The Benefits of a Linen-Cotton Blend

I don’t know about you, but I find spring and summer the trickiest seasons to dress for affordably. I can never quite stomach spending the same amount of cash that I do on autumnal and winter tailoring, because in our climate, most mid-weight garments can be worn a solid eight to nine months of the year. The prospect of spending upwards of four hundred pounds (and often closer to six) on a summer-weight suit that will sit in the wardrobe for nine months of the year is simply not an attractive one. If I ever have the capital to invest in cloths which differ considerably in character and weight for both autumn-winter, spring and summer, I’ll do so, but until then sensible purchases and clever investments must be the way forward.

Nevertheless, its always frustrating when in late spring and summer we do enjoy bouts of warm weather and the wardrobe is devoid of summer suiting – not an ideal scenario. This is a problem much compounded by my love for linen. Although not everyone’s favourite (and certainly not an ideal fabric for regularly worn business suiting), there is something uniquely appealing about the prospect of a relaxed, crisp and featherweight pastel coloured linen two-piece for dapper summer days and evening parties. Of course, the very best quality linens do behave themselves and hold up to regular use quite well, but I just can’t afford expensive linens. Nor can I afford summer suits in equally expensive tropical and summer weight wools and wool-mohair blends – a situation which I’m sure many readers will sympathise with.

Thus, I’m left with only one solution, either face the mania and inevitable rush of hope and subsequent disappointment of trawling the summer sale rails, or to look for suits made in more affordable cotton-linen blends, this being something I’d recommend you to do unreservedly. Besides affordability, there are a number of reasons why I recommend investing in tailored pieces cut in such a fabric. It is, without a doubt the high-street’s answer to expensive bespoke quality cloths and having owned three cotton-linen blend suits, I really do think its offers a great alternative to more expensive materials.

Its not rocket-science – in blended the different fibres, you get the benefit of both in one cloth. Both fibres are highly breathable, absorb a decent amount of moisture and are often fairly open in weave, to allow air to circulate through the garment and keep the wearer cool. Crucially however, the cotton yarns also add a suitable amount of body and crease-resistant properties which keeps the propensity of linen to crease in check. The cloth will never be as smooth or pristine as a pure summer-weight wool, but it behaves a hundred times better than a pure linen, its more durable, useable and responds so much better to pressing or even machine washing in the case of off-the-peg trousers. I wore a cotton-linen blended suit several times a week during the summer terms during Sixth-Form and I still wear that suit today – it comes up as crisp as ever after a light press, and the trousers have been through the washing machine hundreds of times and are no worse off for it.

True, cotton-linen is less luxurious than silk, or even wool-linen blends, but it is a more affordable and undoubtedly more practical decision. Cotton is considerably tougher than silk and both resists and recovers from creases more effectively. In the same vein, when blended with linen, often wool fibres have to be quite dense and thick for the blend to work, which can (particularly when we’re talking about high-street rather than bespoke cloths) result in a rather heavy or dense cloth which loses the qualities of lightness and breathability required of summer tailoring. Cotton linen therefore bests both alternatives in my opinion.

If you look for cotton-linen blends, you’ll find them in most decent high-street retailers. I’d recommend Austin Reed personally, who’s spring-summer collection I often think is rather good; they use lots of good quality Italian woven fabrics when designing pieces for the warmer months, and at sale price they offer excellent value. Jaeger often do the same, and Chester Barrie I believe have some blended cloth jackets which look rather handsome. So, there you have it really – I hope this encourages those of you looking for affordable summer suiting to spend some time browsing – and I hope that you find, as I have, that cotton-linen is a real contender for a cool summer cloth.

The Trouser Department III: Pleats and Pockets

Thus far in this trilogy (part I, part II) we’ve covered the various different elements of the trouser silhouette; comprising leg width, hem line, rise, turn-ups and the possibility of plain hems. Now I’m going to draw all of these elements together (hopefully), through a discussion of the much overlooked subjects of pleats and pockets.

Pleats are a somewhat complex subject, so I’m going to try to keep this concise. As you will doubtless know, there are two types; forward facing, which face into the middle of the trousers; and reverse facing, which face outwards towards the sides of the trouser. You can see examples of both in the photographs of myself below. Pleats can be combined in a number of ways, arranged as either single, or double pleats on either side of the trouser fly to add interest to the trouser itself.

The fundamental consideration with regards pleats is the way in which their shape will influence the shape of your trouser and therefore the silhouette of your body. Pleats of any kind will add extra cloth and fullness to the leg, so will suit larger frames.

They are not however, as is popularly believed, solely the preserve of those of us with large thighs – such as my unfortunate self. In reality, pleats can help to sculpt the figure, but forward and reverse facing pleats tend to do this in different ways. The reverse facing pleat creates a pleat which runs very squarely through the centre of the leg and into the trouser crease. Given the way the pleat is sewn, it has little give and it essentially produces a boxy shape across the front of the trouser, as you can see happening on the trousers of my double-breasted suit below. This shape of pleat compliments boxier cut jackets, and given that it creates a very square, crisp shape, it can juxtapose nicely against a soft trouser cloth (moleskins and corduroys for example) which will often produce softer lines running down the legs, given their soft drape. Alternatively, pair them with very crisp, structured wool (as below) to add some very interesting angular lines to your trousers.

Forward facing pleats are perhaps the rarer style of pleat seen today, despite the fact that for decades forward facing pleats were the ubiquitous choice for tailored trousers, seen repeatedly in sartorial British tailoring periodically between the 30s and the 80s. The forward facing pleat is my personal favourite, and well worth experimenting with, because unlike the boxy shape of a reverse-pleat, forward facing pleats fall outwards from the trouser waistband, draping smoothly over the hips and falling elegantly through the leg. The effect of this is to create the bottom half of an hourglass shape (this shape being the aim of all good tailoring, running downwards from the waist of the wearer; it’s a sophisticated shape and very striking.

In order for pleats to have these desired effects however, I have two key rules for pleated trousers which really are worth bearing in mind. Firstly, pleated trousers ought ideally to be worn with turn-ups, as the focal point turn-ups provide at the bottom of the trouser, balances that of the pleats at the top. Secondly,(and particularly relevant to forward facing pleats) pleated trousers really do benefit from a higher rise, this gives pleats the space to drape properly, and the closer the trousers sit to the waist, the more they can help to define an hour-glass shape running through the body.

A word also must be mentioned about how to ensure that pleated trousers hang neatly. I would suggest that if the trousers are formal, wear them with braces, as these will not only suit the classic style of the trouser, but help keep the waist of the trousers sitting nice and high, without being uncomfortable. Belts can feel terribly tight and constricting around one’s waist, which is a fundamentally more fleshy part of the body than the hips, where your bone structure gives the belt something solid to tighten around.

Many gentlemen are not keen on braces, so if you can’t face wearing them, then try to find or order trousers with waist-adjusters, as more often than not (although they’re traditionally worn with braces) they will do a fine job of keeping your trousers sitting neat and true on their own.

All styles of trouser pockets in simple terms are welt pockets. The welt pocket is simply an opening in the side (or the top) of the trouser, through which the pocket is accessible. The shape of this welted pocket however, can take a number of different forms, which can radically alter the image that your trouser presents. The most common and perhaps understated design is a simple slanted pocket. This will go with most pleat formations and is (by the standards of modern tailoring), the most conventional pocket shape.

However, I would suggest that there is a subtle, yet nonetheless immensely satisfying alternative option for your tailored trousers: the vertically cut welt pocket. Here, as opposed to the opening of the trouser pocket slanting, the pocket runs through the side-seam of the trouser vertically, keeping a clean, neat line through the side of the trouser. This pocket has its genesis in the Edwardian era, but was popularised first and foremost during the 20s and 30s. The reason for this is simple, the pocket runs parallel to trouser pleats, and doesn’t jarr against their shape. The vertical-cut welt pocket is the perfect compliment to pleats; it keeps the trouser looking neat and linear, as well as giving pleats the space to become the focus of the trouser.

Using vertical, as opposed to slanted welt pockets on your trousers is (in my humble opinion) a seriously smart move. It’s a very subtle change from a slanting to vertical opening, but in an understated way it makes a huge difference to the cut of your trouser. The line of the trouser simply looks neater, and the pocket looks cleaner. It works equally well with a flat-fronted or pleated trouser and also gives the impression that you’re simply a confident dresser – choosing something different, understatedly stylish and out of the ordinary, but which also will have no impact upon your comfort, or the functionality of the pocket itself.

I do have two other suggestions for you though. If you’re into retro style, or simply fancy something different (and pleats don’t appeal), then why not opt for either Jodhpur or frog-mouth pockets? These two are similar in design, and essentially are two separate takes on the classic type of pocket found on jeans; as opposed to sitting at the side-seam of the trouser, the frog mouth pocket slants away down the side of the trouser front, whereas the opening of the Jodhpur pocket is slightly higher and runs horizontal to the waistband, as can be seen in the images below.

Both these shapes are highly unusual by today’s trouser-standards and make a very sharp, modern statement. As is the case with the vertical welt pockets, these shapes have their origins in the Edwardian era, and also enjoyed a brief spell of use in the early 1920s, (as can be seen from the Gatsby tailoring on show – which made heavy use of frog-mouth pockets) before becoming the fashionable pocket of choice in the 60s, making them a cool and contemporary feeling option. Note that for obvious reasons of cut, these pockets cannot be cut with pleats, so are there to satisfy the demands of those of you who feel more comfortable in a flat-fronted trouser.

Drawing all this together then, I’ve suggested a number of things to you; formal trousers suit a higher rise than the high-street would have us believe, trouser legs look more elegant if fitted properly, and turn-ups can help balance any trouser and add a touch of panache. The thing to do now, is to experiment! I find old photographs and old fashion plates the ideal source of inspiration to try new trouser styles, as the unusual selection of photographs provided show. The key is just to remember the basic rules; certain pleats do certain things, different pockets will produce different effects, and turn-ups need to be certain lengths to flatter certain figures. Otherwise, the possibilities for a diverse and different trouser wardrobe are quite simply endless!

Feeling Black & Blue

I’ve never been one for sartorial dogma for the sake of it.

I particularly find it cereal-spittingly funny when sartorialists debate with each other the merits of colour combinations, the dos, donts, whys and wherefores, as if discussing the sentencing of young offenders.

“Brown and pink is acceptable; brown and purple is not. You will be marked as a Frenchman.”

“I think I read somewhere that you should never wear light grey with mid-blue.”

“The one thing you should NEVER do is wear green with blue. It’s one of the oldest rules.”

Leave them to it, I say. They’re happy in their anchorage. Rules make some people very happy indeed, and that is perfectly fine.

I find them largely pointless, particularly rules on colour. Why not green and blue? Is nature wrong, then, to unite them so frequently? After all, the sea and sky embrace the green shores of our planet; the juxtaposition of the two tones is one of the most expected combinations in our history.

And why, for heaven’s sake, is it ‘not acceptable’ to pair black with blue?

“Oh it is if it’s a lighter blue” they respond “but anything mid-blue and darker should never be paired with black.”

My view is that this rule is aesthetically misguided.

It is arguable that it’s origins, in forbidding navy with black, are well-founded. An old, dark navy is so close to black in low light that it comes off as a case of mistaken dressing when it is examined closely. I believe that contrast has a minimum threshold and it must be clear, in most levels of light, that if two colours are worn together that they are distinct.

However, there is a different between this aesthetic judgment and a blanket-ban on combining blue with black.

One of my favourite combinations is wearing a mid-blue three-piece suit, a light blue striped shirt and a black tie with a golden yellow pattern. The dullness of the black succeeds, like no other colour can, in bringing forth the electricity and life of the blue.

Another combination I enjoy wearing in the evening is a pair of mid-blue fine wool trousers with a black velvet blazer, white shirt and black Oxfords. There is something rather boudoir-esque about that dash of blue against an otherwise monotone ensemble that provides a jewel like sparkle – where grey would simply be ‘smart.’

I find the combination works particularly well when different textures are at play; the velvet with fine wool is an example, and silk with flannel is another. I find the test of whether something contrasts aesthetically is dressing in lamplight; not overhead-100-watt light, but shaded lamplight. You’ll soon see if your blue has enough energy in it to conquer the dullness of black.

The other surefire way to avoid it looking ‘mistaken’ is to wear the combination throughout an ensemble; like wearing black shoes in addition to a black jacket or a black waistcoat in addition to a black patterned tie.

Try it, I guarantee you’ll be feeling black and blue in no time.

The Trouser Department II: Getting the Silhouette Right

For the sake of brevity this column is going to discuss a number of things, namely trouser rise, leg width and the trouser hem-line. In other words I’ll be focusing on trouser fit, something which I think suffers from a distinct lack of attention in modern fashion.

I wrote in my first column on the subject how trousers have a bad-deal, and what I meant by that, put simply, is that we don’t think about them enough or pay nearly enough attention to them. Its understandable why not; each of us wears trousers every day of our lives, they’re easily overlooked and taken for granted, and as the bottom half of your outfit, they don’t receive as much attention as the altogether more intricately crafted blazer on the top, that most of the time feels far more of an event when you slip it on.

In consequence, for the majority of men, the trouser simply hangs round your hips, and covers your legs – job done. Not so however, because a well cut and styled trouser can truly become the focus of your outfit, or at least prevent the other (often more thoroughly considered) elements of your outfit from being let down by sloppy attention to detail or an unremarkable fit. Trousers with shapeless legs that sit on the hips do nothing to flatter one’s figure, when with some subtle adjustments they can actively sculpt and slim the lower half of your body.

Let’s begin at the beginning then. My biggest gripe with trousers is just how low trouser rises are these days; even the most sartorial tailoring manufacturers are cutting trousers to sit around the centre of the hips, just above the seat and crotch. This is fine; it’s become modern convention and it’s supposedly the most comfortable way to wear trousers. We also associate the lower rise with having a more casual and ‘easy-to-wear’ appeal, but personally I don’t find painfully low-rise trousers much of a style-triumph.

The low rise of modern trousers is a very recent development. Right up until the late 80s you could expect to find trousers with a high rise designed to sit either over the tops of the hips or around the natural waist, more or less across the belly button. Previously, even those suits that we consider to be super cool; the slim, modern pieces of the 1960s for example exhibited a proper rise, designed to sit on the waist. Why we would like our trousers to sit around our seats then, when this tailoring is clearly the essence of super-cool, remains a mystery.

Think about it, it is worth grounding all your trouser style decisions in what the trouser is actually designed to do. It was never intended to perform a solely practical function that the modern trouser so often does; to cover your legs and sit on the hips. It was designed to contribute to the masculine, yet flattering, elegant hourglass figure that a well-tailored ensemble will inevitably provide, flowing out beneath the jacket, waistcoat (or even knitwear) over the hips and then falling down the leg, acting in effect as the bottom half of an hourglass. The trouser sat on the waist and draped beautifully down the lower half of the body providing a waisted silhouette. The only way a trouser can achieve this is by sitting on the natural waist, otherwise it can’t flow over the hips. The photograph beneath illustrates the point.

I know that having your trousers around your waist will sound both radical and unappealing to most readers, but I would urge you sincerely to experiment with giving your more formal trousers a higher rise, even trousers that sit at the tops of the hips as opposed to the bottom provide a huge improvement (as you can see from the photograph above), they look both more masculine and more elegant.

If looking for off-the-peg tailored trousers, I’d suggest buying them in a ‘long’ length, and having the hems taken-up. This will provide you with the extra rise you need, as most retailers will lengthen the rise by a good one to two inches for ‘long’ length trousers. This will also give you the excess cloth in the leg to add a turn-up should you wish. (For more on turn-ups see my first piece on trousers.)

This leads me onto the second issue of the day, the silhouette of the trouser leg itself. All too often there is simply too much cloth in the leg of an-off-the-peg trouser for most men’s frames, purely because an off-the-peg trouser has to fit every customer’s body. Unless you’re wearing some deliberately full-cut trousers, bags or trousers with heavy set pleats, excess cloth in the leg seldom drapes properly and produces an ungainly and inelegant silhouette running through the leg. Consequently, I’d recommend paying attention to the width of your trouser legs, keep them slim and get your trousers altered if needs be to remove excess cloth in the leg.

I am aware that many of you reading this will be sitting there thinking ‘but I don’t have slim legs’, so please do not misunderstand me: when I say ‘slim’ I mean that your trousers should be fitted to your legs, and taper from thigh to calf in line with the natural shape of your leg, producing a comfortable, yet shapely fit and allowing the cloth of the trousers to drape neatly. This will slim-down the line of your legs and make them appear longer and leaner.

I myself have huge thighs, so skinny trousers are out of the question, but because I have to accommodate for my thighs, without a fitted leg, my trousers would be huge, baggy things that would positively sway in the wind – making my legs look unflattering large and more boxy than they are.

Now, for the hemline, I covered this briefly last week, so a short note will suffice: for the cleanest, most elegant and simultaneously modern look, trouser legs should sit on the top of the shoe, or exhibit only a small break at the front; any bunching or gathering at the bottom of the leg because its too long is simply wrong and it looks hideous. Any alterations tailor will hem a trouser for less than ten pounds, it takes minutes and is just about the most simple alteration there is; there is no excuse for a bunched lower leg on your trousers.

Well, that’s the silhouette covered. For the final piece in the series next week, I’ll be drawing together all these component parts, through a discussion on pleats, pocket shapes and trouser drape, presenting ideas which I hope will ensure that the humble men’s trouser will receive considerably more thought than it has hitherto…

Unfuddying the DB Jacket

Of all the notions to make the young man-about-town shiver in fear, there’s nothing quite as soup-stained, floral-carpeted and suffocatingly musty as fuddy duddyness.

A sleek young chap in his slim dark jeans and grey flannel blazer draws a hand through his smooth hair, fresh from a cocktail in some private Soho haunt that no one knows about (but pretends they’ve heard of) he glances sideways at the slow-moving traffic on Regent Street, and marches across the empty road with an admirable air of ownership, his sleek Gaziano & Girling shoes skipping onto the kerb.

Waiting, on the other side of the grand thoroughfare, is what is affectionately termed ‘an old boy.’ Of advanced years, he looks around with a sense of dread, unsure of the London that is – quite unlike the London he knew – he tentatively looks both ways, his arms nervously clasped behind the back of his blue double-breasted blazer, his grey Farah trousers falling onto a pair of black polished-but-shapeless comfort shoes; his regimental tie suggests he has spent the afternoon at a dusty old club on Pall Mall.

One glance at the ‘old boy’ and most would dismiss him as a fuddy duddy, a crusty. And not, as one would think, by his age.

No indeed. Many would make the same judgment about a man half his age if he happened to be wearing that erstwhile symbol of the Riviera yacht club, that tunic of the golf-club generation; the brass buttoned double-breasted navy blazer.

The issue with the double-breasted aesthetic is that it requires consideration of three very important things: three ‘F’s – fit, fabric and fittings. Designers of off-the-rack double-breasted suit jackets and blazers often get these things horrendously wrong and there are also many tailors who will robotically recommend only the ‘traditional’ to their clients. Here is a guide on avoiding fuddy duddyness in when double-breasting.


Firstly, it is far harder to achieve a satisfactory cut in a double-breasted jacket than a single breasted jacket. Off-the-rack versions are notoriously block-like and lack the shape at the chest and waist of single-breasted equivalents. A good alterations tailor will be able to whittle something out of it, but the best solution is to get it made-to-measure.

Avoiding fuddy duddyness: ensure that the jacket is cut as slim to the waist as possible, and slightly shorter than standard.


Navy DB blazers and suits are often made in mid-weight fine wools and, perish the thought, wool-blends. They’re suitable fabrics for suits and blazers but very much the stereotypical Conservative Club aesthetic. Avoid.

Avoiding fuddy duddyness: Use mid-to-heavy weight flannels for suits and sackcloth for blazers. They have a matte texture and more rugged, less refined character that separates them from the expected fine wools.

Fittings (blazer)

The brass six-button DB blazer is a thing of beauty but, much like Pachelbel’s Canon, the Mona Lisa or a red rose, overplayed and nauseatingly ubiquitous. No matter how much you experiment – darker, lighter, plain, engraved, beaten, polished – the effect is still that of an inescapable uniform.

Avoiding fuddy duddyness: If you insist on metal buttons on a blazer, choose chrome or gunmetal. The latter are more subtle. For something more even more recherché, choose brown horn buttons; you’ll hardly see them, but that’s rather the point. If you are confident you want to avoid any hint of the classic blazer aesthetic, choose a four-button model with dark horn buttons.