A Man and His Technology

Is a smart phone a menswear accessory?

It’s an interesting question. It’s as necessary as any other item we allow a well dressed man: cufflinks, pen, wallet, watch, lighter, cigarette case. Take your pick.

What links those other items is that they have a basic functionality at their heart. That needfulness has seen them increasingly embellished and redesigned to fit elegantly into a man’s wardrobe.

Perhaps the question should be why shouldn’t some sartorial principles apply to mobiles and smart phones?

In matters of dress the golden rule is that a man should wear his clothes not vice versa. It strikes me that as mobiles, smart phones, tablets and their like increasingly become a part of our daily lives, and our wardrobe, they ought to conform to the same principle. Yet increasingly we allow these things to impose themselves upon us, and we willingly cater for them by buying kit that enables us to haul them around the country.

I’ve only written one post here before on the impact of technology on a man’s dress.  Well, in one of those random, wonderful quirks of fate the people at Samsung also saw that post. As a result I was invited to join them as their guest for three days of Olympic fun and games to test out the Galaxy Note smart phone.

I already have a Blackberry and I despair of the bloody thing. Reading off it is a lesson in eye strain and the buttons are so small that you inevitably push more than one at a time. Though small it’s also thick and heavy, and from what I can tell these tedious features apply to the breed as a whole. Not for me the low slung head and shuffling gait of the compulsive street texter, tweeter and mobile fiddler. I just find it almost impossible to feel any affinity for them.

But I’ve had the Galaxy Note for the best part of three weeks now and it’s the first bit of technology to genuinely impress me. I’ve actually warmed to it, and curiously I gain the same sort of aesthetic pride and pleasure that I get from using my Yard-O-Lead pen or wearing the cufflinks my grandfather gave me. I honestly feel it augments my dress rather than impinging upon it, whilst delivering genuine, practical, mobile functionality as opposed to the illusion of it.

On paper the Samsung Note is an extremely impressive piece of kit.  With a 5.3 inch HD screen and a built in stylus, the Samsung Galaxy Note is a cross between a smart phone and a tablet. Powered by a dual-core 1.4GHz processor & 64GB of memory, it also has an 8 megapixel camera with 1080p HD video recording for all-round media prowess. I use the term ‘on paper’ to provide an air of expert authority. I actually have little idea what any of that means except to say that it’s fast , has a vast number of genuinely useful functions for work and play and a large crystal clear screen I can actually read from, which also allows for buttons large enough for my fingers.

The thing I do least with a mobile device is make calls. Mostly I answer e-mails, read the news and surf. So why do most firms continue to design these things as though phone calls were their primary function?

The Galaxy Note turns all that on its head. For example, the built in stylus (4inches of pure joy) combined with the S Pen holder kit means I can write memos, annotate and edit photos for later reference in my look-book files, do it all on the go and upload it to my website. When I go out to interview retailers and craftspeople I can leave every other bit of kit behind. Genuine hands free mobile living.

But the most wonderful thing is the way it naturally suits my formal and semi-formal wardrobe. About the same size as a coat wallet only thinner, thanks to the even weight distribution over a larger frame the Galaxy Note fits into the inside jacket pocket of my suit without bagging the lining or distorting the silhouette. In terms of the smart phone arms race that’s as revolutionary a step forward as the wrist watch was to the pocket watch.

Now all I’m waiting for is the Yard-O-Lead Galaxy S Pen.

In Defence of Black Jackets and Suits

Flick through the bulk of the literature on men’s dress and you’ll find little or nothing said in favour of black jacketing and suit – even with regard to evening wear you have the midnight blue brigade to contend with.

In the world of female clothing black is a necessity. You’d think similar rules would apply to men, but they don’t. The most common complaints against black include:

-the colour is just too overwhelming, too stark and too severe especially for suits;

-the contrast between skin and suit can be too great;

-you’re limited as to what shirts and ties sit with any harmony;

-black cloth can look cheap, unless it’s of the highest quality and inclined to reflect light as in the case of mohair and velvet or absorb it like Barathea.

So it seems that, as a rule, midnight blue is about as dark as a man is recommended to go. This advice I’d been content to follow and hadn’t felt deprived for doing so.

However, my antipathy changed not so long ago when I took a punt on a black, 1960s, unlined Hopsack J. Press blazer from An Affordable Wardrobe. Despite limited expectations and considerable doubts it has proved as versatile and necessary an item as any blue blazer. And it hasn’t proved half as difficult to match as all the advice had led me to assume.

So let’s begin by looking at shirts. While stark in contrast there is a place for white shirts particularly if you keep the collar soft and buttoned down to soften the look. Using this look for dress down Fridays I’ll combine my black jacket with grey wool and grey ground ties as well as black knits. However, I’m quite pale in complexion and my hair is going grey so cream and off-white works much better for me. If I wish to add more warmth and colour then pale pink and violet shirts work well. If anything the black jacketing gives these colours greater vibrancy. More conventionally, pale blue turned out to be a natural fit, and blue with a white collar and cuff adds a preppy note. As a rule if you have tanned skin you’ll find the process of combining colours just that little bit easier but I’ve managed perfectly well so don’t let the short comings of your tan put you off.

With regards to trousers, if we’re talking off-duty dressing then khaki in the form of chinos combined with white shirts and dark brown suede loafers has become my favourite combination – again, ideal for dress down Fridays. Related to that, I’ve always found black and brown an effective colour combination, particularly if it comes in the form of brown trousers or footwear. For those who want colour try burnt orange and cornflower yellow. These overripe versions of orange and yellow help avoid too stark a contrast between the black jacket and trousers. Last but by no means least, you shouldn’t overlook indigo denim.

For semi-formal partnering we have a classic pairing in the form of grey trousers, and black jacketing will take almost any shade bar the darkest. I have found that the more texture to the cloth of the trousers the better the combination works with the jacket. This is because it breaks up the blocks of colour by adding depth and contrast which makes the black jacket and the overall look far less austere and imposing. Flannel or worsted woollens in light to mid grey have proved my favourite combination.

Turning to the issues of accessories, and I’m counting shoes as well as ties here, I’ve said much already. But stick to muted and overripe colours with dark grounds and depending on your shirt choice you might want to give brown a try. I suspect like me, however, you’ll more often than not use black knitted silk or ties with black grounds. If you want splashes of bright colour then pocket squares are sufficient to add a dash without dominating your look.

On the matter of footwear black is the obvious choice, although my favourite by a country mile has been dark brown suede, particularly when combined with khaki chinos.

This is far from the definitive list of what does and doesn’t work with regards to black jacketing and suits, but the point is black has greater potential than the accepted wisdom would lead you to presume.

Photos: Exquisite Trimmings, Down East and Out , Guerreisms, Pure Evil, Bespokenn, This Fits.

A Bit of Thought

“I have spent most of my time worrying about things that have never happened”. Mark Twain

Every man’s pain threshold is different. As is his tolerance of ridicule, or as the quote above aptly reminds us the fear of ridicule.

That threshold may come as low on the scale as pink shirts, alternatively it might be bowties, spectators or a lime green cotton jacket. I suspect that you like me have at some point demurred from purchasing some item of apparel on account of what others might say; and no doubt with seemingly good cause.

After all, it was the daddy of all us clothes horses, Beau Brummell, who said “if John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed”.

Of course there are two problems with this philosophy. Firstly, rigid adherence to this rule would have deprived us of all the great dressers, most from the late Duke of Windsor to Agnelli and Carry Grant were innovators. The second problem is that living your life according to what others may think strikes me as a particularly timid existence.

That’s not to say I don’t suffer from a failing of nerve from time to time in matters of dress. But my method of overcoming it is really quite simple, I think about it.

Obvious I know. But, I don’t mean a quick 10 minute ponder while I’m waiting in the queue to pay for said item. I mean I’ll spend anything from 1 to 6 months considering the item. I’ll imagine myself wearing it in every conceivable connotation and any and all settings. I did this before buying my most recent purchase.

I’m a smoker and like Terry Thomas before me I can’t abide nutmeg fingers or the smell of cigarettes on my hands. The obvious solution, other than quitting smoking, is a cigarette holder. But this bit of kit is somewhat old fashioned and can look both effete and just plain pretentious. As such you can’t help but stick out like a sore thumb and not necessarily in a good way. So you can understand my reluctance to buy one. But I resolved to have one and spent the last twelve months thinking about myself with one to the point where it seemed odd to me that I should be without it. Having found a holder I liked and of the right size I went for it. I now can’t imagine smoking without it. More to the point, because it feels natural I use it in a perfectly natural manner and in doing so I draw less attention to myself in the process.

When I decided to start wearing bowties I went through much the same extended thought process and given that the purchase was not time sensitive it was time well spent.

This all seems obvious but I think I’ll sign off with one final quote from Mark Twain that seems most apt;

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval”.

Cream and Off-White Shirts


Last weekend I decided to pay a visit to my friend Erlend at Stephan Shirts. He’s kindly been advising me on my button down shirt project. But there was another reason for popping into 95 Moore Park Road, Fulham. That reason is pictured above, the cream/off-white shirt in the foreground.

Having rationalised and simplified my shirt collection over recent months in favour of white, blue, Bengal stripes and the odd pink I’ve managed to completely neglect this most useful colour.

Obviously, cream and off-white sits sympathetically with browns, greens and the earthier colours contained in classic tweeds. But as a shirting its usefulness goes beyond that.

Firstly, if you’re pale skinned or you have grey hair, as I do, you might want to consider cream and off-white as an alternative to plain white shirts. Whereas white shirting can often reinforce that pale paler, cream and off-white provide a little reflected colour and an element of warmth to your look. Funnily enough it also works in the opposite way. A heavy tan or five o’clock shadow can be deemphasised by use of cream and off-white shirting, whereas pure brilliant white shirts simply emphasise these traits by making the contrast of colours appear starker than they need be.

In a very similar vein cream and off-white are a nice alternative to pale blue shirts, which when combined with solid grey and navy suits can look a little cold.

For those unsure about combining colours, I would add that cream and off-white shirtings are about as versatile an option as you could wish for. It combines with navy and grey, and all the variations thereon. Indeed some blues, like petrol blue for example, can sometimes benefit from being toned down a bit. That tonal balance likewise applies to bright ties and bold patterns which become gentler on the eye. However, with regard to patterned ties, avoid combining patterns with white in them as next to cream and off-white it merely makes the shirt look grubby. You might also extend that rule to Prince of Wales check cloth where the ground is white and chalk stripes, for the same reason. Other than those two caveats, you’ll find cream and off-white worthy editions to your shirt collection.

If You Can Buy It at an Airport It Ceases to Be Exclusive


Two ordinary button down shirts, yes? Well, not quite. Well, not for me anyways.

These are in fact the first samples for my own label. You may remember that this is a little project I’m working on. Kicking things off I’m aiming to offer the perfect button down, soft roll collared shirt. Indeed, my frustration at not being able to find one, off the peg and for a modest sum, is what finally convinced me to go down this road. I should add, I’m hoping to be able to offer it hand-cut for £50 or under.

Sadly, while the fabric is perfect as is the cut they’re not quite right with regards that elusive collar. But we’re on our way nonetheless. There will be more details in future posts.

If these things were easy then everybody would be doing it, right? However, mine will be but the latest of a slowly growing movement of micro labels. The trials and tribulations we must endure are not the only things we micro label aspirants share in common.  We all desire to redress the balance in favour of the consumer and correct something which seems to us totally unjust.

Just why I, and a few others like me, go to all this effort was rammed home to me this week when I picked up a copy of this months GQ. I only ever buy three copies a year: the spring/summer roundup, the autumn/winter roundup and the annual GQ Style edition. Looking through this months copy for the first time it struck me just how expensive everything seemed to be. It was almost as though a high price was itself a virtue and an end.

Thanks to Tom Ford I’m used to the notion of a ridiculous price for manufactured clothing. While it seems unfair to lay the blame entirely at his door there does appears to be some notion afoot that if you don’t charge inflated prices you have little right to call yourself a ‘designer label’.

It’s long been debatable whether ‘designer labels’ actually offer you anything approaching value for money anymore.  They seem mostly to use the same cheap sweatshop labour the high street chains do – to one degree or another. And when you compare what some charge in comparison to having a garment made bespoke or made-to-measure prices seem even harder to justify in my view.

So if it’s not quality, then what are we paying for? Well of course designer labels work on a notional sense of exclusivity. Indeed, they play on that sense and play it up. Normal economic theory suggests that price is a reflection of scarcity; but not so with designer labels. The proliferation and commercialisation of labels like Ralph Lauren, Hackett and Thomas Pink mean that in fact the same products are offered to millions of people all over the world. I don’t know about you, but I work to the theory if you can buy it duty free at an airport then it’s not exclusive.

And this brings me back to where we started – the micro label – micro in every sense of the word. What I love about these guys, and why I’m joining their ranks is that they genuinely offer that sense of value for money, of originality and of exclusivity. Product runs are small, but so too are the prices. What’s more there is a genuine and palpable sense of passion, the enthusiast at work.


A couple of these micro labels to catch my eye recently are Everlane and The Knottery. Both based in the US of A, product runs are strictly limited and run out quite quickly. In both cases products are made in the US and you’re charged a fair price for them. Sadly, Everlane doesn’t ship to the UK yet but the Knottery does and I recently loaded up on the Longshoreman as well as their knitted lapel flowers and cotton pocket squares.

If you like your designer labels, well good luck to you. For me they make increasingly less sense as a concept – whatever I may think of individual products.

After all, if you can buy it at an airport then it isn’t exclusive.