A World Wide Wardrobe

world-wide-wardrobe

I’m not an easy traveller and don’t really do holidays except under duress – liberally applied by my girlfriend Westie. One thing that does motivate me to leave the country is the promise of filling certain gaps in the wardrobe.

It’s funny how one associates certain items of apparel or modes of dress with one or other country. For example, I always associate England with suits and business shirts. Conversely, I always associate America with weekend wear. The result being that on past trips, as in future ones, I’ll seek out chinos (Bill’s Khakis), jeans and high performance working footwear, like Red Wing Boots or the much sought after Alden Indie BootGitman shirts, Woollen Mills Pendleton shirts, Nantucket Reds and Bass Weejans all go on the list. But I’d never buy a formal shirt in the US.

Where ever I travel I tend to have a precast list of things which either I can’t readily get in the UK or which would be of a better order and better priced in my chosen country. There are few countries in the World from which I could not conceive of some item or other worth acquiring. Even countries not necessarily known for their sartorial standards like New Zealand or Australia. I highly recommend possum socks for those winter months and Paua shell cufflinks should you find yourself headed to NZ. And of course if you’re going to Oz then RM Williams boots are a must.

So, it should come as no surprise that prior to my recent trip to Italy I drew up a list of items. For reasons that escape me, when I think of Italy I think leather, cashmere and fine gauge wool all.

And in the next instalment I share what I bought, where I bought it and why.

A Turn around Italy: A Thought or Two

italy-window

I’ve just returned from another wonderful trip to Italy, sampling the delights of Florence, Sienna and the Tuscan countryside. They say travel broadens the mind, and I’m sure it does. It can also be ever so slightly depressing.

If you occasionally cross the ether and visit BespokeMe you’ll know that my major preoccupation is locating London’s independent menswear labels and retailers. It is, I’m sorry to say, a less than easy task; dominated as the landscape is by invidious chain retailers – and increasingly greedy landlords.

This is all a far cry from my experiences in Italy. Indeed, for a man like me who is product and experience focused, when it comes to clothing Italy is my Mecca. For whether it is Rome, Florence, Sienna or any of the smaller towns the independent retailer is the norm not the exception. And it makes such a difference to your outlook and enjoyment of clothing. It makes turning each and every corner of these beautiful cities a world of possibility.

For whatever you’re looking for there will be some small family run outlet ready to provide it, from shoes and cashmere ties, to gloves and pyjamas – and everything in between. The shops are small, intimate even, and it’s all about engaging with the shop owner and experiencing the goods. They want to show you their wares, tell you about them, you’re expected to look, to feel and engage. This attention can be a bit unnerving at first, particularly for an Englishman. But once you get used to it shopping becomes a collaborative and enjoyable experience, not something to be endured.

I remember when I was in Rome last walking down one particular street near my hotel. It seemed entirely populated by sock and underwear retailers. As I was looking for some fine Italian hosiery I went into one of the shops. Aside from a dazzling array of socks I also found a man, his wife and the shop assistant deep in discussion over the merits of various pairs of briefs. Each one was being tugged, pulled and assessed in quite extraordinary detail – I can only imagine what they were actually saying.

I had a very similar experience in Florence when looking for gloves. Again this was a little specialist business that did nothing but gloves. Having picked out the colour of glove I wanted a velvet cushion was then placed on the counter on to which I was instructed to place my elbow with my arm and hand pointing vertically. The charming female shop assistant then proceeded to place the glove on my hand, fitting and checking each finger as she went to ensure I had the perfect size. In London not even Picketts in the Burlington Arcade shows this much dedication and pride.

The funny thing is that such an environment entirely alters your attitude to clothing and that male Kryptonite, shopping! The very act of acquiring clothes in Italy is a pleasure. Little wonder then that so many men in that country take such care and pride in their appearance.

Pound for pound Italians are the world’s best dressed men. One cannot help but wonder whether Anglo Saxon men might not find clothes, style, dress and shopping more enjoyable pursuits if they too lived in such an environment.

When travelling it’s often the little differences that leave the most profound impression.

A New Coat

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England’s sudden cold snap brought home to me the fact I need to invest in a new overcoat.

On average I find a good quality overcoat will last me nearly 10 years. That being the case it’s not a bad idea to spend some time considering the options, I’ll have to live with my choice for some time.

Several options have fired my imagination, but in this post I’m going to focus on that most English of overcoats, the Covert Coat.

Distinguished country outfitters Cordings of Piccadilly claim the credit for inventing said coat, however, the name actually comes from the distinctive fawn coloured twill weave cloth from which the coat is made. Other details to note include the fly front, two side pockets and, as is the case on the original Cording’s coats, a large game or poachers pocket on the inside. In the days before iPads and Kindles City gents used this pocket to store their newspaper. A true covert coat should also be knee length and feature four rows of stitching on the sleeve cuffs and hem. This last detail is another reminder of the coats sporting country heritage; the stitching was designed to prevent the coat from snagging and tearing as the wearer made his way through bracken. One final detail worth remembering is that a true covert coat is also slightly tailored, which provides a pleasing form and allows the coat to be worn on it’s own without a jacket underneath.

Despite it’s origins on the country estates of England, the Covert Coat makes for an excellent city coat. Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of bracken to snag a coat on in Parliament Square, but it is just the right weight for those of us who live a typical urban life of moving in and out of buildings, tube stations, taxis and the like. It is eminently practical; just heavy enough to keep a chill out but not too heavy or too boxy.

As options go this one is ahead by a noise, and has long been a favourite of mine. Indeed, my last coat but one was a navy version. So perhaps it’s time to return to the warming embrace of an old friend.

Going Green

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I’ve decided I’m going green. An unusual pronouncement for a former policy advisor on aviation, so perhaps I ought to qualify that statement.

Of all the colours present in my wardrobe green is conspicuous by its absence. Why I’ve omitted this colour I’m not sure. I’ve spoken to many a shirt maker and clothing retailer, all concur that it is not a colour favoured by many men. On the whole when we think of adding colour to our wardrobe it seems green figures low on the list. True, it’s a common enough colour for those that stalk the countryside, particularly in its favoured guise of a Barbour jacket and wellington boots, but outside of that you don’t see it too often.

And yet it is an eminently useful colour, suitable in one shade or another for almost any complexion. If you’re dark haired or dark skinned then look to darker shades of green – British Racing Green, bottle green and their like. If you have fair skin and fair hair then consider lighter shades such as mint and moss.

It’s also a colour that is more than a little apt for the season of holly, fern trees and the rich dark browns of autumn and winter. And as colours go it’s perfectly versatile, sitting well with most blues, pinks, browns and its variants – rust, beige and terracotta.

For my own part I’ve decided to have made what I call a town tweed odd jacket. I call it town tweed because instead of the more common single breasted guise for tweed jacketing I’m having it made in a double breasted form with patch pockets. Tweeds tend to be rather heavy and normally you wouldn’t contemplate a double breasted jacket. However, living in London and moving from building to building via covered walkways, underground and covered train stations you can actually dispense with a coat in all but heaviest rain, provided your jacket is weighty enough to keep you warm. If it does rain I’ll be able to use a Mac rather than carry around a heavy wet woollen coat.

I’ve opted for a Herringbone Harris Tweed in mid/moss green. If green jacketing is a little bold for you then start small. A green stripe shirt works wonders with a blue blazer and club stripe tie. Alternatively, if you’re attempting to add colour to your sock collection then green works wonders with a navy suit and black or brown shoes.

It’s time to go green.

Micro Patterned Ties

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The process of simplifying my wardrobe continues apace. So far I’m rather happy with the result. I have a core wardrobe with items that not only compliment me but one another.

One area that still requires a little development is that of my ties. Many moons ago I wrote a piece on how you could achieve an array of looks with as little as three ties and five shirts (see here).

I’ve followed my own advice and have supplemented this with knitted navy and black ties in wool as well as cotton and cashmere. The navy suit and black knit tie has become something of a uniform, but it suits me perfectly, both inside and out. Even if I do say so myself, I look clean, crisp, classic and uncluttered, ever so slightly of another era even.

This new look may be a little dull to some, but the devil is in the detail. The knit tie provides texture and a nice contrast to the worsted wool of my suits. It’s worth bearing in mind that texture can be a good substitute for colour, a helpful tip if you’re a little nervous when it comes to colour co-ordination. What is more, my simple tie selection allows me to add various shirt styles, colours and patterns without destroying ‘my look’. I should also add that I’ve managed to remove all the off the peg suits from my collection. Simple ensembles allow the suits to shine.

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But no man can live by bread alone, so I’m looking to expand my tie collection, just slightly, while maintaining a clean classic adult aesthetic.  For this, micro pattern ties are a perfect addition. We’re talking puppy tooth (smaller than hounds tooth), micro dots, mini-checks and the like. I’m not a fan of merely laying blocks of pure colour next to each other and large pattern ties, including stripes, can dominate a look. Micro patterns, however, can provide visual texture and allow you to break up blocks of colour. They also possess a level of subtle sophistication which disguises their simplicity.