Discipline

discipline

It strikes me that the best dressed men are highly disciplined fellows.

Nothing happens by accident and the easier and more natural something appears the harder it is to achieve. Men like Cary Grant or Terry Thomas, for example, took years to develop their look. It was a conscious effort, studying the men they admired and then over years learning what worked and how to achieve it. Once they’d built their wardrobes, and they did build them; lavishing money and time on them, working with skilled craftsmen who often take months to make a garment. Once they did all that they kept their bodies in good nic well into old age.

Of course that doesn’t mean you’re not a well dressed fellow unless you engage a disguise of tailors. What they possessed was perhaps as important as what they did; and what they possessed was patience and discipline.

Recently I’ve been banging-on about the importance of lists. I’ve highlighted some of my purchases to come, and I’ve explained the looks and the aesthetic I want to create. The aim is not only to properly articulate what I’m buying and why, but to ensure that I only ever buy what I need.

This has been quite a recent development for me. Of course, having to pound out a couple of posts each week to a readership of dedicated sartorials (that’s you by the way) helps with this process. Even if these bi-weekly orations don’t help you they’ve certainly helped me maintain focus, and give serious thought to my wardrobe. I’d always tried to do it, and sort of thought I was, but in reality my wardrobe never quite fitted together as smoothly as it could have.

And it requires a lot more time, effort, patience and discipline than you would imagine. We live in an age of instant gratification, with more disposable income than any generations before, and credit cards and overdrafts to top us up. We are bombarded with images and pages of text on TV, in print and online extolling the virtues of wonderful needful things. And who amongst us has not made impulse purchases. As Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist all things but temptation”.

For me temptation recently came in the form of a trip to Bicester Village. It’s one of those designer label outlet things which have begun to spring up. They’re temples to the new religion, shopping. Indeed, the reckless abandon with which people go about the business of acquiring, and the deals so good, you’re almost made to feel foolish for not buying something. And I was tempted by some beautiful Dunhill cashmere ties, but I stuck to my lists.

I imagine the other thing great dressers have in common is that smug self-satisfied feeling you only get from showing a bit of discipline.

Sartorial Love/Hate: Window Check Suit

window-check

“Err Winnie” I heard being muttered nervously behind me as I quietly took my place at my desk for registration “why is there a maths book all over your suit?” It was a cool April morning. I was seventeen years of age and in the first year of sixth form. It was not de rigueur to wear ‘flashy’ suits – the faculty looked down on fashion statements – and most of the boys fell into line by wearing innocuous navy or charcoal grey. Being of a somewhat rebellious nature, I experimented with chalk-stripes and checks – the most outrageous of which was a charcoal grey peak lapel suit with a light yellow window check. It was this suit which had provoked the comment from my fellow pupil. And that lunchtime I endured what all school-age style pioneers endured; utter ridicule.

Unfortunately, I was an impressionable young scamp. I decided that I would no longer wear this rather splendid creation, a gift from a doting father, whilst my more conventional suits were available. In my defence it was not merely peer pressure which persuaded me to pursue that course; a few snooty comments from tutors, mumblings about being at school to work and not show off, made me reconsider the appropriateness of the design. It was always known amongst my friends as the ‘maths check suit’ and as awkward as it’s introduction was all those years ago I have never considered it to be anything other than magnificent. I am not alone in my admiration of the window-check design, but it has a great number of detractors.

‘Far too loud’, ‘distracting’ and ‘downright ugly’ have been the charges levelled by those of my acquaintance. Some tailors dislike it because the pattern is too similar to that of a country suit; to them, wearing a country suit in town is frankly deplorable. It is true that, unlike the chalk or pinstripe, it is not really a City-boy suit. It doesn’t have the gravitas of a stripe. In actual fact it is extremely playful; a smile always seems brighter in a window-check suit. It is true that it has a trace of the bucolic about it; tweed checks are often window-checks and the classic hunting waistcoats are sometimes made with the pattern. However, like the Glen Plaid, this reveals versatility; a GP or a window check is an acceptable choice for the country-park hotel, a chalk or pinstripe is not.

Like the striped suits, I think turn ups are best for window-check suits; it might not be ‘correct’ or even fashionable but aesthetically it somehow looks better. I also prefer a peak lapel with a window-check as this more formal than a notch and takes a little of the casual-country edge off the creation.

Stylish Television: Boardwalk Empire

boardwalk-empire

Boardwalk Empire is an original television series that premiered this fall on HBO. The show follows Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi) who is a powerful politician and gangster in control of Atlantic City at the dawn of Prohibition.  The show was created by Terence Winter, the Emmy Award-winning writer of The Sopranos. The first episode was directed by Academy Award Winning Director Martin Scorsese.

The shows producers have done an incredible job of recreating 1920 Atlantic City, including an elaborate wardrobe from this Golden Age of Style. Most of us are accustomed to seeing this clothing in black and white photographs from the era. Boardwalk Empire brings the era to life in full, accurate color. Through extensive research of period fabrics and colored catalogs, the program’s costume designer, John Dunn, discovered a surprisingly vibrant palate of color.

While much of the production has relied heavily on vintage clothing, period clothing was made for most of the principal cast. Martin Greenfield Clothiers, a New York tailoring institution that manufactures high-quality garments for stores like Brooks Brothers, was selected to make costumes based on Dunn’s investigations. New York Daily News reported that a team of 120 tailors worked for almost a year to turn period tweeds and heavy worsteds into at least 200 costumes for about 68 different characters.

For an epic, full-color perspective on the Golden Age of Style, check out HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

A Tale Of Two Shoulders

Mr. Williams wrote a little while ago about the Rope and Pagoda shoulders, two of the less common shoulders available on men’s jackets. To go back to basics for a moment, I wanted to discuss the difference a soft versus hard shoulder makes on the overall look and feel of a jacket. Oscar Wilde always said that a man dressed from his shoulders in reference to braces and trousers, but I think its a good rule overall.

What spurred me to write about this was the arrival of both the Polo and Ede & Ravenscroft catalogues in my mailbox this week. The Ede & Ravenscroft book is full of crisp, cleanly tailored suits in beautiful worsteds and flannels, all of which have a razor-sharp shoulder silhouette. Shot against the backdrop of London architecture, the suits’ silhouettes have lot in common with their art deco surrounding. Lines are clean and sharp, with a broad, structured top cementing the look. From this broad shoulder line, the rest of the coat comes to a pointed closure at the waist, and then the trouser crease keep the long, lean line going all the way down to the highly polished oxfords.

ede-r-shoulder

The opposite is present in Ralph Lauren’s fall presentation. The jackets seem to have only slightly more structure than a piece of knitwear, and without the sharp shoulder line, they look effortless and comfortable, not to mention much more casual. Because these jackets don’t have darts to help pull the back and waist in, they rely on a slimming drape, barely grazing the body, and Mr. Lauren chose to finish them off with odd flannel and corduroy trousers and hefty brogues in the provided images – all of which have a 1920s countryside vibe to boot.

prl-shoulder

The differences in these shoulders serve not only to define the shoulder-line of the wearer, but also serve as a basis for the entire fit of the coat. I happen to have a suit from Ede & Ravenscroft with a similar silhouette, which seems right at home wandering through London, but something about that line just seems too harsh for wandering around campus in the fall. Something about that soft sloping shoulder and sack cut just screams fall casual to me.

There’s lot of talk about “no brown in town” and similar rules about colors, cloth, &c. and what one can and cannot wear in certain situations, but I think cut deserves debate as well. What do you all think about various types of tailoring and the environments they look/feel best in?

The Rise Of The Independent

archer-adams

I had some good news this week. It seems that independent London label Archer Adams has now gone live. When I first introduced Archer here in June he was just beginning to get his stock in. Now the Marylebone shop is open and the website firing on all cylinders.

His unique, somewhat rock ‘n’ roll style of clothing is going to add a much needed breath of fresh air to a market getting a little stale under the weight of the ‘well curated’ American work wear scene.

archer-adams-ties-and-rainc

I have a lot of time for Archer, and his dedication to quality manufacturing –much of it in England. I’m rather taken by his simple Rain Coat, which I didn’t see on my first visit; and I’m particularly fond of his English hand made ties in Dupion Silk. The vibrant colours and texture make them a good contrast fit with denim, cord and even tweed.

In my very first article for Mensflair I pointed out that my particular passion was independent menswear retailers. When thinking about the intervening period it’s heartening to see just how many independents have launched, and how many others have not only prospered but have made an impact beyond these shores.

For Archer Adams is just the latest in what could almost be described as a movement. Just recently Trunk Clothiers opened its doors offering, amongst other things,  J.Crew to UK men for the first time. Before that there was Hostem, and before them Present, Meet Bernard, Garbstore, Oi Pollio, Lodger Footwear and Albam, several of which can boast international followings.

For years the independent retailer was in decline, a feature of increasing property prices and high rents; an inability to penetrate the public consciousness in the face of bigger high spending brands; and the herd mentality of shoppers. Now, dare I say it, they are virtually fashionable.

Much of this resurgence is down to the pivotal role that the internet plays in our lives. It has resolved many of the impediments to success for the independent retailer, effectively providing him with a shop window onto the World at minimal cost. Look at blogging phenomenon like A Suitable Wardrobe, Inventory and A Continuous Lean all of which now retail clothes and apparel to ready made audiences.

Of course it’s not just the young at heart that are getting on. Some from the old school have taken full advantage of the internet; people like Michael Campy with Bromleys, and second generation retailer Adrian Herring at Herring Shoes. If you’re looking for craftsmanship look no further than Ettinger Of London with their beautiful handmade leather goods, Carreducker’s bespoke shoes or Charlie Collingwood with Henry Herbert bespoke tailors.

I’m pleased to say this resurgence isn’t confined to the UK. There is plenty going on across the pond. The Cordial Churchman with their unique handmade ties is one retailer I’m keeping an eye on – thanks to An Affordable Wardrobe for putting me onto this one.

All those mentioned are merely the ones I’ve so far met or which caught my eye, but there is no denying the independent is on the rise.