Historical Prescriptivism: The Awkward Bedfellows of Tradition and Evolution in Menswear

historical-prescriptivism

But,
 erm,
 what
 exactly 
is 
Historical 
Prescriptivism? 
The
 term
 relates 
to 
the 
linguistic 
notion
 that, 
whilst 
language 
is 
constantly 
evolving 
and 
changing 
form, 
certain 
styles
 (often 
those 
that 
were 
popular
 in 
the 
past) 
are 
considered 
‘better’ 
language 
by 
a
 majority 
of 
speakers, 
at 
any 
given 
time. 
For 
example:
 the 
subjunctive 
in
 English 
often
 goes
 unmarked,
 these
 days, 
meaning 
that
 many
 people 
would
 say
 or 
write
 ‘If 
I
 was rich’ 
instead 
of
 ‘If I 
were rich’
 – 
just
 the 
sort
 of
 thing
 your
 secondary
 school
 English
 teacher
 would
 have
 pulled
 you
 up
on. 
Leaving 
aside
 the 
subjective
 argument
 as
 to
 which
 version
 is
 more
 pleasing 
to
 the
 eye 
or
 ear,
 it
s 
not a
 wild 
suggestion 
to
 say
 that, 
in
 the 
future, 
the 
‘If
 I
 were’
 construction 
may
 be 
completely 
obsolete, having
 been
 superseded
 by
 ‘If
 I
 was’
 which 
will
 then
 be 
considered 
standard,
 ‘correct’ 
English
 of
 the
 sort
 spoken 
by 
BBC
 presenters.

The 
point
 is 
this:
 change 
is
 natural 
and
 unstoppable 
but
 the 
majority 
will
 always
 resist
 change
 and
 look 
longingly
 to 
the 
way 
things
 were 
in 
the
 past
 as 
a 
sort 
of
 golden 
ideal.
 This 
linguistic
 example 
is
 allegorical
 for
 menswear,
 too,
 where
 innovation
 and
 evolution
 are 
often
 criticized 
for
 departing 
too
 far
 from
 the
 map
 drawn
 up 
by
 their
 historical
 forebears.

This 
issue 
came
 to
 a
head 
for 
me,
 recently,
 because
 I
 was
 asked
 by
 a 
friend 
who
 has
 her
 own
 clothing 
line
 to
 design
 some
 menswear 
for
 a
 bridal
 line 
she 
is
 working 
on
 at
 the
 moment. 

In 
the
 process
 of
 collecting 
images
 for
 the
 moodboard, 
I
 did
 some
 research
 online,
 reading
 some
 of the
 men’s
 style
 blogs
 and 
fora
 in
 order
 to
 get
 a
 sense
 of
 the 
mood
 vis‐à‐vis
 morning
 dress 
and 
what

one
 ought
 to 
wear 
to
 a wedding. 

I
 was 
struck 
by 
how
 rigid 
and 
dogmatic 
the 
majority
 of posters
 were
 with 
respect 
to 
what
 precisely 
constituted
 acceptable
 wedding 
attire!
 When 
I
 came 
to
 sketching 
the 
pieces, 
I
 found 
myself
 wanting 
to 
make
 subtle 
changes 
to 
the
 clothes 
but
 feeling
 almost
 guilty
 for
 doing
 so.

Some 
degree
 of 
change 
is 
to
 be
 expected:
 as
 we 
live 
and
 work 
in
 centrally 
heated

or
 air‐conditioned 
houses 
and 
offices 
and
 are 
thus
 less
 exposed 
to 
the 
elements 
it
 is
 only
 natural
 that 
we 
should 
change
 our
 clothes.
 As
 body
 shapes 
change 
and
 new
 textiles 
are 
developed,
 we
 should
 expect 
this,
 too, 
to
 have
 an 
impact.
 The
 real
 difficulty 
for 
us 
lies 
in 
assessing 
how
 much
 modification
 of
 existing 
styles 
is
 possible 
without
 the 
clothes
 losing 
the
 essence
 of
 what
 they
 originally
 were 
or
 appearing
 ersatz.
 For
 what 
it’s
 worth, 
I
 believe 
that 
change 
for
 the 
sake 
of
 change
 is
 pointless;
 but
 I 
am 
all
 for
 tweaking,
 personalizing,
 and
 making 
more 
relevant
 the 
classic 
items
 and
 designs
 that
 have
 served 
us
 so well
 in
 the 
past.

I’m
 curious
 to 
hear
 your
 thoughts.

Dover Street Market

dover-street-market

If last week’s recommendation, Albam, is the best of modern Britain then the Dover Street Market is the worst. Everything most awful is here; a belief that ‘new’ is a substitute for ‘better’; that manners and common courtesy are old fashioned and the concerns of others; the delusion that celebrity and fame make up for quality, and a willingness to pay vast sums to foreigners for what amounts to our own damn heritage. Add in a liberal application of ‘Hoxton Twat’ (follow the link for a definition) and that pretty much sums up Dover Street Market.

The shop is what might be referred to as a ‘concept store’. Applying the word ‘concept‘ to anything should be viewed with suspicion in my view. After all, global thermo nuclear war is a concept, it’s just a really, really bad one.

In this case, the ‘concept’ is to create a shop with the variety and unstructured, rough nature of a street market. To that end concrete floors, metal banisters and steel frames for hanging clothing seem to be the main accoutrements for achieving this.

I’d read so much painted prose about this place that I was keen to check it out. In addition, it’s the only stockist in London carrying a Mark McNairy shoe, the subject of a recent post, and I wanted to have a look before buying online.

To begin with, spread over several floors you have no idea where you’re going. Nothing is labelled.  There are no signs and no staff members willing to halt their conversions with one another long enough to offer assistance. I made for a stair case in the hope that it might lead somewhere. There I encountered a couple who were watching my movements as closely as I watched theirs; each of us hoping that the other might make some knowing move which would signify where to go. Spying some clothes I dashed through a doorway and found two assistants, who were merrily ignoring members of the public. Asking where I might find Inventory clothing I was treated to an up and down glance before the female assistant contemptuously spat out the word “basement”.

As I trudged back down through the shop, confident that at any moment I might find myself in the ladies toilet, I saw shop assistant after shop assistant ignoring customers to lounge around pretentiously while talking to their colleagues. Not once did anybody say hello, good afternoon or even acknowledge my presence, nor anybody else’s for that matter. I thought Hilditch and Key was the least hospitable shop in London, I was evidently wrong.

As to the stock, we’re talking the latest in street wear, new ivy and American work wear. This genre is something I take an interest in, and it was good to finally see items from Inventory, Junya Watanabe and S.N.S Herning. But for the most part it was over priced tat of indifferent quality masquerading as classics with a twist.

Having had enough I quickly left with a desire never to return. If it were a dining experience it would be a public bin with a French maître d and Gordon Ramsey hurling abuse at you from a darkened doorway.

Book Review: Bespoke, Savile Row Ripped And Smoothed

bespoke-richard-andersonRichard Anderson can write. This quickly becomes apparent as the reader embarks on the story of his time on Savile Row – from dishevelled apprentice to Huntsman’s youngest-ever head cutter. The realisation that a book is to be chronological, and start at the very beginning, is normally accompanied by a long intake of breath. Fortunately, even the description of Anderson’s father taking his 17-year old to the job interview is entertaining.

It helps that the story of Huntsman’s takeover reads like a genuine thriller, with high stakes, espionage and betrayal. And throughout the 20-odd years described, characters such as Colin Hammick, Brian Hall and Dick Lakey necessarily breed amusing anecdotes. Such as the time Lakey tried to rescue 10 pairs of white trousers by washing them at home, only for the zips to stain the crotch; then adding lemon, only for it to add its own mark; and then successfully washing them clean, only for foxes to tear them off the washing line and eat them.

But Anderson’s writing has its own rhythm and pathos. A liking for short, one-sentence paragraphs and chapter-ending cliff hangers means the story tumbles along.

The latter sections on Richard Anderson Ltd, after the fall of Huntsman, are nowhere near as self-serving as I had been led to believe. The style switches from chronology to analysis, enabling short sections on women in the industry, a day in the life and ready-to-wear clothing in Japan. The second of these three chapters is particularly interesting for an insight into the running of a bespoke firm, and the challenges in figuration, for example, that come up every day. Such as the wadding, canvas, styrofoam and even plasticine used to try and deal with James Fox’s tricky shoulders.

And while some will bemoan the fact that suits under Savile Row names are made in Japanese factories for local clients, the description of how this functions is fascinating.

For tailoring enthusiasts there are several insightful sections on the practice of cutting. The description of how Anderson learned to cut trousers for the first time, for example, and then later how to take measurements ahead of his first trip to the US. Indeed, for those not enthused by technical detail the passages where Hall describes the chalking of back and foreparts could even be too much.

There is, finally, a surprisingly in-depth glossary. I can now identify a bar tack, describe the nap on various cloths and relate the origins of Silesia (named after a region of Poland because of the inventor’s wife’s sympathies for a country being partitioned between Germany, Austria and Russia. The descriptions only suffer from the inevitable difficulty in describing the look and feel of different cloths without imagery.

Highly recommended.

Ormonde Jayne Perfumery

ormonde-jayne

It’s always a great day when you discover something new, particularly when it seems to be everything you were looking for.

I was a little reluctant to write about and recommend a perfumier given that aftershaves and colognes are personal things; and describing scents requires a certain type of linguistic dexterity I’m not confident I possess. But specialising in unusual oils and ingredients Ormande Jayne produces something very different, so I thought it a perfect Mensflair recommendation.

I decided to visit having received a press release from the company. While plenty of sites are happy to re-print company propaganda I like to check things out for myself, so I popped in on Saturday.

A very small boutique based in the Royal Arcade on 28 Old Bond Street, the antipodean girl that served me was both extremely knowledgeable and very polite. As it happens I also met the founder Linda, who came down to say hello. A woman who was eminently approachable, even a little nervous when talking about herself, I found her very pleasant. Her background is as exotic and original as the scents she produces; having travelled the world running boutique hotels, a soya bean farm, a small chain of ice cream parlours she started her scented career selling flowers by the roadside and learning to make scented candles and bathing oils.

Ormonde Man is my favourite of the scents. Rich and layered, if velvet had an odour this would be it. At the top end it’s spicy and woody with floral undertones that provide balance and stop it from being heavy and old fashioned. It lasts for the day and as it wears the top notes fade and the floral undertones take over, providing a clean fresh smell reminiscent of lavender, roses and talc, but without the sickliness or smelling too feminine. Occasionally catching a sniff as one moves around you feel cocoon in pleasantness.

Ingredients include; Juniper Berry, Bergamot, coriander, cardamom, cedar, sandalwood, musk and unusually Black Hemlock.

At £68 it’s at the top end of the cost spectrum but worth every penny in my view. It’s my birthday in March so I may well treat myself.

There are other fragrances to choose from, Isfarkand being another notable one, and Linda is keen for people to take sample scents to try out for themselves. Ormonde Jayne has an online presence and they ship to the rest of the world.

Reader Question: The Differences In Bespoke Tailors

CS, Los Angeles: I have been reading PS for the last few months in an effort to educate myself on various matters of style. First and foremost, I want to thank you for the time and effort you put into your work in this area. I suspect that you have a day job (and I believe you mentioned having at least one daughter in a post), so, from the perspective of another young father-professional, your work is all the more impressive.

 

Please forgive the bluntness, but I was hoping to get your views on why it is you chose the tailors you did for your first few British bespoke items.  Is it simply the price range of the larger names that caused you not to try them out or is it a value calculation?  Did you feel that you had the same options with Graham Browne that you might have had with a ‘bigger name’ shop?

difference-bespoke

Dear CS, thank you for your question. I cannot afford Savile Row at this point in my life, so that limited my decision. But I have also over time learnt the various ways in which bespoke tailors – all of whom deserve the name – differ from each other. And that informs the value calculation.

The first point to note is that the materials are all the same. Unless you want the exclusivity of Huntsman Opus or some such record cloth, you can find the same wools and linings at any bespoke house. Everyone uses Lesser, Minnis, W Bill etc and the same lining books.

Second, the process is the same. Both GB and one of the more famous Savile Row names will take an equal number of measurements, create a unique paper pattern and cut the cloth by hand, creating a basted suit that will be ripped apart and re-cut, and remade for a forward fitting. Then the final suit will be made, which can be altered again. In this way they are both entirely different to made-to-measure.

Assuming some minor changes are made at the final stage, this means visiting the tailor five times. Many Savile Row tailors will insist on more than this. That’s more expensive as it means more staff, more cutting and more time. But whether that is worth it depends on fit, which will be discussed later.

Third, the style and design options are unrelated to price. Some tailors, such as Anderson & Sheppard or Huntsman, and more known for a particular style and are more likely to stay with it. Others have no particular house style, but dislike experimentation or anything out of the ordinary, as it takes longer.

This is a question of personality rather than price. Russell and Dan at Graham Browne are always surprisingly excited about experiments – as demonstrated by both my and Guy Hills’ (of Dashing Tweeds) commissions. Some Savile Row tailors are equally impressive in that regard.

So those are the similarities. What are the differences? Well, Graham Browne does a few things with a sewing machine rather than by hand. For example, it attaches the layers of chest canvas together by sewing machine. These are still not tight stitches, and the canvas as a whole is secured to the jacket by hand, to ensure movement, but that construction of the canvas would be done by hand at most good Savile Row houses. It takes ages. And so it is expensive.

Personally, I love the way that my Graham Browne suits have adapted to my chest and feel personal. Far better than any expensive off-the-peg suit that had a floating canvas (Ralph Lauren Purple Label, for example). But a Savile Row suit might adapt better there – I don’t know, I’ve never owned one.

Another difference is that Graham Browne does not make its own shoulder pads. They are pre-constructed. Unless you have unusual shoulders, though, I don’t think this makes a substantial difference.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for the price, Graham Browne offers little after-sales service. They cannot sponge and press suits onsite. With good Savile Row houses, this is included in the price and can be done for years to come. And while GB would be happy to carry out minor alterations after the fact, it will not substantially alter and refurbish a suit several years down the line without some cost. Good Savile Row houses will – it’s part of the service.

These last three points are all part of a value calculation, as you put it. They are all things that GB has opted to do without in order to charge less. And I’m perfectly happy with that – the construction is great and the fit fantastic, which are the priorities with bespoke.

Then there is definitely a premium for a big name (however small) and it costs a lot more to have large premises on or around Savile Row. That’s obvious if you look at the prices of Savile Row-trained cutters that now work somewhere else in the country (like Thomas Mahon) or in smaller premises (like Steven Hitchcock).

But, I think the most important thing you get, or should get with a Savile Row tailor, is consistency and quality of fit. Savile Row head cutters are at the top of their game. It is a prestigious position, and they are very good. You can have confidence that they will make you a very well-fitting suit, where you couldn’t with a smaller less-known name. It’s less risky. Not that the biggest names don’t sometimes get it wrong – but you’re on safer ground.

You can also justifiably be more demanding on Savile Row (back to the idea of service), changing things or requesting more fittings. The tailor is likely to be more demanding on that score as well.

There is a chance that there are tiny points of fit on a Graham Browne suit that would be improved on Savile Row. But I can’t see them and I’ve had suits made for a while now. I think Russell is a good cutter and others think so too.

Would I have a Savile Row suit made if I could afford it? Yes, I would. But given that it would cost three times one from Graham Browne, I would have to be earning at least three times what I do now.