Archives for 2009

Is That A Real Pocket Watch


“Is that a real pocket watch?” they ask, poking at the chain on my waistcoat. I am always amazed by the reaction – invariably silent surprise – when they discover that I am indeed wearing a real pocket watch. The question ‘why’ often follows the discovery and, though I am loathe to justify my attire to anyone, I am happy to inform the inquirer that I am rather keen on knowing the time.

Of course, one does not only wear a pocket watch for reasons of practicality. No one wears any decorative time piece purely for effective timekeeping. For one thing, a pocket watch is nowhere near as handy as a wristwatch. They are often heavy and, depending on the style of chain, can be rather intrusive. It has been nearly a century since the acknowledged death of the pocket watch. Through transitional models, the wristwatch defied convention to become the pre-eminent  What was viewed as feminine and inappropriate for a gentleman before the 1920s became the norm soon after. Since the 17th century the pocket watch had been the only serious portable timekeeping accessory but the fashions of the twentieth century’s third decade were so forward looking, and partly due to the horror of the First World War, so rejecting of the past that it’s decline was, perhaps, unusually rapid.

Nowadays, no one wears any kind of timepiece without wanting to show it off and the modern day wearer of the pocket watch is no different. The practice is generally adopted by very old gentlemen or young gentlemen who fancy themselves very old; on the latter, it often looks like costume but on the former, despite the fact that even they are too young to have worn a pocket watch in its heyday, it fits perfectly. I imagine this has something to do with the vast array of twentieth century photographs of statesmen such as Winston Churchill, Arthur Balfour and David Lloyd George, greying Victorian relics who always wanted the jazz turned down, wearing elaborate pocket watches.

Unless you have oodles of cash to spend on such an item at Breguet, one of the best places to look for an attractive and finely made pocket watch is at auction. eBay can sometimes offer some wonderful bargains but watch out for the sellers from the Far East claiming to retail a classic British pocket watch – that is made in China. Silver and gold are the metals used most often on antique pocket watches and whether you prefer one or the other is entirely personal. I like silver myself as it is slightly fresher, more youthful and more versatile.

The key to wearing a pocket watch is nonchalance. Nonchalance and an appearance of habit. Fiddle around with your chain too much and the look will look forced and clownish. It is an ideal occasion to wear it with black tie as a black waistcoat, under a black jacket, looks utterly dead. The brightness of a pocket watch chain brings out the proportions of the waistcoat wonderfully. It is also nice to wear it in a day suit, but be careful not to ‘ham’ the look up too much – adding spats and a fedora are far too much. It will always work best with darker colours and, in order to avoid costume associations, wear with simple accessories. T-Shirts


Some men these days wear little else, but you will rarely find me in a T-shirt. However, if I’m out on the water, on the beach, or relaxing at an informal BBQ – as I will be in New Zealand this Christmas – then you will see me in one, usually under an opened shirt. are my go too people. Indeed, this week Theo and his team have been helping me design a t-shirt as a gift for a friend of mine.

T-shirts are either festoon with the designer’s logos or have some trivial, nonsensical design on them. Theo Stegers wants to change all that. Feeling that T-shirt designs could actually mean something to the people who wear them he conceived of He then jacked in his recruitment business and hasn’t looked back. In contemplating designs and topics he tells his team of young, energetic designers to consider the things, places and people they admire, not what’s commercially successful. What results are designs that are original, thought provoking, vibrant and sometimes whimsical. Many are artworks in themselves.


The T-shirts cover everything from Theories that changed the World to sportsmen, politician and film starts – my favourite T-shirt is the Fred Astair homage. I first met Theo some 12 months ago when I was searching out independent retailers in the East End of London, he showed me a T-shirt with Margaret Thatcher on it. I was somewhat surprised, but as he explained to me; “love her or loath her, you’ve got to admire her”.

Finding A Sponge And Press


Most men destroy their suits by having them dry-cleaned too often. That much is uncontroversial. A high-street dry cleaner will stick your suit in a large drum, soak it with chemicals that spread the dirt around more than they get rid of it, and then put it in a big industrial press – which will stamp it flat, ruining any curve in the shoulders, chest canvas or lapels.

The chemicals wear away the cloth, shortening its life. The press forces a three-dimensional object to become 2D.

Much better is a sponge and press. This has to be done by hand and involves someone lightly sponging the suit before pressing it with a steam iron. The lining has to be done first, and makes a surprising difference to how comfortable the suit is. Then the pockets. Finally the outside is pressed – in small sections and rolling the lapels, chest and shoulders. A wooden mould is often used in the sleeve to retain its shape.

This is what a Savile Row tailor will do for its clients every few months, often as part of the service. It can make a suit look and feel like new.

For some gentlemen, this is all that is ever required. I remember David Gale at Turnbull & Asser telling me with great animation that “first, you only ever need a sponge-and-press, and second, it should always be free”.

For most, dry cleaning is still required, it just has to be kept to a minimum. Some have everything dry cleaned once a year, before it goes into storage for the season. Others keep it for extreme situations, such as a bad stain. I try to dry clean as little as I can – and I don’t feel it’s required that often when the suits are in consistent rotation.

But they could certainly do with a regular sponge and press. Which is where we hit a snag. There are very few, if any, dry cleaners with a spotless (sorry) reputation for hand pressing. I’ve had the shape of more than one suit ruined by a supposedly high-end cleaner.

So I’m conducting an experiment. I am collecting recommendations for companies, individuals and dry cleaners that offer a sponge and press, and trialling each one in turn. (Tell me if you have a recommendation.)

This week I tried Stephen Haughton, a professional valet who spends most of his time working with VIP clients. He has their keys, takes their suits (and shoes) when they’re away and returns them before the client returns. Some have so many they wouldn’t notice if the suits weren’t returned.

Stephen sponged and pressed a grey flannel suit of mine and returned it within a couple of days. I then took it to my tailor to get their verdict on the job – which was very good. The shape was excellent and, for want of a better phrase, it felt like new. It did.

The service cost £19.95. That includes securing any loose buttons and threads. If it was heavily soiled, ripped or had silk lapels it would have been £25.

Stephen does pick up from businesses as well as people’s homes, and has worked with tailors in the past including Kilgour and Welsh & Jeffries. If I use him in the future, I will probably leave a few suits at Graham Browne and have him pick them up from there. Stephen can be contacted at: stephenhaughton at aol dot com.

Next time I’ll give an old suit to a ‘good’ dry cleaner.

Readers Question: A Perfect Gift

A friend of mine contacted me last week asking for help. She was looking for a Christmas present for her new chap. My advice may prove useful, whether you’re hunting for gifts or not.


Help me!

I have a new man and I have no idea whatsoever what to get him for Christmas. He’s (relatively) stylish, 30, American etc. I want to get him something which isn’t completely obvious (no socks, hankies or ties – I think that might be lame), I don’t really want to spend more than a tonne [£100] either.

You’re my shopping guru. Obi won, you’re my only hope!”


My first thought is book your fella an appointment with Erland at Stephan Haroutunian Shirts (Fulham), and pay for him to have a shirt made. I get my shirts made here, so what better recommendation could you ask for? They also make shirts for many British Army Officers  – chaps not know for accepting slovenliness. This was how the business actually started two generations ago.


Erland does a very good made to measure shirt at two price points, £69 and £79. There is no minimum order. This last point is very rare. Usually having shirts made to measure is quite an expensive business because most makers have minimum orders. This can be anything from 3 to 5 shirts in one hit. Erland will do single shirts, which makes it wonderfully affordable.


The shirts are made in the Haroutunian family’s workshop in Cyprus and are good quality, with beautifully soft unfused collars, although they do offer various combinations of interlining.

If your man’s a stylish fellow he’ll appreciate it. It’s a nice experience and he may even find a useful source for the future. Here is the complete lowdown.

Erland is a lovely man. I’m sure if you explain the situation and get him to write out a card along the lines of “Dear Mr X, we would be delighted to receive you at your earliest convenience…etc“. If it helps, mention my name.

Your man may already have his shirts made, but I doubt it. Most men don’t”.

While the people and events portrayed are real, some of the names have been changed to protect the identity of those receiving gifts from Santa.

Wear A Contrast Tie With A Contrast Collar

A shirt with cuffs and collar (usually white) that are a different colour to the body is not easy to wear well. Sometimes known as a contrast collar, it is more often worn badly than flatteringly.

It should be a slightly unusual part of a man’s outfit, rather than something that glares. The key, for me, is to wear it with a tie that is dark enough or colourful enough to push the contrast collar into the background.

White collar and cuffs hark back to the days when both items would be removable. As the only items that would really be seen – the body buried beneath tie, waistcoat and jacket that was not removed – the collar and cuffs needed to be clean, smart and crisp. Hence the starch.

(And that moment in the Dickens novel Martin Chuzzlewit where one character is revealed to have packed piles of collars and cuffs for his journey to America, but no shirts. All one needed was the starched white extremities to give an impression of respectability.)

Being detachable was very practical. The collar and cuffs wear out quickest, so having replaceable ones considerably lengthened the life of the shirt. Even today, Turnbull & Asser tell me that they frequently reinvigorate bespoke customers’ shirts by replacing the collar and cuffs with white ones (the original colour sometimes being out of production or difficult to match).

But the men (usually bankers) that you see wearing them often look garishly, not to say cheaply dressed. That’s because the tie they choose is often too pale or too plain to draw attention. And the outfit becomes about the contrast between shirt body and shirt collar.

So with a blue shirt with white collar, say, a pale blue tie or one with only a small geometric pattern is not going to be strong enough. If it were replaced with a navy-blue tie with silver club stripe, attention would shift to the tie and away from the collar.

Pattern is as important as tone. Yesterday I saw a young banker wearing a plain black tie with a blue/white contrast collar. Aside from the fact that plain black will often look cheap, the lack of pattern ruined the combination. In contrast, I observed a slightly older man in the City wearing a dark grey tie against the same shirt, the tie patterned by silver paisley motifs. It was still subtle, but there was no question of the collar dominating.

Think of the contrast between shirt and collar in the same way as you would the stripes of a suit. If the stripes are so strong that they dominate the outfit, the wearer is unlikely to look chic or sophisticated. And the tie is, in its way, a little like the pocket handkerchief: usually it is meant to stand out against the suit, just like a tie. The collar should not.

Oh, and it goes without saying that the contrast collar and cuffs looks a lot better when you keep your jacket on.