Don’t Polish With Too Much Water

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Polishing leather shoes up to a brilliant shine is an extremely enjoyable pastime.

Nathan Brown over at Lodger always says that one of the problems with being an entrepreneur is that he never gets the time to sit down and polish his shoes any more. George Glasgow at Cleverley has complained to me of the same thing. Lodger’s store manager Clement has the opposite problem: he spends all his time polishing shoes but never his own, just the ones on Lodger’s shelves.

Personally I like to spend a good half an hour over a pair while the wife is watching something atrocious on the telly. It is meditative, engaging and rewarding.

I think it’s rewarding for two reasons. First, with no other piece of clothing does maintenance actually improve the item. It just puts brakes on a natural decline. Brushing your suit only returns it to the state it was that morning. The same with ironing a shirt or repairing a button. The best you can do is get back to zero.

Polishing your shoes is more akin to wearing a canvassed suit and feeling it mould to your body, or indeed wearing in the upper of a shoe. Except that, with polishing, greater effort is rewarded with greater results. Not only is it a positive activity, it is one you can control.

The second reason is the wonderful aesthetic experience. After you’ve applied the first layer of polish, and then returned with more polish and a touch of water, you can see each circle of your finger produce a swirl of brightness, getting more intense and reflective with each repetition. It is as if your fingers are coaxing out pure light.

But don’t apply too much water. Just a dab of it the first time and only occasional top-ups later on. The cloth remains damp for a while, and too much water can soak into the leather and make it hard to carry on polishing. This is particularly true on thinner or more flexible sections, such as the bridge and instep. The toe and heel, being more rigid and reinforced by internal pieces of leather, can take a lot more.

For each layer on the toe and heel (don’t do more than one layer elsewhere), carry on working in the polish until the surface is super-smooth, like glass. Until your little swirls make no perceptible difference to the surface. Then take a tiny bit more polish, and repeat. Don’t stop until you can tell the time on your watch in it.

‘Relocation relocation’ is on TV. I’m off to fetch my Cleverleys.

Three More Tips On Ties

This post refers to ‘three more tips’ because way back in April 2008 I wrote a post called Two Tips on Ties. I think the alliteration rather pleased me at the time.

That was a discussion about the best way to get a nice dimple in a tie knot. And it does work: you just have to create a memory of the fold in the tie’s lining (assuming it is lined).

This post is about getting your tie to stand upright in the collar, arching out from the neck to create a flattering curve. The three tips are: keep it at the top of the collar band, tighten it horizontally and make sure it remains central.

None of these will keep your tie at its proud, priapic best all day long. No matter how well tied, or how great the quality, no silk necktie will stay in its ideal position permanently. It will need occasional adjustment. But the alternative is a tie bar or pin, which rather stifles the silk in my opinion. Rather, let it hang and adjust when needed.

nixon-tie

The first tip: make sure that the neck of your tie is at the top of the collar band of your shirt. While most ties won’t be much narrower than the shirt collar, making sure it is right at the top will make a surprising difference to the curve of the tie. Once the knot is tied, you can check this by tucking one finger in each side of the collar and pushing the tie up. This is most important on high collars, and is easiest with spread collars.

Second tip: when you tighten the tie, do it horizontally, parallel to the ground. Lift up the rear blade and push the knot flat into the collar. The initial angle will subside after a while, but it still makes a perceptible difference.

Third tip: make sure the top of the knot is central in the collar gap. Because a four-in-hand knot (assuming that’s what you’re using – you should) is always skewed to one side, the bottom of the knot will not be central if the top is. The tie will come out of the knot slightly to one side. Some men, not realising this, keep the tie central and the top of knot slightly under one side of the collar. As it is therefore slightly constricted, the knot will often pull slightly away from the collar or not curve as it could.

Three tips on ties.

Reminiscing With Toby Luper, Hemingway Tailors

As an Englishman interested in classic style, it strikes as a particular shame that the industrial manufacture of clothes has suffered so much in this country. Leeds used to be world famous for its suit production, for example, a natural home for the industry being so close to the mills of Huddersfield. And while England still has some of the finest tailors in the world and punches well above its weight in fashion design, domestic manufacturing is a woeful hole.

It was fascinating, therefore, to meet Toby Luper this week. Now a visiting tailor, Toby’s family used to run the biggest suit factory in the country: Black and Luper of Kirkstall Road, Leeds. Back in the 1950s the factory, run by Norman Black and Stanley Luper (Toby’s father), employed hundreds of workers and made thousands of suits for Burtons and Burberry, amongst others. Largely made-to-measure garments, the workers spent their days tending the machines – though there were always tailors on site to correct any mistakes made in the process.

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It was the loss of the Burberry raincoat contract in 1991 that triggered the factory’s demise. Having begun his career selling his father’s excess suits from a warehouse in Leeds, and later joining the company proper, Toby tried to rebuild the family business under the name Executex. When that didn’t work out, he turned to personal tailoring.

And while much of Leeds’ business elite now wears Toby’s suits, more than half of his business is now in London. Coming down once a week, or whenever clients request it, Toby visits bankers in their office or uses the Holland & Sherry fitting rooms on Savile Row.

Bespoke starts at £1,850 and made-to-measure £550. The former requires a paper pattern, cutting and sewing by hand in Leeds. Toby brings all his suits to London for fittings (though preferring just the one, forward fitting). The latter is fitted here but made by a company in the Czech Republic, one that Toby’s family has worked with for more than 20 years.

Toby is not only enthusiastic but fastidious about his work. Our half-hour conversation included a debate on pre-made shoulder pads, the merits of a basted fitting and how many men would notice the difference (at first blush) between made-to-measure and bespoke. Sadly from my perspective, but perhaps fortunately for them, the answer is not very many.

There was time for a little reminiscing about the days when England was a clothing powerhouse, though. Like the work ethic his father instilled in him. The first day Toby joined, his father made him sweep the warehouse, so that he always had a riposte if an employee refused to do it. Sounds fun.

Two Questions About Wedding Attire

It must be the season for planning weddings. Not only did one of my best friends get engaged (congratulations Henry) I had two questions this week about what to wear as a groom.

KL: Mr Crompton, I’m an avid reader of your blog and I’ve loved your posts on what to wear to a wedding. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts though if you were the groom at an informal wedding. I’ve been thinking of a couple of possibilities like a grey 1b peak w/ db vest, navy db, navy 2b peak sb, navy/grey Hunstman-style 1b suits. I have a houndstooth Macclesfield or a champagne tie that I love and may wear for personal significance.

Peter: Dear Simon, I am a long time reader of Permanent Style. Happily, I am getting married this summer – in the middle of August. There is pressure from the bride for this to be a formal wedding, but her definition of formal doesn’t extend much beyond a dinner jacket and black bowtie. I am not certain that that is entirely appropriate for a church wedding and would like to wear something a little more personal. My initial thoughts are: Black, SB, notched, black silk lapel, possibly with an heirloom silver button (instead of a silk-covered button). Black trousers with silk along the seam. Waistcoat in a dark, dark green (Favourbrook has some nice ones). White shirt, black tie (not bowtie), white pocket square.

Now my opinion on wedding attire can be summarised in the following, hopefully logical, points.

First, propriety is king. So if there is an obvious dress code, either stated or implicit, stay within it. Do not upstage anyone, especially the groom. Be smart enough, even a little smarter than the rest of the guests, but do not stand out like a sore thumb. This is not your day. And if the dress code is black tie, much as I hate that American tendency at daytime weddings, wear it.

Second, if there is no obvious dress code other than being smart, feel free to take it down a notch sartorially. I know that, as a formal day event, you should be wearing morning dress, and if not that then the smartest lounge suit you own: navy single-breasted, crisp white shirt, black oxfords, probably a grey or silver tie.

But that’s too near business dress to be any fun these days. Men never get a chance to wear casual suits, linens, cotton and silk, let alone bright colours. So go wild and enjoy it when you can. Otherwise no one would wear checks or spectators.

db-strollerMy general opinions stated, let’s turn to the questions. Both KL and Peter are keen to go down the formal route without wearing black tie or tails. Good for them. KL has the right idea on dressing up the lounge suit, going for peak lapels and a double-breasted waistcoat. These are both great ideas, particularly if you will rarely wear them on any other occasion. Either navy or mid-grey, with either tie.

Peter is seeking more to put a personal spin on black tie. This can be done in a number of ways, including a shawl collar, double-breasted, even a velvet jacket. But if you’re going to do black tie, Peter, eschew coloured waistcoats. The jacket should have peak lapels and you need something to cover your waistband – cummerbund, waistcoat or double-breasted.

Or how about another suggestion Peter? An old-style stroller – black, SB or DB, peaked lapel jacket in serge or cashmere. Pale grey trousers, white shirt, white handkerchief, Macclesfield tie, black shoes. Keep it monotone. It’ll looker smarter than what everyone else is wearing, but individual too.

Buy Handmade When It’s Worth It

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The fascination with things being made by hand is odd. If I sew a button on by hand, chances are it will be done worse and not last as long as the best machine doing it. This is firstly because I am not very good at sewing on buttons; but secondly and more importantly, it is because a machine will sew more stitches to the inch, so it will be stronger.

Purchasers of fine clothes should ask themselves, when presented with something made by hand, whether that is necessarily an advantage. Seams that come under a lot of strain usually need to be strong above all else. The advantages of handmade construction are flexibility, movement and life; it adds stretch to the shoulder seam of a jacket and personality to the padding of its chest. But it is not always and necessarily better.

Equally, ask yourself whether the marginal difference made by hand construction is worth the money. I know that my tailor, for example, uses pre-made shoulder pads. Some of the Savile Row tailors make their own, by hand. Personally it’s something I am quite willing to save on. But I want to pay to have the chest made by hand.

I have also never understood people that want something to be flawed to prove that it is handmade – fluctuation in the hand-stitched lapel or a slight skew in the welt. To them imperfection is honesty. To me it is a fault. I want my individuality in the fit, the design and the wear. I don’t want to see evidence of the craft; I just want to benefit from it.

It’s true that no two items made by hand will ever be identical. As a bespoke shoemaker told me once “if I ever punched two medallions exactly the same I wouldn’t be a craftsman, I’d be a robot.” But, contrary to him, I don’t see a virtue in the slight looseness of one seam on a shoe’s counter. It bugs me and I want it changed.

The fact that he has lasted the shoe by hand is not something that can be seen. Its virtue is that he was able to adapt the natural leather and its personality when stretching it over the last. The attention to detail means it will wear better. That’s the kind of hand construction I want.

Buy handmade intelligently.