Archives for July 2009

British Bespoke – Part 5

It’s getting pretty exciting now. The final (forward) fitting for my double-breasted suit from bespoke tailors Graham Browne. And as you’d expect, there are plenty more technical details to get into.

I was broadly satisfied with the jacket when I tried it on, but I had asked for the middle button to be moved an inch lower – so that the fastening is exactly on my waist and the sweep of the lapel a little longer.

To my eye the initial lapel was rather stubby and short, but more than anything I think this shows the current trend to ultra-long lapels. The standard distance from shoulder seam to lapel is 3.5 inches at Graham Browne. Mine was already reduced to 2.5. Any less than that and the lapel sits away from the chest, with the point running across the shoulder and sometimes actually in mid-air. Tom Cruise and others have made this look popular, but then we’re not all that short.

In the first image below you can see how the jacket and its lining are stitched together, and see the distance of the lapel point from the shoulder seam.

To roll the lapel and inch lower down, as mentioned, Russell ironed it over – pictured below. Of course, as you roll the lapel across so that it buttons lower down, the point shifts up anyway – by virtue of becoming more vertical. So there is extra height there as well.

In picture three you can see where the lapel point moves to as a result of this adjustment – it is the chalk mark just above the lapel on the right. Not a big adjustment, but worth it nonetheless.

Russell also took in a tiny bit at the waist, around 3/16 of an inch, and a nip in the drape, just under the armhole. You can see both those adjustments in picture four – where the two pins have been inserted vertically.

Finally, as mentioned in my last post I decided to have the sleeves a tiny bit shorter. My shirts from Hong Kong might have shrunk ever so slightly in the wash, but no matter – they’re the only formal shirts I have so the jacket sleeve has to be a little shorter as well, to reveal a quarter inch of linen.

Russell wanted to shorten the sleeve by 1/8 of an inch. Possibly 3/16. But I held my ground and pushed for ¼. All this over such tiny measurements.

Trousers For Bright Shoes

Summer brings many things bright and unusual, one of which is shoes. They may be a normal colour but in suede, they may be a pale leather or they may be in adventurous and contrasting hues. I’ve had two questions in the past week asking about what to wear with this kind of footwear – one referred to tan spectators, the other to grey/blue Oxfords from Nicole Farhi. One writer also mentioned Lodger’s summer shoe in blue/white linen (pictured alongside a spectator from the same brand).

I think you have three options: summer cloths, grey, or jeans.

To take those in order, the most formal and traditional option is to pair bright shoes with the kinds of colours and trousers they were originally intended for. So a pair of spectators (also known as co-respondents) would have been worn on a bright day with what would then have been considered informal cloths – linens or cottons, possibly flannel, in white, tan or anything in between.

So an outfit might be: cream flannels, blue oxford-cloth buttondown shirt and a navy blazer. Perhaps a V-neck sweater if you want to make it a bit more casual. A key here is also to tie in similarly coloured accessories if possible – a tan belt with the spectators for example.

Essentially, the first option is about pairing the shoes with clothes of a similar formality in similar colours. The blue/white linen shoes could be harmonised with some blue above the waist to tie them in, just as the tan belt ties in the spectators.

The second option is grey. Of the darker tones usually worn with formal clothes, plain grey supports bright colours the best. This is because bright colours will always look cheapest when paired with contrast elsewhere – a navy suit and white shirt will make a bright pink tie look cheap. Replace that with a mid-grey suit and the difference is startling.

So you could pair any of these shoes with mid-grey flannels or worsted trousers (mid-grey is actually a fairly light colour – probably the lightest grey one would wear for business), a white shirt (to pick up some of the brightness elsewhere) and perhaps something that picks up one of the colours in the shoes, again.

Last but by no means least, wear them with jeans. Jeans can soak up the brightest of colours, as demonstrated by the neon trainers some guys wear. Not indigo jeans, though, or you’ll have some of the same problems as the navy suit mentioned earlier. A nice mid-blue, with some paleness where they’ve been worn in.

Those are your choices.

The Striped Suit


“Oh yea, pinstripe suits are the best!” grinned the giggly girl in the café as her male companion reluctantly twirled around in a shiny two-piece. Notched lapels, two buttons, wide white stripes – more chalk than pin – and a garishly blue sheen, it was a spectacle suit; not exactly to my taste but still challenging and rather outrageous. My companion, a fellow eavesdropper, remarked with approval and asked for my opinion, which was, I informed him, that the stripes were a little too wide and white for my taste and that the distance between them too great.

On our wander around the neighbourhood, we passed a mannequined window displaying more than one example of striped suits. One was a double breasted example, classically chalked creamy stripe on a dark grey background, medium gauge – the sort of thing Jay Gatsby might have worn. The other was a very narrow gauge grey pinstripe on a navy background. Single breasted with ubiquitous notched lapels it looked decidedly modern. My companion remarked that a ‘blind buy’ of a striped suit was evidently impossible; you’ll never be quite sure of what you are getting.

Rather reactionary and hasty fashion writers have written off striped suits as twentieth century relics. The followers of such folly have agreed to the reasoning that they are only appropriate for the now terribly unfashionable City banker or the East End-born Capone wannabe, neither of which are characters sufficiently savoury for fashion leadership.

I myself scoff at such myopic analysis; the stripe is foremost an expression of style, not position or social class. The stripe knows no century or decade in which it must be imprisoned. The manacled confinement in which it finds itself, loathed for its associations and ignored for its aesthetic, is entirely the fault of fashion-centric witch hunters; out to sound the death knell for as many of the 57 varieties as possible. As the gushing young female in the café proved, there are too many admirers of stripes for them to be truly buried and forgotten.

However, the stripe gang has definite leaders. And, though stripes certainly cross social and professional boundaries, there are strong associations with certain types that simply cannot be ignored.

Pins and chalks of a half-inch gauge are the classic. Fabulous in double breasted format, or perhaps single breasted with peaked lapels and a waistcoat, this style of stripe is understated and timeless. A standard tailoring stripe, this is seen on many proponents of the classic English suit. This is the stripe I would prefer.

Stripes of three-quarter inch or full inch gauge are rather more brash and garish; retro gangsters, rappers and wide boys enjoy the punch and the arresting drama of this rather unsubtle choice. They are often worn thickly on black cloth rather than blue or grey which accentuates, somewhat uncomfortably in my view, the dazzling effect.

Stripes that are of a quarter-inch gauge or less are odd but certainly less outrageous and make the suit appear, due to the compression of colour – a result of the narrow gauge – ‘unstriped’ from a distance. This is a style of stripe that is becoming ever more popular.

When selecting striped suits off the rack, make sure the stripes match at the seams. There is something rather saddening about a bright chalk stripe that fails to do so. In terms of shirt and tie choice, plains are the best background for loud stripes – in other words, let your suit do the talking. A little paisley pocket square would always be welcome. Bright colours work very well with striped suits, particularly pink and lilac. As popular as the aggressively contrasting stripe suits are – black with white stripes – I think the most stylish option is light grey stripes on a dark grey background. A sky blue shirt with a burgundy tie, and possibly a white pocket square, completes this traditional look.

British Bespoke – Part 4

Monday was the first stage of my final fitting for the suit from Graham Browne – my first bespoke suit in the UK. While there is far less to say about the trousers of a suit than the jacket, there are still a few interesting points to note.

Like many bespoke tailors, Graham Browne sews a length of reinforcing material into the waistband of its trousers. Made from a loose-weave linen mix, this is intended to keep the waistband firm and stop it folding over.

I have to confess that when I first saw this addition to my bespoke suits in Hong Kong, I thought it was a way to cut corners – hiding the perhaps poorer-quality material with internal reinforcements. While Browne has corrected this opinion, it is still true that the side-adjusters on my Hong Kong trousers do not cope well with the insert, making the part of the trousers that is tightened with these adjustors into stiff folds that are a little uncomfortable.

(The Hong Kong suits also featured this reinforcement along the top of the breast pocket, which I recently discovered high-end ready-to-wear brands do as well – such as old Kilgour stuff.)

Ready-to-wear trousers rarely feature these reinforcements, apparently, because they make the entire waistband in one operation by a machine. The linen cannot easily be inserted afterwards, or into just some of the waistbands.

The waist of the trousers was slightly too large (the drop from my legs to waist is rather extreme) and picture one below shows Russell marking that adjustment up. Picture two shows the adjustment marked on the rear of the trousers.

Picture three shows the length of the trousers, which I asked for every so slightly shorter than pictured (we went for 3/8 of an inch shorter). While I do want a break in the front of my trousers, I want this to be slight. And the narrowness of the leg should mean there is minimal flapping when I walk.

The shoes, by the way, are oxblood wholecuts from Lodger – on the English contemporary last. Russell wanted to know, so I’m telling you too.

Finally, I did have a sneak peak at the jacket and a brief discussion about the length of the sleeves. I always like a half inch of shirt showing here (as a great locus of style) but the jacket sleeves at present do not reveal this. One problem is that I have rather long hands and fingers – so a short sleeve can look particularly short.

Russell said he would always go for between four and five inches of hand showing – and my sleeves were already revealing five. But I think I will still have the sleeves shortened slightly. Showing a little cuff is after all much more an Italian tradition than an English one.

Summer Striped Ties

Summer is upon us. And though this means many gentlemen will be looking to shed clothing, some of the best ways to celebrate summer are by accessorising; belts, pocket squares and ties come to the fore in summer outfits. The candy pink handkerchief that looked so outrageous in January, suddenly looks essential in mid July. The Hermes-orange belt that prompted concerned faces in the winter rain turns admiring heads in the summer sun; letting the bijoux items in your accessories shine adds a special summertime character to otherwise rather regular ensembles. One of the most potent ways of exploiting the gaiety, the frivolity, the champagne-cork-pop levity of summer is by wearing striped ties. Stripes are fun indeed; they are the big top marquee, the straw boater band and the summer dress. And the bolder the better.

Of course, there is the sober, clubby and, if you like, stuffy side to striped ties. The members of the club; the Old School; the Oxbridge college men and the regiment. However, it is partly because of such associations that the striped tie is a sought after fashion accessory at all. It’s de rigeur to wear a striped tie at Henley, even if you think a boat club is a nightspot in St Tropez and, other old ‘season’ events like Wimbledon, Guards polo and the Lords Test Match have men of all ages bumbling along, sipping champagne and clapping ferociously – in a striped tie.

Good stripes vs Bad stripes

However, as my fellow contributor Simon Crompton pointed out in his article on shirt stripes – there are good stripes, and bad stripes. The ‘Islington Media Type’ shirt stripe is utterly passé. And, conveniently enough, so is the tie equivalent. The different width stripe works, but not in this illogical and overdone format. It works when there are fewer stripe colours and variations; there is more order, and it is pleasing, even soothing, to look at so calm a pattern. Some regimental ties have stripes such as this. The ‘Islington’ tie is however, a messy abomination.

Simple colour combinations, simple striping

I am not always a believer in the cliché that simpler is always better but when it comes to striped ties, I rather am. Four colours on a tie really are quite enough. Dark blue, green and red ties are the best backgrounds for paler stripes and the best combinations are navy and white, navy and red, navy and sky blue and navy and green – honest, simple and punchy ties that stand out from a distance.

Horizontal stripes

As always, I am keen on promoting individualism. Most ties are of a diagonal stripe – which would be disastrous on a shirt, but is fine when confined to the narrowness of a tie. However, there are a few horizontally striped ties, with flat ends, that are around. They are generally of a knitted silk and are most often double-coloured. There is something slightly stagey, and even continental about the horizontal stripe tie; it was popular for a while in the 1930s and again in the 1950s and is now making another rather understated reappearance.