Archives for September 2011

Striking the Right Cord

“Where can I buy the best cords?” a friend of mine once asked, keenly stirring their foamy, sickly Starbucks coffee as they read my face for a response. I sat there, gazing out of the window, inwardly smiling; ‘the best’ is often asked for in this manner, as though it were some club secret of an underground society; stern and steely, the searcher asks for such trifles with the gravity of a police officer requesting the location of a missing witness. People take ‘the best’ very seriously indeed. However, I was not particularly inspired by the commonplace conversation until the friend asked his second question; “And also” he began, slurping his muddy glug of caffeine and sugar, “what colour do you think is best?”

I had always been of the opinion that cords were an autumnal trouser; keeping the tanned legs of summer warm in the cooling air of October. Most of the cords I own are therefore of autumnal colours; burgundy, like the leaves of the maple, moss and Army green. Like many, I choose for my colours to reflect the season; the vitality and saturation of spring and summer hues contrasting with the darkened, dying colours of autumn and winter. However, there are those who choose an alternative sartorial philosophy and defy the seasons by adopting rich and life-affirming tones in the darkest times of year. There is something to be said for this resistance.

Cords provide an opportunity to express one’s philosophy. A tie may help, ditto a pocket square but it is the corduroy trouser, the rich velvety pair of cords, that permit such an expanse of colourful expression as the weather begins to cool.

The Reluctant


For those who consider brightly coloured cords to be a considerable embarrassment, ranking alongside surprise renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’ and rhythm-clapping, the muted tones of navy blue, moss green and Bordeaux (at a push) are for you. All types of tweed and flannel jacket will suit – a light-grey flannel jacket with the Bordeaux is a particularly enticing combination – and such trousers are unlikely to attract any unwanted attention.

The Willing


For those eager to join the ranks of the resistance but unwilling to stick their neck out and risk the consternation of passing elderly ladies, a pair of bottle green, cinnamon or mustard corduroy trousers are the perfect choices. All will partner a flannel navy blazer or a tweed jacket exceptionally well and will be ideal for country weekends, sober enough for visits to the in-laws and vibrant enough to attract admiring glances.

The Brave


For those who wish to blast the dark, depressing death of autumn with defiant colours that reflect the more brilliant seasons of the year, bright pink, yellow and papal purple are the ideal choices. None but the brave will attempt these luxurious colours. You will receive looks, and comments, so beware.

The Youth of Today

“Youth” said Lord Henry Wotton, the chilling cynic of the gothic novel ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ “is the one thing worth having.” For a long time, I agreed. However, considering the current state of the economy, the cost of a university education and the dearth of job opportunities, I am rather relieved that I, in my late twenties, am no longer part of this nation’s unfortunate youth. For those that are; struggling to make their way in an overcrowded, expensive and often uninspiring world; working in menial jobs for which they are absurdly overqualified, I have a great deal of compassion. I myself didn’t have an easy route into anything. I know how it feels to be ignored, rejected, underpaid and overworked; many others do too. As the youth struggle to keep up with the shadow of their ideal, it is difficult for the fortunate and the happily settled to understand the pressures that are faced and the strict budgets on which many exist.

I was contacted by a young reader of my blog who was gratified to see that someone was championing the use of sartorial components from the high street rather than tailors or designers “which, let’s be honest, cater to a financially privileged few.” After all, though it may be that Savile Row aficionados are correct; that you can find no better cut of suit in the world, that it is worth saving a considerable sum to purchase such a suit, no matter how hard the ambitious young might work, no matter how diligently they save, necessary expenses block the Yellow Brick Road to Henry Poole et al, and even rule out many of the less expensive City tailors. I wrote to the young reader and asked him his budget. His response provoked considerable shock; he had expected to spend no more than £100 which, bearing in mind his expectations and aesthetic discernment, was a hopeless sum of money.


However, I viewed his case sympathetically. I saw a little of myself in this ambitious and optimistic 19 year old, with dreams of management and responsibility. The suit was to be worn to several interviews for unpaid internships, it needed to fit and he was adamant that the trousers should be the correct length. “The suit” he considered “would give me confidence and make them confident about me.” His attitude was exactly the right one; his suit needed to look like it cost more than it did and he was sure, since he was of the opinion that I had managed to do so with ensembles of my own, adding a few accessories would ‘upgrade’ the look. The most important thing, at least as far as his father was concerned, was that he was not to buy any “funny polyester” suit; it needed to be made of wool.

With such parameters, I would normally have responded that unless a vintage suit was purchased – undesirable to this young gentleman – the ask was impossible for such a low sum of money. However, I decided to pay a visit to three retailers that I knew had previously offered well-cut, wool or wool-rich suits for excellent value; Zara, H&M and Uniqlo. First off the list, as I expected, was Zara; the suit jackets alone cost £119 which, though good value, was well over budget. Next, with low expectations, I visited H&M; the Swedish store had been rather thin on suits recently and I did not expect to find anything made of wool. I actually found a wonderful light grey flannel two-piece for £115; the jacket was £80 and the trousers £35. The material was beautifully soft though, unfortunately, it was not ‘all wool’ as had been requested; 20% of the fabric was polyamide. Marking that as an outside option, I rested all my hopes on the last stop; Uniqlo.

Having bought a few flannel jackets there recently, I was well aware that the store offered great value but was still considerably impressed that a 98% Tasmanian Wool suit could be had for £110. Available in houndstooth, navy blue, light and dark grey, the soft flannel material would be the perfect foil for a soft white or blue shirt and a rich, silk pocket square. Though slightly over budget, I couldn’t resist making the recommendation and, feeling the soft wool between my fingers, couldn’t resist giving it a go myself. Slim fit, with a softer shoulder, the ‘suit’ is actually sold as matching jacket and trousers.

For something that costs so little, it is remarkably elegant and is very flattering, though the trousers – all are 34” length – will need adjusting. The material itself is substantial, subtle and timeless, unlike the sheeny-shiny, shoot-peas-through-them suits that so many seem to be fond of. It might not be the Huntsman suit worn by a middle-aged, grinning CEO but for an earnest young man on a budget, this purchase, with a little trouser-tailoring that will cost him another £15, is bound to impress.

Back Pockets


I was ascending one of London Underground’s escalators the other day when a chap passed me on the left. He looked smart enough in a well tailored grey suit, until I noticed what seemed an enormous and desperately unsightly growth emanating from his posterior.

I hasten to add I don’t normally spend my time looking at the rear ends of men on escalators, but this one was noticeable because said growth was so prominent. The chap suffered from a common and rarely acknowledged male affliction – that of shoving an overstuffed wallet into the back pocket of his suit trousers.

This deeply regrettable and extremely common habit destroys the line of a pair of trousers and silhouette of a well cut suit like nothing else. But joking aside, one of the first things I requested when having my first suit made was the removal of back pockets from the trousers, and it’s not a decision I regret.

I’ll confess I was slightly nervous about doing so. While I am yet to find a purpose for these pockets, it’s taken for granted that they’ll just be there, as natural and normal a part of trousers as a fly. But I’ve quickly become accustomed to the clean lines of an uncluttered trouser seat.

And herein lay the absurdity of the back pocket. It’s something that appears on all trousers and yet no one seems to question why. The moment you use it you destroy the line and silhouette of the garment, not to mention the fact that sitting on a wallet seems desperately uncomfortable. Factor in that it limits by how much you can take in and let out your waist and seat and they seem even more impractical.

In menswear many details are simply things we’ve inherited from our ancestors. Cuff buttons on suit jackets, for example, descend from the original cuffs on coats. This allowed riders to unfold the cuffs of their jackets when riding at night, or in bad weather, providing added insulation for their hands. Yet I can find nothing to explain the existence of the back pocket.

And so, if you’ll pardon the pun, I’m pleased to put back pockets behind me.