Archives for October 2009

Proper Vintage


Those who know me are aware of my interest in vintage clothing. I have always had a fascination for the decades of bygone elegance. Some find my neo-Edwardian and inter-war recreations a little tiring; I can understand this point of view. It’s a little myopic to suggest that the only era of elegance in modern menswear lasted merely thirty odd years and that everything since has been a disastrous mish-mash of unfortunate trends. There was much to recommend the experimental tailoring of the 1960s, the dalliance with flares in the 1970s. There was an admirable bravery to these attempts at modernisation. Indeed, the modern ‘classic’ suit owes some of its constituent parts to the ‘forgettable’ decades. You only need a brief comparison of modern tailoring and that of the apparently evergreen 1930s to know they are really rather different. I for one prefer the slimmer, modern trousers and the flattering length of the modern jacket.

However, vintage clothing offers an increasingly unusual aesthetic for the gentleman of style. Mixing vintage with modern items offers an opportunity to produce singular and individualistic ensembles; there is no greater expression of the mixing capabilities of menswear than combining items with decades of difference. The rise of vintage clothing has largely complemented the acceptability of fashion shedding much of its self-consciousness; no one worries much about being ‘in fashion’ anymore. Vintage clothing, made for fashion styles long gone, is worn by people of all ages and of all incomes – it is happily classless and, importantly, is promoted by those in positions of influence as entirely acceptable. However, as many finger-wagging vintage-lovers have informed me, there is ‘vintage’ and then there is ‘proper vintage.’

‘Proper vintage’ items are of exceptional quality, in near immaculate condition and convey an authentic sense of an antiquated style. Examples include Edwardian and 1920s tailcoats, double breasted overcoats, specialist items like Victorian toppers, classic 1930s double breasted suits and heavy barathea wool evening dress. These items are increasingly rare. They are characteristically heavy and the items in the best condition are usually bespoke pieces made by English tailors for individual clients. While it may not be the same thing as purchasing bespoke made for oneself, the quality and outstanding style of the garments are worth investment.

One of the best sources of this sort of vintage clothing is Savvy Row, an amusingly named retailer of smart second-hand (vintage is a smart although not misrepresentative term) gentleman’s attire. I myself purchased an extremely chic and beautifully cut evening tailcoat from their selection of evening wear. This garment dates from the 1920s, has high and wide lapels, a flattering figure-hugging waist and is extraordinarily robust. It is unmistakably vintage. When I wore it to an event, with a boiled-front shirt, patent shoes and a red rose someone told me, to my great pleasure, that I looked like I had walked ‘straight outta the Twenties.’

Sartorial Alchemy In Practice Part 2


I looked forward to my return visit to Graham Browne not only because I had given them the opportunity to take part in my alchemic experimentation but because I was eager to see the results of their tailoring; I was hoping to find what I had imagined in my mind’s eye. Should the results of my first use of their services be to my liking I would gladly commission further garments in confidence that they will be dealt with properly.

As well as the extraordinarily cheap-but-not-so-cheerful black double breasted jacket, I had also entrusted a disused Cordings covert coat. It was one of those hopeful parental purchases i.e. “You’ll just grow into it!” that I had ceased to wear. It was this garment that Russell first handed to me to try. From the oversized cape-like coat I remembered, it felt instantly different; tighter in all the right places, shoulders the correct width. No longer was I a boy in what appeared to be his father’s coat. The silhouette of the coat was far more pleasing. Russell nodded approvingly as we moved to the more tongue-in-cheek issue of the double breasted jacket.

The operations performed on the jacket needed to be rather subtle; if you cut a double-breasted jacket too shortly, you not only ruin the proportions of the jacket in relation to the position of the buttons but you also make the pockets look cartoonishly small. Not being particularly tall, I prefer jackets of standard length to be cut a little shorter and Russell had snipped the right amount from the length to retain the proportions. Russell had also been cautious, but correctly so, in his nipping of the waist – I wanted it to be really tight to my torso but to do so might have caused the material across the jacket to crumple unattractively. The only thing I may still do, as far as the fit is concerned, is reduce the width of the shoulders as they are still ever so slightly broad for my frame. However, this is a very minor point. Overall, I was very satisfied with the alterations. Russell was remarkably modest about his work and credited himself with no ‘alchemic’ transformation. The most he said for his work was that the jacket was ‘probably a bit better.’

I decided to add the cream buttons myself as I am always looking to practice my sewing skills. Being able to perform such basic needle work is very important for gentlemen that have creativity and alteration in mind – my nearest tailor charges £1.50 a button. I wore the item out the next day to test the fit properly and also to gauge the reactions on the garment’s aesthetics.


When sat down, I could comfortably wear the jacket buttoned up. It had lost the pre-alteration boxyness and felt tighter. The comments on the aesthetics said more about my peculiar taste than Russell’s work – they ranged from ‘You look like a pilot!’ to ‘The buttons are…quite striking’ – but overall, when I checked myself in reflections throughout the day, I felt far more comfortable and pleased with the jacket. When I bought it from eBay, I had laughed when I first tried it on; it was dull, boxy and unflattering. I hid it away for months and months like a figurative ‘sartorial-skeleton-in-the-cupboard.’ Now, though not exactly the gilt-edged garment I had envisaged, I have an interesting, becoming and well-fitting item that I am happy to wear.

A Short Talk With Andrea Perrone

brioni-scentI’ve been a fan of Brioni co-CEO Andrea Perrone’s personal style ever since issue 2 of The Rake. Perrone was the cover star, part of a feature on Brioni and wearing a checked sportscoat with a dark cardigan, white shirt unbuttoned at the neck. Ever since I’ve loved wearing a dark cardigan under an odd jacket. Something about the shadow it creates, the quiet sophistication that echoes the waistcoat of a three-piece suit.

The photo shoot was in black and white so I didn’t know the colour of the cardigan. But mine is a deep, bottle green. Dark enough so that the colour isn’t really apparent from a distance; different without being showy.

I met Perrone last week at the launch of Brioni’s first fragrance in the London store. (He was wearing a suit in a tight Prince-of-Wales check, grey with a red line through it.) The fragrance is inspired by one first produced in the 1950s, called Good Luck. Although there is no record of the scent itself, the discovery of an old bottle was apparently inspiration enough.

Perrone agreed with me that perfumes are hard things to write about. No matter how much you list the various ingredients, the top notes and the base notes, it’s hard for the reader to really get an impression of what it smells like.

And his view is that it is very much a question of personal taste, of associations and memory. I’ve always liked musky scents, probably because my father wears them. Most light and classic male scents I associate with the cheap Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss fragrances that my friends used to wear when I was a teenager. Somehow, they all seemed to smell the same.

As to craft and quality, you can talk about the proportion of ground elements in a scent, and how much they are diluted by ethanol. But that is pretty much given away by the name of the substance – eau de cologne, eau de toilette, eau de parfum. Each has a range of concentrations, with some overlap.

For Perrone, the only thing worth going into in detail is the ingredients – in this case bergamot from Calabria and lemon from Sicily amongst others, which are all naturally sourced and produced. And everyone was given an oversized book to explain what the elements were and where they came from.

But most important of all, there was a sampler of the scent. So that people could try it for several days afterwards, and decide if they liked it. That’s pretty much all there is to perfume.

Something Different

carreducker-shoemaking-clasSome men choose to use their spare time and money learning to play golf. Others learn sailing; car mechanics, DIY and one field sports or another. The least enterprising simply spend it down the boozer. But something interesting and very different came to my attention this week, and I’m sorely tempted to have a go.

On Thursday I visited Deborah Carré and James Ducker, who together form Carréducker Shoes. Specialising in beautiful bespoke shoes for men, and now women, the pair also run a courses in the UK and New York on which you can learn the art and artistry of English handsewn shoemaking. It’s an intensive full time course running consecutively over 12 days. And it’s very much hands on. You’ll be taught the 200 plus processes to making a hand made shoe. This includes selecting and preparing the leather for the soles; hand lasting, skiving and sharpening knives; making threads, hand welting and sole stitching; edge trimming and setting; building heels and finishing.

At the end of the course you’ll have a pair of English Derby shoes made under expert guidance with your own hands. And it’s amazing the kind of people that have been attracted to the course so far. Some are seeking a career change or are students of fashion, but many are people just looking to learn something new and create something beautiful.

Now, I don’t really do holidays and I love to learn things, particularly in relation to my interests. I spend hours reading books and blogs on the art of men’s clothing, but there is only so much you can learn by reading. There is a lot to be said for simply doing something.

A course like this isn’t cheap, but then neither is a fortnight on the Inca trail, or a set of golf clubs and lessons. At £1350 (London) and £1790 (New York) it’s comparable to all sorts of holidaying and free time pursuits. But you get quite a bit for your money. The fee includes full shoemaking notes for the course; a pair of leather uppers for the student’s shoes and a set of tools for the student to keep – lasting pliers, awls & handles, tape measure and knife. A pair of lasts will be provided for you to use during the course. All you have to supply is a heavy duty, long bibbed apron, pencil, ruler and notepad. They also suggest you bring a camera to capture the different stages of the shoemaking process. All the details are available on the Carréducker website.

Fused Or Unfused Collars?

There’s a lot of snobbery and silliness in the world of men’s clothing, but then it’s no different to any other field.

One area where this is particularly acute is in discussion of whether a shirt should have a fused or unfused collar. Proponents of each type engage in something akin to sartorial top trumps; trading detail, luminary endorsement and experience in an attempt to prove themselves the connoisseur, and their opponent the school boy amateur.  My view is that you’d do well to know the difference between them both and use each to their best affect.

Obviously the collar and cuffs of a shirt need to be more solid than its body. To do this you take two pieces of shirt cloth (outer facings) and between them sandwich another, different type of material known as interlining. The interlining forms a sort of skeleton providing rigidity and shape. There are subtle differences adopted by each shirt maker, but on the whole whether you have fused or unfused collars both will use two outer facings and a piece of interlining material. So, what is the difference?

The unfused collar is the more traditional method of construction and favoured by English shirt makers. The interlining is sewn into position between the two outer facings –similar to a floating canvas in a suit. If you pinch either side of the collar or cuff and pull the material in opposite directions you should be able to pull the two facings apart.  Unfused collars will often feel softer too.


The fused collar is favoured by most Italian shirt makers. Here the interlining is glued/fused to one or both outer facings. Rub the collar between your fingers and typically you’ll find either no movement or one side of outer facing will move slightly. Fused collars tend to look a little sharper.


Both types have their drawbacks. An unfused collar may pucker particularly if the interlining and shirt fabric shrink at different rates. If you’ve ever ironed a shirt collar and found a ridge or what seemed to be an excess of cloth at the collar points that’s the reason. A fused collar often gets a bad rap because earlier interlinings were very poor and often bubbled after a few washes –this is owing to the cloth being misaligned at fusing.

Of course both have their benefits and you can use them to alter your look and provide added subtlety –just as a collar style can augment a particular look or physiology. Strangely, while an unfused collar is often softer it can appear more constructed and weightier, which in my view makes it ideal for wearing with suits and ties, providing for a very English look. Conversely, while many feel fused collars are sharper and stand better –particularly without a tie- they often look thinner, lighter, less constructed and more informal. I find them perfect for wearing with odd jackets, particularly when paired with jeans. Here we look to Italian men, so often featured on The Sartorialist. Indeed, iron the collar right and you can get that lovely arching which most Italian men seem to acquire.


So my advice, for what it’s worth, is use your collars to play with your look and leave the Top-Trumpers to their childish games.