Showing posts with label suit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label suit. Show all posts

Thursday, 4 August 2011

White Suit Addendum

Here's one I missed from my favourites: fashion designer Christopher McDonnell, as featured in The Telegraph Magazine in 1973, via Flickr. It strikes me that the magazine seemed to attract more cream-of-the-crop fashion coverage and photography than did its closest competitors, judging by the references I've seen in recent tomes like the indispensable Day of the Peacock, published this year by the V&A

McDonnell's ensemble is extremely well considered, dynamically cut and well-fitting. His judiciousness is particularly borne out by the thinking man's approach to boldly printed neckties - leave much of it to the imagination - and he crowns this by balancing this bombast with the ready-made ostentation of the suit, achieving this through the complementary hue of the shirt

I'd replicate this outfit in a heartbeat. I'd certainly appreciate the model

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Not Only For Southern Boys

   I want a white suit

  Yes, that's correct. I want to look like a plantation owner. Actually, I want to own a plantation. That's exactly why I want a white suit. My superiority complex must be indulged in the face of racial sensitivity, the stares of children and dry cleaning bills

   Speaking of children, for a great many of us growing up in Britain of the 1980s and early 1990s, this venerable institution below was our initiation into the intractable allure that a white suit holds. I write of course, of The Man From Del Monte, a tastemaker so prepotent that he could even subjugate Doctor Who 's definitive leading man into performing his narration:

   Of course, I'm quite willing to settle for off white or that light shade of beige that old people favour for upholstery

   Now, I've thought about styling one in a variety of forms. I've even considered ensembles in a Tony Montana or Miami Vice-like vein; utterly germane when matching the large quantities of Bolivian Marching Powder that line one's drawing room. And therein lies a decent line of approach - pastel shirting is an easy gateway to the fun of sporting white suiting - The King of Pop, for one, wrung an enduring image out of royal blue silk and barely-noticeable pinstripes. I do, however, recommend practically any colour other than darker purple - it's a touch too hard on the eyes, really:

Frankly, Mr. Jagger, this is not one of my favourites. But then, Mr. Watts has been consistently putting you to shame since the 1970s hit their middle period

   Nevertheless, Jagger has hit on another interesting aspect - bold shirts and white suits do not necessarily require neckwear; the tropical mode the look connotes makes for a particularly dégagé air; nothing speaks of summer's bright delights like a shirt that brings to mind the concentrated colouring of a particularly punchy cocktail. It's the dressing incarnation of optimism

   If one is particularly insensible or talented, a print shirt, worn in the Tynan fashion, is a step in a similar direction, and these are widely available, from H&M and Topman to Holliday & Brown, Gucci and Prada. The neckwear possibilities for these are a little looser than their pastel cousins - where the latter works best with plain or subtly patterned neckties and bow ties in both contrasting and similar shades, the former allows one to fool around with clashing prints or adventurous textures like raised ribbing and dupioni (both types may also support a neckscarf, where bravery permits). Worn at a function, it's an aesthetic that suggests one has brought all of the fun pills to the party. In the best potential interpretation of that hypothesis, of course

   So, how about a fellow who dons them habitually? Someone who did not earn the word "iconic" by making himself unavoidable via Jersey Shore, perhaps. A fellow who has been renowned for almost 40 years, who has designed garments of exquisite grace and idiosyncrasy, who challenges the Beastie Boys' Mike D for the sobriquet, "Man of Leather"

   Behold, The Last Emperor himself, Valentino Garavani:

   In contrast to rock'n'roll theatricality and dandyish offhandedness, Signor Garavani hews to the side of propriety and age-appropriate formality through simple, sedate accessorising to go with his uniquely Continental manner of quiet authority. Soporific to write about this may be, but for some, the mere act of donning a white suit is a statement in itself. Indeed, this approach makes the suit particularly safe for the city, whereas the playful version has a wider, wilder adaptability. Do not ever let it be said that I cannot cater for more conservative approaches

   Seemingly every neo-haberdashery, designer shop and department store proffer white suits each spring and summer, be it Banana Republic, Hackett, Zara or Ralph Lauren. The choice is very much the preserve of the buyer; my tastes are fairly easygoing and also dependent on fabrics,with one or two caveats - some enticing takes by Tom Ford in his Gucci days aside, I would preferably wear a double breasted version if it were silk. And in the discussion of linen vs. cotton, I'm with cotton - with less of a propensity to wrinkle heavily, it tends to suit three buttons and three pieces more neatly

   Did I mention that they go very well with Panama hats? In this case, I do recommend any hatband colour for one's straw, as long as it is not black

   Here are my three favourite white/light suit examples:

Barry Sainsbury, former director of the iconic Mr. Fish design boutique, in a summer ensemble complete with Fish's signature same fabric shirt and tie

James Salter, novelist and writer, posing for Jill Krementz. Imagine, if you will, that his shirt is either a leafy green, a rich tan or a pale orange and it still would tastefully complement his paradoxically stern yet relaxed demeanour

Speaking of the 1990s, being a Britisher, my first introduction to the American basketball legend Walt 'Clyde' Frazier came from a line in 1992's Beastie Boys song, 'Pass The Mic.' Here, he models a combination that, due to the red shirt and the high contrast, is potentially overpowering on much lighter complexions. The off white colouring is certainly a wiser choice over the purer shade; it prevents Mr. Frazier from resembling a European flag, for one thing

Those who would not chance a pair of correspondent shoes can still rely on stalwart footwear accoutrements in brown, black, tan and blue (thought those two may be best in suede) and oxblood. We cannot all be Clydes

   If a summer stand-out is required, backless chaps and string vests aside, I can think of few better aesthetic responses to the brilliance that this season brings. As long as one doesn't rub up against any surfaces

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Inside Maurice Sedwell

Mr. Ramroop has the floor:

Also of interest is the edifying and interesting blog (English Cut for the non-fogey?) authored by Sedwell's head cutter and former assistant to Edward Sexton, Davide Taub, whose appreciable versatility and idiosyncratic detailing nevertheless deserves as wide an audience as possible. This sort of adventurousness seems to be on par with the European operations with venerated names like Camps de Luca and Cifonelli

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Shine One On

Elegant slubbing, courtesy of Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather

   For one shining moment last year, I owned a light grey slubbed Shantung silk suit for spring and summer; as is customary in my collection, it was double breasted, Roman made, from the 1980s (the period most associated in my mind with the Suits With Runs Look) and formerly owned by my father. And then "formerly" became "presently," so I wait for either old age or senility to make it mine once again. "This kind of suit, my son," he intoned, "is not yet for you." I don't think this was said because he perceives a lack of gravitas in my make-up; I think he just remembered that it still fits him. And unlike him, my arms are long enough for my fingertips to graze my knees, so there is that...

   I believe that each summer suiting choice, particularly Dupioni and Shantung silk, mohair and cotton, is a beautiful and unique snowflake; a catholicon to all that may feel particularly rote and lifeless about warm wools. Silks have a galvanising aspect when tailored, imputing colours with texture and hypnotic iridescence at their most beautiful (Shantung being the more flamboyant, slubbier and occasionally rougher take compared to Dupioni); mohair distinguishes itself with its sheen, crispness, lightness of wearing and valuable versatility (particularly the ones that look slightly pearlescent in various lights - see also this excellent article by good pal Winston C);  cotton and its endearingly wrinkly aspects create the most relaxed tailoring of all. I, like others, also recognise the considerable charm of linen, the most rumpled of all, and its warm weather boons to even the heavy sweaters amongst us all. But I am ultimately a texture addict, not to mention one who often, like Sixth Doctor Colin Baker, dresses like "an explosion in a rainbow factory;" this is a tendency that silk clothing enables very, very easily and is the exact reason I plan to acquire a new (or new-old) one of my own when fortune and funds permit. Mohair is my second choice and I have recently viewed a number of vintage Savile Row examples that might still be mine if anything can be done about the sleeves (I'd also enjoy seeing some from China). It is to marvel at the unique fabric designs that the 1960s and 1970s produced for summerwear

Two examples that may possibly be silk-blends (or just shiny), courtesy of Robert De Niro's character Sam "Ace" Rothstein in the undeniably excellent Casino. Note the iconic Ultra Goliath eyeframes

   When I commented on Roger Moore's Cyril Castle-created Dupioni suit at The Suits of James Bond today, I initially considered that I wanted a very light grey version for myself (steel blue, light or rust brown, burgundy, forest green and off white also loom large), since that sort of icy look is quite the head-turner on very bright days. I have never thought such a colour to really suit me, despite owning a patch pocketed version in ramie from good old Junya Watanabe that I love, but in a slightly shinier form, my mind's eye makes it look rather becoming. It can also handle many accessory colourings and with my skin tone, a Mr. Fish-inspired presentation of a matching white or bone-coloured shirt and necktie feels more than possible. A silk trifecta formed from the three main ensemble components also seems ridiculously appealing

Moore's first 007 Dupioni number, dark grey and double breasted, as seen in Live and Let Die, via The Suits of James Bond

   Of course, it is worth recalling that lightweight silks are vulnerable to stains, crotch rot and the accidental snags caused by the fingers and rings of an amorous partner, so those who are also tempted may wish to blend. Wool, linen, cashmere and cotton mixes, as well as heavier silks have much to offer; they can sacrifice some of the breathability, but done well, style always remains

 The Modern Jazz Quartet in mohair suits for The Cocktail Age

   London is bright again. Let's shine one on for the summer

Prince Charles in Dupioni silk suiting

Monday, 7 February 2011

Not For Mortals

   Tommy Nutter, seen here firing one of his cannonballs into the wilderness of the conservative doldrums, had a knack for bending my theory that fine tailoring can surmount almost any flamboyant flight of go-to-hell fancy when it comes to suiting. This definitely constitutes one of those moments

   Nevertheless, the structuring is rather exquisite - between the brilliant shape of the aircraft-grade lapels and the built-up form of the shoulders, he is a plaid-clad hero for the late 20th century. This should be little surprise - for all of the focus on Nutter's eccentricity, the product masterminded by Edward Sexton, Joseph Morgan, Roy Chittleborough and him, along with those who worked with him in the ensuing "Tommy Nutter" days, was pure Savile Row at its heart; the tailoring tradition of generations anchoring the theatrical preening of what might have otherwise been showy and difficult to wear clothing (to say nothing of the quality of their more conventional creations). Despite acknowledging the abrasiveness and humour of this look - and I've no idea what the original colours are - in all other aspects, down to Nutter's hair even, it is far from unsophisticated. The pattern combination alone lays Tom Ford's latter day ideas utterly bare

   The sobriety of thought and craft that went into this gleefully insensible ensemble makes an interesting counterpoint to the visual histrionics of Luca Rubinacci, Lapo Elkann and the Pitti crowd, who often strike me as throwing stuff against the wall to see if it sprezzes

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Just Fit

   I am far from a fan of the three button jacket - the 3-roll-2 aside - and yet this normally unflattering, pedestrian aesthetic comes alive when invigorated by the best possible fit:

   After observing such cutting in practice, it's more than clear to me that the idyllic three button imputes a no-nonsense sturdy broadness to the chest. In tandem with well tailored shoulders and a lengthy body, the coat practically confers instant dignity on even the swarthiest urban playboy

   This ensemble also shows a trenchant use of a pale pink tie and pocket square with a white shirt, playing their soft contrast against their wearer's complexion and also making for a gentle visual when juxtaposed with the starkly coloured and styled suit. A stronger pink tie might have been, at best, brash; at worst, wide boy-harsh. And not every look should be a geezer-approval winner

   The photograph dates from 1970 and is part of Sator's stash. I believe it's Germanic in origin

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Wedded Dress

   Ghanaian weddings favour a conservative mode in principle, but they are nevertheless as rife with egregious errors such as evening dress in the daytime as anywhere else on the planet. Still, the simplicity is the thing and bow ties are always welcome

   The suit was kindly lent to me as I had none of my own when I initially relocated. I've more than made up for that now

Sunday, 16 May 2010

His Summer Blue

   This fellow, photographed in mid-2008 by The Sartorialist, is one of the few living standards for Relaxed Suiting that I am aware of. Note that he is all Character, but not overbearingly so - almost every colour is unembellished except by a pleasing cycle of texture. His suit says something about him that is more meaningful than a thousand contrived idiosyncrasies: "I have Lived, I have Enjoyed, I have played within this traditional framework and I am more Weathered for it"

   The Doyens of Fastidiousness that are the internet's Nitpick Parade of Insecure Male Dressers would never forgive themselves for deploying an ironed shirt and tie with the rumples - no amount of pressing would rid them of the nightmares. Yet more pride in personal elegance can be discerned from the passing of the Test of Time that these clothes display than in exacting and dully "correct" men's clothing that is so less alive in its conformity

   As one of the last few vital male subjects captured by Scott Schuman, this man is to be treasured for the wrinkly bellweather of Offbeat Formality that he is. And yes, a three-button jacket does lend itself very well to the illusion of height

   Summer Blue to aspire to

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Our Friends in Kowloon

   The eminent Hong Kong tailoring house, W.W. Chan, whom I've mentioned and interviewed in missives past, is returning to London for the dates of May 13th to 20th. A descendant of the Red Gang of Shanghainese tailors, itself a pivotal force in the region's technical development, it has outfitted members of Hong Kong's most cultivated for over 50 years. "The great and the good" of the menswear fora have perennially commissioned from Chan's operation and it has built up an enduring reputation based on quality, attention to detail and a facility for accommodating various requirements

   It's quite the sign of prestige that HK general manager and head cutter Patrick Chu undertakes the visits to the United States and Britain personally; he's polite and unassuming, but more practically, also exacting, analytical and flexible, aiding and enabling the process each step of the way. This is not your cheap, trashily designed Asian operation suitable only for Wall Street guidos and Billionaire Couture freeze-outs

   Here follows the pertinence:

May 14th - 17th, Friday to Monday

London Hilton Green Park
Half Moon Street, Mayfair
London W1J

Map -

To make an appointment, please e-mail or fax the shop in Hong Kong:

Fax: (+852) 2368-2194

Appointments can be booked via e-mail/fax until May 13. Patrick Chu will start accepting appointment bookings himself from May 14 onwards and can be reached at the hotel at 0207 629 7522. The appointment hours are 9 AM - 6 PM
Pricing starts at USD 1,200 for a two piece suit using VBC cloth. Fabric bunches from all the major mills (Harrisons, Holland and Sherry, Scabal, etc) are represented but if you have a particular bunch that you would like to see, let them know in advance and they will try and get a hold of it for you. Garments are finished and delivered in approximately three months. Prices are charged in USD as this is Chan's standard measurement of exchange; these dollar prices will be converted to pounds at the point of sale

If fabric suggestions are necessary, the Harrisons Premier and Grand Cru books are good three season books for the UK, although they are a touch heavy for other climes. Holland & Sherry fresco as well, could try that in heavier weights though the texture is not always to everyone's taste. If you want a good value semi-luxe sort of fabric, the higher end VBCs in finer super numbers are nice too. Such a Minnis offering in navy has also proved popular. Dashing Tweeds is also amongst the books and is known for its clever, exuberant patterning

Shirts and suits all custom made by W.W. Chan

The typical order process for the London tour is:

1. You contact Chan and book an appointment. If you are a new customer, you will be asked to bring one of your own jackets which you consider "your favourite" or "a good fit"

2. Show up at the appointment and you will be able to browse the fabric bunches. Patrick and co. will be on hand to give you some advice about what might be a suitable fabric for your particular needs

3. Specify the style and features that you are looking for, i.e. single or double breasted, straight or hacking pockets, soft shoulder or standard shoulder, etc.

4. Patrick will measure you up. The Chan measuring system is a proprietary system that dates back to the original founder of WW Chan about 70 years ago and has been subsequently improved upon over the years by his son Peter Chan and Patrick Chu with special tweaks for tour use

The measuring system for the tour is extremely extensive and also includes slipping on one of Chan's "measuring jackets" to get an idea of certain features of the body that might not be easily captured in numerical measurements alone. Photos are taken of you in the measuring jacket for later reference. Your "favourite jacket" is also observed and measured to give Chan some idea of the sort of fit you like, i.e. loose, tight, etc. It should be noted that the "favourite jacket" is not copied in any way whatsoever

The reason why the measuring system needs to be so detailed is because Chan strives to make complete, finished and well fitting garments without intermediate fittings. This is also the reason why Patrick Chu himself goes on tour and does the measurements. Patrick, as the head cutter, is extremely familiar with the formulae and calculations that derive your measurements into your paper pattern and this gives everybody a much better chance of getting it right first time

5. Leave a credit card number. The full amount will be charged to your credit card once the cloth has been ordered. I know this may disturb or upset some people but unfortunately this is their procedure

6. Patrick returns to Hong Kong, the cloth is ordered, a pattern is made for you based on the measurements, and the cloth is then cut and tailored according to your pattern. Your completed suit will be sent to you three to four months later


If you were to request a fitting on tour as some people do, then this is what would happen:

6. You need to request a fitting while you are putting in the order. The cost of a basted fitting is now $150 (it has risen slightly from previous years) and it includes the cost of the basted garment being shipped to you. However, it will be your responsibility to ship the garment back to Chan in Hong Kong after the basted garment has been fitted

Rather than receiving a completed suit, you will receive a basted garment. This is a garment that has been cut according to your pattern and then stitched together with basting thread which temporarily holds the garment together. Next time Patrick is on tour, make an appointment with him and bring the basted garment so that he can see what adjustments might need to be made

There are pros and cons to this approach


1. You get to have a fitting which may result in a better fitting garment(which can be a big Pro)


1. You have to pay an extra $150
2. You have to ship it back to Chan at your expense
3. You will have to wait a lot longer. Firstly, you have to wait until you see Patrick next time he is on tour to get fitted in your basted garment. Then after the basted garment goes back to Chan, you will have to wait for them to finish it before you receive your completed garment. Given that the London tour occurs around every six months, you will be looking at a total of about eight months from start to completion. The US customers have it better in that Chan passes through every four months instead

There is an alternative to having a basted garment mailed to you and that is to go directly to the shop in Hong Kong during the intermediate stages. It's perfectly fine to put in your order on tour and be fit later in Hong Kong. Fittings at the shop incur no charges - just let Chan know in advance that you are coming

It is worth noting that there is no difference in the quality of workmanship and product; whether you go to the Hong Kong store or not, it is still the same Chan workshop making the garment. The benefit of going to Hong Kong is you can have additional fittings that may result in a better fitting garment

Monday, 25 January 2010

The Bojangles Post

The Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson Monument in Richmond, VA

   Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson (1878 - 1949) is the perfect representative of a favoured archetype of mine; the energetic, sharply dressed, dynamic hoofer of the early 20th century. Alongside Gene Kelly, The Nicholas Brothers and, of course, Fred Astaire, he is also an ideal exemplar for the freedom, precise lines and pure élan of skilled tailoring. His capacity for generosity, dignity and rising up against all the odds that faced him are also excellent guidelines for living

   As a man of motion, his jackets gave him the freedom to perform his steps whilst looking his best. Look at how the low padded shoulders and the height of the armholes combine to allow him near-unrestricted movement without distorting the garment’s structure. The sweeping belly of his lapels and loosely structured fit add to his energy and agility immensely

   For those who appreciate my use of full cut trousers, this is where it comes from. What gives Bojangles the edge is that he has no need for my kaleidoscopic enthusiasm; his flamboyance lies in the cut, which is simply of its time


   There is any number of reasons as to why his style has not passed on into public legend, but he is as admirable to me as Cary Grant is to everyone else. Ever complimentary of other footwork talents, Astaire’s tribute to him in 1936's Swing Time may be history’s only relatively passable example of blackface, and I say that because I've no real reason to doubt Astaire's sincerity:

   Unexpectedly, his baton was taken up briefly in 2003 and 2004, by, of all people, in the ‘Hey Mama’ video and Usher in ‘Caught Up’, respectively. The choice of garments and silhouettes, along with the fact that both men use the videos to highlight their skill as dancers is indicative of inspiration, if not tribute

Dancing alongside Shirley Temple

   I wouldn’t go as far as to include myself as part of his legacy, although an uncle of mine teasingly referred to me as ‘Bojangles’ after I danced with everyone in sight at a recent wedding reception. I still can’t say that I’m not flattered

   Let's hear it for Mr. Bojangles

Monday, 18 January 2010

Relaxed Suiting

The Fifth Earl of Lichfield, Thomas Patrick John Anson, via LIFE Magazine

   Men who want to leave the suit behind when their day is done at the coalface are shortchanging themselves. Learning to adapt and procure suits for occasions and for pleasure is merely another aspect of the fun that comes with sharpening one's image. And that suits-with-trainers lark only ever worked for downtown New York New Wavers and David Tennant

   There are other options, you know:

YSL, circa 1969

Also from LIFE, The Beatles take Japan. And Lennon probably didn't need to ask anyone if it was acceptable to sport a muted pink suit

Etro, via the NY Times; the label has entirely defined itself through uncompromising flamboyance, sharp cuts and playful patterning

Etro for summer. There's only one element I'd not wear

The post-colonial African hipster look revived for the NY Times. Suits by Viktor & Rolf (l) and Dries Van Noten (r)

   Let's face it; the mods, suedeheads and peacocks were deriving much enjoyment from their appropriation of traditional dress codes and the results thereof. It's all over Patrick Lichfield's face up above; he's bold, but not over the top, able to enjoy his appearance without being self conscious about it. Given what parades up and down today's metro paving, it's only out of the ordinary because sartorialism is the current incarnation of iconoclasm. Having said that, it still takes a brave or uncaring man to wear a hat crown as large as his face

Mick Jagger and Mary Whitehouse. Really

The 1971 wedding of Mick and Bianca Jagger. His suit was from Nutter's of Savile Row; at this time, the pattern was cut by master tailor Edward Sexton. His shirt was created by Deborah & Clare of Beauchamp Place. The photograph is, of course, by Patrick Lichfield, via The Independent

   It's been well documented that I achieve a more informal look the same way other likeminds do; my shirt and tie combinations could only really be seen at parties or in a creative office. Anyone who really thinks bold ensembles are de rigueur in a conservative professional environment is an idiot or has befriended one too many wide boys. But going the other way and playing the colour field down doesn't harm a suit's out-of-the-office cachet:

Knit tie, green pocket square, striped cardigan; relaxed in more of a cosy sense than a creative one, but also perfectly felicitous for a dressy occasion

   Rather than simply thinking "It's not for me" or "I'm not (delete as appropriate) cool/rich/famous/handsome/slender/crazy enough to pull this off," you simply have to remember that menswear is about the details. For every exuberant pattern, there must be a balancing act performed by the cut; it must, of course, fit exceptionally well. Don't compound the potential shock factor of a statement fabric with offbeat tailoring decisions (unless it's a shorts suit, which is a topic for a future time). Stick with two buttons in a single breasted or go double in a 6x4 configuration. Rather than standard padded shoulders, why not try roped shoulders and/or lightly padded natural shoulders. Retain a well shaped silhouette with subtle buttons. Let the fabric do the shouting

   If anyone would like a place to start, I can think of nowhere better than Dashing Tweeds. Their Exploded Houndstooth design has previously appeared on this column. I do like this Foulkesian 3-piece tailored from one of their cloths by Savile Row's Davies & Son:

   A final thought: don't neglect the outerwear

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Loaded With Soul

   As well as being the perfect Sunday afternoon motion picture delight if one's in the mood for song, dance and gentility, genre classic Easter Parade is pure escapism, firing-on-all-cylinders showbiz creativity and catnip for satorial details fiends

   In my favourite sequence (with all due respect to 'Steppin' Out With My Baby' and 'We're Just a Couple of Swells'), Fred Astaire goes 'Drum Crazy' and exhibits the charm, aplomb, fleetfooted steps and stylistic nous that had the makers entice him out of retirement when his colleague, fellow icon and friend, Gene Kelly, was forced to bow out. Nearing 50 at the time, he does not approach his routine with the blink-and-miss rapidfire tapping of his younger days, but all of his hallmarks are present and correct - the warmth mixed with goofy, curious humour, his almost peerless agility and his command of body, audience and stage. Just look at his exit - total and intuitive awareness of his environment in full display, he performs a variety of cane tricks, finishing with his trademark spinning catch and exits with a wave and a smile in bounding, mercurial twirls

   Cheating a child out of an Easter Bunny never looked so admirable

   I also greatly appreciate the ease in which he performs in tailoring. The film is set in 1912 and was made in 1948; educated guesses aside, I have no idea who made Astaire's suit nor whether its Edwardianisms were more appropriate for the earlier or the later date but I'll be damned if the majority of the ensemble doesn't hold up today (I still can't forecast a spats return)

   Nor do I feel uniquely qualified to expound on the peerlessness of his looks - when there are not one but two excellent extollings at Dandyism and an essential tome (and a Sartorialist guest post pitting the dandy dancer against Cary Grant) by G. Bruce Boyer, there's no place for me in the running. But this walking, singing Leyendecker illustration-ensemble is one of the defining images of Astaire in my mind - simple, harmonious colours, the derby/bowler sitting nonchalantly on his head - a continent and ease of use away from the stereotype it became in the City of London - and a precisely tailored two piece that matches his range of movement so well, the notion of a suit as a second skin is wholly fulfilled. Everything that people miss when trying to bring a suit to life is here

   Working primarily with light accents, as dictated by the springtime setting, the hue of the two-piece's grey finds a natural companion in the white waistcoat, which, in turn, is complemented by the spats and even the pearl tie pin. The pink shirt adds a jaunty air; the black necktie works with the shoes and bowler to maintain balance through contrast. The blues that shade the other accessories are perfect. Befitting his successful Broadway star character - hardly a world away from Astaire himself - this is a somewhat patrician, but nevertheless relaxed and creative man, not a businessman. Everything is natural; everything simply works

   'Drum Crazy', the song? It was written by legendary composer Irving Berlin, which alone speaks for itself, but it boasts qualities not mixed together often enough - danceability, hummability, quotability. Oh, and a relentlessly playful sensibility, so refined that it works in all sorts of drum licks and drum kits with the randomness of a jam session yet never shortchanges the other instruments in play. Even the xylophone. And when it almost arbitrarily becomes a marching band stomp, it nevertheless feels right, because if there's anything that should be freewheeling, it's Fred Astaire in full flight

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The In-Between Season

   Sometimes, seasonal dressing gets its wires crossed. It may become bright, but inexplicably cool, or humid, but overcast. And despite the unswerving heat of late, Monday still found time to have its cake and eat it by serving up some unexpected rain. Today's temperature is similarly unwieldy, but hardly a return to wintry days, nonetheless

   Still, it never ceases to amaze me how few actually check a forecast before departing their abodes for the day, which puts me in mind of a certain Forrest Gump quote, but I like to be prepared for change from above if I can help it. And one thing I am definitely a fan of is the year-round suit

One of my all-seasons suits in January 2009. The double breasted design helps to keep the heat in and the breathable, lighter worsted material helps to regulate my temperature

   Whilst on my recent sojourn in Edinburgh, an incoming graduate, about to be released into the arid desert of the current job market, made a few enquiries of me as to what kinds of suits he needed for upcoming work and where to find them. After making the usual suggestions - Reiss, Austin Reed, Suit Supply, H&M - I cautioned him: "If you can, get three. One should definitely be a reasonably warm wool, and you'll be well-timed to pick one up in August or September. But definitely buy one in the summer sales - it'll be of a lighter weight, but will keep you temperate enough well into October, at least. You need that one suit that deals well with most temperatures and can be supported with a coat, Barbour or v-neck when necessary"

   As for off-duty times, if the weather is wonky enough, as it is today, I like to throw on a wool sportcoat, slightly lighter trousers (my upper half deals with the confusion a little better) and skip the ties for a neckscarf. Because I am that sort of a man. It's much like having the best of both worlds

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Pop Culture Thumbs-Up - 31/05/09

   This is Karen Gillan, the first companion for the Eleventh Doctor in next year's all-new Doctor Who series. I approve. I can imagine the trickle of information increasing over the summer to maintain interest in the remaining specials and beyond

   Hickey A/W09, via A Continuous Lean - worth a glance to see one of the most striking Sartorialist subjects take the stage as Hickey's mannequin

   Much as I maintain a healthy disinterest in Britain's Got Talent, I must approve of the winners - who doesn't love a dance crew?

   Observant as ever, Bill Cunningham does one of his sporadic weigh-ins on NYC men's outfits in a slideshow entitled 'Boundless.' In the microcosm of the world's cultural capital, dressing up is king

   "I'm extravagant in ways that relate to my heritage" - celebrated man of letters Gay Talese on his love affair with suiting. It truly is all in the details. If that quote does not become his epitaph - I'm sure he's said better - then I'd like it to be mine

   UK-specific - Sky1 stealthily nabbed House season 5 whilst Channel 5 was procrastinating and episode one went out earlier tonight. It's an uneven season, but stick with it - the highs are as emotive and hilarious and thought-provoking as ever, and if you're at all emotionally invested in the Damaged Doctor, the finale just might crack your heart

   Late addendum: Eminem vs. Bruno. Nothing distracts from the ills of the world like a gross-out moment on national TV that will probably lead to a major vendetta (as long as it really was unscripted, of course. Which it wasn't)

    Pointless note: the last entry in this column was on the 13th. How palindromic

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Bow Tie Post (A Primer)

It's time

  Truth is, the bow tie just seems incapable of dying, no matter how far out of favour it's fallen as daywear. Even if half the attendees at a black or white tie event can only put together a clip-on-centric ensemble, they still have to wear the curious little thing (and note that the Oscar attendees who haven't succumbed to the silk black necktie opt-out in favour of tradition are the ones who draw the most sartorial praise, or perhaps the least ire). Even if treated as costume, my jaunt to Prohibition, and my subsequent uncovering of related events such as next week's The Blitz, proved that some men will pay attention to such details

   Meanwhile, on American television, Chuck Bass runs amok, barely tamed by the show's stylist, and dorky, baby-faced Harry of Mad Men somehow adds to the drama's cool and influential allure (and his own need for maturity) by wearing his BT like it's the most natural thing in the world (and though its decline was setting in even back then, playing such an affectation straight makes all the difference in its perception). And outside of the box and all over the country, Southern, WASP, Trad and older gentlemen are working with these fictional constructs to subliminally influence the male metropolitan young in broadening its look

   And then there's the geek chic thing. For comparison's sake, imagine a small-scale style version of the image makeover Sony gave to video game players when the PlayStation first emerged. Introduce, say, four more male sex symbols wearing these adornments on a regular basis and widespread popularity just might ensue

  It would be remiss not to credit the designers who are unable to let a good thing die. Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, Junya Watanabe (briefly), and especially Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford - all have produced collections that feature the bow as part of an affectionate tribute to old world glamour, rather than as a rehabilitative stylistic exercise. Understanding and insight into tradition and elegance is the secret weapon of the man who wears a bow tie well; it's what separates him from the hipster method, which is usually so much ironic, style unconscious pap

   To whit - a bow tie on a polo shirt is a geek's game. It really, really helps if you are an actual geek, or at the very least, an indie kid with geek affectations. Otherwise, it's a look perpetrated by one who self-consciously doesn't know what he's doing, probably because he's aping someone else in the first place. To make matters worse, the polo will more often than not be clashing with the clip-on in the first place. And it would really help if arbiters whom I trust to know better would refrain from encouraging the impressionable

   The BT + plaid shirt take isn't much better. Plaids are a particularly strong pattern and tying up the collar with a BT seems even more contrived, like trying to contain a fit-to-burst balloon of colour and pattern with a non-complementary string. About the best ways to minimise and refine the look are to wear a relatively less bold shirt, use a bow tie that harmonises with the colours of the shirt (so it's best to keep the BT plain and perhaps in a more luxe material such as silk) and wear a sober, well-cut sportsjacket or knit v-neck, both of which always balance out more exuberant shirting

   But really, my point is this: it's not a Herculean undertaking to wear a bow tie in this day and age. Sobriety and subtlety are the key and the bolder models will be mastered with time and confidence. BTs have been denigrated as flamboyant for decades but there's little flamboyant about their use amongst traditionalists, who team them with otherwise plain, neat ensembles, and it's this sort of principle that should guide their use - no pushed up jacket sleeves or untucked shirts or daft clip-on braces

   A bow tie is a creative piece and should be treated as the most idiosyncratic item in an ensemble. With a suit, the pocket square should be fairly tame or folded, and the shirt pattern can be reasonably discreet - too loud and it's off to clown school. I myself have worn far more ridiculous items than BTs, and on my rambles in the less fashionable areas of South London, the bows have attracted far less scepticism, scorn or sneers than my old graphic t-shirts and outlandish jackets. In fact, they've gone almost entirely unnoticed; quite the exhilarating feeling in truth. It's a simple matter of making the surrounding garments calmer, or, conversely, as interesting

   Anyone can see that one is wearing a bow tie, but you'll suffer if you feel the need to draw attention to it by, say, selecting an awkward silhouette of drainpipe jeans and an overlarge jacket or a full-bore Victorian ensemble. Wear it in good taste and a compliment or two might be forthcoming - particularly from women - with bonus points awarded for self-tying. Wear it like a clown and any negative response is really on your own head

Dsquared2 A/W06: clownish might be too harsh in this case. In the real world, shedding the topper, pulling up the trousers, shrinking the sleeves and detaching the fob chain from the fly would make this look hard to argue against

Lanvin A/W06: The first outing under the Lucas Ossendrijver/Alber Elbaz creative wing presented a realistic hypothesis of modern bow tie wearing, based principally on a slick high school senior's approach to eveningwear. All the colours are neutral and solid; most of them dark. The cropped trench ably substitutes for a double breasted jacket, the silhouette is relaxed and worn, and the gloves support both the formality and casual practicality of the look. The shapes allow the trainers to blend in. The bow tie is a little out of proportion with the model's face, but keep the widths and height restrained and this won't be an issue

   The best bow ties tend to be British-retailed - excuse my bias - or from Ralph Lauren. The most attractive and varied ones at the moment are available from the old standby likes of Hackett, Turnbull & Asser and Budd, while Brooks Brothers, RL and Tom Ford (who else?) take care of business on the American end. More affordable products abound at Woods of Shropshire, Clermont Direct and eBay. And if there's anyone I've missed, do let me know - I'd be more than happy to wear them

Runway images:

Friday, 15 May 2009

Outfit Digest - Hair Loss



It happens to us all