Confidence and Dressing Well

When a man doesn’t know me very well but knows, perhaps a little too well, what I write about, he often seeks to bond with me by chorusing my views on the general decline of menswear. “Most people” they begin “haven’t got a clue how to dress anymore, have they? It’s all too-long trousers worn like jeans, isn’t it? Clip-on bow ties and rented morning dress…”

Much to their surprise, I do not rejoice in this sorry state of affairs. Being a man who, for the most part, wishes that he lived in a bygone age in order not to stand out for being so interested in outward appearance, I despair with a heavy heart. Aestheticism is now an underground world; a secret, smoky society of like-minded individuals who know the value of dressing well and have, for the most part, given up in recruiting new members to the club.

Who can blame them? Most of the well-dressed chaps I know receive more mockery than praise and it is hardly surprising that they would seek out those who offer sympathetic company and an easy ear. The world is a dark and decaying place full of branded sweatshirts and luminous trainers; the company of a fellow aesthete, in agreeable surroundings, offers escape and a chance to reinforce self-esteem. The key to stoic defiance in maintaining good attire is lashings of self-confidence.

Self-confidence in such matters is not easy to come by. Though many women assume men have been afforded an unsporting advantage when it comes to confidence, dressing with self-assuredness is an area in which women consistently outshine men.

I was recently introduced to the husband of a work colleague who recounted to me his lifelong worries of the wardrobe. One girlfriend had been so viciously critical of his attire that she had, quite without his knowledge, begun to pile all the items that she didn’t like into a bin bag which she was due to throw out. When he discovered her in the act, she merely repeated her claim that he wore terrible clothing and that he didn’t know what he was doing when it came to sartorial matters.

Had such an unfortunate event befallen me, quite another bag would have been duly stuffed and sent on its way. I would have defended my taste and style to the hilt. As it was, and indeed is with so many men, the confidence required for this defence cannot be summoned. Believing themselves to be outflanked, they simply comply, keep calm and carry on.

Style is personal, but it starts with research. This research builds into knowledge and with knowledge, a man can arm himself when entering the fray of what is, to women, a paradise but, to many men, a battlefield; the world of clothing retail. Knowledge, properly applied, builds confidence and confidence is the key to developing, with or without the assistance of others, a personal aesthetic that is unassailable. For even when they cry that you have it wrong, you are well equipped to issue the rebuttal.

The Dandy Farmer

Amazingly, I am not a born and bred city boy. I say amazingly, for there are very few things I love as much as the grand city of London. I was in fact reared in the pseudo-countryside of south west Dorset, a place of bucolic idyll interrupted by those great arteries of suburban county life: dual carriageways. Memories are a mixture of tree-tops and pylons, the scurrying of a deer with the just-discernable sound of distant traffic. That I should feel such affection, and attachment, to this giant metropolis is a little strange but even more strange is that I should reject so many opportunities to return to the old homestead for a walk in the woods or to light an autumn bonfire.

I have more than a little of the farmer in me. I rather like animals. I like country walks, the sound of swaying trees and an expansive view of the sunset across the fields. I like the moment before dusk when the lights go on in the house and the pink sky darkens, taking an ale by the fireside before settling in for a roast dinner. The problem is, what I never ever really liked – and still do not to some extent – is country attire. Necessarily practical, any decoration is wasted on the sheep and the chirruping birds. After depositing muddied boots by the door, the aesthete in me yearns for Piccadilly and the opportunity for fine cloths, pocket squares and leather shoes; things which, in the depths of a Dorset winter, seem a world away.

However, I think my low enthusiasm is unjustified. Yes, the country does present it’s problems, problems which would not occur on the pavements of London. There are no barbed fences in Westminster, no hedges, no passages blocked by fallen branches. But there is no need to feel that the countryside, the deeply practical, barrow-wheeling, tree-logging, sheep-tending countryside, has to be some spartan affair of ugly, ornament-free comfort clothing.

Starting at the feet, the Wellington boot is the saviour of countryside dandies. For though they have a cold, industrial, rubberised aesthetic – not the beautiful calf-leather of town – they enable a chap to don a pair of purple cords with an oatmeal waistcoat and not really worry whether his imperially toned trousers get splattered by a cow’s back end. The best thing is, Wellington boots have moved on significantly. Hunter might be a predictable choice but they offer some pretty unpredictable designs (and colours). In fact, their splendid Balmoral range is arguably the grandest selection of wellies ever seen.

A Barbour might not have the elegance of a houndstooth blazer, but it is a darn sight better than most of the waterproof jackets worn in London by rucksacked commuters. With a brown cord collar and brass buttons, it enables a man to cut a dash in his own field like nothing else. Add this to the waistcoat, cords and splendid Hunters and you have the makings of the dandy farmer. The final touch would be a paisley silk neck scarf, soft and luxurious, which would keep Farmer Brummell warm as he surveyed the landscape, looking forward to his fireside drink and hearty dinner.

Linkroll: Umbrellas, Shoemaker, White Ties…

• Mario Talarico: umbrellas, Naples. (

• Interview with shoemaker Matthias Vickermann of Vickermann und Stoya. (

• Presidential candidates’ scary white ties. (

• Alain Delon’s style.  (

• James Bond’s shirt. (

• Best ‘how to tie a bow tie’ video ever. (

• Bond’s suiting wasn’t up to scratch in Skyfall. (

• The death of the tie in business dress. (

• The joy of black tie. (

• Dandies dressing up for Formal Friday. (

• The japanese suit and modernity. (

Going Monk

“I never see you wearing your monk strap shoes from Nunes Correa anymore…” read a rather sad recent comment on one of my blog posts. I felt a pang.

It is true, I no longer wear my beautiful burgundy double-monks which I had purchased on a splendid holiday to Lisbon about four years ago. However, the reason for this is that I had finally acknowledged what I had really known all along, but attempted to ignore; they were simply too small for me.

When I tried them on in the shop, I just squeezed in and felt the stiff leather tight around the top of my foot. Rather foolishly, I calculated that they would be the perfect size once my heat-swollen feet were back in chilly Blighty.

Wearing them several times caused some of the most acute pain I have experienced and provoked me, on more than one occasion, to curse both my vanity and naive optimism. I started wearing them, Sartorialist-style, unbuckled, but the pain was still there and I looked rather like a naughty schoolboy who would steal sweets from the local newsagent. There was no choice; my prized bargain from the Portuguese summer sales had to go.

Since then, I have been looking everywhere for what is, probably, the most unique creation to be crafted on the cobbler’s bench. Not a loafer and not a lace-up, the monk strap sits somewhere between the two. Though often worn with more casual clothing, it looks splendid with worsted wool although, as with loafers, trouser breaks should be kept to a minimum.

The wrap-over strap-and-buckle gets it’s name from European monks who, requiring a simple and functional shoe, chose this design for being more protective than sandals but comparatively easy to remove. It is delightfully ironic that a shoe favoured by those who eschewed the pleasures of fashion is now the footwear of choice for a great many flamboyant dressers, particularly the fabulous Lino Ieluzzi.

I greatly prefer the double buckle as the buckles themselves are not only smaller but they wrap over a greater portion of the shoe than the single buckle. The splendid Nunes Correa no longer offer this design, and sadly, the double-strap design is no stranger to eyewatering prices.

One of the more beautiful options is the Langley by To Boot New York, available exclusively from Saks Fifth Avenue. With a heavily burnished toe and heel, they have the depth of an oil painting and at £260 are at the more-reasonable end of pricing. Also recommended are the Joseph Cheaney ‘Holyrood’ in Bronzed espresso, the Alfred Sargent ‘Ramsey’ and the Herring ‘Attlee’, although with these models any serious burnishing – a must with monks – will have to be self-applied.

Sartorial Love/Hate: The Windcheater and Blazer

Of all the unholy alliances in the sartorial world, the windcheater and blazer is one of the oddest. It is a fashion that utilises the functionality of modern technology (the windcheater), allowing the classic aesthetic (the blazer) to be worn without the need for a scarf or an overcoat. As such, the intention of its invention is noble. However, the result of it divides opinion; I, for one, am not in favour.

There is a sporty jauntiness to the combination, I’ll admit. Combined with a shirt, tie and hastily stuffed pocket square, it provides a chap with the look of le dandy sportif. The sort of thing he might wear to keep warm at the rugby match or on a late autumn walk. However, though the blazer conceals much of the windcheater, making the awkward marriage almost invisible, the slight amount that pops up between the blazer’s lapels is like an unsightly boil on a perfect face.

Classic design rarely matches well with modern sportswear. Like the jarring look of the trainer and the suit trouser, this pits items designed to be worn apart together. “Get over it” some say “the blazer is not sacred!” Promoters of it, far from ignoring the starkness of the combination, positively celebrate it. For them it removes the blazer from the stuffy world in which it is primarily used, re-engaging it with the dynamism of it’s original sporty design.

Detractors on the other hand, consider it sacrilege to combine the sartorially sublime with the ridiculous. The blazer has sensible partners they would say; the jumper, the waistcoat, the cardigan. The key is that all these partners are subordinate to the blazer. One would never wear two jumpers, two shirts or two blazers. Each layer represents a level of it’s own. The windcheater and the blazer exist on the same level, and therefore they should not be worn together.

The windcheater, despite hogging the ensemble, has the most to gain from the alliance. Without the blazer it is but a simple and lowly protector against the elements. The blazer, being grander, stoops in such a combination.

Despite such objections, the trend has moved on to the extent that some high street stores have offered blazers with zip-in windcheater linings, some of which are, bafflingly, only partly functional; mere strips that create the effect, but do not provide the warmth. “It’s not that bad” one acquaintance casually opined “if you turn the blazer’s collar up, it actually looks pretty cool.”