The Cocktail Hour

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One of my acquaintances recently asked me for advice on what to wear to a luxury hotel’s cocktail bar for an evening of martinis and mushy conversation with his new girlfriend; “I am going to go home from work and change” he said “what should I change into?” My first suggestion would have been to save himself the hassle of returning home to change, were it not for the fact that he was discussing a Friday; a day which has become, in his firm, a strict ‘dress down’ day. My second suggestion was simply to dress as if he would for a day at the office and then, as the barman peels the proverbial into the glass, add a ‘twist.’

There is no doubt that a luxury hotel’s cocktail bar, particularly for a date with a pleasant and well-dressed young lady, requires a smartness of dress. I cannot count the number of times I have seen a radiant, elegantly attired lady sweep into a gilded, marbled £12-a-pop bar only to be followed by a cowering slob in a faded polo shirt and pale jeans, who having ignored his female companion’s lead in consideration of the occasion, glumly peruses the menu, complains about the prices and fiddles with his Blackberry.

This is about romance, elegance, twinkling lights and flashing smiles; whiffs of perfume, lipsticked glasses, high heels, cufflinks and gleaming ties. A suit is perfectly adequate for this environment and will serve as well as almost anything else but I like to wear something slightly different, something upbeat and individual; whenever I know I’m off to down a martini or two in smart company, I slip into an ensemble that I refer to as ‘The Cocktail Hour.’

If the sensible, sombre suit is the drink, the Cocktail Hour is the twist. I nearly always employ contrasting trousers as part of these ensembles to remove any lingering connotations with ‘the office’ – a vulgar term in the dreamlike atmosphere of a festooned and frilled cocktail bar – and usually add a riskier pocket square and tie, whilst keeping the shirt relatively conservative. One recent jaunt began with me dressing to Count Basie – providing dollops of inspiration – picking out a plain white shirt, navy tie with substantial white stripes, a mid-blue double breasted jacket, chestnut brown trousers and chocolate coloured Oxfords and, to finish, a multi-coloured silk square carelessly stuffed into the pocket.

The Fabric Lapel Flower

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One of the best things about a blog that appeals to an international audience is that it enables education and sharing of particular customs of a country. The emailed questions and commentary often begin with an observation of national differences; “It seems in England that you…” , “Here in Germany, we…”, and are followed by an analysis of cultural and sartorial distinctions between Blighty and whichever land the commentator hails from; effecting a diplomatic dialogue that is based on sharing and understanding of which the United Nations would be most proud.

One recent comment related to a tradition of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries in adorning lapels with paper poppies throughout October and early November. One of the posts made during this month featured a paper poppy and prompted a reader to ask where I had found what he had innocently considered was a ‘red boutonniere.’ The really interesting part of this story was not the question itself, nor was it my thorough but dull explanation of the tradition but what the reader provided in response: lapel flowers from J and HP Clothing.

Though I have always preferred real flowers for buttonholes, I had often considered artificial flowers for days when the vases in the house were empty, particularly as I had managed to get so much use out of a velveteen paper rose that came with a box of Godiva chocolates. I had noticed a fabric buttonhole in the lapels of one of Rose Callahan’s recent photography subjects on The Dandy Portraits and was struck by its remarkable resemblance to a real flower; only on very close inspection can you see the rough edges of the ‘petals’ are in fact frayed fabric.

J and HP Clothing buttonholes are not intended to be as realistic. Many designs are polka dot, striped or checked. Secondly, the finish of the ‘flower’ is thicker, the fabric is not translucent at the edges and only a man at more than 10 paces would be fooled into thinking a carnation had been snipped for the benefit of your lapel. However, this is part of their charm and appeal. I have encountered many men who adorn their lapel with a multitude of decorative pieces; badges, pins and corsages. These colourful fabric flowers are of similar appeal in that they add art without artifice. Made from cotton and secured to the lapel by, that’s right, a button, they offer an alternative or an addition to that other occupier of the suit jacket’s upper left quadrant, the pocket square.

Cream and Beige Tweed for City Gents

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A few weeks ago I commissioned another piece of tailored clothing. I opted for a double breasted mallard green Harris Tweed jacket. The cloth has a herringbone weave with classic small flecks of colour running through the weave.

Typically, when one thinks about tweed cloth one thinks in terms of brown, green and fawn grounds, regardless of any overlaying checks.

After all, those colours reflect the origins and heritage of the cloth not to mention the rural nature of the clothes it was used to fashion. Curiously enough the term tweed comes from a London cloth merchant misreading the word tweel, the Scottish word for twill.

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Proper tweed, anything over 18oz, is so tightly woven that it’s water resistant. As such the clothes fashioned from this hard wearing cloth were very much working items. The colourways of classic tweed were ideally suited to withstanding the rigors of a well lived life in the country: hunting, riding, stalking, shooting and fishing. And while the tweed clothes themselves varied in quality of manufacture so practical to the task was the cloth that it was enjoyed by both the country gent, gamekeeper and estate worker alike.

Of course since migrating to the town the practical necessity for tweed to be in earthy grounds no longer applies, and this is the interesting direction a friend of mine recently took. Much like the jackets pictured, he opted for a cream and very light beige ground overlaid with a pale blue window pain check.

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I wouldn’t risk such a colour scheme in the country but in town it really works. Not only is the cream a natural fit with denim, but the contrast of black asphalt and the concrete grey of the metropolis makes for a powerful contrast between the jacket and it’s urban background. Certainly a less conventional choice but ideally suited to the City.

Something to consider next time around I think.

“Combo” images credit: www.unabashedlyprep.com