Archives for March 2009

Young Style Icon: Chuck Bass

Regular readers might remember a derogatory article I penned about the brand Abercrombie & Fitch – the success of which I attributed, partly, to the strength of its presence in the powerful television series that portray the glamorous but tragic lives of American youth; a formula of attraction that captures the imagination of Americana hungry teens worldwide. The ‘dramedy’ fixture appeals, and is therefore marketed, to young girls. There is very little evidence in these well-packaged productions that young males are a target audience. And, of course, why should there be? Young boys are expected to be out playing sports, surfing, engaging in pubescent banter and chasing girls; there’s little time or consideration for following the boring, made-up lives of cry-babies.

And yet there will be those who, with a willingness to please, catch a few scenes with their girlfriend; there will be those who are more than vaguely aware of the characters names, who’s been with who and who wears the best clothes. The characteristic of many of these shows has been that while the girls can be well catered for in the wardrobe department, with significant product placement and even fashion leadership; Chloe handbags, Juicy Couture tracksuits and Paul Frank t-shirts, the boys are – aside from a few cult logos – A&F, Penguin and Fred Perry – uninspiring and rather ordinary. Marketing is a huge part of these programmes. In fact, some programmes are so blatant as to even mention the designers during an episode – a brutal kind of marketing that angers some parents who are press-ganged into making these child-pleasing purchases.

However, the chief problem, in my view, with acceptance among young school-age boys and girls, has a lot to do with timidity; boys don’t dress in ordinary, ugly clothing out of any sort of pride but fear – a fear of being unconventional, of constituting something girls might consider odd or even threatening. Popular culture wields a mighty hand in dictating fashion; it’s no surprise that in the UK thousands of girls began to ape the cutesy short-skirted, pigtailed image of Britney Spears in ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ after only a few bars of ‘Oh baby, baby…’ It is therefore encouraging that the hit television show Gossip Girl, about the sheltered, seemingly perfect lives of young Manhattan socialites actually features a positive male style role model for any transfixed teen; it matters not that gazing at the screen are mostly hearts-a-fluttering young girls, sighing and blowing kisses, the exposure of such style to an audience so used to a style aesthetic of printed t-shirts, skater jeans and Converse All-Stars is a positive thing; I can imagine the love struck young ladies sighing up and down the country; ‘I never thought bow ties could look so cute.’

Chuck Bass is without doubt one of the most popular characters on Gossip Girl. And alongside his devilish good looks, precocious cynicism and intimidating manner, he also attracts a huge amount of attention for his sartorial style. Of course, some say, he’ll look good in anything – but that’s hardly the point; the point of this particular form of style leadership is that items of attire youths previously associated with out-of-step fathers and grandfathers now have a completely different association; you can guarantee that an observant, self-confident young man somewhere will walk into a house party to whispers of respect and admiration rather than ridicule; ‘Look’ the girls twitter ‘he dresses like Chuck Bass.’

There isn’t really a signature look for Mr Bass. He certainly loves using colour, wears shoes rather than trainers, embraces supposedly ‘poofy’ materials like silk, cashmere and velvet and though there is always a trend-twist to his ensembles, his overall look promotes good grooming and an appreciation of detail. Some might dismiss the looks as typical American prep; the sort of aesthetic Ralph Lauren has advanced since the mid-Sixties. However, Bass is no stiff, Brooks-Brothers-of-old cut-out; there is a charm and energy to his exciting ensembles that reveals an inner confidence bordering on priggishness. Most know-it-alls in teen dramas are vilified; made out to look shallow, geeky and ultimately unattractive but Bass has depth. Bass manages to turn up in a bow tie, powder blue suit and sockless loafers, sip a cocktail and deliver cruel putdowns in the manner of Max Beerbohm – an unlikely crush perhaps, but the result is generally irresistible.

Review: A Suit That Fits 2

I was a little anxious today, going with my colleague to pick up his suit from A Suit That Fits. Knowing I was going to review the result; knowing that they knew I was going to review the result.

Overall, though, the impression was very positive. Much of this is down to my colleague’s build. A rugby player with a big chest and shoulders, he has a rather extreme drop from chest to waist: something like 46 inches down to 36.

The standard drop on a suit is six inches. So a 40-inch chest comes with trousers with a 34-inch waist. I need a seven-inch drop (40 down to 33) but this can easily be dealt with in the adjustment of trouser and jacket waist.

Ten inches is a little harder to cater for. And although my colleague has always had his suits adjusted in the waist, it is pretty much impossible to adjust a standard jacket to those kind of proportions.

When I saw the silhouette of the suit from the back, it was impressive. That kind of drop creates a rather statuesque figure in a well-fitting suit. The Atlas silhouette, it is often called.

To my colleague it felt rather snug, both in the waist of the jacket and in the trousers from the knee downwards. I think that is probably because he has never really worn a jacket that fits that close through the waist and hips, and because trousers with a 36-inch waist tend to come with rather wide legs.

Then the waist button popped off.

As he was buttoning up the jacket, the waist button pinged onto the floor. I resisted the urge to make a comment about his girth. Well, almost.

The staff offered to sew it back on; I’m sure it will be as good as new. But it does make you think about the quality of the workmanship. This is tailors in Nepal, good as they are, and not Savile Row.

But then I have commented on the same thing on my suits made in Hong Kong. Buttons have come off occasionally and I have sewed them back on. One seam needed a little attention once, but that’s about it. In every other area the suits have worn well after four years. And sewing a button on is a small price to pay for perfect fit.

This point should be emphasised. For my colleague, it is his first experience with made-to-measure. He doesn’t know quite how slim he wants the fit. And with A Suit That Fits he can have his suit altered any time, as many times as he wants, for free. After a while he will know what’s right, adjust his template and have all his suits made according to that in the future.

Time to Look ‘Younger Than Springtime’

“Ties and pocket squares.” Click. You know that pocket squares are here to stay when they are treated, not as merely an unusual accessory for the eccentric, but as a natural accompaniment to the necktie; no longer marooned at the bottom of the html page, waiting to be clicked. This revolution, and though a slow one it is still a revolution, means that more and more men are prepared to turn to accessories that were once considered pointless ornamentation. Men that before, only admitted to owning a couple of ties – but now boast of a mushrooming collection.

Spring is a time to consider these little wardrobes-within-a-wardrobe; as the weather warms, and the waistcoats are put away, the tie takes centre stage in the ensemble once more. There is, to my mind, no quintessential ‘spring tie’; there are ties one would wear in this period one would never wear in autumn or winter, but there isn’t a definitive stretch of silk that every man should own for spring, but merely ideas; combinations and contrasts. For example, spring is a time for colour variation. Not that autumn and winter tones need, or indeed should be colourless rather that, like Mother Nature herself, the vividity of the tones should be carefully considered.

The glory of Spring’s natural beauty has inspired musicians and poets to songs and sonnets. The wonderful energy and majesty of a tiny but brilliant zest-coloured flower sprouting from the fields gives one’s mind a little lift; it’s remarkably stimulating and rousing. A similar satisfaction can be derived from careful colour selection – you’d be surprised how a little consideration can give you such pleasing results.

The most eyecatching colour mixing can only occur when coloured shirts are used – white shirts are indeed smart and have the crisp, fresh elegance of a spring, but for the brighter, lighter ties of spring, the expanse of white tends to dilute the tones rather unhappily. Spring should be a time to expand your collection of coloured shirts; light blues, royal blues, ivy greens, daffodil yellow, salmon pinks. I would plump for smaller checks and stripes for the full colour effect and also because loud checks and stripes, with even louder ties, are dreadfully mismatched.

Think Satsuma

A warm Satsuma orange is a perfect colour for spring time, especially when matched with a cold blue or green shirt – worn beneath a mid-Navy blue suit, this would complete a rich but not outrageous ensemble.

Spring Salmon

Salmon pink is a glorious colour to employ at springtime and has excellent adaptability; working very well with buff, grey or navy suits. Ties can be either brash and playful – light blue, or lemon and cream striped, or a little more conservative (but no less impressive) – grass green or navy polka dot. I think a light grey suit, salmon pink shirt and navy polka dot tie is complete Spring chic.

The Big Blue

Most chaps are more than willing to break from the monotony of white-shirted wardrobes at anytime of year with a mid to light blue number, but when the sunny, warm days of mid-Spring are here, and the sky seems somehow bluer, it’s time to consider a more intense indigo; a big blue. Such a shirt works well with a range of ties, though arguably the range is smaller than that of a lighter shirt; salmon pinks, grass greens and sky blues match well.

Collar Issue – Part 2

Following on from the first article, examining the rarely seen collars, an exercise which attempted to reintroduce those neglected models to the gentlemen of great and grand style who read these pages, we now turn our attention to the other consideration in collar selection; the question of formality.

The stiff, starched collars of the early twentieth century, once worn daily by all – men of leisure as well as men of business – began to be used merely formally; and by the less fashion conscious, possibly late Victorian dinosaurs, still clinging to their starched Butterflies and High Imperials. The softer collars that became popular in the latter part of the easy-going 1920s, were sportier, more youthful and much more practical. Without doubt, the beguiling and intriguing ‘Lost Generation’ should take a good deal of credit for the popularity of sportier collars such as the button down that featured as part of the Ivy League uniform at Harvard, Yale and Princeton; worn with sporty blazers, flannel trousers and saddle shoes.

The ‘not-so-formal’

The softer collars of casual shirts, available up and down the high street, are often preferred by the gentleman with less tolerance for the ‘starched and severe’; academics, poets and journalists have historically been associated with such collars. They are a friendlier and cosier collar; carefully placed informality has a knack of softening one’s image. The button down is one of the most popular styles of the ‘not-so-formal.’ Although many choose this type of collar for use with suits of a greater formality, it looks a little out of place in such ensembles, unless it has an entirely unique and distracting feature – such as an unusual colour or a white collar – and I believe it looks far better with bow ties than with ordinary neckties.

The other softer collars can look good with or without a tie but there is a danger in pairing them with jackets of a smarter category; they get rather lost and tend to disappear under the lapels. Although it shocks those of an entirely traditionalist persuasion, I actually think that when wearing a necktie with such shirts, it looks better when the top button is unfastened. The idea of treating this collar in the same way as a more formal one is a little short sighted. Treat it as a rebel and it will serve its wearer well.

The ‘oh-so-formal’

In writing of the dominance of the cutaway or ‘spread’ collar, I neglected to mention how satisfied I was to see that this collar was appreciated by so many. I personally love this style of collar, particularly the Windsor style with a greater ‘spread’, and considering how versatile it is, I am pleased to see it in such large production. The magic of this sort of collar is that it is appropriate with or without a tie – without, it is formal enough itself to stand up to the jackets that the softer collars were unable to match. It also pokes out well underneath V and crew neck knitwear, making it far better to wear in smart casual ensembles. However, this versatility does not stretch across the entire line of cutaways. The ‘extreme cutaway’, notable for the obtuse angle, is often referred to simply as ‘the cutaway’ as it is the only collar that goes beyond the horizontal line of the spread and is ‘cut away.’ It is a very formal collar and in actual fact, impinges on the rest of the shirt so little, that it looks rather like an antiquated high collar – this makes it appropriate for the most formal of occasions (such as morning dress) as well as office wear. It looks less appropriate for very casual occasions; formal accessories such as a silk scarf or cravat, tied around the open neck, might alleviate the unsuitability.

Sleeve Length, Yes, but Tightness Also

The length of your shirt sleeves is important. At the correct length, they display the slightest strip of linen peeking out at the bottom of your suit sleeves, defining the colours and the shape of each. It is a key locus of style, the display of the deliberate relationship between wool, cotton and leather watch strap.

So let’s review the guidelines on length. The suit jacket should fall to your wrist bone; the shirt should fall a little lower, to the base of your thumb. The difference is that quarter to three-quarters of an inch in peeking linen.

One important thing to note about the length of the shirt sleeve: that point at the base of your thumb is also the narrowest point of your hand. So, if the cuff is tight enough, it will stop at that point anyway. It can go no further down the hand.

This does not mean that your cuffs should be super tight. Neither does it mean that their length is irrelevant. But it does mean that both length and tightness are important.

There is supposed to be some slight bunching of shirt material, some excess, at the end of your sleeve when it is by your side. It should not be the precise length of your arm up to that point. This is so that when the arm is extended, the cuff does not come up short, held up by its shortness of length. Rather it has a little excess to go with the arm and stretch out.

This excess length should not be too great – no more than half an inch to an inch. And the cuff should not be too tight – snug without being constricting, allowing for a watch or any other jewellery with a small amount of room for comfort.

So the cuff should not be wide enough, for example, for you to slip your hand through it when it is fastened. A French, double cuff will always be larger than a barrel, single cuff of course. But neither should allow for you to push your arm easily through.

I do not disagree with Will at A Suitable Wardrobe very often. His sense of colour in socks and shoes, for example, is consistently inspiring. But I do feel he is wrong in writing here that intricate cufflinks should be attached before a man puts a shirt on. If that were the case, there would be no room for a little excess material in the shirt sleeve and it would always stop up short when the arm is extended.

The length of your shirt sleeve is important. But the tightness is, also.