is that in very conservative circles they may be considered a bit fussy or flash, and anything that increases that possibility is to be avoided.
But they do give a nice arch to the necktie.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
After a couple months of polishing with oxblood wax these burgundy Gaziano & Girling Carnegies are darkening just as intended. They are a much deeper shade than they were when they arrived in February.
Nothing wrong with burgundy I suppose but to my eye a deep maroon looks better with navy, brown or tan.
Worn with tan and brown herringbone hose and a tan-with-red-undertones Solaro suit that has its own herringbone in a different scale.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
A new higher resolution camera arrived earlier this month and in a few small ways I am already shooting better photos than I was before. I will be graduating to settings other than full auto soon though, and that is when we can expect things to really fall apart.
For now, the camera's increased resolution helps show more detail, even with the limitations of the jpeg file format. In the photograph, the texture of weaver Tessitura Monti's textured voile, its relatively opaque voile replacement for hot weather, is obvious (click to enlarge the photo and look in particular at the bit of single ply sleeve rather than the turned back cuff).
All that texture means air passes through the fabric better than it does with a conventional cotton, so the shirt wears cooler.
That was the point of cotton voile, textured voile's airy predecessor. The challenge with cotton voile unfortunately is its transparency. It is stuff Isadora Duncan might have danced in, but few of us want to display our own chests quite so publicly.
Problem solved, in light blue, white, ivory, pink and lilac solids. I am really quite impressed.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Men looking for black tie with a twist this season should consider the oldest look in semi-formal wear. You see, when the dinner jacket was first worn the late Duke of Windsor and his set had not yet gotten around to making it more casual, and it was usually worn with the same accessories as the white tie ensemble that upper class men wore to dinner. That meant a white piqué waistcoat and a white dress shirt with piqué front, single linked cuffs and a detachable winged collar, a combination that has since been supplanted by less attractive alternatives in the name of looking different. So of course it can be used in turn to look different and better at the same time.
The two piece winged collar shirt is the key to the look, which is best worn with a single breasted, peak lapelled jacket (the lines of the shawl collar are better suited to the turndown collared pleated shirt and the DB jacket was made for turndowns as well). Attached collars are a pale shadow of what they should be as they cannot be constructed with the necessary collar height, so the collar attaching studs of the detachable version are worth the trouble. A piqué front is also a requirement for authenticity but personally I see no reason that they should button in back as they once did, leaving a man without a valet at the mercy of his spouse when he dressed for the evening.
Shirt and waistcoat are worn with white tie in the illustration, from a 1934 Esquire.
Monday, May 18, 2009
The air grew warm this past weekend. Temperatures were in excess of 80 degrees F (27 C) even on the normally cool coast, and they brought cream colored trousers to mind (we speak of cream rather than white as the lanolin in wool yellows it over time even when it begins life as white).
Now a man can certainly wear cream, or winter white, in cool weather but the color really comes into its own on sunny days. And in the popularity race among wool trouser colors it probably follows only the ubiquitous gray flannel.
The literature from the 1930s speaks of white flannel trousers but, appealing as they sound, the reality is that, like Scabal's excellent 11 ounce gabardine, they are better suited for shoulder season than high summer. The cream colored trouser of choice for me is heavy linen.
A little harder to find than linen is cream fresco. Smith's Woolens has one in the Finmeresco book and one is all we need.
Add cream colored trousers to the list of good things, like ice cream and watermelon, closely associated with the warm days of summer.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
A bit of colored silk in the breast pocket of a man's jacket is usually the step that indicates he has learned self-confidence in his dress. And the square itself is often the most beautiful item in his ensemble, though that beauty is a secret usually known only to the wearer since little of it shows.
Of the styles of pocket squares available I like the patterned silk print the best, because it is the most flexible. It is also the most difficult to find apart from Hermes, as the economics of silk printing require longer runs than most sellers find practical. But the combination of a center in one color, edges in another, and patterns adding more interest provides considerable flexibility in the look. Even adherents of the 'cram it in and walk out the door' style see a different result from the same square on different days.
In the photos, an example from Mariano Rubinacci printed with images of Neapolitan ceramics.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Regular readers know I have a soft spot for champagne cocktails. In this I follow Alfonso XIII of Spain, the man in the gray jacket in the illustration. After leaving his throne for the sake of his continued health in the 1930's, Alfonso spent much of his adult life touring the great hotels of France and Italy. He had some reputation as a dandy and a man who liked his champagne in the bar at the Ritz beginning around noon.
In that latter at least he was following in his father's footsteps. One of the classic champagne cocktails was invented for King Alfonso XII at the Deauville hotel in Normandy. Herewith, the Alfonso:
Mix a sugar cube, a dash Peychaud’s bitters and 20ml Dubonnet in a champagne flute. Top with cold champagne and garnish with a lemon twist.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Odd waistcoats are usually thought of for fall but they also add considerable versatility to light weight jackets that might otherwise be too cool-wearing for sunny days in the 60's F (17-18 degrees C). And on those days, patterned wool challis can be a good fabric choice.
Now challis cloth has been difficult to find since David Evans left the silk printing business, but worth while. A waistcoat from the stuff can add a medium weight touch of color to a country wardrobe.
As I related in my post on Winston Tailors this past winter I was delighted to flip through several bolts of challis when I was last in New York and I ordered a vest. I chose the maroon on turquoise paisley in the photo as I could not see myself wearing any of the canine or wild game prints that were the other offerings available. And though it looks like something a nineteenth century riverboat gambler might have worn, I think the finished product adds flavor to the soup.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Shoemaker W. S. Foster's visit to San Francisco last week renewed my love affair with the bespoke oxford design in the photo (would that it were more highly polished). Called the Thomas for no reason anyone has ever shared with me, the shoe was brought to the firm by Charlie Watts, the well dressed drummer for the Rolling Stones. Mr. Watts owns the first pair made in modern times.
I am thinking of the shoe with a soft square toe instead of the round one in the photo and colored a golden caramel. That is a color more Italian than British, as there are few sunny days in Britain on which to take advantage of such a look. But in the United States we have the weather for it and are able to pick and choose the best from both countries.
The first step will be to see if we can find an exterior color sample that matches the vision in my mind's eye.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Here is a first attempt at wearing a bright red gingham shirt with a suit, something that should probably be reserved for alpha males on their home ground. In the Jermyn Street tradition, the very loud check is paired with a conservative suit and necktie in what is here a not entirely satisfactory attempt to moderate its impact. Of course, that gingham is yelling at top volume.
The shirt body would probably be fine with a blazer, on blazer-appropriate occasions, but the formality of the white collar and turnback cuffs are better with a suit. I think I wll try it with a tan suit next.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
A button collared shirt was originally sportswear and it is usually made from a more casual cloth like oxford or chambray. The advantage of the style is that it keeps the collar in place when worn under a sweater or without a necktie under an odd jacket.
In my opinion most of Agnelli's expressions, like the watch worn over the shirt sleeve or pairing a buttondown collar with a double breasted suit, struck the viewer as unusual rather than unattractive. Flapping collars on the other hand look awkward.
Perhaps wearing them is simply an easy form of sprezzatura to remember in the morning.
Monday, May 11, 2009
I came across this commendable photo somewhere and thought it worth sharing. The objective of a man's dress is to look good without appearing studied, and here Patrick Grant, the proprietor of Savile Row tailors Norton & Sons, does just that.
The combination of a dark gray flannel suit, light blue shirt, light gray bow and a deep maroon pocket square may have taken some thought but does not look it. Nothing matches, everything works together, and the bow tie gives the combination a bit of style. In America we might wear brown shoes, however a dark gray suit is the best time to wear black oxfords. No complaints from this observer.
Though personally I am against uncuffed trousers worn with a double breasted jacket.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
There are a lot of generalities tossed about regarding soft tailoring, and perhaps the principal one is that a soft jacket is more comfortable. As a man who owns examples from both styles I submit that soft tailoring has little to do with comfort - a well made structured jacket is as comfortable as its soft tailored counterpart. It is instead about the look and feel of the coat, which on a continuum of stiffness is a close cousin to a cardigan sweater.
That softness is achieved with a tailor-specific combination of hand stitched shoulders, lighter canvas and the use of a piece of wadding in the shoulder instead of a pad. The effect is the opposite of the more military Savile Row cut with its built up chest, nipped in waist and flared skirt, and the difference in structure is principally noticeable when the jacket is draped over an arm. A soft tailoring product hangs like a sweater. A structured jacket does not quite resist gravity's pull and remain horizontal, but it feels as though it would like to.
Compare the soft jacket in the top photo to the middle of the road coat below. The tweed looks as though it might stand on its own if there was no-one wearing it. The flannel looks as though it would collapse.
Both soft and hard tailoring have their adherents with the soft crowd benefiting from the current trend towards informality and the appearance of comfort. But, as the wheel turns, both styles are likely to retain their adherents until the suit passes entirely into history.
Friday, May 8, 2009
One of the ways we can tell that Bertie Wooster of the British television series Jeeves and Wooster is wearing clothing that was made in modern times is that, though authentic in cut and color, it does not drape as well as clothing from the period. And by this we are not referring to the drape cut that we discussed yesterday, but the hang of one's clothing.
You see, in a perfect world, we want our clothing to hang straight to the ground, showing only those disturbances that the tailor intended. But notice how Bertie's trousers are flapping in the photo? That is the antithesis of proper drape. Men wore much heavier cloth than Bertie's in the past, cloth that did not move unless the wearer was in a full gale, and then only reluctantly.
Of course, buildings lacked central heat then. Few of us could wear the 18 ounce/54 gram worsteds of the 1930s without heat stroke in a heated building, as that weight is roughly twice as heavy as what is typically sold as year-round tailored clothing these days. But the principal of better drape from heavier cloth still applies.
For example, fifteen ounce/450 gram cloth makes a wearable winter suit and it drapes. Thirteen ounce/390 gram cloth is not quite as good but it doesn't blow around like Wooster's trousers either. And men who wear odd jackets can take advantage of the fact that trousers don't wear as warm as jackets. That means a jacket of any seasonal weight can usually be paired with heavier, better draping, trousers without breaking anyone into a sweat. So, for example, wear 14 ounce/420 gram Shetland odd jackets with 15 ounce/450 gram worsted or 17 ounce/51 gram flannel trousers and find that they hang straighter and resist wrinkles.
Wear clothing that pays homage to the other kind of drape and look better.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Drape, the cutting system invented by Frederick Scholte, is one of the usual elements of the soft tailoring style offered by firms such as London's Anderson & Sheppard and Mariano Rubinacci of Naples. The drape cut is used to make jackets that are more relaxed looking than the more structured, military look of other well-known firms such as London's Huntsman.
Perhaps the most successful tailor on Savile Row in the twentieth century, Scholte's Aha! moment came in the 1930's when he admired the effect of the tightly belted, very full overcoats of London's Brigade of Guards officers. Scholte spent several years evolving a system that evoked that look in suit jackets with extra folds of fabric over the shoulders. The small vertical folds of cloth seen next to the armholes in Luciano Barbera's jacket in the photograph are the descendents of his invention.
Soft tailoring has other elements such as hand sewn shoulders without padding and light-weight canvas and not all soft tailoring products are cut with drape. But it is arguably the word thrown around most often as typical of the soft tailoring genre.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Sarah Adlam and Emma Lakin of W S Foster & Son and Henry Maxwell Bespoke Shoes are touring the United States beginning today. They will be showing their lines of bespoke and made to order shoes, as well as their bespoke accessories.
Regular readers know I think Foster's shape and coloring are as good as it gets in the world of English shoemaking. Bespoke pricing begins at £1,870 ex VAT and a special discount is offered for the second and subsequent pair ordered during the tour.
Contact either Sarah or Emma at their hotel for an appointment to see perhaps the most interesting shoes of the trunk show season.
Wednesday 6th May 9.00am – 6.00pm
Thursday 7th May 9.00am – 6.00pm
InterContinental Los Angeles Century City Hotel
2151 Avenue of the Stars,
Friday 8th May 9.00am – 6.00pm
Saturday 9th 9.00am – 5.00pm
The Fairmont Hotel
950 Mason Street,
Monday 11th May 9.00am - 6.00pm
Tuesday 12th May 9.00am - 6.00pm
Wednesday 13th May 9.00am – 12.00pm noon
The Drake Chicago
140 East Walton Place,
Thursday 14th May 9.00am – 6.00pm
Friday 15th May 9.00am – 6.00pm
Saturday 16th May 9.00am – 6.00pm
InterContinental The Barclay
111 East 48th Street,
Monday 18th May 9.00am – 6.00pm
Tuesday 19th May 9.00am – 6.00pm
University Club of Washington (non-members welcome)
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Most of us are probably too young to remember the late Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., pillar of the American establishment when there still was such a thing, and Ambassador to South Vietnam during the American adventure there. Here he is on the cover of the magazine, teaching us a lesson about fit, if we ever needed one. And that is, stop wearing your suits as soon as you become larger than they are.
Mr. Lodge is not quite beautifully turned out for the tropics, in classic American style. I would be praising his taste were his jacket not too tight at the button point, which in turn highlights the paunch beneath it. If the coat were a couple of inches larger around the waist his weight would be disguised.
Thanks to Style Forum member Voxsartoria for discovering this photo in the LIFE archives.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Alan Flusser wrote that he likes to first teach a man how to dress all in blue, to which I will add that knowing how to dress entirely in blue is really all that's necessary.
Not that I am proposing that we need no more than blue, for surely Duchamp owners everywhere would rebel before they abandoned their neckties, but it is a foundation that a man can use to build combinations upon.
If there are secrets to wearing blue it is that most elements of the day's clothing should be varied in shade and include white, whether that latter be in the form of a shirt ground, suit stripe, pocket square or all of them. And either two or three items worn above the waist should have patterns of different scales, like the clothing dummy in the photograph (remain humble and leave four patterns for advanced dressers). His hose can add another if he likes.
These changes in pattern and tone in a man's dress are really all that are necessary for successful combinations. The day's clothing might not leap off a magazine page but it will more than suffice to frame a man's face and make a good impression without leaving too vivid an impression.
And that, of course, is the point of the thing.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
A look that is rare on the street these days is the multi-colored suit, like the one on the man in the Esquire illustration. The declining demand for suits has driven out most of the color so that retailers can carry less inventory. That however is not a reason for men who have their clothes made to avoid it. The world would be a better place, in my opinion, if it was seen more often.
Among the better producers Scabal's Wain Shiell has two books of 14 ounce patterns and John G. Hardy has a few multi-stripes remaining in its Dorchester book of 14 ounce twist suitings.
Consider them for Autumn.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
The beginning of warm weather is the time to think about clothing for autumn, and the black and white houndstooth flannel is a classic cool weather suiting that is unlikely to appear on the rack. Here it is as woven by the best mill in England in a 13/14 ounce weight for $90 a meter plus shipping from San Francisco. 4.5 meters makes a three piece suit for most men, and four meters makes jacket and trousers.
50% deposit required with the balance due upon delivery in about four weeks. Email will at dynend.com for more information.
Friday, May 1, 2009
Some people make telephone calls. I send email, and that latter habit plus its close synchronization with Microsoft Office has meant that I have been a Blackberry addict for quite some time. The Storm, which I began using in January, is my third or fourth generation device, and the experience has been so idiosyncratic that I thought it worth a post.
I call the Storm idiosyncratic because its capabilities are both much better and much worse than the Blackberrys that preceded it, and whether it works for the user is likely to be up to his usage patterns. I am satisfied with the device now, but I came very close to demanding an exchange for a model with a keyboard.
That is because the uneven experience begins with the touch screen keyboard, It is very nice as these things go, and I like it better than the version on Apple's iPhone, but I find it too difficult to type anything longer than a few words. Where I could type fast enough on the physical keyboards to use previous Blackberrys for interview note-taking, that is out of the question on the Storm. Note-taking is a pen and paper experience once again.
On the other hand, email reading is significantly improved over previous Blackberrys. The Storm will play back my voicemail for me, and it has a much better ability to display document attachments, whether pdfs, photos or spreadsheets.
The unevenness carries over to the Storm's other features as well. I can make calls and receive email in most arts of the world with the Storm, sparing me the device juggling I was forced into when I travelled in the past. But web access is very slow, and many web pages, such as my Google login, have buttons that simply cannot be depressed using the touch screen.
The Storm has a nice alarm clock that wakes me reliably without involving a hotel operator. But the 8gb SIM that I bought so I could use the camera doesn't seat reliably and the camera software won't load. I could go on, as this improve one thing and take away another affects every part of life with the Storm.
Physically, unlike its predecessor the Storm fits reasonably well in a side jacket pocket with minimal sagging. Battery life is acceptable for my use, and desktop computer synchronization continues to be one of the Storm's strong suits.
As I wrote at the beginning of the post, I nearly demanded a refund a week into my Storm experience. But over time I have grown accustomed to its compromises and 'two steps forward one step back' style of progress.