About Winston Chesterfield

Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

The Line on Linen

Seeing that everyone in this Buzzfeed generation is addicted to lists, I thought I would generate another easily digestible seasonal tasting menu, this time on the subject of linen suits.

I recently included linen suits as one of my Ten Style Commandments of Summer, as one of the underworn and underappreciated joys of warm climate attire. However, before you prepare yourself for more eulogies on the merits of linen, this will not be some deep, detailed treatise.

In my view, enough has been written about ‘why linen’ to last several years at least.

Instead, I think it is sensible to write about ‘what linen.’

The Business Linen: Navy blue, Double Breasted, Peak Lapel

Navy blue is one of the smartest colours of suit you can wear. Along with dark and mid grey, it is the one colour that is entirely beyond reproach in the context of a boardroom. It’s all very well for those in creative positions to turn up in royal blue and sage green, but for many, the business uniform must comply either with a formal policy, or with an implied expectation that you won’t embarrass yourself, or the company. A shame? Maybe. But it is better to be safe than sorry.

One of the compromises of linen is that it is markedly less formal than wool. One of the consequences of this is that many are unsure of deploying it in a business context – attending meetings, conferences and the like. Double-breasted suits have a more military formality than single breasted variants, which counteracts the informality of the fabric.

The Travel Linen: Khaki, Single Breasted, Notched Lapel

Khaki linen is the classic linen. It is the Hollywood linen. It is the fabric of Somerset Maugham novels, Old Havana gangsters, the British Raj and the Happy Valley Set. The word itself is Urdu and roughly translates as ‘dust coloured’, and it has its roots in 19th century military camouflage.

Not as impractical as white or off white, and not as heat absorbing as darker colours, khaki is one of the most resilient colours for linen, which makes it an excellent choice for a travelling suit in the summer months. I find linen one of the most comfortable things to wear on a plane, being very breathable and very low maintenance compared with wool, which needs to be well pressed in order to be remotely acceptable. A khaki linen allows you to go from gate to guestroom without humiliation.

The Party Linen: Brown, Peaked Lapel, Waistcoat


Picture the scene: a summer terrace party, mojitos are being served; attractively groomed ladies flit back and forth in floral printed dresses. A golden, early evening sun warmly illuminates the scene. This is the perfect occasion for that special rarity: the brown linen suit.

Linen is often seen as a utility fabric: need to keep cool? Wear linen. Need to wear something less precious for travelling? Linen looks good even wrinkled. But it can also be marvellous as a material for contrasting with other fabrics, like cotton and silk. Brown linen has a wonderful lustre in the late sun, like a delectable chocolate truffle. It also contrasts deliciously with light blue, white and pink, and it seems to work very well with silk ties. This makes the brown linen suit the most arresting choice for a party. It has a vintage air to it, lending itself to the kinds of cocktail party environments so popular today, and has a distinctly more formal, evening quality than the aforementioned, utilitarian khaki.

The Ten Style Commandments of Summer

In honour of the fact that summer is upon us, and that I haven’t written a thing since the spring, I thought I would rant vigorously and bitterly about summer attire, in the gloriously contemptuous style of the Old Testament.

Summer is, officially, the worst-dressed season in London as far as men are concerned. Men in the city slop around, slack-jawed, scratching their posteriors, wearing the wardrobe of teenage boys. The crass Americanisation of our summer attire reduces the steely grace of a winter’s John Steed into a theme-park-going cretin.

The time for calm, cautious advice has long passed. The time has come for indignation and commandment.

1. Thou shalt not wear socks

Socks are entirely optional in summer. There is nothing so ridiculous as the sight of a grown man insisting on wearing hosiery in hot weather. The most absurd example of this is clearly the socks-with-sandals aberration, but it also rankles when I see people wearing shorts, penny loafers and socks pulled up over their calves. Socks on their own are unattractive. They look awkward. They are only desirable in winter because they are largely invisible when worn with lace-up shoes and long trousers.

2. Thou shalt not covet flip-flops

Flip flops are the second most anti-social and degenerate footwear you can buy (the leader in this regard are Crocs). I’m not against exposed feet per se; if someone takes care of them properly (no surprise that male pedicures are on the rise in the summer months), then exposing footwear like sandals – a design that harks back to the civilisations of the ancients – is actually the most appropriate in certain conditions. But flip flops are a cheap con; a scruffy, filthy, lazy symbol of humanity’s decline.

3. Honour thy pastels

Grey and navy are the dominant forces in winter. When light levels are lower, and precipitation greater, these sobering colours make sense. But in summer, when the sunlight lasts till a few hours before midnight, it is time to make more use of nature’s desaturated tones. Pastel suits are the ultimate expression – think of Jay Gatsby’s pastel pink suit in which Daisy considered him “wonderfully cool” – but they require daring, with which most men are not blessed. Less of a stretch is a pastel summer jacket in linen, cotton or seersucker that works well with both white and off-white trousers, as well as strongly contrasting deep blues. For the most risk-averse, pastel trousers are the mildest expression of the pastel faith.

4. Thou shalt wear linen suits

I can’t count the number of times someone has worn a wool suit on a hot day and has complained ad nauseum about the heat and torn their jacket off in disgust: “too hot for suits.”

No, it’s not. It’s just too hot for that suit.

Too many men wear the wrong material in the wrong season. Wearing the same midweight wools in winter and summer is nonsensical. There are lighter weight wools that are better suited, but too few men wear linen in the summertime. Lighter coloured linens are more common, but navy and grey linens are more elegant for summer business attire. It should always be remembered that though the wrinkling of linen is to be embraced, it is advisable to press a linen suit for the boardroom.

5. Short-sleeved shirts should never be worn with suits and ties

Short sleeved shirts are never high on my list come the time of the summer sales. Men with biceps the size of beer barrels seem to love them – it’s one of the unofficially acceptable methods of ‘showing your bod’ on Tinder – but I have never got much utility from them. They are especially odious when worn with ties (with the added insult of a pen clipped to a breast pocket) as ‘work attire.’

6. Be ye not afraid of hats

When I wore a panama hat to a polo match on a cloudless day, I could see the ranks of smirking, sunglass-wearing luvvies looking at me as some sort of fragile relic. I had the last laugh come six o clock when the more auburn of the bunch gently tapped their crimson foreheads, their smiles quickly collapsing into a frown. More so than in winter, summer hats have a distinctly protective purpose. Not only do they keep the sun off your face but they are also remarkably good at keeping you cool.

7. Thou shalt stop dressing down

It isn’t a summer holiday. You are at work. Simply because the temperature is three degrees higher than it was four months ago does not mean you shed clothing, wander around the office without shoes, come to the office in polo shirts (it’s not goddamn golf day) and act like it’s all a barbecue. Summer slovenliness is on the rise – and it is risible.

8. Remember anti-perspirant, to keep it wholly pleasant

It is 2016. And yet the amount of wet armpits you see around the city on a summer’s day would make you think we were living in the pre-penicillin era, where quacks dispensed brandy and leeches as cure-alls for our ills. Deodorant is not a new thing, and it should be your constant friend when the sun is out and the Mercury is high. An elegantly assembled ensemble is pointless if you smell of day-old cheese soaked in vinegar.

9. Thou shalt not wear shorts over the knee

Do you remember being a teenager? It wasn’t great. You were insecure, spotty, awkward physically, sexually inexperienced, financially dependent on your parents – so why are you so desperate to be one again? There is nothing more pitiable than a grown man wearing the same long shorts as his sons. In a rash attempt to fit in and ‘be cool’ (whatever the hell that even is), he conveys to the adult world that he is a man-child, lacking interest in full maturity. To women, let alone other men, nothing is more likely to result in a severe recession of respect.

10. Stop wearing jeans

Jeans are an amazing marketing coup. Relatively uncomfortable, not warm enough for winter and too hot for summer, yet they remain a robotic essential choice for most men. For mild days, jeans are fine. But when the temperature soars, jeans are a disagreeable option; wear linen trousers, or cotton chinos instead.

The Dinner Suit – Henry Poole & London Craft Week, 5 May 2016

Black Tie.

Are there any two more powerful words you can place on an invitation?

The stipulation is so complete, so final and so gently authoritative. It hits like a steel fist in a velvet glove: there will be no relenting, there is no relaxation – this is a rule.

I have always thought of Black Tie as being the closest thing civilian citizens get to a military parade. Though thought of as “fancy” or “dandy” clothing, Black Tie (or tuxedos/evening dress) is actually the simplest and least-showy form of male clothing in the pantheon of classic menswear.

Yes, it is formal. But formal doesn’t necessarily mean decorativeness or extravagance. Day suits such as loud Glen Checks are far more distracting and exuberant in their elegance; silk ties with paisley motifs in colours like marmalade and plum, far richer and gaudy.

It is the discreet elegance of Black Tie that makes it the smartest form of dress, and it is the uniformity of its expectation that makes it harder to distinguish oneself.

It is easier to make a splash of difference in a day suit. For example, odd waistcoats can add an element of intrigue to a dull, dark suit; bright pocket squares can be deployed as foils to plain neckties – and brightly coloured shirts can distract from otherwise conservative ensembles.

Black Tie is monochromatic and sartorially severe. When a man tries to play around with it too much, it comes off as foppish. When he looks to add a hint of colour he must be wary. Black Tie is very simple – but it’s remarkably easy to get it wrong.

And so, with the ‘parade’ of Black Tie, one must impress with the details. Patent or very well polished black shoes – ideally opera pumps or Oxfords – should shine on your feet. The bow tie (always black) should be subtly textured (moiré silk is particularly fine) and the quality and condition of your evening shirt, with a greater amount of exposure in the chest, needs to be high. Even socks need special thought; black silk should be the first choice, but even if selecting cotton a man needs to pay special attention to the condition and thickness of his hosiery.

However, the most important element of Black Tie is the most obvious; the dinner suit itself.

The perfect dinner suit is an investment. It doesn’t have the regularity of use of a grey chalkstripe or a navy worsted, but to have a bespoke version in your arsenal offers a sublime peace of mind. It will last a lifetime – and beyond, if taken care of. I have a vintage white tie tailcoat, made on Savile Row in the 1920s, that is in excellent condition; in fit, it’s not perfect as it wasn’t made for me, but the exquisite craftsmanship and condition of the garment shows how it is worth the initial outlay.

There is a saying that if God were to wear any clothes, he would be dressed by Henry Poole. Therefore, it is probable that if God were to attend a celestial formal soiree, he would do so in Black Tie from Henry Poole.

On a street that is simply bursting with archives and patterns of famous and celebrated clients, Henry Poole is probably the most storied of the Savile Row tailors. Virtually all of the 19th and 20th century tailors can boast celebrities, authors, aristocrats, sportsmen, musicians and artists in their ledgers but Poole takes it up a level; it has the silver screen stars, but its most illustrious clients are its royal ones.

The Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, is credited with ‘inventing’ the dinner suit’s short jacket, but it was Henry Poole who made it – and it was Poole’s creations that were later popularized amongst American patrons who frequented New York’s Tuxedo Club.

What this means is that Poole has the ultimate bragging rights over the dinner suit – and that when anyone from Poole speaks to you about Black Tie, it’s probably sensible to listen.

Henry Poole and London Craft Week are inviting those who possess this sense, and a mere £15+VAT, to their grand rooms on Savile Row to see how one of their dinner suits, the ‘godliest’ of all, are made.

At 11.00am and 3.00pm on Thursday 5th May, Poole are offering a rare chance to see demonstrations of different processes from tailors Keith Levett and Tom Pendry alongside Henry Poole’s archives and pattern books – almost worth the entrance alone.

Places are limited, and tickets are available here now.

Odd Trousers That Every Man Needs

I don’t really know many men who wear odd trousers.

Most men have a wardrobe of suits and denim: the former is the anchor for the working week, the latter the weekend default. However, any moves to expand beyond this can often leave many stumped as to the most suitable options.

“What the hell is an odd trouser anyway?” you might ask.

Simply, odd means to stand alone. The theory of sartorial oddness is aligned with individuality. Odd jackets need to be worn on their own without appearing that they need to be worn with matching trousers. Very fine wool suit jackets, for example, are not suitable as they look as though they have been forcibly separated from their lower halves. Tweed suit jackets on the other hand don’t look out of place as they are naturally less formal and are therefore expected to be worn as separates – particularly when they are distinctly different to the colour and material of the trousers they are worn with.

Similarly, odd trousers require distinctive qualities and these qualities are best achieved through a combination of colour and texture.

Mid-grey flannel

Number one on any list of odd trousers, grey flannels were the uniform of the marvelous Fred Astaire. So connected was he to this material that Audrey Hepburn gave him a picture frame lined in the same grey flannel of his trousers.

A solid, mid or heavy weight is best. Grey flannels are very versatile and can be worn with casual corduroy and tweed jackets for countryside informality or navy hopsack blazers for a working week Friday ensemble.

Light grey

For spring and summer there is no better trouser than a light grey, lightweight wool. Again, the flexibility of grey’s beautiful neutrality means they can be worn with practically anything – and to anything. Worn with a silver grenadine tie, blue summer blazer and sockless tassel loafers for a slick, summer formal ensemble; or, with a white polo shirt and white plimsolls to a casual picnic. Wear slightly shorter, and tapered at the ankle.

Cream cotton drill

White trousers don’t sound like the most practical suggestion, but there are few better options when the occasion calls for crisp chicness. When the sun comes out, there are few more pleasurable things to wear than a cool pair of cream cotton drills; you feel at once sporty and elegant, slightly retro and yet also timeless. Wear with burgundy penny loafers, blue linen jackets, unlined summer blazers in grey and navy and cosy cricket jumpers for cool summer evenings.

Mid-grey large check

Everyone needs a pair of ‘wild’ trousers. The Victorians, before Queen Victoria’s mourning started the fashion for black, were noted for wearing nattily checked trousers, following the fashion for the writings of Sir Walter Scott and Scottish tartan – a trend which the Queen and her husband Albert had also led, due to their love affair with Scotland and acquisition of Balmoral. Tom Ford’s collections have recently revived this look and they are perfect for wearing to break the formality or stiffness of a look. Navy blazers and velvet jackets benefit the most from their playfulness.

Brown tweed

A single pair of odd tweed trousers goes a long way. Proper tweed is heavy and hard-wearing, but also elegant. Out of town, when wearing cashmere crew and v-neck sweaters, men utilize few options except denim and corduroy. And yet tweed has far more place on casual weekend jaunts to castles and tea rooms than a pair of jeans. Appropriate for both pub and drawing room, tweed is considerably more flexible, not to mention warmer and more comfortable. A rich brown tweed looks glorious next to smooth navy cashmere sweaters and cardigans, deep green wax jackets and burgundy brogues.

Sartorial Love/Hate: Casentino Coats

“Jesus. His coat has seen better days” a colleague murmured as we were flicking through some of the best captures of the biannual peacock-fest that is PittiUomo. It was somewhat inevitable coming from someone who hadn’t yet managed to stretch their sartorial imagination beyond multi-deal Jermyn Street shirts, Barbour paddock jackets and suits from Marks & Spencer.

Their idea of texture is, understandably, confined to silk twills, smooth Super 100s wools and Oxford-cloth cotton. Whilst harsh to call it pedestrian, it is rather wedded to the conventional. And so the distinctive Casentino fabric, with its curious similarity to pilled wool – which afflicts jumpers, cardigans and other woollen wearas a result of friction – is undoubtedly strange. After all, why would you want a coat that looks like it has been someone’s favourite for one decade too many.

“Some new-fangled trendy thing” the colleague surmised, folding his arms and shaking his head.

Not a bit of it. Casentino is an ancient fabric. Long renowned for being strong and warm, it has been used in making blankets for animals and for clothing cold Franciscan friars since the Middle Ages. It then moved from mere practicality to aesthetic heights when it became desirable for its distinctive ‘curls’ in the 19th century, counting amongst its famous wearers the composers Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini.

One of the more well-known examples of the Casentino coat is Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s wearing a double-breasted Hubert de Givenchyorange version (orange being the signature colour of Casentino). It is this mid-century aesthetic that has endured; with sparkling heels, gleaming sunglasses and a fur hat in supporting roles, lifting the Casentino to the giddy heights of chic Hollywood glamour.

More recently, it has been seen on the many dandies prowling around PittiUomo every January; an appropriate environment given the material’s connection with Florence and Tuscany. After all, Casentino is named after a valley area to the east of that great Renaissance city.

And, like most PittiUomo trends, the skilful execution of such fashion can persuade admirers to action.

“I really want a Casentino coat!” men have been gushing online, with the unlikely gusto normally associated with boyhood dreams like driving a Ferrari or sleeping with a supermodel.

However, others struggle to see any appeal in the fabric, reacting to its distinctive texture in much the same way that the Prince of Wales responds to modernist architecture: why would something be made intentionally ugly and then considered uniquely beautiful? “It looks like my granny’s bath mat!” another colleague exclaimed “There’s no way anyone can pull this off, unless they’re a model.”

I sit on the friendly side of the fence. Yes, it’s another Pitti-led fad and a Casentino coat is hardly the first entry in a capsule collection. However, worn in the right way and the right context, it moves the coat to the forefront of the ensemble, without extravagant patterns or embellishments.

In my view, the key elements are colour and texture contrast – with a dash of playfulness.

Colour

Typically, overcoats worn are in navy, dark grey and black. These overcoats are serious and sensible; funeral fodder. Casentino coats are all about the texture, which is playful and curious, and there is no better way of showing off the distinctive curls than wearing brighter colours; the shadowing created by the curls shows up better in colours with greater contrast ranges. You can go for the distinctive Hermes orange or the similarly classic bright green, but they also look good in royal blue, burgundy, rust and purple. Mustard yellow is an interesting idea, and even a very light grey could work. The key is not to think too sensibly or practically; light grey, for example, is a flexible and not outrageous colour, but is arguably very impractical for outerwear, which means it can work with Casentino.

Texture contrast

As a texture showpiece, Casentino needs an appropriate set. Contrasting textures are required to offset its appearance, so layer over smoother textures such as fine worsted and flannel. It’s quite a casual coat, so is also perfect for combining with weekend cashmere rollnecks. It seems to work best with patterns underneath, emphasising its playful edge.