Archives for January 2011

All My Bags Are Packed


A couple of weeks ago, I was standing by the old lighthouse at Cape Point, near the southernmost tip of Africa contemplating the wonders of modern travel. Had I lived a century ago, I would have made my journey down to South Africa by steamer – a journey which would have taken two weeks. Air travel may well be a less civilised way to transport oneself from one side of the world to the other – the indignity of airports and being strapped inside an airborne metal tube – but such inconveniences pale into insignificance when contemplating the time that has been ‘gained’; so many complain about transit, myself included, that I have found it rewarding to polish brightly each silver lining that one encounters.

However, such reflection can expose the little-thought-of insufficiencies of modern travel, notably the amount and style of luggage that it affords us to transport. I took a modest amount of luggage with me on my recent African adventure and yet it was still extravagant enough to provoke cackles of laughter from my travelling companions; apparently, two checked cases and a carry-on holdall constitutes excess in the 21st century.


The most important thing about packing is that the luggage has to be manageable by one person; outside of deluxe resorts and Orient Express trains, there are no porters to carry portmanteaux to and fro. A four-wheeled case is ideal as it does not require a great deal of exertion, or that the case be wheeled behind (like two-wheeled cases) – four-wheeled cases can be pushed in front with little effort and it is also possible to perch a carry-on on the top of the case to free up the other hand for an additional wheeled case.


While it is understandable that one might wish not to invest in overtly stylish or expensive cases for the hold due to the possibility of loss, damage or carousel theft, there is no such need for caution when it comes to carry-on luggage. Carry-on luggage needs to be robust and it needs to be of a material that ‘enjoys’ aging; nylon is not such a material, leather and strong canvas are. My own carry-on case is a sturdy brown leather Gladstone bag that I bought in Italy. While certainly not light, I rarely get close to the weight limit. If capacity is your concern, a leather trimmed canvas bag might be a better option.

Camera bags

In my opinion, the only camera bags suitable for DSLRs are made by Billingham. In addition to providing excellent protection for camera bodies, lenses and accessories with sturdy internal dividers and foam protection, they also happen to be of a timeless design, unlike many of the camera company bags made of black nylon and plastic. While a Billingham bag is not cheap, they do last and their value holds; many owners sell their old, smaller bags on eBay for significant sums before upgrading to larger models.

We All Need A Little Help


Mensflair attracts a diverse and worldly audience, so where better to ask for advice.

Next weekend I’ll be hoofing it over to Rome for a friend’s 30th Birthday Dinner and Party. If things run true to form there’s only a 50/50 chance of getting back in anything approaching good order. But that’s another story – possibly one for a local magistrate.

Anyways, I’ve never been to Rome before and naturally I’m rather exited. Though there is much to see the chance to check out a few of Rome’s independent menswear outfitters seems too good an opportunity to miss. And that’s where you come in, if you’re willing. I have no idea where to begin, so if you’re familiar with the City and know of one or two menswear retailers worth checking out please let me know.

As it happens this isn’t the only issue thrown up by this trip. The dress code has presented an unexpected headache. My friend is something of a showman and while he initially intimated the dinner would be black tie he has now changed his mind. The god awful dress code is now ‘When in Rome…’ which is as unhelpful as it is dangerous.

With such a vague guide my normal rule of thumb is to first judge your company and then judge the venue. But judging your company only works so far as you know who they are. Fortunately I know most of them, but by no means all. Of those I’m familiar it’s a real mixed bag. A few, our host included, are likely to go all out, in the form of fancy dress. However, others will make the least effort possible, which could be anything from a suit to shirts and jeans. The problem here is that I could be wrong on all counts. No one wants to be sat in black tie surrounded by people in jeans and jackets. Conversely you don’t want to be the misery who couldn’t be bothered to make an effort when all are Dinner Jacketed. The e-mails have already begun to fly and no conclusion seems imminent.

Sadly the venue isn’t much of a guide in this case either. Apparently, dinner is at the Venerable English College.

So here are the options. Option one, play it very safe and wear a jacket, jumper shirt and tie. If anybody asks I’ll flip the tie out over the jumper and say I came as Gianni Agnelli. Option two, a dark blue suit, blue shirt and navy blue wool tie – few things are more Italian than that. I’ll add a pocket square for flair. Option three, go balls out, accepting possible embarrassment and opt for the black tie – the host at least would be happy.

But what would you do?

Review: Broadland Slippers


I did rather well this Christmas as far as gifts went. But then writing a blog does have its advantages, people have a fair idea of what to buy you.

Top of the pile was a pair of dress pumps with flat grosgrain bows from UK based Broadland Slippers, which came courtesy of my girlfriend Westie. These are an acquired taste, but as the name implies Broadland’s speciality are beautiful velvet slippers and house shoes, ranging in design from the simple to the decadent. A subject we covered at length some time ago.

I returned home to Norfolk this Christmas, and by a curious quirk this happens to be the home of Broadland Slippers. An unlikely location for such a company; think English shoemaking, think Northampton. However, Norwich was once the home of the BALLY shoe factory, until production was moved to Eastern Europe in the 1990s. But it’s nice to know that the craft was not entirely lost. All Broadland’s products are hand made here in England and they’re made to order, so expect a 4 to 5 week wait for your order.

My girlfriend wanted my pumps in time for Christmas and so rang the company to try and clarify that they’d be ready for the big day. Her report was that the guys at Broadland were extremely helpful and even talked her through sizing and design – of which she was a little unsure.


I have to say that the pumps are beautiful, as good as any I’ve seen, so no worries on that score. The quilted silk interior is soft and substantial, which helps keep the pump on your foot if you’re planning on tripping the light fantastic.  What’s more they’re extremely well priced.

Unfortunately, the natural sizing of the last seems to be a little on the narrow side, and in my case a half size too short. Having a quick scan of the forums this seems to be a common issue. I’m normally a straight ten, and when the guys at Broadland spoke to my girlfriend they didn’t indicate there would be a problem. I have a suspicion that the thickness of the interior quilting also contributes to them being a bit on the narrow side.

So, despite the effort to get them to me in time for Christmas mine will be going back, but this hasn’t proved a problem. I’ve been in contact with the company and without quibble they asked me to send the pumps back and asked for a measurement of my foot for safety’s sake.

I can’t really fault the product or the customer service. If I had one complaint it would be that while boxed the pumps aren’t in shoe bags – which would prevent scuffing in transit- and the box ought to be bubble wrapped, again an insurance against damage in transit. That aside, I have to say I was extremely impresses. Delivery is free in the UK and only £15 extra World wide. A company well worth adding to your internet favourites.

Style Library [Part 2]

Last week I shared a list of my favorite style books. Following is a list of style books in my library that were not worth the money.

Esquire: The Big Black Book. These annuals are really more magazine than a book. I have the same problem with these annuals that I have with Esquire magazine; they are heavy on ads for trendy clothing and light on good advice. It’s a shame that the current magazine isn’t more like the Esquire of eighty years ago.

The Handbook of Style: A Man’s Guide to Looking Good, The Editors of Esquire Magazine (2009). This little book from Esquire magazine is a lot more useful than the big black books, but it does not offer anything unique that isn’t already presented elsewhere in more interesting fashion.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Fab 5’s Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better and Living Better, Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley, and Jai Rodriguez (2004). Carson Kressley’s fashion advice is dubious at best: “Black flip-flops look chic with almost everything, and you can wear them all summer long. I once sported a $3.50 pair with a couture suit. On CNN, no less.”

The Indispensable Guide to Classic Men’s Clothing, Josh Karlen & Christopher Sulavik (1999). Unlike some of the books in my list from last week, I have not found this book to be “indispensable.” It is just a wall of text with a few black line illustrations.

I’ll conclude with one book that is on my wish list. Woody Hochswender’s Men in Style: The Golden Age of Fashion from Esquire (1993) is a reference book of illustrations and editorial copy from Esquire magazines of the 1930s to the 1950s. Unfortunately the book is out of print and has become highly collectible. Nice copies fetch about three hundred fifty dollars. Even at that price, it’s the only book on this list that is worth the money.

The Best Things In Life Are Free


I don’t know about you but Christmas always leaves me light in the pocket.

For many people January means sale time, an excuse to go about acquiring in much the same way they did before Christmas.

But for me January and February are a time to show a little restraint, tighten the belt and get my finances in order, part preparation for the new season and those spring/summer items which will go onto the list.

However, refusing to spend money doesn’t mean ignoring my wardrobe or letting things slide. I’m always looking for ways to cut a dash; add touches of individuality; or better organise my kit. If I can manage these at little cost, or better still no cost, so much the better. And this is the best time of year to practice them.

You could, for example, get the dimple in the tie knot under belt – as I demonstrated in my last post. Or perhaps your wardrobe needs some organisation, in which case the Samurai Fold, as demonstrated here, might prove useful. But I have something else in mind.

Possibly trite but certainly true, the devil is in the detail. Take, for example, the humble shoe lace.


I discovered Ian’s Shoelace Site some time ago and having enjoyed an extended Christmas break I’ve had an opportunity to practice a few variations. Not that there is any shortage of options it seems, the guy has really done his homework, and the instructions are extremely easy to follow – a far cry from my days as a Scout.

You may think this is a lot of fuss about nothing, but simply lacing your shoes in a different manner can alter the look of your footwear in a surprisingly dramatic way. And it’s a lot cheaper than buying new shoes.