Archives for August 2009

Autumn Tactics


Readers south of the equator will have to excuse the ‘timing’ of this article; it is biased. Even readers north of the equator might consider it a little premature. After all, we are yet to see the end of summer; the yachts are still bobbing, the barbecues still smoking, and yet I am already writing of the autumn. However, I believe in preparation. Although it might be a little depressing to flick through the new season’s wools and cashmere the sooner it is confronted, the sooner the shock will pass. Some time needs to be given to wardrobe changes, additions and subtractions need to be made, and in some cases, our rib n’ burger fatted bodies will need a re-evaluation with the tape measure.

I have compiled a list of four items I have considered – paying a little attention to the upcoming trends, much more attention to the overall aesthetic – as good investments for the coming season.

The suit: Three Piece Suit

While I am definitely a fan of odd waistcoats, nothing quite beats the majesty and impact of a waistcoat worn as part of a suit. Enough has been written of the flattering effect of waistcoats, and of the practical, but the thing that should be reiterated is that a three piece suit will upgrade almost anything you wear with it; it makes one look ‘tailored’ and refreshingly ‘buttoned-up’ in an increasingly casual world. It is important to remember to break up the fabric monotony with a pocket square and the more eccentric may wish to add a rather dandy silver-chained pocket-watch although you should remember not to wear a wristwatch when you do so.

The occasion: The Velvet Jacket

Evening jackets are very different to day jackets. And as the days turn darker, there’s even more of a division. Texture is a useful quality when we begin to layer our clothing a little more and velvet is the perfect foil for dreary grey evenings. Even with a plain shirt and trousers, the VJ will make you look like you have made a decent effort for that after-work cocktail party. Look out for the rakish shawl collared versions that are slowly appearing in the shops. Traditionally made in burgundy, deep blue or black, the VJ can easily be worn with denim.

The everyday: The Corduroy Jacket

If you think wearing a tweed jacket shouts ‘I know stats!’ you might wish to opt for a corduroy jacket. Both are perfect for the bookish, Ivy Leaguey autumn casual looks but corduroy is definitely the ‘younger’ jacket. When it begins to look battered, like a Barbour, it simply looks better. The matt texture allows for great contrasting with, for example, a paisley bow tie or a silk polka dot pocket square. It’s a robust old thing so it will be hard-wearing as well as warm. Dark brown is common, if not a little boring. Try navy blue, mustard or slate grey.

The versatile shoe: The Monkstrap

I love my lace up Oxfords but my ‘friend’ shoes – the ones I always rely on at times of indecision – are generally slip-ons. The monkstrap is not officially a slip-on but the more it gets used, the more likely it is that the strap will remain fastened when the shoe horn is put into action. My uncle has a battered pair of Church’s monkstraps that, he claims, haven’t been unfastened in 10 years. However, these shoes are of interest to more than the purely lazy – they have a character that makes them ‘jump out’ like no lace up; a shiny buckle will attract admiring glances. My particular favourite is the double monkstrap – of which I own a lovely Bordeaux pair; as fabulous with cords and jeans as cashmere and tweed.

The Coat Project


I used to buy overcoats too small. Because I didn’t wear a jacket all the time, I picked the size that fitted over a sweater, which was too small with a jacket. Now if anything I buy overcoats too big: to make sure they fit over anything, including double-breasted, highly structured flannel suits.

I need an overcoat that can do both. So, together with the good men at Graham Browne (who made my rather excellent bespoke suit recently) I am designing one that will have a full pleat all the way down its back, beginning just below the neck. That pleat will be covered with a half-belt (just covering the back) which can be tightened to three settings – T-shirt, bulky sweater and suit jacket. At its largest setting, the pleat will be fully open and able to accommodate a heavy suit underneath. At its smallest setting, it will be fitted at the waist even if I’m wearing nothing.

Now of course the biggest effect will be at the waist – it will not help adjust the width of the shoulders (to cope with a suit’s shoulder pads) and the cinching will decrease the further up the drape you go. But the overcoat’s waist is really the biggest problem with fit as it has less structure than the shoulders.

Military capes used to have a similar pleat to this. And the effect can still be seen on some coats today that have a small pleat above the waist (an ‘action back’) and a pleat or vent below. But I haven’t seen one yet that has a pleat all the way down, together with a half belt.

Having the coat made bespoke will also help, as it can be constructed to fit very snugly over my biggest jacket, allowing just enough room at the shoulder and armhole. Off the peg it is often hard to get this and the waist right in any particular size.

To match some of the structure and complication of the back, I also plan to have turn-back cuffs and a split seam down the arm (that is an extension of the shoulder seam, rather than running down the back of the arm). Both can be seen in the picture above of the gentleman wearing a polo coat in cream. I think they are nice and slightly old-fashioned details.

However, one thing I am unsure of is whether to also include the other details of the traditional polo – raised seam, patch pockets, double breast. Should I keep it simple and single-breasted, as on the man in the centre-right below (though without the covert coat seams, obviously)? One factor is that both my other coats are double-breasted; the other is that I am afraid a full polo coat with the pleat in the back will be too cluttered.

Any opinions are welcome.


A Real Workshop And Anthony’s Book

On a trip to George Cleverley the other week I had a chance to tour the workroom and see the last making, as well as some making in progress and the storage of the various lasts still in use.

It struck me immediately how incongruous it felt to be on the first floor of a smart arcade in the West End, looking down on wealth managers strutting in their suits, and yet be surrounded by wood, sawdust and tools.

Many British manufacturers proudly say that their products are made on these shores. Those on Savile Row and a very small number on Jermyn Street are also proud that construction is done on the premises. But often that work is done in basements, or otherwise tucked away from the customers and the outside. It is quite different to look out of the windows of The Royal Arcade and see potential customers browsing the shops.

The manual nature of the work in a shoemaker’s adds to the incongruity. Tailoring is less physical work, and can quite easily be done in a suit or shirtsleeves. You do also occasionally see seamstresses at work in the windows of tailors (often those that advertise alteration services) so it is a more regular sight.

gc last shape

But shoemaking involves dust and aprons, real physical exertion as the leather is stretched and nailed over a last – or a wooden block is whittled down. Both were going on at Cleverley when I visited, and the experience conjures up what traditional English workshops were like back in the days when Cleverley was founded.

gc sock

Elsewhere the biggest object of interest was the record book of Anthony Cleverley, showing all the bespoke pieces that he made for his aristocratic customers down the years. When the business was relaunched by George Cleverley & Co recently, they weren’t even aware of this book’s existence until old customers started mentioning it. A bit of research located the book and its owner, who passed it on.

In its day the book was rather famous, with people eager to see what others had commissioned and be inspired by those ideas. For those looking to commission a new pair from Cleverley’s, and who like the Anthony Cleverley shape (slightly longer, more chiselled and with a squarer toe), it equally provides a wealth of ideas – as well as showing the royalty or celebrity that you can mimic.

I recommend popping in and asking to see it some time, as well as the original Anthony Cleverley shoe they have on display – which is so small, neat and lightweight it feels almost like a child’s shoe.

Also, for those American readers that are interested, Cleverley’s autumn (fall) round of trunk shows has just been announced. The dates in October are:

New York:Thursday 1st, Friday 2nd, Saturday 3rd & Monday 5th

San Francisco:Wednesday 7th & Thursday 8th

Beverly Hills:Friday 9th, Saturday 10th, Monday 12th & Tuesday 13th

Houston: Thursday 15th

Dallas:Friday 16th & Saturday 17th

Atlanta:Monday 19th & Tuesday 20th

Chicago:Wednesday 21st & Thursday 22nd

Washington DC:Friday 23rd & Saturday 24th

Boston:Monday 26th & Tuesday 27th

New York: Wednesday 28th, Thursday 29th, Friday 30th & Saturday 31st

Interview: Developing A Love For Clothes 2

The second part of an interview with Olly Watkins, adventurer on the choppy seas of style. (First part here.)

What’s your favourite accessory right now?

purple-silk-knit-tieIt’s a toss up between the shoes I am wearing, a new pair of brown Derbys from Barker, and my purple knit-silk tie.

Probably the tie, because I am discovering combinations to wear it with all the time. It can be quite formal, as a smart colour, but also informal, in its construction. As a member of the golf club, where gentlemen have to wear ties in the bar, it is not always easy to find something you want to wear that isn’t a suit. Or a tie that’s too dressy. Most men don’t own the country attire, odd jackets and casual ties, that suit that atmosphere. I don’t own much tweed or that many separates, but this tie is one thing that bridges work and play.

What’s top of your wish list?

I’m always on the look out for the ultimate navy suit. I don’t know why but I always am. I could own hundreds of navy suits and be happy. I love its versatility with other colours, I love the way it flatters a man’s silhouette. It’s quite high-contrast with a white shirt, and I think that suits my complexion [Caucasian, black hair].

I have two navy suits already yet I carry on looking. I even ordered my last one with pinstripes just because I couldn’t bring myself to order another plain navy one. I don’t even want it pinstriped.

Your wardrobe is a mix of ready-to-wear and made-to-measure from A Suit That Fits. Do you aspire to bespoke and would you ever go back to ready-to-wear?

The main advantage of going to A Suit That Fits was that I got precisely that.

The ready-to-wear I have from Aquascutum is arguably made better with better cloth, but I’m not sure. Time will tell. The last one I bought from there isn’t wearing particularly well and it doesn’t fit, even after alterations. So no, I don’t think I’d ever buy ready-to-wear again.

Do you find the process hard though?

Absolutely. I am very much an impulse buyer, like a lot of men, and I find it hard to sit and wait for a suit to come. I need to learn to make that part of the fun. I would think that were I to go for full bespoke, the fittings would make it easier, more like little shopping trips.

Which of the ‘rules’ did you find the most useful when you discovered it?

That your shoes should be darker than your trousers. I had never really considered that before. For me it had always been about colours that look nice together. So if tan shoes look nice with dark jeans, why don’t they go with a navy suit? I learnt that it was about matching formality.

Which rule do you like breaking the most?

No brown in town. It’s the one I grew up with and the one that makes my father most angry when I meet him for lunch in the City.

What websites do you read?

Permanent Style, and perhaps A Suitable Wardrobe in the US.

What frustrates you most?

When are manufacturers going to realise that rugby players make up a big portion of their customers, and they are just shaped differently? Look at the rugby-inspired clothing out there, and then the lack of suits for men of that shape.

What brands do you aspire to?

Lodger shoes. Though I have to say that if I were to pay a lot of money for shoes I would probably take the big leap and get proper bespoke.

And anything that James Bond is wearing – Brioni, Tom Ford, Turnbull & Asser.

What words of wisdom would you have for someone just starting out on a sartorial journey?

Fit is everything.

What About Swimwear?


It is always interesting to see how far the man of style will go with his particular emphasis on and awareness of the importance of dress. What event or circumstance would limit such a man? Would he be put off when potholing? Chastened by cliffwalking? Or indeed, would he adjust his standards for even the most minor, everyday pursuit. I know of men of elegance, boulevardiers of style, whose self-taught panache seems to disappear when sporting activity is on the cards. The lesson, according to the arbiters of apathy, is that the sporting arena is about performance and not appearance. Whilst that may be true, it is never pleasant to contradict your code. I recently had to wear a pair of quite hideous Nike swimming shorts, as I had not travelled with a pair myself, and spent most of the time wading in the water, attempting to conceal their arresting-yet-tasteless luminosity.

Swimwear is generally a forgotten area in the stylish gentleman’s wardrobe. Whether this is a resignation, an acceptance of the paucity of stylish swimwear or rather a rebellion – a shedding of formality and ‘seriousness’, an opportunity to play the clown – I know not. However, I do know that it is possible to purchase a decent collection of swimming shorts that will not compromise the style of a gentleman; he can stand proud at the edge of the diving board, not cowed in the safety of the palm-shaded shallow-end.

Firstly, you will note that I stated the decent collection being composed of ‘shorts’ – avoiding trunks and thongs. For most men are rather modest in nature and are more likely to look for comfort and practicality in swimwear; tight fitting trunks may look fantastic on splendidly built gentlemen but they are made for speed in the water and not comfort on the beach. We need pockets – for currency to buy an ice cream, for the buzzing Blackberry, to carry the yacht keys – and there is nothing so revolting as a hotel guest who swings by the pool bar for a bite wearing a pair of Speedo’s finest nutcrushers.

The second thing to consider is size. Many men, of otherwise good style sense, wear swimshorts that defy the definition of the word ‘short’; the longer Bermuda style are in my opinion for spiky, spotty teenagers only. They remind me of the pirate pantaloon that made the often attractive male leg entirely shapeless. This is an important consideration. Women, and indeed some other men, can find a male leg very appealing. It is strong and has better definition than the female leg – which is why companies like Aristoc use male legs in their photography – and the more of it on display, the better. Longer shorts will make you appear shorter, and juvenile. The perma-bronzed surf-mad beefcake McConaughey tends to cover his powerful thighs with clown-like shorts – making his entire body look top-heavy, when it is anything but. If he were to wear proper swim shorts, the surf fraternity may laugh at him, but he would look far better; the balance would be much improved.

The second consideration is an important one; colour and pattern. Ironically, the men’s swimwear market is dominated by bright colours and floral patterns whereas the women’s swimwear market exhibits remarkable restraint. Hawaii-ism is rife in pattern choice with manufacturers like Vilebrequin (VILEbrequin an acquaintance once quipped) offering a glutton of petal and palm. Although it would certainly be fun to possess a pair of swimshorts covered in martini glasses, I’d never build a collection of such extravagance. Patterns are fine, but the majority of the collection should be composed of plainer models. Navy and mid blues are a good starting point as they will suit all skin tones and look richer in sunlight than black. Lighter colours such as lemony yellow look splendid with tans and richer colours like Ferrari red have great impact. Stripes are also a good idea as they recall some of the nautical notes of earlier eras of swimwear – I once saw a French gentleman in Crete wearing the most perfect Tricolore stripes. Logos, unfortunately, are hard to avoid but logically, the smaller the better.