The Burgundy Suit

There is a brief scene in War of The Roses when Kathleen Turner wanders through her carefully and expensively assembled home, tweaking pillow cushions and rearranging ornaments, finding things to amend. She had the disconsolate demeanour of a person who has completed an enormous task and yet can find nothing better to do than survey the finished product.

Perfection is such a dissatisfying state. When we are without need of occupation we function poorly and indulge in self-gratification, hobbies to pass the time and excessive self-contemplation. It sounds pleasant to some, but I think the secret of a happier existence is realising the need to continually evolve; a perfectly decorated home will bring much smaller satisfaction than the memories that are shared in the process.

Three or four years ago, I doubt I would have considered a burgundy suit. I restricted myself to a conservative wardrobe of blues, greys and maybe the odd brown; supplying the strength of colour through shirts, ties and squares. However, after a recent conversation with a close friend and an examination of my collection – which is not small, but by no means is it large – I saw a sea of grey and blue which, much like Barbara Rose, caused me little satisfaction. However, instead of resorting to frustrated destruction, I decided to do the healthy thing and ‘evolve.’

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Burgundy suits are closely connected with the 1960s and 1970s, when young men broke away from the sober and sensible colours of their fathers’ generations and decided to adopt colours and styles that better represented a rejection of the social codes and expectations of a post-war world. The Beatles wore them with skinny ties, floppy hair and Chelsea boots, providing the world with a legendary aesthetic that has been rehashed and redone many times since. However, though it was in the age of the television that such sartorial extravagance first reached the masses, colourful suits were not unheard of in the decades before the war, particularly the 1930s and 40s.

It is this aesthetic of the suit that I decided to explore. The skinny suit is a trend and though acceptable for tween-idols like Robert Pattinson, for a man in my stage of life, it is just a little too rock star, a little too young: TopMan, I will not need your services in this regard. As the colour of the suit is the star, it is likely that I would not plump for unusual details or ornamental buttons; a peak lapel single breasted two-button jacket with a single breasted waistcoat seemed the right sort of solution. The partnerships I pictured with such a suit sent my imagination into overdrive; I saw a French blue shirt with an orange and navy tartan tie; a pink shirt with a white polka dot navy knit; I saw chestnut shoes and green squares, yellow socks and brown gloves. An orgy of colour.

A Turn around Italy: A Thought or Two

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I’ve just returned from another wonderful trip to Italy, sampling the delights of Florence, Sienna and the Tuscan countryside. They say travel broadens the mind, and I’m sure it does. It can also be ever so slightly depressing.

If you occasionally cross the ether and visit BespokeMe you’ll know that my major preoccupation is locating London’s independent menswear labels and retailers. It is, I’m sorry to say, a less than easy task; dominated as the landscape is by invidious chain retailers – and increasingly greedy landlords.

This is all a far cry from my experiences in Italy. Indeed, for a man like me who is product and experience focused, when it comes to clothing Italy is my Mecca. For whether it is Rome, Florence, Sienna or any of the smaller towns the independent retailer is the norm not the exception. And it makes such a difference to your outlook and enjoyment of clothing. It makes turning each and every corner of these beautiful cities a world of possibility.

For whatever you’re looking for there will be some small family run outlet ready to provide it, from shoes and cashmere ties, to gloves and pyjamas – and everything in between. The shops are small, intimate even, and it’s all about engaging with the shop owner and experiencing the goods. They want to show you their wares, tell you about them, you’re expected to look, to feel and engage. This attention can be a bit unnerving at first, particularly for an Englishman. But once you get used to it shopping becomes a collaborative and enjoyable experience, not something to be endured.

I remember when I was in Rome last walking down one particular street near my hotel. It seemed entirely populated by sock and underwear retailers. As I was looking for some fine Italian hosiery I went into one of the shops. Aside from a dazzling array of socks I also found a man, his wife and the shop assistant deep in discussion over the merits of various pairs of briefs. Each one was being tugged, pulled and assessed in quite extraordinary detail – I can only imagine what they were actually saying.

I had a very similar experience in Florence when looking for gloves. Again this was a little specialist business that did nothing but gloves. Having picked out the colour of glove I wanted a velvet cushion was then placed on the counter on to which I was instructed to place my elbow with my arm and hand pointing vertically. The charming female shop assistant then proceeded to place the glove on my hand, fitting and checking each finger as she went to ensure I had the perfect size. In London not even Picketts in the Burlington Arcade shows this much dedication and pride.

The funny thing is that such an environment entirely alters your attitude to clothing and that male Kryptonite, shopping! The very act of acquiring clothes in Italy is a pleasure. Little wonder then that so many men in that country take such care and pride in their appearance.

Pound for pound Italians are the world’s best dressed men. One cannot help but wonder whether Anglo Saxon men might not find clothes, style, dress and shopping more enjoyable pursuits if they too lived in such an environment.

When travelling it’s often the little differences that leave the most profound impression.

Sartorial Love/Hate: Men’s Uggs

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Everyone I know, and possibly everyone I have met, is aware that comfort is not my priority in clothing. It is certainly something I consider; I wouldn’t inflict pain or unease on my body no matter how stylish an item of clothing or footwear might be, but it is an ‘also ran’ of my considerations. To begin with, living in the city precludes the need to base clothing choices on waging a permanent battle with the elements; secondly, comfort has a great deal to do with familiarity rather than an instantaneous feeling – I feel comfortable in clothing that I am used to that is also used to me. Thirdly, physical comfort is no more important than the psychological comfort of wearing something you feel good in; a down-filled puffa jacket would make me feel ridiculous, nullifying any physical effect it has on me.

It should come as no surprise then that I heartily disapprove of a certain menswear craze; Ugg boots. The aptly named boots are a boil of fashion that requires an immediate lance-and-drain. They are inelegant, impractical and irritating. However, for every detractor there appears to be an advocate; “They’re SO comfortable though!” a friend said, with a hint of embarrassment in their quiet voice.

Comfortable they probably are; sensible they are not. These iconic sheepskin boots, though a unisex item, were always seen as a female fashion trend, catalysed by celebrities such as Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Paris Hilton who were pictured stumbling around Los Angeles boulevards, Starbucks in hand, bug-eyed sunglasses-on-head going from boutique to Bentley in unsightly, unstructured Australian farm-hand footwear.

Since those days, they have been adopted by the slummy-Sloane set, street-corner teenagers and haggard, harsh-voiced pram-pushers; and now they are being worn by men.

In one way I am rather glad; without men adopting the fashion, it would scarcely have been relevant to devote column space on this site to something worn exclusively by women. However, it is also distressing that more of the humans that prowl this planet have latched on to this preposterous footwear. One of the major problems I have with them is that they are worn as though they are proper shoes; the wearer strides around in them with the self-confidence of a well-dressed boulevardier and yet the reason they supply for tarnishing the scene in such a manner is guilty comfort; they are fully aware that they are not the most attractive shoe, they know they are not practical in the rain and they know they are actually better suited to a ski chalet or a particularly cold bedroom but they cannot resist the warm and squishy lambswool between their toes. They have to have it; “…it’s, like, a drug.”

Something Different: Coats and Boots

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As winter draws near, it is said we turn to the familiar and simple for reassurance and comfort; our beaten-up overcoat, a standard pair of stout boots. These are the things we uncovered and de-mothballed in September as the leaves began to fall. We brush them off, steam them through and touch them with the affection of an old friend. We remember the nights which they shared; the harsh winds, snowfall, sneezing fits and icy tumbles and we thank them for it. But then, through the dimness, something glitters; distracted from these ‘old favourites’ we catch sight of something new, something unexpected.

This is the beginning of another new series. Unlike the Old Favourite series, which lauded the familiar and faithful ‘friends’ of the wardrobe, this one focuses on the unexpected, the different; it celebrates the possibility of trying something a little unusual, attempting a more recherché aesthetic.

There could not be anything more ordinary or familiar than an overcoat. While it is true that not all overcoats are alike, or equal, they are often the most mundane aspect of a gentleman’s winter dress; so much so that the dandies of winter feel the need to ‘spice’ them up with a velvet collar or patterned scarf.

I once http://www.mensflair.com/style-advice/aristocratic-overcoat.php wrote on the subject of the fur-collared overcoat, the aristocrat of coats, and was only able to suggest a handful of high-priced designer examples for readers to pursue. This was unfortunately due to the lack of cheaper, high-street chains or outfitters offering anything similar. No mistake in this, one might think, as such a gloriously grand coat is the product of a creator who has envisioned something romantically, with abandon: cost be damned. A mass-produced high street version would hardly be expected.

Indeed, finding any real fur on the high street is near impossible, not only for manufacturing-cost reasons but for public relations; no one wants a group placard-waving of animal-rights protestors clogging the entrance to their emporiums. Zara, ever the engine of exploration and design, have produced their own version with a material politely referred to as ‘fur-effect.’ With a double-breasted design reminiscent of those worn by Napoleonic soldiers’ on their Russian misadventure, this coat is a well-crafted piece of nostalgia; as well as its undoubted military heritage, it also reminded me of the elegant hunting outfits of the early twentieth century, an excellent example of which was worn by Rufus Sewell as the Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary in ‘The Illusionist.’

And there’s no need to stop at overcoats. As a reader of my blog once commented, “boots are one of winter’s rare pleasures.” The unfortunate thing about them is that you are rather limited to two colours. Black boots are as common as muck; brown boots are fairly popular, but when did you see a pair of burgundy Chelsea boots? A deep, berry-stain burgundy that warms the eyes as well as the toes.

I was browsing through ASOS’ vast collection of shoes when I noticed a pair of ASOS own brand ALIBI boots in a rich burgundy; ideal for wearing with mossy green cords for a delicious forest-floor contrast. While certainly not the standard of a shoemaker like Crockett & Jones, they represent excellent value.