Archives for 2008

Density of Pattern, Part 2

In the first part of this exercise in density, I was only able to cover the main points about combining patterns in your shirt, suit and tie. The lessons there can be summarised as:

• Patterns next to each other should be of different sizes and densities, to avoid clashing
• Changing the type of pattern also helps (e.g. check, stripe, spot)
• The shirt’s proximity to tie and suit makes it the most vulnerable to clashing, but do not forget the tie and suit – they also meet at the jacket’s close

These should hopefully be quite intuitive. The secondary points are also intuitive but less obvious, and deserve to be stated in full.

First, pattern combinations will be far easier if the tie is the largest, boldest or least dense pattern. It needs to stand out. As the most prominent and central element to the outfit, its pattern will look best when thrusting itself forward, against the background of the shirt.

A strongly striped shirt and micro-patterned tie may be ok in theory (they certainly won’t clash), but the tie could easily get lost. Best in that situation to go for a plain tie, or one that benefits from both a bold and different pattern, such as a large polka dot.

The image from the previous post, reproduced here, demonstrates this amply. Not only is the tie a sufficiently different pattern from its neighbours, its strength also naturally lets the tie fulfil its central role.

The same principle applies to a pocket handkerchief, if worn. If the hankie is patterned, it needs to be a large, strong pattern to stand out from a patterned jacket. A subtle woollen hankie against a bold city pinstripe is unlikely to work.

Two more quick points on hankies. If the suit is plain, don’t worry about the size of the pattern, just as you wouldn’t with a tie. But, if you are wearing both a hankie and tie, best to let the hankie play a minor role. Only a plain tie would be a sufficiently neutral partner to a bold handkerchief.

The only other advice worth giving is: if in doubt, go for a plain shirt. Mixing patterns is great when it goes well but, as mentioned last time, it is also one of the first ways men go wrong.

If you are unsure about the patterns’ suitability next to each other on your chest, pick a plain blue or white shirt. Then the tie and suit can go wild.

OTC Recommends: Drakes Ties

Those of you who are fans of the outstanding magazine Monocle (a global briefing on style/politics/culture/urban planning) are probably familiar with Drakes London. Monocle’s founding editor, Tyler Brule, devoted a recent editor’s page to this remarkable neckwear firm. No mere affectation, the “London” portion of the name is very much a badge of honor. Their ties are, in fact, handmade in London.

Based in Clerkenwell, the Drakes workshop is a wonderful example of “slow fashion.” Outsourcing and high speed production might get ties out the door and on the sales shelf faster and more cheaply, but that will never happen because Drakes takes particular pride in its British heritage and craftsmen quality. It is a matter of principle and that alone makes it worthy of a formal OTC recommendation.

Neckties are an interesting thing; they are functionless beyond adornment yet prized for their ability to convey status ranging from revered gravitas to comical idiocy. Most holiday theme ties fall into the latter category, whether deliberately so or not. And while some men view choosing a necktie as another in a series of forced convention, many others see it as an opportunity to telegraph values, quality, style, personality and craftsmanship. In the case of some brands like Hermes, that message is blunt and crystal clear: “this thing is expensive and the best, and so am I.”

Yet Drakes takes a different approach. A Drakes London tie is a bit anonymous, in the sense that on the surface it is elegant and exceptionally finished but not “known”. It looks good without announcing its maker, and that’s a nice quality because the tie is noticed over the brand. Their ties are substantial yet soft, well proportioned and timeless in design.

Drakes ties can be found in conservative clothing haunts like Knize in Vienna (which, as the Drakes website points out, is known to be more conservative than the Catholic Church) and cutting edge clothiers such as Comme des Garcons. However, I simply hopped on the internet and had one shipped right to me.

My particular Drakes London tie is pictured here; as it arrived from overseas, the well excellent packaging and presentation and as it was recently worn to the office. Though on the narrower side, its shape is classic and works well with a variety of suit styles. Knowing that I was wearing something lovingly crafted by an actual person in an actual workshop is a refreshing feeling. Drakes ties are not fast fashion and they are not meant to have a “season” but rather a lifetime.

On the first day I wore my tie, I received several compliments from both men and women. The men tended to like the tie’s construction and balanced proportions, while the women all loved the quality of the silk and the tie’s color combination.

All of these attributes speak to the effort and thought that go into Drakes ties – and that’s a good thing because they are not inexpensive.  Of course handmade and hand finished quality is going to cost you, but if you are looking to add one good tie to your wardrobe this one is worth the expense. Drakes also makes a variety of other products including pocket squares, scarves and hosiery to name a few.

So add Drakes to your New Year’s to-do list and take a look.

Generations: Dressing Well Instinctively

I hope everyone had a great Christmas. Mine, spent in Dorset with my extended family, had one sartorial highpoint – the instinctively stylish dressing of my grandparents.

On Christmas Day, they were the best-dressed people there (by my traditional and subjective values). And that includes me.

Before you splutter with surprise and indignation into your coffee, I had tried – but I wasn’t sure about the lime-green pocket square and my jeans really need taking in. Jackie and Pops (as my grandparents are known to the family), on the other hand, were well-brushed harmonious poise.

Pops wore green wide-wale corduroy trousers, matching green socks and rubber-soled Derbys with just a hint of red in their brown leather – perfect to offset the green of the corduroy. On top, a biscuit-coloured cardigan over a Tattersall shirt (with one of Tattersall stripes also being biscuit). The finishing touch was a navy Ascot with small geometric pattern, hidden away a little under the shirt and as casual as could be. In this way an Ascot is more like a scarf than a tie – it need not be plumped and perfect.

The colours worked together beautifully, all Autumn and deep forest colours. The patterns and textures equally, heavy trousers matched with thick-soled shoes and pattern density considered in the Ascot and shirt.

Except that considered is the wrong word, because this was done largely sub-consciously. The outfit was not put together with the obsessive attention that many interested in traditional menswear today use when deciding what to wear. It was done simply, by picking out items that had been worn together before and felt right to be worn together. That’s all.

Jackie wore brown slacks in a Glenurquhart check, paired with darker brown polka-dotted socks from Pringle and leather Oxfords. On top, a brown polo-neck sweater worn underneath a cream, checked cardigan. The checks on cardigan and trousers did not clash, their relative difference in density of pattern (and, indeed, density of weave) making sure they complimented each other.

Again, when I remarked how well the colours and patterns went together, Jackie was flattered but a little surprised. While some thought had been put into what would look good, there was no theorising or overt study involved.

It must be wonderful to have grown up in an age when everyone took these things as standard. Here’s hoping I dress with as much ease and grace in a few decades’ time.

How to Save Your Shoes from Salt

There’s probably a good chemical reason why vinegar and salt don’t like each other, but I don’t know what it is. I was probably too busy making ink pellets in the back row when that relationship was explained in Chemistry class.

The enmity is very useful, though. For when you’ve been out in the rain a lot (as happens frequently at this time of year) or been sweating rather profusely (as happens in the other half of the year), vinegar is the best way to tackle the salt stains that can result.

As the leather of your shoes absorbs water, salt gathers at the high-water mark – usually about half way up the vamp and an inch high around either side. If this is allowed to dry and not tackled quickly, it can leave a permanent ridge on the leather. Like scum left by a retreating tide.

You have to wait for your shoes to dry though. So wipe off any excess water when you get back home, stuff the shoes with newspaper, and keep them away from any artificial sources of heat. Then put your shoe trees in to stop them losing their shape.

When the shoes are completely dry, make up a mixture of 50:50 water and vinegar. You’ll need a couple of inches in a mug, and some cloth to apply it with. Most vinegars will do – malt vinegar is ideal but I used rice vinegar most recently and it worked fine.

Dip the cloth in the mixture and rub it over the salt stains. The leather will noticeably darken as it absorbs this new liquid, but don’t worry about that. Concentrate instead on the ridge of salt that stands away from the shoe like dirt. You want to keep rubbing the solution onto this ridge, and reapplying, until it dissolves and the leather is smooth.

When you’ve done this successfully on both pairs of shoes, wipe off any excess solution with a clean part of the cloth and leave them to dry. After a while the leather will dry and return to its normal colour. Now give the entire shoe a generous polish. A cream similar in tone to the leather will work particularly well, as it is likely to correct any colour differentiation caused by this process.

The shoes should be as good as new. The treatment can be used on old stains as well, but the salt is far harder to dissolve. You can apply polish or cream to remove the white colouring, but a ridge will remain.

Reader Question: Wet Shoes

Rob, London: I keep buying what I think are decent shoes (Barker brogues x2 and Loake Oxfords x1) with leather soles. I’ve found they soak up water when I wear them on a wet day. It is coming through the soles! Are my shoes not a good enough quality, or what?

Let me tell you a story, Rob. Back in the dark ages, shoes came in two exciting varieties: wood and skin. A man placed either a piece of wood or a piece of animal skin on the sole of his foot, and then bound it on with twine.

Both were hard-wearing, but in the end skin won out over wood. It could be just as tough if doubled or tripled up and, most importantly, it breathed. Because it was the living skin of a horse, cow or other readily available animal, it both protected the foot and let moisture escape.

Skin never looked back, and leather is still used today for all parts of high-quality shoes because of this breathability (as well as other convenient characteristics, such as flexibility and the ability to be treated and dyed).

So no leather-soled shoe is waterproof. It lets air out and it will let some water in. It shouldn’t soak your feet when you step in a puddle, but it will let in water if left in that puddle for too long. Or if you step through enough different puddles on the way to work.

To avoid this, some people wear rubber overshoes on top of their brogues. This is rather extreme. Most just try to avoid stepping in puddles. If their shoes do get wet, they look after them, stuffing them with paper when they get home and inserting shoe trees to stop them losing their shape.

There are various other strategies you can adopt to minimise wetness. One is to go for English shoes, with Goodyear welting, rather than Italian, which will likely have a Blake construction. A Goodyear welt produces a thicker sole with a visible rim around the foot; this keeps the upper away from the water and means less gets in.

But it sounds like you already buy English shoes. A second alternative is to go for double or triple-soled shoes. These literally have one or two more soles on them, making for a thicker bottom that keeps you even further away from the wet. But these can look clompy and aren’t really suited to business.

As a third alternative, you could replace your leather soles with rubber ones. You will lose the breathability of the sole, but no water will get through. Rubber soles can be rather ugly, but there are some very elegant types made that do not look very different from leather, at least at first glance.

This is probably your best option. Do check when you go to the cobbler’s though that your leather soles are not just wearing through. They thinner they are, the more seepage there will be. It might be best to try replacing them before resorting to rubber.