Archer Adams: Revisited

The weather here in London has been nothing short of glorious, and for the first time since Christmas 2010 I’ve managed to get a week off from all my various jobs.

Having been deskbound for the last 5 months this was an ideal opportunity to make a few visits.

It just so happens my girlfriend also secured a weeks holiday, something we’ve not managed since said Christmas. And yet by some deft verbal footwork on my part I was slipped for two days. Off the leash I headed first for Marylebone and Archer Adams shop.

If you’re a long time reader of Mensflair, or BespokeMe, you may remember I introduced American born Archer some time back (regardless here is a reminder). Back then he’d only just launched his label and the store was both unfinished and lacked stock.

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As you can see from these pictures the shop is looking really good and those dark grey walls really help showcase the clothes. I particularly liked the green check jacket in the foreground and those fabulous velvet coats, a perfect black tie evening coat.

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Full credit must go to Archer for pulling this off in a difficult economic climate. It’s now a proper shop and much closer to the vision we had discussed on previous occasions. Although it looks great to me Archer says there are a few more bits to be done, but customers can now visit Archer and see a good range of his clothes from hats and silk ties to cloth books for the Made-to-Measure service.

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It takes a lot to get me out from behind the camera, but a nice pair of shoes and one of Archer’s wonderful raincoats will do it. Having highlighted this raincoat on my first visit I’ve been fixated by it ever since. This was my first opportunity to try it on and it didn’t disappoint. Wonderfully light weight and softly tailored with a full silk lining, this coat stands up well as a signature piece in its own right, and deserves to be worn with as little distraction as possible. The wonderfully uncluttered lines, straight cut pockets and slight elongation to the points of the collar give this coat its distinctive look. A definite touch of the 60’s about it.

Thanks to Archer’s generosity, and some unsightly slobbering on my part, Archer is going to have one made up for me. As soon as I’ve settled my tailor’s bill (yes I do pay for the kit I feature) this raincoat will be added to my wardrobe.

All I need now is a little rain!

Made To Measure Suiting at Stephan Shirts: Part 2

erlend-norby
Erlend Norby

In the first part I explained why I’d selected Erlend at Stephan Shirts to make my suit, and why I thought it was a cut above normal Made-to-Measure. In this posting I’ll show you what I decided to have made, and explain why.

In some ways selecting a tailor is the easy part. Deciding what to have made is a far more daunting prospect, particularly if your pockets aren’t deep enough to make this a regular occurrence. With so many options it’s difficult to know just what to settle on, and there is always the danger you go overboard. In the art world the saying goes: a painting is never finished, merely abandoned.

To help with the decision process it’s a good idea to have a stock of images to refer to; styles of suit, cloth pattern, pocket shapes, lapel types, size etc. etc. All these things can help you piece together your imagined suit in advance.  To that end I highly recommend Patrick Johnson Tailors Tumblr which has a wonderful archive of pictures. It’s fast become my daily dose of suit porn.

One advantage of this preparation was that I was able to e-mail pictures to Erlend in advance, which helped no end in when it came to describing the stylistic features I wanted.

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Having thought about what style of suit to go for I finally settled on a double breasted with patch pockets, something of an obsession of mine. Several years ago I found the picture above. It’s a 4×2 DB jacket with a soft role lapel allowing the option of leaving the top button undone in the Kent Style.

This style of suit has numerous potential pitfalls, as highlighted here in an earlier article. But in sort the key is the button placement, which must be absolutely spot on, and high arm holes to lengthen the torso. To this I added soft sloping shoulders in order to better balance the proportions of my head, shoulders and chest. All quite tricky, but both Erlend and I agreed that we should pick something that really tested his made-to-measure service and showed off what he could do.

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Credit: TheSartorialist

There was another reason for picking this style of suit. I thought it would be easier to break the suit up for multiple uses.

If money is in short supply and bespoke or made-to-measure a rare luxury it’s not a bad idea to commission clothes that can serve multiple purposes. The clothes you have made for you will be your best, and looking your best as often as possible should be the aim.

For a while I’ve wanted a DB jacket I could pair with jeans and chinos for weekend and semi-formal use. This is much easier with patch pockets, and the long sweeping lapel will add a louche casual quality. The chap above was the sort of image I had in mind. Of course for this to work successfully the choice of cloth is all important.

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Erlend carries a good range of cloth books encompassing heavy country tweeds to lightweight Italian fabrics. But he prefers to deal in heavier English worsteds, and this suits me just fine. Personally, I don’t like lightweight cloths as they don’t tend sit well on my frame. I contemplated a plain navy worsted, but while that might have given the appearance of being a navy blazer I suspected without brass buttons it would have merely look like a suit jacket missing a pair of trousers. Conversely, a cloth that was too bold might not have worked for a suit which was to be worn in a formal office environment. I therefore chose a 13oz Holland & Sherry navy cloth with subtle grey windowpane check. To ensure that the jacket has a degree or harmony as both a suit and separate I opted for black horn buttons with darker grey seams running through them. Erlend offers plenty of other options in horn or mother of pearl, but next to the cloth these seemed the most appropriate choice.

On the issue of trousers, whether you’re buying bespoke, made-to-measure or off-the-peg it’s a good idea to purchase a spare pair. Even if you wear your suit sparingly the trousers will wear out far quicker than the jacket. But here again I’ve tried to give myself stylistic options, opting for two different styles of trouser. The first will be a classic English double pleat with a fish-tail back (for braces) designed to sit on my waist, and the second will be a flat front, narrow leg trouser with belt loops and larger 2inch turn-ups which will sit below the waist and above the hips. This second pair of trousers is Italian inspired, with the option of wearing a belt to add colour and texture to a look.

Minor details which were added included a British Racing Green lining and fully functioning buttonholes, plus a loop behind the lapel for a boutonniere.

Certainly a demanding commission for poor Erlend, but he was typically calm about it all and understood exactly what I was after. In the final part we’ll see just how well everything turns out.

The Return of The Tie Clip

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There are few items of jewellery that a man can get away with wearing in the workplace. A watch, a pair of cufflinks, a belt and a wedding ring are all fine, of course; but extra rings, necklaces and bracelets are often a step too far. There is, however, one oft-overlooked accessory that’s both perfectly suitable for work and highly practical: the tie clip.

The tie clip’s rise and fall is inextricably linked to the history of the tie itself. By the 1870s the tie had acquired pretty much the same long, thin form that it possesses today, but as it was often not made of expensive material most gents were quite happy to stab it through with a tie pin. By the 1920s the tie had become an altogether sleeker item that deserved to be well looked after. The tie clip stepped in: admirably keeping it under control without damaging the silk.

From the 1930s onwards the tie clip was a common sight in American political and corporate life. From the simple elegance of the solid silver bar to the gaudy, logo-emblazoned monster, they were a small yet ubiquitous accessory. Interestingly, in Britain they never quite reached the same level of acceptance as they did in the States, save for in active professions like policing. Perhaps this is because they signified practicality and a degree of manual work, things that gentlemen wouldn’t concern themselves with.

By the end of the twentieth century the tie clip was careening towards sartorial extinction on both sides of the Atlantic. The relaxation of workplace dress codes often alleviated the need for ties. In an age when the simple act of wearing one was seen as “dressing up”, the tie clip became an idiosyncrasy, and its wearers invariably labelled dandies or try-too-hards.

Thankfully, the recent marked rise in the number of men who take an active interest in dressing smartly – and the increasing acceptance among other men that this is a good thing – has led to an upturn in the tie clip’s fortunes. Personally speaking, I was a bit apprehensive about wearing one, but their sheer usefulness completely won me over. The coming of spring in Tokyo is marked by warm and very windy days, and I was sick of having to claw my tie off the back of my neck. Thanks to the tie clip, this is no longer a problem. It also saves my tie from bearing the brunt of occasional lunchtime spillages.

If you’re looking in investing in a tie clip my advice is to keep it simple. A well-made sterling silver clip, without markings or logos, can be worn both at work and at formal occasions. There is also the matter of width. My favourite tie clip is narrower, or at the most the same size as most of the ties in my wardrobe. Remember: your tie clip should offer an aesthetically pleasing counterpoint to the combination of patterns and colours in your jacket, shirt and tie, rather than scream for attention like an oversized cowboy-style belt buckle.

Made To Measure Suiting at Stephan Shirts: Part 1

I’ve praised Stephan Shirts on this website and BespokeMe for the last few years now – and justly so. Quite simply they make a great product to a great standard and charge a fair price for it – the Holy Grail in clothing terms.

When Erlend Norby took over the running of this family business he came with years of experience and training as a Savile Row Cutter. The aim was to continue serving a loyal client base with fine, fairly priced shirts but expand that service to suiting.

Erlend is perfectly honest about calling what he does Made to Measure, and certainly doesn’t try to pass it off as bespoke. But considering the price tag of £495, the range of cloths, Erlend’s experience as a Savile Row cutter and just what he’s able to offer, in terms of cut and modification, a better definition would be Made-to-Measure-plus.

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M-to-M suiting comes in for a bad rap, and in many cases that’s entirely deserved. Too many retailers offer less than convincing quality with minimal adjustment for your physical attributes, whether that is a matter of posture, a drop shoulder or barrel chest. Even things like soft shoulders or a floating canvass can be beyond the possible with most M-to-M retailers. Neither should we forget that the skill of those taking the measurements is all important, an enthusiastic shop assistant is no substitute for a trained tailor or cutter.

The status of poor relation to bespoke, and even in some cases better off-the-peg suiting, is exacerbated by the fact that many retailers use the terms made-to-measure- and bespoke interchangeably; a line blurred by a very public court case in which the tailors on Savile Row lost (you can read about it here). Throw in a myriad of high-street retailers and online providers, some visiting some not, and it’s difficult to know just who to trust or what you’re getting for your money.

I’d be the first to confess that I’m weary of MTM precisely for these seasons. But having been a devoted fan of Stephan’s shirts I decided it was time to invest in one of Erlend’s suits. I trust the man and I trust the product.

The key difference between bespoke and M-to-M suits is that with bespoke a pattern is cut specifically to suit your body shape, whereas M-to-M uses a block pattern to which adjustments are made. What Erlend offers is also based on a block pattern. However, owing to his skill and training as a cutter and the system he uses, whereby he can manipulate each aspect of the pattern to the smallest fraction via computer, he is able to make the most detailed adjustments. The pattern is then cut by laser following his exact pattern. This means that each pattern is cut to the individual client and their physical demands (it should be pointed out that even bespoke tailors have to work within the boundaries of certain ratios). The degree of personalisation far exceeds what one might expect from normal M-to-M retailers and comes as close to that available from bespoke, without actually going bespoke and doubling the price.

Another key difference between bespoke and M-to-M is the amount of handwork involved. It’s this which provides for a very fluid and soft suit, and the most important aspect of that hand work is the floating canvass (see an explanation of floating and fused canvasses here). Until very recently this was something that could only be done by hand. However, Erlend uses one of the few manufacturers in the World equipped with a machine capable of stitching a floating canvas – the vital ingredient for a soft roll lapel.

For me the fact that Erlend is an experienced Savile Row Cutter and is able to provide a suit with a floating canvas are the most important details. But you also get the usual individual aesthetic choices; horn buttons, coloured linings and he carries an impressive range of cloth books. These range from heavy tweeds to lightweight Italian cloths. However, he prefers to deal in more substantial English fabrics – I went for a 13oz Holland and Sherry navy cloth with grey windowpane over-check.

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Deciding to put my trust in Erlend was the easy part, the next more difficult stage was to decide just what style of suit I was going to have, which will be the topic of my next post.

The Dress-Down Friday

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Credit: Pete Souza

It is said there are two types of men; those who look forward to dress-down-Friday, and those who dread dress-down-Friday. The former encapsulates all the slovenly, tie-off-as-soon-as-I-leave-the-office, ‘Beer is Life’, ‘cool clothes’ loving office-misfits – the man who should be a surfer but ended up as an account manager. He doesn’t want to be in an office and, barring his efficiency, the office rarely welcomes his apathy. However, his one moment of defiant victory comes every dress-down Friday when he is permitted to wear his beloved jeans.

Yet, whilst appropriate for the colder times of year, there can’t be anything less comfortable than wearing heavy jeans in summer heat. A recent dress down Friday at work prompted thought on the topic as I gazed upon the mass of smokers stood outside in the sunshine, predictably attired in denim. Though they may have chuckled at my green trousers and tie – “It’s dress down mate, not dress up!” – their almost religious attachment to denim and its connection with dressing down provoked a similar response from me.

As ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’ as denim may appear to be, I think it is extraordinarily overused. I enjoy wearing it but it’s remarkable that a great many men, given half the chance to break out of ‘uniform’, never opt for anything else; no cords, no linen, no moleskin, nada. Just jeans, jeans, jeans. Followers of this mantra usually take one of two lines; “jeans are ‘cooler’ than anything else” or “jeans are more comfortable than anything else.”

‘Denim jeans are more comfortable’

Bilge. Denim jeans are not at all comfortable. Not compared to flannel trousers, cords, moleskin trousers, linen trousers, chinos and almost any other trousers you care to mention. Psychologically they are perceived to be more comfortable than anything else because they are common and casual; a man can wear them without worrying someone will point and stare and without any preconceived perceptions of them being special. For the winter, cords are warmer and softer; in the summer cotton chinos are cooler and more comfortable too.

‘Denim jeans are cooler’

Maybe once, about 50-60 years ago, when jeans were a symbol of rebellion. Not now. They represent conformity, the crowd; anyone believing they are still a badge of anti-establishment youth needs their head seeing to. Instead of aspiring to attire that chases end-of-the-rainbow nebulosity, a man should step apart and choose something really rebellious (green chinos anyone?) if his desire is to rebel; if it isn’t, and I suspect this is the case, plenty of other options – khaki chinos are an excellent example – reflect conformity as ably as denim.