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?

The ‘White’ Dinner Jacket

“The only person who looked good in a white dinner jacket was Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. And that’s only because it was filmed in black and white.”

The above comment was made to me by an acquaintance when discussing a wedding I am due to attend later this year at a palm-treed, sandy-beach resort hotel in a particularly warm part of the world. The occasion, seemed to me, to suggest the use of the ‘white’ dinner jacket instead of black; the ‘summer’ or ‘tropical’ option. It won’t be oppressively warm, but the idea of wearing black barathea in such a place is unthinkable.

I say ‘white’ but the proper versions are actually cream or ivory and an entirely different tone to the white dress shirt underneath. There’s very little cause to use them in Blighty, unless Glyndebourne (or other summer events) happen to be particularly warm, and the practice of wearing formal dress in tropical heat has, understandably, declined. This has resulted in the white dinner jacket becoming a ‘non-essential’ component of the European gentleman’s wardrobe – unless you happen to be an intrepid cruiser.

If you Google ‘white dinner jacket’, or some variation thereof, you could be excused for thinking that fashion has abandoned this sartorial option. Most of the images are of chiselled catalogue models, looking into the distance, wearing weak wing collars, clip on satin bows and an off-white dinner jacket, by companies with names like Fullers Formal Wear, that looks several sizes too big; the sort of image that appears in the very back pages of a little-read weekend newspaper supplement, advertising half price formal rental.

Occasionally, there is an image of a dapper Tom Ford or Roger Moore wearing appealing versions, but these are rare oases in a desert of poor examples. It’s no wonder that men considering the white dinner jacket, already apprehensive, return to their trusty black or midnight blue vouching never to wear anything but.

Personally, I think this is a great shame. Firstly because there are too few options as it is for men to choose from for formal evenings. Secondly, because the white dinner jacket is an iconic garment that recalls an era when adjusting dress to climate and occasion was second nature to well-dressed gentlemen; a quality that is, unfortunately, on the wane. I believe it is possible to pull off the white dinner jacket effectively, it just requires consideration of these priorities:

1. Fit

This is the single most important element. It matters not how finely constructed your jacket is, if a white jacket looks too big – or indeed too small – it will appear so to a greater extent than your black or midnight blue jacket. This is simply because lighter colours reflect light. I would always err on the side of wearing a white jacket smaller (narrower shoulders and shorter) than a darker one for this very reason. If at all possible, get your jacket bespoke, MTM or at the very least get a RTW adjusted by a professional tailor. Take photographs from all angles; it is easier to drown in white than black.

2. Lapels

There are two options for lapels: shawl and peak. Ignore the pictures of Roger Moore in a notch lapel cream jacket; this jacket is still formal and notches are not appropriate. Shawls are very smooth and the default for the white dinner jacket, but can look rather Rat-Pack-band-leader. My preference would be for peak lapels.

3. Colour

The jacket should never be truly ‘white’ but rather off-white. In my opinion, the more ‘off’ the better; there is a more satisfying contrast with the white shirt and it is subtler.

Summer Etiquette: A Matter of Exposure

Picture the scene: it’s a hot and hazy summer day, the sun is baking the grass to an uncomfortable crispness and there’s no cooling breeze to blast against your sunburned face. The heat is such that the only thing you have any effort to do is rip off your sweat-saturated clothes and hug the nearest iceberg. You feel filthy, smelly and infuriatingly itchy. In such circumstances, etiquette is probably the furthest thing from your mind.

And yet, etiquette is actually one of the most important considerations in such conditions. This is not about excessive propriety. This is simply about not imposing yourselves on others or exposing yourself in a manner that brings about the discomfort or displeasure of others.

Skin exposure is one of the most controversial issues in fashion. In Victorian society, showing any skin apart from the face and hands was seen to be improper. Well-to-do women and men in the mid to late 19th century would have been fully buttoned-and-collared up, irrespective of the temperatures, their faces shaded by a wide brim hat. Thankfully, neither sex is compelled to follow such a punishing sartorial regime in the 21st century.

However, some exposure is getting rather out of control.

Torso exposure is not acceptable in any environment other than a swimming baths or beach. It doesn’t matter if you have the body of Michelangelo’s David, you should never take your shirt off in another public place. This is not about human beauty, it is about decorum.

Even if a few women ogle you, the truth is that you are showing your lack of regard for others, which is ultimately an unappealing trait.  Women don’t walk around with naked torsos and neither should men.

Leg exposure, though often frowned upon by purists, is acceptable but men, unlike women, often fail to take proper care of the extremities that are so forgotten in the colder months: feet.
The male foot may not be the most appealing body part, but men often make their peds worse by not taking care of them. Nails should be clean and clipped. All fungus infections should be treated with lacquer or VapoRub; if not, get a pedicure. Subjecting everyone else to cracked, calloused, fungal feet is not acceptable.

Lastly, removing items of clothing should be approached with caution. There’s nothing wrong with taking off a sweater or discreetly unbuttoning a shirt but it’s wise to avoid the temptation for ‘sneaky sunbathing’: rolling up shorts or removing a pair of loafers when you’re ensconced in some streetside café.

Three Shoes to Survive Summer

Brown suede loafers

There is something special about brown suede shoes. They’re not in the least bit practical, largely because suede is so high-maintenance. Get them wet at your peril; drop anything on them and they’re nigh-on ruined. They’re the Zsa Zsa Gabor of footwear; you can’t treat them like any old pair of kickers/entitled, self-obsessed diva. You have to encase them in fur and shower them with…protective spray.

One of the best things about brown suede is the way the light catches them and brings out the rich colour variations in the material. They have a beautifully matte, truffle-like appearance, which is a fabulous contrast to linen and mohair alike. As a shoe of texture, there are few better options.

Don’t listen to the purists, who insist that suede is only to be worn in the autumn/winter period. They look positively edible when worn with camel linen or mid-blue chinos. Keep away from barbecues.

Off-white plimsolls

One thing is certain about the summer and that is that someone, at some point, will drag you to some kind of competitive, but still ‘jolly friendly’, casual sporting event (probably involving bats or racquets), after which arguments will persist about individual prowess, fine margins and the quality of the refreshments.

What this means is that you need a pair of shoes which are not going to land you at a  sticky wicket. You can’t wear formal leather shoes, and all big-brand training shoes (sneakers) are aesthetically vile, so you need a pair of off-white plimsolls. Think of it this way: if Jay Gatsby had been invited to your little tournament, what would he wear?

Don’t fret, plimsolls aren’t trendy any more. You don’t need to keep them pristine for ‘that really important gig in Camden.’ There simply isn’t a sporting shoe with a better profile. So just roll up the bottoms on a pair of chinos and bowl already…

Red driving shoes

No one’s trying to turn you into Dorothy or anything, but red shoes are ‘where it’s at’ this summer. I recently saw an excellent execution of an ensemble featuring red driving shoes, worn with slim-fitting French navy linen trousers and a crisp white shirt. If the shoes had been any other colour, the outfit would have been unremarkable; that pop of Ferrari red made all the difference.

One of the great things about driving shoes, aside from their wonderful slipper-like comfort, is that they are useful for both casual jaunts to the beach and sampling the catch of the day in some overpriced hostelry on the marina. Warning: may cause stares.