Style Pet Peeves and Personal Partialities

At this merry time of year, it is custom to reflect on the past 12 months. Men huddle together in jolly groups and share stories, jokes and memories, comforted by spiced wine and the universality of aging. It’s an informal review; usually rose-tinted ruminations full of good humour and innocent machismo; “A toast to women!” or perhaps “May our poor cricketers rot in hell!” In fact it is these rather polar assessments that characterise our seasonal commentary, and as I sat in contemplation of my experiences over the past year, I discovered I too had a tendency to review the state of the world in this monochrome way; good and evil, the adversaries of yore, thrash it out in my mind’s eye like tireless samurai warriors. And so, in this tide of Yule, I feel it is appropriate to share with you some of my musings. More particularly, my sartorial pet peeves and personal partialities.


     Pet Peeves

Rucksacks with suits

The rucksack, or knapsack, is a very useful item of luggage. It’s practical for when you wish to transport things from one place to another without the need of inconveniencing the poor old hands. For climbing, the rucksack is indispensable. Ditto cycling. However, I grumble audibly when I see suited chaps wandering down Regent Street, crushing their Super 100’s covered shoulders with a distinctly ugly and unfitting poly-something creation with an appropriately European sounding manufacturer such as Berghaus or The North Face. It’s not only cycling commuters who do this. Plenty of moderately well-dressed men climb on and off public transport with these nylon cysts on their backs.
This ‘uglification’ of the City gent is a sad sight indeed and I wish, with all my heart, that it would dashed well desist.

The schoolboy’s tie

Relieved as I may be to see more and more people embracing the necktie, it’s a crying shame that such embracement is often completed with a glance at some obscure imaginary manual, doubtless entitled ‘The Footballers Way to Tie a Tie’. Short and fat are ugly words, and appropriately they connote something ugly indeed, so it is incredible how, when given a stretch of fine silk, some people produce a cumbrous creation that has the look of an overfed sea bass. With a shapeless and flat knot, the ‘schoolboy attempt’ at a tie is often seen on older men who should know better. Keep the length sensible and the knot a discernible shape and voila, you’ll look thirteen no longer!

The Metropolitan mountain ranger

As with the rucksack, something I cannot abide is the practice of wearing an outdoor activity jacket over a suit. I would never contemplate wearing a covert coat in the Himalayas, so I cannot fathom how someone can conscience wearing a ski-jacket in London. It may be warm, but so are plenty of smart overcoats on offer at countless stores all over the city. The shape, if it has one, is grossly unflattering for the purposes of the metropolis and despite its useful number of pockets and zip-up practicality, it is a quite terrible thing to be seen in when strolling into a restaurant for a business lunch meeting.


     Personal Partialities

Co-ordinating pocket squares

The pocket square, though it is experiencing a revival, is still rarely seen. The glorious silk versions, never used for their intended purpose, look fabulous when worn with complementary-coloured shirts and ties. I saw an elegant gentleman wearing a green paisley pocket square with a green tie and a violet and white striped shirt; a wonderfully rich combination that also complemented his midnight blue pinstriped double-breasted suit. Co-ordinating can go too far but generally, ‘supporting’ colours have a smartening effect and make the gentleman look organised and interesting.

Tasselled loafers

I adore very smart and graceful shoes. Punch-cap Oxfords, patent shoes; there’s nothing that lifts a dull outfit more than a pair of fabulous kickers. Tasselled loafers are a personal partiality of mine. They are individual and natty and the gaiety of the tassel is appropriate for formal and casual wear; jeans with chestnut tasselled loafers look quite brilliant.

Coloured socks

May the Gods of decorum strike me down, for I heartily approve of wearing richly coloured socks even with formal suits. Reds are a favourite, and bright blues are certainly arresting. The childlike optimism of colouring the ankles is what I find most appealing. Though it is de rigueur to match sock with pant, a stunning contrast marks out the man as an individual.

Slim-fitting clothing

Arguably the new modern classic cut of clothing is the slim-fit. It’s not so much an invention but a renaissance. Slim cuts of trouser, jacket and shirt have been very popular fashion styles of the past, but the fashion-trend of the Noughties seems to have created a lifestyle choice for the future. ‘Full’ clothing does not seem as appealing as it once was; I tried a classic cut jumper on in GAP only to recoil in horror. I looked immature and amateurish, whereas a slim-fitting version flattered me greatly. Of course, it helps that I am naturally emaciated, but there is no doubt, should it come to dilapidation of my metabolism, that I will endeavour to remain in slim-cut threads.

One Thing: The Flat Leather Document Folio

As Christmas is quite literally upon us, I want to add one more item to my wish list. I hope that when you read this column, you too make a little room for this arguably anachronistic yet stylish item. I would very much like a flat leather document folio; the one with a zipper that opens up on three sides so it can lay flat on a table. You’ve seen it, the simple and classy kind that gentlemen and titans of business used to carry on a regular basis. That’s what I want.

It is, in this world of laptops and Blackberrys, not particularly practical. Flat folios have limited space and can never really compete with the functionality of a messenger bag or roomy elegance of a soft sided brief bag. Regardless, I see them as the perfect accessory. Their very obsolesce is what makes them so wonderful. You must think about what goes inside and are forced to pare down the clutter.

What to carry? A pad, a pen, some calling or business cards, and a few important documents. That is part of the beauty, being forced to shed most of the stuff we carry around but never really use; simplification by necessity.

It’s also just an elegant alternative on those days when you need not carry all your daily gear. It makes you want to dress up a bit; if one is planning on walking around without all the normal bulk he must be someone important, people will think. You might as well look the part.

Leather folios are a great choice when traveling for business as well. Instead of toting around your business bag, toss the essentials into a leather folio and you are ready to meet in style.

Other styles of document folios are useful as well. They can come in a range of sizes and styles; some are the simple single pocket described above while others have multiple pockets and flaps. All these styles are designed to be carried under the arm; no handles or straps here. Pick one up, give it a try, and be amazed by how much more polished and organized you feel.

One Thing: The Polo Collared Sweater

The polo collared sweater is an incredibly versatile piece of clothing. It provides the warmth and classic good looks of a crewneck sweater with the versatility of a shirt. These are but some of the qualities that make it another “one thing” you should have in your wardrobe.

Golfers in the early 1900s first popularized this style of pullover and ever since it has retained a certain elegant sportiness. The polo collared sweater comfortably straddles the line between dressy and casual without drifting too far into either area. These days, sweaters have taken the place of sports coats as appropriate dress for events and gathering that are not fancy enough for coat and tie and too formal for jeans and tee. The polo collared sweater is the perfect choice for times such as these.

Because of it’s folded over collar and short but defined three-button placket, the polo collared sweater can easily be dressed up with grey flannels or down with jeans and topsiders. The sweater’s collar also provides a nice frame for the face, giving structure and foundation to the neck without the need of a shirt collar underneath.

This leads to another benefit of the polo collared pullover; unlike most other styles of sweater which are meant to layer over a shirt, it can be worn as a shirt itself. Generally speaking, polo collared sweaters are made of fine gauge material; namely cashmere, merino or lamb’s wool, and cotton. Wearing it as a shirt can give you a relaxed yet elegant, modern look and makes it more comfortable when worn under a sport coat.

Should you be in a layering mood, polo collared sweaters provide a particularly preppy touch when worn over an oxford shirt. If your sweater has a strait hem, leaving the shirt un-tucked adds a little stylish irreverence.

Building a Tie Collection

Collecting, a friend of mine observed, is a pastime of the idle. It is, so they told me, a sign of man’s excessive productivity. Unsurprisingly, my friend and I differ in our opinions regarding man’s wants and needs. Naturally, in a world without the paraphernalia we are surrounded with, I need merely shelter, an animal skin or two to keep warm and perhaps the Promethean luxury of fire. However, man has evolved. We don’t live in that minimalist culture. We live, in the western world, in a time of abundance. Whereas our ancient ancestors might have braved wind and rain for an uncooked bite of deer, we have not only beautifully cooked, and aged, meat, but meat substitute.

Through the centuries, man has added to his tastes and he has become accustomed to those things that my contrary friend observes as ‘luxuries’. Man has a habit of collection and consumption and I am no exception, especially when it comes to neckties. Though my collection of ties is entirely intentional (I don’t collect them in an accidental fashion), as deliberate as I am with my purchases, I am worried my tie-lust will spiral out of control. Therefore, I intend to employ a program of purchase for neckties. It works like an ordinary quota; regulating my purchase of check ties, red ties, polka dot ties etc and it restricts me from buying ties, no matter how little they cost, I might hardly use.

If you are, like me, a fan of the necktie and are keen to build up a respectable collection, then there are some things to consider. This guidance is borne of the successes and failures of my own experience.


Plain neckties, whether they be of cashmere or woven silk, are eminently practical. Check shirts and loud stripes call for plains like the hero Heathcliff for his darling Cathy; one simply cannot do without the other. It’s healthy to buy a decent number of plains in a variety of colours, although I would suggest buying woven ties over printed ties. The texture of a woven material adds depth to the tie and this makes a seemingly uninteresting item actually rather eye-catching. A good start would be a quadruple purchase of a Burgundy red, a royal or navy blue, an old gold and a plain black. These strong colours are classic and suit plain white City shirts as well as country Tattersalls. Once these staples are there, forest greens, ivories (for summertime) and light browns are good suggestions for future purposes.


Striped ties are the next step up from the simple plain tie. Not as daring as a pattern and far easier to match with shirts and suits, striped ties boast versatility and an old-world, clubby charm. Plenty of the striped silk dripping from the racks in places like Tie Rack is pretty bad; I, personally do not think that there should be more than four colours on a club-striped tie and yet I have seen ties with six or seven colours and stripes of all different shapes and sizes thrown into one. Stick to classic two and three colour stripes. These look the smartest, and most established. Navy blues, reds, greens are well matched with pinks, sky blues, gold and cream.


About three years ago, I was reading a male fashion column citing the death of, as the writer most appositely put it, ‘the Hermes tie thing.’ Well, the King is dead. Long live the King, for Hermes, and patterns, are back. With the reactionary plain thick silk tie now worn by all and sundry from winners to wannabes, patterns have a new future. And it’s a bright one. Formerly, polka dots were in safe navy and red, navy and cream combinations. Now, colourways like lime and mid-blue and canary yellow and apple green have been added to the mix and been anointed as instant classics. ‘Illustrated’ patterns; dogs, fishing tackle and pheasants are eye-catching and intriguing, but try to keep the objects small and tasteful. Excessive ‘artwork’ on ties looks twee and attention-seeking.

One last thing…

Resist the temptation of a cartoon tie. You know what I mean, those cheap silk things with images of a Simpson’s family member shouting ‘D’oh!’ They are ugly and not at all funny. If you are anti-tie and cite this as your reason for wearing this offensive accessory, do not wear a tie at all.

‘Structured Casual’ Look

One of my favorite looks, regardless of changing fashions and trends is what I would define as “structured casual.” In contrast to the bohemian intellectual look, this style is more sophisticated and urbane as well as likely easier to coordinate with the items you already have in your wardrobe. It’s the ideal outfit for either a museum excursion, dinner date at a trendy restaurant, or even a fashionable casual Friday at the office.

The most important elements of this look are slim jeans paired with dressier items such as narrow-toed brogues, dress shirts, and ties. The jeans you choose should be tapered at the leg and dark-colored. Right now, there seems to be a trend towards cropped jeans that end right below the ankle so as to show off the shoe. Unfortunately, this is almost impossible without the aid of a tailor as almost all jeans are sized to the same insanely long length despite a varying waist measurement. Levis Matchstick Jeans ($138)

The shirt and tie combination are the driving force and also what give the look a certain elegance and refinement. Unlike the current trends, this look eschews plaid and flannel in favor of more classic styles. A white shirt with a high collar is clearly the most versatile choice but striped and other patterned shirts are other alternatives. Tucking the shirt in is an absolute must; the days of the slovenly un-tucked shirt are over. Though the skinny tie-look with a business suit is mostly finished, they still go well with this style. Solid Knit Skinny Tie ($50)

Substituting dress shoes instead of sneakers when wearing jeans is always encouraged, regardless of what style you are trying to emulate. For the “structured casual” look in particular, a pair of narrow shoes looks best with slim jeans. I wear this pair from To Boot New York on a daily basis and constantly receive compliments on them. The fading around the toe and back of the shoe is a cool effect that differentiates it from more traditional or banal brown shoes. It is important to note that even though you are wearing jeans, white socks are not permissible with dress shoes. Rather, you can display some creativity with your choice of socks, either opting for something colorful or just basic black/brown.

To complete this style, a belt is a necessity. While wearing jeans and a T-shirt offers much more discretion as to whether or not to include a belt, forgoing one when wearing a dress shirt looks remiss. Thin belts are the look to opt for as they generally work better with slim jeans.

For colder weather, adding a waist-length trench coat helps establish the lines that create the “structure” in this look. Other ideas for making the look more winter appropriate include either wearing a fitted cardigan or sweater over the shirt. Don’t be afraid to tuck your sweater into your jeans; rather than looking over thought, the clean lines created by this will make you look slimmer and better put together. Short Trench Coat ($130)