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.

The Trouser Department I: Turn-Ups

I’ve been meaning to run a series taking a closer look at trousers for some time and given that my last couple of columns have been quite political, I thought that it would be prudent to return to the business of dressing itself. I have a particular interest in trousers at the moment, not only because I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find trousers that I’m prepared to wear off-the-peg, (you can read about the ongoing trouser crisis on my blog) but also because simultaneously, I’ve realised that the modern trouser gets a rather bad-deal.

Think about it for a moment, what is the kind of trouser that the high street uniformly produces? It features a low to mid-rise often on a par with jeans, (meaning that it sits low on the hips), predominantly with belt loops, a leg that is cut by necessity to accommodate all leg shapes (i.e. baggy), with a flat-front and without turn-ups, waist adjusters or brace buttons. Pleats, and different pocket shapes don’t even come into the equation. In this series of pieces, I’ll be taking a look the history of the trouser and exploring the richly diverse variety of cuts and styles available to those who are prepared to be a little more adventurous. In other words, these pieces intend for you to get trousers working in your favour, suiting your style and figure.

The turn-up, believe it or not, sports a rich and illustrious history. Their inventor, and initial pioneer, was King Edward VII. The story is simple, Edward, ever the dandy and style icon of his era, used to roll-up his trouser legs (as did many men) during bad weather, to prevent the trouser hems from becoming damp or muddied. King Edward simply made the decision at some point around the turn of the 20th century, to have the feature tailored into his trousers. Being the international style icon of his day, the icon caught on and remained a popular choice (with the exclusion of the war years, where turn-ups, along with broad lapels and pocket flaps, were made illegal in Britain, to conserve wool) right up until the 1960s, when super-slim, minimalistic mod-suiting put an end to dressy or chunky features such as the turn-up. Since then, the turn-up has drifted in and out of fashion driven more or less by personal choice, as they continue to today.

So, turn-ups (or cuffs if you prefer), why bother with them? There are a number of reasons. Firstly, cuffs are undergoing a serious renaissance at the moment, and many high-end menswear brands and tailors are leaving trousers un-hemmed and encouraging customers to wear turn-ups; they’re close to knocking the plain trouser hem off the top stop as the most common type of trouser finish. The reason that tailors and designers are so keen on turn-ups, is because contrary to popular belief, turn-ups really can flatter any figure. Turn-ups do not shorten the leg, or unbalance the silhouette of the leg, if they’re done right.

Turn-ups should ideally be used to add more shape to the trouser and provide a focus for the bottom of the leg. My own trousers provide the perfect example; I have rather chunky thighs, and therefore use turn-ups to add some body to the bottom of my trousers, and detract from the imbalance of shape between my upper and lower legs.

The fact that turn-ups can add body to the lower trouser, means that if anything, they give the impression of lengthening the leg as opposed to shortening it, so long as the trouser is fitted to the natural tapering of the wearer’s thigh and calf. Take note that I do not mean that your trouser should be too slim or tight, but it should sit comfortably around your upper and lower legs and mirror the natural taper of your legs from thigh to calf. Equally helpful is the extra weight that turn-ups provide at the bottom of the trouser, which actively helps the trouser leg to fall and drape down the leg with a natural shape (particularly if the trouser creases run down from trouser pleats, and incidentally, I’d always recommend wearing turn-ups with pleats, for the same reason quoted above; on a trouser with lots of body at the top, it needs a focal point at the bottom too).

Turn-ups also work well on trousers with a fuller drape, but a full cut trouser leg with turn-ups is just about the only shape that won’t suit a shorter leg. My final major bugbear with turn-ups is that they’re too often seen on trouser legs which are too long. Turn-ups look their best when worn with no break to the trouser, sitting in a neat horizontal line just resting on the top of the shoe. This is how they were worn traditionally when they were popularised in the 20s, as you can see from the photograph I’ve chosen, and its by far and away, the cleanest way to wear them.

With this in mind, one thing to consider is the thickness of the turn-up and there are two elements that I’d recommend you keep in mind when deciding this. Firstly, is the chunkiness of the jacket you’re wearing; if you’re wearing something with broad lapels or deep pocket flaps (or even a particularly boxy skirt) slim turn-ups will look too delicate. The second consideration is the length of your leg; a particularly chunky 2 or 2.5 inch turn-up will suit a tall man, or a man with long legs, but this will make the smaller man look even more so, so is to be avoided. I would advise that gentlemen with shorter legs opt for a 1.25 to 1.5 inch thickness of turn-up as opposed to anything thicker. If you can master these few simple recommendations, you’ll soon discover that there’s no trouser (or figure) that the turn-up can’t work on – I hope you enjoy experimenting!

The Categorisation of Suits

The art of dressing for an occasion is something that makes for immensely enjoyable experimentation, and in my own personal opinion at least, it’s central to the structuring of an expressive and individualistic wardrobe. Anyone can buy a plain gabardine suit on a ‘one suit fits all’ basis, and use it for every conceivable formal occasion. Such strategies make for a dull option and a distinctly joyless wardrobe, so in this column, I thought that I might explore the long lost art of the categorisation of a suit.

Below you’ll find three outfits which I’ve constructed using three suits, all of which fulfil distinct functions. I hope that in observing the differences between each, you’ll see my point – that by thinking through your tailored wardrobe in terms of keeping specific garments to fulfill specific purposes, it can grow to something altogether more interesting and rewarding, than it otherwise might.

The Business Suit

We start with the dominant suit of the modern age; the business suit. Given that the majority of men tend to wear a suit for business, and then shy away from donning a full suit on any other occasion they possibly can, it is more or less the purpose of this column to convince the reader that there really ought to be more to tailoring than owning one dark grey pinstripe and flogging it do death at work, weddings and funerals alike. Having said that, there is an art to mastering appropriate business dress, and the dress code requires an obvious sense of professionalism, and a tasteful understated quality.

For this reason, classic suits in classic colours are the way to go. A plain charcoal flannel looks suitably timeless and sophisticated, and can take a range of coloured shirts and ties easily. The same would apply to either plain or subtly patterned navy, blue, soft grey, taupe and brown cloths. The cut of the suit is important, and again, should remain classic. Peaked lapels are becoming more common and make a nice statement on business suits, so long as they aren’t too large, but notched lapels remain a safer bet, as does two or three-button fastening on the jacket.

I’ve included a waistcoat because in many office environments they are a perfectly acceptable addition, but a waistcoat can easily overturn a simple aesthetic into a powerful statement which may not always be welcome. For this reason, (unless of course you make the rules in the office) I’d recommend that waistcoats are kept to single breasted closures, avoiding double-breasted cuts, and that the break of the waistcoat be kept relatively high for a formal appearance, as the lower the waistcoat break, the less formal it becomes. This single-breasted, waistcoat with simple, classic welt pockets, no lapels, a high-break and close set six-button fastening hits all the formal notes required of professional, yet reserved business dress.

The Lounge Suit

The lounge suit is an interesting, and rather more niche piece in today’s fashion world than the other two suits shown here. The business suit still has an obvious role in the gentleman’s wardrobe, and so does the ‘cocktail’ or party suit. The role of the lounge suit has changed over the last four or five decades however, and to an extent, requires some redefinition for the modern age.

Historically, the ubiquitous day suit or suit for everyday wear, the lounge suit made up the casual wardrobe of the tailored gentlemen for more or less the first half of the twentieth century, prior to the uptake of modern casual wear and the decline of everyday tailoring in the late 50s and 60s. In today’s world of course, the lounge suit’s status has changed, given that it’s a rare thing to find even the most dapper of dandies wearing a suit for casual wear during the day. In this sense then, the lounge suit has become quite a niche piece, and it possesses the flexibility to perform the role of smart-casual dress, or when worn casually during the day, can represent the suit in high-fashion; dressed-down for cool, casual every day wear, worn with a polo neck or unstructured chambray shirt and linen pocket square for a relaxed feel.

Lounge suits, are really the only suits (if any) that can be turned towards any occasion for this reason. The blue suit above works well when worn casually during the day, with its fun, showy lapels and statement pleated trousers. For the same reason, it also transfers well to more formal dress in the evenings and furthermore, worn as a two-piece with a formal shirt and tie, it makes for a passable business suit. Having said that, when placed against the cocktail suit, the relatively relaxed quality of the lounge suit becomes apparent, as does the possibility of really pushing the boat out with formal party or evening dress.

The Cocktail Suit

The cocktail suit is my personal favourite, because to all intents and purpose a cocktail suit is a ‘party suit’ – the suit at its most flamboyant; dressed to impress. It takes its name from its genesis in the 20s and 30s, when the notion of the suit as one’s Sunday Best was replaced with the suit for dressing-up and hitting the town in.

The cocktail suit shown above is very similar in style to the lounge suit (given my preference for Jazz-Age inspired dress) cut with statement peaked lapels, dressy details such as turn-back cuffs and one button closure and finished with high-waisted trousers and a typically 30s double-breasted waistcoat. Where it differs from the lounge suit is in its choice of cloth; a very glossy, delicate and intricately patterned super 160s virgin wool – a highly impractical choice for everyday wear, but the ideal suit to make a more exaggerated sartorial statement. A cloth like this couldn’t make a more different expression to the business suit pictured above, and it is appreciating this difference in style and expression that can open up exciting new possibilities for experimenting with tailored dress and fitting your attire to the occasion in question.

Underpinning all of this however, and not to be forgotten, is the central concern of gentleman’s dress. To dress well is to express one’s self, and the art of dressing is a profoundly personal thing. Some readers will have taken these recommendations on board, and will enjoy starting to think differently about the process of reserving certain garments for certain functions. Others will take pleasure in both ignoring and challenging my suggestions for organising your tailored wardrobe around a specified system. I hope however, that if nothing else, my theory that more pleasure can be gained from tailoring, by styling your attire around certain functions, will have captured your interest and as ever, offer you some fresh thinking on the world of fine tailoring.