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.

Lapel Gorge: A Question of Proportion

Before I had my first bespoke suit made, I seldom considered the implications of the placing and shape of the gorge of the lapel on a tailored jacket, and how it can affect the appearance of the wearer’s physique in a number of different ways, or even act as a fashion-statement in its own right.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, the lapel gorge is the technical term for the part of the suit where the body of the lapel is attached to the collar of the jacket. The shape of the gorge will obviously change in relation to the shape and proportions of the lapel itself.

There are two things to think about in relation to lapel gorge. One, what suits your body? And two, what are the ways that exploiting different lapel gorge shapes can impact upon the aesthetic portrayed. Consider the two peaked lapels below. Both lapels are peaked, and both are 4.25 inches wide at their broadest point. They were cut for me by The Cad & the Dandy but despite these similarities, they are very different in shape.

The first is from my blue flannel lounge suit. This lapel, although larger than many of the lapels found on most off-the-peg suits, is cut in a relatively modern style. It has a strong sweeping curved shape, helping the lapel to sit around the chest, and the gorge itself is a strong ‘v’ shape; the body of the lapel meets the collar on an angle that slopes downward, before the actual protruding peak of the lapel strikes sharply upwards in the aforementioned ‘v’ shape. Furthermore, this jacket has been cut with a high gorge – 2.5 inches from the top of the shoulder – which also contributes to a modern feel. A mediumto high gorge is the most common and conventional style for most modern tailoring. It suits the vast majority of body-shapes, without becoming problematic or awkward.

Often, the more fashion-forward menswear companies such as Reiss and Duchamp cut notched lapels with a particularly high gorge, so that the lapel breaks high on the chest. This is when the gorge can start to become more of a fashion statement, as this has the effect of visually bulking-out the chest of the wearer with the lapel, and often compliments a slightly shorter, heavily fitted jacket that again, is the current fashion.

This is the second, from my most recent suit cut by the Cad & the Dandy, the chocolate cocktail suit. As you can see, the lapel is cut in a different shape, with less curvature around the chest and sits lower on the chest with a significantly lower gorge and less of a ‘v’ shape to the peak of the lapel. This gorge is cut 4 inches from the top of the shoulder. The reasons for this are deliberate, a lower gorge on a large lapel has the effect of accentuating the lapel’s already imposing appearance, making a more flamboyant statement, expected of cocktail or party suits. The lower cut gorge also adds a classical quality to the lapel. Follows of my own blog will be aware that I like 1920s and 30s inspired tailoring and in the 30s when peaked lapels came in, they were cut in this way; with a large shape, a horizontal peak, and a low gorge. Having a lapel such as this on my own suit, adds an art-deco quality to the tailoring that I enjoy infusing into my clothes.

So there you have it, lapel gorges are interesting things to think about, and often overlooked – but perhaps next time you go shopping for a jacket, you’ll have the opportunity to experiment a little more with the nature of your lapels. It can change the whole nature of your jacket’s shape, and this may well influence your appearance a little more than you’d imagine!

Chocolate, an Underrated Colour

I have never understood why chocolate is not worn more often and embraced as the third classic colour for tailored garments, alongside the long-established staples of navy and grey. Allow me to present a brief case of why you may wish to consider adding some handsome chocolate brown tailoring to your wardrobe.

Firstly, chocolate is an extremely versatile colour, like grey and navy, and experimenting with its many different variant hues can allow for chocolate tailoring to be dressed up or down accordingly. Chocolate brown presents rich, warm colours and brown dye takes beautifully to wool cloths, which makes up garments with real depth of colour.

Often, different shades of chocolate can allow for tailored garments to be mixed and matched, or put to different purposes. Deep chocolate birdseye cloths, twills and plainweaves make for excellent cloths for business suiting which remains suitably understated, whilst adding interest to your working wardrobe. Alternatively, more dressy chocolate cloths can make for excellent options for more flamboyant cocktail dress and occasionwear. Two-tone chocolate cloths, bolder checks, stripes or more elaborate patterns revolving around different shades of brown, can mark suits out as very stylish, sophisticated options for formal wear.

Consider the two outfits below. The first is my bespoke chocolate brown 1930s inspired cocktail suit, cut by The Cad & the Dandy – you can read more about it on my blog. The suit is cut in an extremely fine, glossy two-tone super 160s wool, with a smooth finish. The cloth is woven in a fine two-tone chocolate herringbone, with a subtle turquoise pinstripe running through it. The elaborate pattern, fineness of the wool and the strong shine present in the cloth all mark it out as a distinctly flamboyant choice.

I hope you’ll agree however (whether you’re a fan of my penchant for 30s style or not) that the suit benefits from being cut in a dark brown cloth. It ticks all the boxes; it’s dressy and makes a real sartorial statement, without being vulgar or too brash. The chocolate colour helps the suit to retain a sophisticated quality, perfect for elegant yet striking formal attire.

The second outfit is more appropriate for business dress and for smart-casual wear, revolving as it does around the use of tailored separates. Here, some plain chocolate wool trousers from Moss Bespoke are complimented by a soft grey checked jacket by Ted Baker. These trousers are cut in a mid-weight brown sharkskin, with a firm finish and a mix of brown and grey yarns that soften the richness of the chocolate tones in the fabric, making it slightly more subtle. This also has the effect of giving the trousers a cooler colour tone, which allows them to be worn with a grey jacket. The muted chocolate tones in the trousers give the outfit an understated, unfussy quality, adding interest to a contemporary smart-casual ensemble.

I hope that these two contrasting outfits not only display the diversity of chocolate colour tones that can be enjoyed in different tailored pieces, but also how easily chocolate can be matched to other colours in your tailored wardrobe. The first outfit is complimented with bright, yet cool blue and green patterns, bound together by the blue and chocolate paisley notes in the tie, whereas the second outfit demonstrates how a grey jacket can easily be paired with brown trousers, when the chocolate notes in the ensemble take on a cooler hue. This is matched to hot orange and reds here, both in the tie and the checks of the blazer – a direct contrast to the blues and greens of the first ensemble.

Nevertheless, I’m sure you’ll agree that these two outfits both work beautifully, and attest to the elegance and panache that chocolate colours can bring to fine tailoring. Chocolate then, is a sophisticated colour choice, easy-to-wear and sits well alongside the classic navy and greys often heralded as the staple colours of classic tailoring. There really is no reason not to embrace the use of chocolate tailoring over the coming season, and I hope that piece this will have encouraged you to sport some more chocolate tailoring in your own winter wardrobe.

A Question of Tailoring House Style

For my first post on Mensflair, I thought I’d introduce myself by opening up for discussion something that I’ve been pondering for quite a while now; differences between House Styles in London tailors. Anyone with a vague interest in sartorial dress will be familiar with the fact that British, American, Parisian and Italian tailors all tend to produce suits slightly differently, using different shapes and degrees of structure in their garments. However, in my personal experience, these national differences are far overshadowed by the wealth of striking individual differences discernable between different tailors in London alone.

Personally, I think that this divergence in tailoring house styles is a wonderful thing. I have always maintained that one of the joys of bespoke tailoring is the fact that it’s an intensely personal experience for both craftsman and customer. What you may not necessarily realise at first glance though, is just how much a bespoke garment will be influenced by the ‘house style’ of the tailors a customer works with. Different tailors train their staff in their own particular way of doing things, by which of course I mean making bespoke garments. These differences manifest themselves in various ways throughout the construction process, and will ultimately produce suits that look and feel extremely different. No two lapel shapes in London are precisely the same, and this is a principle which can extend to each and every aspect of a bespoke garment.

Chittleborough and Morgan’s highly structured, flamboyant style.

House style, to my mind, presents simultaneously a wealth of benefits, and difficulties, both for the bespoke tailoring industry (and particularly Savile Row) and its customers. It adds a level of choice that would otherwise not be there for the customer, and provides a greater opportunity to get things right and to find a place which can deliver the kind of tailoring that appeals to you. Choosing a tailor because their house style is right for you, adds a more personal element to the bespoke experience, and will doubtless make for a closer relationship with your tailor than otherwise – which is worth its weight in gold, considering that one individual is likely to overview the entire construction process of your garments with you in mind.

It can however, present a problem. Whilst house style can differentiate tailors quite clearly, it can also provide a sense for the customer that the firm is inflexible or limited in what it offers. It can also make choosing a tailor a bewildering and off-putting process. Before settling upon my own tailors The Cad & the Dandy (who I chose primarily because of their flexibility and the fact that they were prepared to let me dictate aspects of the block of my own jackets) I visited another West End tailor, who wasted little time in telling me that although they could make what I’d like, I probably would be happier if I went somewhere else. As my first experience of London bespoke tailoring, I found this highly embarrassing and quite baffling.

Soft tailoring of Steven Hitchcock.

Largely, it’s a question of structure. Certain tailors provide garments which are highly structured with lots of canvass and shaping, which produces a striking cut and almost exaggerated silhouette. Other tailors prefer to cut their garments with a more relaxed shape, displaying a gentle shoulder and waist, with a soft chest canvass that makes for something altogether very comfortable and relaxed in feel. Some tailors pride themselves on their contemporary or minimalist approach to cut and colour, others prefer to produce work of a more flamboyant nature.

I’d recommend that when choosing a tailor for yourself, make sure that you approach a tailor who is willing to chat and listen to what you want to get out of your own garments. Book an initial consultation so that you can do some research and have this discussion properly. I’d advise getting tailors to talk you through their own work, so that you can get a sense of how they make-up their garments, and what their own house style is about. Producing a suit is a time consuming process, so a good tailor will always be willing to give you an hour or so solely to discuss your requirements, without there needing to be any pressure to place an order.

A final question I’d like to pose is how does Savile Row view itself; given that the street hosts such a large concentration of competing tailors who, whilst all being a part of Savile Row, firmly hold to their unique traditions and individual aesthetics? I would at this point like to make it clear that I firmly believe that one of Savile Row’s strongest and most valuable traits is the unique personality of every tailor on the Row and I wouldn’t have its current make-up changed for the world. What I would like to consider in my next piece however, is whether Savile Row as an entity, plays to this strength of variety of house styles as much as it perhaps could do? I wonder whether the individual tailors’ perceptions of Savile Row as a brand name and the Row’s own perception of its style might need a little more of a shake-up than the old guard would have us believe?