Sartorial Love/Hate: Pale Denim

pale-denim

“Oh, this would suit you”, “Grey is NOT your colour” and “this is a classic lifestyle look” are the typical phrases the companion chirrups but on this occasion, I happened to overhear a far less generic remark. “Ok jeans. Now, you need new jeans” to which the ‘ringed bull’ nodded obediently as he surveyed the mass of denim on the racks “but NOT these pale jeans, okay? NEVER buy pale denim ever. Urgh. Awful.”

There was something so assured about this remark, so confident; something which suggested that such an opinion was widely received. Considering the fact that I was wearing a pair of pale (very washed) denim jeans, and that I myself was particularly fond of them, I realised that this was another case of sartorial love/hate.

Other ‘haters’ describe them as chavvy, unattractively eighties and entirely lacking in sophistication; the general opinion from these objectors is that dark denim is in a completely different category – casual but far smarter, less showy and more adaptable. Lovers of pale denim tend to be individualists who find dark denim commonplace and dull, although some of them are simply Eighties nostalgics who pair them with Wayfarers, penny loafers and Duran Duran leather jackets. One interesting respondent informed me that pale denim is not only unusual, but also “the perfect tone for spring and summer.”

Personally, I am a fan of pale denim. I also wear darker denim, and have no aesthetic preference, but consider that the lighter denim I own is simply more appropriate for certain ensembles. I believe the prejudice towards pale denim is part of a general dislike of lighter-toned trousers; you’d be hard pushed to find someone who is comfortable wearing white trousers of any material. The belief is that lighter trousers are  fattening, revealing and generally less flattering as they reflect light better than darker trousers which has the effect of making everything (calf, thigh and all else besides) appear ‘chunkier.’  While true, I believe this has been exaggerated.

If you have no hang ups about this or are of such a slight frame that you consider your spindle-like legs could do with a little ‘fattening’, I find that light denim looks, though Eurotrash and distasteful to some, are quite fetching; wear with a navy blazer, white shirt, a red cotton pocket square, and brown suede Cheaney loafers for a Middle-England-cum-Milanese modern classic.

Notes From Rome Part 2

In my last post on Rome I dealt in generalities and impressions, so in this post I’ll cover some specifics. Or more to the point, certain definable items that seemed to be the norm in the Roman males’ wardrobe.

Sadly I won’t be covering Italian suiting and business wear. I was there over a weekend so these notes cover the weekend wardrobe. It was my intension to provide you with lots of beautiful photos, but sadly my stay coincided with Monsoon Season. So we’re making do with the few images I could snap and those I’ve pinched from elsewhere.

Given the whether it is perhaps natural that the primary element to elicit my attention was outerwear.

Outerwear:

When I think about Italian coats I think double breasted, wool, cashmere, moleskin and of course Camel; all in keeping with those wonderful shots on The Sartorialist. But I saw none of that. What I did see was to my English sensibilities an eye opener.

Loden Coats

rome-loden-coat

Standing at the Roma Termini taxi rank I caught the last few moments of the Roman working week. It was a wet, windy cold Friday night, ideally suited to the natural qualities of the Loden cloth. A subject we covered here many posts ago. Thinking about this coat with its tent-like cut, the long centre pleat at the back, compared to more conventional styles it has sprezzatura built in. Most of the men I spotted wore them long – just above the ankle or round about mid calf with the collar flipped up. A bright contrasting scarf and suede footwear added touches of sympathetic density (imagine the chap at the top in a 3 quarter length coat).

Synthetic Anoraks

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When you think Italian chic, anoraks don’t exactly spring to mind. But these were everywhere. Black Gortex seemed to be the standard. Even the business men I spotted not wearing Loden coats had these on. In England such coats are often found in charming shades of beige and are the preserve of old men. But Roman’s combine practicality with style, keeping the cuts slim and waists shaped, the colours muted – any colour you like as long as it’s black. They use scarves, suede shoes and thick trousers to add interest and luxuriousness. They also layer, wearing jumpers and jackets underneath, making a practical glamour-less coat a blank –albeit black – canvas.

Puffa Jackets

rome-puffa-jackets

This appeared to be the must have bit of outwear for the season. Well, I don’t know about your neck of the woods but here in England Puffa jackets are regarded as a bit naff, particularly by middle class types like myself. Of course take the sleeves off call it a Gillet and you’re virtually Old Money, but that’s another story. In Rome the Puffa was the keystone of the weekend wardrobe. Cut in a variety of lengths, some complete with fur collars. Again, cuts were slim, and combined with muted colours and suede footwear.

In the final part I cover footwear and other details that caught my eye.

Zips vs Buttons

zips-buttons

A Scandinavian friend of mine, as he was enthusiastically scouring the Regent and Oxford Street racks on one of his visits, told me something which, while a common enough assertion, has remained with me ever since; “I really don’t like…what are these called? Zips?”

We had been looking at knitwear in COS, Zara and H&M and, though a stickler for detail, I had been comparatively indifferent to the style of fastenings on the jumpers and cardigans that we had been turfing through, preferring to ruminate on the appropriateness of colour, pattern and style of knit. As soon as my companion had mentioned his preference, I could think of nothing else. Zips were, rather suddenly, curiously unappealing.

Jumper after jumper, I examined the zips and it dawned on me how incongruous it was to have a crudely knitted, cosy pile of a jumper split by an industrial and severe metallic strip. Practical, I conceded, but of the finest aesthetic? Not at all. The alternative to it is of course the humble button. I saw several jumpers of similar fashion to the zipped variety that employed buttons instead; comparing them, it was clear that the buttoned versions, though less practical than the zipped, had a more endearing, childlike charm.

The poor old zip, though severe in the aesthetic sense, is definitely a winner in the efficiency stakes; not only is it quicker to fasten a zipped cardigan, buttons have a habit of ‘undoing’ themselves and also let in more cold air due to the gaps in the fastening. However, there is something about that harsh line, even when ‘hidden’ by material, that now dissuades me from purchasing any kind of zipped knitwear.

As inefficient as the button is, and however much I find it irritating when they loosen, come undone, fall off and catch on snags and hangers, a decent set adds something to a garment whereas a zip inevitably detracts – hence the efforts of manufacturers to hide it under material. A beautiful horn button on a navy blue cotton cardigan is a thing of beauty; a zip in it’s place is, at best, an inconvenience.

However, perhaps I am not as strongly supported in these claims as I might imagine. Perhaps the majority of readers not only see the practical superiority of a good zip but also consider the aesthetic of the button to be utterly passé.

Notes from Rome Part 1

mensflair-rome

Well I made it back from Rome, with fewer brain cells, substantially less money and mercifully no criminal record. Suffice to say a very good time was had by all.

Rome is a truly beautiful city, and I could see myself living there for a spell. I expected to see some well dressed people, but what amazed me is just how many well dressed people I saw. Of course it’s easy to discard that which you see every day and fall for the seductive power of ‘different’.

But for all England’s clothing heritage and influence upon the world, in truth very few men here actually take the business of dressing well seriously. The majority, correction the vast majority, come under the general heading ‘scruffy’.

But in Rome, aside from tourists, the odd unlicensed taxi driver (don’t ever take them up on their offers) and one or two members of my own group, I honestly couldn’t say I saw any badly dressed people. And it wasn’t so much that I liked every look I saw; but what made the difference was that clothes were well cut, well cared for and clearly an effort had been made to pair them together – something which has to be learned. That I would say is the definition of well dressed, whatever your particular style preferences. Even amongst the young men and women who gathered in the Compo de Fiori to chat and mingle – the way socialising is done in Rome – there wasn’t a frayed jean hem and no one had their arse hanging out over the waistband of their jeans.

All these elements are compounded by the fact – and it was something both I and my mate remarked upon – that you’ll rarely see a fat Roman, and this is despite a diet of pasta. Of course we were encamped in the centre of town, which was decidedly more glamorous than the suburbs, but I thought it was telling.

A couple of times I managed to slip away from my group of friends and indulge my love for shopping. As you may know BespokeMe’s bread and butter is finding independent stores, by no means an easy task. And yet in Rome not only did I get the distinct impression that there were more menswear retailers then women’s wear, but I noticed very few chain retailers (Boggi was one). Most of the shops were small independents producing their own ranges. These varied from tailors and full outfitters to underwear shops.

mensflair-rome2

My experience can be summed up in a text message I sent to my girlfriend while on an early morning reconnaissance: “I’m in heaven. I’ve never been in such a beautiful city surrounded by so many stylish and beautiful people”.

In the next posting I’ll highlight some of the interesting keystones of the Italian male’s wardrobe.

Braces And A Neckerchief

Oscar Wilde once noted that clothes should hang from the shoulder, not from the waist. To that end, I decided last week that I needed to find a quality set of braces to pair with the Corbin trousers that I wrote about in my last article. You may recall that I deleted the belt loops and had buttons added for braces. After doing a little research, I settled on braces from Albert Thurston. That British company has been making and selling braces since 1820.

albert-thurston-braces

Albert Thurston braces are offered in wool boxcloth for cool weather and the lighter weight barathea fabric for warm weather. The braces are offered in a wide range of colors and patterns. The leather ends come in black, brown or white leather. The braces with hand-stitched white glove leather are arguably the most versatile because you don’t have to worry with matching the leather ends to your shoes.

I found a small selection of Albert Thurston braces for sale at A Suitable Wardrobe Online Haberdashery. The store is run by Will Boehlke who maintains an excellent style blog. His selection of braces does not match the offerings directly from Albert Thurston, but he stocks the most useful colors. For those in the U.S., the biggest advantage for buying them from the ASW store is the free shipping. I settled on a set of red boxcloth braces with white leather ends. That combination is arguably the most classic and I thought appropriate for my first pair.

leopard-neckerchief

While perusing the ASW store I also happily discovered a lovely dark brown and lilac neckerchief in a 1920s style leopard print. I’ve always thought a neckerchief would be useful when paired with an open-necked shirt, but this is the first time I have ever found one for sale. This particular neckerchief looks great with a blue shirt and the brown tweed shirt jacket that I wrote about recently.

My experience ordering from the ASW store was positive. The online store is easy to navigate. My order arrived quickly and was nicely packaged. And as I mentioned before, the shipping was free.