Archives for September 2008

Roger Moore: More Than Dressing The Part

I have always been intrigued by the stories of artists who rest very easily on a previous period of titanic greatness; musicians who write that one great album and then escape to a beach house on St Barts; novelists who churn out the ‘most important book of the age’ and then disappear, quite intentionally, to live out the remainder of their life in quiet contentment. In many ways, I fancy it is because we expect too much regularity from our artists; we work and push them to work in the same way but theirs is a strange world. In many ways, artistic work can be understood by imagining that creativity has a limit; what lurks in the imagination of an artist can be surprisingly small. So small in fact that revealing the quantity can lead to others exclaiming; “Is that it?”

I chanced upon an interview with Roger Moore in the Daily Telegraph where the actor and UNICEF ambassador was being asked about his book ‘My Word Is Bond.’ While certainly a good deal older than most will remember him, as the eponymous spy in the 1970s and early 1980s James Bond films, he still defends the concept of ‘mental youth’; that the mind does not age, only the body. He also defends his light-hearted portrayal of Bond with a suggestion that the supposed ‘spy’ is actually scripted very unlike any spy would ever be; “who turns up in bars and hotels around the world and everyone says ‘Ah, Mr Bond. We’ve been expecting you.’” Normally, the interviews at this level are gushing and blushing; bouts of obsequious comments and over generous praise, however this was a rather tame affair. So tame in its fawning stamp in fact that criticisms, and there were a few, stood out rather strongly.

One criticism was that Mr Moore dressed ‘rather ridiculously.’ My eyes rolled at the suggestion; here was a man approaching old age rather graciously, who does not seem to take himself too seriously. While his dress sense is certainly classic, almost textbook regal, it is far from ridiculous. Why should smart jackets and carefully woven ties, not to mention excellent colour understanding and coordination, be considered so on a healthy old gentleman? Moore, in my opinion, rightly eschews the casual carelessness of actors in his generation who are happy to be ordinary, even over-the-hill, in terms of dress. Not for him the tired dishevelled ‘No one cares about me anymore anyway’ self-pitying (or loathing in some cases); Moore, despite having a rather humorous view of himself, actually considers that self-presentation should not wither with age.  He is, for some tastes, perhaps a little brash (French collars and cuffs and large shiny silk ties) but he dresses for the occasion rather perfectly and his jovial, winking smile as his ally, looks all the more youthful for his consideration.

Although it was remarked that Mr Moore dresses ‘like Bond’, I would in fact suggest almost the opposite. Aside from his immaculate black tie ensembles, Moore’s wardrobe leans more toward the archetypal Bond enemy; the sort who owns pet crocodiles, gigantic yachts and cavorts carelessly with young attractive women. The large collection of sunglasses, in an interesting array of tints, lend something of a continental finish to a very English Englishman; putting one in mind of the late Yves Saint Laurent. He is marvellously self-deprecating, referring to the royalty cheques for his Bond work which still flow steadily in through the door of the Moore household; his professional life after Bond, which he exited in his late fifties, was not exactly firing on all cylinders. There must have been offers, which makes one wonder whether he always did want to be remembered as the man who replaced Sean Connery; or whether, the Moore ambition and artistic ejection complete, he more or less retired to his current life; official ambassador for UNICEF, unofficial ambassador for well dressed gentlemen everywhere.

Autumn “Fuss”

One of the things I notice, in my wardrobe transition from summer to autumn, is how much ‘fuss’ I begin to add to ensembles. Summertime, for a variety of reasons, is a time for relative simplicity; a plain pocket square constituting the ‘flair.’ On the whole, the warmer months are, and long have been, a period in which I seem to prefer, quite without prior intent, to adopt the simpler items; ties of a relative plainness, cool blue and white shirts, and straightforward trousers. Items that remain dormant from May to September are generally those I consider to be too ornate; heavy stripes, paisley and gingham. Although the last of these is certainly a pattern I am not averse to seeing in the summertime – in fact, a gingham shirt with a smart linen jacket looks rather regal – for me, it has always sparked distant memories of a particularly quiet October afternoon in a café on the High Street in Oxford; when an undergraduate wandered in wearing a crisp red gingham shirt with a striking green Barbour jacket. All previous connotations were lost; the new connection had been established: warm coffee, a Barbour jacket and an Oxford autumn.

My connotations of paisley are of my mother wearing a variety of paisley scarves on our November trips to London; when we would attempt to beat the crowds in order to pick up the most vital of Christmas necessities. I associate it always with those moments; looking up at her silk trussed neck, her hot breath in the cold afternoon and the blur of the Christmas lights on Regent Street. It’s strange to possess such influential memories but there is perhaps a little logic to these self-imposed restrictions. Paisley has long been a pattern associated with countryside pursuits (men have long worn paisley ties and pocket squares to pheasant shoots) the majority of which take place well after the end of summer; likewise gingham is frequently viewed as a country pattern, especially in Tattersall fashion. In the same way that one associates certain colours with the cool splendour of an autumn afternoon, patterns have their place.


Gingham shirts are by no means out of the ordinary; most shirt shops on Jermyn Street stock a healthy number of colours, but there is a quaintness to the pattern: a distinctly pastoral charm. My favourite colours of gingham shirt are blood red, forest green and sky blue. They go exceptionally well with discreetly patterned clubby ties – think crests more than stripes – but they are also outstanding on their own with a corduroy jacket, a navy overcoat – or indeed a Barbour.


Paisley ties and pocket squares are classic items of decoration for the autumn wardrobe. And, it should be remembered, that paisley works best in small quantities; paisley waistcoats and shirts are ghastly, but a paisley scarf? Certainly acceptable. It needs bright plains to give it sufficient backing and a paisley pocket square always works very well as an ‘odd’ item; i.e. one which does not colour match another item in the ensemble, particularly a tie. Avoid the psychedelic sixties and seventies relics.

Heavy stripes

I possess a heavy green striped shirt that I once tried to wear in springtime. Alas it was far too serious and claustrophobic at that fresh time of year; the thick stripes made me think of enclosed rooms and book bindings when I was dreaming of plump white clouds and dew drenched petals. At this turn of the season, it feels appropriate to wear it, perhaps with a chocolate corduroy jacket and a Bordeaux houndstooth tie, because of, and not in spite of, these associations.

Spectrum-Spanning Combinations

At a certain point, dressing with a fondness and knowledge of traditional men’s clothing can become staid. I have referred to this previously as the point at which style becomes costume. The instant you start wearing a bowtie with your tweed jacket and flannels. The moment when you add a tie pin to your three-piece, double-breasted suit. At this point you are merely aping the dress of a certain period, and dressing up for pantomime.

The traditional must be balanced with the quirky, the modern and, most importantly, the personal. Wear beaten-up converse under your flannels. Add a lurid handkerchief to your suit’s breast pocket. The true enthusiast of style is constantly striving to update these traditions and add a twist. This does not mean having a buttonhole stitched in a contrast colour, or going for a bright jacket lining, a la Paul Smith. It has to be your own. It has to be personal.

Here are a couple of recent inspirations of my own. They both balance ties, either necktie or bowtie, with more casual pieces of clothing. As the tie is towards the formal extreme of a formality spectrum, it should be balanced with something from towards the other end of the spectrum, the informal.

Two provisos. One, this assumes that the look you want is somewhere in between: a weekend or casual Friday look with a formal edge to it. Two, these suggestions are obviously not that personal, given that I am suggesting them to you. But they’re perhaps a good place to start.

My first combination comprises Oxford button-down shirt, bowtie, jeans and hooded sweatshirt. I have no opinion on the shoes – perhaps brogues or trainers, depending on your mood. In fact, the shoes are probably the tipping point of formality: formal with an informal twist, or the other way around. The bowtie at one end of the spectrum is balanced by the hoodie at the other end. The Oxford-weave shirt, similarly, makes an effective background to the bowtie.

The second combination is another version of the same idea. Necktie with Windsor-collar shirt, jeans and rugby shirt. In this instance, the necktie is balanced by the rugby shirt. The tie should be a casual fabric if possible – cotton, linen, wool. Something matte. The rugby shirt is something of a British institution but is also fairly widely available in the US. An equivalent is the long-sleeved version of the polo shirt.

Preppy combinations, perhaps. But pulling them off well, personally, is your job.

What’s Wrong With a Bit of Cord?

I am a product of the countryside; growing up, surrounded by fields, birdsong and woods, I always dreamed of a life in the grand metropolis; in my favourite city on earth. However, though I have easily adapted to the ways of London, as I mature (“rapidly” as my grandfather tells me) I am aware of an increasing nostalgia for the hay bales, muddy walks and energetic weekends of my youth. A recent visit to the family home reignited sentiment for the satisfying comfort that the quiet of a country evening can provide, the glorious repose of an armchair, bathing in the scarlet light of an early autumn sun; a book, my old CD collection and my old cords.

I forget too easily the fabulous warmth and luxury of corduroy. So used to denim and it’s adequate but comparatively hard texture, slipping into a pair of forgotten cords is like tucking into an overlooked premier cru, dusting behind the crumbling shelves of a cellar: unexpected luxury is magnificent.

Autumn is the perfect time of year to ‘tuck in’ to your favourite cords; or, as the case may be, invest in a new pair. And what an investment; browsing Hackett with a friend of mine, he informed me that their cords had made him eschew denim; “They’re so comfortable” he said, digging through the piles of mustard yellow, pumpkin orange and cranberry red “and so warm.” The other advantage of corduroy trousers is that they are available in such a variety of colours, allowing a gentleman to express himself thoroughly. Their wonderful texture is also alluring; the sight of soft cord falling onto burnished leather is marvellously gratifying and their smart/casual versatility allows them to be used in a great number of situations.

Another friend, very conservative in outlook, pointed to a possible limitation of cord; “You shouldn’t wear them in town, stick with flannel.” My own feeling? I disagree entirely. Cords may not be the custom town trouser, but these days, the marginal ‘formality’ of cords cannot be called into question; when three gentlemen walked into a Relais & Chateaux establishment wearing ripped denim, the gentleman who appeared in cords seemed to give the embattled maître renewed hope in the quality of patron. In other words, by today’s standards, cord is considered very much on the smart side of ‘smart-casual’ – even in town.

Although cord is worn less and less by the 25-35 generation, being outgunned by denim in terms of fit and fashion, there is a loyalty among the older (wiser?) generation of 45-60; owning a pair of cords, for many in this group, is customary. Owning several is to be expected, and owning more than five? Not unheard of. Due to this association with the ‘Viagra generation’, cord has been unfairly sidelined. While denim rules the casual trouser roost, corduroy is not being given the chance to reinvent itself; there is not enough of it on the high street and pitiable attempts to ‘commercialise’ it (for example, branding cord trousers not as ‘cords’ but as ‘jeans’) have not paid off. From one angle, I can appreciate the cold disapproval the Bright Young Things have for cord trousers; they do not flatter fashions and are frequently manufactured in uncomplimentary fits. Not to mention the fact that, apart from Ralph Lauren, influential designers have generally steered clear.

However, the ageism in fashion is unhealthily prominent; as apprehensive as the old are of denim – a wonderful and versatile fabric – the young are equally suspicious of cord. “Hello granddad” an acquaintance once hailed cheerfully, when I strolled into a drinking establishment wearing cord trousers. Somehow, the jibe had little-to-no impact; my corduroys were too comfortable for me to care.

The Style of Sherlock Holmes

One of my favourite treats of entertainment is settling down, in great comfort, to watch a period detective mystery. My two favourites are undoubtedly Agatha Christie’s Poirot, as portrayed by David Suchet and Sherlock Holmes as portrayed by Jeremy Brett. I admire the detectives for their manner; their habits logically conform to their methods. They are introverted but fully capable of a civility that borders on seduction. They are powerful, mesmerising figures – glorious creatures of detective fiction that expose the weaknesses and strengths of humanity in one intoxicating character. In addition, the soundtracks are fabulous and grandiose; tender touches of romantic melodies that lift the heart and glorify the imagination.

My admiration for Brett’s Holmes is relatively recent – I had always been a Poirot man but I have enjoyed Holmes, altogether a different character, in many ways. I had always marvelled at the costumes of Poirot; particularly the elegant ensembles for Hercule himself. Wonderfully tailored items, exquisite crispness to the cloth and an enviable shine to the polished shoes. Poirot could also be quite decorative. Holmes by comparison is invariably clothed in gloomy black; a simple white shirt and that curious necktie that is mostly hidden under a turndown collar. In many shots, Holmes is attired as darkly as an undertaker; it is only that Brett’s Holmes possesses such outrageous wit and brilliance that we come to accept his Dracula-like dress as part of his wonderful character.

However, such simplicity is seductive. As costume, Holmes’ clothing is revolutionary and distinctly modern. He is also clean shaven and, rather famously, does not conform to the strict day and evening dress codes of Victorian England. The plainness of his attire is in a sense soothing as well as surprising; as his dignified appearance and perfect diction lend to an image in the imagination of a conformist. The reality is somewhat different. He has, of course, his own methods and his wardrobe perfectly illustrates this trait; a simple bow to decency and honour, that he should always be turned out exquisitely but simply. Following from that everything about his dress suggests a lofty contempt for the inadequacies of a fashion follower. A confident introvert, you have every sense that Brett’s Holmes is as concerned with evening dress as he is with the asinine mutterings of the bumbling Lestrade; whether this attention to detail is to accentuate his eccentricity I do not know, however if it were for the reasons I have advanced I would surmise that such an intent shows a greater understanding of subtlety. Brett’s portrayal is eccentric enough and to believe that the great detective dresses in a modern but very well-tailored manner because of his deep understanding of the ultimate unimportance of trend and at the same time, the mystical allure of a signature, is rather satisfying. While not flowery or effete, Brett’s portrayal of Holmes borders on a variety of cold dandyism; he has all the hallmarks of a superiority complex and the languid poses of a late Victorian lounge lizard. And yet, he is so much more. There is, I would wager, a varying amount of Brett’s Holmes in all of us.