Archives for August 2008

The Colors of Summer

When it comes to summer dressing, most men like the idea of adding a little shot of color to their ensemble.  At the same time there is normally trepidation when it comes to modulating that extra splash of liveliness.  When does a little become too much?  How can I show some personality without looking like a caricature?

I am reminded of a fellow I saw on the street last year on a steamy summer day.  He was wearing the loudest pants I’d ever seen.  They looked remarkably like sofa cushions from a 1950s Florida vacation house; bright orange with giant palm fronds and parrots printed all over them.  These pants actually hurt my eyes.  But the guy wearing them looked cool as a cucumber; relaxed and suave in sockless loafers and a crisp white oxford.

Though most of us would run the other way when presented with such an outfit, it worked on this gentleman because it fit his particular personality.  For the rest of us, spicing up the warm weather wardrobe will likely include less extravagant exercises in color.  Though we still need to dress professionally for the work week– or at least wear long pants – there is still room for personal style in manageable increments.

As a general rule, please do not make the mistake of thinking that dressing for summer weather means wearing togs better suited to the beach or a weekend cookout.  Always assume that someone important will need to see you during the day and dress accordingly.  How then do you “responsibly” add that bit of personal color?  A favorite option of mine is to use accessories as a way to tone down the formality of office attire while still offering the world a little flash of style.

Ribbon watch straps a great option, especially for the summer.  You’ll be amazed at how a preppy grosgrain or NATO strap can change the whole feel of your favorite wrist watch.  Additionally, these straps give your timepiece a breezy, vintage feel.  People will think that your dad wore it back when he was studying archaeology at Yale.

Smart Turnout makes some of the best ribbon straps; from British military unit colors to England’s venerable colleges – even American Ivy’s – you can find something that fits your personal style.  They are easy to swap around, so keep a drawer full and match your watch your watch to your mood.  If needed, invest in the little tool that allows you to remove the pins which hold most watch bands in place – it makes life easier.

Belts are another simple way to add color to your look while falling well within the bounds of great practical style.  Tucker Blair needlepoint belts are a unique and thoroughly preppy way to add some fun and color to your summer wardrobe.  Though a new company, Tucker Blair’s signature needlepoint belts are a classic in a New Englandy sort of way.  They are an instant classic as well; each one is a little work of art and an instant heirloom.  They truly are unique and speak to both New England clambakes and Low Country boils.

Ribbon belts are a popular and less expensive way to give your style a little punch.  Great companies like J. Crew, J. Press, and Gap offer stripes, critters, solids and plaid versions that make choosing one an easy exercise in personal messaging.

Another summer staple of the past that’s getting a new shot of life is patchwork madras.  In the states at least, it seemed like back in the day everyone’s father had a shirt like this.  Each year it was debuted at the family Memorial Day picnic and was kept busy all summer long.

Each washing left the cloth a little softer and a little more faded – the sign of true madras.  Cape Madras, founded in 2004, has resurrected the real thing and built a unique company that is both dyed in the wool American and dyed in Madras, Indian. While the Cape Madras collection is designed by the creative team in the US, the company weaves all its own fabric designs in rural villages in India.

Unlike the traditional muted colors one associated with madras, they use colors not usually seen in traditional madras like bright pinks, greens and oranges.  With offerings of shirts, shorts, jackets, pants, you can find a classic summery look for any occasion.

To add an extra layer of individuality, choose a signature, something that people will associate with you alone.  A relative of mine wears round tortoise shell glasses. Since I can remember he has always worn them and by now anything else just wouldn’t look right.  Since he is particularly Ivy League in his style of dress, the glasses give him a living Ralph Lauren ad persona.  It’s just right on him.  So, what’s your summer signature of personal style?

Be Not Afraid of Shorts

As I write, the rain pours relentlessly outside my window. Victoria Tower, which should be gleaming in the early evening August sun, is grey and indistinct. Rain has been the consistent feature of this particularly British summer and it is mightily depressing. However, I am determined to be resistant to meteorological circumstances. Summer, whatever is left of it, can still be enjoyed and it was the thoughts of warmer weather (in foreign lands) that turned my attention to the gentleman’s short trouser.

I think many chaps think of shorts in the same way they think of sun cream; one of those irritating aspects of summer that have to be acknowledged for reasons of comfort. They’re widely considered to be inelegant and overtly boyish, which causes gentlemen of distinctly mature style to recoil in fear at the thought of having to wear them. To abandon their finely tailored trousers for a sawn-off version is somewhat distressing, particularly given their reluctance in displaying naked flesh.
In my opinion, the short is not to be feared. It is certainly possible to make terrible mistakes but the matter is really quite simple; attention to length, material, colour and ensemble will produce very good results.


Although many chaps believe longer shorts hide imperfect knees and thighs and make you look ‘younger’ (by the accident that younger men tend to wear surfer-style shorts) in actual fact, longer shorts have a detrimental consequence on even the most beautiful of legs. They have the effect of making the calves look rather shorter than they are which has the overall result of making one’s legs look shorter, which makes you look short and badly proportioned, particularly if you happen to be a diminutive chap in the first place. The longest shorts should sit just above the knee; anything else is oversized and inappropriate. If you find yourself looking in the mirror thinking to yourself ‘But, in these short-shorts I look… rather boyish’ you’ve got the right pair. Shorts are boyish, which is part of their appeal.


Cotton is a popular material in short manufacture; lightweight and easy to clean. However, more and more linen shorts are on the market which is pleasing as they make a welcome ‘textured’ change from the plain cottons. Silk shorts are even rarer and, although I can appreciate the sartorial candour of strutting around the marina in some marvellous printed silk, they aren’t exceedingly practical and you could be mistaken for being inappropriately attired in high-priced underwear. Avoid denim and corduroy.


If shorts are an insignificant part of the wardrobe, it is wise to choose versatile, simple colours to adapt to the other items in the ensemble. A mid blue, not navy, is a more practical colour as it is far easier to pair with black; khaki is very safe, but also very elegant and white, although certain readers might be perplexed at the suggestion of such a ‘sporty’ colour, is cool and fresh and complements tanned legs marvellously well. Those who are more short-savvy might wish to consider sky blues, seersucker and even plaids.

And finally…

Try to avoid wearing socks with shorts. The leg looks best when its line, between shoe and short cuff, has not been interrupted by a little fold of cotton. Consequently, many gentlemen will prefer to wear sandals, espadrilles or driving shoes for comfort as harder shoes, without socks, can be awfully rough. The key with short footwear is to avoid unnecessary ‘size’; ruling out clumpy-soled shoes like trainers. There should be minimal tread; anything worn with shorts should frame the foot and nothing more.

Do not avoid wearing shirts with shorts. Shirts look perfectly acceptable, in many cases preferable, to grubby t-shirts. Folding up the cuffs is a good way to match the informality of the shirt to the shorts.

Casual jackets and blazers look great with shorts, provided they are as acceptably fitting as the shorts themselves. I think it’s advisable to avoid too much length in the jacket at all times, but this is particularly pertinent in relation to shorts; think ‘short trousers = short jacket.’

Belts are another way to add a different texture or tonal quality to the short material but try and avoid using them for camera clips or money bags; carry a bag instead, it looks much better and is more secure.

The Underestimated Button

In purchasing substantially expensive garments, a rather gregarious and patronising store attendant once told me, you are not only purchasing a complete garment but a collection of fine individual elements; the sum total of which is the garment itself. As a Michelin starred chef might only choose the finest ingredients for his creations, the traiteur de la mode will not cut corners in delivering the finest garment possible. The implication is that mass produced and inexpensively manufactured goods use the cheapest and least desirable components in the manufacturing process, all in pursuit of greater profit margins. Many are put off; especially those used to a higher quality of item, and in some cases exhibit their dislike for such goods rather vehemently in the establishments themselves, within earshot of the rather disinterested staff whose casual allegiance to the brand is about as strong as the stitching on their knitwear.

Whilst some of the issues are valid and unquestionably worthy of outrage, the fact of the matter is that many prospective buyers are far too quick to leap onto the vanity-bandwagon of slandering inexpensive, mass produced goods. By doing so, some of them believe it places them in a higher category; a category of exclusivity. The very fact that they bemoan a few threads flicking here and there from a garment illustrates that they are ill-associated with the wares in such a store, that usually they are to be seen walking steadily through the low-lit boutiques of gleaming windows, sparse rails, Amazonian attendants and Diptyque candles. The slander which dribbles from their lips in a vacillating manner, accentuated by guffaws and ill-merited pomposity, signifies a pity for those that shop in such an establishment.

An acquaintance of mine, who has in his words ‘upgraded permanently’ from the high street often mocks my purchases with a pleasant, well-meaning grin; ‘The quality’ he says ‘is just not there – look at those buttons.’ In one sense, he is correct. I am the first to admit that some of the cheaper garments I buy are not of the highest quality; they have been quickly, and cheaply, made and they will last as long as I wear them. This is especially true of shoes which, although beautiful on the shelf, when worn for a time begin to lose a considerable amount of that beauty. However, his mention of the buttons was immaterial and, although they were indeed cheap buttons of a quality often found on toy dolls, they were replaceable.

Buttons are one of the most important points of interest on a jacket. When someone flicks their cuff over a document, they are noticed; when they rise from a table and button up, eyes linger. Incredibly they are often overlooked, probably due to their size and functionality, but the thing is a jacket or waistcoat with poor quality buttons can be transformed by the attachment of buttons of a higher quality. I have taken to the practice of purchasing garments quite expecting to change something about them in order that I might fully appreciate them. It is rare that I like every element in an outfit; a recent example was a double breasted cardigan manufactured by H&M with rather dull blue buttons for which I purchased some high quality contrasting horn buttons. The transformation was striking.

Similarly, a waistcoat made of fine wool and a beautiful silver-grey came with the most disappointing grey buttons; the dreary colour of a battleship. I purchased some that had the deep tonal qualities of a glass of vintage port and their addition has, once more, transformed the garment.

Such changes do not alter the fundamentals of a garment but the appearance is often improved immeasurably; a garment that was once fit for the ‘dull’ racks is given renewed sparkle and individuality by this very personal ‘tailoring.’

Shorten Your Sleeves

I do not have short arms. In fact I’ve always thought them a little long if anything; average at the very least.

Yet every suit I buy has arms that are an inch too long. Surely the rest of the male population with a 40-inch chest can’t have arms that are that much longer?

The truth is, they don’t. Suits are just manufactured with longer arms than average because few men notice that their sleeves are too long. They’d notice if they were too short, as there would be a startling excess of cuff. But an inch or two too long goes unnoticed.

It’s the same with a jacket’s waist. Every off-the-peg jacket is made with a waist that is far bigger than the average for a man of that chest size. Because many thin men don’t notice that it’s too big about the waist. They don’t even do the jacket up most of the time. Yet fat men notice when the waist is too small. The physical discomfort ensures it.

Now I can just buy a 40 short, when the retailer offers it. The jacket will be shorter as well, but I generally prefer that style anyway. But if my arms are longer than average and I’m on the 40 short, what does everyone do that has shorter arms?

They don’t do anything. They let their sleeves be too long and as a result lose one of the joys of formal dressing – that colour combination that occurs at the end of the arm where cuff peeks out of jacket sleeve. If the sleeves are the correct length (shirt stopping at the base of the thumb, jacket at the wrist bone – when arms are at your side) there is a lovely dash of colour at the end of the arm that serves to flatter and highlight its length. It is one of the style loci (see previous post).

A sleeve that is one inch longer than it should be is just enough to cover the shirt cuff, but not enough to look wrong to the untrained eye. So men do not have it altered.

They should do. It is cheap to change, probably around £15 to £20 depending on your tailor – and assuming the jacket does not have working buttonholes. If it doesn’t have buttonholes the tailor can shorten the arm and move one button from the bottom to the top of the row. If it does, the shortening has to be done from the shoulder, with the whole sleeve being unsewn from the main body, shortened and reattached. That will be more like £35 to £40.

If you can change it cheaply, do. It’s another one of those little things that makes a big difference to how an outfit looks.

The Logical Jacket

It always gets hotter in the afternoon in this office. I don’t know whether the air conditioning is just tired, or the whole building is warming up after a day’s sunshine, but around 3pm it starts to get a little stuffy.

Today, joyously, it’s 3pm, I’m wearing a jacket, and I’m comfortable. The jacket is unstructured, cotton and half lined. It’s the lightest jacket I’ve ever worn by some distance – indeed, many would refer to it as a shirt jacket, I believe. But it’s produced an alternative to The Logical Waistcoat Theory.

For those who missed the original post on this topic, the problem addressed by the Waistcoat Theory was that air conditioning and central heating have made the jacket, whether suit or odd, largely redundant. Office workers take off their jacket when they get in, put it on the back of their chair and only put it on again when they go outside. Indeed, they might not even put it on then if it is a warm day; and if it’s a cold day they might prefer an overcoat.

The jacket is rarely worn, meaning that the suit is rarely worn in its entirety and loses many of its flattering aspects. There is also more pressure on the shirt fitting well, the tie is dragged out of its normal position and loses a little of its elegance, and most depressingly, people just don’t wear jackets – probably the most satisfying and defining aspect of menswear.

The advertising for suits looks a little silly all of a sudden, given that men only wear that full outfit for a small proportion of their day.

The waistcoat is a possible solution, as it is easier to wear all day long. It is elegant, keeps the tie tucked in, lengthens the silhouette and can be worked in at a desk quite comfortably.

The lighter jacket is another solution; one which is likely to find greater appeal I’m sure, given that some still have prejudices against the waistcoat. These half-lined jackets have been quite prevalent the last two summers, and can be picked up at many of the top-line retailers. Mine was found in the summer sale at Aquascutum, in navy and double-breasted.

(Regular readers will note that my declaration to never buy off-the-peg jackets did not last long. My only defence is that it was very good value, being 70% off, and would have been hard to get made by a tailor used to worsted suits and little else.)

Despite only being sold in the summer, these cotton jackets should be worn the whole year in my opinion. The key is for an office-worker to think of his outfit in two senses – what he wears inside and what outside. The cotton jacket is a way to make the inside outfit more dressy and flattering, as is the waistcoat. Outside an overcoat or not can be added depending on the weather.