Combatant Gentlemen Shirt & Tie Review

They say that all good things must come to an end.

And so, sadly, ends my patronage of TM Lewin, the Jermyn Street shirtmaker. Once a consistent and aggressive promoter of their poplin, I have been so disappointed with the quality of their product recently that I haven’t been inclined to even browse idly in their stores.

“What can you expect for £20-30 a shirt?” the Pinkers, Turnbullers and Hilditchers chuckle in smug satisfaction.

Quite a lot, actually – a few years ago, at least.

It’s fair to say that the golden era of bargain Jermyn Street shirts is on the wane. Only Charles Tyrwhitt (and to a lesser extent Hawes & Curtis) still regularly offer beautifully soft cotton formal shirts with well-constructed collars for under £30. Lewin, once the king of value, now sell poplin shirts that feel like greaseproof kitchen paper.

Feeling generally dismayed with the decline of this bonanza, I was intrigued by the offer to try a shirt and tie from a company called Combatant Gentlemen, a US based enterprise that seemed to offer a variety of inexpensive sartorial solutions from shirts and ties to knitwear and suits.

With most of their shirts priced between $30 and $45, I was convinced that there must be some kind of catch; the cotton must be inferior or the shirts must be off in terms of fit.

Similarly the Combatant Gentlemen ties, which go for around $14 to $16 and are apparently constructed of 100% silk, seemed to undermine all I had been given to understand about the sub-$20 necktie.

The reality is that both products exceed expectations.

The shirt has a classic, non-cutaway collar and a soft, brushed feel. Having been concerned by the artificial touch of English shirts at a similar price point I was delighted by it’s smoothness. Apparently, the fabrics for Combatant Gentlemen shirts are sourced in Italy and are then shipped to China to be made.

The fit was also of a higher standard than anticipated; fitting snugly around the shoulders and arms and cutting tightly in the waist, the Slim Fit of the shirt is even slimmer than English shirts. And, given the soft feel of the fabric, it is a pleasure to have close to the skin. “Finally!” I thought,  “Here is something that tops the declining Jermyn Street bazaar!”

The tie, playfully called ‘Let’s Polka!’ I chose for its wide-spaced Deco charm; such ties are marvellously wearable with almost any suit or shirt pattern and colour and I have been particularly excited recently by the potential efficiency of accessories.  Though listed as ‘black’ it is in fact a midnight blue, which I actually prefer as it pairs better with navy and grey suits. The feel in the hand is of a tie three times the price; the dots are woven into a smart, matte silk and it has a hard, craft-like feel. The dot spacing isn’t absolutely perfect but then I don’t mind this. I had expected something which felt like a Tie Rack bottom-of-the-bin but it has such a crisp quality, I still can’t believe it retails, non-promotionally, at $16.

There are also some silk knit ties that reminded me of the selection at Uniqlo.

But then I remembered that Uniqlo’s ties are Polyester. And more expensive.

Combatant Gentlemen
was only founded a couple of years ago; as a darn good thing, it has, rather fortunately, a hell of a long way to go till the end.

The Real Collection of Essential Shoes

Esquire magazine recently came up with a list of 8 pairs of shoes that “every man should own.” Intrigued by the insistence of this article’s headline, I was nevertheless disappointed with some of the, rather obviously, ‘advertorial’ choices.

The first selection was inevitable; black Oxfords (which Esquire felt the need to classify as ‘lace up’ – what else is an Oxford?) However, it’s hard to dispute the primacy of this shoe.

The second selection was also not entirely mad – tan derbies – although they had incorrectly pictured tan Oxfords. The third was also passable (brown brogues) although the pair they suggested from Ted Baker were rather too trendy to be an ‘essential’ shoe that ‘every man must own.’

The choices start to disintegrate at four, which is unhelpfully broad: ‘a proper pair of winter boots’ – which sounds more like a grandmother’s commandment than a model of footwear. Firstly, the suggested boots were about as ‘proper’ as Miley Cyrus. Though the copy boasted that they’d be appropriate for both walking the dog and ‘scaling the great outdoors’ (whatever that means) the Redwing boots pictured were more appropriate for hipster nights in Soho than crawling up the Eiger.

It gets more hipster at choice 5 with suede desert boots – really ‘every man should own’? – recovers a bit at 6 with deck shoes but then declines rather seriously at 7 and 8 with the weakest suggestions of all: trainers. The first suggestion are barely acceptable – timeless trainers in plain white. Yes, these are useful for sport – casual tennis matches with friends – but it’s frankly irresponsible to encourage the saddening decline of male elegance by recommending trainers.

The last choice is a laughable add on, an afterthought of a tacked-on advertising brief; ANOTHER pair of timeless trainers. This time, instead of white, they recommend a Navy and Grey pair from New Balance. Why? ‘Because they’ll look great with everything.’ Everything? Really? How lazy.

I was so disappointed with this list that I thought it best to provide my own recommendations. In addition to the black Oxfords which are a safe choice, I would advocate the following:

Burgundy loafer

Every ‘essential’ shoe collection should include at least one pair of loafers. Ideally, these should be something other than black. I have always had a pair of brown or burgundy loafers in my wardrobe, using them for both office wear and weekend casual. The key is to wear tapered trousers or jeans with no break; wide legs, breaks and loafers do not mix.

Dark brown punchcaps  

Dark brown shoes are undervalued. There are so many colours of suit that work better with browns than blacks. Chestnut and tan are the most common choices of brown shoes, and they are also indisputably ‘essential’ colours for any proper collection, but dark brown are smarter and arguably more formal and boardroom-appropriate.

Brown Chelsea boots

Chelsea boots are the best style of gentlemen’s boots for winter warmth and comfort. They’re entirely inappropriate for climbing the Alps, so don’t think these are multi-purpose. They’re good enough for a dry-ish country walk but anything else is unsuitable. Save for cosy, casual weekends.

Chestnut or cognac semi-brogues

Chestnut Oxfords are entirely acceptable but I have always thought they seem rather half-hearted. Semi-brogues, however, have a little more ‘punch’ to them and are a little less formal, a little more country. They work really well with both navy and mid-blue suits and tweed, as well as grey flannel trousers and blazers.

Ede & Ravenscroft’s Spot-on Spring Separates

It is eternally said that spring is by far the most difficult season to dress for; all at once damp, humid, warm, cold, breezy and showery. Not ideal conditions for maintaining a perfectly pressed and coiffured sartorial swagger round town. Likewise, the period of time where the spring weather is moderately bearable is often only a couple of intermittent months long – if that – so it must be said that many retailers and customers alike seldom invest the time or effort in their spring collections and wardrobes.

I have always maintained that this is a shame – for Spring is also an extremely exciting time for snappy dressers. The weather with all its challenges presents the opportunity to put a seasonal wardrobe together that is ready to meet all the elements that the weather has to throw at one. Colourful fine-gauge knits, lightweight and mid-weight spring suiting and blazers, soft cotton trousers, relaxed, debonair throw-on raincoats and lightly structured penny loafers can make their appearance for the first time in months. Its a time of year which lovers of sartorial fashion should embrace and give attention to, so its really rather lovely to find one of Britain’s most traditional menswear brands has attacked it head-on with plenty of gusto and more than a touch of contemporary panache.

Ede & Ravenscroft’s new collection for spring is lovely; versatile, grounded in suitably lightweight and crisp seasonal tailoring, yet with a really handsome compliment of smart-casual and casual options to choose from, all of which presents a lovely blend of traditional and modern dressing. The company is pushing softly tailored, dapper ensembles of separates this season, giving its traditional British tailoring a welcome update and a very serious appeal for the modern man about town. Quirky bow-ties, slim trousers, rolled up hems and deck shoes are all very welcome things to see underpinning the core range of tailored pieces.

Jackets don’t have too much weight or structure for the slowly warming temperatures, but nonetheless maintain a classic English structured and waisted silhouette. The jacketing cloths used all have a lovely drape, handle and plenty of body, without feeling heavy or too warm. This has been achieved through the use of some linen-wool-silk and lightweight worsted wool cloths of excellent quality. Pieces to look out for in particular are a pair of stunning pure lightweight Italian linen blazers in a vibrant tomato red and a cornflower blue, as well as a soft mid-brown wool and silk blended blazer with a handsome taupe windowpane check.

The collection (as you will have gathered from these photographs) draws on the ever-attractive traditional spring colour palette beautifully, without needing to borrow from the richness or darkness of colour expected of a winter wardrobe, nor without keeping back some fun bright colour tones to bring-out in mid-summer. Hues of cool blue, as well as RAF blues and navies form the backbone of the collection, supported by elephant greys and taupes, as well as soft-washed coloured chinos and pops of brighter tones in ties, handkerchiefs and other accessories.

This is a very versatile, clever and easy to wear collection, with bags of understated style and fun little quirks – its delightful by all accounts. It is a further delight to see Ede & Ravenscroft designing something that has such a broad appeal – there is something for every man who enjoys his clothes, whether it be an elegant British suit, the ubiquitous complement of modern tailored separates and a dicky-bow, or just top-quality jazzy socks. I highly recommend you take a look.

All images courtesy of Ede & Ravenscroft.

Instichu Review

A short while ago, I conducted an interview with Institchu UK, a subsidiary of Australian tailoring company, Institchu.

To review the Institchu product, I decided on a Glen check (or Prince of Wales) three-piece – with no overcheck – in a light brown-grey colour that is remarkably flattering on the skin.

The process

Unlike many other internet tailors who ask that customers measure themselves, Institchu UK provide a measuring service – at home or in the office – which is reassuring for those who are unwilling or incapable of providing their own measurements. Though the service isn’t free for individuals (£15), it is if you get a group of three or more together.

The advantages of this are not only that your measurements are speedily uploaded to your online profile by the Institchu UK measuring tailor, obviating the need for you to worry about this element of ordering online, but that you can see a collection of fabric swatches in person.

This is, essentially, a one-off visit so future orders would necessitate being sent further samples but for an introduction to a made-to-measure online tailor, it’s a pleasant hybrid. The alternative is to input your own measurements, which I am also happy with. It’s a matter of confidence in your own ability to take measurements correctly.

I undertook this measuring service and took note of the fabric number that I had selected. It is important to do this as you will actually design and order the suit yourself online – selecting the fabric by its number.

When on the website, the navigation is fairly straightforward. After selecting Suits under ‘The Collection’ you choose the first option: Design your Own Suit.

You are then led through the process of designing the jacket first. The tweaks allowed are fairly standard: notch, peak, shawl and slim lapels; single or double breasted (note that DBs are £15 more); outer pick stitching on the lapel; a natural shoulder (less padded); vents; sleeve buttons and stitching colour. One of the interesting options is button type, where plastic and horn are offered at no extra charge but there are £5 options for satin, fabric, brass, shell and, interestingly, Corozo nut.

You then repeat the process with the trousers and the waistcoat. The former provide the standard options with side-adjusters (which I selected), turn-ups and pocket number/type being the major considerations. Waistcoats are only available in single-breasted designs with different button and pocket configurations possible.

Timing is quick, but not worryingly so. The suit will take approximately one month to be complete from commission to delivery from when the order is placed and confirmed.

This suit comes in around £390, which is comparable to Massimo Dutti Personal Tailoring and Dragon Inside, though a bit more than Tailor4Less and Matthew A Perry.

The product

The suit was delivered in a rectangular cardboard box. The suit inside was folded into a plastic bag. There is no suit bag provided with the order, which I feel is a shame.

For this order, the fabric was no surprise; pleasant or otherwise, as I had seen a swatch in person. The pattern was matched reasonably well across the panels and there were no imperfections.

The finish of the suit was of a relatively high standard when compared to other internet tailors, and comparable to Massimo Dutti’s Personal Tailoring line which I consider to have a very high standard for the price point.

The jacket is made with a full canvas construction. It has a decent form to the body and the stitching, though machine-finished in most places, is well executed. There is also a decent roll to the lapel and the armholes are high and snug.

The buttons are dark horn, which are a strong but elegant contrast to the suit. However, I am pondering whether I would change them to light horn. But then, I am always undecided when it comes to buttons.

The trousers are perfect and certainly the best trousers I have received from an internet tailor.

However, when I first tried the jacket and waistcoat on, there were a number of problems – and, frustratingly, these are problems that seem to frequently occur with internet orders.

Given that I was measured for this suit by another, it would also appear that it hasn’t merely been my self-measurement at fault. I took it to the chaps at Cad & The Dandy who managed to fix it in a few days.

Like the Matthew A Perry linen suit I had made, the waistcoat was cut far too large for my torso in the chest, resulting in a depressing bagginess.

Waistcoats should be as close to the form as possible in my view and I believe that a few wrinkles from a tight fit is far preferable to a characterless stiff-board. My reference point is always the early 20th century photography of three-piece suits; their waistcoats were always incredibly snug.

The jacket was fine in the shoulder – I chose the more Neapolitan ‘Natural’ look – and across the upper back but needed quite a bit of pinning and taking in at the centre and side seams (see pictures above) to provide some shape to the waist as it was rather boxy. Some length was also taken out of the sleeve.

It’s worth saying at this point that, with internet made-to-measure tailoring, the first suit is often a challenge – and sometimes a disappointment. I had issues with my first Massimo Dutti suit and in that case, as with this, your measurements are updated immediately following adjustments, so it’s important to understand from the tailor you have used for alterations just how much is being done and where it is being done.

Secondly, Institchu UK provide a Perfect Fit Guarantee. If you purchase the £10 Suit Insurance with your suit, you’ll be covered up to £75 of your alterations costs. If you haven’t purchased Suit Insurance, Institchu UK will still cover up to £30 on alterations.

And, if you are not 100% satisfied with the fit of your garments and feel that they can’t be altered, then Institchu will gladly arrange a Free Remake for you.

Fit: 7 out of 10 – for the first effort, it wasn’t a disaster and after being worked on by an alterations tailor it actually feels very good and now has a great silhouette to it. Trousers are excellent and the shoulders in the jacket also very good. However, it was initially quite boxy and shapeless in the waist, so needed a bit doing to it.

Fabric: 8.5 out of 10 – far better than the average in terms of quality and range. Touch is pleasant and weight works well with the suit. You can be certain that the fabrics from Institchu are a cut above the grotesque poly-wool monstrosities normally associated with internet tailoring.

Service: 7 out of 10 – sent emails regarding the order constantly and delivery is communicated by text and email. The office and home measuring service is a nice touch, but I couldn’t help but feel that this should mean a more reliably good fit. Also, the suit needs a suit bag in the box too.

Quality of finish: 8.5 out of 10 – for an internet tailor, this is a very good standard of finish. Stitching is well done, no shoddy pressing or worn fabric, buttons are good, interior construction is good quality and it feels like it is going to last.

Overall satisfaction: 7.5 out of 10 – this feels closer to a bricks and mortar tailor, because of the personal interaction – measuring, choosing swatches. It’s similar to Massimo Dutti in terms of service experience. As with most internet tailors, there were problems with the jacket and waistcoat fit. It’s a shame that so much needed doing to it, and that a £400 suit came delivered without a suit bag, because the fabric quality and finish on the product is very high for this category. However, it’s key to reiterate that these problems – and my experience bears this out – tend to be corrected on the second suit, without the need for too much interference from an alterations guru.

Cad & The Dandy, A Comprehensive Review

There have been many questions lately from many sides, about my experiences with London tailors Cad & The Dandy. Many of you who follow my own blog will be aware that over the last year or so I’ve had three suits made by them, marking my rite of passage into the bespoke world. So, given that I picked up the latest of these three just last month, I thought that it might be time to set the record straight and offer you a comprehensive insight into my dealings with Cad & The Dandy.

Let’s begin at the beginning then, because Cad & The Dandy are to all intents and purposes, a rather controversial tailors, as far as the London tailoring scene goes. Many gentlemen (me included) are initially drawn towards Cad & The Dandy, because they offer an accessible entry into the world of bespoke tailoring. Personally tailored suits start at £550.00 and full-bespoke at £950.00. All their suits, regardless of whether they’re machine made or fully handmade are cut from a paper pattern in true bespoke tradition which, as with the genesis of a bespoke fitting suit, hugely increases the fit of any of their suits from the outset.

My first order, around a year ago, was a navy blue gabardine three-piece suit, made using Cad & The Dandy’s half-handmade service which I can confirm provides exceptional value for money. For a first suit, the fit achieved without a basted fitting (basted fittings are only available when using the fully handmade service) is quite frankly remarkable.

The marvellous thing about Cad & The Dandy’s half handmade service is how much the jacket feels like a full-bespoke piece. The jacket is made by a coat maker, rather than on a production line (as with their machine made suits) and this allows the lapels to be hand-padded, giving them a lovely roll and body – they come out looking and feeling precisely the same as full-bespoke lapels. The chest is still padded and canvassed by hand too, to give it the curvature and body in the chest canvass, which only a bespoke suit can offer. These benefits are hugely noticeable and I would always recommend this service over Cad & The Dandy’s machine made service, although that too offers a very good entry-level option.

The only thing to be aware of is that the half-handmade canvass feels rather heavy on. With my three piece suit, made up in a thirteen ounce, double-milled cloth, I find on occasion that it can get quite hot – something I haven’t experienced on either of my fully-handmade suits, which no doubt about it, do breath better and come out lighter. Even my double-breasted jacket (which is cut in a 14oz cloth) feels less heavy and it must be said to the full credit of Cad & The Dandy, I’ve been extremely impressed by how the suit breathes, I haven’t felt uncomfortably warm even once!

My other two orders have both been fully bespoke commissions. In both cases, I have found that the fully bespoke service produces a wonderfully form-fitting suit, with plenty of shape (which you have lots of control over – there are no fixities of house style to deal with) and the amount of hand finishing used is fantastic. Cad & The Dandy’s fully handmade service has all the handwork expected of a Savile Row suit and its handmade in England, with much of the work taking place on the company’s premises in Savile Row and the City of London. The chest and lapel are hand-padded as before, trouser waistbands and waistcoats are also canvassed. Sleeves are set by hand, pockets are finished by hand, the lining is finished by hand, all buttonholes are beautifully hand-sewn – you get the picture. The result is extremely handsome; the attention to detail that goes into the fully bespoke suits is clearly noticeable, both when you look at them or wear one – they really do feel handcrafted somehow.

The other huge plus point to a fully handmade suit, is the benefit of a basted fitting, which helped improve my own personal pattern hugely. Thanks to the flexibility of the basted fitting for the chocolate cocktail suit (my second commission), we managed to improve the drape of the rear vent, the shoulder pitching and sleevehead position over the blue half-handmade suit, and my chocolate suit really does fit like a dream. The pattern improved again with the new double-breasted suit. It fitted so well at the forward fitting that a further fitting wasn’t required. After some minor tweaks (which took a mere hour to turn-around) I walked out of the shop wearing it that day!

You can read a more detailed review of this last suit on my own blog, but for this review, I’d like to offer some advice on cloth choice.

Having had the chocolate suit in a lightweight 9-10oz lounge suiting and the double-breasted suit in very solid medium-heavyweight worsted, I’ve come to the conclusion that the chocolate brown cloth was, on the whole, a poor choice. I supplied the cloth myself because I wanted something dressy but had a limited budget. The cloth is a very lightweight super 160s, its super-soft and super-glossy. However, unlike a lot of English lightweight cloths, it’s rather floaty and has quite a lot of stretch which has meant that it drapes poorly.

Now that the suit is a few months old and has been worn on a number of occasions its developing a little bit of stretch across the front when the coat buttons and the suppression in the waist is giving a little. The moral of the story here, is to invest in mid-weight cloths and if you are buying a lightweight cloth, make sure it’s nice and crisp and that it doesn’t have much stretch in it – give the swatch a good feel when you take a look at it. Cad & The Dandy will be able to advise on such things, but unfortunately on that occasion I didn’t give them a chance.

I have one further piece of advice too; make sure that if you want a particular gorge height or a lapel cut with a strong belly, specify it when you place your order. Foolishly, I neglected to when I ordered the chocolate suit and it came back with a lower gorge and a straighter lapel line than on my blue number, because in the absence of my own specifications it was of course shaped to Cad & The Dandy ‘s house cut. I have grown to like the shape, but it wasn’t expected and I do still prefer the higher gorge on my other two suits.

The last thing to emphasise is that in my experience Cad & The Dandy really do offer an excellent service. I set a very tight completion date on my last order (in order to wear it to a wedding) and the company pulled out all the stops to ensure that it would be ready in time, the whole service was undertaken extremely quickly for a bespoke suit without complaint. They were similarly accommodating of my other previous orders too.

Furthermore, perhaps the most important thing to emphasise is that always feel welcome and a valued customer when I go in there. I think it is also worth mentioning that I was yet to become a blogger when I ordered my first two suits – so please do not fear that I may have been given preferential treatment because of my status as a reviewer. In fact, thinking back, when I went in to place my first order I made it very clear that I was a student with a limited budget and at no point did I feel anything but valued in just the same fashion as any other customer who could have been spending thousands.

Overall then, I can attest to a very enjoyable and satisfying experience with Cad & The Dandy and to the quality of their product. I would like to re-emphasise that there is, in my opinion, relatively little that separates Cad & The Dandy from other more expensive London tailors. It is true, that more expensive or exclusive tailors offer more fittings and can refine the finer points of the fit, beyond that which is feasible for the kind of price that Cad & The Dandy offer. This is not the same kind of bespoke process that Huntsman or Norton & Sons use, but it nonetheless is a thorough service which yields a suit of impressive quality, with all the hallmarks of British bespoke tailoring.

With this in mind, perhaps the greatest worth of Cad & the Dandy is in its extremely impressive value for money. I do not know of anywhere else where you can get a fully canvassed bespoke suit which fits superbly, with a hand-padded chest, lapels and hand-set sleeves for under £1000.00. I always leave feeling extremely privileged to have worked with them, and that have an extremely precious piece of clothing in my possession, which a lot of care and skill has gone into producing. That, I think, is the essence of the bespoke experience and Cad & The Dandy have got it right every time.