Archives for August 2009

E. Tautz Goes Retail On Monday


The E. Tautz line of handmade, ready-to-wear clothes designed by Norton & Sons is about to go into London stores. In fact, Matches selected its pieces yesterday from the Savile Row shop and their choices will be delivered on Monday. Harrods, the only other UK store to carry Tautz, will be putting out their selection in early September.

When I popped into Norton & Sons, the rail was all out of order, as was the look book. And it was all Matches’ fault. Still, the singular aesthetic of the Spring/Summer 10 collection, very similar in thrust to the first one (A/W 09), is not hard to discern. And you can see it all on the Tautz site, in order, here.

Everyone at Nortons has a hand in the designs of Tautz, but it is Patrick Grant’s overall control that maintains the singular aesthetic. Knit bowties, luxurious knitted sweaters, unlined jackets and big round collars. Usually paired with knee-length socks and black lace-ups.


For me, the socks and shoes are key. Like the shorts-suits, they reflect the psychology of the collection rather than aiming for heavy retail. The themes are traditional, quirky, of their time and consistent throughout. I like the Breton sweater (above) but I’m not going to wear it with the shades and the beribboned espadilles. It doesn’t matter: the sweater itself has the psychology of the rest of the collection built in, albeit more subtly.

“The stripes on a traditional Breton sweater shouldn’t break into the neckline,” says Grant. “The first one should start just below, right across the chest. Jerseys, and those made by machine, rarely achieve this as they are made from just a single pattern.” It’s easy if the piece is all hand-knitted (and easy to control if it’s all done in the UK).

Then there’s a small, contemporary twist: sections taken out of the stripes in that sweater. In the jackets, the sophistication of the unlined construction – that would look odd with a single breast but hangs together much better with a double.


The trousers reflect that as well. Both them and the shorts are based on original designs from the early twentieth century that were worn to play tennis. The trousers (above) had side tabs as well as belt loops – and two loops on the immediate right of the buckle (perhaps a clue to our previous discussion about which way to wear your belt?). Those design elements have been retained while the construction elsewhere is modernised.

I find Tautz fascinating because it’s ready-to-wear with the best of tailoring built in. From a craft perspective there is also an endless list of quirks and quality points I could bring up. Have a look when it goes into stores – broadly Harrods has the tailoring and Matches the casual wear.


Leather Elegance?

elegant leather

When I was a lad, my parents would take me travelling. We would venture near and far, as a family, and I have many adventures I can still clearly remember from those days. The most exciting time was around March when the holiday catalogues would arrive; I would read them, late at night before going to sleep, wondering which of the splendid locations I had been reading of my parents would choose. I was invariably inaccurate in my predictions. Nonetheless, I was never disappointed. Indeed, one of the most unlikely pleasures was travelling around the ‘cowboy’ states of America more than 12 years ago.

A great deal of time was spent in Dallas, visiting friends of my father. I remember the peculiarly large flags flapping on the highway, the massive glassy hotels, the car dealerships and the smell of meat and ‘bar-be-kew sawss.’ The first hotel we checked into was rather dull and resembled an office. It was named ‘Wilson’s World’ – a singularly American, if not slightly comic and optimistic name for a vast collection of dreary rooms and suites on the highway. As naïve (and pretentious) as we were, we took such a dislike to the dim, seemingly endless corridors, the beige furniture and the cold, dated corporate style of the joint that we came up with a semi-amusing song;

“We went to Wilson’s World, to stay for the night, night, night

When we got to the bar, the Coke did not taste right, right, right

When we went to the restaurant, we saw a bloke in his leathers

And dad said ‘How about checking out altogether?’”

This was oft repeated, nay chanted, throughout the holiday and it still manages to draw a smile today but the one thing that occurred to me recently when reminiscing was how we, as children, had decided that a leather jacket was somehow a humorous and unsightly mark of the commonplace. It was not a brattish observation. There was something rather unseemly about a cold-but-smart hotel restaurant providing custom to a leather clad man. I was recently speaking to someone who collects leather jackets, of differing styles, and who, regardless of weather, will always be seen wearing something constructed of hide.

It struck me that leather is rarely, if at all, a material of elegance. Leather trousers are of course, an abomination but even the oh-so-acceptable leather jacket is difficult to place. For a man who normally dresses casually, it’s a remarkably versatile garment; warm, practical and durable it will look and feel better than almost anything else. If however you are a man who likes adornment, wears ties, bow ties and shuns denim, a leather jacket is anathema. Frankly, if you’re a man of a very classic persuasion, it’s difficult to see where a lumpy, graceless leather jacket would fit into the wardrobe – amongst the mohair suits, cashmere trousers and French collar shirts.

However, after considering the problem, I came to the conclusion that elegance, at least a kind of elegance, is possible with leather – it simply means a) careful selection of the jacket itself b) considered pairings and c) an attitude adjustment.

For the first issue – the jacket selection – it is important that the jacket does not drown the man. Long sleeves and bulky shoulders are unacceptable. Though the jacket should never look ‘tailored’, it should not represent a ‘style retreat.’ Black is the classic colour for a leather jacket but brown is more chic and always remember that quality of leather should be paramount; designer ‘names’ are a secondary consideration.

Zips are more common on leather jackets but buttons are quite elegant; remember not to go for a jacket ‘imitation-in-leather.’ In other words, avoid leather jackets that have lapels and breast pockets. Of the styles available, the bomber or biker style are probably the best. Leather macs will make you look like a Nazi and leather blazers belong in a Spandau Ballet video.

For the second consideration, avoid trying to shove a square peg into a round hole and accept that your leather jacket has a certain ‘look’; it is undoubtedly more casual. Adding leather jackets to suit-like ensembles will make you look like a third rate Mafioso. It’s a weekend jacket. It needs to be respected as one. Denim is fine, if a little cliché; corduroy is better – imagine, for example, a nutty brown bomber with purple cords and loafers. Despite the casual shift, never wear trainers with a leather jacket.

Some of the best looks involve crisp open neck shirts, or perhaps a charcoal cashmere rollneck, some dark denim and slip ons; some of the worst involve Nike Air Max, baggy stonewashed jeans and ill-fitting polo shirts. The leather jacket is no friend to ill-fitting clothes. It will accentuate, and not disguise, how bad they actually are.

For the final consideration, keep in mind that your leather jacket is not your double breasted blazer. It is more knockabout, more carefree. It is tougher and simpler and does not mix well with primping.

Interview: Developing A Love For Clothes


My colleague Olly Watkins has become more and more interested in traditional menswear and permanent style in recent years. His journey, and the lessons he has learnt along the way, provide interesting perspective for new devotees to permanent style.

Simon: When did you first become interested in clothes?

Olly: Well, it took me a while to get over the bottle-green corduroys my mother made me wear when I was eight-years old.

But by the time I was a teenager I was interested again. And being a child of the eighties, a sharp-cut suit was everything. I didn’t own one for ages but that was the aspiration. I was never terribly interested in casual clothes or in fashion. I just wanted to wear clothes that fitted well and match colours without looking ridiculous.

When I first started work I tried to wear suits and was interested by the idea of tailors. My father used an old City tailor and it was fascinating to talk to him about tailoring and traditional City style.

But that interest remained a minor one?

Yes. I tried to dress well but I never really delved into the kind of questions that were centrally to improving that – why do none of my jackets really fit me? What are the limits to having alterations done? Where could I have one made? It was a frustration with men’s retail really.

And that changed recently?

Yeah, I always used to wear suits, but as the dress ethic in the office relaxed over the years I became more and more casual. Then recently (it may be the onset of old age) I got frustrated and decided to smarten up a little. Like the benefits of a school uniform, I wanted something smart and formal that if anything would take less thought in the morning.

But it really took off when I discovered the whole mini-culture around men’s clothes, the traditions (not rules!), the web sites and the community. It was amazing. So many people talking about something which is largely forgotten today, in an age of high fashion and transient trends – where people walk around in the most terrible outfits just for the sake of looking like other people.

What was the biggest revelation for you?

Just how many people are interested in this area, the whole culture around it. Looking around at people, in whatever city, it’s easy to think that no one cares what they wear at work. I commute in from Essex every morning, and you see legions of men in black, blue or grey suits, with the jacket undone, tie loose and obviously not interested in their attire.

If you look back at pictures of US presidents or other politicians in the past, they are all smart, they all have pocket squares. It was something that men took pride in. That doesn’t happen anymore, so I was surprised to find so many men involved in this area so passionately, that do care.

I really like that niche. It gives you something to follow, in an area that suits me far better than squeezing into a pair of skinny jeans and a t-shirt that isn’t quite long enough.

What’s your favourite outfit?

Probably the thing that fits me best at the moment – my midnight-blue dinner suit that I got from A Suit That Fits. I love wearing it, it fits me much better than anything else and is probably better made as well. I just feel better in it. I didn’t realise that it was almost impossible to cater to my proportions in ready-to-wear clothing, even if altered. [Olly has a 46-inch chest and 36-inch waist: a 10-inch drop that is far above the ready-to-wear standard of six inches. See link here]

I’d wear that with thin-soled, black-calf Oxford toe-caps – I have yet to be converted to pumps or patent leather. And a white shirt, white braces, bow tie and gold cufflinks to match the gold clips on the braces. Oh, and a white silk pocket square.

The cummerbund or waistcoat is essential, I suppose, but I find that the trousers are cut so high that they prevent any shirt showing below the waist button anyway, to the end of the bib of the shirt. It seems a little odd to me to wear a cummerbund that just goes over the trousers entirely. That’s not to say I wouldn’t wear one, just that I don’t at the moment.

Obviously the theory is to cover the waistband of the trousers. But I suppose if the waistband is clean and smart, and the shirt is not exposed, you could argue that the cummerbund’s place has been superseded.

Yes. It just seems a little pointless to me. I suppose it’s a rule that I have learnt how to break, as you describe on the blog. I understand why it’s there and so have broken it sensibly and with full knowledge of the outcome.

To be continued…

Black Suits Are For Glamour, Not Business

black-white-mcconaugheyI have a friend that loves black suits. Can’t get enough of them. For him, a black suit and a white shirt are the chicest things a man can wear. He is a big fan of Reservoir Dogs, so that might have influence him somewhat, but he still has a point – black and white is the combination of choice for Hollywood stars and fashion designers, everyone from Karl Lagerfeld to Simon Cowell.

Yet I hate black suits. Can’t stand them. When a graduate turns up at an interview in a black suit and a white shirt, no matter what the tie, he looks immature. The outfit looks cheap.

Black suits almost no one. (Sorry for the pun.) Most men’s complexions are washed out by it. They are not high enough contrast. Blue and grey are much kinder, with mid-grey probably being the easiest of all.

And black can look cheap. That’s why navy blue is the smartest option for a suit, and why some men wear midnight blue for evening wear. It looks blacker than black.

So why does black look great on Dolce & Gabbana? Well, for a start they and their Hollywood peers tend to be more tanned or darker skinned, so are better able to pull off the high contrast. But more importantly, those people are often photographed at glamorous occasions.

Usually in the evening, these occasions are about dark backgrounds and bright lights, velvet drapes and sparkling jewellery. They are about high contrast, and the outfits are planned to match. The women just as much as the men would look gaudy and cheap if they wore those outfits in the middle of the day.

This is the foundation behind black tie, traditional men’s evening wear. It is about monotone, contrast and variation only in texture. Subtle changes in colour are lost in those situations, so tone is kept simple and the adventure is in texture – silk and satin, velvet and patent.

Even when designers or film stars are not at an evening function, they are associated with glamour. Indeed, the very fact that you have seen them probably means they have been photographed – and long-range photography isn’t much good at picking up the subtleties of Glen check or harmonised colours.

Black suits with white shirts look cool because of their associations. And they can look good on you at an evening event – as a cocktail suit, for example. (Mohair suits  similarly.) Just don’t wear them for business.

Sample Sales

London is not what you would call a ‘cheap’ city. If you wander down a typical West End street, evidence of the forbidding expense of the capital is everywhere. There are a lot of gloomy, disappointed faces that squint up at the towering, glittering emporia; a lot of sweaty, fidgeting grasps of the price tag and a low murmur of economic caution. Apart from the generic chain stores, the odd discount week and the Jermyn Street shirt sales, value for money is hard to come by.

If you live in the city, you become accustomed to it. You shop around, rule out certain streets and get to know the quieter times of day. If you visit for a day, hoping that you’ll find something more worthy than in your humble local town, you are often disappointed, not to mention exhausted. The scene is sometimes so pitiful it verges on the Dante-esque: people so tired, worn and dishevelled they resemble human litter, queues so long and winding they are physically painful to even contemplate – and at the end of it, a right old black-eye beating for your credit card.

It’s not pleasant and, temporary though the sweat, swollen feet and zoo-like atmosphere may be; the damage to the finances is permanent. I was offered a remedy for this last malady; a visit to a Hackett sample sale. Sample sales of legend were to me the very image of barbarity: a seething mass of desperate and despondent shoppers, grabbing and snatching their fix as cheaply, and as abundantly, as they could find it. The reality was not far off but as unpleasant and inelegant a shopping experience it was, the result – the day’s hoard – was well worth the effort.

It took place at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane in East London. Not, it is safe to say, an area strongly associated with the sort of ‘settled’ image that Hackett attempts to portray but an atmospheric and spacious enough venue that had character and, mercifully, opened doors and high ceilings. At the door, an entrance fee of £2 was paid and black bin bags were made available for ‘collecting.’ The swag bag was barely useful for my meagre haul but others had reason to upgrade to large cardboard boxes. They then proceeded to kick them along the gritty, tiled floor in their search for more booty.

As it was the last of the sample sale days – there had been Thursday, Friday and Saturday openings – I was not expecting to find anything at all and, instead of contemplating a satisfactory treasure of pocket squares and ties, had expected to leave empty handed. Indeed, were it not for the deep and much disturbed boxes of ties, pocket squares, bow ties, cummerbunds, scarves and socks at the front of the Boiler House, I would have done.

Laughably late for the suits, jackets and trousers, I still had time for a futile browse. Other items – jumpers, chinos, outerwear and shoes – were of less interest and, ironically, in great supply. Never have I cursed my childlike frame so intensely than when I found 40R pinstripe suits and tweed check jackets at 2 for £50; never have I wanted bulk so badly than when I saw linen double breasted waistcoats in 46R – for £5. Shirts were another bargain area – 5 for £50, purchasing multiple polos and rugby shirts offered the same value for money and even my area of interest, accessories, offered a ‘buy more pay less’ value; 5 ties or hankies for £15.

Admittedly, though it was a successful day, it was not a particularly enjoyable shopping experience. Corpulent organisers shouted inaudible commands through megaphones; people pushed, grabbed, chucked and plundered; cashmere trousers that once were folded and hung on polished Jermyn Street hangers lay trampled and dirty on the floor of an East End industrial ghost. It was a surreal and slightly sickening experience, even before the mighty serpent queue had grown to its full and torturous size. Wilde’s words came to me as those around me piled more and more into their bags and boxes; “There are many things that they would throw away” I thought “if they were not afraid that others might pick them up.” Though certainly an exercise in achieving true value, this was turning into another example of the inescapability of greed.

Despite this grim ending, I was somewhat cheered by the sympathetic words of the make-shift till duo; “You’ve been waiting in that queue?” they frowned “for five ties?” In actual fact, it was for three ties and two pocket squares but yes, I had been waiting. Somehow, I had managed to conceal any indignation. And out of the vast industrial space I stumbled – from the manic, soup-kitchen atmosphere of bargain shopping – into the evening sunlight. My companion commented “I think we’ve just been through one of the great Circles of Hell.” I nodded. It was worth it.

For information on upcoming sample sales in London, go to