Archives for July 2011

Buying Ready-to-Wear Shirts in Japan: Beams

Here at Men’s Flair we frequently discuss that most essential item of men’s attire: the dress shirt. One aspect of it that we repeatedly mention, like Howard Hughes on a bad day, is the fit. Even a $300 shirt can make you look bad if it’s baggy and ill-proportioned, and with so many options available these days, men really don’t have an excuse for wearing something that looks like it once hosted the Cirque du Soleil.

Finding that perfectly-fitting shirt can be a long, difficult process. The best solution is, of course, to have shirts made to your body’s proportions. But even going custom won’t guarantee a good fit if you can’t try it on during the construction process, and it’s sometimes impractical for busy chaps to find a decent tailor and then make the time to visit him for sizings.

While traipsing around various parts of Tokyo I’ve looked through many a menswear shop in search of the ideal ready-to-wear shirt. As you would expect, most ready-to-wear shirts here are designed to fit the standard profile of Japanese men, who tend to be smaller in the chest and shoulders – and shorter in the arms – than westerners of similar height. Nevertheless, I’ve found that in terms of fit, as well as price and quality, Beams’s shirts are among the best of any country.


All of Beams’s own-brand shirts are (to my knowledge, at least) made in Japan. In general, their collars are a great deal softer than most English-made shirts, giving a more relaxed feel. The semi-spread is the most prevalent collar type (and arguably the most practical, as it looks good with ties of varying widths), but I’m quite partial to the button-down variety, especially during summer.

Flat, rather than placket, shirt fronts are the norm. I was a bit unsure about this at first, but have actually grown to prefer them. The yoke is sometimes (but not always) seamed in the middle, and the back panel is almost always darted. The darts serve to suppress the fabric around the chest and midriff, giving a more fitted look. I haven’t found my arm movement restricted in any way by the lack of pleating, but their absence might make the chest area a bit tight for the barrel-chested.

Beams’s shirts are made from a variety of cottons in different weights. Most of the ones I own are made from lightweight 2-ply cotton, but I do have the odd heavier-weight Oxford cloth that’s a bit more casual. I’ve found that, regardless of type, the fabric is of good quality and able to withstand the weekly wearing-and-washing routine without any special treatment. I’ve had the pink one (pictured top left) for at least four years and it still looks very respectable.

It’s traditionally been quite hard to find Beams gear outside Japan. Inventory magazine’s Vancouver shop sells quite a few Beams-branded items, but they tend to be more casual shirts and whatnot for “urban rambler” types. Zozotown – a vast online clothes shopping mall that caters to young Japanese and offers virtually the entire inventory of Beams, United Arrows, et al – might one day start an international shipping service, but right now you’ll have to go through a proxy shopping service like, or find someone in Japan who will buy and ship the goods on your behalf.

A New Suit, Part 2: Irrepressibly Modern


As you may remember from my last posting, I’m considering my next bespoke suit. I’ve narrowed my choices down to a few rough concepts: the weekend suit, the City slicker/Italian cool and, finally, the irrepressibly modern.

I doubt this last concept of ‘irrepressibly modern’ will get much sympathy in these pages. A flick through the back catalogue of articles, and comments, would show that we are an audience largely made up of classicists. And for the most part I would class myself as one also.

But, just as my taste in cars tends towards classic motors, my head still turns in admiration at a modern Aston Martin. As a rule, most car makers work to the theory that you can sell a young man’s car to an old man but the reverse doesn’t work.

In clothing this theory tends to work the other way around. Young men are frequently drawn to classic styles and forms, but they also possess the freedom of youth to engage in more experimental styles, and carry them off. Unless your name is Nickelson Wooster, older men on the other hand should really stick to the classics, less they wish to look slightly foolish.

I’m not an old man, but will be soon enough. If I’m going to experiment this is the time to do it. Failure is not half as pathetic as the fear of failure is.

From my extensive pictorial library of clothes and looks from which to take inspiration I found the above picture. It comes from the March 2009 edition of GQ and was originally part of that summer’s Versace collection. There is plenty wrong with this suit from a classicist’s point of view. I’m not ignorant of those defects, but it is in spite of them that I just love its square lines and utter simplicity, and did from the first moment I saw it. In many ways the angular lines remind me of an unbuttoned double breasted suit. Though it goes against all convention, this is an aesthetic I rather like, being just as happy to wear my DBs unbuttoned as I am buttoned – but I think that’s an English thing.

From the pictures of my last commissioned suit, you may have noticed that I’m quite a squared shape. I’m therefore convinced that the angles in this unconventional style of suit might just enhance my silhouette. Although the suit was shown in 2009 I think it’s dated rather well, helped by the ultra slim aesthetic still being in vogue at the moment.

Materials will be important with this one, and I’m thinking either cotton or a cotton linen mix to do this shape justice. To work it needs to be a cloth with a degree of rigidity to keep those lines crisp and sharp. For me this is an irrepressibly modern aesthetic, and fortune favours the brave.

In the next posting I’ll discuss my final concept, City Slicker/Italian Cool.

Mode Rage: Flip Flops

“Sorry, do you have a problem with my typing?” someone once asked me, as my wincing face squinted and sneered at the hands of the person delivering the question. I did have a problem and it was to my chagrin that I could do nothing to abate it. My headphones, that joyously cocooned me from the audible horrors of a university library, were on my desk in my room. The incessant tip-tapping, the constant, irritating rhythm of it all distracted me from all academic thought. So much so that I began to question the sense of keyboard manufacturers – why could keyboards not be silent like a Yamaha keyboard action, for example? – and the insensitivity of loud typists to the concern that everyone in the library can hear their thunderous industry.

“I just have a problem with loud typing” I responded “it really winds me up.” In good spirit, the typist leaned over, conspiratorially, and informed me she also hates irritating, rhythmic noises. “Oh yes?” I proffered. “Flip flops” she nodded “can’t stand them; slap, slap, slap, slap.” I beamed in empathy.


I don’t think there is an item of footwear I loathe more than the flip-flop. And not only as an item of menswear; I think they are equally repugnant on women. I might reserve a good deal of dislike for horrible Prada training shoes and take a dim view of wearing New Balance running shoes with chinos but, despite the horrible aesthetics, I can still see a point to them. They serve a purpose, are comfortable and, though inelegant, are not designed or generally worn for situations requiring smart socialising. Flip flops however, which should be renamed ‘slap-slaps’ for phonetic accuracy, are worn in such situations.

Even in the northern European capitals such as London, people have been known to wander into chi-chi bars wearing them, demanding tables and kissing each other with nauseating self-awareness, sliding across the marble floors and crossing naked legs and a filthy, flip-flopped foot into linen tablecloths. For a man to flip flop in summer means he is one awkward slip away from the ultimate hippydom; walking the grimy streets barefoot.

Comfort is sometimes mentioned as a factor in wearing them, although how having a piece of rubber wedged between your toes, gradually digging backward like a miniature pick-axe as you push forward, is defended as an example of comfort I will never know. They are certainly easy to put on, and remove, which is why they are often used on the beach, to protect sun-worshippers soles from the scorching sand. However, rarely are wearers of flip-flops inclined to carry smarter footwear to don once they have departed the beach. Instead, they wander into town, griming it up and filthifying their feet in the dirt, the piss, the dropped ice-creams and week-old gum splat. It is because of this that they have become moderately acceptable and even desirable for some.

“I can just pop to the shops without having to think” an old friend told me “I don’t need smart shoes to go to the shop. Who’s going to look at me there?” Erm, the entire store. Who will hear you coming a mile away. Though they may be easy to scuff into, your feet will not thank you for being tempted by a pair of banana-coloured Havaianas.

Though most people think that the human foot is appalling and should be entirely covered, I simply think it requires better forms of presentation. In my opinion, a naked foot is actually far more acceptable than one wedged into a pair of flip flops, but for when footwear is required, sandals and espadrilles are far more appealing.

‘Oh but sandals’ I hear you cry ‘offer as little protection for the foot (and the eyes of onlookers) as a flip-flop!’ This is not entirely true. Although they expose similar amounts of foot, flip flops – due to the nature of being ‘loose’ on a foot – reveal soles and heels; an absolute horror when they are dirty. Sandals are secured to the foot and do not reveal the soles and the decent pairs usually cover the bottom of the heel too. Espadrilles are perfect for those who wish to cover the foot without smartening the footwear too much.

Style Icon: Matteo Marzotto


There aren’t many Chairmen or Chief Executives who are worthy of the title ‘style icon.’ Despite being in the pink financially, Captains of Industry don’t dress as their myth would suggest. A great number probably use tailors but evidence of their use is never apparent; a lot of the sheeny-shiny stiff-as-a-board suits worn by business leaders are possibly very expensive, despite being laughably ghastly. A lack of interest is probably the reason; vanity does not always go hand in hand with egotism and leadership is not always matched by inspiration. Money and power shout a heck of a lot louder than the brashest pinstripe suit; who needs an elegant drape when you hold all the power in the boardroom? Who wants a flattering silhouette when you’re buying and selling companies like used cars?

Well, Matteo Marzotto seems to. Undeniably one of the most elegantly attired tycoons in the world, Marzotto – always grinning – is an Italian textiles scion who turned the loss-making Valentino brand into a profitable fat cherry that was plucked in the private equity harvest of 2007 for a little over $1bn. Like Lapo Elkann, the Fiat heir, Marzotto was born into a privileged world. However, unlike the surfer-haired jet-setting überdandy, Marzotto’s association and exposure to the fashion world goes further than whimsical fancy. His is a more serious aesthetic, something self-consciously, though elegantly, ordinary. This is no attention-seeking Milanese orchid, fluttering from café to café; he is a businessman, something horrific to unshackled creatives, and his clothes, though exhibiting a sense of the refined and unusual, are appropriate for a man in his position.

As with many style icons, it is not so much what Marzotto wears but the way in which he chooses to wear it. There may be a few brightly striped shirts, a couple of wacky ties but most of his wardrobe seems to conform to that of any elegant Milanese or Roman about town; a wool suit, white or blue shirt, a dark, patterned tie and a white linen square. An easy, don’t-even-have-to-think-about-it combination, but one delivered with effortless panache. Take for example, Marzotto’s utility of his clothing. Whereas many don tailored suits and treat them with the most extraordinary delicacy, he shoves his hands in his double-breasted pockets, cracks a grin and delivers a wink. He lives in his suits and understands them; many others, by comparison, are like waxworks.

His dark ties are a lesson in elegance for the cringeworthy pastel-crew who, despite an inadequately flattering complexion, insist on the sickly sweet-shop salesman aesthetic of pale ties with pale shirts. Marzotto’s tailor, whoever he is, cuts his suits very well; there is the classic Italian shoulder, a relatively high gorge and an unfashionably large lapel. Despite wrestling for control of iconic brands, as he was with Valentino and he is with Vionnet, and using the names to build the business, Marzotto is a walking advert for everything that is nothing to do with brands; wearing clothing that was stitched by unglamorous artisans. Nothing about his style is unnoticeable and yet, it is not designed to be noticed. He is the sort of man, like Elkann, who learned about wearing clothes from a beloved relative; lectured on the value of a cut, coached in the tying of a tie. A man who really understands clothes is never born; he is made.

A New Suit: The Weekend Suit


Having your clothes made is an addictive business. No sooner is one commission finished than you begin to plan the next.

Whether it’s bespoke or top end made to measure, the knowledge that you can have your heart’s desire made real is a powerful temptation; and like Oscar Wilde ‘I can resist all things but temptation’.

As it happens I’ve already commissioned a second suit from a new tailor recommended by Adam Atkinson of CHERCHBI. This suit is rather pedestrian in comparison to the last, a simple single breasted navy suit with peak labels.

But before the cloth has even been cut I’m considering my next commission. There are innumerable options but I have rounded it down to a few basic concepts. The first is the weekend suit.

According to my father, when he and my aunt were children my grandfather would go to the football every Saturday afternoon without fail. The uniform for this occasion was suit and tie, raincoat and cap. He was by no means alone; this was the uniform for all the men of this era (1950s). Remarkable really, when you consider he was a toolmaker in the local car factory.

Since then society has increasingly moved towards the informal in its modes of dress. It is odd then that we still admire most those men whose wardrobe staple, at work rest or play, was the suit. The pictures of them we most keenly study almost always see them suited.

Of course, in those pictures the guises of the suit are more varied than we are used to seeing today. Who now owns a white flannel suit for summer? Few enough own even linen suits, or wear tweed suits in the countryside. But the point is that a suit need not be grey or blue and it can be worn with just as much casual aplomb as jeans and a shirt, to infinitely better effect.


In truth, no single item in a man’s wardrobe flatters the essence of manliness quite like a suit. If well cut and well made, it is nothing short of armour in which to take on the daily trials of life; in one swift stroke it hides, disguises, conceals, enhances and augments. Only a military uniform, I would imagine, could empower the wearer more. And yet like most men of my generation I am inexorably dragged kicking and screaming towards ever greater informality of dress.

But, having matured in years and feeling less and less concerned about the opinions, or approval, of others I have come to the conclusion that what I need is a casual suit.


I want something as natural to throw on of a weekend when going out as my chinos and jean jacket. I want something which I can where as comfortably to dinner or a bar on a Saturday night as I can to visit a shirt maker or fashion show; something which is a suit, but doesn’t necessarily feel like one. Of course I doubt I’ll ever muster the casual, easy aplomb demonstrated by Bryan Ferry. But hope springs eternal.


To that end it’s not so much the style of suit that’s important as the cloth. The basic rule of thumb for suiting is that the further away you move from plain grey and navy blue worsted cloth the less formal and less business appropriate the suit is. This provides many options including cord, cotton and linen. However, I’ve decided that my weekend suit needs to be a bold check and a wool cloth.

My feeling is that any plain cloth would still be a little too formal for my project, and while cord would be less formal it lacks seasonal versatility. Linen, even a check linen cloth, would have the same problem. But a wool cloth of around 10oz with some form of bold check would provide the seasonal flexibility I’m after – except on all but the hottest days – while checks have a natural informality. They also resonate with country tweeds and so seem a much more fitting material for a weekend suit. I have seen this concept of the weekend or casual suit done well and it’s one I’m desperate to get underway. But, as I have some equally pressing needs within my suiting armoury I’ve held fire.

In the next posting I’ll highlight two other concepts under active consideration.