Adjusted Denim

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I recently shocked some of my friends in recounting my adjustment of a high-street jacket at a top-notch tailor. They were particularly amazed that I invest so much capital in mass-produced items and that my tailor, a protector of an industry that promotes quality above price, even agrees to provide services; “If I was a tailor” they sniff “I’d refuse to touch anything by that sweat-shop scum.” Sadly, tailors cannot afford to be so principled. Nor is it wise to be; turn down a customer for adjustments and you turn down a future, potentially regular, client.

My friends, baffled by my extensive inventory of adjusted items, asked me if there was anything I hadn’t taken to be adjusted. I had a ready answer; denim. I have never considered having any of my jeans adjusted by a tailor. And until recently, I didn’t see the point. Jeans have always been at the other end of the style spectrum to Savile Row; common and casual. It is this latter quality that has ensured that denim is one of London’s most outlawed materials.

The Ritz Hotel famously denies entry to those in denim, and most London gentlemen’s clubs request that members do not wear jeans. There are even some rather snooty nightspots in the West End that look down on them, particularly if they are rather bedraggled in appearance. The jean is the most casual of trousers and in no century are they more befitting of their position as the pant of the proles than the 21st, for it is my contention that though they are worn on the butts of the billionaires and the board members, jeans have never looked scruffier.

Firstly, they are worn far too long. Jeans should not be worn in the same way as trousers – on the waist – but they should not be worn with such carelessness. Folds and folds get caught under shoes, get chewed and frayed. The honest provenance of denim might not be synonymous with expensive alterations but it’s a mistake to presume that the ill-fitting baggy mess that is the majority of denim has any reference to the working-class origins of the fabric.

Secondly, when was it decided that it is acceptable not to see at least the outline of the denim wearer’s gluteous maximus? The ‘saggy butt’ sin of wearing jeans is that a respectable middle-aged gentleman is suddenly transformed into the male equivalent of lamb-dressed mutton; when trying a pair of jeans on, always make sure you can see the silhouette of your posterior and not the ludicrous likeness of a collapsed stage-curtain.

I saw a gentleman on the telephone outside a chocolate shop recently and when he had ended his call, politely asked him where I could find a pair of jeans similar to those which he was wearing, very well, with a mustard cord jacket, oxblood shoes and a pale blue shirt. He told me they were by Levi but winced awkwardly, and unnecessarily if you ask me, when he added that he had had them ‘adjusted.’ Perfect length, perfect shape; where else could you achieve such eye-catching results than at the tailors?

White After Labor Day

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This rule is often cited: Don’t wear white after Labor Day or before Memorial Day. Well, rules are meant to be broken and I would argue that one should not blindly follow this rule about white. I assume the rule exists as a warning against wearing summer clothing in the winter. And I’m not suggesting wearing a white summer-weight Gatsby suit in the dead of winter. But I think the rule is, pardon the pun, too black and white.

White is certainly an appropriate color for summer. According to Marion Maneker, author of Dressing in the Dark, “[i]n the nineteenth century, white was the most fashionable summer color for men. Before air conditioning, summer clothes were prized more for their open weaves and ability to reflect the heat than for any great variety of hue.” Keeping that in mind, consider that Labor Day was a couple of weeks ago and the temperatures here in the American South are still in the nineties. It’s still a bit warm here for tweed and flannel. My point is that clothing should be worn seasonally based on the temperatures in your region and not based on some arbitrary date on the calendar.

If worn correctly, white is also an appropriate color for fall and winter. The fabric just needs to be right for the season. Consider, for instance, the classic Aran cable sweater that is traditionally made from undyed cream-colored sheep’s wool. Such a sweater would pair well on a fall weekend with dark blue jeans or gray flannel trousers and maybe a Barbour waxed cotton jacket. Another fall outfit might include white jeans paired with a dark green or navy wool blazer and suede desert boots.

I would suggest that part of developing your own style involves knowing the rules, understanding why they exist, and then bending or breaking them if they don’t make sense for you. Feel free to wear white after Labor Day.

Favourite Ensembles: Ralph Lauren Fall 2008

rl-2008-ensemble1Everyone knows the Ralph Lauren look won’t change. I for one certainly won’t complain. Lauren has an understanding of elegance. His representations of timeless style serve to refresh methods of dress which might otherwise be perceived to be rather fusty and outdated. Historic fashion revival is hit or miss; it is easy to fail in the reintroduction of a past aesthetic. Lauren, for the large part, succeeds. His look book is a key factor in the success of his collections. And while conventional, standard-issue ensembles such as dark blue suits and dark ties, all perfectly cut, are a consistent feature in these idealisations, the best work is when Lauren plays around with formality and colour. Jeans and brogues? Lauren. A bow tie and shorts? Lauren.

This outfit from the 2008 Fall collection is another example of the Lauren mix-and-match ability. The most conventional, dare I say ‘boring’ element of the ensemble is the Astaire-ish grey flannels; turned-up and of an elegantly slim cut. Lauren could have paired these with a blue blazer, foulard tie and plain white pocket square; an inoffensive look but one which, undeniably, lacks imagination. Instead, we are offered a very un-autumnish cocktail of lime green and watermelon pink and it works delightfully well. I have long been a fan of wearing brightly coloured jackets with more sober trousers and rarely do jackets come any brighter, or brasher, than this.

The punch of the jacket is dealt with admirably by the conventional choice of French collared shirt; if the shirt was of a competing ‘rainbow’ colour, say a lemon yellow, the effect would be too dazzling and certainly far too summery for a fall ensemble. It would be an aesthetic drift towards that of a cigar-chewing Miami pimp. The paisley tie is neither too bright nor too dull; the dominant colour from the concoction of colours is a dusky purple which complements both the pink and the grey beautifully. A grey tie would have been a contrivance to ‘connect’ the lower half to the upper half – the resistance of this contrivance is attractive, as is the resistance to match it to the socks although it is matched to the pocket square.

The jacket is not the only loudmouth at the party; a pair of lime green socks adds further, excuse me, ‘zest’ and the velvet slippers with the equestrian motif, a little Elkannish touch of raffish charm, imply that this ensemble is not for the serious rigours of the office but a host’s outfit for an early autumn soiree. The large belt is both my favourite and least favourite element. My paradox is explained by the fact that I believe this ingredient, along with the slippers, to be what Lauren is all about; boundary free style creation. Few gentlemen would pair an item from the ranch with an item from the Manhattan armoire but it does work well, despite my personal inability to wear large buckled cowboy belts. It is for this reason that should I ever affect such an ensemble, that it would be the first thing I would remove from the outfit.

A Neglected Classic: The Loden Coat

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I read with interest Winston Chesterfield’s post on Camel Coats, and it put me in mind of a few weeks ago when I happened to pass a charity shop and spotted a little talked about, and underrated classic, the Loden Coat.

I say much underrated because, while every bit a classic style of overcoat, it has been overshadowed for some years by the trend towards Covert Coats and, for those inclined to play it really safe,  the standard navy, black or grey Crombie.

The name Loden actually refers not to the design of the coat, but the process by which the cloth of the coat is made, which gives it a number of useful properties. This handy little layman’s guide explains all  – and saves me about 10 minutes keyboard work.

Originally a garment for Austrian and German huntsmen, what you end up with, by virtue of the cloth, is a practical, lightweight, wind proof and water resistant coat steeped in European history which is just as acceptable in town or country.

As I say, while the name Loden doesn’t specifically refer to the styling of the coat, and there are variants using the cloth, the authentic look, and the one I spotted, features a loose almost tent like cut,  a deep centre vent down the back, no lining and a double layer of cloth over the shoulders for warmth. While you can commonly find examples in blue, the bottle green is the classic. As to length, the coat’s hem should come to rest just below the knee.

The example I came across was made by Aquascutum, it was my size, in excellent knick and just £40 – expect to pay £350 upwards new. Looking back I could kick myself for not snapping it up.  My hesitation was down to the fact that, in general, I’ve seen the Loden coat work best on those of age upwards of thirty five. That said it would have made a beautiful country coat for those weekends when I head home to Norfolk.

A Teutonic masterpiece; not something you’ll here an Englishman say very often.

The Brown Version

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Connecting the colour brown with autumn is hardly a eureka moment. It’s about as imaginative as connecting a blue beret and a baguette with a Frenchman. And yet, as mundane as it seems, few adopt very much at all in autumnal dress. As the falling leaves drift by the window, it’s incredible how few are inspired by the magnificent array of tones of the season. You might see the odd pair of brown shoes, but these are no more prevalent than at other times of year. Gentlemen are much more likely to favour the metropolitan blues and greys over the earthy tones which, while respectful of time-honoured codes of dressing, lacks a little invention.

Odd Brown Waistcoat

Adding a brown waistcoat to a blue or dark grey suit adds a warmth and richness. As an autumnal expression, it is but a trifle although it is relatively uncommon as odd waistcoats are considered slightly outré, a little too ‘regardez-moi’ for some gentlemen. Wool flannel is an ideal fabric for such a waistcoat, although knitted wool would offer a flattering, more casual contrast.

Brown Tie

Brown ties are a little more common than brown waistcoats although by no means are they considered a classic staple of a gentleman’s wardrobe, whatever the month. I love the contrast a brown tie gives to pink or blue shirt which when paired with a navy suit and a pair of chestnut punchcap Oxfords is a subtle nod to the season.

Brown Shoes

Brown shoes are by far the most common expression of the colour in menswear. Over the years, I have grown to greatly prefer the brown shoe over the black, despite spending most of my life in the centre of a large metropolis. These days, the ‘brown shoe in the city’ no longer has the stigma of casual inappropriateness and so a man can wear brown with confidence. They create a delicious and discreet contrast with grey flannel and blue suits.

Brown Suit

If none of the above sates your appetite for the brown-season, you might want to go the whole hog with a brown suit. Despite country connotations that certain online commentators point to as a reason for shunning the brown suit in town, it is not so undeniably bucolic as to look incongruous in a metropolitan cocktail bar, particularly at this time of year. One of my favourite autumnal looks is a brown suit with a sky blue shirt, paisley tie and pale yellow checked pocket square.