Brolly Stereotypes

The James Smith Whangee

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“Hey, it’s John Steed!” cries the cabbie gleefully as the James Smith Whangee man climbs into the back seat. Forcing a smile, he cheerily requests his office address, hiding his disdain for a world that increasingly mocks elegance by persistent association with theatrical characters and costume. A self-described ‘old-fashioned’ banker – wealthy private clients, wig-and-quill-pen offices – he is rarely seen in anything other than pinstripes, black brogues and club stripe ties. A one-time guardsman, he stumbled into his career at the 17th century bank after his wife was invited to open an account by the scrum half from his school’s first XV – a back-slap or two later, he found himself behind a mahogany desk on the blower to a Marquess. Fond of Turnbull & Asser shirts and guards cufflinks from Benson & Clegg, the only time he is seen without his bamboo handled brolly is indoors.

The Fulton Ambassador

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The Fulton Ambassador man is always in a hurry. His plane is always leaving, his car is always late; he has no time for browsing and no time for duty free. His Odyssean business trip is a never-ending series of lounges, hotels, telephones, Blackberries, midnight-typing, taxis, credit cards and dry cleaners. As he waltzes the dizzying waltz of corporate gain, he has no time to contemplate his lack of contemplation; he spies the Fulton Ambassador, recognising the green-leaf logo before noticing the clock, realising he has precisely two minutes before boarding for Mumbai where the rains (according to report) continue to fall. Packable, strong and black; a thirty second choice is made and, after stuffing it into his hold luggage next to his Macbook he dashes for the gate.

The Malacca Navy Canopy Fox

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The Malacca Navy Canopy Fox man, an effete residential architect with a penchant for building overgrown and excessively haberdashed replicas of Victorian railway cottages, doesn’t own anything black. His shoes are grey, brown or blue – he adores Berluti – and he was very particular in that his splendid Malacca Fox umbrella had a navy blue and not a black canopy. To him, black is an unseemly and lazy tone too often used and too often seen; “Colours are life” he opines “black is merely death.” The most interesting demonstration of his non-black belief was at a black tie function at the Banqueting House on Whitehall. Before he arrived, colleagues speculated on his attire with more than a few betting on a garish white cruise tuxedo. Smiles were wiped from faces, replaced by open-mouthed shock as he climbed out of a cab clutching his trusty Fox brolly in a splendid navy velvet three-piece suit with a matching velvet bow.

The Silver Crook Brigg

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An American in London can often be more English than the English. The Silver Crook Brigg man is of this creed. Having sold his successful spread-betting company before the recession, he now cultivates his first love; the aimless existence of an historic London gentleman. He devours biographies on Brummell and Prinny, collects Dickens first editions, breakfasts at his club (the Royal Over-Seas League may not be White’s but it’s a start) buys fragrance from Trumpers and attends philanthropic soirees at the V&A museum. He bought his Brigg after asking a fellow member of his club, rather loudly over his Eggs Benedict, what umbrella Prince Charles owned. On the same trip he rather excitedly purchased a Lock homburg and ordered himself a pair of Lobb dress boots to add to his already bursting collection of Anglophilia.

All Leather Braces

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Credits: Old Town Clothing; mensstylepro.com; Hackett

An unusual topic for a post you might think, and I would scarcely disagree.

But it’s funny the things that ferment away in the back of your mind over the weeks, months and even years. This is just such an example.

You see, a few years ago I was flicking through the TV channels on a wet Sunday afternoon when I came across an old American black and white movie. Sadly I can’t remember what the movie was called, or who the good looking actor who wore leather braces with his suit was either. But the idea has remained at the back of my mind ever since.

I’m sure there’re good reasons why most braces are elasticated, for one thing it allows a greater range of movement when going from a seated to a standing position and vice versa.

I wear elasticated braces with my suits, but I do miss that textural contrast of leather and cloth that wearing a belt with a suit provides – despite the much noted drawbacks. I also miss the way a good belt can instantly tie a look together, particularly with regard to footwear choices.

And then last week two things happened. Firstly, while surfing through various blogs on Tumblr I spotted the picture above of a high waist slim fitting English work wear chino from Old Town Clothing worn with braces and brogues. This look instantly appealed. So I set about looking through eBay for a pair of inexpensive beige elasticated braces with leather tabs. This was when the second thing happened; I came across a pair of all leather braces, which instantly reminded me of my old black and white movie. I decided to take a punt and bought them. And I’m rather pleased I did.

Having experimented they seem suited to all manner of clothing, and some I hadn’t considered. They naturally suit chinos, cords and moleskin for a distinctly European work wear feel – which was what they were intended for – but they also add a robust, textural contrast to worsted suits; and balance wonderfully with heavier cloths like tweed, adding an earthy sporty edge to that sense of country living.

An unusual item for an individual look.

A Stylish Movie: Bonnie and Clyde

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Bonnie and Clyde (1967) stars Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, a bored small-town girl, and Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, a small-time ex-con. The movie romanticizes the couple’s string of bank robberies that made newspaper headlines and caught the imagination of the Depression-era public.

Faye Dunaway is lovely in pencil skirts, berets and silk scarves. Warren Beatty is equally stylish in double-breasted suits, vests, spectator shoes and hats. As a touch of sprezzatura, his shirt collars are often askew. It’s odd to watch them rob banks while so well turned out.

One small detail in Beatty’s wardrobe struck me as particularly stylish. Early in the movie he takes Dunaway to town for a coca-cola. While they chat he chews on the end of a wooden matchstick. Several more identical matchsticks are tucked into his hatband. It’s a nifty personal touch like Gianni Agnelli wearing a watch on the outside of his shirt cuff.

Even members of the supporting cast exhibit interesting style. Michael J. Pollard plays C.W. Moss, a slow-witted auto mechanic turned getaway driver. He is often seen in blue jeans, chambray shirt, blue jean jacket, neckerchief and newsboy cap. That’s pretty stylish dress for changing the oil in your car.

Gene Hackman plays Barrow’s older brother Buck. In an interesting contrast, he mixes a tattered brown leather bomber jacket with gray pants, white button-down shirt and tie.

In addition to being a stylish movie, Bonnie and Clyde is entertaining to watch. The movie was nominated for numerous Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Costume Design. In 1998 the movie was placed at #27 on a list of the 100 best American movies according to the American Film Institute.

For some entertainment and classic sartorial inspiration I recommend you watch Bonnie and Clyde.

Sweaters: The Crew Or The V?

[A massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan just as I finished writing this article. Even in Tokyo the tremors were huge, and thousands of people in the north east of the country have been made homeless. If you were planning on buying something fancy this month, please make a donation to the Red Cross or Salvation Army instead.]

Over the years I’ve accumulated a lot of sweaters. In fact, I’ve now reached the point where I’ll have to either make more room in my wardrobe or throw some of them out. If I do decide to throw some out, then I’ll need to decide which ones. This will involve taking fabric condition, colour and pattern into account. I’ll also need to take into consideration stretching – inevitably, my sweaters have stretched out over the years, especially in the neck area. And there is also the question of neck shape in general. Should I keep more V necks than crew necks, or vice versa? Or should I have an even number of both?

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In my case, I’ll probably keep more V necks than crew necks. They already outnumber my crew necks by two to one, though this is more by chance than design. I do prefer them for work, largely because the V keeps the tie-knot and collar area prominently on display. Some V neck sweaters lend themselves to this better than others: it all depends on the depth of the V and general width of the neck hole.

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Crew neck sweaters definitely have a place my work wardrobe (I’m wearing one today, for example), though they tend to be better suited to days when I feel like dressing more casually. I find that ties and shirt collars are almost completely obscured by crew necks with narrow neck holes. If I’m going tieless, I usually steer clear of point-collar shirts: without the support of a tie knot the collar-ends tend to flatten out and creep underneath the sweater’s neckline.

By far the best looking, and incidentally the most comfortable, partners for crew neck sweaters are button-down shirts. The buttons push the collar up above the sweater’s neckline. This is especially useful for the slimmer man because the collar then frames his lower face, making him look more masculine and powerfully-built than he otherwise would.

In The Fishbowl With Carreducker

Oh does it feel good to be back in London. It’s been quite a few months, but last time I was here I profiled James Ducker of Carréducker shoes. This time I thought I would drop in on him at their new digs at No.1 Savile Row, inside Gieves & Hawkes.

Because of construction, I turned the corner from Savile Row to use the Vigo street entrance, and was immediately surprised to see they’ve smacked James’ face right on the door. This partnership was just getting off the ground in November, so I’m glad to see things have blossomed so well. Entering the building, I could see at the very back of the main room the glass “goldfish bowl,” as James affectionately calls it. There he was, pounding away at some lasts, as I sauntered over to say hello. The couple-meter journey took longer than it might have, due largely to a fine selection of striped knit ties. But eventually I made it and was greeted most kindly.

James took me on short tour of the new facilities at Numbers 1 & 2, which include a blazer room, salon, antique shop, bespoke fitting room / luxe lounge, and workshops, before settling back at his bench to finish the lasts while we chatted.

Carréducker, in addition to the endless possibilities of bespoke, have a few samples exclusive to their new home. My favorite was hands-down an electric-blue suede chelsea boot with a military ribbon pull at the back. And the best part is, because everything is still bespoke, altering existing designs to suit yourself in not only allowed but encouraged. If you want the toe shortened or elongated, great. If you’d rather the gussets be navy than black, fantastic. The best of both worlds, you get an aesthetic from which to draw, but ultimately the choices are yours.

The biggest advantage to trading out of the goldfish bowl though is the intimate relationship the customer gets to develop not just with the finished product, but with the art and artisan as well. You can drop by any day, whether you’re buying or not, and watch James and Deborah at the bench. Lasting, making, polishing, it all gets done right here. When speaking with me, this was the aspect James got most excited about. “Customers,” he said, “are more interested in where their food and things are coming from. And now they can know with their shoes too. You get come in and have a look, and you know we’re the one’s making.”

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There is also, just outside the fishbowl, a gent by the name of Justin Fitzpatrick offering shines. Some of you might already know him from his blog, The Shoe Snob. When I was in he had just finished a gorgeous pair of black laceups in whose toes I could see every pore on my face. So if you need a shine and would rather drop your shoes off than take a seat in the Burlington Arcade, get thee to No.1.