Archives for November 2007

Leather Ankle Boots: Trendy, Stylish and Practical

One trend that has been on the steady rise this fall is the resurgence of stylish, leather ankle boots that can be worn either dressed up or casually.

The leather boot is a great item because it gives men another option between the sometimes-limited choice of either loafers or regular lace-ups. They thus add an extra flair to an outfit that says the wearer tasks risks and is confident in his style decisions.

For a dressed up look, they can easily be used as a substitute for either loafers or oxfords, depending on the suit. In general, dress boots tend to be on the side of modernity and therefore look better with equally modern suits; the slim-cut, two button styles. This pair from John Varvatos demonstrates that simplicity and restraint are the highest qualities in men’s shoes.

An easy way to wear boots more casually is to choose a brown pair. These are much more easily matched with varying hues of jeans, meaning you get more versatility and wearability. The exact same pair of John Varvatos boots in brown shows the remarkable difference that color can have on the ‘formalness’ of a shoe. Here, the handsome, marbled wood appearance makes them acceptable wear for an everyday look that would not be appropriate in black.

My favorite look is a pair of dark skinny jeans with boots and a waistcoat, which I witnessed to be a very popular look among young, fashionable Londoners last spring. It’s clearly not a look that is easily pulled off by many; a certain je ne sais quoi, rocker-chic is necessary trait for the wearer.

When buying a pair of boots, one thing to make absolutely sure of is that the end be pointed rather than round. While, a rounded pair will make you look old and patently uncool, a narrow point indicates self-assuredness as well as being generally much more fashion forward, if that’s what you are pursuing. Another thing to avoid are ‘hybrid’ boots that have laces but still try to masquerade as a dress boot, or even worse, turn into a ‘combat boot’. Pictured pair from Costume National is a heinous and glaring example of what can happen when the two very separate entities are combined: You end up looking like a combination of Hermione Granger and a suburban, gothic mallrat.

My Sartorial Gifts Wish List

So what would I like for Christmas? You know you are hurtling towards old age when you have to ask yourself that question, and you feel even older when people have to ask you. When you were a child, you were easy to cater for; the latest toy, gadget, computer game and mountain bike seemed to do the trick. You only had to follow the current wave, or even ask what other parents were buying their children and thus, ubiquity prevailed; everyone clambers to get their tot the same blasted thing.

Being an adult is rather different. Clothing bought for me at Christmas as a teenager was timidly conservative; accessories such as socks and underwear and basic items such as plain sweatshirts and white t-shirts may have been boring surprises on Christmas morn, but they were extremely practical and sensible; I have never taken underwear back to the shop for an exchange or refund.

As I got older, and my clothing tastes became wildly unpredictable, my parents decided to focus on other areas of need and want; computers, sporting goods, books and items for around the home. Now, I feel I have settled into an absurdly predictable mould, it should be dashed simple to choose clothing for WJP Chesterfield.
However, just in case I am wrong, and it proves to be as hard as Arctic ice to pick out suitable sartorial items for yours truly, here’s a guide to my Christmas list.

1) Polka-dot lightweight dressing gown from Woods of Shropshire

Silk dressing gowns are fabulous and luxurious, but are not coffee-friendly and certainly not practical in a house with little bits sticking out of wood and doors, ready to snag the smooth dense material. This dressing gown is perfect. It’s more elegant than a towelling gown and it has that 1940s film noir appeal; I half expect it to come with a Mauser. It’s manufactured by legendary, yet little known nightwear producers Lloyd, Attree and Smith. It’s light weight and 100% cotton and a steal at £31.50. Elegance is affordable after all.

2) The ‘modern’ white shirt

I have plenty of city-collar, cutaway white shirts. In fact, I have a couple of tatty ones that I hold dear; perhaps I should throw away. What I really would like is the modern take on the white shirt. Very Dior Homme: a small collar, with a smidgeon of black detail (black buttons on the cuffs). Appropriate for going out, wearing with or without a tie. Zara make a fantastic one, and at a fraction of the Dior price. The cotton is very high quality too.

3) A paisley pocket square from Massimo Dutti

One of the things many people might not notice about Massimo Dutti is their stock of affordable and lovely accessories. While many might scream that the style of the store is a Ralph Lauren rip-off, the pocket squares are fine silk and excellent value. They also come in lovely combinations; purple, forest green, gold and grey. The selection is not huge, but there are usually at least three or four to choose from in shops.

4) Brown leather boots

For certain looks, only boots will finish an outfit. Some of my trousers have a slightly looser and more casual edge and call for a more rugged and less metropolitan shoe. A slip on boot, in brown, would complement some of the layered looks very well. Layering has a tendency to make people appear top-heavy, and I praise the look for its richness, but the shoes I regularly wear have seemed, well, too petite and dainty to carry it off.

5) Le Dandy from D’Orsay Parfums

A fragrance that is so frequently out of stock, I wonder if it gets delayed going through a special initiating ‘blessing’ pageant before hitting the shelves, because, it really is that good. Though the name suggests it’ll smell of Oscar Wilde’s pillow case, Le Dandy is actually fairly masculine in base notes; wood and balsam are used. The middle notes are spicy and gingery, and the lovely top notes are tobacco flower and whiskey. Though it is most certainly a male fragrance, it has a confectionary quality that would put musky-men off; Brut it ain’t.

6) Dior Homme Patent lace up shoes

One last request, just in case St Nick is feeling especially generous is a pair of Dior Homme shoes. The style of them is quite retro and definitely quirky; pointed toes and all, but they update classic looks like nothing else. They’re not cheap, but then they’re not cheaply made. They have a singularly beautiful construction usually seen on Berlutis or Lobbs. Thankfully, they’re not quite in that stratospheric price range, but they do qualify as being the ‘guilty luxury’ wish on this list.

Icons of Timeless Style – Part I: JFK, George Clooney

With terms like “style” and “fashion” being attributed to every moderately talented celebrity with a pretty face, I recently sat down and considered who I consider to be true style icons. Not the fleeting hotshots for me; no, I am talking about men of substance who have endured the test of time as well as those who clearly will.

When I think of those people to whom I look to for inspiration, I demand far more than flash. I want substance, meaning, thoughtfulness, intellect, and individuality. Over the next few columns I will share with you my own list of style icons and tell you why I find them inspiring and worth emulating. My list includes politicians, literary giants, actors, royalty and industry moguls. Each one of them represents the true mix of style and substance.


John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a charming, magnetic and very intelligent leader. He was a breath of fresh air to a country facing uncertain times. He also happened to be married to Jacqueline Bovier; still considered to be the archetype of a modern First Lady.

The Kennedys were an iconic couple that still embodies the American political ideal: power, money, charm, history, class, and at least the appearance of approachability. To this day, Jack and Jackie are the closest thing to royalty the United States has ever produced. President Kennedy died young of course, but that has forever secured his legacy of a shining icon taken too soon. Enormous potential left unfulfilled.

He had a classic, timeless style about him – some might say it was the kind only money could buy – but he and his family brought elegance and graciousness to the White House. He was also a strong leader, author, Pulitzer Prize winner, and brilliant politician. Kennedy’s personal style is also enduring. It has been said that when he took the oath of office bare headed, the first president to do so, it was the death knell of the hat industry. He brought the Ivy League look to the global stage and made the sack suit the international sartorial symbol of America.

Comfortable in both white tie and tails or khakis and an old sweater, he was informally stylish and at the same time elegantly disarming. Republican or Democrat, all presidential hopefuls secretly compare themselves to JFK. That is his enduring power.

George Clooney

Yes, he is an actor; but George Clooney has moved beyond mere acting and playing the playboy. Clooney is an artistic and idealistic force that reaches far beyond Hollywood. He is also very much the playboy – tough life.

An amalgam of Cary Grant, JFK, and Orson Welles, Clooney has created a distinct persona that is unique in today’s celebrity culture: a socially conscious, intellectual sex symbol. He is also one of the few actors who can truly be called classic. It’s very easy to imagine him working with someone like Gary Cooper or Humphrey Bogart.

The son of a reporter, George Clooney is articulate, inquisitive and intelligent. Politically active and astute, it’s also easy to see him running for office. That alone places him in a different league from other celebrities with a “cause.” A liberal, he happily picks fights with conservative pundits – and often wins. A powerful producer and director, he also picks projects with a message; sometimes veiled, like “Three Kings,” and other times very, very clear, like the Academy Award winning “Good Night and Good Luck.”

Clooney’s own fashion sense is an integral part of his timeless look, so much so that he was chosen to grace the inaugural cover of Men’s Vogue. Clooney is constantly compared to Cary Grant and his affinity for classic, simple outfits in monochromatic pallets is a direct homage to Grant’s enduring image. George can wear a black turtleneck and polo coat like no one else.

Clooney also has an approachability that is very un-celebrity. I can attest to this from firsthand experience. Meeting George Clooney on a D.C. street a few years ago, I found him to be a very nice guy. He had no handler, no entourage and seemed genuinely happy to take pictures with people and sign a few autographs. He was a real gentleman without pretense. The very next day I saw him on TV at a global hunger conference.

Both of these men epitomize timeless style backed up by real substance. One was violently taken away from us. Yet in that moment of loss the world gained, for lack of a better term, a legend. Jack Kennedy will forever be asking us what we can do for our country. He will inspire generations to come with both his style and his deeds.

The other man inspires us today in a different manner. Not static in history, George Clooney is very much alive and still creating his future legacy. Just as he challenges his audiences with landmark projects like the gutsy, live telecast of “Catch 22,” he challenges his peers to back up their platitudes about global warming, education and the scourge of AIDS with substance and action.

To me, these two men are definitely worth admiring.

From the Dowdy to the Dandy

For years men have been strolling around in their worn jeans, printed shirts and velcro trainers, relieved that nothing will rival good, comfy clothes, until now. The return of a true daring men’s style that is flamboyant and sophisticated at the same time. Yes, the dandy is back.

To achieve this particular look, the most important thing you will need is confidence and a bit of creativity. A real dandy will be able to walk into a room and turn the heads of both the men and women, looking the epitome of style and sophistication.

The definition of a dandy is a man excessively concerned with his clothes and appearance, who affects true elegance. The original nineteenth-century dandies perfected this. They were not afraid to mix things up; wearing frilly shirts with silk jackets, patterned cravats and high topped hats.

Ok, this may all sound a bit (ok a lot) camp right now and you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, ‘Er… frilly shirts? We’re men?’, but stay with me, lads.

The modern day take on this style includes some of the original elements, but these are tactfully played down. Most common components of the style include, slim fit trousers (usually black), fitted shirts, a tailored waist jacket or coat with interesting detail on the collar or another area, and most definitely some neck accessory. It is very typical for a modern day dandy to team a shirt and trousers with a cravat or tie. Yes it is that simple!

Contrasting colours will add a rocky edge and make the outfit more striking, or stick to simple block colours to look effortlessly smart. (NB, wearing a florescent pink t-shirt under a black blazer may seem like you’re being daring, but this will only make you look like you wish you were in Green Day. Or you just robbed H&M in a hurry…)

The next most important thing to consider when aiming for serious dandy status is the hair. A dandy will have mid-length hair, not overly styled, suggesting that it has only taken little time to look so slick, and sometimes top it off with a smart black hat.

Becoming a modern day dandy is easy if you enjoy putting clothes together and creating a look for yourself. It doesn’t have to be expensive either. Plenty of high street retailers are preparing for the rise of the dandy and stocking all that you will be looking for.

I don’t suggest that you go to your local pub in a dinner suit and polished black shoes, but cut down on the excessive jeans, t-shirt and trainers combinations. Be imaginative, and you might actually like it!

Article contributed by guest writer Nicola Jackson

One Thing: Cashmere Crewneck Sweater

As the holiday season ratchets into full swing, my wife usually asks for my wish list. We both understand that in my case this particular list is really more of a lifetime To-Do list than a “what I want for Christmas this year” list. I have things on there like “Rolex Submariner” and “Interview Ralph Lauren for the blog”; not exactly presents to whip together in a few weeks. There are however several items that I see as luxuries within reason.

This led me to come up with a list of items that I think every man should have. Some are more extravagant than others, but each is classic and useful. I will be profiling each item over the next few weeks. For my first “One Thing” I chose the cashmere crewneck sweater.

The crewneck sweater (jumpers) is a classic staple of men’s wardrobes everywhere. They can work with almost any outfit and be easily paired with jeans or grey flannels. A good crewneck should have a lightly fitted body and trim arms, but not too tight. The hem of the sweater should sit at your waist with room to allow for sitting, stretching etc., but should not blouse over the ribbed bottom. This is always an unattractive sight and gives the impression that you are either carrying a week’s worth of extra lunches around your waist or you borrowed someone else’s sweater. Neither impression is a good one.

It should fit comfortably over an oxford shirt yet still allow for easy movement while still maintaining a close fit. I like my sweater’s arms to either run a touch long so that I can turn back a good amount of cuff or end right at the wrist and allow some shirt sleeve to show. Anything in between tends to look out of proportion.

The neck is an area that merits additional attention. Some makers have neck lines that appear designed to strangle anyone foolish enough to try and stick through their head, while others seem to feel that wide gaping holes are somehow attractive. The ideal is a neck that allows the collar of your shirt to sit comfortably within, while the sweater itself offers a clean, firm neck hole that won’t easily lose its shape. I guess the best way to put it is that when viewed from any angle, your head should not appear constrained.

Regarding fabrics, merino is an excellent material but cashmere is really the gold standard. One or two-ply is more than enough for the average office dweller. Three-ply cashmere sweaters are often hawked this time of year, but don’t fall for it. Pictures of handsome people frolicking in chilly New England autumns do you no good while you are sweating up a storm in your climate controlled office building – every day.

When it comes to looks, there are several different styles of crewnecks; from simple to elaborate. After mulling this over for literally a decade, I have concluded that there are only two really useful styles: flat knit and cabled in solid colors.

A few years ago, during an after-Christmas sale, I came across this beautiful, chunky, heavy lamb’s wool Irish fisherman style sweater. It was a steal, and I bought it. I quickly realized that I couldn’t wear the thing anywhere except outside on a cold day. It weighed a ton and trapped too much heat. The upshot? Unless you actually are an Irish fisherman or work outside, give this heavy work style sweater a pass.

A thinner cabled sweater is a much better choice and simply more usable. You can find them in every color under the sun; from preppy primaries to English heathers. The same goes for flat knit sweaters. They are incredibly versatile and mix well with different materials. Flat knits in particular are good to have around because they can act as a grownup sweatshirt and adapt well to layering.

So there you have my first “One Thing” recommendation. Stay tuned for more.