Second British Bespoke, Part 1

I mentioned a while back that I had commissioned a second suit from Graham Browne in London. And after rather too much travelling lately (Milan, Madrid, Dubai in a month; and Hong Kong next week) I’ve finally got around to watching the first step of it being made.

It’s unlikely I will post quite so many photos of this suit in its construction and fittings, in that much will be similar to the last series. But whenever things are new, I will. Here, the most obvious novelty is the waistcoat.

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The suit is in 13-ounce, navy, chalk-striped flannel from Hunt & Winterbotham. The weight of the flannel means the stripe is rather fuzzy, which is how I prefer all stripes in suitings. (The only stripe I like is a bead stripe – anything too precise and without texture seems to look cheap.) The jacket is three-button, rolling to two, and the waistcoat has notched lapels with five buttons, rolling a little at the top as well.

A new waistcoat pattern was cut for this suit, but not a new jacket pattern – my existing DB pattern being simply folded over to cut the SB jacket front panels. The waistcoat has a full, floating linen lining, something tailors rarely do these days. The linen gives structure and a shape that moulds to the chest, while not being too bulky.

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Russell and Dan report a lot more waistcoats being ordered these days. (Perhaps people have been reading the Logical Waistcoat Theory.) In fact they say they’ve made more in the past year than the past 10 years together. Problem is, there aren’t many waistcoat makers around any more. Graham Browne uses one lady and she is overworked. Jacket makers can make waistcoats as well but they dislike it, as the work is similar for less pay.

The other issue with waistcoats is that men today wear their trousers a lot lower. The question for the tailor is: does he try and convince the client to have his trousers cut higher for a waistcoat, or make the waistcoat longer? Having a gap is not an option, but some men would resist the former, while the latter can make the body look too long. Russell says he leaves it up to the client to a certain extent, but there are limits.

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Also if you plan to wear a separate waistcoat with a suit, buy that or have it made first. One client of Graham Browne’s didn’t tell the tailors that he already had a fancy waistcoat he wanted to wear with this suit, so the trousers were not cut high enough. Always best to bring the waistcoat along, so the trousers can be cut appropriately.

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In the images here you can see the folded jacket pattern being placed on the cloth; the sleeve pattern being chalked on; the linen lining that will be used on the waistcoat; and finally the marked-up jacket.

In the last picture those three horizontal lines you can see at the top left are the button placings. The curved line coming up into them (from underneath the middle of the scissors) is the edge of the jacket. Notice how it meets the vertical between the first two buttons, to take account of the roll (you’re looking down the jacket).

May I Introduce Mr. Hare

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You may already be familiar with Mr Hare and his wonderful shoes, but I suspect a greater number will not. So, I thought this an ideal place to highlight one of the UK’s newest and most talented shoes designers.

Of Jamaican descent, an Arsenal supporter and London based, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Hare at London Fashion Week. A chap on a mission, he describes himself as “Just a man with a passion for shoes who feels let down by a shoe industry that doesn’t really seem to care”.

As to his designs, his website carries the description “shoes you can attach some romance to”.  Shoes are named after various heroes – this season its authors – and it seems to work. The Mr. Fitzgerald, for example, leaps straight from the pages of ‘The Great Gatsby’.

He plays with texture and material in a way that manages to be both elegant and striking . For example, my favourite shoe  – the Mr Genet – combines leather, suede and velvet. While being highly original, all his shoes have a classic resonance which makes them easily recognisable. It also makes them easy to incorporate into a classic wardrobe.

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Mr Hare is quite picky about who stocks his shoes, and is equally particular about their manufacture. Aside from the high quality materials all his shoes are handmade in Italy and blake constructed. They’re not cheap, but a fair price in my view.

Despite being a prolific blogger he remains a strangely elusive character. In none of his interviews will you find mention of his first name –I’m not going to spill the beans. Indeed, if all you knew of him was his shoes and his blog you might think he was a rather extravagant, even theatrical, man. The reality is that he is a softly spoken, polite and down to earth man who clearly enjoys his relative anonymity. In many ways this lack of flashy self publicity adds to the allure – let the shoes do the talking I say.

Subtlety of detail, elegant originality and high quality construction, the talented Mr Hare is someone you’d do well to become acquainted with.

Sartorial Love/Hate: Fedora

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I adore hats. I have quite a few of them but nowhere near the number I should like to own. For my next purchase, I am rather taken with the idea of a Homburg.

I haven’t always liked headgear. It is only due to recent maturation that I have taken to hat-aspiration. It was very hard to get excited about the kind of headwear that dominated the school and varsity scene; if it was a particularly chilly day, you wore a beanie. And despite the physical pleasure in wearing a head-warmer of this style, it is an amateurish design. No matter how luxurious brands like Burberry Prorsum upgrade the beanie to some vicuna-cashmere, hand-knitted deluxe tea-cosy, it will always be a beanie – no milliner worth their salt would acknowledge it as anything else.

The advantage of a beanie is that no one seems to find it particularly distracting or conspicuous. It barely alters the day’s ensemble; the silhouette remains the same. It is favoured by gentlemen of many a generation, chiefly because it is a cheap, effective and unobtrusive method of keeping warm. The problem? Well, it’s not exactly elegant. It doesn’t have the presence that other headgear offers; the rakish brims, the altered silhouettes. It is, by comparison, disappointingly anonymous.

A fedora, by way of contrast, is precisely the opposite. So noticeable are fedoras, hats that were worn by nearly every metropolitan gentleman just over half a century ago, that when I saw a fedora-wearing gentleman walking towards me on St James’ Street, more than six pairs of John Bull eyes turned and scrutinized the wearer. A gentleman no longer needs to wear an unusual hat to attract attention – he simply needs to wear a hat.

The fedora was a popular item of headgear in the early twentieth century, firstly for women and latterly for middle-of-the-road men. It was ubiquitous; on streets, in cinemas, on tradesmen, lawyers, screen stars and sportsmen. By the end of the 1950s, it was rarely seen as the fashion moved towards hats with smaller brims (for example, the trilby) to complement the clothing styles. By the mid-sixties, the writing was on the wall; JFK had been the first president not to wear a hat on distinctly ‘hat’ occasions and living with headgear had become not only unfashionable but undesirable. The only men still wearing fedoras into the late 60s and early 70s were of an older generation.

Those who wear fedoras love them but they can receive very different responses from others. When I wore a black fedora with a double-breasted jacket earlier on this year, one of the more pleasant responses I received was ‘Ahh, nice hat mate but…you don’t really need to wear one though? I mean, you’re still young.’ Other responses rhymed with ‘banker’, ‘glosser’ and ‘grass-mole’ and it made me consider that there are still plenty of people who are unwilling to allow the fedora to make any kind of renaissance.

I tend not to wear mine very much, which I greatly regret, due to it being such a ‘statement’ hat; it has nothing on my silk top hat or straw boater but, bizarrely, in their own context those models are apparently more tolerable – every mucker, irrespective of class or generation, wears a topper and boater to Ascot and Henley. The ‘statement’ about the hat is that it is an everyday item and that, if I chose to, I could wear it everyday as many millions of men before me once did.

As such, my fedora – a present from a dear relative who admired and cheered my interest in old fashions – sits on my shelf; dusty and rather sad; an unfortunate victim of sartorial love/hate.

How My Ties Were Made

The men and women at Vanners were kind enough to send me pictures recently of how my bespoke ties were made down in Suffolk. So here they are, with explanatory captions.

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The three-piece pattern for the tie is laid out on the woven silk, at exactly 45 degrees, having been made to my specifications in length and width.

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The resulting pieces are laid out in bunches, ready to be sewn.

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The silk tipping to the tie is then machine-sewn to the front and back blades, forming a one-centimetre edge or ‘mitre’ along the edge. I opted for self-tipping, with the same silk as the body of the tie. (There is much tradition around tipping – some brands, for example, deliberately tip all their ties with black in homage to the black-out curtains that were used for tipping after the Second World War due to a fabric shortage.)

The two blades and the neck are also joined together. And a smaller, hand stitch is used to close the tip of the tie to prevent any pulling at that point. Any excess fabric is also trimmed.

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The tie is lightly pressed at the tips and seams.

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The lining is then inserted into the tie and the folds carefully placed over the centre line. While this is referred to as a seven-fold tie, there are in fact 10 – here you can see eight of them, with two more tucked underneath.

(Ancillary fact on tie folds: Originally all printed ties were seven-folds as the silk came in lengths one-metre wide, and it had to be folded seven times to get the width of the tie. All woven silk came 28-inches wide, as that was the width of the hand looms, and so they were always made into four-fold ties. This was before the use of linings or ties that were made in three pieces. Thanks to the guys at Peckham Rye for that fact.)

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When the folds are in place, the tie is pinned along its length to hold its shape prior to sewing.

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The self-loop (a loop to hold the rear blade that is the same material as the tie) is then inserted.

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Before a single thread is used to sew the entire length of the tie.

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The tie is then gently steamed by hand and all its dimensions and measurements are checked.

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The self loop and any labels are sewn on by hand before the final inspection.

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Which is done by machine as well as eye, before the tie is packaged ready for delivery.

The Ranchers Glove

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Sunday was bitterly cold in London, which prompted me to think about winter time accessories.

It is often the case that you fail to appreciate those things which are common place to you. Therefore, I suspect that those readers from the US of A (which is the majority of you good folk) may not fully appreciate my long running obsession with the Rancher Glove.

Curiously, despite the welcome revival of American work wear as a trend, these gloves have been largely ignored. To me they’re as iconic a piece of American apparel as Bass Weejuns, button-down oxford shirts, Redwing boots or chinos. I can’t imagine Clint Eastwood without a pair –whether or not he actually wore them in any of his movies I don’t know. And other than a medieval gauntlet you’d be hard pressed to find a tougher and manlier glove.

Normally made of Deer Skin or even harder wearing Elk skin, they’re the perfect combination of form and function, designed for roping in cattle and laying out barbed wire on cold windswept prairies. Over time to patina changes, and they will become grubbier, which only ads character –rather like beaten up suede loafer.

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There is also a curious resonance with gentleman’s apparel of the 20’s and 30’s. The colour alone is very reminiscent of those gloves often featured in Apparel Arts illustrations. With that in mind I’d wear them with anything from a Peacoat to traditional Covert coat.

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Not only are they unavailable in the UK , it took me a fair amount of time to find out their proper name. I have found an English glove maker that will knock up a pair, at a reasonable price and of Deer skin. Somehow that seems just plain wrong, like going to Euro-Disney. You feel sullied, deceitful even; it’s just not the full Uncle Sam.

After 2 years of longing I still haven’t managed to get hold of pair. So those of you in a more advantageous position than I, enjoy what you have.