The Cocktail Hour


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


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


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.


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.


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:

A Formal Question (or Two)

black bow tie - pocket square

They don’t call it the party season for nothing. As soon as November is all but over, we turn our minds to the blinding glitter and deafening din of December; the month to end all months, the ‘holiday season’, the office parties, the annual balls and the benefits. As a warrior turns to his armour, the December party goer turns to their wardrobe.

And sometimes, they turn to others.

I have already received two anxious enquiries from readers regarding evening wear that need to be dealt with.

“I have a black tie ball coming up but I have recently bought a vintage tailcoat – like yours – and was wondering whether I could wear it with a black or white bow tie instead of a shorter jacket? What do you think?”

The purist’s answer to this is, of course, “absolutely not.” Invitation dress codes should be adhered to and many purists would claim that a white tailcoat worn to such an occasion is as incorrect as a hoody and sweatpants. However, I am not much of a purist. I would probably wear black tie if it was stipulated on the invitation, but if it simply asked for ‘Evening Dress’, I might dust off the vintage tails, purely because they don’t get much of a run out.

The second part of the question is also one of taste; the purist would suggest that a black bow tie worn with tails is out of the question. However, the chances of being mistaken for a waiter in an age when most staff carrying drinks wear plain black shirts are slim. The conundrum is this; should our hero shun the code and wear full formal evening dress (white bow tie, tails), should he strut around in tails whilst wearing a black bow tie, in a nod to the dress code or should he, as the purists demand, discard the tails and white bow tie and dress with a short jacket and black bow tie? As the middle option is half-hearted, I would champion the first.

“I need a favour. I am going to a black tie party but I was wondering what your views on pocket squares are?

I normally wear one with suits but I tried a white linen one with my dinner jacket and it looked way too stark against the black. Should I wear a black one? Or a colour (red)? Or can I not wear one at all?”

This is definitely a question of taste. Most men who wear pocket squares everyday would probably wear one with black tie to avoid that awkward feeling of ‘nakedness’, but I can understand this point of view; with an immaculate black tie ensemble, a white pocket square can look rather incongruous and a little untidy. A black square adds texture and is certainly more subtle, but it will be difficult to notice in low light. A red or burgundy puff is an excellent idea, not least because it adds a degree of colour to the outfit. Some say the last option, not adding a pocket square at all, is actually the ‘correct’ option, proven by the fact that some vintage formal eveningwear does not feature the breast pocket.

My loose rule with formal wear is if I wear a buttonhole, I won’t wear a square – and vice versa; otherwise, I feel my jacket is too busy. With white tie it tends to be a buttonhole, with black tie it tends to be a square. I would say that if I thought of wearing a buttonhole with black tie, I would leave the breast pocket empty.

The question is dear readers, what do you think?

Versace Loves H&M


There was something rather sad about the way Donatella Versace introduced the latest designer collaboration with the high street giant H&M. Normally, these collaborations are mutually beneficial affairs; the Giant sprinkles a little designer magic on their wares and rubs their hands gleefully as the queues form around the block; the Designer stands by their side counting the cash from the brief marriage, monitoring the crowds of fashionistas paying homage to their spring-up temples.

This time, there was something peculiar about the Designer’s place at the party. Though, again, this collaboration appears to be an unmitigated financial success, the hints of desperation in Donatella Versace’s words, and the state of Versace itself, have dulled the effect of the magic. On a grey and gloomy day, the daughter of Gianni Versace stumbled into the London flagship of the world’s second mightiest clothing retailer and muttered lines about the “new generation” of people opening up to Versace, selling to “different markets” and, bizarrely, posing for pictures with patient shoppers and informal eBay retailers.

The men’s collection is typically extravagant and gloriously tasteless; you shouldn’t expect any less from Versace. Pink suits, Greek key, sunbursts, leopard print; it was Gianni Versace’s greatest hits. Though Versace may be satisfied that legions of men turned out for the London opening, they should be wary; this was not a sign of mass appeal. As well as the thousands who were sent to collect or help girlfriends and wives with the 10 minute hauls, many were eBay merchants looking to spin a profit on that most cherished condition of retail; ‘Sold Out.’ There were certainly likely to be male fans true to the aesthetic and experimental label enthusiasts willing to give it a go, but these were few and far between.

Versace is looking ever more like the loud drunk at the party who refuses to go home. It hasn’t changed its stripes – literally – and even Donatella herself made wistful references to the glory of the 1990s, when excess and Versace were riding a high wave. Re-introducing the masses to the sort of clobber that looks like the aesthetic visualisation of the fall of the Roman Empire is apposite and yet extremely ill-timed. It is true that a lot of people like to have their “little bit of designer”, something H&M uses to maximum effect. In fact, many people buy things they don’t even like, particularly when they only have 10 minutes to make up their mind. However, the only long term beneficiary can be the Giant, and not because associations with a cheap, high street brand affect the Designer’s standing in the rarefied world of high fashion, but because the frenzied joy on purchasing ‘designer’ wares is short lived, soon forgotten and often regretted.

The Daily Mail’s headline, “Donatella Versace greets desperate shoppers” was wrong. It was the other way around.