Archives for October 2007

Suit Styles: More than One Way to Wear a Suit

There is, it is said, more than one way to skin a cat. Not that I, or you, the collective readership should concern ourselves with this grisly practice, but you should note the pleasure of possibility. I had been told, and believed, there was only one way to wear a suit. Englishmen are notoriously arrogant when it comes to suits. Some men believe that because a certain Regency fop is responsible for the shape and style of the modern suit, that the English, as the inventors, are naturally the best.

This is, of course, bunkum. We are never necessarily the best at anything we create; in fact, we are often sub-standard and sometimes appalling. Our lack of success in sports such as soccer, rugby, tennis and cricket are examples of this. Our trains and railways are some of the worst in Europe and the Germans and Swedes produce vacuum cleaners that make ours seem little more than glorified drinking straws.

Though we often, for a freak moment get it incredibly right, in continued development for the next 100 years or so, we sometimes get it badly wrong. The baton has passed on many an occasion to someone else and a lot of sore Englishmen are left with the small pride of the accident of invention.

On occasion, however, we not only get it right at the crucial moment of introduction, we make sure that we keep doing it right, and upgrading where needed to maintain our status as world leaders. The suit is an example of this, and although the English style of suit attire is currently more popular than ever, the Anglo style is not the only one; the cat can be skinned many a way.

The Continental

The Continental suit is not a world away from the Englishman suit. It’s rather similar, but then it’s altogether quite a different thing; instead of a chicken roast, it’s chicken with Belgian fries. Usually a two or three button creation, but never double breasted, the Continental suit prefers espresso and croissants to toast and tea. The trousers are narrower and shorter than most suits which gives the Continental the badge of youth.

The materials and patterns are sharp and smart, but never fierce; no pin or chalk stripes. The Continental has been known to sport feint window-check patterns, but usually, cool Brussels blues and Geneva greys are the order of the day. Shirts are generally white and blue; the Continental is a busy man and has no time for choosing natty stripes or charming checks. Collars are either spread or tall, and ties are generally knitted creations in plain dark colours.

Knots are the size of a small pain au chocolat and the cuffs are always double. The Continental does adopt the Englishman affectation of wearing a pocket square, but he restricts himself to ironed white linen – leaving the Ros-bifs to their loud silk paisley. Famous advocates of the Continental include the late Gianni Agnelli, Bernard Arnault and Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Gangster

Though he might have replaced his violin case with a briefcase, the Gangster still wants to be noticed. Although a lot of gangsters dressed respectably, initially in a bid to avoid likely arrest, this was taken to an extreme and this look is parodied as the gangster style. Double breasted and three-piece suits are the bread and butter; the Gangster suit is made of some of the most glaring fabrics available to tailors. Loud, contrasting chalk and pinstripes in charcoal grey and midnight blue, the Gangster suit is often made with bright, contrasting linings. Trousers are wider, more similar to Oxford bags of the 1930s in shape.
Shirts ape the Englishman style, but collars are mostly downward pointing. Coloured shirts with white collars are favourites, as are thick stripes, luxurious whites and pinks. Ties are generally colour-matched and though they are often bright, are usually tasteful. No skinny tie for the Gangster; he wants as much silk as he can lay his hands on, and he makes sure people can see it. Tie-pins are a rare, but elegant, accessory and pocket squares are bright and beautiful. Gangster gunners include Ozwald Boateng, Jay Z and Damon Dash.

The Italian

The Italian is a close cousin of the Continental, but unlike his cousin, he respects the Englishman less. For you see, the Italian believes that he is the one true suit; beside him there is no other suit. He is certainly the most removed from the Englishman in terms of fit and style; he is much more relaxed and the trousers are looser and less tailored. The materials are different too. Whereas the Englishman uses thick worsted, the Italian uses fine wool and linen. The Englishman is breakfast at the Ritz and the Italian is brunch at Carluccio’s; he doesn’t need to prove anything.

Shirts are very rarely anything other than crisp white and the collar can be tall and contemporary like the Continental cousin, or soft and classic. The Italian likes to do ties differently too; thick silks in dark tones, tied in square-ish knots are never club-striped but can be dotted. The Italian is sometimes so modern, that he often goes without ties. To offset the shock of this look, he retains the effete pocket square, but he is united with his cousin, the Continental, in restricting himself to ironed white linen. Italian revolutionaries include George Clooney, Tom Ford and, naturally, Silvio Berlusconi.

Care For Sweaters

Love your cashmere sweaters, or just want to keep yours around forever without destroying them? Understood. Now read on!

Treatments and Washing

• When you get ready to wash your clothes, separate knitwear when you sort laundry. If you throw a sweater in the washing machine, it won’t last long! Anything that could be harmed by catches or snags should be thrown into a protective bag before it gets into the wash.

• Avoid washing sweaters on hot settings, which can damage them pretty severely. And say no to tumble dryers, too! I speak from experience. They can affect wool so severely that the item will shrink beyond recognition.

• Handwash items if you can. It may be time consuming, but it will save your more expensive articles like cashmere.

To Handwash a Sweater
1. Fill a sink or tub with lukewarm water, and follow the instructions on your fine garment wash like Woolite, for example.

2. Swish your hands in the water to create suds, and add your sweater to the water.

3. Soak your sweater for about 20 minutes in the basin.

4. Remove the sweater and rinse it thoroughly.

5. Place the sweater on a clean towel.

6. Fold the towel in half and then roll it.

7. After a few minutes, lay your towel out flat and shape it carefully.

8. Dry your sweater on a sweater rack and let it air dry out of direct sunlight and indoors.

Tip:  Don’t wring out your sweaters, which can permanently distort their shape.

Tip:  You can wash more than one sweater at a time, but just make sure that they’re similar in color.

After Care

• Brush your sweaters once they’re dry. Use a small soft brush on cashmere, acrylic, and lambswool to take care of fluff and hairs. You can also use a lint brush to remove pills.

• While dry cleaning sweaters is definitely an option, it won’t extend the life of your knitwear.

• Iron sweaters on a low setting, and if you iron wool, make sure that you “knead” the sweater once you’re done to set it and prepare it for wearing.

• Storing your sweater? Be sure to wash and dry it before you store it, and then wrap it in acid-free paper before it goes in a special storage box.

Stay away from mothballs. They smell strong, and you can get the same effects from a lavender sweater wash. Both cedar and lavender repel moths, and they’re natural.

Choosing Eyeglasses for Your Face Shape

When I went shopping with a young lady recently for some new glasses, the massive range of designer frames on offer pushed me into a state of contemplation; I began to wonder what frames would suit my face, should the need for eyewear present itself. At present I have very good vision, although as both my mother and elder brother are now wearing prescription glasses, it wouldn’t surprise me if I needed vision assistance in the years to come. The difficulties I faced in choosing hypothetical eyewear made me appreciate the considerable troubles that a person requiring glasses faces.

Some people may reject spectacles altogether and plump for contact lenses. Glasses, to some people, look geeky and unattractive, and no amount of modernisation or flashing of designer credentials will change their opinion. Admittedly, if you need vision assistance all hours of the day, then contacts are probably preferable. However, they will be very fiddly for those that require assistance in relation to specific problems such as reading or viewing from a great distance; the ‘in/out’ debacle is likely to infuriate the most patient of people.

Therefore, frames are just unavoidable, and as such, some people choose to attempt to hide this fact by wearing rimless glasses or very thin-framed spectacles. Unfortunately, it never really works; any facial scaffolding will show, and the extravagant cost of these glasses is hardly justified by the mixed results. Speaking as a person who is likely to be a future spectacle man, I would prefer to embrace my need for glasses; elegant and stylish frames can be found for the modish man and whatever your face-shape, there will be plenty of choice.

Round face

If you are a man with a smooth, round face then some spectacles with a bold rectangular frame should suit you. Keep the lenses larger, as on your particular face, shallow lenses can make your eyes look smaller.

Square jaw

If you have a round face with a square jaw, wearing square glasses might make your face look a little hard. It’s better to wear oval glasses to soften your jutting chin. Be careful not to go for frames that are too narrow as these will look childish.

Flat chin, tall head

If you have a tall head with a flat chin, you would look best in thin, wide rectangular frames. The wide glasses balance your face well.

Heart shaped face

If you have this shape of face then you will look fantastic in oval glasses. The softer frames will balance the sharpness of your features.

Oval head

If you have an oval head, with a tall forehead and long chin, it’s best to try and balance your look by wearing large rounded-square spectacles. Harsh angles would look too hard against your face shape, so rounded corners are perfect for your features.

Style of glasses

There are literally hundreds of styles of frames available. It’s important to pay attention to your particular combination of features; how large and prominent your eyes, nose and mouth are will influence how frames will suit you. Also, remember to refrain from falling in love with particular frame styles that may not suit you – they can sometimes only look fabulous when lying on your desk. It’s also important to choose glasses consistent with your personality and clothing style – retro frames will suit the man who exudes a vintage style, but they are unlikely to look well on a man who is ultra modern.

The style of glasses that suited me (pictured) in every sense are rather retro, if a little comic, but I feel they represent my personality and personal style very well.

Dressing in Style Is Not About Spending and Brands

Some of my favorite articles of clothing that I own are also my least expensive ones. During a recent trip to London, I stopped in at Topman, a trendy, inexpensive store in the same vein as H&M and Zara, and bought a pair of dark, slim fit jeans that I wear more often than any other pair of jeans that I own.

I believe that mixing and matching pieces from different price ranges is not only economical, but also eminently intelligent. Though there are still marked differences between a discount, off the rack suit and a bespoke one, fashion-forward stores such as Uniqlo minimize the nuances between high-end and more economical, everyday pieces. For example, there really aren’t many hugely distinct differences between the pair of $695 Dolce and Gabbana jeans and the pair of $80 Uniqlo jeans besides the amount of marketing that went into them. Granted, the Dolce and Gabbana jeans may have been more intricately fabricated, but with the constant change in trends, how long do you expect to be able to wear them?

While in general my theory is that you should buy only items about which you are passionate rather than buying a bunch of things that you will end up never wearing, I believe that if you can get the same (or very similar) item for less, then why not? It’s one thing when you are faced with the choice between an expensive, well cut suit and a buying a few lackluster ones, but an entirely different thing when you can buy essentially the same thing for less money. My minimalism ideology comes from the “20/80” clothing rule, which states that you wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. Even though I have tried to filter out unnecessary items in my wardrobe, this is still definitely true in my life; when I go to get dressed in the morning, I usually find myself continually pulling out the same pair of pants or shirt.

People who are ‘label slaves’ care more about who makes their clothes rather than their fit or style. This can leave them looking ridiculous to the point of foolishness, wearing an ensemble of disjointed, ugly pieces. They hide behind these labels, believing that it grants them some sort of immunity from criticism in having paid more for their clothes. I witnessed that this was generally more prevalent in France where “Eurotrash” is actually a style (the small Louis Vuitton monogram manbags were the most glaring manifestation.)

I, on the other hand, prefer to buy the items that look the best on me, regardless of price or make. It is not uncommon for me to pair $300 shoes with my $60 Topman jeans or a $300 Prada belt with a $40 shirt from Uniqlo. This takes not only more shopping confidence, but also requires a more adept sense of style and maturity to be able to put things together. Anyone can look good if given tens of thousands of dollars for a new wardrobe and with the aide of a stylist. The true test is being able to successfully build outfits from a wide range of stores and prices.

Thus, my recommendation is to buy the things you love and not to worry about what it says on the label because it’s not the brand on which you’ll be judged, it’s how good it looks on you.

Americana Look: The Urban Cowboy Trend

It is rare that I applaud fashion. Style is far more important to me than trend, and it is to that Pantheon of style icons that I pay homage. As Oscar Wilde once said,“fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” It is that unappealing temporary charm that puts me off fashion; that risk of buying something which will be worthless in half a year. I am never a slave to fashion.

However, fashion has its moments. They are rare and fleeting, but they are there. Once in a while it learns to provide practical style which will last from season to season, year to year. One particular autumn and winter trend has been the Americana look; checks and plaids, sport shirts, corduroy and cosy thick weave scarves. “Nothing” you may cry, “that hasn’t been in GAP for the last ten years!” Perhaps you are right. Perhaps there is nothing that revolutionary about the look, but does there need to be? It’s just something that fits so very well with the cold season. Cosy materials, patterns echoing a bright practicality, and accessories galore make the look thoroughly appropriate for the coming months.

Plaid and denim

One of the most comforting things about this look is that you can relax in the clothing without fear. It is a very casual look and the less contrived and the more ‘lived-in’ the outcome the better. Denim does not have to be skinny, dark and straight. In fact, the best denim to wear with this urban cowboy uniform is washed, old looking denim. The dark and shiny Dior Homme jeans are not appropriate – the plaid and denim man has to look like he cares less about the fineness of threads and more about unswept leaves on the driveway.

Boots and coats

Plaid shirts and college-style blazers and cord jackets are very charming in a New England way. However, the key to the outback dandy’s image is the lack of formality. Lapels begone! Big chunky coats are a central part of this look. Hacking jackets and duffel coats offset the hick charm of plaid and check and keep the palette under control; their versatility allows for multiple layering.

Footwear should be carefully considered also. The urban cowboy has no need for Wellington boots, but practical shoes and boots with a Commando sole do work well and are very comfortable for cold winter days. They also help to promote the casual weekender appeal of the look.

Scarves and hats

Scarves for this look are big and chunky. No skinny scarves or delicate silk here. A man needs a scarf that looks almost childlike in its naivety. Huge weave, snake-like creations and tartan are the key trends for scarves. If wearing tartan, avoid wearing with too many checked or plaid items – overkill would be a shame.

Hats are important for the urban cowboy. He likes to be outside, it reminds him of being at home on the range, and he needs some practical headgear to keep his ears warm. Beanies, woodsman caps and driving hats are the order of the day. Nothing too elaborate, just a little nod to design by incorporating a houndstooth or check pattern.