When a man dressed for business wears two patterns above the waist, one of them should be discreet. Hardly a pattern at all, in other words. The check in Cary Grant's suit in the photo is complemented by his necktie, a pattern so subtle it may be a texture. Suit and tie each have interest but neither stops the eye from moving to his face.
This advice is but an extension of the technique that a man uses to wear pattern without letting the pattern wear him. It used to be said that the advanced dresser's skill at putting things together was best judged by how he looked in a suit with a bold weave, which entails surrounding the boldness with solids and semi-solids that reduce its obtrusiveness by blending and extending it (see Wearing Strong Patterns for an illustration). The objective once again is to keep the eye of the observer from lingering on the clothing.
Now it is certainly common for men to wear, for example, pin-striped suits and regimental striped neckties. Nothing wrong with that either, but it is a combination that works best when the pin-stripe is subtle. Too much concentrated boldness draws attention to the wearer's chest and holds it there, even when the patterns are (correctly) of different proportions.
Go quietly into the day.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
We headed South this past weekend to visit friends and explore the annual Palo Alto Festival of the Arts. Our base of operations was the local Four Seasons, the chain that is as close to a home away from home as a man could ever want. I am always impressed by the service, from the staff addressing each guest by name to the complimentary car and driver that dropped us at the far end of the Festival so we could see the participating artists during a leisurely walk back to the hotel.
The local weather has been sunny but cooler once again, and ideal for a linen crewneck. It combined with my Cleverley slipons, a pair of Salvatore Ambrosi's fresco trousers, a silk neckerchief and a linen cap from the ASW store, and I needed little more than an odd jacket for dinner and a change of shirt and trousers for the next day.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Anthony Eden, the British statesman who was considered one of the world's best-dressed men in the 1950's, at home in a v-necked sweater and a neckerchief.
A neckerchief is, in my opinion, the best way to finish the look of an open v-neck without wearing a necktie. A four in hand looks out of place worn informally without a jacket. The neckerchief, with its working man's heritage, is just right.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
We are getting readier for fall at the ASW store, and topping things off is a tweed version of our caps, which are modelled after the ones worn by the Prince of Wales in the 1930's. Tweed caps are both handsome and practical (they do a great job of keeping out the rain). Look for them online beginning this coming Tuesday, and in a broader range of sizes than we have carried to date.
Complementing the caps a few days later will be several scarves with cashmere on one side reversing to paisley silk on the other, along with black grosgrain bow ties and white silk scarves for evening. And there will be more to follow.
On the administrative side of things, the difficulties we have had keeping Saphir's shoe care products in stock have led us to do something we should probably have been doing all along. We are no longer accepting back orders for products that are not in stock - all items will be visible, but there will be no "add to cart" button unless they are in stock and ready to ship.
Fortunately, the Saphir has been restocked but for the Renovateur applicator dauber brush which will not be in until late September. We have begun to carry the light brown wax and expect to be receiving supplies of the mahogany wax, tan wax and Saphir's shoe care kit which provides a supply of the necessities in one convenient wooden package.
So polish your walking shoes. One of our sweaters, a tweed cap and a scarf will get you ready for fall.
Friday, August 27, 2010
A suit-wearing man's needs are simple. A navy blue worsted. A gray pick and pick. A gray flannel for fall and a chalk-striped fresco for spring. Throw in two pair of oxfords, a few solid neckties and enough light blue and white dress shirts to see him through the week.
In the photo, the late shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis illustrates simplicity with his gray flannel suit, white shirt and linen square, and a black (possibly dark blue) necktie that has some sheen to it.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
As a couple bottles were nearly empty, this past week was a good time to reorganize the scent shelf. I am newly settled on five, three of them by Creed: Green Irish Tweed, Tabarome Millesime and the new Aventus. Terre d'Hermes and Ormonde Man complete the list, which, come to think of it, is effectively four as I wear Ormonde Man to the near-exclusion of Tabarome these days.
Five or four, the one thing these scents have in common is that they are all technically perfumes for men. Over the years, I have become increasingly aware of the duration of a scent on my skin and so I no longer wear cologne of any type as its 5% to 8% oil content allows it just a couple of hours of fragrance. Perfume, on the other hand, is about 30% oil and a small amount is discreetly discernable all day. And though it costs more per ounce, perfume is arguably less expensive per sniff.
Limiting oneself to to perfume does reduce the available choice of course, as there may not be a hundred perfumes for men on the market and there are thousands of colognes. But too many years of wondering why I spent money on some citrus-y thing that was gone in a few minutes has made me the way I am.
I did take the time to investigate some new options before clearing my shelf, sampling the for-men offerings of Clive Christian and Amouage. But, in the end, it was only the Aventus that won space. It and Terre d'Hermes are my sunny day choices, Ormonde Man is for overcast mornings and Green Irish Tweed is the utility scent that gets its chance whenever something in the air calls out for a change. And though no two of them are a natural pair for layering, the cumulative effect on my clothing seems to be a vaguely pleasant signature with some consistency.
That said, it is pure chance that Terre d'Hermes and Green Irish Tweed were also two of the three highest placed scents in the 9th Annual Basenotes Fragrance Awards (Basenotes being arguably the best place on the web to read about scents) last year. There are two others mentioned there that deserve a sniff, or another sniff in the Vetiver's case: Tauer's L'Air du Desert Marocain and Guerlain's Vetiver. But that will have to wait until the scent shelf needs work once again.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
I had never heard of Randolph Engineering, a Massachusetts-based specialist in commercial-grade eyewear for military pilots and shooting enthusiasts, but I was contacted by a representative and when I browsed their site I noticed the P3 model, which is standard issue to U.S. Navy submariners. I was struck because the P3's round lenses looked remarkably similar to those worn by Richard Merkin, the late New York dandy, in a photo that I have had lying about for some time in the hope that I might someday find some glasses like that. And so I asked for a pair, which the company was kind enough to eventually send me.
Of course, the idea that sunglasses might be necessary inside a submarine is counter-intiuitive and I have no clue why round lenses are better suited for underwater work than, say, ovals. But the Navy apparently knows, thank goodness, and had taken all the P3s that Randoph had on hand. That meant it was many months before a pair of P3s arrived unexpectedly at my door but they did arrive recently and they do appear to be the glasses that Merkin wore and I coveted, or close enough.
Their arrival was timely, as we are seeing the sun for the first time all summer. Better still, they are handsome, and, for a relatively affordable $99 (about 64 pounds sterling), built to a specification that far exceeds any fashion sunglasses I have ever seen.
Worth a look. And worth the wait.
Posted by Will at 7:30 AM
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Author Bruce Boyer wrote that successfully combining four patterns in an ensemble is the domain of the expert dresser (he expressed himself more gracefully than that but I am not by my library as I write this). And four patterns are truly difficult; indeed, in the context of business dress even a successful result will usually be too distracting to the eye.
The same challenge applies with as few as two patterns worn together. A satisfactory result is easier to achieve but may have a tendency to look as though the wearer is proud of himself for combining his checked shirt and striped necktie. That is of course the opposite of the objective of business dress which, as someone other than Mr. Boyer wrote long ago, is to stay out of the way so that men can do business.
All solids in combination is far too simplistic to be an alternative, leaving us inevitably with one pattern as the standard for quiet propriety. I use a photo of Lapo Elkann, a man not necessarily known for his propriety, to illustrate the point. Ignoring the pale socks and mother of pearl jacket buttons, and even those are restrained by the general peacefulness of the remainder of his clothing, a checked necktie is the only visible pattern. The result is quietly appropriate, or rather it would be but for the socks and the buttons.
Wear only one pattern to the office.
Monday, August 23, 2010
It is a combination more commonly seen in the fall but I like to wear a checked shirt with a casual suit and a knit tie for summer weekends. And this weekend past was one of the last of them, for summer is drawing to a close. The symphony season opens in just two weeks (as the first black tie occasion of the season it may be a better harbinger of the seasonal change in wardrobes than the Labor Day holiday), and with that comes permission to bring out the fall clothes.
Of course, this year when warm weather officially began we did not see any for months, so undoubtedly we will have sunshine and heat until Christmas here. That would mean ignoring flannels and tweeds in favor of the mid-weight clothes that I have been wearing out all year. But whether they can be worn or not, it will be good to see those familiar faces as well as some new ones. For the end of each season is a time when the things we have not seen for months are remembered fondly, and what were favorites some months ago are greeted with boredom now.
All that inevitably leads back to checked weekend shirts, for they are an autumnal staple in a class with Shetland sweaters and chukka boots. Try them with a jacket and a necktie.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
How many times have we heard the old saw about never wearing white socks with a suit? If pale hose were good enough for Cary Grant, and they were, they should be good enough for the rest of us. Unless the socks are athletic, of course.
Bresciani's white sea island cotton dress socks, a pair of red tassel slipons by SW1 and a tropical black and white houndstooth patterned suit. Above the waist, a light blue linen and cotton shirt, white linen pocket square and a black silk knit necktie. The shoes are not as brightly colored away from the spotlights but when wearing red shoes and white socks the rest of the day's clothing should be very restrained nonetheless.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
The ASW store's offering of the line of Saphir shoe care products earlier this month was unexpectedly well received thanks to a discussion on Style Forum, and we sold out of several items within 24 hours without ever mentioning the line here (Saphir is generally considered the highest quality line of shoe care products in the world). We are still out of the chamois cloths but otherwise the entire line is now back in stock, including the Renovateur conditioner. Any remaining backorders will ship Tuesday.
I am also quite happy to report that it appears as though we have fixed the difficulty we were having processing some valid credit cards from outside the United States. And, we now accept American Express cards in addition to Visa, Mastercard, Discover, PayPal, Google Checkout, checks and wire transfers.
Some readers may not know that we pay a little more to our carriers to offset the carbon cost of each shipment. In addition, this week we have found a recyclable cellulose replacement for the plastic packing we had been using to fill voids in the boxes. We'll be using the plastic for a while longer as we have to set the cellulose rolls up where they can be used for packing but change is on the way.
And finally, the site has been certified safe from a technical standpoint by McAfee Secure, whose logo will begin appearing on the home page shortly after we figure out how to place it there.
I hope to see you at the store.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Velvet slippers, known in England as Alberts after the prince who made them famous, were not all that easy to get not all that long ago. If a man was unwilling to bespeak a pair, few places had them available off the shelf and what could be found was pricey. The dark green Edward Green's in the photo were made to order rather than bespoke and I believe they were $600 at the time even so.
Of course, velvet slippers were perhaps worth that kind of money. Warm, fairly comfortable, personalized with virtually any kind of symbol or monogram and built for wear on the stone floors of unheated castles so they last much of a lifetime, an eccentric or a dandy could always bring them out for his driving trip across Africa a la Bob Geldof (see Rats, Boomtown). The less adventurous could be seen slipping them on in the first class cabins of trans-Atlantic flights. And lately some guys are even wearing them on first dates.
Fortunately, more than one firm has seen opportunity in Alberts, and they are easier to come by these days as well as less expensive. Stubbs & Wootton, for example, have built a minor empire selling them to American men and women for $395 (£250) a pair. And Del Toro Shoes, a newer company in the U.S., has them for $195 (£125). How times have changed.
These are not all identical from maker to maker of course. Those Edward Greens are considerably heavier and have thicker soles than the Del Toros. Still, the two are virtually indistinguishable from a few feet away. And that is a good thing.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Small changes of pace can add interest to a day's ensemble without resorting to blasphemies like horseshoes on one's necktie. For example, a navy stripe on a white shirt body with a white collar and a blue on white stripe with the shirt body cut so that the stripe is horizontal. The latter is a favorite because only a bit of shirt is visible in a jacket's vee opening behind the (hopefully solid) necktie, making the effect quite subtle.
The shirts in the photo were made by Joe Hemrajani from Albini's David & John Anderson cloth. They have wide spread collars and turnback cuffs.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
No, ASW is not converting to all videos all the time programming. But we are short-handed this week and this one was as ready as it was going to be. It has modestly higher production values than the earlier efforts, something that we plan to continue. I hope you enjoy it.
Monday, August 16, 2010
The grape harvest is usually under way in Sonoma County by mid-August, but temperatures in the 60s and 70s as opposed to the normal range of 80s and 90s (in Centigrade, perhaps 20C rather than 33C) for the past two months have set things back by about three weeks. The longer growing season bodes well for the quality of the crop in 2010, provided the harvest can be completed before the onset of October rains.
Walking on the fringe of the vines calls for relatively casual dress and that same unseasonably cool weather called for a linen pullover the other day. Linen knitwear is better suited to moderate and warm weather than cotton in my opinion. It holds its shape better and is comfortable across a broader range of temperatures. In the photo the sweater accompanies a linen cap, paisley ascot, chambray shirt, cotton drill trousers and an old pair of slipon shoes. The orange socks with blue spots are safely out of sight under the trousers.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
I seem to be constantly lugging things around. Laundry, clothes, books and props - it never ends. Trunkloads of stuff. And the best way to do all that lugging in my opinion is the simple tote. Or rather, several of them. My wife and I will often have four or five totes in the car for our weekly migration from city to country and back.
I like totes because they are easier to pack and unpack than conventional luggage. Even a duffel requires frequent zipping and unzipping to fill it up and empty it out. With a tote, packing is only a matter of throwing items into the bag and taking them out again later. And there is no need for anything fancier when the bags are merely going to sit in an automobile trunk.
One of my totes (in the rear in the photo) is the vintage waxed canvas model from the Mulholland Brothers, a local maker, purchased from Ami at San Francisco's On The Fly. I like the color, but I have been unable to get past the fact that there is nowhere to attach the shoulder strap that came with the bag. Whose idea was that?
A more recent tote is better designed and somewhat better made. It arrived courtesy of Robert Ettinger, of the eponymous English maker. Ettinger's Piccadilly canvas tote in olive and havana is made in England, which may have something to do with the fact that the shoulder straps actually have something to attach to and that same something snaps out of sight when the straps are not needed. Point to Ettinger.
If you are in the Bay area and happen upon a man strapped down by a camera bag, computer bag, iPad bag and a couple of totes you have probably stumbled upon my office parking lot. I will appreciate the assistance if you offer to carry something.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
The first of the fall sweaters arrived at the ASW store this week, including the merino wool and cashmere Fair Isle sleeveless pullover in the photo. Half a dozen button fronts and pullovers by Ireland's Inis Meáin Knitting Company are on the shelves and a cashmere cabled crewneck by Luciano Barbera will follow in a day or two.
The Fair Isle is a perfect weight to wear over a shirt for golf or other outdoor activities, or under an odd jacket. The other Inis Meáin models include a mid-gray linen crewneck, and four other merino and cashmere numbers: a shawl collared jacket in a gray Donegal tweed flecked with brown, a light-weight cream-colored v-neck pullover jersey with wonderful detailing, a cardigan woven in shades of blue and blue/gray tweed, and a heavy brown shawl-collared Aran-style pullover.
Beautiful stuff. Check it out in the New Arrivals section of the store. I should have more photos and measurements posted by the end of the day.
Friday, August 13, 2010
As I wrote a few days ago, winter has begun here, or so it would seem, and so my chilled extremities were happy to see a package containing one camel-colored dressing gown finally arrive from Mr. Hemrajani. Production took considerably more time than expected as it was apparently difficult finding someone in Hong Kong to quilt the lining. That effort was worthwhile however as the combination of the silk and Zegna's 10 ounce/300 gram cashmere exterior is a perfect weight for my sometimes fifty-five degree (13 degrees C) coastal study.
I don't always appreciate modern textiles, preferring heavier stuff and different qualitites than the Supers that dominate the market today. But I admit that lightweight cloth is a boon in this case. Loro Piana's offering weighed half again as much and would clearly have been too hot.
Like pajamas, robes are in my opinion better obtained from a shirtmaker than purchased off the rack. Oh, the ready-to-wear terrycloth versions are fine for a swim, but for sustained lounging these things should fit, and the cost need be no more than RTW of comparable quality. The process does take considerably longer than a trip to the mall, but with a little thought a made to order robe should arrive just in time for winter.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Beltlessness, or the state of being suited without a belt, is to me a superior state. Belts are after all little more than an accommodation to sloppy tailoring and even sloppier weight management. Belted trousers do not need to fit with precision and so they do not.
Trousers without belt loops on the other hand have a cleaner waistband and lack that abominable belt buckle bulge under a vest.
Now the liklihood that these remarks will do anything to change the belted state of North America is miniscule. Indeed, most of the comments I would hear had I not made this prediction would be of the "this is how I do it hence it must be right" variety (nothing wrong with that of course as my own stance is the same coming from the opposite direction). But a man has to try.
Beltlessness is better.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Matteo Marzotto, the well-dressed man in the photo, is said to wear blue shirts most days, and that makes my point for me. Aside from some white for evening, a man can do just fine with nothing in his closet but light blue shirts. After all, blue combines well with jackets in gray, navy, tan and brown. What does that leave, really? Nothing.
Wearing nothing but blue may sound dull but it actually provides plenty of variety. A dozen blue shirts hardly begin to cover the options. Oxford cloth and twill for winter, chambray and end on end for shoulder season and voile and high twist weaves for summer. Tiny houndstooth checks and hairline stripes spaced so closely that they appear solid. And then there are the cuffs: turnback for city suits and button cuffs for less formal attire. With spread collars, tab collars, buttondowns and collars for pins; even a contrast collar or two.
Dress shirts are simple.
Monday, August 9, 2010
We have had hardly any heat on the coast this year, living instead in day after day of cool overcast weather that calls to mind the jokes about English summers. The temperature means that when a man wants fresh air to accompany his book, cocktail and cigar, it is necessary to bundle up a bit, and this particular afternoon called for a linen cardigan sweater.
The book, Don Bartlett's English translation of Jo Nesbø's The Redbreast (HarperCollins 2007), is a not-very-moderate piece of Euro-noir that was voted the best Norwegian crime novel ever written. The cigar was a Robusto from somewhere in the Caribbean and, despite the lack of sunshine, the cocktail was a concoction that might be thought of as adult lemonade. That is to say it was comprised of lemonade and a shot or two of Rémy Martin Accord Royale 1738 cognac. Technically a VSOP, though it is 65% grande champagne where the Rémy VSOP is 55% (the XO is 85%), the 1738 mixes into a fine summer drink. Even when there is a decided shortage of summer weather.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Though I like to think that most ASW readers are careful with their dress generally, the first time a man takes a prospective partner out socially sets the tone for any subsequent relationship. That means some extra thought should be given to the occasion, and to dress (you knew we would be getting to that did you not?).
Appropriate clothing is always situational, which is the reason Richard Gere sent Julia Roberts out to buy clothes before being seen with her publicly in the film Pretty Woman. Sending one's date shopping in advance of the occasion is, of course, unlikely to be appropriate however desireable it might be theoretically. That leaves us to ask ourselves what will make the datee comfortable. After all, their comfort will also be ours. Tune the formality level to the other person.
That said, the first date is safer when the number of conversational opportunities are relatively controllable. A concert, for example, or a film, provides space to determine if the other has anything to say without creating the possibility of long mutual silences, as a one-on-one dinner might when there proves to be less personality on the other side of the table than one had hoped. After all, the evening is usually easily extended when things are going well. The opposite is harder. But I digress.
The types of occasions that make for successful first dates leave us with a surprisingly narrow range of clothing choices. Need I say that black tie is unlikely? A suit will generally set too formal a tone, most odd jackets are wrong after six, and men who would choose to go jacketless are surely reading some other advice. This leaves us with the blazer or a velvet jacket by default, and I like the velvet best if one is available. In dark blue. Combine it with polished black slip-on shoes or velvet slippers, and relate the trousers to the occasion. Denim works well for films if you own any denim, with gray flannel a better choice for the theater. Subtract socks when the weather allows and add a bow tie if your self-confidence permits.
Good luck to you.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
The form of the summer suit is similar to that of the cooler months, while the details differ. In the illustration, from a 1933 issue of Esquire, the suit is linen rather than wool and in a lighter gray for the season. The pockets are patched, so the interior of the coat can have minimal lining for coolness. The shoes are a lighter shade of brown to complement the suit. And the hat is straw, rather than felt, again to promote air ciculation.
The look is familiar, but different at the same time.
Friday, August 6, 2010
A slightly different way to tie a neckerchief is to knot it four-in-hand style like a necktie. Cravate Royale's heavy printed silk paisley neckerchief is worn with a Simonnot-Godard chambray shirt and a linen safari jacket. Both the shirt and the jacket were made by Joe Hemrajani.
At and below the waist, light-weight taupe cavalry twill trousers made by Salvatore Ambrosi and George Cleverley slip-ons.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
I have had today's image, a scan from the Sotheby's catalog of the auction of the posessions of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, for more than a decade and I still learn from it. The photo shows the Duke's odd jackets in his closet at his country home.
First off, all but one jacket, excluding the two tartans and a central European hunting coat, have four buttons on the sleeves, either conventional, leather or, on the tan coat near the back, what appears to be gold (at least I hope those buttons are gold as I used them as justification for my own tan jacket with gold buttons some years ago). That says much about his opinion of one, two or three buttons on an odd jacket sleeve.
Second, again excluding the tartans and the hunting coat, eleven of the twelve are in shades of tan and light to mid brown. The exception is a near-solid light gray. The late Duke was blond, and his coloring appears to have influenced his choices. Blonds look best in low contrast colors just as black haired men look great in high contrast combinations, most brown haired men fall in between and red heads are better off in a palette of fall colors.
The lessons? One legendary dresser preferred jackets that were compatible with his coloring (perhaps that had something to do with his becoming a legend in the first place). And four buttons on the sleeves please.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
It is the function of a necktie to provide contrast to the material of the jacket with which it is worn. That contrast may be provided by texture, color, reflection or a combination of characteristics as in the photo, where, in the opposite of the usual order, a dark matte necktie contrasts with the sheen of a mid-blue mohair and wool jacket.
Worn with a blue on white graph check shirt and a white linen handkerchief. And on the feet, tan quarter brogues.
Monday, August 2, 2010
It seems funny even after one gets used to it, but for clothing fall begins in August.
Fall replaces spring in the stores beginning in mid-July and the transition is completed in August. I don't know what the stores' excuse is but August is also when the travelling bespoke suppliers of my acquaintance ship the things that were fitted the previous spring. That gives the client time to wear them once or twice before the fall visiting season, just in case the new stuff needs adjustment after it is settled in.
Of course, a man needs an air conditioner running full blast in order to test his new 14 ounce jacket, but fall nonetheless begins in August. And the gray worsted in the photo should arrive any day now.
Posted by Will at 8:00 AM
Sunday, August 1, 2010
In the photo, the late Richard Merkin reminds us of the importance of scale for successful pattern mixing (not to mention the principle that one should never be photographed on an incompatibly patterned bedspread). Experienced dressers know that patterns with different scales can be successfully combined, like Merkin's dotted tie and striped shirt body. Even his braces work in context, though as underwear we need not take them into account.
The simplest form of dress uses color for variety among the four above-the-waist ensemble elements, such as the combination of a navy suit, light blue shirt, white pocket square and solid silver necktie. Adding pattern, such as a white pinstripe on the suit or a shirt with a navy stripe on the light blue ground, adds interest. One or two patterns among the four elements is elementary. Three is more advanced, and four is the domain of the expert, especially for business dress. Four patterns can easily be flashy, a desireable characteristic for boulevardiers like Merkin but less appropriate for most men. Flashy, that is, unless a man uses texture as his pattern.
To my taste, texture is the most important element in dress, for it adds visual interest without flash. Revisit the ensemble described in the previous paragraph and this time think of the suit in woolen flannel rather than worsted and the necktie in grenadine rather than shiny silk. The textures of the grenadine and the flannel add visual interest, and do so quietly.
Use texture as pattern. And stay off of striped bedspreads.