Sartorial Love/Hate: Braces


An elderly acquaintance of mine once commented on my use of a belt with my suit trousers. “Do you need that thing there or is it for show?” I gave him a rather awkward, sideways look; “No” I said “I need it. It’s not just for show.” He leaned over, smiled insidiously, opened his jacket and fingered a pair of natty braces; “You need to get yourself a pair of these, young man.”

That was many moons ago, when I was still attempting to attract young women with my clothing; braces didn’t fit into that formula. It was one thing to be smart, another thing to be a square. Braces seemed defunct and old fashioned. I had long hair, headphones and a fake ID. They were simply not for me.

My conviction on this however lasted less than a year. Before my next formal function, I had drifted into a small, rather dusty men’s retailer in search of a pair of Albert Thurston braces. To my disappointment, they did not stock Mr Thurston’s products but they did produce a satisfactory pair by Hunt & Holditch.

Many pairs of braces are sold with detachable ‘clips’ as well as the leather loops; the former grip the top of the trousers, the latter secure themselves to buttons attached on the inside of the trouser waist. I quickly learned of the ‘bespokist’ snobbery about the clips – the point is that if you used clips, your trousers were not made for braces. Therefore, your trousers are evidently ‘cheap’ and ‘off-the-rack.’ This attitude never made much sense to me as it seemed the simplest thing in the world to attach some buttons to one’s trousers to avoid the sniggering disapproval of elitist onlookers.

As I grow older, and into my suits, elegance is by far the most important consideration; whether a passing female likes what I wear is of little consequence. I still wear belts with suits but I am growing more and more fond of braces. Firstly, they hold the trousers in the correct position without pinching or scrunching the trousers to do so. Secondly, while I can see the benefit in ‘dividing’ certain ensembles, as a belt surely does, some suits require continuity which braces provide.

One of the most often quoted inspiration points for braces is Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, who wandered around his vast carpeted office, shouting expletives in rolled-up sleeves and a pair of Thurston’s finest; ironic, considering that braces are meant to be concealed beneath a waistcoat or jacket. Because of this connotation, many people still consider them to be an accessory of the now reviled banking classes, despite an attempted hijacking by the transiently trendy Shoreditch skinny-jean mafia.

Fuddy duddy or fabulous? Trendy or trashy? The point is, braces have as many detractors as supporters; another case of sartorial love/hate.

Stressing Before The Big Day Or What I Wore For My Wedding

In June of 2007, I was struck by the cupid’s arrow and “big day” was set for June 19, 2010. My future wife’s continuous planning of her wedding outfit and my busy work schedule caused me no time to think about my ensemble. As a result, with a little over than a month before the wedding day, I did not have a wedding suit. And so, the search began. Lack of time, however, meant that a MTM suit was out of question and I had to proceed with a RTW. I did not want a traditional tuxedo or a morning coat, but wanted to opt for something a bit more slick and contemporary. I knew that I wanted a double breasted grey or blue peak lapel suit. Throwing money and caution to the wind, I ordered a chalk grey double breasted Borrelli Napoli wool and silk blend suit. After a two week wait for delivery, I had a suit that did not fit me – it was too tight in the chest and the abdominal area.

Thus, with a little over two weeks to go, I had no wedding suit. I hinted to my fiancé that maybe I should wear one of my business suits to the wedding but that idea was quickly vetoed. I subsequently spent multiple hours each day going from store to store and looking through online retailers but no progress was made. That it until the day I saw my wedding suit. I was browsing through Yoox and one suit immediately caught my eye. I previously wrote about Lardini and how the brand favorably compares to higher end garments. This suit looked very British – striped, one buttoned peak lapel made from viscose and wool, yet there was something unmistakably Italian about it. I quickly placed it in my shopping cart and chose the expedited shipping option.

Three days later, the suit arrived. Fortunately it fit well and only required the trousers to be cuffed. I dressed it up with a white French cuff Barba shirt with black mother of pearl Dunhill cufflinks, a black tie and white silk pocket square by Stefano Ricci, and black Romano Martegani captoes. A honeymoon in Spain followed, but I will save that for another time.


The Long And The Short Of It – Neckerchiefs


I was interested to read Andrew Hodges recent post on Cary Grant and his appearance in the film ‘To Catch a Thief’.

Of all the iconic looks in that film, the one most frequently referred to is that of Grant in a crew neck blue and white striped Breton and sporting a foulard neckerchief.

If there is one thing I share in common with Cary Grant, and I’m sorry to say there is only one thing, it is having to pay particular attention to our necks.

At the age of 14 Cary Grant, or Archie Leech as he was then, ran away from home to join a troop of travelling vaudeville acrobats. His father retrieved him but this didn’t stop young Archie, and he soon made his way back. After much cajoling and a promise by the troops impresario to watch over the young lad, his father reluctantly permitted him to stay. This early physical and rather punishing career provided Grant with a body that was muscular and lithe. It also provided him with a size 17.5 inch neck and a drop shoulder.

The need to compensate for these physical defects, as well as a large head, meant he developed certain sartorial traits, which he retained all his life. In particular, shirts had deep soft collars with shallow stands, which de-emphasised the width of his neck. He was rarely filmed without a jacket or with an open collar; if he were he’d often do up the top button and flip his collar.

In Alfred Hitchcocks To Catch A Thief, the famous neckerchief was once again used to de-emphasise his neck, and resulted from agreement by both Grant and the wardrobe department that the sweater alone didn’t quite work.

I said we shared something in common. Well, I don’t have a 17.5 inch neck, but I do have a long neck which at 15.5 inches and attached to a chest of 42 inches is ill proportioned – and I’m a big head. Just as Grant did, I use collars to correct this aesthetic hiccup. In my own case I use deep Collars with high stands such as those provided by my shirt makers Stephan Haroutunian and Nino Santoro. The high stand helps to foreshorten my neck, and the broad collars add weight and width.

This covers more formal situations, but it requires a little more thought for informal dressing. And this leads me back to the neckerchief. Ideal for crewneck sweatshirts or T-shirts, I also use them to add some weight and proportion when wearing polo shirts or even open soft collars.

What? No Tie?


Wearing a tie out of choice can provoke some interesting commentary. People tend to nod approvingly, make pleasant-but-commonplace remarks about smartness and pay the neckwear more attention than it deserves, but importantly they place so much consequence on its appearance in an environment in which it is entirely unnecessary, much as an open neck wing-collar would attract attention at a Viennese ball, that they chain you to your choice from the very beginning: “I haven’t ever seen Winston without a tie” they beam, as though contemplating some natural wonder “You’d always wear a tie, right? I mean, you must wear a tie?”

Well, no. I don’t wake each bright morning thinking that the attachment of neckwear to my collar is of the highest importance. Nor do I wear one as a rebellious nose-thumbing to the dying popularity of the accessory; men who believe in ‘standards’ without an appreciation of the aesthetics are no allies of mine. The answer is simple; I wear one because I feel like it. I feel like adding that dash of colour, that swirl of silk to an otherwise lifeless ensemble. That I feel like doing that nine days out of ten is merely a reflection of the fact that I am fortunate, and sufficiently confident, to be able to do what I like doing.

When I don’t wear a tie, it is also a choice; my tie wardrobe is not on strike, my house has not burned down and I have not sold off my cherished strips of silk as I feel a “change coming on.” I am still resolutely a tie man; calling it a “day off” is pejorative as it suggests my daily tying routine is a chore, but it is a pleasant enough change. The question is; how does my appreciation for aesthetics and colour, my preference for maximalism sit with such a choice? In other words, how do I not wear my ties?

No suit, no tie

Ties tend to be associated with the workplace. Many a gentleman have cherished that soothing moment of release when he returns from the office, removes his shoes and unties his tie. Recently, some men have contradicted the formality of a suit by removing the tie and unbuttoning an additional button, a la Tom Ford and Simon Cowell. Personally, I don’t see that this ‘look’ works; the tie is expected, and it isn’t there. It doesn’t look like you never put a tie on, it looks like you have just taken one off; a state of ‘undress’, rather than of ‘dress.’ If I am pulling a suit from the wardrobe, a tie is always coming with it.

Let your pocket square be your tie

Going tieless is the perfect opportunity for grandiose pocket squares. Whether brightly coloured or prettily patterned, they have a golden opportunity to shine in the absence of neckwear. Dashes of colour add spice and interest to otherwise commonplace outfits and when a tie is not selected to perform that function, the noble pocket square steps up.

The Wristwatch Is Dead

A man who is concerned about portraying a look of understated elegance has very few options when it comes to jewelry. He may choose to wear a ring, cufflinks, a wristwatch, or maybe a tie bar or collar bar. But I fear that the wristwatch, one of the more beautiful and interesting items of male adornment, is dying a slow death. I predict that one day soon the wristwatch will be viewed as quaint and old-fashioned, the same as a pocket watch is seen today. That may be difficult for us to imagine; however, it would have been equally difficult for our ancestors to imagine the demise of the pocket watch.

You may wonder, what evil force is at play that leads me to this dire prediction about the future of the wristwatch? It is the smart phone.

“Email is Too Slow and Wristwatches are Pointless for College Freshmen” was the headline for an article last week on CNN. The article discussed the Mindset List that has been annually published by Beloit College since 1998. The list “provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall.” The list was originally created “as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references, and quickly became a catalog of the rapidly changing worldview of each generation.” This year’s list for the class of 2014 reminds us that these college freshmen were born in 1992, that to them Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess, that Clint Eastwood is a sensitive director, not Dirty Harry, that they have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S., and that Nirvana is on the classic oldies station. The list also reminds us that “they’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day” and that “with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch.”

I feel old.

The wristwatch is dead. Long live the cell phone?