Archives for August 2011

Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Twenty-Two


While checking through the latest posts from men’s fashion blogs it struck me that the vast majority of my favourite writers are younger than me (I’m thirty), often by a good five or six years. Looking back at how much I knew about style when I was their age is a rather humbling experience. When I was twenty-two the most stylish suit I owned – or so I thought – was a ventless chocolate brown number that I had made by a Bangkok tailor. I used to wear it with black loafers and walk around Tokyo thinking I was the daddy. The shame, the horror…

But I guess we all have at least one regrettable clothing episode from our younger days to contend with. Knowing what I do now, I’d love to go back in time and tell my younger self a thing or two. It would probably be along the lines of:

“Get those trousers hemmed”
Unless you’ve got real fashion nous it’s always best to have your trouser legs hemmed long enough to cover your ankles. However, there’s no need for them to rumple up over your laces, as mine used to.

“Buy some decent ties”
Having lots of ties isn’t necessarily a good thing. I used to have a lot of ties but 70 per cent of them were cheap and, to be quite honest, pretty disgusting to look at. In those days, when money was tight, quality and versatility should have been my priorities, not variety. Just three ties – a good solid navy, a grey, and a repp stripe – would have seen me through most occasions.

“Wear your work clothes with pride”
When the time comes to enter the world of work men either embrace the smartness that wearing a suit and tie can provide, or rebel against it by permanently leaving the top shirt button undone and purposefully yanking the tie knot down in a dishevelled manner. I was one of the latter. One thing that time has taught me is that few – if any – people appreciate an unkempt shirt and tie. I have to admit that I find it hard to resist the urge to tell scruffy oiks to sort their ties out, especially when the knot is halfway down the chest and the tip is floating somewhere south of their crown jewels.

“Think about colour”
God knows what possessed me when I decided that my first tailored suit should be brown. In fact I’m surprised the tailor didn’t smack me over the head with his heaviest swatch book and throw me out by my ears. The same goes for shirts and shoes, which I mixed together with little regard for whether they would compliment the rest of my outfit. I’d direct my younger self to a copy of Alan Flusser’s Dressing the Man.

“Buy one pair of dark brown brogues”
If I’d known how versatile brown brogues are it would have saved me an awful lot of money in the long run. If I’d bought one good pair of Crockett and Jones when I was twenty-two I probably wouldn’t have spent anywhere near as much on poor quality shoes, and I’d still be wearing them now.

“Remember that you’re not playing American football”

Either I’ve lost a lot of weight in the past eight years or my shoulder pads were way too big back then. I’d recommended that my younger self buy suits and jackets with barely padded or natural shoulders. I’ve found that, for me at least, they look and feel far more comfortable and “right” than more structured ones. If you haven’t got big shoulders then just go with it – big shoulder pads don’t fool anyone.

Sartorial Love/Hate: The Plain Silk Satin Tie


I used to be very fond of silk satin ties. I remember purchasing a navy slub silk in a sale at Debenhams when I was 16, gravely disappointed that the ‘shiny’ silks had sold out. After my friends had abandoned me to what was essentially an enemy activity (clothes shopping) I rifled through the huge tubs of ties, clutching for that deliciously smooth fabric. I was purchasing for a wedding and wished to wear a plain tie – all the rage as far as I was concerned – with a plain sky blue shirt but there was no satin to be found. I had to content myself with the £7 slub. At the wedding itself, I ogled with envy at those in mirror-finish silk satin ties; like a scale-side fillet of sea bass, glinting in the summer sun.

Now, that fishy shine provokes a completely different reaction. I consider silk satin ties; that generic, bog-standard, look-as-ordinary-as-I-can favourite of politicians as the enemy of what I consider to be taste in neckwear. Many will disagree and sneer at the woven silks, wools and the matte prints as the sort of frilly, fussy accessory of best-forgotten decades. I once ventured to point one out to a friend of mine whilst we were drinking and gawping at fellow drinkers outside a pub; “Look, a shiny silk pale pink tie” I observed “Like a side of salmon or something. I just can’t stand them” when he informed me that something like that ‘side of salmon’ would be his choice for his upcoming wedding. “I think it looks the business; plain, shiny. Smart, I think.”

I reasoned that it must be the ubiquity of plain silk satin that so irks me; the fact that it has become the default choice for men about town. However, after rooting around in my mind, I decided it was still the fabric that prompted the dislike; after all, why do I prefer a ribbed silk finish to a dinner jacket lapel? Why do I prefer a moiré cummerbund? Not because the alternatives are commonplace. No, it is rather the rather startling texture reflecting the light; it is attention seeking and rather gauche. Satin silk is a wonderfully luxurious fabric to pass through your fingers but this sense of luxury is somehow lost when it is combined with other textures.

I picked a yellow one up whilst browsing on Jermyn Street, in an attempt to correct my prejudice and wandered around the shop laying it next to a variety of plain and patterned shirts; my eyes continually squinted – a strange habit I inherited from a mother who believes it gives you a ‘distance view’ of anything you apply it to – due to the fact that the colour was pleasant, the combinations were interesting but the sheen was just too much. It cheapened the combinations, despite being made of a high quality and not inexpensive silk satin. And the fact that it was plain too meant it only managed to look interesting and appealing against heavily striped or checked shirts; against a plain blue luxury weave, a force to be reckoned with in the sheen department, it looked positively oily. Yuck.

Contrast: M65 Jacket

Credit: TheSartorialist

Contrast is one of the most effective weapons in a man’s wardrobe arsenal, and I don’t just mean the contrast of colour or texture either. Some of the most successful looks I’ve ever come across stemmed from an alignment of two or more items which were the antithesis of one another.

For example, back when I was policy advisor to the Shadow Minister for Shipping we went down to the Southampton Boat Show as guests of the Royal Yachting Association. Needless to say we were climbing in, out and over yachts all day (all built by British companies in case you wondered what this had to do with politics). Despite this activity it was still a business day so I dressed appropriately: DB navy blazer, cornflower yellow chinos, shirt and tie plus deck shoes.

I thought I looked quite good – a bit clichéd – but good nonetheless. That was until a spotted a chap emerging from one of the sailing yacht stands in stonewash jeans, white polo shirt, a red Gill heavy duty offshore sailing jacket and a pair of chestnut cowboy boots. To my mind he looked as cool as the proverbial cucumber.  The boots and Gill sailing jacket had absolutely no business being put together, one was most definitely of the sea, and the other of the land. The boots were also impractical for use on a boat’s decks. But it just looked good, and right. This is the art of contrast.

It’s a hit miss affair of course which is difficult to explain. Though I’ve tried to rationalise the process of contrast I’m yet to succeed, and certainly not in any form that makes sense written down. In some ways it’s about taking all the rules you know, all the experience you have of dressing well and then just going out and trusting your instincts, with a healthy dollop of ‘oh, fu#k it’ thrown in.

Credit: TheSartorialist

The reason I mention all this is that my new obsession for the coming season is a vintage cotton M65 combat jacket. I’m sure former military personnel may resent my choice of garment, given that I’ve never served in the military, and certainly not the US military. But in this particular case I’d regard those objections as akin to someone telling me I ought not to own a Land Rover as I’d never served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. And while a few examples are out there complete with platoon insignia I’m not after any of that.

The jacket has a strong aesthetic and is, largely thanks to a succession of war movies, an instantly recognisable garment. Indeed, in England many people would recognise the aesthetic without necessarily knowing why. I’ve seen it contrasted with suits, blazers and tweeds to great effect and this is what I’m after.

In my own case I want to try it with an RAF blue suit, Tobacco brown half brogues, white shirt and black knit tie. This may not work as a look of course; but the fear of failure is far worse than failure itself.

Reorganising the Wardrobe


One of the most frequent questions I am asked about my clothing; “Where on earth do I fit it all?” Work colleagues, friends, visitors to my blog and even my family wonder that I can be properly storing what appears to them to be a vast amount of clothing. Do I use vaccum bags for out of season clothing? Is it all mothballed in a warehouse? Where on earth do I put my ties? One person, asking me how many I possessed, stated their own level of ownership and problems with storage; “You must have fifty or sixty ties or something?” they asked. Where did it all go? Did I possess vast, Victorian wardrobes? Was my bedroom simply a giant clothing cupboard with a bed in it?

Collectors always have problems with storage, unless the objects of their collection are small enough not to cause concerns over general space, as is the case with postage stamps. However, collecting is not a question of filling a finite amount of space; a collector of gemstones does not seek to fill one velvet-lined box. Collecting is often a never ending hobby that when it gets to excessive levels looks rather like hoarding and can often be considered by outsiders to be an addiction. The problem with clothing is that it is not something that is kept in a box to be kept for posterity; it needs to be kept well in order for it to be fit for wear. This is why I believe it is not healthy to have an entirely elastic wardrobe. Unless you own vast warehouses in which to store the stuff, there is always a limit to a gentleman’s own sartorial holdings.

However, I believe that whatever space a gentleman has available, he should use efficiently. From the pictures you can see the setup of my wardrobe; suits, jackets, waistcoats and trousers are hung and the ties are hung on organisers which are hooked onto the inside of the doors. They had originally been carefully folded into drawers but this was not a sensible storage method for a number of reasons; firstly, accessing a tie was far more difficult as drawers have to be rifled through and secondly, some ties became damaged from the overflowing drawers by snagging against the wood. It would have been more practical to rid myself of the ties, but many of them have been handed down and I was reluctant to let them go, however infrequently I wear them.

The drawers they were stored in now contain my collection of pocket squares. They are organised into pattern types; plain, checked and ‘florals.’ Again this makes accessing the squares easier than if they were jumbled up in a box together which is ideal for both the man in a hurry who knows exactly what he is looking for or the man who has a special event to attend and wishes to experiment with something untried. Reorganising my accessories in this way has improved my dressing experience enormously and has also meant the objects are all in a wearable condition.

Admittedly, I am currently fortunate in my living circumstances that I do not have to share bedroom storage with another; there will be many who have to split their space with a spouse or, as in the case of some I know, with their children. There is no doubt that my ‘empire of wardrobes’ will one day succumb to the fate of all empires but when that does happen, I should hope I am prepared for it.

Sunday Links: Sartorialist, Silentist…


• Sartorialist’s photo of the month. (

• Navy and green once again proven a perfect match. (

• The Duke of Windsor Collections. (

• Sometimes a smile is best accessory. This didn’t sound postmodern at all. (

• ADG of Maxinimus switched from Blogger to Tumblr. (