Imagine the scene; it is a hot day in Yangon, and at the Strand Hotel, in the lobby, afternoon tea is being served to the exhausted new arrivals. One of whom is a man who fits the picture-postcard perfectly. Dressed in a cream suit, with white buck shoes and a panama hat, this gentleman might have walked from the pages of a Somerset Maugham short story.
It is one of the saddest stories of sartoria, how the colonial look was lost; confined to the pages of vintage fiction and imprisoned in the imagination of many a wistful Savile Row tailor.
Occasionally, you will see the travelling dandy, the decorum savvy gentleman who still manages a linen suit and wicker shoes; one foot in the past and, due to his mobile and iBook, one foot in the present. Fashions change after all.
However, if you travel to these far away places dressed in the Fleet Street uniform of pin-stripes and black Oxfords, you miss out on the pleasure and practicality of dressing for the climate and for the surroundings.
It is very inexpensive to ‘do a colonial’ these days. Suits for places such as Burma should be loose fitting because of the heat, and so tailoring to make them fit a silhouette is unnecessary. There are also far more off-the-rack options than there were one hundred years ago.
Despite the increasingly casual nature of travellers (I frequently see t-shirts and surf shorts in Club and First cabins), there is nothing quite like a good travel suit. Sitting or lying down on a plane makes wearing fine cloths completely impractical. A good linen suit is much more resilient to inelegance. I think chocolate brown, café latte and khaki are excellent colours for this purpose.
No matter what your destination, wearing too little clothing will not lend you much comfort in the cold air cabins, and so a suit not only looks better, but is more practical. For a strong evocation of a colonial past, a cream ‘Our Man in Havana’ suit looks dashing, especially when accessorised with a club tie and Panama hat.
Much has been made of the DVT (deep vein thrombosis) worries of modern travel. A lot of airlines now recommend wearing very comfortable shoes. I have worn tan and white Oxford shoes on the last three or four flights and experienced no discomfort.
If you are intent on wearing trainers with a suit because of medical worries such as this, then nothing will dissuade you. However, please be warned that you will look about as elegant as a Microsoft programmer. Driving shoes are comfortable and smart with a linen suit and are an appropriate alternative to lace-ups.
One of the least popular accessories to modern travel is any sort of neckwear. Even the more elegant of First travellers tend to travel without a tie. However, I have never been an advocate of the ‘unfinished’ look; a dash of colour is youthful and pleasant. I do not abide by the traditional rule of only wearing a tie when the collar is fully buttoned, and so I always feel free to do a ‘schoolboy’ and wear the tie with a loosened collar. For a colonial dash, choose club-stripe ties or regimental ties with insignia or crests. Even if one is not the old Etonian rake from a Graham Greene, one might look like him.