Men On A Mission: The Perfect Button Down Oxford

button-down-perfect

As I’ve mentioned before I’m looking to produce clothes under my own label. Based on my own personal philosophy, wants, needs and desires, after years of writing about other people’s clothes I reckon I’ve learnt enough to make a go of it.

I’ve already highlighted a couple of pairs of shoes I want to offer, if I can find a manufacturer willing to make them up.

There will be other bits too; for one, I want to offer a few shirts, which not only represent what I consider to be value for money of themselves, but also classics that every man should have in his wardrobe.

On this mission I have a willing accomplice in the form of Erland who runs Stephan Haroutunian shirts, my shirt maker. It’s natural that I would want to offer their shirts to the world. Firstly, they are well made and, secondly, they are a fair price. And what are we working on? A truly egalitarian offering, worn by the Wall Street banker and the man in the mail room alike, and in its day the college professor and the undergraduate. A timeless aesthetic, I’m talking about a proper button down Oxford. A pretty ordinary offering you’re thinking. Well not necessarily. Let me explain.

I have two problems with what’s on the market at the moment. Firstly, I have button down shirts from just about every label and not a single sodding one has ever produced that beautiful roll, which is the essence of this classic. The collar either just sits straight or curves inward not out. A couple of years ago I even bought one from hallowed Ivy League retailer and originator of the shirt, Brooks Brothers. I thought I’d be safe here after all, even Cary Grant bought off the peg Brooks Brother’s button down Oxfords. Frankly, it was pish the worst offender of the bunch.

It seems almost no one has a clue about getting a roll. As I understand it thus far, the key is the placement of the button and the construction of the collar. Famed chronicler of all things Ivy, G. Bruce Boyer, points out that the original Brooks Brothers shirts had no interlining. And it seems this is crucial.

This leads me onto the second issue. Christ almighty these shirts are expensive. The thing I love about the button down oxford is its universality. The original shirts were worn by film stars and students.

For example, recently I’ve been between. Topping up the bank balance I work in a pub in the morning, and Parliament in the afternoon. I therefore wanted white button down Oxfords to pull a few pints in and then put under suit in the afternoon. It had to look smart enough in the latter case and be cost effective in the former –beer and food stains are the ruin of good shirts. But finding such a shirt has been impossible.

The craze for American work wear has certainly brought many new entrants to the market, but most seem over priced and over pimped. A button down Oxford should be the work horse of your wardrobe, but at £100 plus for better examples, that’s hardly a definition of universal.

I’m currently trying to get hold of an original 60’s Brooks Brother shirt to see just what they did and understand the territory I’m hoping to conquer. I have Emporium’s owner Jonathan Hale keeping an eye out for me on his next trip to the US, but I’m also asking for your help. If you have one festering at the bottom of the wardrobe that’s of no use and wouldn’t mind sending it to me I’ll obviously pay you for the postage.

So that’s my challenge; to produce a button down Oxford with a guaranteed roll exclusively for everybody.

The Camel Coat

camel-coat

I wandered into Zara recently to have a mooch around. It’s not a store in which I seek inspiration but for some reason, inspiration seems to creep up and bang me on the head rather often. Exactly two years ago, while on holiday, I purchased a charming check coat from the Lisbon branch. Exactly a year later, my eye was caught by a rather splendid deep blue coat and the other day, not expecting to see anything of interest, I winced – in the knowledge that I would soon be a trifle poorer – when I saw a rather attractive double breasted camel coat. Whether I bought the Zara model or settled on another, I knew I had found the overcoat for 2010.

I had never considered a camel coat before. I have always thought myself a little fair-skinned to wear such a colour, particularly in the depths of winter when my pallor is at it’s most shockingly colourless. My first counterargument when I tried the coat on and admired it’s shape, size and surprisingly flattering colour was that I still had the remnants of a summer tan, that my hair was flatteringly sun kissed and that by the time the season had arrived for wearing such a garment, my tan would have disappeared and my hair returned to it’s anonymous mousiness.

Fit

Fit is always important but with a darker coat, you can get away with little imperfections. Camel coats do not allow such imperfections to go unnoticed because the eye is drawn to them; a little too much width or length and the effect is disastrous. This is certainly a coat you can buy off the rack but it’s a very good idea to ask a tailor to check the fit for you and make any adjustment suggestions before it’s first outing.

Style

Zara’s model was double-breasted which, when buttoned, was sharp but unbuttoned looked rather ‘flappy.’ Unless you are having one made or adjusted, open double-breasted overcoats can look rather ungainly. If you tend towards open rather than buttoned overcoats, pick a single breasted version. Be careful with the length – an overly long camel coat, no matter how well tailored, looks trampish. Maximum length should be just below the knee. A note on minimum length, English chaps should avoid the shorter Del Boy style; unless you have a seriously impressive 1970s wardrobe to partner it with, it won’t work.

Wear it with…

Cornflower blue shirts, blue suits, blue denim – camel is a perfect companion for all things azure. White is also a happy, if less inspiring, complement. Don’t just wear it at the weekends either; Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman (above) provides one of his more convincing arguments for wearing it on the daily trundle to the metropolitan office.

Online Shirt Experiment and Review [Part Three]

I have received the shirts that in early August I ordered online from Cottonwork, Modern Tailor and My Tailor. The package from Modern Tailor arrived on August 12, a mere twelve days after my order. The Cottonwork package arrived on August 16, only thirteen days after my order. My Tailor was the slowest; that package arrived on September 2, about a month after I placed my order.

As long as the shirts arrive safely I suppose packaging is immaterial, but a nice presentation can add to the experience. The Cottonwork shirt arrived in the nicest package. The shirt was enclosed in a nifty fabric bag that was inside a cardboard box with a Velcro closure (I suppose to aid in customs inspections). The My Tailor shirts were in clear plastic shirt bags inside a plain cardboard box. My Tailor also included some complementary metal collar stays. The Modern Tailor shirt was stuffed into and shipped in an ugly bag made from thick gray plastic.

The fit of all the shirts (before laundering) was comparable and acceptable. That was somewhat to be expected since I supplied the same measurements to each company. All of the shirts certainly fit better than anything I could purchase off-the-rack. The only fit concern I have is with the My Tailor shirts. When I tried them on out of the package it appeared that the neck size was too big. A note in the My Tailor package said that “there is built in shrinkage in your shirts it will a take 2 to 3 launderings to settle to your correct size.” That is a direct quote, grammatical errors included. All of the shirts have now been laundered once, ironed, but not worn so the final fit remains to be seen. I’ll plan to comment on that later after I have had the chance to wear them a few times.

The fabric of the My Tailor and Modern Tailor shirts is beautiful and easy to iron. I am quite pleased with how each of those shirts turned out. I was disappointed with the fabric of the Cottonwork shirt (you may recall that I chose a lower-tier fabric from Cottonwork). The shirt wrinkles easily and is terrible to iron. But I also hate how it looks. After viewing the small swatch on my computer screen I was expecting a basic white shirt with a simple gray stripe. The white part of the fabric is not really white; it actually has a dingy yellow pit-stain hue (that looks terrible with the white contrast collar I had selected) and the shirt overall looks cheap and flashy. I don’t foresee that shirt making it into my regular rotation. This, I think, highlights the biggest danger in ordering a shirt online. Selecting a fabric from a picture on the Internet can really be hit or miss. Without holding a fabric swatch in your hand it’s really hard to be confident about what you are ordering.

I have no problem recommending either Modern Tailor or My Tailor. At least based upon my experience it appears that either company can, within a reasonable period of time, provide a decent-fitting shirt made from nice material. Cottonwork has a slick website and does a great job communicating, but based on the final product I received I can’t recommend them at this point. Another shirt in a different fabric might change my opinion, but I’m not willing to throw good money after bad.

I would be interested to read comments from any of you who have dealt with any of these three companies.

Bespoke Morning Dress Part Two

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When a tailor is genuinely satisfied with his work, you can be sure of your own satisfaction. As Russell smoothed the deep blue herringbone tails of both my groom-to-be brother and my father, he uttered the same words; “I’m really pleased with that.” Though not surprised – for who could be surprised at their own handiwork? – Russell’s glee seemed to indicate that he was tickled by the result. There is evidently more to his job satisfaction than a client who pays on time.

This second fitting at Graham Browne began with the as yet unseen houndstooth trousers. I think trousers one of the most overlooked elements of morning dress, a fact which I find extremely disappointing from an aesthetic point of view but unfortunately unsurprising given the modern malady; a recent and rare visit to an Armani boutique resulted in my witnessing the appallingly unbalanced ‘tailoring’ service where all the client and tailor’s attention was given to the jacket. The trousers, worn on the hips and looking like a swag curtain in a Victorian dining room, concertina’d about the ankles, were apparently of no concern and were otherwise ignored.

In my view, the lower half of a morning dress ensemble, indeed any ensemble, can make or break the outfit. It is not simply a question of an overabundance of breaks; where the trousers are worn has a critical effect on the overall balance. Bespoke tailoring will not cure the ills on its own. When a man strides out from a dressing room in his tailored trousers, the tailor will never round on him, hoist the trousers upwards and deliver a sermon on the benefits of wearing the trousers on the waist. Everything else he cuts, the jacket and the waistcoat, is cut to accommodate the way in which the gentleman wears the trousers.

A bespoke tailor will always cover the top of the trousers with the waistcoat and therefore trousers worn lower tend to require a greater surface area of dove grey. This problem particularly affects gentlemen whose legs are shorter than, or simply equal to, their torso.

My brother is over six feet and, like me, has long legs in disproportion to his torso. He doesn’t wear his trousers particularly high but given the proportions of his body, he achieves the correct balance. My father is shorter than my brother and slightly shorter than me. However he is also evenly balanced in terms of torso/legs, unlike my brother and me, and this requires consideration.

Unfortunately, the pictures that were taken at the fitting have vanished into thin air, so you cannot see that though my father and brother were wearing their trousers at the same position, my brother’s leg length created the illusion that his waistcoat was cut shorter whereas my father’s waistcoat appeared to be longer. In fact, they were covering the same proportion of torso and trouser. The appearance of short legs is unattractive; men should strive that their legs appear longer as it gives an illusion of stature. When these photographs were perused, the problem was noted and was remedied (see picture above). My father’s trousers have been cut to be worn higher so that the waistcoat does not have to fall as low as it did. This will give a better illusion of leg length and, consequently, height.

Ode To The Loafer

weejun1While my taste usually remains somewhere under the large umbrella of “classic style,” whatever that means, I am prone to having “moments” if you will. For a period of time, I get extremely devoted to a specific garment or style, and tend to incorporate it almost daily in whatever else I feel like wearing. I’ll go months without touching a shoe that isn’t black, weeks wearing only blue patterned shirts, or in the other direction, periods of time where a certain width of tie is an absolute no-no. I see these little fits as ways to experiment and intensely explore a certain idea before mellowing out and finding a healthy middle ground.

Right now I am really feeling the loafer. It’s not the first time I’ve looked at laces as more trouble than they’re worth, but I am finding myself wearing string-free footwear 5 or 6 days a week. There is a certain “go-to-hell” attitude to a slip on, seemingly implying to all around that I’m in no rush, live life at my own pace, and don’t really want to be bothered with laces. Also, as summer begins to slip away, loafers seem a nice way to keep a bit of the warm weather leisure with me.  These loafers can take many forms, each with it’s own quirks and peccadilloes.

The classic American (Norwegian) style penny loafer, a la the Bass Weejun, is my favorite go to shoe. If I have to run out and grab groceries, pick up my mail, head to class, go to a party, it doesn’t matter, the Weejun gets the job done, and with style no less. Somehow they look just as at home with jeans and a soft-collar shirt as they do with a grey flannel suit and tie. A real classic, I don’t what I’d do without my Weejuns in black and burgundy.

For me, the beauty of the Weejun is that it sort of fades into the background of whatever else I’m wearing, keeping my feet elegant while also keeping them from being the center of attention. When I want something a bit more eye-catching, I go for my burgundy calf tassel loafers. A slightly more pointed toe, and a bit more visually arresting detail, the tassel loafer is equal parts dandyism and business.

w-velvet1Now for the fully on louche Don Juan shoe – the velvet slipper. Sadly they are only speculative for me now, but soon I plan on remedying that. A slip on shoe made from a wholly impractical, soft material, with a delicate sole and ribbon piping. Plus, while black is the classic formal option, they come in as many colors as you can imagine and with an infinite number of embroidery options.  It doesn’t get any more go-to-hell than that as far as I’m concerned.