Archives for January 2009

The Quiet Sophistication of Purple and Green

Smart ties are dark ties. That is a rule of thumb not hard to understand: a dark tie is less showy, more discreet, more serious.

It is also easier to wear a dark tie with an outfit. The Lawyer Background that I have described elsewhere on this site exists as it does because it is one of the few outfits with which one can effectively wear a bright tie.

Dark ties have had a particular popularity in the UK as a result of the club and military ties that predominated after the Second World War (and led to the growth of Jermyn Street as a source of colourful shirts to lie behind those ties).

But I would say that the dark tie is a staple in two situations. First, when the aim of your outfit is to be sober, simple and classic in your look (as many of Italian gentlemen featured on this column have been). And second, when you require a simple background that will not clash with an otherwise adventurous shirt/suit/coat. This is The Italian Background also mentioned previously on this site.

All this is by way of introduction to one suggestion: try purple or green as an alternative dark tie.

Navy blue would be the standard, followed by black and dark grey. I wear all three often. But I also have a particular penchant for (very dark) purple and (very dark) green as alternatives for a dark, smart tie.

Consider the illustrations. The Versace advert is an example of the first use of a dark tie – to complete a simple, classic outfit (a white shirt is essential here). Blue or grey would be the standard choice with that suit, but purple adds a subtle, whispered excitement.

The second illustration, this time a Paul Smith advert, shows someone wearing a simple tie and shirt in order to balance what is indisputably a loud suit. Again, the default setting would be navy, possibly grey or brown. But the purple tie adds a frisson of sophistication.

I would prefer a slightly darker shade, but that’s just me.

Dark green works just as well, and the first illustration shows a green tie providing an Italian-style background to a loudly striped suit. In fact, the green is so similar to navy you can hardly tell the difference. Almost silent excitement.

Finally, I recommend looking at these colours in woven ties, either wool or silk. Given that you are looking for darkness and depth of colour, a woven tie can be perfect.

The Old Favourite: The Blue Blazer

“New York, New York – so good they named it twice” goes the popular saying, (with a doff or two to Mr Gerard Kenny). And so true: New York really is a fabulous city; the vibrant energy, fizz and cornucopia of ingredients, coupled with the cluster of soaring towers on Manhattan island, has always made me think of the Big Apple as the ‘cocktail town’; the Chrysler, Empire State and the MetLife tower like vast stems of some gargantuan martini glasses; the gigantic olives resting beyond the clouds in titanic vessels the size of a football stadium. And all the ingredients, the people that make up this fascinating city, scurrying to and fro at the base; to the Rainbow Room for a Gibson or the 21 Club for a Scotch and soda. Or perhaps, something warming and pleasant – like a Blue Blazer.

For the Blue Blazer, a mixture of bourbon, boiling water, sugar and lemon was designed to have such an effect; it is a drink for a poor gent, afflicted by a nasty cold. A friend, expert in cocktail mixology, informs me that the Blue Blazer is also useful the ‘morning after the night before’; “It’s no cure, but it makes you feel a darn sight better.” Something to turn to when things look rough, to lean on and even depend on, this verging-on-medicinal cocktail is not the only ‘blue blazer’ to offer such comfort. For the classic blue blazer, whether brass or horn buttoned, single or double-breasted is a versatile, comfortable and reliable friend. And like all friendships, the longer it continues, the deeper the bond. I am yet to find such a sartorial soulmate, but I do know others who wear ancient blazers with an unconscious pride; the fabulous thing about the blue blazer is that as it ages, it improves. It wears the spilled drinks, the backslaps, the hugs and rain-drenched embraces; it wears the music of a thousand bars, the sunshine of Sicily and the cold of Colorado. No laundry in London can remove these. Pale with the wear of years, shabby with the touch of a lover’s hand it nevertheless shines magnificently; a smart replacement seems somehow sterile.

Indeed, the sparkling new blazer – although a sight for sore eyes – seems rather sophomoric in comparison. Although, admittedly every blazer’s journey must start somewhere; buying others ‘blazer stories’ in vintage strikes me as rather lazy and dishonest. Niven liked to wear his blazer with odd, double-pleated turned-up trousers; Elkann wears a hand-me-down (acceptable ‘borrowing’ – it belonged to his grandfather) double-breasted, open with a Byronic shirt and skinny denim. Come spring flowers or snowfall, the wonderful charms of blue (the favourite of Beau Brummell), manage to keep ensembles resting happily between casual and formal. And the blazer itself, embodying all that is elegant and tasteful in the modern suit, marries well with almost any colour and style one may throw together.

It is said that one’s true friends are simply never unfashionable. The blazer of blue, with its sporting past, preppy connotations, and dignified aura is not the stiff, charmless cad some would imagine. Rather, it is genteel and well-serving; a warm and dear friend to all who wear it.

Cream, Kid-leather Gloves

A coincidence of two events and thoughts spurred my most recent accessory purchase.

The first was the posts of Scott Schuman on the Sartorialist that picked out gloves as a bright accessory to an otherwise conservative outfit. Like most stand-out accessories, this can easily be overdone, but a little touch here or there can make an outfit.

In this particular case it was yellow gloves, but I have equally seen cream, green and even purple work very well in this role. It also pays to bear in mind the other, duller items in the outfit – here the yellow gloves are given a harmonious backdrop by the tan suede boots this gentleman is wearing.

The second event and thought was the blog written by Winston Chesterfield on this site back in December. He bemoaned the lack of well-fitting glove options available to him. Driven by the descriptions of gloves in that blog, I popped into Pickett on the Burlington Arcade soon after (in case it helps, Winston, they told me that they still do reasonable bespoke gloves).

There, cream kid-leather gloves caught my eye. Indeed, Winston’s reference to dove grey gloves for morning dress in another post may also have been floating around my subconscious.

These cream gloves would, of course, be for evening wear. But such is the robustness of kid leather that they would not look out of place as an unusual accessory to a conservative outfit like that described above.

Kid leather today has associations with both weddings and driving. Traditionally, unlined and untreated gloves made from the skin of a kid goat were worn for formal evening occasions. Their smooth suede texture is fine enough to complement other evening accessories such as silk scarves and cummerbunds.

The Pickett options were unfortunately too rich for my budget. But while in York visiting family I chanced into a great vintage shop up there – Priestleys on Grape Lane, near the Mulberry factory store. All vintage shops should be like this, with such obvious care and investment in all the items carried.

They had kid-leather gloves. Unlined, handmade and apparently over 50 years old. But only £24 and as clean as the day they were made.

Interestingly, it is easy to tell they are handmade because the ridges that box in each finger (when the stitches are made on the outside rather than the inside of the glove) were much finer than any machine-made gloves I own. That also made the ridges much finer, something Winston seemed to be talking about when he referred to the “delicacy lacking on most of the glove models available to men.”

I thank my luck and I highly recommend a visit.

The Fine Art of Taking off a Sweater

Recently, a reader posed to me the following question: My husband likes to remove his crew neck sweaters (and crewneck t-shirts) by grabbing it by the neckline and pulling the sweater up over his head by holding the neckline.  It seems to me this procedure tends to stretch the neckline out of shape.  Please advise me on how a man normally removes their crewneck sweater?

Here, in dizzying heights of style philosophy, we sometimes get lost in the minutiae of abstract detail – dissecting the nuances of pick stitching on a bespoke suit jacket lapel, for example.  In the real world though, it’s often the more mundane and practical issues that dominate one’s daily routine.  The straightforward question above is a wonderful example of this truth.

The question of properly removing a garment such as a sweater is not an insignificant matter.  Particularly if, say, you posses one made of expensive cashmere.  In truth, this question expresses one of those universal concerns that deserve a little attention.

As noble as that may sound however, I am afraid this is a debate with no clear-cut answer. There really is no gentle way to remove a crewneck sweater.

Ultimately the sweater has to come over your head and get yanked off your arms.  Something somewhere along the line is going to get pulled, stretched or twisted.  I tend to pull a sweater over my head from the rear, so that once off, the sweater is in front of me still on the arms. At that point I just slide one arm out and then the next.  I’m sure there no shortage of opinion on my technique.  It’s just how I take of my sweaters, end of story.

I do usually grab at the neckline, but once the bottom hem is in range I pull it off from there.  Like my reader, I prefer to avoid the potential of stretching out the neck more than necessary.  Still, it is going to happen to some extent and I’ve made peace with this inevitability.

Some men pull an arm out of the sweater while still wearing it – sort of like how women can mysteriously change tops without ever removing an outer garment.  Once you have a free arm inside the sweater, you gently work the sweater over the head and then extract the remaining arm. If the material is particularly delicate, I suppose this is the least disruptive way of removing the garment, but I find it a bit tedious.

Others push the front of the jumper up over their face and behind the neck, so that they can sort of pull it off as though removing a coat.  Of all methods, I find that the most overly complicated.

Most of my sweaters are fairly hearty and can stand up to the grab-the-neck-and-pull method, but ultimately the best way to judge one’s technique is to look in a mirror and see how well your sweaters are faring.

A Drop of Inspiration Every Day

This is a wonderful time of year. Yes, last Monday was meant to be the most depressing day of 2009 (cold, short days, post-Christmas and the middle of the month). But the runway show season has started.

Not that I get to go to the shows. Nor that I find the shows themselves that inspiring – not consistently anyway. But I love Scott Schuman’s photograph’s of ‘the off-runway scene’: what all the people attending the shows are actually wearing.

This year’s selection started on Saturday in Milan. I recommend going to the link below and starting at the beginning.

My personal favourite from this collection so far is Gianpaolo Alliata, striding across the paving stones in a double-breasted blue blazer, brown tie and white handkerchief. Below, he wears dark-grey trousers, ever-so-slightly short, and chocolate monk straps.

A masterclass in simple yet effective dressing. There is zero pattern on display, which you’d think would make the outfit appear dull, uniform and without highlight. But the cut is precise – cut above all, fit above all, the Italian maxim – that it all seems supremely balanced and packaged.

I also love the portrait of Lino Ieluzzi. Posing next to a picture of himself in bandana and navel-exposing shirt, Scott rightly points out that Ieluzzi doesn’t take himself too seriously. Which is wonderful attribute to have in a stylish man, akin to someone who always seems perfectly attired yet never adjusts his pocket handkerchief.

Select them with care and then forget all about them, as Amies would say.

Particularly fascinating about Ieluzzi is that his style is still identifiable several decades later. Even without the super-tight trousers or big collar that very specifically date the photograph, there is consistency in the approach to clothes.

The simple colours. The open-necked blue shirt. The cocksure pose and the wispish hair. Little has really changed – he’s just grown into a style that is more mature and less of its era.

As always, it is interesting to see how particular people dress at particular shows. The monotone man going to Costume National. The Burberry couple that look like they are actually in a Burberry advert.

I can’t wait for the Ralph Lauren show – the people Scott shoots there actually seem more RL than the models on the catwalk. As if the dream that Lauren tells everyone he is selling has been filtered down through a dozen different personalities.

I also recommend subscribing to the RSS feed available on the same page. It’s a little drop of inspiration every day.