Sartorial Love/Hate: Floral Swim Shorts

Men can’t often wear floral patterns and get away with it. An occasion and a place is often needed; ‘holiday’ and ‘Honolulu’ help enormously. One of the best opportunities is when lolling by the pool or tanning on the beach. The informality of such a situation means that ‘flowers’ are scarcely noticed. This is perhaps why so many men, who probably wouldn’t be seen dead in a bright pink shirt or a floral tie, wear Vilebrequin and Vilebrequin-esque swimwear. The sun-drenched beach or pool terrace provide the perfect backdrop for this touch of the exotic; the ‘basement’ for their ‘fantasies.’

There may, however, be a reason for such sartorial subterfuge. Whilst perusing the discounted racks at Zara, I overheard two young men swiping through a rack of shorts, providing a commentary of ridicule and condemnation for each discovery, as though there was a ‘reason’ why this stuff was left over. My ears pricked when I heard them talking about swimwear and, swivelling around, I saw them looking in the mirror, convulsed in hysterics, at a pair of ‘floral’ swimshorts that one of them had placed in the appropriate bodily region – the sort of thing that would be north of £100 in Vilebrequin’s boutiques.

I heard them move on and picked up the object of their ridicule, which were also available in my size, and attempted to fathom what the reason for their mirth was. They weren’t poorly made, and the floral pattern was attractively coloured, subtle and entirely de rigueur. It must be that these shorts appeared, to them, to be ridiculous whereas to me, the happy new owner, they seemed the essence of holiday-chic. Watching the young men leave the store, swiping remarks at the stock which was offered for sale, it was impossible to say what they would have considered a more attractive alternative, as I doubt they were the sort to decry sunbathing or swimming.

Could Bermuda shorts still be the default choice of youth? Were they only prepared to admire design from a brand they loved? Did one of them secretly like them but play along to avoid negative social consequences?

After conversing with several others, I fear the issue is one of maturity – and bravery. The idea of lying on a beach with a lemon yellow linen shirt, blue espadrilles and some floral swimwear seems perfectly natural to me; for some of my acquaintances, the flowers are a step too far. “Stripes and checks” one said “but no flowers. I’d look ridiculous in them.” Another remarked that they are “for old men” and that any young man looks “desperate” in them. Others also puzzled what women would think of a man in a design that looks more at home on their house-dress than the crotch of their boyfriend. “If they were underwear” one ruminated “I could do it. But I’m not jumping into a pool with a lily on my arse.”

The Beauty of Vintage

I attended a 1920s “Gatsby theme” party recently, thrown to celebrate a dear friend’s 30th birthday party. The scene was perfect; an oak panelled salon upstairs at Kettner’s in Soho, where the lights twinkled dimly through the hand-blown glass and the neo-gothic corniced ceiling recalled the extravagant drawing rooms of the Long Island mansions of the Gilded Age. The dress code, of course, was ‘Gatsby’, and I had decided to wear white tie (or for purists, ‘formal evening dress’). My ensemble consisted of a vintage tailcoat from the early 1920s, a pair of new barathea wool trousers, a white cotton waistcoat, stiff-fronted evening shirt (with amber studs), butterfly wing collar, black silk socks and patent pumps.

“That looks uncomfortable!” a jovial American (for my friend is a Bostonian) remarked, eyeing my high collar. “Not at all” I replied, quite truthfully. “Did you get that made up?” he continued, scanning my outfit up and down. “No, it’s a combination of vintage and ready-to-wear.” This language had him flummoxed. Considering the growing din and the encroaching awkwardness, I decided to lean in and simplify; “The tailcoat is a very old one, I bought it second-hand.” He looked perplexed by this statement, but then collected his thoughts and transmitted his understanding through a toothy smile. “So it’s not new?”

I decided two things that evening. One, to have a 30th birthday party of my own next February to commemorate the end of my own ‘roaring twenties’ and secondly that my vintage tailcoat, though not made for me and almost 100 years old, is probably the finest thing I own. Not only is it extraordinarily comfortable, it has an elegance that the years have not destroyed. I had slipped it on for the first time in a year, allowing its gorgeous weight to bear upon me and feel the novella-thick lapels between my fingers as I attached a pink carnation. I suddenly envisioned the original owner, standing in front of a mirror, tiredly attending to his own costume as a vinyl played through a gramophone.

“No” I responded “It’s not new, but it feels new. Especially on nights like this.” No tailor, however in sync with my tastes and my desires, could match this except by facsimile, and such a prospect fills me with coldness. It was shocking to some that I should wear something that others have worn before. However, it was more shocking to me that something so magnificent could be so readily available, and be so readily ignored. The artisan who had made my tailcoat is long dead. Artists, as we all know, are always more valued, and missed, after they are gone.

Linkroll: Prince Charles, Stylish Men, A Tailor’s Tale…

• Here’s a proof that HRH the Prince of Wales would be great menswear blogger. (gq-magazine.co.uk)

• GQ’s Most Stylish Men Of The Week series is usually lame (sorry GQ!) but not this week . (gq-magazine.co.uk)

• A tailor’s tale about an eccentric client. (drakes-london.tumblr.com)

• Summer sale at Leffot. (leffot.com)

• A Short History of the 6×2 DB and the men who wore them. (uptowndandy.blogspot.com)

• Loro Piana does the best “citified casual” look: making casual clothing outfits smart and dressy. (dieworkwear.com)

• Members of Congress are not fans of “made in China” Ralph Lauren clothing, but not because of quality issues. (washingtonpost.com)

• Shoe porn so good you’ll have to touch yourself. (thetrad.blogspot.com)

• Lining of jackets is certainly one of the timeliest topics to discuss in the heat of summer. (dresslikeagrownup.blogspot.com)

• Impressive summer jacket by Neapolitan tailor Elia Caliendo. (permanentstyle.co.uk)

• The first fitting on a pair of bespoke slip-ons by Gaziano & Girling. (therakeonline.com)

• Is it too early for the 1990s revival: Paisley ties? (anaffordablewardrobe.blogspot.com)

• Dandies of DC enjoying summer in their vintage ensembles. (dandyportraits.blogspot.com)

Sartorial Stereotypes: Summer Shoes

The Unbranded Espadrille Man

The Unbranded Espadrille Man hates hotels. He has no interest in swanning around a pool or spa, looking at or being looked at by other hotel guests. Instead, he rents gîtes – “Much less pretentious than a villa” – reads about local history and potters about munching marmalade on toast.

A moderately successful writer – who secretly dislikes the ostentatious biographies he pens – he considers his style to be one of pure utility. Unlike the trendy boys-about-Soho who trot about in Day Glo espadrilles, he only wears navy and stone and complains that the adoption of the style by the “TopMan generation” has neglected the humble history of “what is essentially, a peasant’s shoe.”

Though he claims to despise brands, showing-off and “ridiculous” displays of wealth, he sits by the pool in Orlebar Brown before buying the most expensive Bordeaux he can find for a local community barbecue, where he talks airily to an alluring brunette about taking a boat out the next day, “for the hell of it.”

The Tod’s Driving Shoe Man

The Tod’s Driving Shoe Man never holidays in the same place. “Why bother?” he says to his wife “if we can afford to go anywhere we like?” He started his Tod’s collection in Capri, where he noted everyone at the Quisisana Hotel wearing a pair with some easy fitting linen chinos; since then, he has credited himself for taking Italian style to other parts of the world.

He engages with Tod’s attractive store staff needlessly and with overbearing familiarity, touching the ladies’ hair with his sovereign-ringed, cigar-scented fingers; “I must be your best customer” he grins.

He is a sartorial magpie, at first engaging in ludicrous mockery of anything different and then declaring his ‘discovery’ some time later. His iPad purchase was a classic example of this; once it was “pointless” now it’s “the best thing a man can own.”

He spends a great deal of his holiday time on the phone to his office, kicking about in the sand at some $1000 a night hotel where his wife spends the whole afternoon with a masseuse, removing the “stresses of her life.”

The Jil Sander Sandals Man

The Jil Sander Sandals Man calls himself a backpacker; but it is a claim that wears thin for his bright-eyed twenty-something female travelling companions, each time he turns left after the jet bridge.

Long-haired and trampish, he cuts an anachronistic figure in First Class, although his confident air and Breitling Emergency provide the required reassurances. Skilled in manipulation – and still yet to outgrow his quasi-rebellious hypocritical existence – he plies the girls with poetry, environmentalist ire, guitars and open fires, talking of his “pain” and their “beauty.” He fails to mention his Harvard education, and his father’s private equity firm – for these would be admittances that would inspire doubt in even the most dedicated disciple – and particularly ignores what he refers to as his “material crap.”

It was on a humid night in Borneo, under the stars, that Daniela discovered his discarded Jil Sander sandals outside the tent in which he was ‘wooing’ Alejandra. And it would not be until East Timor, when Alejandra was excluded from the evening’s merrymaking, that his Goyard washbag and Vuitton wallet, packed with priority memberships and private bank cards, would expose him fully.

The Stemar Ascoli Man

The Stemar Ascoli Man is a quiet, somewhat contradictory individual; a family man who stands alone on the shore; a wealthy ex-accountant with a flair for style. He once claimed he never wanted to retire, and as he approaches the end of his fourth retirement year – spent aboard Silversea Cruises and Caribbean beaches where he browned like a nut – he contemplates the uncomfortable truth that he might well have been right.

A smart, well-dressed septuagenarian with slicked silver-hair, high-rise tailored cream linen trousers from Brioni – which he always wears with a woven leather belt – and fully-fitted shirts, he is a Saga poster boy. Wearing his Persol sunglasses to dinner, he looks vaguely Mafioso – helped by his Stemar Ascolis – and it is in public that his quietness commands the most respect.

He talks with his son about setting up a business using “spare cash”, but is rebuffed by his heir who tells him to enjoy his “earned retirement.” He shuffles about Dubrovnik and Corfu behind his ebullient wife and her newly-made cruising friends, ignoring her pleas to “mingle with the men” who have disappeared into a tavern. Instead, he wanders into millineries and antique shops, asking the local businesspeople about current trade and cashflows.

The Undemanding Fashion of Hair

One of the least acknowledged realities of the age we live in is that fashion is undemanding. It used to be that people were laughed off the social scene for wearing a jacket, waistcoat or accessory that was even slightly ‘out of date.’ The intense snobbery of fashion demanded compliance; many strived, and few were able, to keep up. Now, ‘personal style’ is king. Fashion has a subtle, overarching influence but its diktat grows ever weaker. In no way is this more evident than in hair styling.

The last time I considered it necessary to head to the hairdresser to chop my locks into something resembling a trend, I was still at school. In truth, school days are some of the most severe in craze-following; the insecurity of youth demands leaders. However, the days when boys all wanted the same haircut are gone – and when one leaves the classroom, one discovers that there is little requirement for men to change their crowning glory to the whims of fashion.

It was surprising to me that in Sweden, my girlfriend’s home country, men are far more reliant on trend when it comes to a visit to the barber. A half-Swedish friend of mine recently told me “I was in Stockholm recently and every guy had this same haircut; really short at the back and sides and long on top.” Not everyone, surely. “It seemed like it!” he responded. This particular cut, seen on Michael Pitt in Boardwalk Empire, has been adopted by many, most notably David Beckham.

It is difficult to imagine, but this is what used to be the standard everywhere; men with the same haircut. In today’s culture, a man is no less respected or desired because he wears his hair centre parted rather than side parted, weighed down by wax or coiffed with curls. A different style might draw interest, but rarely ridicule. There is no anxiety to do ‘the done thing.’ Senior directors of leading companies can have rock star locks like Nick Buckles or closely cropped like Willie Walsh; either way, they have no less credibility in the boardroom.

I have been speculating recently on what I would look like with the latest hairstyle to hit Sweden. “Like a Nazi” some have offered, uncharitably. It is curious how we are still drawn to followings, though individuality is more highly valued and ‘personal style’ celebrated by all from Prince Charles to Tom Ford. Personally, I quite like the idea of trying out a new hair style, but it is an immense relief that I don’t feel pressured to do so.