Waisting Away

waist-jcrew-tuxOne of the seemingly contradictory facets of what we like to think of as “classic” or “timeless” style is that it is, like everything after all, subject to the whims of fashion. Yes, yes, most devotees of Men’s Flair and similar outlets are not waltzing around in the latest “it color” and reinventing their wardrobe twice a year, but certain things do change over time. The most significant of these is cut.

Dinner-plate sized lapels seemed perfectly at home during the seventies, but as I know from a few regrettable vintage purchases, tend to look dated now. And the razor-slim lapels making a comeback as we speak will, no doubt, look foolish on charity-shop racks in 20 years. For me though, the current trend towards slim, low-rise, &c. brings with it a whole host of concerns for the classically-minded gent. I’m a short, slim guy, so it’s not as if I simply can’t fit into these clothes. Any time a brand wants to make smaller sizes for off the rack clothes it is a cause for celebration in my world, but smaller sizes and scanter proportions are not one and the same.

The low-rise trouser poses a panoply of significant problems. The image above illustrates this perfectly. No offense to J Crew (who I think are doing amazing things to popularize and disseminate high-quality, stylish goods amongst American men), but that tux is not what I would call clean and elegant. That dreaded white triangle kills me. You see it – the one between jacket and trousers that pulls the eye about as far from the face as it can go.

Maybe this is just a personal idiosyncrasy, I’ve been known to have them, but the meeting between shirt and trouser is the least elegant part of men’s dressing. No matter how precisely your shirt and trousers are cut, no matter whether bespoke, made to measure, or off the rack, this border is almost always unsightly and a mess. Add the low rise trouser to the mix, and you’re sure to get some blousing of the shirt, and eventually you might as well be wearing pyjamas.  In this case, a simply cummerbund would fix the triangle problem, but that is really only a sartorial band-aid. A jacket cut to the proper length, and trousers not cut like hipster jeans would be a far-more-preferable solution.

Tucking in a shirt in fact requires slightly higher trousers to function properly. I’m not suggesting everyone need wear navel-grazing pants, but if you can’t fit a full-tailed shirt into the seat, your trousers are probably too low-rise. Trousers are all about long, clean lines, and making your lap look like a wave-pool isn’t doing anyone favors, even before your shirt comes out like a tsunami.

My vitriol might be a bit more than is called for in this situation, but gentlemen, pull your pants up.

The Profundity Of Style

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One of the greatest catalysts for the progression of personal style is a growing taste for Art. I find it impossible to isolate my taste in clothing from my taste in almost anything else, a fact which others might find depressing but which I find reassuring; the way I perceive things are, in my opinion, unavoidably interconnected. I remember reading a passage on The Sartorialist advancing eclecticism and denouncing lifestyle escapism – the act of retreating into a favoured past decade.

The picture in question was a gentleman on a vintage bicycle wearing plus-fours, a flat cap, a bow tie and iPod earphones. The Sart’s hope was that Eminem was the gentleman’s musical artist of choice and not something of the epoch he was aping in dress and transportation, the argument being that ‘some people go too far’ in their unilateral attempts to revive bygone eras.

While eclecticism has its merits and attractions, it is fair to consider that such aesthetes are very often entirely taken by almost every artistic aspect of an age. For example, Victorian style dandies often collect Victoriana and frequent places and events that would provide the best possible setting for their elegant period clothing. The sensibilities of style are often so entwined in a lifestyle choice that it is easy to forget how profound and personal such choices are when measured by the superficialities of dress. Style is infectious and one of the most quietly powerful facets of living, capable of altering one’s perspective on the world and adjusting not only clothing and living spaces but literature choice, hobbies and even political opinions.

While such an assertion may not stir surprise in the reader, it is a rarely acknowledged fact that an appreciation of clothing stems from a greater and deeper wonder of Art, which, along with the sophistication of our communication is what anthropologists believe separates us from the other creatures that roam this earth.

I find that it is rare for a man’s sartorial taste to be utterly emancipated from his wider aesthetic taste which some find predictable and rather prosaic but which I happen to think is a mark of identification and profundity. A man’s experiences, his personality and his history not only affect such choices but are also developed by them. Although links between literature choice, clothing and interior decoration taste are justly assumed to be more prevalent in aesthetes, it is an interesting activity to assemble the accoutrements of one’s life and watch as the threads between them entwine and form the spectre of a chosen aesthetic.

The Jacket Cardigan

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I am a weak willed individual.

Having preached the virtue of lists and belt tightening in the January period, last week I went out and purchased something which was neither cheap nor on the list.

I know. Shameful.

The garment in question that caught my sartorial magpie’s eye was a heavy, thick knitted wool Cardigan Jacket by UK label Jaeger.

I suspect if you’re considering thick knits or a jacket substitute you’re most likely thinking Shawl Collar Cardigan, as popularised by the king of cool Mr Steve McQueen. But there is something to be said for this less popular choice.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the main difference between the classic Shawl Collar and Jacket Cardigan is the use of a buttoning funnel or standing collar – although there are variations around, as in this John Smedley version. Cardigan Jackets are also usually cut a little longer with the hem resting on or below the seat – but again variations abound.

While I like the idea of a classic Shawl Collar Cardigan possessing something more akin to a family-pack than a six-pack, they tend to make me look a little paunchy. For boxy or bigger guys I’d strongly recommend the Cardigan Jacket. Buttons from the very top of the funnel collar to the hem allow you more room for manoeuvre with your buttoning options. For example, buttoning only the two middle buttons provides a long slim V from the collar to the midriff, and a second V from the midriff to the hem (very similar to a suit jacket) which taken in the round is far more natural  and more slimming than that afforded by the Shawl Collar.

But my choice was based on a little more than mere disguise alone; for as versatile as the Shawl Collar Cardigan is, the Jacket Cardigan is surely more so. The ability to close the front of the garment to a variety of heights positively invites you to play with such things as ties, scarves and cravats -a subject touched on recently. And of course buttoned up completely is another look in itself, clean and uncluttered. While you can of course layer a Shawl Collar Cardigan I’ve always thought the straight up and down lines of the Jacket Cardigan much easier to play with and less contrived in appearance; whether that means layering a waistcoat underneath the Cardigan or Mac or coat over the top.

Guilty conscience no more.

Japanese Men’s Magazines: Leon vs. Men’s Ex

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As a long-standing fan of magazines, and the men’s magazine market in particular, it saddens me to see almost-monthly articles proclaiming their imminent demise. While it’s true that in recent years some titles, such as Maxim and Arena, suffered a swift and merciless end, others have performed comparatively well: between 2002 and 2009 Esquire UK’s circulation held steady at around 60,000 copies per month, and GQ UK’s actually increased by 3.2%. I do like both of these titles – they have some excellent guest and regular columnists – but they could do with improving their style sections. Enough with the boys-in-half-mast-trousers-and-Hitler-haircuts photo shoots! I want to see clothes that I could actually wear to work without being laughed at.

But anyway, back to the point… here in Japan a lot of the biggest-selling men’s magazines are all about fashion and style. And not just fashion and style in general: they cater to niche markets that simply couldn’t sustain a magazine of their own in other countries. If you’re interested in classic American work-wear, for example, you have Free & Easy and Lightning; if you want to look like an off-duty Hollywood celeb you can read Safari; and if you’re more interested in what those crazy Shibuya kids are wearing you can pick up Popeye. Unlike a lot of British men’s magazines, Japanese titles devote acres of page space to street shots (ie, candid photographs of normal people whose vibes happen to resonate with a particular style).

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Of all Japanese men’s fashion magazines, Leon and Men’s Ex are my favourites. Leon takes its inspiration from the choiwaru oyaji (which roughly translates as “bad-yet-cool old guys”) of Milan and Florence. If you can’t get enough of Tommy Ton’s photos from Pitti Uomo, this is the magazine for you. Articles not only detail the latest trends from Italy, such as wearing Barbours over grey worsted wool suits, they also delve into the minutiae of sprezzatura. If you ever wanted to know how to fasten your button-down shirt collars to effect just the right degree of nonchalance, look no further.

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Leon also produces a biannual special called Snap! which consists entirely of street shots. Photos are categorised by garment (ie, navy suits, casual outerwear, grey jackets), and provide a handy reference to those in need of sartorial inspiration.

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Like Leon, Men’s Ex is heavily influenced by the Italian menswear market. However, while Leon pays a lot of attention to casual, weekend clothing, Men’s Ex concentrates on the business end: suits, shoes, blazers and ties. Shoes, in particular, are often explained in such depth that it can be frightening to think about the amount of man-hours the staff writers have put in.

Men’s Ex also features more from the British and American tailoring scene than Leon – Jeremy Hackett is a columnist, for example – and is generally more conservative in outlook. In terms of readership, Leon is aimed at forty-somethings who are confident enough and high enough up the corporate food chain to wear what they like, while Men’s Ex is for twenty- and thirty-something career men who are looking to get ahead. It helps to be well dressed, but being too flashy can be risky.

If there’s one thing that both these titles lack, it’s high-brow journalism. If you’re expecting serious, well-written articles on politics and current affairs you should stick with Esquire and GQ. These babies are unashamedly style-centred, and you’ll often have a hard time distinguishing between editorial and advertorial content. But for the clotheshorses among you, they are well worth buying.

A Picture Paints A Thousand Words

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I’ve often thought people fall into one of two camps: you’re either stimulated by the visual or stimulated by the literary. For example, my girlfriend devours thrillers; whereas I’ll rarely read a work of fiction and yet I’m a film buff.

As the quote says ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ – actually that’s a slight bastardisation of a much disputed quote. But it makes the point; and it couldn’t be more true in my own case. I’ve read books on style and dress – not as many as fellow columnist Andrew Hodges – but I’ll be damned if I can remember half of what I’ve read. My picture library on the other hand is vast. Culled from the internet, magazines and the like, I’ll pore over the images, analyse them, deconstruct what I’m looking at, make connections and learn lessons.  Above all I remember them, and incorporate what I’ve learned.

It was Cary Grant, perhaps the best dresser of them all, who once said; “One pretends to do something, or copy someone or some teacher, until it can be done confidently and easily in what becomes one’s own manner.”

And in that vein I’ve spent a great deal of the last month familiarizing myself with blogging phenomenon Tumblr. I’ll confess that despite being a blogger I am not a tech head – you should see my mobile phone! So I apologise to anybody for whom this is stale news. But this whole field has proved something of an accidental delight for me.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Tumblr would best be described as a pictorial twitter. Viewed in ‘Archive’ it’s a great glorious pictorial ramble. So for those who find it easier to learn from the visual as opposed the literary, here are a few that caught my eye.

1. Man of Class

2. Todays’ Tie

3. Prepidemic

4. Guy Style Guide

5. Dandy and Dapper

6. Peacock Magpie