Archives for July 2009

The Handkerchief Says ‘Look At Me’

handkerchief-be-carefulBe careful with adding a handkerchief to your outfit. Elegance should stand out on its own.

I see a lot more men today wearing pocket handkerchiefs with their jackets. And as much as I like being different to the rest, this is certainly a good thing. Whether a plain, white linen square or a coloured silk puff, handkerchiefs are a great source of expression for men. The opportunities for decorating ourselves with colour are few; rarer still are those that involve bright hues or flighty silk.

However, a handkerchief is still unusual and as such makes a bold statement in a man. It says ‘I think and care about my clothes. I’m not afraid to attract attention and scrutiny.’

Most other aspects of fine clothing are subtler. The waisting of a jacket, the hang of a tie or the slim welt of a bespoke shoe are all things you would notice – but not immediately, not obviously. A handkerchief shouts in contrast: because it is an additional item, like a boutonniere, that most men wouldn’t normally wear; because it is often so bright, whether coloured or not.

So the danger is that a clothing novice wears a pocket handkerchief to show he is interested in clothes, but the rest of his outfit betrays naivety. I saw a young man wearing one yesterday but his tie ended at his belly button, his jacket was undone and his shoes were far too pale for his suit. In that set-up the handkerchief only draws attention to the cheapness or ill-fitting nature of the other items one wears.

I do hope that none of this sounds arrogant or puts off young men from trying out handkerchiefs. But as with the comments made by readers on my recent post regarding matching socks and accessories, this is experimentation for the experienced gentleman. For those that have already mastered the basics.

Elegance is still essentially about simplicity. Make sure you match your socks to your trousers to start with. Then experiment later, keeping enough simplicity elsewhere in the outfit to retain balance. With handkerchiefs, only add one to an outfit when you are confident in everything else. Make it a latter stage in your education.

To finish on a positive note, a comment made to me by Patrick Grant at Norton & Sons: “More people are wearing handkerchiefs these days. Almost more than are wearing ties, which is really funny.

“I’m glad they are, because a man needs a little bit of colour. If I remove my handkerchief, what I am wearing automatically becomes less interesting. If I remove the tie as well, it becomes very dull. It’s something anyone could put together.”

British Bespoke – Part 6


At last. The suit is ready and my first bespoke experience in the UK is almost over. The blue double-breasted piece, in a small herringbone with brown-detail buttons, has been seven weeks in the making. But now it’s ready to take away.

I timed my visit to Graham Browne so I could actually see the final touches – largely, the sewing on of the buttons. This is something I particularly wanted tips on, because I’ve done it myself and, while the buttons haven’t fallen off, they never look quite right.

A tailor will use slightly thicker thread than normal, doubled up and waxed. Indeed, at one point Russell added more wax to the thread by drawing it through a little lump of the stuff.

The thread should be knotted at one end and pulled through both the cloth and its lining. Some people apparently like the knot to go all the way through, so you can see a dimple on the other side. But to me this looks like the sewing was done by, well, me. To make sure the needle goes this far through and no further, Russell puts a ruler inside – so that bumping up against this means you have gone far enough, but you can’t go too far.


Thread the button and go through the whole cloth again underneath the button – tipping it to one side. This is actually easier than my normal method, which involves me turning the cloth over every time. It also keeps the stitching more accurate. The number of times you need to sew through largely depends on whether the button will be used or is just for show (or with a single-breasted jacket, how heavy that use is likely to be).

A touch harder is sewing the jigger button – that which attaches the double-breasted jacket on the inside. The hard bit here is getting the stalk right, the stalk being the column of thread that separates button from cloth. On the jigger button the stalk has to be particularly long, to allow for the thickness of the attached jacket (as illustrated below).

You need to sew a few times through the cloth, leaving a good half-inch in slack. Then twist that slack so it becomes firmer and sew looped knots into it at four or five points. To tie one of these knots: put the needle through the stalk, draw the thread through until a small loop remains, put the needle through that loop and then tighten, creating a knot. Carry on until the bottom of the stalk and then snip off the excess.


One thing you will often notice with ready-to-wear suits is that the buttons sit too close to the cloth (on the outside this is). That creates a small crater-like indentation around the button when it is fastened. Some Italian factories now have machines that can replicate a hand-sewn stalk but many still get it too short.

So how about the suit itself? Well it’s pretty hard to describe how good it felt. Remember when I first had a bespoke suit make in Hong Kong, and I described the odd feeling of having cloth evenly spread all along my shoulders? It’s like that but everywhere. The chest feels sculpted, rounded but without ripple. The waist is pinched, but subtly. The shoulders are emphasised with equally subtle roping.

Russell maintains that the sleeves are too short, but I suppose that’s just my style. I want to show a little strip of linen and my shirts are that length. It just looks worse because I have long hands. And it’s still a long way off Thom Browne.

Russell was also a little unsure on the chest. It could be taken in every so slightly, just to clean it up, but that would restrict some movement and make the jacket less waisted. There are advantages and disadvantages, of course, and a suit from Anderson & Sheppard, say, would leave a lot more drape in the chest. But then the padding would also be softer.

One of the greatest pleasures of a bespoke suit, particularly one that is made by a local tailor, is that I can try it out for a few weeks and come back with changes. I may yet have the chest taken in, but it’s worth giving the horsehair a chance to soften up and mould to me. I may yet have the armholes taken up even further (they are currently around 3/8 of an inch bigger than some Savile Row suits). It’s all a question of time and judgement.

You haven’t escaped yet. There will be more posts on this particular double-breasted experience.


A Question Of Attraction

The way in which we dress invariably has an impact on the way we are perceived by members of the attracting sex. From my perspective, a woman I perceive to be well-dressed would naturally attract more attention, even though she may not be the most attractive woman in the room; being ‘well-dressed’ is unusual. It is a sign of self-assuredness and quality of mind. However, I often wonder how important it is for my contemporaries to exaggerate or understate their own personal style in order to retain the attraction of those they wish to attract.

If I were to ask certain friends of mine whether this was a serious consideration when shopping for clothes, there would be a mixture of responses. One response would ridicule the idea of shopping to please another person. This scoff would be further qualified with suggestions that men should identify first and foremost with themselves – if the women aren’t interested, are shocked or put off, so be it.

Another response would carry a certain caution; that some of my friends are not willing to appear ridiculous, though they would dearly love to express themselves in the clothing they dream of. There is in these respondents an itching desire to be free from the convention of the day but it is a tiny flame, easily doused by the waves of insecurity. They also confess to a strange comfort in anonymity.

Then there are those who would respond, quite honestly, that they often plead with girls, generally ones they are not attracted to, to go shopping with them in order that they do not select items which would compromise the image they wish to project. They are not always shy in nature. They are simply cautious. They tend to enjoy being single, have a varied social circle and, most importantly, consider sexual attraction the most important pastime in their lives.

Some of them have no interest in clothing at all. The majority however have come to recognise the importance of ‘standing out’ when playing the field. However, there are many things they just will not do. One of my friends asked me why I wear bow ties. I informed him it was because I liked wearing them. He responded that he could never wear one unless it was part of his evening wear. Vaguely intrigued by his commonplace response I asked him why: “Because” he said “I’d look like a tit!”

Looking as ‘different’ as that is generally considered by men to be a non-starter in the attraction department, especially for heterosexual men. Indeed, even women can be rather scornful and abusive about men who they accuse of ‘trying too hard.’ Though they may quietly applaud the bravery of a man of idiosyncratic style, they generally have an asexual response to extraordinarily well-dressed men.

When I proffered photographic examples to some women (three in their twenties, two in their forties) recently for their opinions on the approachability and attractiveness of the gentlemen concerned, the immaculately and idiosyncratically dressed men – aside from Johnny Depp – received very low responses for reasons of ‘stiffness’ and ‘utter absence of sexual appeal.’ The moderately well-dressed gentlemen – jacket, trousers/jeans, no tie, no pocket square or other accessories – received the highest response. The reasons given were ‘ease of dress’, ‘avoidance of fuss’ and consequently, ‘strong sexual connection.’ The badly dressed men didn’t score as well on the whole but they often scored far higher than the immaculately dressed men, even amongst the older women, for reasons of ‘brazen sexuality’ and ‘gruff masculinity.’

When I suggested to these female respondents that it was preposterous of women to moan about badly dressed men when they themselves credited them far higher than those who practice clothing perfection, they agreed: it is preposterous, they said, and it makes absolutely no sense that somehow their sexual mind should prefer scruff over splendour. However, they suggested it has far more to do with current perceptions of fashion and style – not to mention the fact that they are but a tiny sample “I bet loads of girls” one of them said “would think a guy in a bow tie was hot as hell…” – and that there are likely to be perfect partners for every category of gentlemen presented. Lastly, I asked them to state, in their experience, taking into account all the possible views of their sex what they considered the ‘safest’ route to take to secure attractions. Without hesitation, they all selected the moderately well-dressed gentlemen.

The irony of all this is that gentlemen who fall into the category of the ‘immaculate’ might very well tone down their more eccentric ensembles when consorting with single women – and, when fully ensconced in a warm and loving relationship, take the first opportunity to express who they really are; “Honey! I’m breaking out the bow tie…”

How To Wear Brown Shoes

I am surprised how frequently the questions I am asked centre around one object of clothing: brown shoes. This is because men’s certainty about the alternative (black shoes) creates a spectrum of worries as to how, when and where they should be worn.

It’s really not that difficult.

First, forget all that ‘never brown in town’ rubbish. Do you wear a dark suit to work everyday (usually a three-piece), keep the jacket on throughout and always pair it with a sober tie? Then you’re breaking far more recent rules than the brown/town one – which was established when brown was a sure sign that a man was loping off to his country estate after work.

Modern business attire is far more flexible. Understand the spirit of archaic rules, rather than blindly following the letter.

Second, black shoes are an English thing. Yes they mean business everywhere, but other countries (Italy, US) accepted the benefits of brown leather years ago. You wear an Armani suit and a Ralph Lauren shirt. Why stick obstinately to an English tradition?

So, what to wear them with? Navy and mid-grey are my favourites. Avoid lighter blues and darker greys (charcoal). There is no particular rationale for this, but those tones benefit in particular from having a colour in the shoe they are worn with. Black is not a colour; it may serve to enrich the colour it is worn with, but it is not a colour itself.


Those are some basic cloth suggestions. The important thing to remember is that the same guidelines on shoes elsewhere also apply to brown – indeed if anything they are more important there.

One is that your shoes should always be darker than your suit trousers. If tan shoes are being worn more casually, there is some leeway there. But don’t wear tan shoes with a navy suit. Try a chocolate brown instead and you’ll realise what the Italians are going on about – why they embolden each other.

(I have seen several men in recent days actually wearing black suits with tan shoes. I only hope that has happened through a lack of thought. How someone could think those two would complement each other is beyond me.)

A second guideline to bear in mind is that brown shoes are still not as smart as black. Yes, they are accepted; but no, they are not a replacement. If you’re in doubt about what to wear to a meeting, wear black. If you’re in doubt what to wear with odd trousers, wear brown. Use your judgement and aesthetic nouse for everything in between.

Some people still dislike brown shoes for being inelegant. Part of the reason I like them so much is probably the greater possibilities for patina and polish. Whatever your reason, think through their use logically using these guidelines and you can’t go wrong.

What Is Too “Matchy-Matchy?”

matchymatchyEveryone knows that matching your tie to your handkerchief shows a lack of style, even more obviously a lack of imagination. Personally, I don’t even like matching a tie to my socks – still seems ever so slightly affected.

So I’ve come up with my own Matching Table, in an attempt to regulate this abstract area.

Let’s take socks as our constant, with everything else in the outfit being the variables. Matching your tie with your socks is relatively affected (in my opinion). Matching your jacket lining with your socks is pretty odd. In between is a range of options, from the obvious to the obscure. Pick the range that you think is acceptable, according to your own personal taste, and I’ll tell you mine later.

Obviously we are talking about coloured socks here. Plain socks – blue, grey, black, probably brown – should match the trousers rather than anything else.

Here’s the table, from most obvious to most obscure. Matching your socks to your:


Dominant colour in tie

Dominant colour in handkerchief


Secondary colour in suit (overcheck, coloured stripe)


Secondary colour in tie

Secondary colour in handkerchief

Cuff links

Tertiary colour in tie, handkerchief or suit

Suit lining


Colour you’re thinking of


The last two options are silly. They are a reflection of the fact that it feels slightly silly just thinking about this topic in such rigorous detail.

But there is a serious point here. It always looks inelegant to match colours exactly, to match things that are too close together or to match things that are both large components of an outfit. Matching should be subtle.

So which of the matching pairs above do you think are acceptable, which silly and which optimal? Personally, I think everything from secondary colour in your suit to tertiary colour anywhere is tasteful. It shows style if a faint blue overcheck is picked up in the socks, or the blue flowers on your yellow handkerchief are similarly reflected. But my personal favourite is matching cuff links and socks. (I often wear coloured silk knots for the options they give in this regard.)

One could argue that cuff links are more obvious than the secondary colour in one’s handkerchief or tie. Certainly they pop out more, though smaller. But I love the effect of matching these two parts of one’s dress – two hidden allies, secretly in cahoots, happy for the shirt, tie and handkerchief to carry on their brash party upstairs.

End of silly theory.