Archives for May 2008

The Contradiction of Wedding Attire

Many of those attending a wedding this summer will feel they should have some sort of summery outfit, a linen suit perhaps, or at least something sporty in pale grey. Those who turn up in their dark blue business suit will probably feel a little underdressed, aware they didn’t make an effort. Yet they are probably the most correctly attired people there.

Wedding attire has changed over time, just like men’s formal dress generally. What was once the absolute minimum is now the realistic maximum. But there are a fair number of constants, and a range of more or less formal options one can go for while still being satisfyingly traditional.

At the most formal end of the spectrum is the morning coat (a version of tails) in black or dark grey. It usually has one button at the waist and tails that fall onto the back of the knees. It is worn with mid-grey striped trousers. Above the waist is a double-breasted waistcoat in pale grey, cream or buff (creamy yellow). Shirt in white or with white contrast collar (preferably separate), most formally wing collar, with an ascot. Then accessories, white linen handkerchief, flower in the buttonhole etc.

This get-up is probably what you will get if you hire a wedding outfit. It will be poor quality, fit badly and be stain resistant. Most importantly, it will offer no opportunity for personal expression.

So, let’s take the formality down a notch. First, the shirt – this can be a smart white shirt with a normal collar. If you happen to own a contrast-collar shirt, with the body in blue or blue stripes for example, this is the perfect opportunity to wear it. If you have a wing collar shirt of your own (perhaps to go with your black tie/tuxedo) then wear that. Either way, at least the shirt is your own.

Second, dump the ascot unless you own one. The one from the rental place will be the same as every groom or wedding guest has worn and will have no personality. Instead wear your favourite tie in a summer hue – perhaps a gold satin, or a Macclesfield grey.

Third, the trousers can quite easily be your own. If you own a mid-grey pinstripe or chalk-stripe suit, wear the trousers from that. Even a sporty check is acceptable, as long as it is the right grey to contrast with the very dark jacket.

So here is a decent alternative. Rent the waistcoat and the morning coat, and wear everything else your own. They will fit better and probably be of better quality.

There are two further options. One, wear the waistcoat from another three-piece suit you own. This should really be either a tan linen, or a pale grey wool. I’m sure there aren’t many people out there who own either, but if you do then the whole get-up is yours minus the jacket.

Which is where the stroller comes in. This is semi-formal day wear, but given that everyone else will be in linen suits, it is still pretty formal. The stroller is a short jacket in dark grey or black, single or double breasted, with peaked lapels. Again, it is worn with striped or checked trousers in a contrast grey, and can have the same shirt, tie and waistcoat as mentioned.

So wear whichever of these items you already own and combine them. The outfit will be traditional, but you will be largely wearing your own, personally picked and fitted clothes. Perhaps most importantly, you will also look different to anyone else no matter how formal or informal they may be. There is nothing worse than the whole wedding party wearing the same ill-fitting, shiny outfits. It’s supposed to be a special occasion, and they’re wearing nylon.

Myself, I own all these items save the waistcoat. But then maybe I’ll have a buff one made before the next wedding I go to.

P.S. To complete the argument begun in the first paragraph – the next level down from this outfit for a wedding is considered to be a dark suit combining some of these elements, such as a double-breasted waistcoat or perhaps a double-breasted jacket. There is therefore a good chance that your friend who turns up in his dark grey, double-breasted office suit will be better dressed than every ball of wrinkled linen dotted around the church. Linen is for summer, but not for weddings.

Summer Style Pet Peeves

At Christmas I provided readers with a seasonal treat; a glimpse into the world of my bias, my style pet peeves and personal partialities. Now that it is summer, new sprouts of prejudice eat away at my fragile patience. For the summertime may well be a time for natural beauty but there are some awful human errors that stain the summer landscape. Such blunders hardly go unnoticed. I remember last summer, reading countless articles in newspapers and glossy supplements, pleading with style-conscious wives and girlfriends not to let their sartorially challenged husbands and boyfriends make an embarrassment of them, and poor old Blighty, when they step onto the continent. For nowhere is it more apparent that they are tagging along with a chap with all the grace and elegance of a squashed plum than among the elite of the destination they choose for a European holiday where, they are able to compare, side by side, how other men dress in warm climes; how they manage to look calm and cool despite the heat and humidity and how they manage to look chic and inventive despite their perching atop monuments anciens, relaxing after a rocky climb.

‘Technical’ sandals

This is the childish title I have long used for those Velcro sandals that, for me, characterise the Northern European on holiday. I can accept that they are useful and certainly comfortable footwear but that is all I can say for them. To me they are the most hideous lumps you can attach to your feet. They are juvenile and graceless and have those terrible logos and ridiculous model names like ‘Source’ or ‘Xtreme.’ The way the straps wrap around the foot is neither appealing nor flattering; it is like one is preparing one’s foot for a rollercoaster. I remember being in Pompeii recently and seeing a family of four all wearing the wretched things. Though sandals were an appropriate choice for the dusty streets and terrain of the ancient city, wearing such ugly versions seemed almost sinful in a place that possessed such glorious beauty.

‘Clam diggers’

Mistakenly referred to as the ‘men’s Capri pant’, the ‘clam diggers’ have neither the shape nor the refinement. When I see someone wearing them, from a distance it looks as if they are wearing makeshift trousers fashioned from fishing nets or jute sacking which, in actual fact, would at least possess more charm than the toggled ugliness of the real ‘clam diggers.’ Unlike the Capri pant, the mere clam digger trouser swings awkwardly around the calves unless the toggles are used, pulling the material crudely into the skin. Either way, it is difficult to see how anyone has designed these and had approval of the aesthetics. I would even call their practicality into issue. Their name is derived from the real ‘clam diggers’ – people who would stand in shallower water and literally dig for clams, the small depth of water requiring them to roll up their trousers, or chop them off completely. However, they are rarely used so practically. They are now worn as a summer fashion trouser – something between shorts and proper trousers. Why? The mind boggles.


The third gross faux pas, as far as summer fashion is concerned, is the propensity for certain men to wander around streets and boulevards with nothing on their backs but lashings of sun cream. A shirt or t-shirt might swing from their belt loop but they think nothing of shuffling around streets at home and abroad exposing their sweating torso. Despite what they might think about people passing them glances of admiration, the shock of seeing such an exposure of flesh away from the swimming pool or beach is considerably shocking. The overall effect is always of a man ‘half-dressed’; all onlookers willing them to possess the decency to put a damn shirt on their backs.

How to Put Darts in Your Shirts

I used to have a few shirts that I really liked but which did not fit especially well around the waist. They were bought in the days when I knew a lot less about fit and cloth (hard to imagine, isn’t it?), and while the neck, shoulders and sleeve were fine, the cut was simply too full from the chest downwards.

Such were my frustrations, I may have thrown them out. So instead I decided to try and sew my own darts into them, to narrow the waist. If I messed it up, I could just throw them away anyway.

My first attempt went surprisingly well, but there were a few lessons learned. I should have tried a couple of variations on the shape and size of the darts before I sewed them in. I should have been a little less cautious on their length. And while they held up very well in the wash, I learned it was worth sewing as tight stitches as possible.

I think I’ve now got a pretty good system, and all those shirts have been darted, worn and washed several times, to pleasing effect. I could have had it done at a tailor, but not being in essence a practical person, it is very satisfying to master a skill such as this. And it probably saved me £100. Here is my step-by-step guide to putting darts in your shirts. It is not that hard, and very satisfying when completed.

1. Lay out your shirt on an ironing board. Pinch the material in two places, roughly where your waist would be and a couple of inches in from the seam on either side. Start with a fold of a couple of centimetres, folded out towards the seam. Iron that patch flat and then fold the material above and below, pulling the material away gradually so it forms a crescent.
2. Pin both folds with three pins or needles each, to keep them in place.
3. Try the shirt on, being careful that none of the pins point inwards. Assess how suppressed the waist is by pulling the sides away from your skin, and try sitting down, stretching etc.
4. If the fold needs adjusting, take it back to the ironing board and fold the material more or less. Also, if you feel the dart could or should be longer, narrowing more of the shirt’s body, then extend the crescent above and below.
5. Sew the fold in place, starting with a few stitches in one place (on the inside of the shirt so it doesn’t show) and then sew smallish stitches, in and out up the fold, and finishing in the same way.
6. Use white thread unless the shirt is one block colour – and look closely, most colours are a mix of a darker colour and white.
7. Don’t worry if the stitches seem far apart. They will hold up well – and they don’t have to be as tight as the ones that construct the shirt itself. (You could of course do this on a sewing machine as well if you have one. I don’t.)

If you find it hard to iron the crescents (I found it the trickiest part) you can always start the fold halfway down the back of the shirt and just carry it on off the bottom of the tail. This will create a flap on the bottom, but if you have your shirt tucked in most of the time, this won’t be a problem. I found this particularly useful on a Ralph Lauren blue oxford, which although “custom fit” was still far too broad. The thicker material made it hard to fold accurately.

I’m sure some of you are proficient sewers, and all this is the equivalent of teaching your grandma to suck eggs. I’m sure others are horrified at the idea of amateur tailoring. But I found it very satisfying (a step up from hemming my trousers) and I encourage you to have a go.

Summer Heat and the City

Though we welcome the warmth of summer, the thought of ‘heat’ united with the ‘city’ does not sound at all like the ideal. Heat is best combated in the languorous cool of the countryside, where idleness is a requirement rather than a mere possibility. The city’s problems seem only to be exacerbated on exceptionally warm and particularly close days; we become more bothersome and irritated, public transport is quite unbearable, we dehydrate and develop a crabbiness that seems unique to the concrete jungle; the idea of an idyllic spot in the shade, surrounded by trickling streams, birdsong and a cool breeze seems almost impossible and remote on such occasions.

Hot days in a metropolitan context, though common, are best avoided. I myself am particularly affected. The worst possible edition of Winston JP Chesterfield is one that scrabbles uncomfortably through a sea of shoulders, sodden with sweat, dizzy from heat and exhaustion, maddened by the interminable sirens and incessant hum; on such days, I would not wish my beastly company on anyone.

However, I cannot avoid such Hyde-ian transformations. Whatever the temperature, it is business as usual. I have never provided a credible excuse for absence on these ‘overly clement’ days. Steps are taken instead to avoid the turn.


Firstly, when it is very warm indeed, I simply have to wear shorts, particularly when I am walking through London and spending a great deal of time outside. I think shorts have been given a jolly rough time, sartorially speaking. One of the greatest problems is that merely because bare leg happens to be on display, many assume we can only team the garment with t-shirts, polo shirts and trainers. Putting on a pair of shorts brings back the novelty of P.E. sessions or sneaking out of the office a little early to play a couple of sets with an old chum; they’re just too sporty for us to take seriously. However, I think this is a shame. Shorts may very well be less formal than trousers, and we would hardly turn up to an important meeting and expect to be taken seriously, but they can be very elegant.

Avoid the multi pocketed combat shorts and go for the neat, tailored styles. As for length, it really depends on the occasion and also how shapely and appealing you happen to think your legs are. Very smart clothing calls for shorts that finish just above the knee, whereas more casual items can be worn with the ‘short-shorts’ – exposing more of the glorious thigh. And as strange as it sounds to wear shorts to work, it is actually done. I know several people that, last year, wore tailored shorts to the office on certain summer days. Maintaining the preppy chic of the upper half with a tie, shirt and blazer and rounding it all off with a pair of elegant shoes is key; without these elements, it will look far too relaxed.


I think espadrilles are wonderful and I hate to limit their use to the very few weeks a year I might spend traipsing around resorts, ruins and Ravello. Even London can be an appropriate location for the rustic chic and practicality of these simple items of footwear. They are hardly appropriate for the working week, but come the days of freedom, these will serve you better than trainers, plimsolls or loafers; they are cooler and inexpensive and the multitude of colours to choose from means you can match them brilliantly to other items of the ensemble such as a polo shirt or a pocket square.

Shirt sleeves

I have never been a great buyer of short sleeve shirts. I own a few, but I simply prefer long sleeves. Even taking very warm weather into account, I would prefer to roll my sleeves up. In an article that advocates the wearing of shorts, it might seem rather perplexing to the reader that I am not advancing the case for short sleeve shirts, but the simple fact of the matter is that I, personally, do not like them as much. However, having said that, short sleeve shirts can be very appealing but – and that’s a ‘but’ the size of Hyde Park – only when they are worn in fitted styles. Loose and baggy short sleeve shirts are the very end. Ideally, short sleeve shirts should be spruced up with a natty bow or neck tie. The question really is whether it is worth splashing out on short sleeved shirts for the summer or saving more than a few quid by surviving on adapting long sleeved shirts to summer wear. The point of short sleeved shirts is avoidance of excess material in times of warmth, but it really depends on your style persona. Whereas I am happy to fiddle around with shirt cuffs and sleeves, others might prefer to avoid the fuss.

My Father’s Shoes

As a young child, I remember sitting in my parent’s room, watching my dad get ready for the day.

As a physician, and one who felt that dressing well shows respect for others, he almost never went to the office in anything but a coat and tie – often a suit, sometimes a sport coat and gray flannels.

I would sit and watch as he picked out his clothes, running his hand along the ever growing collection of repp, paisley and woven ties until he found just the right one for that day.

After the jackets, shirts and ties had been sorted through, out came the shoes. Dad’s shoes were not handmade or exotic. They were however solid footwear of very good pedigree: Johnston and Murphy (the good line), Brooks Brother’s Peal & Co., and Barrie, Ltd., of New Haven (sadly, now defunct).

It still amazes me that for someone who wore dress shoes almost every day of his life, his footwear wardrobe was not particularly large. As I recall, he had a pair of each of wing tips and cap toes – black and brown; a lovely pair of shell cordovan brogues, brown tasseled slip-ins; a pair of penny loafers and a pair of white bucks.

Dad always kept his shoes in excellent condition; religiously polishing them to a deep, jewel like gloss. Of course each pair had its own cedar shoe trees – if you don’t have them for your shoes, stop reading now and go buy some. The sense of personal satisfaction I still get from shining my shoes, looking after my wardrobe and getting the closet in order after a busy week was surely instilled at that young age. There is a certain rhythm and comfort in the ceremony of assembling your personal possessions.

What actually brought these memories back to me was the never-ending rain that blanketed Washington earlier this week. Normally when the weather turns like that I dress down a bit and wear some heavy shoes and khakis, but I had meetings this week and needed to wear a suit.

Since I metro into the city and would be exposed to the elements for more than enough time needed to soak through shoe leather, this was an issue. I found my solution in the most practical of footwear accessories – rubber shoe covers. These waterproof shoe covers turn your well shod feet into pedial all terrain vehicles.

I never actually thought that I would own a pair of these things; they were to me about as un-cool as you could get. I still see my dad pulling them on before he walked out the door on rainy mornings and recall how, in my youthful ignorance, I thought he looked silly. As a working adult however – and one who enjoys assembling a good wardrobe in the morning – I know now how invaluable they truly are.

Taking care of your shoes does not always have to be an elaborate or overcomplicated exercise. Keep the soles in good condition, give them a regular polish and each pair should have their own shoe trees. And, as my dad taught me a long time ago, keep them dry.