Travelling Light

travelling-lightIn England this time of year is Party Conference season. As a newly enlisted member of the lobbying fraternity, for me this means attending all three big conferences -12 days in three different cities in under a month with meetings from early morning to late at night.

Few things are quite as undignified as travel, and modern travel even more so. Oh for the age when one could send one’s man on with the baggage in the style of Bertie Wooster.

But there is an art to travelling well, and it starts with travelling light.

I shudder to compare myself to any of history’s great dressers, but we do at least share a common bond. I, like many of them, abhor the idea of lugging heavy bags and suitcases around. Even the advent of the wheeled suitcase only marginally improves things.

Sadly a study of the manner in which these great men were able to waft elegantly and unencumbered across the globe yields few helpful tips. For example, the late Duke of Windsor got around the problem by permanently depositing wardrobes of clothes in his favourite hotels around the world.

Cary Grant was another of the great dressers who liked to travel light. His minimalist approach was certainly more practical than that of the late Duke. One trick of his that sticks in the mind was the habit of wearing women’s nylon knickers which he could easily wash at night and wear again fresh and dry next day.

I’ll confess that despite an abhorrence of travelling with vast amounts of stuff I’ve rarely managed to practice what I’ve preached. I invariably over estimate what I need and suffer the price on route to my destination. I’m determined to lick it, and in much the same why that I’ve cracked the art of simple dressing and a pared down my wardrobe, much of it is down to mindset and learned behaviour.

Suits and business wear

My conference jaunts are business trips so suits are the order of the day. One suit for a four day conference is a bit manky, but one suit jacket with two pairs of trousers I think is fine. In this regard the blue suit is your greatest ally, because it offers you the chance to take one grey pair of trousers and treat the jacket like a blazer, giving you an entirely different look. I know that some folk baulk at using navy suit jackets as blazers, but I think that’s just pickiness for its own sake. If it worries you designate one of your navy suits as a travel suit and have brown buttons fitted. Ultimately the success of your navy suit jacket and grey trousers combo comes down to how you wear it. Which brings me on to…

Shirts and ties

I’m afraid I draw the line at economising on shirts; one for each day is a minimum, unless you can be confident of a quick turnaround with regards hotel laundry services. However, when travelling your greatest asset is the navy knitted tie (wool or silk) which will set off your navy jacket grey trouser combo and make you look current and clean cut with a suit. The knitted navy tie will go with just about any shirt.

Nightwear

Business trips are not the place for leisurely breakfasts in your hotel room. Take a clean, tidy t-shirt and sleep in your boxers. You don’t need your Derek Rose jammies and robe. You’ll be working/drinking late and up early. You don’t have time for wafting around in nice nightwear, in which case it’s just dead weight. Get your arse in the shower and be down to breakfast before your boss so as to be found perusing the papers.

Footwear

This is a tricky one. Shoes ought not to be worn two days running, but they do take up space. If you only take one pair I’d personally go for black suede. They sit with the navy suit and suede adds a touch or the informal if you’re required to undertake an informal occasion.

Jumper

Pack one, either a fine navy blue merino wool or fine cashmere gauge. Not only can you substitute your jacket for the jumper if you’re required to engage in relaxed social settings while away but it allows you to ditch a heavy wool coat in favour of a rain coat.

Outerwear

A raincoat is a must for travelling. They will keep you dry and they dry far easier than wool coats. There’s nothing worse than wandering around a convention with a damp wool coat. Also, if you follow the advice above and take a jumper with you, you can wear it under your suit adding a layer of warmth if needed. Raincoats are also easier to fold up if you need to stick it in your case.

So that’s my kit list and as such I’ve managed only to be taking one small 17inch by 13inch case and the compulsory laptop bag.

To Bristle with Pleasure

bristle-with-pleasure

“Growing old offers as many pleasures as punishments.” So says the optimist. As I approach my fourth decade, the low water mark for ‘maturity’, I have experienced few of these famous ‘pleasures’; the supposed glory of an early bed, the wondrous quiet of an evening in. The trappings of the slow descent to the grave are perplexing to me; I have been unable to relinquish the defiance of youth and the splendid extremes of love and hatred that burn in the young.

My mother once promised me that I would grow to love my hair at a time at which I loathed it; a sweaty mass of untamed curly frizz that caused me to scowl each time I gazed upon the crowning wreck in the mirror. Mother’s wisdom was true enough. As a man ages he feels fortunate to have hair left at all. Its quality is never something that instigates jealousy or despair; to keep your head of it, whilst all about you are losing theirs (to paraphrase Kipling), is one of the few significant genetic social challenges affecting so large a number of men today.

Taming it is another matter. I had never considered a bristle brush for my hair until about a year ago. I had always been able to wake up, comb through the knotted parts and twist in whatever goop L’Oreal were marketing as the ‘best performing’ wax or gel on the market. This seemed to work primarily because I, in my shocking vanity, refused to look at pictures of myself between the ages of 18 and 23; however dreadful my hair actually appeared after exposure to the elements, not as I last left it in the bathroom mirror, I have never known. However, this approach has ceased to be an effective remedy for the wildness of my remaining locks.

My hair is certainly thinner than it was in my early twenties and because of this the curls are thinner, wispier and less easily tamed. A day of wind and my appearance veers from the passably respectable into realms of extreme inelegance; there is nothing so repulsively incongruous as a tailored suit with the head of Caliban. The joy of brushing hair was alien to me. I still looked to my fingers to reshape and smarten the forest. However, the futility of this gradually dawned upon me. I eventually conceded that the days of careless coiffure were over; I needed grown up tools for my hair.

One of the benefits of a bristle brush is that hair of all types can be parted, shaped and styled to produce respectably presentable results. Thin, thick, curly, straight – the brush acts as an artisan’s device, making sense and order of mess. Nowadays, the bristle brush, and the pomaded refinement, are less favoured; acceptance of ‘bed hair’, shorter styles, the preponderance of gel-spiking and a return to the romance of a bushy hairdo have all taken their toll on goods that seek to control. The old, heavily lacquered hair fashion is particularly repellent to women. As one commentator put it; “Greased down hair! Yuck. One fashion I’m glad died in the 50’s.”

However, despite the unlikely renaissance of this particular trend, it has always been preferential for gentlemen as they age to do so with dignity and style. Whilst hair need not be oil-slicked into lifelessness, a bristle brush can bring dignity to styles that, whilst once charming, no longer appeal as they once did. To do so is to acknowledge maturity; and in that, as in brushing, there is a small amount of pleasure.

Sartorial Love/Hate: The Rugby Shirt

sartorial-lovehate-rugby

A funny thing occurs when I tell people I used to play rugby for my house: absolutely nobody believes me. Scoffs are heard as far off as Trafalgar Square when I recount stories of scrum-half school heroics; expletives of disbelief are muttered into pints of ale. But as “slight” a frame as I have and as “frilly” as some of my interests appear, it’s hardly a huge stretch of the imagination that I once bounded up and down soggy fields in house colours, being spear-tackled by hefty bully boys and easily sprinting away from players for whom the kindest compliment for their playing prowess was ‘convenient obesity.’

A recent conversation with friends and acquaintances turned to the subject and many a laugh was had at my expense. Of course, the image of professional rugby is that of towering warriors, with necks like tree trunks and a Neanderthal silhouette; “at school” I explained “it was very different.” We were discussing the 2011 World Cup, which is being held in New Zealand, and the misfortune that none of the games occur at hours during which drinking would be seen to be reasonable. This inspired commentary from the group on the pleasures of the pub; the loud roars, the patriotic atmosphere and, of course, the excuse of wearing a rugby shirt.

This last point caused the sort of noise-cocktail of extreme disapproval and hearty support normally experienced in the House of Commons. My ears pricked as I heard the arguments advanced.

The problem with rugby shirts, as far as the detractors could see, is that they are sport shirts which should only be worn on the sports field; got a rugby match? Wear your team shirt. Going to watch a rugby match? Dress as normal. As their argument developed I could hear that hatred of ‘lads’ sport gear culture was a central pillar; branded sport goods were not acceptable wear for grown gentlemen. Rugby shirts were, to them, only considered tolerable by the majority because of their connection to preppy, private school style; they believed they represented the disappointing decline of menswear standards.

The supporters considered virtue in their being a smarter version of sports clothing, particularly the classic hooped designs with white collars. They admitted full replica rugby shirts with numbers and sponsorship was a little too much but they admired the retro sportsman aesthetic of the design that provided gentlemen with a comfortable, casual item that was perfect for weekends; worn over shirts and ties and under cord jackets; a defiant banner of the sportsman when his body has failed him. They also differentiated the shirts from the normal sports replica shirt for sports such as football that become the army colours of an aggressive mob.

Unusually for this love/hate issue, I sit proudly on the fence. I cannot profess to intensely dislike or admire the rugby shirt; I no longer tend to wear them, but I confess to doing so at University – a cliché if ever there was one – and fondly remember their versatility and varsity aesthetic.

Links: NY Street Show, Blue Jackets, International Style…

nyfw-street

• New York Fashion Week street style. (gq.com)

• A man cannot have too many blue odd jackets. (asuitablewardrobe.dynend.com)

• Another piece from ASW’s Will Boehlke for Forbes on the subject of international style.  (forbes.com)

• Classic, elegant, quality, affordable shoes… What’s not to like? (dieworkwear.com)

• First impression: Tricker’s Newbury with Dainite rubber soles (makethman.com)

• Shoes restoration guide. (girouxmcisaak.tumblr.com)

• Sports Suit by Enzo Caruso (sleevehead.blogspot.com)

RAF Blue

raf-blue

I’m continuing to dither over the choice of my next bespoke suit. I’d thought I’d settled on either a casual weekend check; a modern box cut suit in cotton or cord; and, finally, a grey or navy chalk stripe.

These choices, as you may remember, were causing me an ample sufficiency of headaches, in terms of coming to the point of decision. I guess this is one drawback to always thinking in pictures; you can too readily imagine how each suit would look and easily become enamoured of the picture.

This happened to me again recently with the idea of an RAF Blue suit.

The first official Royal Air Force uniform was made of a pale blue cloth and completed with gold trimmings. It’s rumoured that the cloth for those uniforms was originally intended for the Tsar of Russia’s household cavalry but became surplus to requirement after the revolution. A nasty and impractical colour it wasn’t popular with personnel and was quickly replaced with a uniform made of a blue-grey cloth that remains the RAF’s standard dress kit to this day.

That distinctive blue-grey colour, known for obvious reasons as RAF blue, has been a favourite of mine for many years. Even in the form of a standard suit in my view it conjures up images of rakish gents, open top sports cars, and polka dot scarves; the perfect caricature of a WWII spitfire pilot.

While you’ll rarely see an RAF blue suit on the streets (another reason for adopting it) it’s a far easier colour to match than you might think. It works well with white, cream and other shades of blue – particularly so in the form of a Bengal stripe. This allows an ample number of shirting options. It also suits chocolate browns and tobacco, which again provides plenty of diversity with regards to footwear. You might also consider various shades of green, which could mean wearing it under a Loden coat or as in my own case an M65 jacket – as discussed recently.

I used to be indecisive, now I’m not so sure.