What’ll It Be Sir, Patterned Or Plain?

One of my elderly relatives gave me some excellent advice in relation to ties; “The misconception” he said “is that ties need only complement the shirt, not the suit.” He advocated that shirt, tie and suit needed to be considered alongside each other to achieve the most satisfactory results. “A suit” he continued “is not an overcoat – it’s not just something you throw on to keep warm.” Flow and harmony is paramount when looking at the torso of a suited gentleman; this triangle of supporting elements must be carefully constructed – a brilliant shirt and tie combination will be undetectable if the suit clashes.

One of the most important things I have learned is that complete plainness, however consistent, is dull; no wonder that modern politicians rarely stray from the plain white shirt, the plain unpatterned suit and the plain satin-silk tie. This combination lacks any kind of character and renders them bland enough to appeal to a vast cross-section; a French collared blue striped shirt with a foulard or Club stripe tie would be far better companions for a suit lacking any ornament. Plain suits yearn to be played with.

A loudly checked suit benefits from the calm of a plain poplin shirt but plainness can be limited to that; the tie could be a foulard, Club stripe or even checked. It is possible to avoid plainness entirely, depending on the style of the checked suit – a checked or striped shirt can add to an attractive ‘riot’, as long as they are subtle and do not attempt to compete with each other.  A striped suit, pin or chalk, need not avoid a patterned shirt; stripes with stripes is a dashing combination and a club striped tie in sober colouring looks in perfect harmony with a striped suit.

Patterned shirts with French collars are a perfect foil for strongly patterned suits as they add a cool splash of white twixt the patterns and, lest we forget, the tie should offer some sobriety – a plain woven or subtle foulard would be an ideal choice, particularly if a pocket square offers a subtle pattern of its own. The key thing is not to hide good shirt and tie choices beneath an insignificant choice of suit; as stated, plain loves to be played with, and patterns get along together very well provided there is a sobering chaperone accessory that supervises the ‘noise.’

Plain, plain and plain is not ugly, but it is not particularly attractive; rather like the new glass block buildings that pop up over London, there is a coolness but no intrigue. A ‘triple plain’ is what I call the ‘Lego suit’; inoffensive but lacking. A little pattern goes a long way. A lot of pattern could lead you astray, but if managed properly, could create not an ensemble of three incoherent parts but a harmonious and characterful whole.

The Humble Pocket Square

It has always struck me as odd how something as small and innocuous as the pocket square polarises opinion. Oft-maligned, I think this fairly esoteric accessory deserves a little more respect. The problem – as with so many less commonly worn items – is that, on the few occasions when one is worn, it is worn egregiously thus tarnishing quite undeservedly its image.

A simple Google search suffices to make this point. Before us we observe a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of gaudy white silk, violently clashing colours, and oversized ornately folded silks which, combined, would be enough to make the most thrusting of peacocks blush at all the attention.

pocket-square-wrong

Worn thoughtfully, however, pocket squares are almost wantonly recherché. They allow the wearer to add a dash of individuality and flair to their outfit, through a flash of pattern or colour, without ever being overbearing. Too – and this may just be me! – it feels like there is a sort of ‘insider club’ element to wearing a pocket square: in the same way that Mini drivers always flash their lights at each other on the road, I always appreciate seeing another pocket square devotee.

pocket-square-improve

I think the above is a pretty good example of how a square can improve an outfit: there is not too much on display; the colour compliments that of the suit, shirt, and tie; and it gives the appearance of having been thrust into the pocket as opposed to having been artfully arranged. Indeed, in the above picture, I think the suit would look ‘naked’ without the pocket square.

I suppose what I am saying is that, worn well, pocket squares look fantastic; worn poorly, they look awful – far worse than not wearing one at all. Insightful analysis, I’m sure. It is, however, extremely frustrating to observe how many men there are who believe that simply by virtue of wearing a pocket square, they radiate Agnelli-style cool; it is one of those cases where a little knowledge is worse than no knowledge whatsoever!

As ever, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

The Politics Of Dress

politics-of-dress

One of the many things for which President Obama has received praise is his dress sense. Sadly, that is not something any of the Prime Ministerial hopefuls in the UK General Election will have to endure.

It seems that in modern British politics there is no place for style, flair, individuality or even quality. The requirement is to dress like a high–street bank manager, as the recent leadership debate highlighted beautifully. Standard issue uniform is a choice of plain midnight blue single breasted worsted wool suit, plain white or blue shirt and one of six shiny coloured ties – red, blue, yellow, green, pink or purple. Nowhere will you see the skilful use of textured cloths or the addition of knitted silk and god forbid a shirt should have a stripe, check or white collar and cuff. Their off duty wardrobes equally leave something to be desired.

In many ways politicians are a reflection of the people they govern. That may mean the majority of the people in the UK dress in a perfunctory and uninspiring way – which isn’t far from the truth. Or perhaps it is a sign of our immaturity that we should distrust men who dress well, or resent them having money to spend on clothes.

Winston Churchill was a patron of Savile Row’s Henry Poole & Sons – as they like to remind us. But should modern Prime Ministerial aspirants flirt with proper tailoring they cannot afford to let the public know they spend £3000 on a suit. Of course if you understand the art and craft that goes into such a suit it seems more reasonable, but most don’t. Indeed, we’re more likely to praise them for their thriftiness.

Historically British Prime Ministers have done reasonably well in the style stakes, with many developing signature looks. The most revered was of course Anthony Eden who is still regarded as one of the World’s best dressed men even today – the Eden Homburg being his legacy. Churchill had a certain Edwardian style; he also had his hats, and a tendency to dress in Forces uniforms. For Liberal Lloyd George it was capes, and Benjamin Disraeli was renowned for his fancy waistcoats which merely added to his exotic persona –perhaps one more reason why each in his own way is a man I admire.

Rare Moment: Horizontally Striped Suit

horizontal-stripe-suit

One of the joys of bespoke clothing is the opportunity to do something truly individual, even original. When I once commissioned a shirt, I relished the opportunity of ordering a horizontally striped shirt – an eyecatching rarity these days – as I had always liked the idea of a ‘hooped’ chest and had begun to appreciate uncommon aesthetics in reaction to the dull uniformity I bear witness to each and every day. I had always thought that this was a step far enough; diagonal stripes on a shirt would be a pretentious disaster and would not flatter the aesthetic of the classic symmetrical human form and costume – with stripes, it was only the purely horizontal and the vertical that could seriously vie for elegance. And so, the horizontally striped shirt remained as my favourite example of doing something a little differently whilst avoiding vulgarity.

Months past, the seasons changed; and then I stumbled into a tailor’s workroom for a fitting where I saw, to my amazement, a creation that purists would consider gross sartorial blasphemy; a peak lapelled, ticket pocketed, horizontally striped suit. It sat there, amongst the ‘senior citizens’ choices, brash as anything, unaware of the rumpus it was causing. Despite being slightly disconcerted, I began to admire what was essentially an entertaining creation of whim. It was a beautiful risk taker, a daring thing that would doubtless have cars swerving and gentlemen stumbling as it moved through the metropolis.

It was, apparently, a paean to the audacious creations of the aptly named Tommy Nutter, who along with Edward Sexton dominated the Savile Row scene in the early seventies. Despite this historic dedication, the suit did not appear to be some Jagger-esque relic of the twentieth century’s seventh decade. Though a head turner, it also had an elegant presence that antiquated many of the more conventional suits lined up next to it. It was dynamic and rather dazzling; the kind of suit to wear to a garden party at Elton John’s. My only annoyance is that I did not get to see it worn by the lucky commissioner.

Naturally, one man’s meat is another man’s poison; I wouldn’t have to look very hard to find a gentleman who would think that such a violently unconventional use of a bespoke tailor is a sartorial abortion that requires the potential institutionalisation of the commissioner; “Fattening” they say when I mention my fondness for the horizontal stripe. This, they claim, is in contrast to the vertical stripe which slims a gentleman down. However, I am always wary of such dismissiveness; people that reject an alternative merely because it is an alternative rarely discover anything in life worth discovering. Though I do not currently have the funds for such fun, a horizontally striped suit has shimmered into view; a rare moment has inspired me to dream.

Too Much of A Good Thing

jaegers-2010

As I write this I’m listening to Dean Martin; as a rule I’ll quite happily drink cocktails with dinner; I read books on the Rat Pack and Sixties film icons; my favourite song is ‘Come Fly with Me’, sung of course by Frank Sinatra; my dream car is the Jaguar E-Type and don’t even get me started on Mad Men.  So you could say I’m a man with a long and ingrained appreciation for that age of manliness, the early 1960’s.

A few years ago I discovered Adam Shener. His shop, Adam of London, in Portobello sells suits authentically styled in the fashion of that peculiarly English movement known as the Mod’s. Tapered and tailored three button suits are the signature piece, and he stocks a full range of shirts and knitted silk ties. I thought his shop great. An original Mod himself, I loved what Adam was trying to do and his complete avoidance of the dictates of current fashion. Sadly, since then fashion has caught up with him.

The 60’s style revival that has happened over the last few years, which if not started by the cult status achieved by Mad Men was certainly accelerated by it, seems all pervasive. Knitted ties, and slim cut suit silhouettes are everywhere.

Of course if you talk to the genuine article, men like Adam, you’ll realise that most of it is a bastardisation of the authentic style of early 1960’s. But the era is yet another victim of fashions tendency towards overkill. But then anybody with a love of American Work Wear or genuine Ivy League will no doubt feel similarly – more Madras ties anybody?

The realisation that I’d just had too much of a good thing struck me this week when I visited Jaeger’s Autumn/Winter 2010 review day. While there were plenty of items I liked, and a few I will certainly be getting, my overriding feeling was ‘please God not another 60’s styled collection’. Of course it’s not entirely the fault of this company, this era was its heyday and it is only natural that they should take a look in their considerable archive for inspiration.

Fortunately, fashion is ever looking for the next big thing; and I shall retire to my sick bed with a copy of Shawn Levy’s ‘Rat Pack’ to aid my recovery.