Archives for April 2009

Jeans With A Blazer


A cousin of mine once descended the stairs at the student house in which he lived to smirks and guffaws from his friends who had been impatiently awaiting his arrival, regularly yelling at full, ear splitting volume. They stood confidently, arms folded at the bottom of the stairs; “What the hell is that?” one of them exclaimed. It was not an awkward stain, a rogue dash of unworked hair gel, an unzipped fly or any other form of unintentional embarrassment. And it was not a lack of coordination that so tickled them; it was more the particular coordination he had chosen. “Jeans and a blazer!” they chanted in a mocking, hooligan fashion as they followed behind us in the street. Banter for sure, and my cousin was sufficiently unmoved for it to remain as harmless as that, but it’s remarkable how things change.

I saw recently one of the friends just north of Mayfair on one of my recent button-finding expeditions. Had it not been for my good recollection of faces, I might have missed him, for there he was, pacing down the street as happy as a clam in what else? Jeans and a blazer. I remarked to him that it was an interesting choice of outfit, considering the dislike for the combination he exhibited some years ago. He avoided a response very well, but there was no possible excuse; years ago, he had mocked the very idea of it (and there are many who still would) but now, the combination is everywhere. He, naturally, has fallen for peer pressure once more. It happens, of course, there is no doubt about it – “Don’t laugh, you’ll be wearing it soon” is a weary line, so frequently used but with good reason: men particularly have a tendency to ‘keep in line.’

The horror about ‘jeans and a blazer’ is that they are frequently worn so badly. Think what you like about the appropriateness of the blend, if it must be done it must surely be done well. Boot cut, grungy and baggy jeans with torn bottoms are a disastrous start. The number of times I have seen perky, cocksure young chaps in a smart jacket and such awful jeans cannot be counted; the combination needs help and such a careless approach needs banishment. Jeans are not there to drag the jacket to their level, jeans should be as the long-misbehaving best man at the wedding; improved for the occasion. They shouldn’t act as ‘mock trousers’ – a pair of jeans should always be a pair of jeans, but they should not contradict the aesthetic of the jacket.
And mocking doesn’t always produce the best results. Some of the best J&B combinations I have seen involved jeans of a washed, light blue denim that most would shun in favour of darker supposedly more ‘sophisticated’ hues.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is that the jeans must be balanced; neither rigid nor sloppy. The ‘balanced fit’ comes from a pair of jeans that correspond to the wearers preferred tightness and length but that are ever so lightly restrained in this regard due to the presence of the jacket. Leaving folds and folds of denim at the bottom looks wrong. From the picture above, I guessed that Daniel Craig’s combination probably ends said ugly folds and even clumpy shoes, whereas the ideal ‘finish’ to the jeans would be a relatively narrow leg and youthful slip-ons. The length should be somewhere between that of a smart trouser and that of a more casual pair of jeans. I prefer jeans to be unrumpled at the bottom, but sometimes with a jacket they look rather too trouser-like and I tend to leave a small amount of contrived ‘turn up’ to distinguish them as jeans. The other option that works wonderfully well is to wear jeans that hang well above the shoe, exposing ankle. This works best if one wears loafers (the lower profile is more flattering) and if one goes sockless. Straight fit jeans are probably the best choice.

Likewise, the jacket must not conflict with the denim. If jeans are preferred to be worn lower than the waist, shorter jackets should be shunned; the excess jean material and off-buttock pockets look awkward. Also, jackets with that particular suit ‘sheen’ look entirely out of place unless they happen to be counteracted with considerable accessorising skill. Navy, charcoal and browns in matt cottons and wool work best as companions to denim.

Sweaters Cannot Be Stylish and Practical

drakes-lilac-cardiganA waistcoat is a practical piece of clothing. It keeps the trunk of your body warm, leaves your arms free and pins your tie in place. A waistcoat is also stylish. It allows for the possibility of different colours underneath a jacket and elongates the silhouette.

Unfortunately, a sweater cannot do both.

For similar reasons to those explained above, I would argue that the most practical sweater a man can wear with a jacket is a tank top – sleeveless and with the same shape, essentially, as a waistcoat.

A normal, sleeved sweater underneath a jacket creates needless bulk and heat under the arms. This is particularly true if your suit is of a Scolte-inspired, Anderson & Sheppard-modelled cut, with high armholes. As soon as the temperature rises a little, you immediately feel uncomfortable around the armpits and take the jacket off. The extra layer of clothing down the arms is equally needless and potentially uncomfortable.

So a tank top is practical and, let’s face it, looks fine as long as your jacket stays on. But it is not stylish and is damned to never be so. Occasional trends for geek chic aside, a normal (sleeved) V-neck sweater will always look the most stylish.

This occurred to me a while ago because of a recommendation on A Suitable Wardrobe where Will argued that sleeveless knitwear under a jacket is best as it performs the same function as a waistcoat.

Yes it does. But it’s hard to think of a less stylish knitwear option than the lavender tank top pictured in that post. It may look good under a jacket, but it will be very unflattering once that jacket comes off – which, I admit, most men are more likely to do more often than Will. At the very least a tank top should be just as fitted as a waistcoat, to flatter the physique. Unfortunately, this one is anything but.

I believe supporters of tank tops have unfortunately prioritised practicality over style. This does happen with more traditional gentlemen, as the geekish side of them takes over and they spend their time discussing, for example, the discovery of Russian reindeer leather rather than whether it is being used on an attractive last.

I should also mention that my opinion was backed up by the second in this ASW series – on roundneck sweaters and t-shirts with suits. Generally looks bad, and specifically looks bad in these colours (a pale orange horizontal stripe?)

Sweaters can be practical or stylish under a jacket, but never both.

How Charles II Invented The Three-Piece Suit

charles-tpsThe restoration of the English monarchy in 1660 was a tricky affair politically. Although parliament proposed bringing back Charles from exile and putting him on the throne, the French splendour (and fashions) with which he was associated were not popular. He had spent part of his exile in France with Louis XIV (the Sun King) who lived in great opulence, and any obvious associations with this in Charles’s dress would not have gone down well.

His reaction effectively invented the three-piece suit.

I knew this story already, but it was wonderfully described and elaborated on in an episode of the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s Men of Fashion’, currently airing. Those in the UK can catch up with some of it at

From the moment Charles landed in England he wore few foppish clothes – neutral, classical dress without the big wigs and red high heels popular on the continent. He is depicted in painting nearly always in plain clothes or armour. And he made a point of deliberately mixing with the people as he walked up and down the Mall, as well as playing tennis – sweating and puffing around the court in a special outfit – in public view.

He looked, as one historian put it on the programme “like an ordinary bloke”.

But his court was still profligate and renowned for the extravagant tastes of its courtiers. The reaction against this and the court’s French dress was intensified by three disastrous events in the middle of the decade – war in 1664, the Plague in 1665 and the Great Fire in 1666. The Fire, in particular, was blamed on papists and the French.

So on October 7 1666 Charles issued a declaration that his court would no longer wear ‘French fashions’. Instead, it would adopt what was known at the time as the Persian vest. A long waistcoat to be worn with a knee-length coat and similar-length shirt, it was made of English wool, not French silk. The emphasis was on cloth and cut, not ruffles and accessories.

Indeed, you could argue that the English suiting tradition began here – concentrating on silhouette and quality of wool rather than colour or decoration – systematised by the plain propriety of Beau Brummel a century later.

The outfit was finished off with a sash, stockings and buckled shoes. Over time the waistcoat became shorter and shorter, until by around 1790 it reached the length we recognise today. It had been sleeveless since the 1750s.

The first version was modelled by the King himself outside Westminster Hall and, as described by diarist Samuel Pepys, was “of black cloth and pinked with white silk under it”.

Over time it became an excuse for extravagance, with some in the 18th century wearing them with up to 20 buttons and in patterns of spots, stripes and flora. But the version worn by Beau, in white or black is the one known to us today as part of a three-piece suit.

The Rules and How to Break Them. No.5

Rule 5: Double-breasted suits add breadth to a man. They should only be worn by those with slim builds.

duke-windsor-buttonedTo reiterate the philosophy behind this series: All rules are there for a reason. They become rules because they have practical advantages. But there’s nothing wrong with breaking them, as long as you understand these practical advantages.

A double-breasted suit adds breadth to a man because it creates horizontal lines. Rather than going straight down, the lapels run across the body. The buttons, whether there are four or six, create horizontal lines as well. They create a box that adds squareness to a man.

The peak lapels also create breadth because they point outwards – no matter how high on the collar they appear, they add another horizontal line across the top of them.

This is all fairly straightforward. Horizontal lines create breadth – just like belts, checks and cuffs on trousers. But consider those lines for a minute and think how their breadth-giving properties could be minimised.

(In other words, consider the practical advantages behind the rule – why they are good for a thin man – and play with them.)

A double-breasted lapel that cuts across the chest and ends at a point above a man’s natural waist (so just above his belly button) will create quite a flat line. But if it ends lower down, buttoning below the natural waist or even on the hips, the line becomes more vertical.

Now narrow the distance between the buttons. The smaller the overlap of the double breast is, the more vertical the line of the lapel will be and the more its broadening effect will be reduced. And the shorter the horizontal line between the buttons will be.

Obviously you don’t want to push this too far, otherwise you might as well have a single-breasted jacket. But slightly adjusting both of these things will make the jacket more slender in a very subtle way.

Lastly, a personal quirk of mine is only having two buttons on a double-breasted suit. So just the two buttons required to fasten the jacket, and no more. It is a little bit individual and it means there is only one horizontal line, not two or three.

So there you go. A double-breasted suit does not necessarily make a man too broad. By lengthening the lapel, making it more vertical and reducing the buttons you can create a double-breasted jacket that a large man can wear and will only give him broad shoulders – not a big stomach.

Style Icon: Thomas Crown

I was written to recently by a young man who had become interested in my blog but, due to his own admittance of his naivety and insecurity, was unsure that he would represent himself well in, as he put it, such ‘frilly, theatrical garb.’ He was, he wrote, ‘more concerned about what people think…’ Instead of providing what would have been a knee jerk response, damning his insecurity, slapping his proverbial back and sending him off in the direction of ‘frilly’ retailers, I considered his position from his point of view; a young man tired of the graffiti-trends of his peers, hateful of hoodies, tired of trainers he is evidently trying to mature his wardrobe. The difficulty being that many bloggers tend to be altogether too affected, too dandy or absurdly avant-garde – he cited one who chose to wear women’s heels and handbags – to inspire such a cautious self-improver.

Fortunately there are, I informed him, more influences than self-photographing self-promoters. Of course, for such a youthful, inexperienced upgrader, some alternative sources of influence will doubtless prove too far fetched – pointing him in the way of flower beds for colour coordination, though valid, is likely to perplex rather than enthuse. Seeking heroes of style in popular culture is a common refuge for the uncertain and cinema is a glorious medium; beginners and sartorial ‘professors’ alike gaze at the screen, following attractively dressed characters, storing imagery in their minds and pondering a little plagiarism.

Thomas Crown, a character originally brought to the screen by Steve McQueen, is considered something of a style icon, as much for his adaptability and ‘Modern man’ mantle as his sharp tailoring. Even the Crown in the Pierce Brosnan remake is applauded for exuding a deep, Everyman quality – Brosnan is as at ease in the air-conditioned boardroom in tailored wool as he is, linen shirted, watching the sunset from his Caribbean hideaway. He carries the viewer through Bond-like fantasies of tailoring, the cameras gorging on Turnbull & Asser shirts and ties and Gianni Campagna suits. Never over or underdone, the combinations emphasise the importance of simplicity and fit – a Brummellian manifesto – above all else.

These elegantly uncomplicated ensembles mirror the extraordinary knack McQueen’s Crown exhibited for not dressing up, or dressing down, but simply dressing well. Colours may tend to be minimalist, suits traditionalist (but hardly basic) and ties ‘uniform’ but what is remarkable is that on my last viewings of the original and the Brosnan update, the beautifully attired Mr Crown had aged little since the films were released. Others more in sway to the ‘fashions’ of the periods look decidedly dated.

The lesson to inquisitive but nervous improvers, intent on discarding the present uniforms of inelegance is simple; an upgrade of material and of shape, an embracement of maturity and felicitousness. Crown is no fake – heavily ironic considering his duplicity – when it comes to dress; his style is no ‘bullet proof’ armour or pomp of a parvenu. It is a symbol of his taste, success and earned position. It looks as it should always look: entirely natural.