Archives for June 2011

Useful Sources:


The internet has been a boon to independent retailers. While this is a positive thing, it’s not without its pitfalls, particularly when a retailer has no bricks and mortar retail unit to provide a sense of reassurance. Just who is at the other end of your monitor?

One of the things I like to do on Bespokeme is highlighting dependable online only retailers. This usually entails calling people up and interviewing them over the phone, and taking a punt and trying their website of course.

In the case of this was an easier undertaking than most. It just so happens that the guy who sits behind me in the office, Edward, is also a part owner of the business.

It’s actually run by his uncle, and it wasn’t until we got talking (read drinking) that I discovered the family’s involvement with shoemaking goes back as far as 1898.

I doubt it’s a company you’ve heard of, but the owners of Shoenet are family firm Livingston & Doughty. Originally founded in Leicester in 1898 they started out supplying shoe components to England’s burgeoning shoemaking industry.

Today, they supply the cork filler, or Flexofil as it’s known in the trade, which is a key component in Goodyear Welted shoes. It’s the cork layer between the insole and the sole of the shoe that means the shoe not only moulds to your foot but it also act as an additional cushion, and barrier, between the foot and sole. They currently supply cork to most of England’s shoemakers, from Church’s, Joseph Cheaney, John Lobb and Crockett & Jones to Loake, Barker and Grenson. They also export their formula all over the world.

Shoenet isn’t the flashest retailing website out there, and a few more pictures of the shoes would be helpful, but it does offer a solid range of classic Goodyear Welted shoes at competitive prices. In particular, and what prompted me to use them, was the fact they sell the Grenson Rose collection.

I’m something of a fan of Grenson shoes, but curiously they come in for a bit of stick amongst the clothing chat forums. For the money I think they’re great value and are perfectly well made. But some of this antipathy stems from a confusion regarding whether they are made in England or aboard.

When this solid but uninspiring firm was taken over by City financier James Purslow in 2004, he set out to reinvigorate the brand. Bringing in London shoe designer Tim Little – who has had some success in his own right and recently bought the whole enterprise- they set about capturing a slightly younger market. Echoing the company’s traditional designs but incorporating subtle tweaks, these shoes have a modern edge. And it’s a strategy that’s worked. That range is the Rushton collection which can be found on the Grenson’s new retail website at around the £120-180 mark. It is these shoes which are made up in India. I don’t hold that against them, it’s an increasingly common feature of modern shoemaking when you aim for a price point of around £100-£180. You might find this excellent article on TheShoeSnob interesting reading.

However the more expensive Rose collection, which is the one I’m interested in, retails at around £225 and upwards. These shoes are most definitely made in Northampton, and it is from this collection that I recently took delivery of a beautiful pair of tan, double sole Albert brogues.

The shoes came with shoehorn and a spare pair of laces. The shipping charges are reasonable and they ship all over the world. In short, they’re a useful website with a solid history in shoemaking as guarantor.

It’s worth getting to know that guy who sits behind you in the office.

The Smart-Casual Dilemma


I’m a big fan of polo shirts. Their pique weave makes them perfect for wicking away sweat during the long, hot summer months from July to September; they’re low maintenance; they suit almost everybody; and their collar serves to make them that bit smarter than crew or v-neck tees.

On weekends, the polo shirt is without doubt my most essential “go to” item – I have at least six or seven in various colours. However, I’ve never quite been able to pull them off in the workplace. I often see guys wearing polo shirts in a smart-casual setting and think “Yeah, that looks okay,” but when I try it I look like a thirty-something golfing dad who’s got lost on his way to the clubhouse. It is, in a word, perplexing.

Finding the right balance between weekend and weekday wardrobes is essential to pulling off smart-casual. I often veer from one to the other without finding much common ground in between. With polo shirts, I just can’t seem to reconcile them with anything particularly smart. Perhaps it’s my subconscious’s way of saying, “Andy, this is not a road you want to go down. Many have been there before – the hosts of Top Gear, Jay Leno, David Hasselhoff – and have failed miserably in the great amphitheatre of men’s style. You will fare no better.” Or perhaps I’m just over-thinking the whole thing. After all, I live in a city where people go around dressed like gothic Bo Peeps and people act as if it’s the most normal thing in the world (apart from my mate Jeff, who pokes them with shitty sticks until they run home with watery black mascara streaming down their crimson cheeks).

For me, smart casual still implies wearing a proper, buttoned shirt. The shirt might be cut from a different cloth than usual – a linen/cotton mix, bright check pattern or even a dose of chambray (hmm, maybe not chambray) – but it is still a shirt. A t-shirt and suit/jacket combination is not something that I’m particularly comfortable with. If you can pull it off, then great, but it’s very easy to come off as a Z-list, ex Big Brother contestant at a supermarket opening. Attitude might be the key, here, methinks. The same goes for trainers and suits… in fact it’s best not to start on that one. Life is too short.

So, what do you think reasonably constitutes smart-casual? How do you deal with those invitations with “smart casual” boldly printed in the dress code section?

Made to Measure Suiting at Stephan Shirts: Part 4


Well here we are then, the final part in the series (follow the links for Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3). The suit is made and I couldn’t be more pleased with the result, particularly with regard to the trousers.

Indeed, the suit must have something about it as I wore it to a second round interview and got the job. That’s one special suit alright.


Recapping, I set Erlend at Stephan Shirts a number of difficult tasks to test his made-to-measure suit service. First there was the suit jacket, a 4×2 double breasted in the Kent style. Because of the need for perfect button placement and a soft roll lapel it’s a tricky jacket to get right. Other details include five button working cuffs, a loop behind the lapel buttonhole and the jacket’s distinctive British Racing Green lining –which I chose- is even carried over into the top pocket.

While the suit is still a little stiff and needs a little more wear to soften it, you can see the jacket is pretty much as requested and desired.


The next most difficult task was getting the trousers right. Trousers don’t sound a tricky matter but then I’m well over my fighting weight.

I asked for two pairs to be made, the first pair having classic English pleats, also referred to as ‘inward’ or ‘forward’ pleats, because the pleat goes in the direction of the fly (‘outward’ or ‘reverse pleats’ open in the direction of the pockets). This style of trouser only really works when the trousers sit on the natural waist and are held up by braces, for which I wanted a fishmouth waistband.

Erlend has cut the trousers just right in my view. The danger with pleats –even inward facing pleats- is that they can make you look big, particularly if you actually are a bigger build. The high waist helps to counter this, but only a skilled cutter could make a trouser that fitted my large waist and seat whilst managing to emphasise what are nicely slim legs.  Nice little details include the half waistband and one piece back leading up to the fishmouth. Normally there would be a full waistband and then a second piece of cloth would be attached to that. It was my choice to have no back pockets on the trousers. I really don’t see the point of them.

The second pair of trousers I term Italian styled. These are flat front with much thinner legs leading to a narrower opening and a full two inch turn-up. Sitting just above the hips but below the waist they’re slightly shorter in length than the first pair and work perfectly with loafers. Again, flat front trouser are a tricky proposition for the bigger man, but these look natural and sit perfectly. Indeed, I’m so pleased I’ve considered asking Erlend if in future he’ll make all my trousers.

Now, at the risk of stating the obvious, the purpose of investing in bespoke is to get something which perfectly fits your body shape and masks, or at least de-emphasises, any physical quirks. However, all that comes at a hefty price, usually £1000 plus. Made to measure gives you some of those attributes and comes in at a much lower cost. Ultimately it’s a trade-off. But I can honestly say with Erlend’s suits those trade-offs are virtually nonexistent. The man himself is perfectly honest about what he provides. He calls it made-to-measure and doesn’t pretend otherwise, as you might expect from a former Savile Row cutter. Prices start at £495 and when you consider just what he is able to provide, the degree to which he is able to cut a pattern to suit your frame, and the level of understanding he has for the business of making a suit, I can’t help feeling that calling it made-to-measure is selling it short.

A Man On A Mission: The Perfect Soft Roll Button Down Shirt


Long time readers of Men’s Flair may remember that a while back I wrote of my desire to set up my own clothing label; and that the first product I wanted to offer was a perfect soft roll, button down, oxford cloth shirt.

This whole endeavour was dependent on two things happening. The first ‘happening’ was laid down by my girlfriend, Westie. It ran along the lines of: leave Parliament, get a well paid job, and then you can engage in your schemes.

Well, as of Friday I’m pleased to say that criterion has finally been met. Not a terribly easy task in this market, finding a job is almost a full time job in itself.

The second thing I needed to happen was to lay my hands on a genuine, indeed legendary, vintage Brooks Brothers version of the soft roll button down. Not quite in the same league of ‘happenings’ as the first, but as necessary a step.

The key is forming the unlined collar and the positioning of the buttons, but to get my template design right I wanted to see and learn from the genuine article. Sadly, not even Brooks Brothers make such a shirt today, and while there are a few modern examples available, in my view they cost far too much.

However, finding such a shirt has proved problematic and I’d all but given up hope. And had it not been for Giuseppe Timore I would have. Those whose interest in clothes extends beyond mere designer labels will know that Giuseppe is the talented man behind the original, enjoyable and extremely well written An Affordable Wardrobe.

If thus far you are unfamiliar with AAW, it’s a blog I strongly recommend, particularly for those with a bent towards Ivy League dressing. What makes it so original is that Giuseppe is all about the pleasure of clothes in its purist form. His considerable repertoire of classic ‘Ivy’ looks all come via thrift stores, a mode of shopping he’s turned into an art form not just a way of life. I’m already a paid up member of the vintage school, but for those who believe being well dressed is a mere matter of money AAW is an eye-opener.

Taking his love of classic clothing and vintage Ivy to another level, Giuseppe has opened up An Affordable Wardrobe online shop. Worth checking regularly, I’d previously had little luck finding the particular shirt I’m after. But, just as buses only come in threes and at once, I got the offer of the job on the Friday and on the Saturday morning while browsing Giuseppe’s latest offerings I struck gold. The shirt I’d been looking for. Bingo.

I also couldn’t resist picking up a couple of hopsack patch pocket blazers; one is an original 1960’s J. Press, which for the money was too good an opportunity for an Englishman to pass up. The items will serve as useful templates for future bespoke commissions, as well as being ideal additions to my current summer wardrobe.

These goodies are winging their way across the Atlantic, and the next task will be to take the shirt to my shirt maker to begin designing a future template. I’m a man on a mission.

The Style of The Talented Mr Ripley

One of the greatest sources of sartorial inspiration is, and probably always will be, the silver screen. Who can forget the impeccable suits of Sean Connery’s Bond, or the preppy-meets-cop style of Steve McQueen in Bullitt? Modern technology has made the ferreting out and dissemination of stylish films much easier than it was when I was a nipper. Which is just as well for you, dear reader, as I can share with you a supremely stylish film, Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley.


The setting is largely 1950s Italy, where Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), the son of an east-coat WASP millionaire, has taken to frittering away his allowance. Needless to say, Dickie’s father isn’t too happy about this and recruits the outwardly charming but inwardly sinister Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) to bring him back. As time goes by Ripley develops a very unhealthy obsession with Dickie and, inevitably, the excrement hits the fan in chilling fashion.


Aside from being a fine thriller in the mould of the best post-war mystery novels, The Talented Mr Ripley is an absolute gem in terms of men’s style. The locations – Sanremo, Rome, the Bay of Naples – lend themselves to a fine Mediterranean summer wardrobe that has, sadly, all but vanished from 21st century beach resorts. Jude Law steals the show in this regard, with a selection of summer-weight odd jackets, cotton chinos, loafers, ties and hats that will make most Men’s Flairers green with envy.


Of course, I’m not suggesting that you copy the looks wholesale unless you happen to have a time-travelling DeLorean at hand, but it certainly offers some inspiration. The combination of navy linen shirt and off-white chinos/shorts is always a winner in my book, and it doesn’t take much to reimage some of the more formal outfits seen on screen with some modern tailoring.