Returning To Some Old Themes

I recently wrote about the persistent problem I have formally dressing a blazer  – an odd admission but if you read the article you’ll see where I’m coming from. I ought to thank those who left comments, although the one about losing weight while honest wasn’t necessarily as welcome.

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Well, these two shirts from Stephan Haroutunian are an attempt to deal with that problem.

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I happen to think that ginghams and checks are a natural fit with a blue blazer as a rule. In my view they’re a less formal type of shirting more fitting to the reduced formality the blazer encapsulates. However, owing to the fact that a couple of years ago they were worn everywhere by everyone I’d tired of seeing them and hitherto banished them from my wardrobe -an error of judgement on reflection. I’m hoping that the combination of coloured but subtle check paired to a subdued tie will provide that sense of relaxed formality which has so far eluded me.

Now, the shirts themselves are from Haroutunian’s off the peg range of formal shirts, which retail for £39 individually or £75 for 3. I’ve raved several times about the made-to-measure service, well these are made in the same family owned workshop, and the cloth is 2 fold Egyptian. I have to say pound for pound these are about the best low cost off the peg shirts I’ve yet found.

In fact I’m so confident in my recommendation that I’ve asked the family whether they will manufacturer shirts for my own label. A subject I discussed a month or so ago, well thanks to the encouragement of Mensflair readers I’ve decided to take the plunge. One of the first projects will be two shirts over which I have a fixation. The first a good cocktail cuff shirt, again a subject I’ve touched on, and a button down oxford in its original form, with no interlining in the collar – a subject on which I’m currently doing some research.

It’s funny how certain themes keep on reoccurring.

The Inelegance Of Travel

This past week I traveled home from University, and must say I was more than a bit appalled by what I saw in the airports and on the planes. Now this was no long trek – a simple hour and a half flight, followed by a short thirty minute connecting flight with just an hour layover in between. Should be uneventful, right?

Obviously I was not alive during the glory days of truly elegant travel, with its beautiful trunks, well appointed train cars, and dressed-to-be-seen travelers, and I neither expect this of others nowadays nor travel this way myself. But, I don’t think a little decency in manners and a little respect in dressing are too much to ask for.

First, most travelers seem to think they will be trying out for an olympic sport whilst flying. Track suits, sweat suits, high-tech, nitro-powered, day-glo running shoes, and more dirty sweat socks than I ever cared to see seemed to be taking over the airport. I understand wanting to be comfortable, and that’s why I wear a lightweight jacket, loafers that are both easy to walk in and slip off for security, and a little scarf or ascot for if the plane is cold – a seafoam green argyle velour tracksuit and flip-flops seem like overkill to me.

Going through every incident of poor airport dress would take me a century, and whilst lamentable, the real problem for me is travel etiquette. If you show up at the terminal looking like it’s triathlon time I might chuckle (haughtily), but if you act poorly, things get more serious. A young man about my age felt the need to cut in front of a young lady in the security line because she had a hard time getting everything on the conveyer belt, with nothing so much as an “excuse me,” a “thank you,” or even eye contact. I know I sound like an old curmudgeon, but when did it become acceptable to act like that? No one but the offended young lady and myself even seemed to notice, which I think was the most disappointing thing about the whole situation.

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These are just a few of the things I encountered, and they highlight the general attitude I found to be problematic. Disregard for one’s fellow travelers and a general lack of respect for those one is sharing space with for a few hours seemed to be the order of the day- and while the issue of poor airport dress is more funny than anything, it does represent this underlying attitude of self-absorbed comfort with a disregard for the outside world. Anyone for loading up a few trunks with some fine linen, donning a straw hat, and boarding the Orient Express?

The Unusual Tie

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My father constantly told me never to purchase a polyester tie. Every time I picked up a promising cheapy, he would look at the label and point to the tiny and disappointing print; “Look; 100% polyester! I wouldn’t buy that.”  It was always thus; I would fall in love with a tie and, hearing my father’s voice, I would search through the tie’s lining for the little white labels. It wasn’t until I had amassed a collection of good silks, with a few polyesters (if a tie cost less than a pint, I didn’t care if it was made from seaweed), that I understood why it was that my father had issued such dismissive noises when confronted with a ‘poly’ tie.

Firstly, silk looks better. Polyester is far better than it used to be in mimicking but it’s still fairly obvious, in the right light, that it isn’t silk. It’s often too shiny. Poly is also stiff and resistant and the fibres don’t grip each other like those of silk which can be a problem in knotting. This was made evident when I used my university ties – I possessed a cheap polyester one in addition to a smarter silk version; I could never produce the same knot or the same tie arch with the poly as I could with the silk. Since that time, I have reverted to my father’s teachings and avoid all polyester ties, however interestingly patterned. A lesson learned.

However, on some days wearing silk just doesn’t feel right. It might be one of those days on which I am wearing a particularly vivid and shiny silk pocket square when the thought of adding more sheen fills me with dread. Those prepackaged tie & pocket square sets from Moss Bros repulse me not because of some dislike for convenience but because they are crafted from the same material; over sheen, overkill. Perhaps, instead of a standard woven style, I should choose a slub silk? Possibly, although these are few and far between. Or, perhaps I could plump for a tie in a fabric that very few people contemplate when searching for neckwear?

Cotton is one of the most commonplace fabrics but it makes a fabulous neck tie. Cotton ties are nothing modern either, as this was the neckwear material of choice in the 18th and early 19th centuries, even for the elegantly attired uber-dandy Beau Brummell. Its matte finish contrasts perfectly with fine wool suits and silk accessories, rendering a complex ensemble of mixed textures, and, less formal than silk, it is perfect for ‘semi-informal’ garden parties, barbecues and al fresco brunches. It is also cheaper than silk too.

And where cotton is spring and summer, wool and cashmere are autumn and winter. Fluffy, cosy-looking and a refreshing break from the glutton of silk contained in tie drawers, woollen ties share the subtle matte texture of their cotton cousins but are thicker and more substantial. The perfect foil for Sea Island cotton shirts and paisley silk squares, a plain woollen or cashmere tie conveys an understanding of texture and subtlety. There’s more to ties than the silk/poly conundrum.

Rare Moment: The Open Double Breasted

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Double breasted suits, for so long forgotten and marooned in dim and dusty menswear shops in Eastbourne, have made a remarkable return. They were hot in last year’s collections and their introduction to the high street has had a significant impact; enquiries about tailor-made DBs have increased.  Naturally, with such a high profile renaissance comes a predictable invective – “DBs are finished”; “DBs are for portly middle-class retirees”; “DBs are unflattering.” Two out of three of these assertions are certainly untrue, as fashion shows and Zara and H&M collections (reliable barometers of international trends) have proven; double-breasted jackets and suits are certainly not ‘finished’ and are clearly appealing to a different demographic than that of the bowls club captain.

However the final assertion, that double-breasted jackets are unflattering, is not entirely untrue. While they can look utterly splendid on a good number of gentlemen, the tight wrapping of certain gentlemen’s, ahem, ‘contours’ can sometimes produce an undesired effect; the double breasted suit works best when the width of the shoulders are accentuated. Any barrel rotundity is likely to distract from this. What choice does a gentleman have? Can he let his double breasted jacket flap open? Style dogma suggests that a double-breasted jacket must be fastened – on pain of death; an open double-breasted jacket is considered a blasphemous faux pas by the devout.

However, I think it can, and does, work. It all depends on two very important factors; the gentleman must have the right build (sadly, those of great rotundity do not) and, most importantly, the suit must be made for the gentleman’s measurements.

In the pictures of Jinnah and Nehru, Jinnah is wearing a three piece double breasted suit; perfectly tailored to his emaciated frame. The double-breasted jacket is open, no doubt due to the warmth, and hangs perfectly on him. The combination of bespoke tailoring (Jinnah at this stage still favoured Savile Row) and prominent shoulders and a lack of torso bulk means that the jacket sits almost as well as an unbuttoned single breasted jacket. The pictured model, slightly more muscular than Jinnah, emphasises the importance of a sculptured waist on a double-breasted jacket – the sort of sculpture that is only really achievable with tailoring.

The other important asset of this look, so well demonstrated in these pictures, is the waistcoat. Elkann is pictured wearing a DB open without one. Despite his undeniable ability to pull off unusual combinations, his sartorial laissez-faire goes a little too far here; the jacket simply looks disorderly.  It’s not that an undone DB with a waistcoat looks like a mock single-breasted three piece but that the waistcoat ‘tidies up’ what might be considered an untidy look; gigantic, off-the-rack DB jackets flapping in the wind like a billowing mainsail are the unacceptable face of this aesthetic. Follow Jinnah, in diet as well as tailoring, and you might just be able to master this unusual ensemble.

Dress Code: The Royal Enclosure

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I’ve just had confirmation on my tickets for this year’s Royal Ascot, one of the great horse racing events in the flat season.

Our Royal Enclosure tickets will mean hiring a morning suit and top hat. This strict dress code may appear to leave you little room for individuality or possibility for error, but there are mistakes to be made, and plenty of people make them.

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Firstly you have a choice of four types of morning dress; first, a light grey jacket, trousers and waistcoat; secondly, the charcoal grey jacket, waistcoat and trousers; thirdly, black jacket, and light grey trousers and waistcoat. Finally, the most common and most versatile is the black jacket, dove grey waistcoat and black and grey stripe trousers (you can substitute hounds-tooth trousers for stripped ). Any colour variations on these four are an aberration fit only for weddings in Las Vegas.

You’ll find that black and grey top hats are interchangeable with each morning suit choice according to individual taste.

The key to dressing with style at Ascot is (a) not looking like you hired your kit, (b) appearing to be at ease, and (c) using the freedom afforded you. Five tips you may want to remember;

1- Try to avoid the ultra-conservative and traditional single breasted dove grey waistcoat. It makes it look like you hired your suit. Some hire companies offer a single breasted buff waistcoat, and if you’re not looking to spend any more cash, then go for this option.

2- Go for a double breasted waistcoat if you can, and preferably one made of Linen. While bright colours and patterns can work well, try to avoid shiny materials like silk, they’re better suited to evening wear, and can also make you look as though you’ve hired your kit. The best most elegant dressers pick soft pastel colours with a matte finish.

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3- Plump for the black top hat. Traditionally, grey is for weddings while black is for Court functions (Investiture, Garden Party etc). Those who really know what they’re doing go black.

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4- A formal dress code can be intimidating and lead you to play it safe, through fear of ‘getting it wrong’. Ascot permits a little more individuality than you imagine, so ditch the white shirt. If you want to show yourself truly at ease in morning dress, go for colours, stripes or white collar and cuff with an appropriate tie. However, they should complement, not match, your waistcoat to avoid being OTT.

And;

5- Do not under any circumstances be tempted to wear a Cravat/Ascot. This is a day collar and tie event, lured down any other road and you’ll look like a man in search of a wedding. Despite the similarity in dress code they are not the same thing.