Stripes And Dots, Checks And Spots


To follow my fellow columnists, Mr. Williams and Mr. Chesterfield, I thought I would write on wearing patterns this week. Going into work on the tube, I have seen some men lately wearing some truly hideous shirt and tie combinations. A yellowy-beige shirt with a tie featuring a large graphic of a puffer-fish will flatter no man, and rather than making him look like a fun sort of guy just makes him look like the butt of his own joke. For me, whilst I love solids and textures, nothing beats a well conceived matching of patterns for slightly more adventurous dressing. White, pink, or blue shirts with a navy tie and a dark suit are great standards, but sometimes leave me feeling flat when I look in the mirror.

The key, as many great gentleman before me have stated, is mixing scale and color. If either of these gets too close, you begin to verge on the category of poorly-matched, rather than distinctly complementary. One of the best combinations to my eye is a solid, dark jacket (suit or sports coat) with a butcher striped shirt and small dotted tie. The long stripes under the solid jacket elongate the torso, and the dots create a nice contrast.

As a rabid fan of all things checked, I often have to check myself, pardon the awful pun, and make sure I don’t come out looking like a poorly conceived patchwork. Glen checks seem to me to pair best with patterns if there is one solid separating them. A checked suit, solid shirt, and striped or paisley tie, or a pair of checked trousers with solid coat and patterned shirt. For mixing checks, tweed provides the perfect canvas. It just somehow seems more acceptable for these hearty cloths to be bedecked in bold patterns without impacting what they accompany.

Subtle patterns and textures, like birdseye and herringbones, allow one to shake things up without screaming too loudly. I almost never find myself buying completely plain cloths, for better or for worse. Sure I have a hopsack blazer, where the weave is only discernible from an all-too-close distance for anyone to notice, but I usually prefer a subtle pattern or texture. Herringbone suits make great backdrops for striped shirts and ties, with the diagonal lines carrying through, albeit a bit under the radar. And birdseye and dots achieve much of the same effect.

So lastly, flourishes of pattern can inject a bit of excitement to an otherwise sober kit. Dogtooth handkerchiefs, paisley socks, and colorful neckties are all great ways to take a selection of solids and make them a bit more interesting. As long as you keep things from being too matchy-matchy or screaming too loudly, you can step outside the box a bit and keep dressing exciting.

Lazy In Linen

linen-trousers-whiteOne of the problems I face with summer dressing is finding a suitable drapey replacement for flannel and worsted trousers. I personally like my trousers with a nice drape, especially since because I have a more prominent posterior, trousers that hang rather than hug are both more flattering and more comfortable. Enter the linen trouser.

Chinos, while suitable to my being American, and great for just kicking around, lack that smooth line I so enjoy. By allowing the trouser to drape naturally off your backside, you get a clean, long line with no lumps or bumps, elongating your legs and giving you a streamlined silhouette. Contrary to popular belief, tighter trousers are not always slimming trousers.

To get technical for a moment, real linen is made from flax which is anywhere from two to four times as strong as cotton fibers, as well as being much better at conducting heat (and thus cooler to wear). It’s also extremely absorbent and acts almost like one of those high-tech wicking materials, pulling moisture and sweat away from your skin, cooling the wet fabric as you move, and in turn cooling you as the cool fabric touches your skin again.


Irish and Flemish linen are usually considered to be the best quality, but flax is being grown now all over the world, and some companies are even trying to weave cotton similarly to linen in order to achieve the same results. Linen is also one of the world’s oldest cloths, and this is yet another case where I’ll stand on the side of tradition.

Well, technical details aside, the thing that really sets linen apart is its wrinkles. Back in the States, ironing would be necessary between most wears, whether trousers, a shirt, or a jacket. And don’t get me wrong, I love a crisp crease in my trousers most of the time, although with linen this can be all but hopeless after the first hour of the day. But here in the UK, I think they’ve got it right. The lightly rumpled, imperfect, and pleasantly lived in look of non-freshly ironed linen seems much more summery to me, not to mention that it cuts my ironing time in half.

Driving Me Crazy

Well after a week in London, it finally happened: a day with no rain. And, as you of course know, that means new shoe day. I have a pair of driving loafers I got at the end of last summer during the sales that I have patiently sat on for almost 9 months now, and today was finally the day. They left their box, their dustbags, and their fresh, unsoiled form behind in favor of my feet and some dry asphalt. And I’d like to think they couldn’t be happier – I certainly couldn’t be.

Driving loafers are for me one of the greatest joys of summer dressing. I know you can wear them year round, but to me wearing them with socks feels only one step better than sandals with socks and I just cannot bear it. Some men can’t wait for their bucks, some men for sandals (we won’t even touch on that subject), but for me, the shoe of summer is the driver. Ironically enough, I don’t drive, but now I digress.


The wonderful Ralph Lauren specimen I have unearthed is the one you can see above, although mine are navy rather than black, but sport the same blue and red grosgrain ribbon. Nautical in influence, nautical or urban in function, they are always appropriate, and always comfortable. Slipping out of the house feels like an afternoon in slippers, and when the temperatures soar, less is really more in footwear.

The driving moccasin far predates Mr. Lauren’s models though, taking its heritage back to the not-so-distant 1960s. Italian brand Car Shoe claims to be the original driving moccasin, patented in 1963, and as far as I can find they claim so authentically. These are tough to find outside of Italy, but they are fabulous if you can get them.

Tod’s, probably the company most well known for their driving loafers, also produces sublime examples dating back to the 1970s created by current CEO Diego Della Valle. If you haven’t already read the article regarding Mr. Della Valle in The Rake, I highly recommend you do. He created their famous Gommini sole, with its 133 little round pebbles, and all Tod’s shoes today are still made right in Le Marche, Italy where they always have been.


I was lucky enough to spend a summer living in Le Marche two years ago, and could kick myself for not knowing at the time I was only a half hour or so from the factory. I might just have to visit some old friends and brush up on my Italian.

The Little Luxuries – A Dressing Gown

“We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.” – Oscar Wilde

While many things one enjoys may seem like frivolous luxuries, sometimes they are much more indispensable than we give them credit for. In an age of increased efficiency and constant connectivity, things which are truly personal and indulgent sometimes become what we really need to stay sane. And this doesn’t mean they need be expensive – just important to us and a little bit special.

This is the first of a series I am planning on doing entitled The Little Luxuries, in which I will discuss those things which make life a little bit more luxurious, indulgent, and enjoyable on a daily basis. This isn’t about the trip on the Orient Express I pined for in last week’s column, but the things we can do everyday to enrich our lives.

dressing-gown-lingwoodNow, with the introductory nonsense out of the way, this week I want to discuss the dressing gown. At the end of a long day, having left the trappings of the outside world in the coat closet, something new and special for home is a welcome addition: A dressing gown is the perfect indulgence once one’s daytime ensemble is dismantled, and an easy way to step out of the ordinary. Once required for a man as he was “dressing” (in shirtsleeves or less), modern social protocol makes it technically the anachronistic brother of the bathrobe. Wrapping oneself in a dressing gown now takes on a different meaning, allowing a man to both feel comfortable and look dashing while lounging around his home. Cozying up with a book and a tipple while wrapped in a cashmere or silk gown is a plan hard to beat on a cold winter night. With the broad sweeping shawl collar reminiscent of a smoking jacket, and the long skirt redolent of royal and court dress, the dressing gown adds an air of dignity, civility, and occasion to an ordinary night at home. Suddenly things as typical as reading the paper and preparing dinner become elevated moments in one’s routine – that is, if you can prepare dinner whilst keeping it off your gown…I certainly could not.

Some of the finest examples of modern dressing gowns can be found at the end of the Piccadilly Arcade, facing Jermyn Street, at New and Lingwood; often they are hanging in the windows, with the Beau lovingly gazing at the myriad colors and patterns available. And, since it is altogether too hot for a cashmere gown right now, they also offer lightweight cotton gowns with a soft, airy hand. Then the quite wonderful, and middleweight option, of sumptuous silk examples available from makers such as Tom Ford, in patterns and colors that make it impossible not to feel a sense of romance upon donning one.

dressing-gown-tom-fordNow if you don’t feel like mortgaging your home for one of Mr. Ford’s silk or cashmere cocoons, you can find more affordable examples at many department stores and occasionally on sale in the West End. Mine is a simple cotton number from M&S, and while I can’t say I wouldn’t love to eventually upgrade to something a bit more luxe, it continues to serve me well.

What matters in the end is not the specific gown one chooses, or the extravagance with which a gentleman dresses and prepares for his evening. It is about realizing that while much of modern life is dedicated to efficiency, practicality, and necessity, something as simple as loosening one’s tie or draping oneself in a garment specifically for elegant lounging is a lovely and splendidly unnecessary way to wrap up one’s day.

The Inelegance Of Travel

This past week I traveled home from University, and must say I was more than a bit appalled by what I saw in the airports and on the planes. Now this was no long trek – a simple hour and a half flight, followed by a short thirty minute connecting flight with just an hour layover in between. Should be uneventful, right?

Obviously I was not alive during the glory days of truly elegant travel, with its beautiful trunks, well appointed train cars, and dressed-to-be-seen travelers, and I neither expect this of others nowadays nor travel this way myself. But, I don’t think a little decency in manners and a little respect in dressing are too much to ask for.

First, most travelers seem to think they will be trying out for an olympic sport whilst flying. Track suits, sweat suits, high-tech, nitro-powered, day-glo running shoes, and more dirty sweat socks than I ever cared to see seemed to be taking over the airport. I understand wanting to be comfortable, and that’s why I wear a lightweight jacket, loafers that are both easy to walk in and slip off for security, and a little scarf or ascot for if the plane is cold – a seafoam green argyle velour tracksuit and flip-flops seem like overkill to me.

Going through every incident of poor airport dress would take me a century, and whilst lamentable, the real problem for me is travel etiquette. If you show up at the terminal looking like it’s triathlon time I might chuckle (haughtily), but if you act poorly, things get more serious. A young man about my age felt the need to cut in front of a young lady in the security line because she had a hard time getting everything on the conveyer belt, with nothing so much as an “excuse me,” a “thank you,” or even eye contact. I know I sound like an old curmudgeon, but when did it become acceptable to act like that? No one but the offended young lady and myself even seemed to notice, which I think was the most disappointing thing about the whole situation.


These are just a few of the things I encountered, and they highlight the general attitude I found to be problematic. Disregard for one’s fellow travelers and a general lack of respect for those one is sharing space with for a few hours seemed to be the order of the day- and while the issue of poor airport dress is more funny than anything, it does represent this underlying attitude of self-absorbed comfort with a disregard for the outside world. Anyone for loading up a few trunks with some fine linen, donning a straw hat, and boarding the Orient Express?