Getting the Length Right

Since my first bespoke suit, several years ago, my tastes have evolved through a process of trial and error, making it very clear what suits me and what does not. I found an old Moleskin diary the other day and there, sandwiched between a retrospectively embarassing, studenty attempt at a poem and a rather short and unimaginative list of possible careers upon graduation, I found an interesting entry.

It was an bullet-point list (alongside a fairly impressive – if I do say so, myself! –  freehand sketch) of all the features I wanted in my very first bespoke suit, excitedly written in advance of meeting my tailor for the first time.  Many of those features – waisted jacket, charcoal grey fabric, working buttons etc. – have not changed; but a couple have and each has a dramatic effect on the overall appearance of the suit. One such example is the length of the jacket – an area that is utterly crucial to get right and doubly so for those noticably above or below average height.

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Short jackets are very  much in vogue with many of the menswear designer labels at the moment and have been for the last two to three years. Thom Browne (above) is perhaps the most famous proponent of  this ‘shrunken jacket’ look but, even on the highstreet, most jackets are cut short. The idea is that it makes you look taller: the jacket finishes higher on the trouser, leaving more leg showing which gives the illusion of lank. This probably works – to a degree: an overlong jacket will certainly render its wearer shorter to the average eye. The other idea behind this look is that it gives the jacket a casual air.

Yet, when I tried on my original bespoke jacket, after re-reading my diary entry, even the opiod cloud of nostalgia was not enough to blind me to the fact that my jacket – although not without merit – was probably not something I’d want to wear today.  You see, the trade-off with a short jacket is that, by shortening, you invariably make the jacket boxier as a result of its being shorter in length whilst the shoulders remain the same width as they would on a regular-length jacket. This is not a flattering aesthetic and – especially if you go very short as Thom Browne has above – is one which can imbue the jacket with the slightly clownlike quality of an awkward schoolchild wearing clothes they’ve outgrown – not the look most of us desire.

The oft-written rule-of-thumb vis-à-vis jacket length is that, with your arms hanging loosely by your sides, your fingers should curl up naturally around the bottom of your jacket. Of course this is just a rough guide and the best solution will vary from person to person. The one inviolable rule – which is, of course, violated oh-so often and with eye-catchingly vulgar panache – is that the vents on the back of the jacket should completely cover your posterior. I think that’s a must.

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Also from ‘that’ side of the Atlantic, of the same Christian name but a graduate of a rather different school of thought, as far as the suit goes, I give you Tom Ford (above). In this photo, his suit looks just the right length to my humbly observing eyes: the broad shoulders are counterbalanced by a medium-long jacket whose length permits the tailor to give the item more shape and definition without ruining the trouser-jacket proportion.

As with most things discussed on this website, it is simply a matter of taste: but I find myself having most definitely changed camps on this and consider it very unlikely that I’ll ever start asking for short jackets again. Indeed, I often see men at work whose jackets are clearly bespoke and think to myself that they’ve ruined what is otherwise a very fine jacket by having had it cut two inches too short!

What are your thoughts? Have I missed something?

Sartorial Love/Hate: The Red Trouser

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“Oooh! Seasonal!” they cooed on a frosty December morning in the office. Despite the fact that I was wearing about five or six items that could be labelled as ‘seasonal’ – including a sensible scarf and a warm hat – it was somehow predictable that my colleagues eyes should be drawn to my Santa-red trousers that poked out from the hem of my checked overcoat. Further comments about St Nicholas, grimly expected and consequently lacking in any hilarity, ensued with the more polite of the dissenters explaining in a painfully sympathetic way that my trousers were ‘rather bright.’

I turned a corner and suddenly the condemnation ceased; “I love your trousers!” shrilled someone excitedly, another walked past grinning “They’re so fun. I wish I could wear something like that.” The wheels in the head whirred, thoughts and ideas fizzed around my little grey cells as I realised, encouraging a knowing smile to my lips, that this was another clear case of sartorial love/hate.

Whereas others might question why one should hate before one questions why one should love, I will tackle the latter first. For I am a proud wearer of bright red trousers; not one of those who wears a more discreet shade of burgundy to avoid stares. And though proud, I am not one who has searched for a reason or an excuse for the attire; my red shod legs are an act of folly. And so, I pose myself the question now; why love?

Firstly, it is clear that I, and many others, adore the colour red. Strongly associated with fire and energy, red is a colour of emotion and passion. And whereas a bright red suit is somewhat comical, a red pair of trousers thrown into a conservative ensemble adds an acceptable amount of ‘spice.’ Red trousers are jolly and mischievous, like the grin of a co-responding bounder as he hops into his motor car. They are also eye-catching and add a little tasteful circus eccentricity to a gentleman, particularly in a sea of navy and grey.

The unfortunate thing about the ‘jolly’ aspect of red trousers is that many people, true to their 20th century upbringing, associate the richer red with Santa Claus – and virtually nothing else. A red scarf is a ‘Santa scarf.’ A red jumper is a ‘Santa jumper.’ And, perhaps the most virulent example of all, red trousers are sniggered at as ‘Santa trousers.’ Coca-Cola must be laughing their heads off because the crimson incarnation of St Nicholas is almost entirely their doing. The saddest thing about this association is that Santa, splendid chap that he is, is scarcely the best model on the circuit.

It also seems to be true that many of the ‘haters’ of red trousers hate them for the same reason I adore them; they are daring and it requires courage to wear them.

I have rarely seen them worn incorrectly; most gentlemen of sufficient sartorial bravery have long since educated themselves in the ways of a well-cut trouser. They look wonderful with brown and tan shoes, blue blazers and also tweed jackets. Sky blue, white, navy and mid-grey are magnificent partner colours.

Portland General Store

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As I made clear recently, I’m on something of a scented odyssey. It has turned out to be a rather interesting journey.

I received a tip off about a little known and sparsely available range of products and scents called Portland General Store.

Founded in 2007 all the products are handmade in the state of Maine. Entitled Whisky, Tobacco, and Palo Santo the product range features stripped down splash colognes, aftershaves, Eau de toilettes, bath scrubs, moisturisers and shaving jelly (which has a treacle like consistency). They provide a refreshing alternative to the many over complicated, over hyped and underwhelming products on the market.

And stripped down is absolutely the right term to apply to these products. My favourite scent was Tobacco; manly, faintly woody with top notes of cinnamon. It is unpretentious, base even, with enough going on not to be boring. It did remind me slightly of stepping into Davidoff’s humidor for the first time, which is what you want from something called tobacco. It doesn’t last as long as I would like, but this is one I’ll keep in my desk at work and apply before an evening out.

Even the labels and bottles have a folksy uncomplicated aesthetic, which make them look like a cross between illicit moonshine and some old quacks suspect embrocation. None of this is surprising given that the recipes date back to the 20’s and 30’s. Prices range from £12-£68 for fragrances depending on the form they take.

A little easier to come by in the US, the only European stockist is London’s Archer Adams – a charming American man who has just set up an independent menswear business in London, and is worthy of a post in his own right.

All of this appeals to my sense of inverse snobbery, which as an Englishman I am sometimes susceptible too.

Leffot: A Sign Of US Shoe Trends

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In New York this week, and I popped in to see my good friend Steven Taffel, founder of Leffot – far and away the best shoe store in the city. In fact probably anywhere in the US outside Hawaii (the competition there being Leather Soul).

Since Steven and I first met, it’s been interesting to see the growth of both our blogs. While they have very different natures (Steven’s being a commercial venture to create interest in the store), the aim of celebrating classic men’s shoes is the same. And I still find it astonishing that we are unique, two years down the road. There are so few good men’s style blogs outside the US, and so few good commercial blogs by shoe retailers anywhere.

In fact I always say that if I want to browse high-end shoes, the Leffot blog is the first place I go. There will always be more images of shoes from Aubercy, Corthay or Edward Green there than on the companies’ own sites.

One definite trend over the past two years has been the popularity of locally made products in the US, and how that has benefited American shoemakers. Leffot now carries Alden, Rider Boot, Sebago and Wolverine, and the US brands have become the most popular in the store. The Wolverine 1,000 mile shoe is incredibly popular and the first two shipments of the Exclusive JC Indy Boots  (below) from Alden sold out before they could reach the store.

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The Wolverine isn’t exactly my style and I’ve never been a big fan of untextured brown cordovan, as the Indy Boots are made from; personally I’d go for the Rider Boot shown below – a made-to-order version in black with a red lining and sole. But you can’t argue with the sales figures.

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The Indy Boot is an example of another trend too – of Leffot growing from a simple retailer to a creator of its own products. Long a popular route for made-to-order shoes from Rider, Gaziano & Girling and the like, the Exclusive JC Indy was a special commission for the store named after a customer, Mr JC. The blue Greenwich boot from Alden with ‘water lock’ waxed soles (below) was also an exclusive.

In the future, look out for Leffot commissioning its own exclusive designs, working with some US shoemakers and hopefully going on sale later this year.

(Pictured top: a made-to-order Wilfrid shoe from Corthay.)

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The Perfect Boxer Short

Any chap who has manned-up and bought underwear for his girlfriend understands all too well the myriad of pitfalls that lay in wait. For example, when asked “what cup size sir?” the reply “roughly a handful” won’t get you far.

Underwear stands testament to the unquantifiable differences between the two sexes. The boxer short, by comparison, is reassuringly straightforward and simple, just like us men. That is until you delve a little deeper.

Historically boxer shorts were part and parcel of a shirt maker’s art. The reason is simple. Having made his shirts he might find himself with left over pieces of cloth, ideally sized to be made into boxers. For this reason all proper boxer shorts are made from shirting cotton, which also makes them more robust than standard high street offerings. This is also the reason why a single pair from a shirt maker will cost substantially more than a Marks & Spencer’s multi-pack.

Material aside, there are differences in construction. Key is the panel seat, an extra piece of cloth sewn into the seat from waist band to crotch (see above picture). This stops the shorts riding up; allows for extra material cross the seat without providing baggy leg holes, which in turn provides greater support. The other consideration is a tunnel waistband. Here the elastic is enclosed by cotton, which is all that touches the skin.

A woman who knows all about this is Lucy O’Brien of Boxtree Boxers. A former Managing Editor at the Economist she recently decided a career change was in order. Men’s underwear may seem an unlikely avenue of exploration for a married woman with a young son, but Lucy is a woman with a plan.

For 20 years her husband has been a customer of my shirt maker Stephan Haroutunian. Aside from shirts he, like me, buys their boxers. Made in the proper way from the company’s shirting cotton, Lucy’s aim is to provide Haroutunian’s boxers to the world at a one stop website.  As she told me this week when I interviewed her: “I want to elevate the boxer” –an unfortunate use of language in connection to men’s underwear. But I can certainly attest to the fact that once you’ve splashed some cash on the real deal you won’t tolerate substitutes.

I never once imagined that writing for Mensflair might entail discussion of my underwear…