Investing Wisely II: Summer Staples

I often think that summer tailoring gets a poor deal, simply because our summers go in one of two ways. Either, they’re so uncomfortably hot that for many men, dressing in tailoring is not an enticing prospect, or alternatively the sun is conspicuous by its absence for so much of the season that the linen and summer weight wool sits wasting away in the wardrobe and seldom sees the light of day. The other problem of course is that for most relatively northern climates the summer can be an all too brief couple of months, making investing in good, but inevitably expensive summer pieces a low priority.

Nevertheless, this season in particular, I have found myself realising that the content of my summer wardrobe is woefully lacking in a few staple pieces that I know I would be wearing time and again if they were in my possession. I would hate for readers to suffer the same problematical fate, so I thought some recommendations for those staple pieces I am currently both missing and craving might be in order.

A small selection of perhaps three or four affordable pastel linen or lightweight cotton pieces – perhaps a casual linen and cotton blended suit or a blazer and a couple of pairs of trousers make for the ideal foundation for any summer capsule wardrobe, and really don’t have to break the bank. Pure cotton doesn’t always breath terribly well, but its nonetheless extremely versatile – being easy to wear in both spring and on moderate summer days – and if you can find lighter-weight cotton drill trousers they can feel surprisingly soft and airy.

Likewise, there is something undeniably chic and effortless about linen suits in soft pastel colours. Being brave and embracing some relatively unconventional pastel colours for summer casual and occasion wear is something I’ve written about at length before, but I’d highly recommend exploring soft blue, pink, gentle blue-grey or sandy tones to find easily interchangeable pieces (dusty pink and light blue really is a match made in heaven for summer) which speak of one’s confidence as a dresser and which will go anywhere and do anything.

I’ve also recently emphasised the benefits of trying to find some summer pieces cut in a blend of linen and cotton, which is always something to bear in mind – see my previous column here.

Summer jackets should be very lightly structured wherever possible and half-lined. Lightly structured tailoring will still hold its shape, but with a fraction of the density and weight of autumnal and winter garments. Likewise, do not be tempted to ever buy a summer suit destined to be worn in warm weather if it’s fully lined, try to find unlined trousers too. Not only does the lining itself add more weight than you might expect, but it also is more likely than not a synthetic viscose or polyester material which can actively prevent your jacket from breathing and stop air circulating through the garment to keep you cool.

Talking of allowing the garment to breath, for durable summer business dress or formal tailoring, there really is only one cloth to turn to; fresco. Fresco is a summer-weight pure wool (although dressier pieces may be blended with silk or mohair both of which are prized for their lightness and breathability) woven in a fine plainweave, which has an open structure, with miniscule gaps between yarns in the cloth – as can be seen when a fresco is held up to the light. This open structure is simply ideal for allowing the garment to breath, and the open nature of the weave produces a cloth which is less dense than most worsteds – the loss of body means that it has less weight and can be woven very finely to some eight or nine ounces in weight.

Wool also wicks more moisture than either linen or cotton and believe it or not, breathes around fifteen percent more efficiently than even the airiest linen fabrics. It’s the ultimate in comfort suiting, and although a lightweight wool will never be as durable as heavier worsteds worn in autumn and winter, it is by far your most durable option for summer tailoring – making it ideal to weather a few months of commuting and business meetings for a couple of months of the year.

I bought my first fresco jacket only a couple of months ago, and I’ve grown to really love it – it’s very elegant and it feels supremely light and breezy on. I’d highly recommend either formal jackets or business suiting in 8-9oz frescos for the summer months – it’s the best thing there is for hot weather.

The sole other piece that I do happen to have (but which is on its last legs) is the ubiquitous white summer two-piece. Mine is in a very fine 8-9oz linen from Moss Bros – its cheap and cheerful and I changed the buttons to cream horn from white plastic to give the illusion of its being an expensive suit (always worth doing with a high-street suit).

Often I find that linen suiting and trousers are one area of the man’s wardrobe which are really worth economising with, simply because even the most expensive linens can only be worn occasionally and inevitably don’t last more than a couple of summer seasons – so wearing a cheap and floaty plainweave linen and embracing its inevitable tendency to produce a creased, shabby-chic look is perhaps the best way to approach linen suiting. However, if you’ve already got your linen pieces sorted, white or pale-striped seersucker is perhaps the ideal alternative. The Bengal striped pattern that comprises seersucker produces a lovely duality of colour and texture in jackets and suiting and of course makes for a lightweight and breathable cloth – ideal for the transition from spring to summer. It also creases less than a pure linen.

White suiting is one of those things which is often considered a bit of a seventies cliché, but this is easily avoided through opting for a slim, modern cut and keeping lapels a contemporary shape – don’t have them too broad and never wear a black shirt with it. Keep shirting pale and soft under white to help keep the suit looking soft too.

If white isn’t to your taste, avoid a yellowy cream colour because it tends to look dated, and instead try to find a very pale whitish ivory – its a subtle distinction I know but I find it makes the difference between something which looks uninspired and something which has all the versatility and sophistication of a sharp white suit, but which is a little less obvious in colour.

A selection of the above will make for the ideal spring-to-summer capsule wardrobe, and will most likely be all you need for the vast majority of the late-spring and summer months, for those days when the temperature does actually rise.

I’d recommend one other piece however, splash out on a cream or white dinner jacket for dinner dress. I’ve never owned one, but having worn my winter dinner suit to a couple of functions recently, I’ve been seriously hot. I’d kill for a lovely raw silk or white linen dinner jacket. I admit that this piece won’t be an essential for most gentlemen, but it’s nice to treat yourself to something extravagant every now and then. Gieves & Hawkes have got a fabulous ivory raw silk dinner jacket this season and I’d kill for it.

Those are my core suggestions. As I wrote in the previous post, keep shirting simple and if you’re in the mood for expanding your shirting collection, hunt out some linen shirts or soft cotton Oxfords for the warmest days. Loafers, loafers and more loafers are the way to go with shoes; experiment with suede and tassels to mix it up a little.

Investing Wisely I: Constructing a Staple Wardrobe

Finally, after a lengthy break to deal with my Finals my regular column can get back to normal, and for my return to the realm of menswear I thought that it would be nice to address a reader’s question. I was asked recently on my own blog what my recommendations would be for the individual looking to either develop or reconstruct their wardrobe around a number of well-constructed, good quality classic tailored staples. Beneath are my recommendations for just those items.

A dark blue suit will go anywhere and do anything. Aim to find or commission a suit in a mid-weight cloth (I find that ten to eleven ounces works well – possibly twelve) which feels comfortable and reasonably light when worn. Possibly get it half-lined to help keep it airy when worn. This will maximise its use through autumn, winter and into spring and stop you overheating. Mid to light-weight suits are also a blessing on public transport in the warmer months when it starts to get a bit humid. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve optimistically suffered in full-bodied 14oz jackets on the Tube.

A subtle check or stripe may enhance the suit’s interest, but I’d recommend keeping any patterns minimal. If you’re looking to invest in just a couple of staple suits, rather than suits which serve specific functions don’t blow your budget on a garment which is too dressy, nor too business-like. In other words, use your discretion and stay away from turn-back cuffs, shawl collars, shiny cloths and statement chalk-stripes or windowpane checks.

I would recommend adding a waistcoat though if possible, and potentially trying to find something with peaked lapels. The waistcoat can add another dimension cheaply for formal occasions, and a peaked lapel is the perfect way to add some elegance to your business two-piece, without being inappropriately showy at the office.

With this staple in your wardrobe, many individuals would recommend a charcoal or plain grey flannel suit be your next addition. Whilst I quite agree with this, I would also like to make a case that once your blue suit is sorted, there is potential to choose either a grey suit, or indeed a chocolate suit. I have written at length before of the suitability of chocolate as a staple colour for men’s tailoring; its elegant, rich and makes for a very useful addition. As colours palettes go its slightly more distinctive than the usual charcoal, whilst also being completely conventional and versatile in its use.

I would likewise advise you compliment your suiting with the addition of a couple of pairs of good light and mid-grey flannel trousers, to use as tailored separates. Trousers are perhaps the most accessible way to really expand one’s tailored wardrobe and to add some real style to an outfit with a distinguished cut (see my series on getting trousers right from earlier this year).

Grey flannels will go beautifully with your navy suit jacket, should you choose to use it as a blazer, but they’ll also look great with mid-brown brogues or Oxfords (which I’d suggest be your staple shoe of choice – they will go with more than black believe me; any shade of grey, blue or brown is covered) and a lovely knitted jumper of polo neck for the weekends.

Once your wardrobe becomes a little more established, you can play about with different colours (cream flannels are another classic that can work really well with fun coloured knitwear), and a classic mid-weight Prince of Wales check trouser also looks great with either charcoals or navies – or even brown tones, as can be seen here.

Shirting wise, if you’re wearing good tailoring, or even a nice jumper and jeans on the weekends, good quality shirts are really not difficult to find and make a huge difference. Hawes & Curtis and Charles Tyrwhitt offer really excellent, elegant British shirts with a mixture of modern and classic patterns. I’d aim to invest in double-cuffs for business dress and formal wear, and four to five good classic shirts during the sales for the weekends. For both business and pleasure, classic British colours and stripes are timeless and elegant, and will help to create a capsule wardrobe.

Bengal and block stripes, poplins and herringbones should be the order of the day in sky blues, navy and white stripes, pale pinks, lilacs (possibly purple) and I’d also look for a couple of top-quality white shirts in plain poplins. A crisp white shirt looks a treat both with jeans or a full three piece and a plain poplin cloth is light and airy and just as wearable in the heat of summer as it is under a blazer or suit in mid-winter.

Essentially, the message with all of these things is to build up your collection of clothes gradually and give some thought to which staple options are going to make for wise investments and will go with the majority of things in your existing wardrobe. Most importantly of all, keep everything understated and classic until you can afford to splash out on some more eccentric statement pieces. Get the foundations of your wardrobe laid first; two timeless suits, some flannel separates, a good pair of brown shoes, some simple silk ties and some crisp white shirts.

As always, I would recommend following the mantra of really taking the time to shop thoroughly, cleverly and to just buy the best that you can afford when investing in staples. For many people it is simply not possible to spend large amounts on high-end or bespoke suits – but there are a lot of handsome reasonably priced pieces out there by brands like Hackett and Jaeger which can be great investments.

Try to challenge the typical male mentality of disliking shopping, because taking a day to hunt up and down your local high-street or shopping district and doing your research is the way to find those pieces which will serve you the most, for the best price. Being patient and striking on the first few days of the sale season often holds real rewards too, as does shopping in outlet stores. I found a number of Hackett and Gieves & Hawkes suits for around £400.00 in an outlet centre just the other day and £400.00 is about the cheapest you’ll find for a truly good suit nowadays.

Equally, if full-bespoke is not an option, made-to-measure services can be an excellent solution and some firms are offering very reasonably priced services at the moment. Take a look at Cad & the Dandy’s machine made offering, or Ede & Ravenscroft’s personal tailoring service for possibilities. Also see Mr. Chesterfield’s column for a number of recommendations for good made-to-measure options. Having interesting pleated or high-waisted trousers with turn-ups and interesting pocket designs made to measure can cost less than fully priced off the peg trousers, and can lift the quality of your wardrobe magnificently.

Next week, I’m going to continue with this theme, but turn my attention to creating a spring/summer capsule wardrobe on a budget, this is something that has been vexing me recently, so it should make for an interesting discussion.

British Style is Reasserting Itself

I don’t know about you, but I was simply glued to the presentations for London Collections: Men at the start of the year. As ever, they prove to be the height of sartorial inspiration for the fashionable chap and a true showcase for British fashion talent. Thinking back, this last LC:M just gone was, in my view, particularly fine. It was certainly one of the most exciting shows I’ve seen simply because British fashion seems to be developing a more united aesthetic. Even more excitingly, this reunification of British style across different menswear brands and sectors of the market, all seems to revolve around tailoring.

The reason that I find this development so encouraging is because this indicates a real kind of symbiosis on the part of British designers, and increased appreciation of what British tailoring really stands for. British retailers are coming to all develop and support the kind of aesthetic that one might expect to be truly ‘British’ in tailoring terms.

Permit me to explain. As I’m sure you’ll be aware, British tailoring has its own certain style – British suits, just like American, Parisian or Italian suits are made in a certain way, which conforms to the traditions of our unparalleled tailoring heritage. British suits are made with a very formal, sartorial shape. The jacket is cut long for an elegant line through the body and the trousers have a high rise. Lapels are imposing and broad when at their best, helping to add shape to the chest, which is often cut full and built-up using lots of structure for an impressive aesthetic. Jacket waists present a subtle hourglass silhouette, shoulders present strong lines, armholes are cut high for ease of movement and sleeve-heads are attached using an equally strong, defined ‘roped shoulder’ – whereby the sleeve-head is gathered and rolled into an angular ridge where it is attached to the body of the jacket, as can be seen from the photographs provided.

American suits by contrast feature more gentle lines and often a looser, less angular shape. Parisian and Italian suits are generally considered more relaxed and contemporary, made with the minimum of structure, lighter cloths, slimmer lines and (in the case of Italian tailoring) soft set-in-sleeve ‘Neapolitan’ shoulders. One can see then, why British tailoring presents a clear image on the world stage – British garments present a unique and quintessentially masculine style of structure and shape.

As LC:M made clear, these aesthetic traits are not only re-establishing themselves, but the latest generation of highly talented menswear designers (and tailors) are confidently delivering menswear collections with an attractively modernised, yet tailoring-heavy British aesthetic. In essence, British tailoring is being made more relevant and appropriate for the modern man; it’s starting to pose more of a challenge to the dressed-down, easy to throw on Italian blazer. We Brits are rolling out full-cut flannel double breasted blazers, powerful, highly structured and sculpted three piece suits and impressive overcoats fit to burst. These developments are both refreshing and reassuring and indicate a renewed interest in imposing formalwear, over relaxed and dressed down tailoring in the international menswear market.

Furthermore, the latest wave of British designs, seem to be on message not only in terms of style and structure, but in their use of colour too. Tailoring companies, at all ends of the spectrum, presented a palate of deep forest greens, navies, charcoals, chocolate and taupe tailored pieces at LC:M making strong use of textured and subtly patterned cloths, classic stiff British white shirts and restrained pops of colour in their accessories. The selection of photographs provided come from Chester Barrie, Gieves & Hawkes, the Savile Row Bespoke showcase, and Marks & Spencer’s latest ‘Best of British collection’. Luxury designer tailoring, high-street style and Savile Row’s bespoke services are all on show here, and all echo one another in terms of colour and texture.

Indeed, similarities in use of colour are so striking, that you might be forgiven for thinking that many of the great British tailoring companies had sat down in a room together and consciously made the decision to design around the same colour schemes, but no. Evidently, the rich, yet restrained use of colour running through so much of this season’s British tailoring, is a further indication that tailoring is once more benefitting from like-minded designers who have taken the time to understand and engage with classic British style.

British tailoring has always had elevated status in the men’s fashion world, but in the modern age where clothing and lifestyle is becoming ever more casual and relaxed – the very antithesis of formal wear and dressing to impress – it is highly reassuring to see the identity of British tailoring finding a more secure and popular place than ever in the luxury menswear market.

Ede & Ravenscroft’s Spot-on Spring Separates

It is eternally said that spring is by far the most difficult season to dress for; all at once damp, humid, warm, cold, breezy and showery. Not ideal conditions for maintaining a perfectly pressed and coiffured sartorial swagger round town. Likewise, the period of time where the spring weather is moderately bearable is often only a couple of intermittent months long – if that – so it must be said that many retailers and customers alike seldom invest the time or effort in their spring collections and wardrobes.

I have always maintained that this is a shame – for Spring is also an extremely exciting time for snappy dressers. The weather with all its challenges presents the opportunity to put a seasonal wardrobe together that is ready to meet all the elements that the weather has to throw at one. Colourful fine-gauge knits, lightweight and mid-weight spring suiting and blazers, soft cotton trousers, relaxed, debonair throw-on raincoats and lightly structured penny loafers can make their appearance for the first time in months. Its a time of year which lovers of sartorial fashion should embrace and give attention to, so its really rather lovely to find one of Britain’s most traditional menswear brands has attacked it head-on with plenty of gusto and more than a touch of contemporary panache.

Ede & Ravenscroft’s new collection for spring is lovely; versatile, grounded in suitably lightweight and crisp seasonal tailoring, yet with a really handsome compliment of smart-casual and casual options to choose from, all of which presents a lovely blend of traditional and modern dressing. The company is pushing softly tailored, dapper ensembles of separates this season, giving its traditional British tailoring a welcome update and a very serious appeal for the modern man about town. Quirky bow-ties, slim trousers, rolled up hems and deck shoes are all very welcome things to see underpinning the core range of tailored pieces.

Jackets don’t have too much weight or structure for the slowly warming temperatures, but nonetheless maintain a classic English structured and waisted silhouette. The jacketing cloths used all have a lovely drape, handle and plenty of body, without feeling heavy or too warm. This has been achieved through the use of some linen-wool-silk and lightweight worsted wool cloths of excellent quality. Pieces to look out for in particular are a pair of stunning pure lightweight Italian linen blazers in a vibrant tomato red and a cornflower blue, as well as a soft mid-brown wool and silk blended blazer with a handsome taupe windowpane check.

The collection (as you will have gathered from these photographs) draws on the ever-attractive traditional spring colour palette beautifully, without needing to borrow from the richness or darkness of colour expected of a winter wardrobe, nor without keeping back some fun bright colour tones to bring-out in mid-summer. Hues of cool blue, as well as RAF blues and navies form the backbone of the collection, supported by elephant greys and taupes, as well as soft-washed coloured chinos and pops of brighter tones in ties, handkerchiefs and other accessories.

This is a very versatile, clever and easy to wear collection, with bags of understated style and fun little quirks – its delightful by all accounts. It is a further delight to see Ede & Ravenscroft designing something that has such a broad appeal – there is something for every man who enjoys his clothes, whether it be an elegant British suit, the ubiquitous complement of modern tailored separates and a dicky-bow, or just top-quality jazzy socks. I highly recommend you take a look.

All images courtesy of Ede & Ravenscroft.

The Benefits of a Linen-Cotton Blend

I don’t know about you, but I find spring and summer the trickiest seasons to dress for affordably. I can never quite stomach spending the same amount of cash that I do on autumnal and winter tailoring, because in our climate, most mid-weight garments can be worn a solid eight to nine months of the year. The prospect of spending upwards of four hundred pounds (and often closer to six) on a summer-weight suit that will sit in the wardrobe for nine months of the year is simply not an attractive one. If I ever have the capital to invest in cloths which differ considerably in character and weight for both autumn-winter, spring and summer, I’ll do so, but until then sensible purchases and clever investments must be the way forward.

Nevertheless, its always frustrating when in late spring and summer we do enjoy bouts of warm weather and the wardrobe is devoid of summer suiting – not an ideal scenario. This is a problem much compounded by my love for linen. Although not everyone’s favourite (and certainly not an ideal fabric for regularly worn business suiting), there is something uniquely appealing about the prospect of a relaxed, crisp and featherweight pastel coloured linen two-piece for dapper summer days and evening parties. Of course, the very best quality linens do behave themselves and hold up to regular use quite well, but I just can’t afford expensive linens. Nor can I afford summer suits in equally expensive tropical and summer weight wools and wool-mohair blends – a situation which I’m sure many readers will sympathise with.

Thus, I’m left with only one solution, either face the mania and inevitable rush of hope and subsequent disappointment of trawling the summer sale rails, or to look for suits made in more affordable cotton-linen blends, this being something I’d recommend you to do unreservedly. Besides affordability, there are a number of reasons why I recommend investing in tailored pieces cut in such a fabric. It is, without a doubt the high-street’s answer to expensive bespoke quality cloths and having owned three cotton-linen blend suits, I really do think its offers a great alternative to more expensive materials.

Its not rocket-science – in blended the different fibres, you get the benefit of both in one cloth. Both fibres are highly breathable, absorb a decent amount of moisture and are often fairly open in weave, to allow air to circulate through the garment and keep the wearer cool. Crucially however, the cotton yarns also add a suitable amount of body and crease-resistant properties which keeps the propensity of linen to crease in check. The cloth will never be as smooth or pristine as a pure summer-weight wool, but it behaves a hundred times better than a pure linen, its more durable, useable and responds so much better to pressing or even machine washing in the case of off-the-peg trousers. I wore a cotton-linen blended suit several times a week during the summer terms during Sixth-Form and I still wear that suit today – it comes up as crisp as ever after a light press, and the trousers have been through the washing machine hundreds of times and are no worse off for it.

True, cotton-linen is less luxurious than silk, or even wool-linen blends, but it is a more affordable and undoubtedly more practical decision. Cotton is considerably tougher than silk and both resists and recovers from creases more effectively. In the same vein, when blended with linen, often wool fibres have to be quite dense and thick for the blend to work, which can (particularly when we’re talking about high-street rather than bespoke cloths) result in a rather heavy or dense cloth which loses the qualities of lightness and breathability required of summer tailoring. Cotton linen therefore bests both alternatives in my opinion.

If you look for cotton-linen blends, you’ll find them in most decent high-street retailers. I’d recommend Austin Reed personally, who’s spring-summer collection I often think is rather good; they use lots of good quality Italian woven fabrics when designing pieces for the warmer months, and at sale price they offer excellent value. Jaeger often do the same, and Chester Barrie I believe have some blended cloth jackets which look rather handsome. So, there you have it really – I hope this encourages those of you looking for affordable summer suiting to spend some time browsing – and I hope that you find, as I have, that cotton-linen is a real contender for a cool summer cloth.