Archives for March 2008

Pocket Squares – Part 2: Wearing

In the introductory half of this double article, I imparted advice on how to take up the practice of adding a pocket square. This was vital as the second part of this ‘brace’ advances fairly swiftly, and quite without warning, into the practical side of adding a flourish. I feel it is important to remember a pocket square as a flourish. The original purpose of such an accessory is not relevant here; no one will be handing these squares of silk and linen to perspiring dancers and today’s man would rarely adopt such a decorative item as a tissue due to the arrival of disposable Kleenex.

Types of flourish

Essentially, there are two basic methods of inserting the flourish; folding and crushing. There are literally tens of ways to fold and crush a simple handkerchief, and it would be imprudent to begin an exhaustive series on the subject, so this article will only attempt to offer guidance on the two methods and when to use them. Naturally, the creative amongst you will be tempted to elaborate on this guidance and this is to be encouraged. What is also to be encouraged is practice. ‘Pocket stuffing’ poses particular problems as incompletely stuffed pocket squares tend to drown in the breast pocket; some will only notice when they glance in a mirror that their ‘flourish’ has gone a-hiding.

Crushing and stuffing

These are my favoured methods of flourish. I like folding on occasion, but there is something spontaneous and more artistic about the ‘crush’. It must be noted that silk is more effective being used in this way; cotton and linen pocket squares lack that crisp sheen that highlights the irregular yet attractive undulation of material. The basic method is to take the handkerchief in the palm of your hand (picture step 1) and then keeping your fingers grip on the material invert it (picture step 2) and push the material into the pocket (picture step 3), making sure that the whole pocket is filled, push down gently (picture step 4). The finished article (picture step 5) can then be altered to personal taste. Some might prefer a tall and triangular flourish (picture step 6).


Folding is a more conservative method of flourish. Though there are many exciting ways to fold pocket squares, I intend to share with you a simple method that requires little time, practice or education. Start out by opening your pocket square completely (picture step 1). Now fold this square in half into a rectangle (picture step 2); fold again into a square (picture step 3). Fold this square into a smaller rectangle (picture step 4) and then fold roughly one third of the rectangle (picture step 5) and insert this into the top pocket. Make adjustments to the flourish (picture step 6) by separating the layers of the pocket square from each other to create a serrated edge (picture step 7).  For even greater simplicity, simply fold the material in half at step 4 and insert into the pocket (picture step 8).

The ‘waterfall’

As mentioned in the opening article on pocket squares and flourishes, the ‘waterfall’ is a very individual and rather rare method of adding flair. Some love it, many hate it – I remember a famous protagonist being Lord Sebastian Flyte, played by Anthony Andrews in the television production of Evelyn Waugh’s  Brideshead Revisited. The method is deceptively simple although you may need a safety pin or two to keep the thing from misbehaving; unsecured ’waterfalls’ have a tendency to fly off with the wind. Take the pocket square and pinch an amount of the material between your thumb and middle fingers (picture step 1); then push this part to the bottom of the pocket, leaving the rest unfolded (picture step 2). Make adjustments or secure the material to give your look the ’waterfall effect’ (picture step 3).

These methods of manufacturing a flourish are easily adopted into a daily routine because of their simplicity. I do admire the pressed pocket squares in Brioni catalogues and the intricacy of the formulated shapes but, pretty as they are, I have not been able to adopt them into my quick morning routine because of time constraints. There are many combinations to attempt, and if you have the time and patience, you can iron your silk or linen into precise shapes. If however you want quick ‘pocket flair’, the above methods are well recommended.

Pocket Squares – Part 1: Embracing

For a number of years, I have adorned my jacket top-pockets. What began as a practice of sartorial experiments has evolved into a daily routine; I now adorn out of desire, no longer out of innocent curiosity. My first experiment with the pocket square was an act of costuming and it was rather a failure; my perpetual fluffing and fidgeting attracted sympathetic glances but also squints of consternation. I was an amateur and my amateurishness was strongly indicated by my unhealthy and naïve action of ’correction’.

This was something I learned quickly and painfully. To wear a pocket square, one must not appear ill acquainted with the accessory. It should be worn as carefully, or as carelessly, as any other item. It should be treated with the same pride or naiveté. To single it out for correction or fuss is to isolate it as an uncomfortable over-elaboration; and nothing is more fatal to the stylish boulevardier than obvious discomfort. To be uncomfortable in your clothing is for your clothing to be alien and such disingenuousness is mercilessly unflattering.

This is not to say that a chap should not experiment as his confidence grows; to try things on the street he has always tried in his bedroom mirror. It is perhaps ironic that we tire of relentless dress rehearsals and yearn for the unforgiving punches of the real world, but that is essentially what we want – the real opinion, the brutal honesty of wind, rain and daylight. Our sartorial concoctions are made for the uncertainty of the world not the dust-filled comfort of our flattering and forgiving dressing quarters. If anything, there should be more experimentation, more of a dalliance with past sartorial glories, more people whispering ‘I’ve always wanted to try that…’, and so my cautionary words to pocket-square novices are merely that; cautionary. I offer such advice in the hope that others will avoid my embarrassing faux pas.

Adding colour or merely texture to the top pocket is a splendid way to smarten and sophisticate the ever-so-common two or three button jacket. At first, you will sneer into the mirror, perhaps expelling a guffaw or two, at how ridiculous you look but this is, I can assure you, merely a temporary feeling of awkwardness. Over time you will come to appreciate how well a pocket square finishes a look and how, possibly, it has changed your perspective on complementation, coordination and polish.

As a flourish, the pocket square is a reflection of personality. The more cautious men might opt for a folded triangle, just peering over the top of the breast pocket. Others might be outrageously adventurous and attempt the ‘waterfall’; beloved of eccentric artists and artistic eccentrics, this style is not so much peering over the top as, the name implies it, gushing from the pocket. Your style of dress will dictate your pocket square fashion as will your mood, confidence and, yes, state of inebriation: I myself have dressed in such a state and have worn bizarre ’combinations’ of colours in my breast pocket that have given me the contrived appearance of a court jester.

Brooks Brothers Gets Ready for the Spring

Brooks Brothers recently launched its Spring line and I think it looks pretty good. It’s not cutting edge or breaking any new stylistic ground, but the design team has decided to channel the golden age of menswear – 1930s and ‘40s Hollywood. They have done a pretty good job of capturing the flair of that era, while at the same time reinterpreting the fashions for today’s consumers.

There is a pleasing balance to the overall style, timeless classics like sport coats cut for warmer weather in silk and merino blends and lightweight Harris Tweed, shawl collared cardigan sweaters, and elegant shirting. There are also a few items that take some sartorial guts to wear, like the Ghurka styled belted shorts and pink seersucker blazer. Neither is particularly edgy, but sometimes it’s easier to be outrageously shocking than truly classic.

This season’s collection, as with nearly all since the company was acquired by Italian Claudio Del Vecchio in 2001, has a distinctly European feel. The overall message is American glamour, but the execution is quite continental. Not that Brooks Brothers has ever been slacker when it comes to actual quality, but until Mr. Del Vecchio took the reins, there had been a very distinct sense of sartorial stagnation.

Not too long ago, I also stopped by Brooks Brothers’ flagship store on Madison Avenue to check out the Black Fleece line. Thom Browne’s joint venture with Brooks has been both lauded and paned. Up on the third floor of the store, with a huge plasma screen showing runway clips in a slightly industrial showroom style setting with freestanding sample racks, I found a hipper version of the Brooks Brothers’ traditional clubby feel. Overall, I was impressed.

I ran into two Japanese gents trying on Black Fleece oxford shirts and asked them for an opinion on fit; “definitely a slimmer fit,” came the reply. But they both seemed pretty impressed; and so was I. The samples on display, turned inside-out, highlighted exceptional tailoring and the fabrics were alternately butter soft or weighty and dense – each appropriate to the piece.

The general feel of the collection is a merger between the pared down monochromatic aesthetic of 1950s America and the restrained yet stylized European body conscious look of today. It’s not your dad’s Brooks Brothers, but it’s also not abandonment of classic style. That same traditional sensibility is there, but with a twist.

Some things however, like the dove gray morning coat tricked out with white trim, a la boating jacket, are wholly decorative and practically nonfunctional in the real world (at least mine). Browne’s trademark shrunken suit has been elongated to the more realistic proportions of actual men who don’t work the runways for a living. It’s a fresh breath of air for a classic label.

Another strong design season is putting Brooks Brothers back on the style map.

Hong Kong Trend: Winter Cardigan

It isn’t very cold in Hong Kong, or at least not for long. Even in January the temperature ranges between 13 and 18 degrees Celsius (55 to 64 Fahrenheit). Right now, it’s a spring-like 20 degrees, and feels decidedly balmy to the Brit abroad.

But as far as the locals are concerned, it’s cold. When your summer regularly climbs above 30 degrees, accompanied by high humidity, 20 is cold.

The formal cardigan

The businessman in Hong Kong, young or old, typically resorts to a cardigan in this climate. The cardigan is dark, a blue or a black, occasionally a grey, is buttoned up and for the large part remains beneath the jacket. In this combination it looks smart, the rough wool of the cardigan contrasting nicely with the smooth worsted suit.

(A decent rule of thumb here as regards texture – a silk tie was traditionally smart as it contrasted with the heavy flannels worn by most men. As today’s suits tend to be worsted and ever-smoother, a woollen or knitted silk tie may achieve the same function.)

The cardigan has become such an object of fashion in the past few years that seeing men wear it as an everyday, smart item of clothing is a revelation. This cardigan is not brightly coloured, striped or ill-fitting. Unlike a fashion cardigan it is not too tight, as it is when worn by the punkish and presumably trendy. Nor is it loose and slouched, done up by one button if at all.

It is like a waistcoat, only a little more relaxed; a little less tailored, a little less formal. More apt, perhaps, for wearing with an odd jacket. And like a waistcoat, the cardigan in this ensemble is best when it is not fancy. Dark and buttoned, with the bottom button possibly undone, depending on the cut. Like the waistcoat it can also work well to keep a tie in order, though again this item should be conservative – what you add in number of pieces, take away in colour and pattern.

Until you are jacketless

The only disadvantage to a cardigan is that it inevitably looks scruffier when you take your jacket off. This is true of waistcoats to a certain extent – they are obviously designed to be worn with a jacket, avoiding the exposure of one’s shirtsleeves – but even more so of a cardigan, which can rumple and bunch more easily.

If you tend to take your jacket off as soon as you get into the office and rarely wear it again, I recommend you avoid a tie with such cardigans and opt for the slightly tighter fit to keep them close to the body.

The Hong Kong man, being a traditionalist, has none of these problems. And it’s bloody freezing – 20 degrees! So they wouldn’t want to go jacketless anyway.

Hello from Hong Kong: The Final Suit

As I walk along Queen’s Road Central, I have an odd feeling. There appears to be a constant pressure across my back, from shoulder to shoulder. Something is resting on each part of it equally.

It is, of course, my new suit, and such is the feeling of having something that is actually made for you that it is odd to feel consistency of pressure; to feel that this stretch of cloth has been made to fit across this stretch of skin.

It’s quite a pleasurable feeling, as is glancing down and seeing my trouser cuffs rest just so on the top of my shoes, or checking the time and finding exactly an inch of cuff between my suit sleeve and watch.

(An additional benefit of bespoke clothing here – the shirt I had made has a left cuff ever-so-slightly bigger than its right, as I tend to wear a large watch. This was a suggestion of my own – again, research is the key, these tailors will only change something you tell them to change.)

Overall, a very satisfactory outcome. I find it hard to see why I would ever buy a suit or shirt off the rack again. Of course, there are little things that you immediately want to change. I spotted one when I went to pick up the suit: the jacket waist was a little wider than I like. This was changed for the next day (useful to have the time to do this if you can manage it). But even when I picked it up finally there were little things I noticed within an hour of wearing it.

The trousers, though flat-fronted, had the deep pockets and roominess of pleats – so there was perhaps a little more material around the trouser front than I would have liked. And though the waist of the trousers fitted perfectly, I regretted asking for no belt loops or any other adjustment mechanisms – side pulls of the type I have on other trousers might have been more practical in case I lose or gain a little weight over the coming months.

But these are small things. Things that can be changed and things that were largely my fault for not mentioning. For every one of these niggles in a bespoke suit there are 10 off the rack.

Over time, as I plan to go back when I return to Hong Kong in November (the mind already plays over the possibilities – overcoat, tweed suit, Prince-of-Wales check?) these additional adjustments will become second nature. I haven’t had suits made for me for very long. And, importantly, as Mr Tam now has my paper patterns in his files I don’t have to remember anything I previously specified, just the little improvements.

My thanks to Edward for his efforts. If anyone would like his contact details they are more than welcome. I’m sure he is not the best tailor in Hong Kong, but he comes recommended by me in a city where they are 10 a penny.