Thursday, May 31, 2012
A lace came untied on on my pigskin slipons in late April and in my clumsiness I somehow managed to trip over the thing and tear the tassel off without noticing, meaning I had no choice but to return the shoe for repair. Having received my education about shoe turnaround times from a Northampton maker that takes six months to do anything asked of them, my expectation was that I might be able to wear the things again once before the end of the year which was disappointing since I'd only had them for a couple of weeks.
Lo and behold, the repaired shoe arrived less than a month after it was dispatched which is nothing to sneeze at when you consider that it must have spent two weeks of the intervening time in transit.
Thank you to the gentlemen at G. J. Cleverley.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
The two great casual shoe styles of summer are the boat shoe and the driver. Boat shoes are of course the domain of what remains of American prep, worn for leisure with either madras shorts or a madras shirt and sometimes both. The driver on the other hand is Italian, evoking in its wearers' minds the image of themselves on the Amalfi Drive in a Ferrari California with Monica Bellucci in the passenger seat. It is typically a moccasin with nubs on the heel and the sole that are intended to help the driver work his pedals without wearing the finish off his dress oxfords, and from the maker's point of view the brilliance of the design is that the nubs wear out quickly when worn to walk on concrete so the shoe requires frequent replacement (a characteristic that has helped make Diego Della Valle, founder of Tod's, one of the world's richer men).
Drivers are to the best of my knowledge a phenomenon of post-War Italy. I have written in the past about the firm of Calzaturificio Miserocchi, which may have originated the driver. There were two brothers involved in that company and they apparently had a falling out. One brother kept the brand name, which he later sold to Prada who now makes Car Shoes in great volume by machine in Eastern Europe. The other kept the factory, where he apparently makes similar shoes in an artisanal sort of way. These latter became well known among those of us who follow this sort of thing when the late style icon Gianni Agnelli was photographed on several occasions wearing a pair of red ones (he must have sent someone to pick his up in person as the artisanal brother took my money six months ago but has never sent me any shoes).
This driving shoes with a suit thing is what makes drivers special to my mind. They look good, in a sprezzatura sort of way, and the combination can almost be justified if a man is within a couple hundred feet of his car and arguably has not had an opportunity to change back to conventional shoes. In red calf of course. The red socks are optional.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
There is no shortage of shirtmakers in Spain. This is particularly so in Madrid, where in the city’s center one can’t walk three blocks without happening upon a sign for a camiseria. Few are worthy of the title, though, and of those only one firm is esteemed locally and abroad. That firm is Burgos, the small, century-old atelier located amid the neo-classical splendor of the city’s main banks. Part of Burgos’ fame has to do with its clientele, which has included entertainers and autuers (Cary Grant and Orson Welles were customers) as well as royalty, most currently the prince of Spain. The firm is also known for its Teba jackets. What sets it apart from its competitors, however, is an intense focus on craft. No fewer than five artisans play a part in each shirt’s construction, a process that from bolt to iron takes about seven hours.
Most of those hours are devoted to the sewing, a good deal of which is done by hand in the homes of seamstresses, each of whom performs separate tasks. One seamstress stitches together the collar and cuffs. Another does the yoke, front panels, and also attaches the collar, the last by hand and reinforced by machine with 18 stitches per inch. Yet another seamstress, the finisher, sews the plackets, buttonholes, hem, and gussets. She also attaches the cuffs to the sleeves and the sleeves to the armholes. All but the plackets are stitched by hand, and each is done painstakingly and beautifully, the evidence of which lie in the subtle rolling of the hem, and the clean, taut stitching of the buttonholes, themselves oblong and possessing that particular plump liveliness of a thing shaped by a human hand.
Of course, there is no distinct qualitative difference between machine-stitched and hand-stitched shirts, so long as both are well-made, but for Burgos the choice to stitch largely by hand is an aesthetic one. That is to say, the artisans at Burgos consider hand-stitches more refined than those made by machine. This is because they require a great delicate finesse to do and an even greater restraint to do well. Indeed, it can be difficult to refrain from placing such work where it will garner the most attention, and some firms don’t seem to try. But with a Burgos shirt, the only hand-work visible on the outside are a few pick stitches by the shoulder seam, a detail that is usually known only to the wearer. Now, a lot gets made of such details, these things hidden from view, but Burgos isn’t out to sell a sartorial ethos either, discreet decoration is just what they’ve always done and what they find pleases the eye most. For them, the hidden details are for pleasure and admiration, and, like any object of beauty, to help buoy the spirit.
There is much else to like about Burgos (their willingness to work on client requests, the lack of pretension inside the shop or coming from any of its staff), but it seems a special accomplishment that despite the hours of attention each shirt receives, most of the shirtings they show (sturdy 2x2’s from the Spanish mill Textivea, voile from Simmonot-Godard, and poplins from Alumo, among others) are priced around 200€ ($250) in Madrid. Even with an unfavorable exchange rate, those prices rival the more competent MTM firms.
Mrs. Carmen Olave, the third generation proprietor, visits New York a couple of times each year. Men looking to inquire about an appointment there or in Madrid should contact her at email@example.com.
Monday, May 28, 2012
Summer does not begin officially until June 20 in the Northern Hemisphere, but in the United States the Memorial Day holiday of the last weekend in May is generally associated with the start of the season. It is the traditional time to honor our war dead, watch the Indianapolis 500 motor race and dine outdoors.
In the photograph, summer outdoor dining clothes including a Milan straw hat, Minnis fresco jacket and trousers, banded slipon shoes, a linen shirt, houndstooth socks and one of my knit ties.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
It being spring and all in the Northern hemisphere, the shirt jacket comes back into its own. Oh, we have them in tweed and in moleskin for running errands in cooler weather but the things really seem to make more sense on tieless days in cotton drill and, even better, linen. A man needs his pockets after all and, being unstructured, shirt jackets serve that function while wearing cooler than their canvassed brethren.
There being no summer in England to speak of, English clothes accommodate the heat reluctantly at best and the shirt jacket finds more of a place in the South of Europe, namely France and particularly Italy where Luca Montezemolo wears his natural colored linen version (despite its apparently pocketless state) in the photograph. In the über casual United States it may be even more at home. Tailors do them best by the way, for though you might expect that they would be sourced at bespoke shirtmakers that is hit and miss for many of those lack the equipment to sew 14 and 15 ounce (400-450 gram) cloth properly.
Finally I should point out that Montezemolo's black cotton mock turtleneck and cream cotton drill trousers are affordable basics that should be in every wardrobe. The triad of natural, black and cream colored clothing is as home in the North as it is in the South.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Father's Day is nearly upon us, bringing with it the opportunity to surprise Dad with something considerably more stylish than boring neckties and generic socks. Give him the thoughtful gift of one of my linen crewneck sweaters on June 17, dazzle him with a couple pair of linen or hemp socks that look elegant and wear cool, or perk up his summer wardrobe with linen or silk shantung neckties.
After you make your selection, write "gift" in the comments field of your order and any of these or the other things on the ASW store will be wrapped in chocolate tissue paper and shipped in my gift packaging with a hand-written note that says "Happy Father's Day" at no additional charge through June 12.
Or, take the easy way out and present him with an ASW gift certificate to enable him to choose something for himself.
Friday, May 25, 2012
London bespoke shoemaker Foster & Son is wrapping up their semi-annual American trunk shoe this week, and I stopped by their suite in San Francisco to let them see how the shoes they made for me this year are wearing. After confirming that the fit is at least as good as these things get, Emma and Jon called attention to the Adelaide brogue in the photograph that was the most popular model for them this trip. The company's workshop is brilliant with color, and the sample is a distinctive red-brown.
And then of course I spotted another version of the spectator style shoe that have been a personal fixation this season, these a pair of squarish toed brogued oxfords in cream buckskin and brown calf. Self-discipline got the best of me for a change but you should order a pair.
I in turn will go back to writing about things other than shoes for a while.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
I may overdo posting about them from time to time but that is because socks even more than neckties are the most affordable part of the wardrobe to vary and I have been having fun with them this spring. The cottons are all new to me again after a winter of wools, particularly my herringbones. And if I do say so myself those are in a variety of ever so slightly different but useful colorways from pearl gray to charcoal brown.
In the photograph, light blue herringbone socks worn between a navy suit and a pair of bespoke black bluchers (technically a sin but the scale of these works well with lighter weight suitings). The hose also complement the day's light blue garza fina grenadine necktie (a combination that could easily be too coordinated but avoided that state with a totally unrelated pocket square).
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Just as some men find it difficult to feel relaxed in their clothes, some men feel that they should not be interested in their clothes in the first place and, like de Balzac’s ‘beast’, they just cover themselves. I suppose that they do have a kind of authority on their side, including Hardy Amies, with his dictum about choosing one’s clothes with intelligence, putting them on with care and then forgetting all about them but the trouble is that these men miss out the first two stages.
The fear seems to be for a man to seem to be interested in his own clothes. This fear is often put about and enforced by couch potatoes who ask for nothing more from life than to watch football on the television, with a twelve pack of pilsner beer, muttering, in defence of their idleness, that this is what real men do and real men do not care about clothes; real men don’t dance, and real men certainly don’t cry.
Let’s think about it in reverse order: if we accept that Sir Winston Churchill was a real man, then there is an example of a real man who often burst into tears, even on public platforms. If real men don’t dance, what was George Raft doing (and doing superbly well), with Carole Lombard, in the film Rumba?
If real men don’t care about clothes, what are Muhammad Ali and Manny Pacquiao doing dressing as they do?
Accordingly, let the couch potatoes sneer as they like. They sneer because they want to avoid full engagement in the act of living and their condemning of certain activities enables them: first, to avoid the effort involved in taking part and, secondly, to keep in their quiet corners, hoping that they won’t be asked to show the world what they can do. If they (at least occasionally) actually stood up and took part in something other than the vicarious enjoyment of the sporting achievements of others, they might understand the simple pleasure to be derived from striving to achieve something worthwhile. Dressing well is a part of that striving for achievement. Come to that, knowing how to dance (even if not as well as George Raft) is worthwhile because, when the couch potatoes are wallflowers at a ‘do’, you won’t be and, while I don’t suggest bursting into tears at a tough business meeting, if someone close to you (even a well-loved pet) suddenly dies, one misses out on a part of living in stifling natural grief with a fear of feeling.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
It’s a mystery that would perplex the finest minds of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. What has happened to all the suits worn by Sean Connery in his first five films as James Bond, released between 1962 and 1967?
According to Savile Row entrepreneur David Mason, the wardrobe at Pinewood Studios has only a chesterfield coat from Dr No (1962) in its archive. Everything else seems to have vanished.
Mason’s interest stems from the fact that he owns the rights to the name of Anthony Sinclair, the Mayfair tailor who was introduced to Connery by Terence Young, the ex-Irish Guards officer who directed Dr No, From Russia With Love (1963) and Thunderball. (1965). From his premises in Conduit Street, at the northern end of Savile Row, Sinclair created the now-iconic Bond looks.
Working with Richard Paine, who was an apprentice to Sinclair in the 1960s, Mason is making a replica of the suit in which James Bond makes his first screen debut, at Le Cercle casino, London, in Dr No – a single breasted dinner suit with a silk satin shawl collar and turnback silk satin cuff. The revived suit will appear in Designing 007 , a celebration of 50 years of Bond’s style that will be staged at The Barbican in London from 6 July to 5 September.
“These days, there are dozens of each suit made for the Bond movies, but back then there wasn’t so much money involved,” says Mason. “Not long ago I was offered a Bond suit by someone whose father used to work at Pinewood Studios – apparently they sold off wardrobe pieces periodically – but at £15,000 the asking price was more than I was prepared to pay. When I realised that getting hold of this outfit was the only way to establish exact measurements I got back in touch with the gentleman, but he’d already sold it. Luckily the new owner worked in the City of London (his office actually overlooks the Barbican) and he offered to loan the suit to me so that we could take measures and reverse-engineer a new pattern.”
With a 46-inch chest and 33-inch waist, the suit is made from a 10 ounce, midnight-blue, Super 100’s & Summer-Kid mohair barathea by London cloth merchant Smith Woollens & Co.
Flushed by the success of this first initiative, Mason is now working on recreating an even more celebrated James Bond suit – the glencheck three-piece which he wears in Goldfinger.
“The Goldfinger suit is everyone’s favourite and we believe it is going to get pride of place at the exhibition. We are looking forward to bringing it back to life”.
Monday, May 21, 2012
With inland temperatures reaching 80 degrees F (27 C), it is time for lighter weight clothing in Northern California. The tweeds and heavy worsteds are put away, and replaced by tropical worsteds, cottons and linens.
In the photograph, the dry finish of a silk shantung necktie complements the sheen of a silk pocket square. Worn outside of town with an ivory voile shirt, a favorite brown cashmere and cotton suit, tan Cleverley slipons and an Optimo panama without which my head gets sunburned.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
It was the late Hardy Amies who wrote that the time to wear loud socks is with an otherwise monochrome ensemble. In the photograph, Bresciani's suitably noisy fire and navy striped cotton hose peek out from under oxblood semi-brogues and navy pinstripes.
Above the waist, a navy oxford weave necktie, white stripes on blue end on end shirt and a white linen pocket square.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
This week the ASW Haberdashery has expanded its Zimmerli Pureness offerings with non-fading black versions of the Closed Fly Elastic Waistband Pant and the Vee-Necked Tee complementing our Crew Necked Tee. And let me begin by stating that as underwear goes Pureness is admittedly expensive, but, contrary to the usual expectations, men report wearing out 6-12 pair of conventional cotton underwear while their Pureness remains as soft as the day they got it. And that is incredibly soft, even after many, many cold water washes.
Pureness is knit in Switzerland using a sustainable all-natural beech tree cellulose (called micro modal) yarn with 5% Lycra to enhance its elasticity. It is so soft because Zimmerli uses the finest micro modal in the world - ten thousand meters of it weigh just one gram. That is much finer than cotton, wool or even silk. Pureness allegorically wears like another layer of skin, breathing easily and absorbing moisture 50% better than cotton. Grit your teeth, take out your credit card and try a pair. Black or white in sizes small through XXL.
Friday, May 18, 2012
It is the season now officially, not that such a thing still exists, and men in the Northern Hemisphere can don straw hats without fear of being incorrect. And though he is not wearing one, can any ensemble be better suited for a Panama than the late Robert Montgomery's in the photograph? A Havana would be perfect.
Montgomery is of course actually wearing black and white spectator shoes, but I think I have done that one to death already.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Yesterday's Tommy Nutter postage stamp reminded me that there was a time around forty years ago when Mick Jagger was taking direction (from Nutter's shop) and looked very good in a Savile Row rock and roll dandy kind of way. I would place him in that period ahead of a contemporary like Bryan Ferry today, for example, and that is not small praise. And that is relevant because today the younger Mr. Jagger is giving us another demonstration of one of my favorite accessories, the cream colored waistcoat, worn with a striped gray or blue suit.
What I like best about the cream waistcoat is that, in the context of the cream colored stripes on a suit, it is elegant without standing out - barely more visible than a white shirt in the same circumstances. And donning one is another way to dress a business suit up for cocktails or an opening without going home to change.
This being the beginning of warm weather in the Northern Hemisphere, some might question the utility of the waistcoat at this time of year. And for them I have only one word: linen. For temperate evenings the linen waistcoat atop a tropical or mid-weight suit is a comfortable pairing that adds considerably to one's style points for the evening. And even at an event full of suits you are unlikely to see another one.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Britain's Royal Mail has issued a set of ten stamps honoring what it considers the great (British) clothes designs of our time. One of those is a nicely rendered image of Tommy Nutter's checked suit for Beatle Ringo Starr made fifty years ago.
Now I will not pretend to have done any formal research to confirm my suspicion but I believe that suit was the post-War highlight of Savile Row's search for relevance in a world taken with first French and later Italian tailoring. The Row has come a long way in the intervening years, but it is a search that continues today. James' Sherwood's call for tailors to begin publicizing the names of their clients in the current issue of The Rake and the British Fashion Council's announcement of a new London menswear show to take place immediately prior to Pitti Uomo are two more events from just this week. By contrast, the Italians seem relatively complacent.
There is inherent conflict between this fight for commercial success and traditional British reserve as evidenced by The Chap's recent organization of a protest against the presence of Abercrombie and Fitch on Savile Row. Like it or dislike it, A&F promotes itself brilliantly. It remains to be seen whether the rest of the Row can do the same but they do seem to be working at it.
Posted by Will at 7:09 AM
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
You probably already know that in the early twentieth century wealthy men began wearing cream colored flannel trousers with their navy suit jackets at resorts, a fashion that was the seed of both the blazer specifically and the odd jacket generally. And to this day the most classic trouser to wear with a blazer during the day is cream colored, like the best dressed former President in the photograph.
So far as I am aware, no-one ever recorded the evolution of those cream colored trousers into the khaki chinos worn as part of the California tuxedo, the tan cavalry twill that author Bernhard Roetzel described as part of the English uniform, or the ubiquitous gray flannels (that latter happened in the span of a single generation, perhaps driven by the cost of cleaning those off-whites in a world still heated by coal fires). But the style did evolve, and today the original color is remarkable.
The little examination possible of Mr. Kennedy's trousers finds them looking a bit too crisp for flannel and probably a wool twill or gabardine, either a more practical choice for warmer days anyway. He wears them with penny loafer styled slip-on shoes, and those, lightly brogued chestnut colored oxfords or spectators are a fine complement to the pairing of blue and cream.
Worthy of emulation.
Monday, May 14, 2012
Brown suits seem to be going the way of the dodo. Never all that popular to begin with, they are being put to death by that hoary old "no brown in town" chestnut. Now by brown I do not mean tan, or patterned tweed necessarily, but true brown whether flannel for winter, gabardine for spring and fall, or cotton and linen for warmer weather. And that is because brown is a country and suburban color, better suited for holidays than conference rooms. When the suit is worn only for formal occasions, its informal applications disappear. 'Tis a pity, that.
It's a pity because brown suits are one of best colors for the sunshine in my opinion, along with mid-blue and cream. More formal than odd jackets but less formal than city suitings, brown lends itself to travel by air, rail (it admittedly blends in better on EuroStar than Amtrak) or motorcar. And though an attorney in Palo Alto is probably better off in blue, brown is just fine for visiting a suit-wearing executive staff in that same area.
Brown has the further advantage of functioning very well as a weekend suit, should you have cause to need one. The color just seems to complement country details like ticket pockets, even on a double breasted (a request that one of my tailors had never heard before). I like it best worn with brown shoes (oxfords in cooler weather and slip-ons when it is warm), a blue chambray shirt and a striped necktie with some purple in it.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Sooner or later those of us who read blogs like these (or indeed write for them) are likely to have a flirtation with exotics. There is nothing so everyday that it can’t be jazzed up in some rare material, the scalier or stranger the better. As I’ve written before, most rationalizations for such indulgence are not, in fact, rational explanations, beyond, perhaps, jadedness and our limitless capacity to overdo, which sometimes even exceeds our ability to overthink. Just as some people live paycheck to paycheck, other live purchase to purchase, in fact living on the anticipation of some new discovery to thrill to, or, given the wait necessary for a bespoke item, of some new flotsam that we can reach for as we drift and bob on the aimless surface of existence. Although few of us have the means or the Adlerian grandiosity to upholster our bar stools in whale foreskin like Ari Onassis, perhaps our efforts are (forgive the imagery) in the same vein.
Before I go any farther, let me make clear that this piece is not intended to encourage or excuse the use of tortoiseshell. Tortoiseshell is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Despite the existence of pre-ban stocks of tortoiseshell dating from 80 or 100 years ago, the import of any tortoiseshell of any age into certain jurisdictions may be illegal. The sorts of tortoise such shells came from are now endangered, and reasonable people can see the danger of any trade or demand at all creating incentives to falsify the age of stocks to include illegally harvested shells. If you really want something that looks like tortoise, plastic is an obvious substitute, while oxhorn is readily available and relatively reasonable.
Returning to my original discussion, collar stays are one item ripe for this sort of indulgence. Unlike shaving brushes, about which I wrote some time ago, there isn’t much that can be done to them in order to claim some improvement in performance: for the most part, collar stays are all just little pointy oblongs that slide into pockets under the points of your shirt collar to keep them from crumpling. (If you’re wearing a shirt with stays sewn in, congratulations, you’re wearing a crummy shirt.) There have been attempts to complicate them using little magnet anchors and such, but that’s just appalling. Inserting and removing stays between washings is as much fuss as we need in using them.
However, the material, rather than any mechanism, of these items, which will never be seen when worn, offers Lucullan levels of perverse pleasure – perverse because the only person aware of their specialness is the wearer (and the people he tells about them on the internet). It’s rather like scarf linings in suit jackets, except there’s always the remote chance the lining could be glimpsed. If you’re flashing your collar stays, you’re doing something wrong. Plenty of shops offer silver collar stays, and I once saw an amazing pair of 9 karat gold Asprey collar stays that adjusted to the appropriate length, but metal stays pose the risk of eventually wearing through their pockets. And if you turn your head, they may either poke you (if they’re too stiff) or bend oddly and stay bent, as is the case with the brass collar-deforming stays one well-known Jermyn Street shirt discounter provides. Less nobly, metal seemed too easy.
A few shops and artisans abroad deal, reputably, in pre-ban stocks of tortoiseshell, including opticians such as Coffignon who make real tortoiseshell glasses frames. A firm called Maison Bonnet has a wider expertise, creating couture pieces, sleek lampshades, combs and other accessories out of tortoiseshell, even cufflinks set in 18 karat gold, as well as tortoiseshell collar stays. The latter are sold in a few men’s stores like the shirt shop Halary and the outfitters Arnys. Like all reputably sourced tortoiseshell, they are violently, shockingly expensive. Seductive stuff, albeit forbidden to the ethical international traveler. Despite the price and my thoughts on the stuff above, they almost seduced me. Fortunately, the tortoise stays at Arnys are extremely wide (designed for their own shirt collars), while those at Halary were too short for my own shirts. Discussions about having some cut to size by the maker went nowhere. While tortoise would have been stiff enough to keep a collar unbowed, it would likely have the same risk of snapping that stays made out of mother of pearl or bone do if stressed too much. In the end, and as displayed in the picture above, a friend sent me an assortment of plastic collar stays in all imaginable lengths. They’re stiff but springy enough to return to their shape if flexed, and dirt cheap and easy to replace if ever they don’t.
As an aside, the very best stays I’ve encountered were when I had shirts made at Lanvin. Noticing that my shirt had come with collar stays that were clearly cut out of some slightly thicker plastic to the size and length needed for my bespoke collar, I asked my cutter if he could scare up a few extra. He picked up a phone, called upstairs to the workrooms, and in five minutes a handful of freshly cut new pairs arrived down to the bespoke floor: my first realization that even at that late date they maintained their own workrooms on the premises, in the classic style, despite a location on some of the most expensive retail real estate in the world. Those days are gone now.
In the end, my lesson was that sometimes the simplest really is the best. Don’t overthink. Of course, if one has to come to that realization, one is probably overthinking a lot of the time. In any case, if your shirt takes stays, use them… Intentionally omitting them tends to look either careless (not carefree) or affected, unless you’re Bryan Ferry.
As for the title of this brief flirtation, I couldn’t resist quoting Echo & the Bunnymen. After all, why did I even entertain the temptation? “A longing for some fresher feeling, belonging or… just forever kneeling...”
Saturday, May 12, 2012
When I was putting together the autographed book program for the ASW store I chose Nick Foulkes' Cigar Style as the best in-print example that my readers might enjoy from his very prolific collection of work on topics related to men's style. As it happened, Nick and the autograph sheets never hooked up and the ASW store is offering the book sans signature this week as sort of an amuse-gueule.
In French cuisine an amuse-gueule is a bite sized appetizer selected by the chef, and that aptly describes Cigar Style in the context of A Suitable Wardrobe. It is a little thing of 80 pages and 60 images, only 6" x 8.5" (15 cm x 21.5 cm), and it is consumed in the reader's equivalent of one bite, most likely while he smokes a cigar. There is a short essay by Foulkes on the history, rites and rituals of the cigar followed by images of cigars, cigar-making and well-known people who, you guessed it once again, happen to be smoking a cigar.
Nick was uniquely qualified to put this project together. The UK does not embargo Cuban tobacco nor restrict travel there and he visits the place so often that they actually give him awards, whether for promoting the place or merely some sort of frequent visitor thing I do not know. For those of us who must make do with tobacco from other parts of the Caribbean basin, Cigar Style is a pleasant reminder of what we are missing.
Friday, May 11, 2012
After the Second World War, the urban North American coffee-to-go market was arguably dominated by a chain called Dunkin' Donuts. Like professionally managed market leaders in many fields, Dunkin' Donuts led a march to the bottom, forsaking quality and even cleanliness to hold prices down. And when Starbucks began offering a much better product for significantly more money, it changed the coffee-drinking culture (completely off topic, Starbucks to this day does not have stores that I know of in Italy because that is the one place where there is no need for its services).
When you go to have your shoes shined in London or New York these days, the prices are very low (if you can even find the service in London - the only shiner I know of is in the Royal Arcade) and the shines leave your shoes looking about like they did before they were polished. On the other hand, shoe lovers in Tokyo can patronize high quality shiners that remove your shoes and serve you a drink while they do work that is to the normal Manhattan shoe shine what Starbucks is to Dunkin' Donuts.
A couple of months ago, the people at A Shine & Co., the San Francisco and Kennedy airport company that is one of a handful of the best shoe care services in North America, introduced a Saphir shoe shine for $25, $10 more than their previous best shine. Shoes gleam after a couple coats of Saphir, and men who buy great shoes and want to keep them up have adopted it to the point that it has quickly become the highest grossing shine in the stores (do it yourselfers can of course find the Saphir line at the ASW store). That makes it good for the shiners as well as the customers.
There will always be people who prefer conventional coffee over Starbucks and its competitors, and there will always be men who need nothing more than a $5 once-over shoe shine. But A Shine & Co. may just be on to something.
In the photo, Kevin Tuohy, one of the founding partners of A Shine & Co., is at work on a complimentary Saphir shoe shine provided by ASW to guests at Style Forum's 10th Anniversary Party last week in San Francisco.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
In his Book of the Courtier (1528), Baldassare Castigilione describes wit, sprezzatura, and apparent effortlessness in any endeavour, as ‘’a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.’’
This, I suggest, should especially be the aim of dressing; after all, dressing is never an end in itself. One dresses for occasions and events; which are in particular places, involving the company of particular people. I have even heard arguments that one should dress just for the particular place (such as a theatre, concert hall or opera house, a restaurant or a hotel, and for professional and business places). I suppose that, if we allowed this argument to influence us, we should at once be rid of the sometimes annoying angst that men seem to feel about appearing ‘over-dressed’ in a suit and tie, amidst a sea of shirt-sleeves and jeans and chinos. There is also a growing caucus of men who shout about not being bound to observe any conventions or norms in dress at all and demonstrate their own particular ‘style’ in some deliberately eye-catching way.
It is, to my mind, far better to leave the eye-catching to the ladies and still to dress smartly and conservatively for smart and conservative places. The sole justification that you need is your respect for the place. Moreover, it is often perfectly obvious where these places are, even if they, themselves, no longer insist on minimum standards (or very high minimum standards), of dress in their patrons but they will often appreciate those who make the effort, and that is worth something in itself.
I am not talking about going to the opera in full evening dress or even black tie (unless the event specifically calls for it) because, in a sea of casual dress, of course you will appear (at best) as an usher or (at worst) a figure of fun. But if you go there in a dark suit along with the better dressed of the other attendees then you fit in and show respect for the place even if the majority of the other men are in shirt-sleeves.
This brings me to the crux of the question: is it possible to dress well anymore, without attracting attention and, maybe, feeling self-conscious and awkward? Probably, because though the outstanding nail - the tailcoat in a sea of denim - may be hammered down, by fitting into the standard of the better dressed men in a place you will feel and appear natural and relaxed without raising many eyebrows. In other words, emulate Matteo Marzotto (second from the left) in the photograph. Dress no more formally than your peers (if you happen to outdo them as to cut or fit more power to you).
We can all do our little bit to bring back the debonair into norms of dress and, maybe, even shame the shirkers into smartening up.
-Photo by madeinitaly.tv
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
The Met's Costume Institute Gala the other day brought out the usual mass of those whose business it is to be in the public eye. And though it is so easy to be critical, how else are we to learn?
We find most of the more common sartorial transgressions on an otherwise very good looking Mr. Matt Bomer. From the bottom up:
- open laced bluchers are inappropriately informal
- too much trouser break; an inch is about the maximum
- overly tight jacket is pulling
- lounge suit pocket flaps; at a minimum the flaps should be tucked into his pockets
- jacket collar off the back of the neck
These, the uncovered waistband and overly long jacket sleeves are unfortunately the most common errors made these days by men who appear to actually be trying. So many are not. And give credit to the ample display of shirt cuff, properly disarrayed pocket square and nicely tied bow.
Many women attendees on the other hand looked wonderful, Diane Kruger for one. This being a menswear publication however, I leave you to click through for yourselves.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
The four button front on a double breasted jacket is a change of pace whose practical use is to give a jacket the appearance of a little more length, a technique that works admirably on shorter men like the royal in the top photo. Four buttons can also give a linen or other casual jacket a bit of extra brio when the top two are keystoned (that is, spread wider than the ones beneath them) as they are on the young JFK in the second picture.
For consideration by the young, by men who wish to call discreet attention to themselves, and of course to anyone who wishes to appear a bit taller.
Posted by Will at 7:16 AM
Monday, May 7, 2012
I wrote in 2009 that black and white spectators were useful principally with white trousers and a blue jacket, but I overlooked another important use for the shoe and that is paired with a cream summer suit, whether linen or some other fabric. The thing that black and white brings to the party is that it looks fine during the day but can also be worn at night, when plain black shoes of any kind just look wrong with cream colored trousers.
At this point I was tempted to go down a road that explained that the Roman senators wore black cloth shoes with their togas and no-one complained about those aesthetics but it occurred to me that we have come a long way since then and owe a great deal of that progress to the proliferation of brown shoes during the day. The trouble is, brown looks as out of place after sundown as unrelieved black does in bright sun shine and the effect of that unfortunately is to relegate cream colored trousers to day wear lest one find oneself looking as two normally skilled dressers did a while back. The solution of course is the black calf and cream buckskin spectator, which is a concept so simple that I have to wonder why it never occurred to me before.
This leaves us with the not unimportant question of how profligate one must be to consider bespeaking a pair of shoes that are likely to be trotted out only a few times a season, but in answer I turn to summer photos of the late Duke of Windsor, a man who wore black and white spectators so often that he needed several pair.
Case, if it can be called that, closed.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
A remarkable book of cloth swatches arrived the other day, that being J & J Minnis' The Q Project. A new sign of energy at that venerable firm, The Q Project is a modern version of a traditional tailor's suiting fabric in a 340/360 gram (11/12 ounce weight) that takes the needle well and has good crease resistance. Most remarkably, it is an Australian Merino wool Super 150s.
As it happens I heard good things about The Q Project's tailorability earlier this week from a man who knows what he is talking about but the arrival of the swatches was a surprise (I had requested the new Fresco II book, about which more in a minute). Those good things were the first time I had heard praise for a 150's from a working tailor as most of the stuff coming out of Asia is too fragile, too light and does not take the needle well. The QZ as it is known for short is woven in England and finished using proprietary techniques that give the cloth a superb handle as well as a bounce and drape hitherto not found is similar luxury cloths.
Besides the usual solids and stripes in various widths and spacings, QZ contains a variety of windowpanes, glen checks and other designs, including some twills in the traditional gabardine colors. Perhaps I am too much of a cloth geek but it appears to be wonderful stuff and some of it will probably replace a length of Golden Bale on my tailoring to-do list. Though I have not been given pricing as of yet and since 150s typically run twice as much as standard bespoke quality cloth that could be a fly in the ointment.
On another note, earlier I mentioned Fresco and, as if QZ were not enough, Minnis' Fresco II book lived up to its advance billing. Fresco II is a much-needed re-issue of a light-weight, crease-resistant and breathable cloth that has been as close to a perfect hot weather suiting as current weaving technology permits. The principal challenge with it from the customers' point of view has been that choices have been more limited each year as stocks of this weave and that have run out. Choices are fixed in spades now.
Fresco II contains Fresco I's standard 8/9, 9/10 and 14/15 ounce weights and brings back the 70% wool, 30% Mohair blend that disappeared several years ago in addition. I could be wrong since I have only swatches to work from but the hand on the new stuff seems more refined, comparable to Smith's Finmeresco. And the pattern range is broadened considerably, including a light gray solid in 9/10 that has been unavailable for years and a light tan in the same weight that would make a very nice alternative to a linen suit. There are even windowpanes in three colors.
Neither book is on the Huddersfield web site yet but they are apparently in the hands of a tailor near you (or, in my case, far from me) for those who are interested.
Saturday, May 5, 2012
There is a subcategory of knit necktie that offers considerably more variety than its parent, and that is the version in colors and patterns suited for the sunshine. Now I do not suggest that any man wear a knit tie in the boardroom, but in addition to their usual duty as travel ties the right knit is great with odd jackets and linen or cotton suits on sunny days. And – you saw this coming didn’t you - the ASW haberdashery is offering four stylishly different and slightly narrow versions that are just the thing this week, in a dozen colorways with pointed bottoms. That is one of them in the photograph, a two-toned red and gray weave that is worn with an otherwise straight-laced ensemble.
The pointed bottom knit comes from a specialist in Milan and the combination of point and width adds a bit of indefinable je ne sais quoi. Try wearing one when those around you are likely to be tie-less. They may not be able to put their finger on why, but they are likely to credit you with style points aplenty.
To borrow a phrase, vive la différence!
Friday, May 4, 2012
The basic neckties in a wardrobe should be solids, for the same reason that the first couple of suits should be solid colors, and that is to minimize the frequency of "Didn't he wear that necktie last time?" thoughts by his observers. Solid does not however mean boring. Many of the world's best dressed men have worn little but solid neckties, as attested by today's photographs of men in roles that were definitely not dull.
The role of the necktie you see is to contrast with the wool of the jacket and this is done with more sophistication using texture rather than color. Woven silks are better than printed for that job, and in my opinion the core of a tie wardrobe should be comprised of silk knits, grenadines, satins and oxfords in black, silver and navy. Especially navy. Indeed, a black knit, a black and a silver grenadine and four navy ties in the aforementioned weaves will get a man through his life and do it quite stylishly. Whether they form the basic core of a necktie wardrobe or suffice without further supplement is merely a matter of personal preference.
Posted by Will at 7:28 AM
Thursday, May 3, 2012
All this is relevant to the conversation I had with Thomas Mahon of English Cut yesterday, one that was almost identical to a discussion with Simon Cundey of Henry Poole earlier this year. And that was about the problem with the tailcoat, or at least the tailoring of it. Few men own one you see, so when they suddenly find themselves about to be knighted or the proud father at a daughter's formal coming out party they have to have one made. And here is the rub. A tailcoat is one of the most complex garments known to tailoring, with just the upper back comprised of no fewer than six separate pieces of cloth that work together to make the coat closely follow the lines of the body. Coordinating all those pieces is a far more difficult task for the few tailors who still know how to do it than the making of today's lounge suit, and requires two or three fittings instead of the usual one and done of Savile Row today.
Want to drive your tailor mad? Order a tailcoat thinking it just like a suit, with only enough time for a single fitting. If they even take the job on, there will be anxiety aplenty about how or whether the thing will fit. And the best case is that it won't, quite.
So, a word to the wise. If you find yourself in need of a tailcoat order well in advance, or plan to spend some time in your tailor's neighborhood where, if they like you enough, they may be able to squeeze a couple fittings into a week. Only please do not tell them I suggested that latter course.
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
The blue pinstripe may be the quintessential sunny urban day suit. Becoming popular during the rise of the railroads, whose parallel rails they emulated, pinstripes have been inextricably connected to business dress ever since (blue of course is the city suit of warmer weather almost by default, since all but the palest of grays are better worn when the skies are overcast).
More difficult to wear than plain navy because they are more conspicuous, the best pinstripes in my opinion are white. White stripes meld quite nicely with any shirting that has a white ground and that reduces the impact of the suit pattern on the eye while permitting the widest variety of color combinations. Colored stripes are considerably more difficult, in the sense that they just about force a man to wear a shirt or necktie in those colors. Nothing wrong with that but limiting.
Connected as they are to business dress, pinstripes are probably not the best choice for evening despite the frequency with which they are seen on the backs of some of our better known dandies. Personally, I think them fine for early evening cocktails provided one does not mind looking as thought he came directly from the office. But the further away we are from toil, the better it is to look as though we have a life outside of work. There solid suitings do a better job - after all, there are to the best of my knowledge no striped evening clothes.
Of course, when one is at work, it is best to look the part. A blue pinstripe like the mid-weight version in the photo does exactly that.
Posted by Will at 7:38 AM
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
A few dollars or minutes saved on the maintenance of one's tailored clothing can be false economy. In my case, when someone tells me I have a spot on the lapel of my blue cotton suit as my wife did the other morning, I respond that it gives the jacket character. Inwardly I kick myself.
I have written in the past that few of what pass in the United States for clothing cleaning establishments know how to press a jacket. As exhibit one, note that white mar on the lapel to the left of the top buttonhole in the photograph. That discoloration is from the stress of machine pressing against the underside of the top button on a bespoke three roll two, and that after no more than two pressings.
This of course is my own fault. I generally send my tailored clothing down to Scottsdale, where Stu Bloom's RAVE FabriCare does an impeccable job with it. But, for one reason or another, periodically I decide that it is not convenient to box something up and give it to FedEx and I send a piece or two to the local establishment I consider the best cleaner in the Bay area. Good thinking. Machine pressing of the lapels on a cotton suit will quickly leave them with a white spot. Not the end of the world, but unpleasant nonetheless.
Men can of course send their jackets back to the original tailor in many cases for what is called a sponge and press, where the ironing is done by hand. Unfortunately, for those of us who live considerable distances away this is more difficult than it sounds. Besides the time, cost and risk of tranoceanic shipping there is the need to deal with the not inconsiderable bureaucracy that our Department of Homeland Security has created to keep this country safe(r) from those who would threaten our way of life - and I have a suit held in Customs as I write to demonstrate that this is not always easy. But, despite the incentives to keep things local, I proved to myself once again that it is better to do business with someone who deals with comparable items regularly, no matter how far away they may be.
In the photo, a cashmere and cotton suit is paired with a gray pick and pick shirt, a vintage silk pocket square, and a knit necktie. The gold pin is optional.