Archives for June 2011

Style Icon: The Duke of Edinburgh


As one of the oldest members of the British Royal family, you would not expect Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (DoE) to be the most controversial and yet this gruff, plain-speaking, perpetually joking consort to the Queen is rarely anything but. A recent television interview in honour of his 90th birthday highlighted some of his increasingly impatient, fogeyish tendencies and provided some glorious PR-free gems; “I’ve done my bit, it’s someone else’s turn” and “Problem with the world is overpopulation. My solution would be family limitation” and “I’m not a green; I’m not a bunny hugger.”

If there is a Windsor family ‘line’, the DoE doesn’t tow it. Neither does he tiptoe around difficult subjects like his son Charles with hand-wringing or ‘Umms’ and ‘Aaahs.’ Instead, he launches into responses like a hungry beater at a hunt banquet, tearing into topics that politicians won’t even touch with the abandon and self-belief of a patriarch from another age. He doesn’t think much of himself either and his apparent bemusement at social functions, questioning eyes and baffled expression is down to, what he termed, “going downhill.” The DoE is looking for an exit from the circus.

However, as nonplussed as he was to receive birthday attention (“I’m 90, so what”), the DoE deserves further mention and recognition of an asset of his that has never failed him, something he carries so naturally and so free of artifice and something which has, unlike the rest of him, failed to decay; his style. While most people at 90 are stumbling around – if they’re still able to stumble – in Ecco shoes and comfy sweaters, the DoE mucks around in morning dress and white tie – at the appropriate occasions of course – as if he were still 23 years of age.

Recent events confirmed his ability to look comfortable in even the most outrageously flamboyant, brutally regal ensemble such as that he wore to his grandson’s wedding as well as his ability to outshine an assembly of power and celebrity at the Palace for a white tie state dinner. The DoE is a skilled natural in manners of his dress and one of his particular strengths is his maintenance of proper proportions; waistcoats worn at the proper height, trousers cut to the perfect length. His persistent adherence to this is often attributed to his having been brought up in another age, which is partly true, but it seems to be something he has passed down to his eldest son; a rare harmony in a notoriously discordant relationship.

Unlike his son however, the DoE is less ornate when it comes to sartorial decoration. He does not share his admiration for double-breasted suits and prefers a folded white square to the patterned silks, although his tie knot is noticeably thicker; perhaps a nod to the DoE’s acceptance of current fashion. The Prince of Wales is certainly more of a dandy than his father – not an uncommon remark in the history of the British Royal family – but the DoE always seems to be having more fun in his clothes rather than fun with his clothes. Not that there is a problem with the latter, quite the opposite. It is simply that the DoE’s approach, though less accomplished, possesses more idiosyncratic charm.

In his interview, the DoE scoffed when the interviewer asked how he would describe himself at birth “Well, I was a Greek national but I was Danish by race.” And now, how would he describe himself? “Well, I wouldn’t. I’m just ‘here.’”

A New Beginning: Bow Ties


This week I took my first nervous steps into the world of the bow tie wearer.

I say nervous steps because few things mark you out as a lone wolf amongst the sartorial sheep quite like a bow tie. Indeed, in any one year I can count on one hand the number of times I see a man wearing said item.

Sadly, and despite the continuing trend for all things ‘Ivy’, those men you do see wearing bow ties often conform to the stereotype. On the whole they’re slightly bewildered, bookish eccentric types, not the chiselled young thrusters of the Ralph Lauren advertisements.

Lord Chesterfield (he of the coat fame) put it rather well when he said, “take great care always to be dressed like the reasonable people of your own age, in the place where you are; whose dress is never spoken of one way or another as either to negligent or too much studied”. No one likes to be ridiculed, or to feel too conspicuous. But even a seasoned clothes horse with an inclination towards the individual might find wearing a day time bow tie cause for anxiety.

But regardless, and with Beau Brummel’s dictum that, “if John Bull turns round to look after you, you are not well dressed”, ringing in my ears I ventured forth.

And you know what, I really rather liked the feeling. No less exhilarating a form of self expression than streaking, but a damn sight more elegant, I recommend it to anybody.

Yes, as expected I received the odd look and comment, but on the whole it worked. This was helped by the fact I went easy on myself. Firstly I chose a simple classic bow tie in the form of a navy blue and white polka dot from Hilditch & Key. Made from printed silk, with little or no interlining it has a relaxed and natural air when tied. Secondly, and this is a practice I’d recommend whenever you try something new or different, I paired my tie with clothes I felt instantly at ease in. In this case, that meant British Khaki chinos, brogues and a Levis’ Jean jacket – my habitual spring early/summer casual uniform. The result was that I felt comfortable and the bow fitted the look – in a preppy sort of way.

So, if you’ve considered the day bow but have found yourself demurring, my advice is man up and get to it. Liberate yourself.

Next stop, The Cordial Churchman.

Sexuality and Style


Sexuality and style are two of the most misunderstood facets of life. Combine the two and you are presented with one of the most confused, jumbled, nonsensical, contradictory forms of human signalling and communication I have ever encountered. Sex itself is not the issue; although it boasts an enormous and essential role in the fashion world, in style it is an also-ran. Sexual appeal is the issue and it has become the shy elephant in the room ‘that dare not speak it’s name’; proverb-cocktails aside, it is a largely unspoken problem and one of deep importance that goes to the heart of society’s interpretation of aesthetics and sexuality. And, as sweetly attractive as the ideas of ‘truth’, ‘honesty’ and ‘veracity’ are, interpretation is the emperor of thought in the modern age and this applies as much to the most powerful politicians in the world as it does the lowly bedroom-based hack.

“Anonymous said…
You’re not like a faggot, are you?”

The above comment was posted to my blog last week. I apologise if it offends readers as it offended me but it was necessary to include it as part of this analysis as it provided the catalyst for these thoughts. I have received similar comments in the past and the, arguably wise, advice from friends and followers has always been to ignore them. Ignorance is sensible and a happy state but it’s rather selfish and short-termist. It shows no regard for the long-game problem of prejudice, and the causes of that prejudice, and it actually propagates the self-conscious superiority that can fuel such mistrust and hatred.

It is an interesting comment for it can be interpreted in more than one way. Perhaps the commentator was a keen follower of the blog and was expressing disquiet about my deportment and attire representing more than a love of colour and pattern and, inexplicably, connected one love with another; love of inanimate objects to love of a particular anatomy. Perhaps the commentator was a follower of these articles and decided to make a visit to my blog to examine the author; perhaps they had chanced upon the blog whilst idly browsing the Blogger pages. However they arrived at the point at which they decided to make that comment, they must still have possessed a motive and intent to produce an effect and reaction – and I doubt they expected this.

Whilst chatting on the topic with my friend Barima recently, I realised how much of an issue sexuality and style was and always has been. Living in a metropolis like London is an unrepresentative experience of a country. The sophistry and cosmopolitan nature of city life leads you to an appealing numbness to things that are different; what to the rest of the world is sideshow-freakery is merely humdrum to the metropolitan.

Heading into the sparsely populated ‘shires attracts more looks of suspicion than admiration – Britons don’t like ‘different’ things – and a great deal of what people do not understand needs a simplistic explanation. This applies not only to my country but to many others. People have been known to ask, rather awkwardly, about sexuality, even when one has an arm around a girl. It doesn’t seem normal to a lot of people to be what many have said they would consider ‘well-dressed’ and be anything other than a homosexual. And it is not only stag-fighting that provokes such supposition; women have also been known to leap to such conclusions. Despite frequent protestations from the fairer sex that men should take more care of themselves, develop at least a half-interest in dressing and take pride in their appearance, the reality is that their desires at the courtship phase are frequently the opposite. This is where the lines of sexual understanding between the sexes blur; when societal suspicions and ‘interpretations’ take hold.

Clothing has often played a role in signalling sexual inclination. The ‘Green Carnation’ is one of the most famous trademarks – prompting Noel Coward to use the reference in his musical Bitter Sweet, which premiered when homosexuality was still illegal; “And as we are the reason for the “nineties” being gay, we all wear a green carnation.” And, as Barima informed me, in the 1960s and 1970s, Tommy Nutter’s Savile Row emporium was a haven for London’s gay sartorialists and that for some people, the Nutter suit became a symbol of something more than stylistic élan.

Today, there is no dyed flower or flared trouser, coloured-button stitching or peculiar item of sartorial jewellery representing the calling card. At the beginning of the last century, a noticeably well-dressed man was likely to have been considered a terror of the ladies, which, in fairness, is partly due to the organised oppression, criminalisation and concealment of homosexuality but also partly to do with the aesthetic ideals of the age.

A century later and even the merest poke of a pocket square is apt to provoke the castigation of a suspicious public. A well-dressed man is no longer simply a well-dressed man. Unless he is overtly expressing his true sexuality for the benefit of the presumptuous and feeble minded, he is a foregone conclusion.

In 1911, he is a cad.

In 2011, he is a gay.

His sexual identification, curiously and necessarily entwined with his manner of dress, may be misapplied but his sexual appeal rarely is.

Reviving Seersucker


Seersucker. Now, I always assumed that it was an America-born-and-bred kind of fabric, but in fact seersucker’s history in the Western world began – as a lot of men’s fashion did – with the British Empire’s pasty colonists, who were taken by the fabric’s ability to keep them cool in far-flung tropical locations. When seersucker eventually arrived in the United States it found a natural home in the South. Gents there who were looking for a lighter, more breathable material for their suits loved it, and it soon became a summer wardrobe staple.

The introduction and widespread use of air conditioning in the South changed seersucker from an everyday cloth to an eccentricity, which was a great shame. Men not only lost a great sartorial tradition, they also lost touch with the seasons. Admittedly there have been attempts to resurrect it, but many have been half arsed at best. In the mid-nineties Trent Lott initiated Seersucker Thursday in the US Senate to show that it wasn’t “just a bunch of dour folks wearing dark suits and … red or blue ties”. This, I imagine, proved about as successful in convincing the public that politicians were “fun” as the King Herod Daycare Centre was at attracting parents. And just one Thursday a year? It’s hardly pushing the notion of seersucker as a practical alternative to wool suits, is it?

Outside North America seersucker is an even rarer beast. This is understandable in Britain, where summer is often biennial and fleeting, but it’s a shame that it’s not more prevalent on the streets of Tokyo, Singapore or Sydney. In these places it’s all too common to see dark-suited gents traversing the scorching landscape between air-conditioned buildings like vast earthworms crossing a patio.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. Seersucker suits these days are often tailored to contemporary lines and, in my opinion, look far more appropriate in hot climates than dark wool-based suits do. Off-the-rack seersucker suits may not always be readily available in your neck of the woods, but local tailors should be able to source some fabric and make one for you. You’ll find that, thanks to their barely-lined structure and lower material costs, they’ll be a fair bit cheaper to make than most bespoke wool suits.

If you can’t find a tailor in your area who can make a seersucker suit you should give one of the many online Hong Kong-based tailors – like Indochino or MyTailor – a whirl. Results may vary, so you’ll probably want to consult the oracles at before deciding. (For the record, I ordered a bespoke shirt from MyTailor and was happy with the results, but have yet to try ordering a suit from either it or Indochino.)

Father’s Day Gift Ideas

With Father’s Day swiftly approaching, I present some gift ideas for the stylish dad in your life.

dad-tie-bar-tieThe Necktie

A necktie is the ultimate stereotypical Father’s Day gift.  Although the idea is cliché, no man can have too many neckties.  For a really good bargain tie, check out The Tie Bar where every tie is fifteen bucks.  Pictured is one that I own in Carolina blue.  It will be mistaken for a much more expensive tie (mine has).  For an extremely nice tie (with a much higher price tag) check out Drake’s of London.

dad-mens-ex1Magazine Subscription

How about an out-of-the-ordinary men’s style magazine subscription?  I’m not talking about GQ or Esquire.  Instead I would suggest The Rake that is published bimonthly in Singapore.  Another option is Men’s Ex from Japan.  Although it’s written in Japanese, the photographs are a great resource for learning how to put clothes together into a cohesive outfit.  Print versions can be prohibitively expensive outside Japan; I get mine digitally through Zinio.

Shave Kitdad-shave-kit1

Every man needs a good shave kit for travel.  I like this one from Col. Littleton. It is made from leather and canvas with solid brass hardware.  It unfolds to hang conveniently on the back of a hotel bathroom door.

dad-jiffy-steamer1Travel Steamer

Continuing with the travel theme, I would suggest a Jiffy travel steamer.  Instead of scorching or staining his clothes with a cheap hotel iron, the stylish dad in your life can gently remove those inevitable travel wrinkles.

dad-asw-shoe-care-kit1Shoe Care Kit

Quality shoes will last for decades if given proper care.  The ASW online store has a beautiful kit available in wood, silver and leather.