Archives for May 2010

The Unstructured Jacket


When friends of mine ask advice about whether to buy off-the-rack or made-to-measure, my first question is always what they want, and expect, to get out of a made-to-measure suit. Invariably, they respond that they want their suit to ‘look’ tailored. Nice materials, buttoning cuffs and other details are ‘also rans’; the vital point is that the suit should appear that it was made for them.

When I ask what they expect from an off-the-rack suit, the most that they expect is that it should fit ‘fairly well.’ When pressed, none of them expect a fit approaching anything like that of a made-to-measure suit and the only reason many of them choose to purchase off-the-rack suits that cost as much as a reasonable made-to-measure is brand loyalty; having never heard of most of the tailors out there, rabbit-in-headlights suit buyers head for the safest ground.

It was interesting therefore that when I recently purchased an unstructured jacket from a high street store recently in an attempt to cobble together a humidity friendly summer wardrobe, a friend of mine asked why I didn’t just get one made. I didn’t have a ready answer. It hadn’t occurred to me that such an item of simple construction required a tailor to get it right; in fact, I once had half a mind to ‘have a bash’ at producing one myself. It seemed so simple; try on the smallest size, and see what the result is. If satisfactory, take item to the till. Not once did I consider that I should save money for the tailor. This absence of thought is unique to the unstructured jacket; any other jacket and I would umm and ahh about the value of buying off-the-rack.

Unstructured jackets are, unsurprisingly, lacking in internal structure. On structured jackets it is the structure underneath the external fabric, the skeleton if you will, which provides the shape to the garment; shoulder padding, canvass and lining. An unstructured jacket has no such structure and is very often unlined; the external material simply lays upon the wearers points and bumps without any affectation of shape created by padding or canvass. For many, this item is too casual and too lacking in, well, structure to be appealing; it’s flimsy, they say, and lacking in cut and character.

Indeed it is true that the unstructured jacket is cut looser than structured jackets and that the lack of weight in the jacket is liable for the wind to blow it open as though it were merely an open shirt in a boy band video, but that is part of the charm of the item; it is flimsy, and casual, and lacks the haughty stiffness of structured jackets. It’s for summer days, travelling in the tropics, dinner in the Seychelles.

The whole point of an unstructured jacket is that it doesn’t attempt to affect any kind of sartorial hauteur. A lot of people might look at the jacket hanging there and consider it little better than a linen shirt-jacket – a muck around item for laying in muddy pools for ladies to walk-on. Such a view is misguided; the lack of formality in such a garment, the positively wrinkly and uncertain character of it, mean it is the perfect foil for pocket silks and stiff collared shirts. Wear it with a t-shirt, and you truly relegate it to anonymity; wear it with items of comparative formality and it takes on the attractive complex of an Edwardian lawn jacket.

Why Do Some Brands Pass You Buy: John Smedley


As far as the Chief Whip is concerned, for the last four weeks I’ve been dutifully pounding the pavement, kissing babies, shaking hands and expounding policy details, all in the name of getting elected. Truth is, despite a lot of that, I also managed a little jolly on route.

If you’re one of the many readers of Mensflair that writes their own blog, you’ll know that for the most part it is a thankless task – those who don’t you’ll just have to take my word for it. But just occasionally someone notices what you do. And so last week I was invited to view Ede & Ravenscroft’s Autumn/Winter 2010 collection. Being a favourite retailer of mine I jumped at the chance, and as soon as the pictures are made up there will be a post on it.

Anyways, while there Katy – my host for the afternoon – asked me whether I’d also be interested in viewing John Smedley’s collection. To be honest I wasn’t that bothered. I’d heard the name before and knew it was stocked by numerous retailers, and for that reason I assumed they were just another mass production sweatshop knitwear producer. What I discovered was exactly the opposite.

Not only did I love the combination of the timeless and the contemporary, such as the Cardigan above – which will be available for Autumn/Winter 2010 – but the firm is everything I usually look for. Most importantly they are not a sweatshop manufacturer. While many UK firms have found it financially expedient to manufacture abroad and simply trade on their name and history, John Smedley’s knitwear has been made and hand-finished at Lea Mills in Derbyshire since 1784. The family run business now employs 440 staff in the UK – some have been with the company for over 50 years.

Now that they are on the radar I’ll be keeping a close eye on their output, but it is odd how a misconception can leave you blind to a perfectly good retailer or manufacturer.

Given the UK’s election results and my own failure to get elected, it appears this recent discovery was the most fruitful thing I’ve done in the last four weeks.

The Importance Of Contrast


I never expect anyone to follow my advice. I am one of those people who is confident in dispensing opinion but cynical as to its interpretation and use; I always feel that the majority of people will forget or dismiss what I say as madness or inconsequential. It is not because I do not trust or respect other people, it is simply that sometimes I feel as if I am wandering around in my own little world, firing blobs of advice into Reality that quickly evaporate on entering the atmosphere, thus rendering them utterly useless. I am amazed therefore when friends and acquaintances say to me; “I followed your advice…”, or “You know that thing you said, I decided to try it…” and “You’re not wrong about one thing…” Some of the blobs must have got through.

I was also shocked therefore to see, barely a fortnight after I had advocated such a course on these pages, men filing on and off the Tube and in and out of sandwich shops, cabs and bars wearing contrasting trousers and jackets. As I am a keen observer of other people’s attire, and had seen little of this kind of activity before, I rashly presumed that ‘someone got the memo’. Whatever the reason for such a flurry of experimentation, and I’d wager my words have very little to do with it, the fact that men were trying it – on purpose and with swagger – was greatly satisfying. The only problem was that the crucial point of the exercise had been missed; the contrast was often insufficient, and too far from complementary, to appear intentional.

The problem it seems that men do not possess lighter coloured suits. The silvery classics of yesteryear, like the Prince of Wales check, are just not popular. Darkness reigns in the modern gentleman’s wardrobe. Consequently, the mixtures that I bore witness to were low on contrast – mid-grey with mid-to-light grey, black with very dark grey etc. In a darkened room, they looked like they were wearing a suit; in the bright sunshine, the difference between the fabrics was more obvious – and decidedly unattractive. The lesson from this, for me, is that I should not base my advice on what is contained within my own wardrobe but what hangs in the wardrobes of my fellow men.

If the majority of men are not willing to purchase a lighter coloured suit, they should look into purchasing a couple of pairs of lighter trousers and maybe a couple of lighter coloured odd jackets – seersuckers and linens for summer, maybe a woollen houndstooth for winter – to maximise the utility from their other suit items.

The safest choice for trousers, affecting the classic ‘stroller’ look, is a pair of classic houndstooth trousers, with the timeless black and white houndstooth pattern, which from a distance looks like a very light grey. This option goes perfectly with navy blue, charcoal grey and many other popular colours of suit; the contrast created is striking and tasteful. The thing to always remember is that if you are staying within the same colour spectrum, the contrast must be exaggerated, otherwise you will look like you fished your outfit from a public waste bin.

The Impact of Technology

The UK’s general Election has so far had me travelling back and forth to my boss’s constituency, and tramping the pavements of London. All this travelling has forced me to look again at my travelling kit, or rather the means of transporting the daily inventory of needful things.

When I wrote about Pens a while back I suggested that men were allowed certain accessories, namely; a watch; cuff links; a tie clip; belt or braces; and a wallet. In my own list I would add a pen and a cigarette case, and others wisely advocate a key holder. What links all these things is that they fulfil a practical function.

All these items also represent a pre-technology life we men once lived. I don’t know about you, but these days I rarely leave the house without my mobile and ipod. Indeed, these days even a wallet is excess bulk, requiring just my electronic Oyster travel card and debit card, a simple card holder is all that’s required.

Technology has quite an impact on our sartorial lives. At the macro level, it has made the World our department store, and allows websites like this, where people can exchange ideas and insights, to exist. At the micro level, life is increasingly dominated by those pieces of technology that help it run smoothly. So to me anyway, it makes sense to invest in apparel that allows that tech to blend elegantly and unobtrusively into my wardrobe.

So this week I’ve been looking into something practical and elegant to carry my ipod, mobile, laptop and other items. Many of the old school leather goods and luggage merchants have been a bit slow to cotton on to the necessities of modern life, and that’s how I came by Knomo of London.

A young company, it was founded in 2004 by Howard Harrison, Benoit Ruscoe (Creative Director) and Alastair Hops. Based in Great Titchfield Street London, where all the creative designing takes place, the company was set up precisely to produce bags and accessories to carry laptops with a mix of practically and stylishness. The name Knomo comes from combining the words, ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Mobility’ –hence the ‘K’ is silent. The company say they work closely with tech manufacturers in order that their bags and accessories fit the most popular shapes and sizes.


A few items caught my eye; first was the leather iphone wallet, which combines a pouch for your iphone and card holders for debit and credit cards. Anything that cuts down on the number of items one has to carry is a good thing. Also, for the first time I understood the appeal of tote bags, thanks to the stylish Riley Tote, and having to try and manoeuvre a large satchel on a busy train.


This all represents another avenue of expense, so here’s hoping all that campaigning pays off.

Brand Review: Uniqlo


I was greatly saddened to see the decline of Waterstone’s on Oxford Street. Though there was still a mighty flagship a few hundred meters away on Piccadilly, the loss of a bookshop on such a famous avenue of acquisition was unnerving; ‘No more books on Oxford Street’ I mused, wistfully. In actual fact, this maudlin assumption was incorrect. Waterstone’s had simply downsized and moved further west; their smaller Oxford Street berth is now opposite the gargantuan department store that is Selfridges & Co. Though still on the ‘right end’ of Oxford Street, it is drifting towards the unsavoury Primark district; an area lacking in any aesthetic or architectural merit. The premises they vacated are in one of the best locations on the street. Close to Bond Street Tube and Oxford Circus, John Lewis, Zara and Massimo Dutti not to mention flagship stores of River Island, HMV and the House of Fraser. Uniqlo, the new tenants of the space, are fortunate to have landed such a location.

For a Japanese company it is unsurprising that Uniqlo are ‘Big in Japan’; far bigger in fact than anywhere else they trade. However, it is slightly unexpected that their European adventure has so far been confined to fourteen stores in the United Kingdom and two in France. No wonder that come tourist season in London, wide-eyed Germans, Italians, Spaniards and Swedes are rushing around the stores, stocking up on items they cannot get back home. Understanding a little German, I overheard one gentleman recently comment “Für die Qualität, der Preis ist unglaublich!” He was right; for the quality in store, the price is quite incredible.

Uniqlo are a brand that, price wise, places themselves alongside H&M but, style wise, avoids their aesthetic almost entirely. Uniqlo is what some refer to as an ‘essentials store’; basic items, sold very cheaply, in a huge variety of colours. T-shirts, v-necks, underwear, socks, cardigans and chinos are the staple stock and they are incredibly popular. Whereas H&M stores are usually full of teenagers and twenty-somethings bobbing along to the chart-friendly getting-dressed-to-go-out pop music, Uniqlo is often teaming with silver foxes; sexagenarians looking for some t-shirts for their next Mediterranean cruise. It avoids pretension and instead opts for variety of tone and a reasonable quality of fabric and construction. Indeed, for the price, the quality is above expectations. H&M tells you how to dress and what to do, tying scarves around mannequins necks and shoving pocket squares into pockets, adding ‘design’ features to garments and closely following trends. Uniqlo just offers you a simple palette of classics with conventional fits.

This does however have its limitations. If you are one of those who hanker for slim-fitting clothing, in line with the current aesthetic, you are unlikely to be sated by Uniqlo’s offering. Similarly, if you are looking for something that stores like Zara offer – tailored and ‘polished’ items that look designer-lite – you won’t find them in Uniqlo. Purchasing an entire outfit of elegance is not possible in such a store; the jackets are too lacking in structure, the trousers insufficiently tailored but the real value in the place is the selection of simple items that can complement full ensembles. I spent ten minutes at the sock section, choosing my ‘4 for £6.99’ from the rainbow of colours on offer; I grabbed an Extra Small cotton cardigan in sky blue for a mere £9.99 (Uniqlo have finally started stocking clothing that fits me) and was nearly tempted by a knitted tie. My father came into the store with me on a recent trip, and was raving about the £4.99 t-shirts that are offered in such a vast array of colours – “When they’re this cheap, and that quality, you cannot go wrong.”