Still Open

Thursday, April 29, 2010
The other day my brother found a brilliant little book which he bought for our coffee table - Still Open: The Guide to Traditional London Shops is full of the fantastic boutique shops, bars and cafes that make London such an exciting city to live in.
Although it's by no means exclusively about clothes shops, it's pretty hard to write about 'traditional London shops' without dedicating a fair amount of space to the gems of the style industry. Bates the Hatter (in its old location), John Lobb (including a frankly amazing picture of a room containing hundreds and hundreds of wooden lasts), and James Smith and Sons are all included, as are delicatessens, barber shops, and the wonderful Brick Lane Beigel Bake.

Still Open undeniably makes a great coffee table book, but personally I've found it an inspiration to go and explore some of the shops it includes that I've not yet been to and, in many cases, not even heard of. For Londoners and tourists alike, I reckon you could do a good deal worse than just spending a few days exploring the recommendations of this wonderful book.

The sad decline of the tie

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
A particularly appropriate sketch over at Nicholas Bate's blog.

I was in the City yesterday meeting with a client based out of a large, smart office complex housing a few big-name financial service businesses. The lobby was swarming with men in suits, and yet a surprising number of them weren't wearing a tie. Style forumites often talk knowingly of things that 'of course, wouldn't be acceptable in The City', as though finance remains a bastion of old-fashioned clothing values. The reality, of course, is rather different. Suits may still be generally required, but for the non client-facing majority of of junior and mid-level workers, ties are becoming increasingly optional.
Does it matter? Maybe, maybe not. Many men seem terrified of dressing smartly, but dressing as casually as you can get away with is shortchanging yourself. Ties are a key part of a formal outfit, and give you an opportunity to vary your daily atire far more cheaply than suits or even shirts do.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Ever since I've gone back to writing with a fountain pen, and ditched the black and red notebooks in favour of legal pads, I've been on the lookout for some kind of holder for my notepads. In the past, I've had a sort of 'conference folio' with space for pads, pens, business cards and various other junk, but I think what I really need is something a bit simpler - just an attractive way of carrying and protecting a legal-size pad.

Aspinal of London, still one of my favourite stores despite their incompetence at selling fountain pens, do a few nice things in this line. I love their briefcases and attache cases, infact, but I have less use for one of these, so I think I'll restrict myself to one of the pad holders.
Now, if only I could decide on a colour...

Summer wear: boat shoes

Friday, April 23, 2010
The weather in the South of England just keeps getting better and, ever optimistic, I am looking forward to a beautiful summer. I'm less good at summer clothes, to be honest, I find it harder to wear temperature-sensible clothes and still look smart.

One item of clothing that I think will be a good purchase this summer is a pair of deck shoes. They may be fairly ubiquitous, but they have the advantage of coming in so many colours and styles that it's not too hard to find a pair that match your particular tastes. From fairly smart brown leather deck shoes that could easily be worn with chinos and a blazer, to suede ones in a variety of colours, which will look great with shorts, there's no shortage of options.
As something I'm likely to wear fairly casually, I quite like the idea of something a bit more interesting than plain brown, and I'm quite attracted to a nice looking pair of blue and white ones from Charles Tyrwhitt. They ought to look nice with shorts, and dark blue jeans. They're probably fairly eye-catching, but that's ok, and they also have a nice summery appeal.

A cute little dress...

Thursday, April 22, 2010
I really needed a break from all the paperwork and website work that is covering my desk.  So I decided to make this sweet dress for my little friend Julianna, age 3.

I saw a pattern for a top exactly like this at That*Darn*Kat on Etsy, and first thought "That's so simple, I can draft it myself!"  Then I had second thoughts. I decided that it just isn't right for me to copy a designer's hard work, so I bought the pattern. The pattern is designed as a top, so I just lengthened it to make this dress.  I plan to make many more.  This pattern is very fast and easy to sew, with excellent step-by-step instructions and color photographs.

Back to copying patterns.  I have "borrowed" design details that I've seen on pattern photographs many times....never intending for my finished garment to look exactly like my inspiration.  This time I bought the pattern because I wanted to make a garment as close as possible to the original. I also wanted to support an Etsy seller.  And while I think it's OK to get inspiration from others' patterns, it is my opinion that it's not right to try to copy them exactly.  So if you like this dress, the pattern is available as a top at That*Darn*Kat.

It's BACK !

Wednesday, April 21, 2010
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Election Style 1

The UK General Election campaign is well underway, and the news is full of pictures of the three main party leaders; at schools talking to kids, at rallies, in their campaign bus, on the train, etc.

I'd have liked to do a series weighing up the personal styles of Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg but there's really not much to choose between them; all three favour plain, bold ties, plain light-coloured shirts and sober grey or blue single-breasted suits. After last week's debate, an 'expert' judged that Brown and Cameron wore tailor-made suits, while Clegg's was off-the-rack. This may be true, but I doubt that the slight differences were noticable to most of the audience.

To be fair, I suspect that sadly the public doesn't really want a Prime Minister who wears braces and a pocket square, or anything that looks too obviously 'flashy' or expensive. Surely, though, we could at least do with a Prime Minister who knows to keep his jacket and tie on when he's speaking in public? I note that Cameron in particular has a nasty tendency to take his clothes off at the first opportunity, but he's not the only one. Many politicians seem to favour the 'jacket off, tie off, sleeves rolled up' look, and perhaps miss the fact that it strips them of a great deal of much-needed dignity and gravitas.

White Tie

Monday, April 19, 2010
Well, my first attempt at white tie was fairly successful. I never really got the shirt sorted to my satisfaction, but I'll fix that next time.

Opportunities to wear white tie are relatively few and far between, but I think it's always fun, and sometimes enlightening, to assemble and wear an outfit like this that's been almost unchanged for nearly a century.

The white tie project - a collar!

Friday, April 16, 2010
Although, as mentioned, I already had a detachable wing collar from my school days, I decided there were a couple of problems with it. The first is that to me it looks a little bit on the short side for white tie. White tie collars ought to be pretty high - significantly higher than an ordinary soft collar - and my school one isn't. This may well be because it's an academic collar rather than a dress collar and is intended as day-wear so is shorter.

The second, and perhaps less justifiable reason for buying a new collar is that my school one has, of course, been washed and so is no longer starched. Finding somewhere to starch a collar properly isn't all that easy, although it's certainly possible as both the clergy and the bar require starched collars. However, in my case, I need a starched collar by tomorrow, and so the easiest thing to do seemed to just buy a new, ready-starched one, and deal with finding somewhere to re-starch it later.

This style of collar is a good couple of inches tall, and rises slightly at the front, so that it should come almost to the chin. This is important as it needs to stand well above the coat collar by nearly an inch. It's affixed at the front and back with metal and bone (or mother of pearl, or possibly plastic) studs and has large, bold wings at the front.

If you do wear white tie, a detachable collar is infinitely preferable to a modern attached wing collar shirt, for reasons of the height and stiffness that are an important part of the whole formal ensemble.

101 easy ways to dress better. No. 10: Put a dimple in your tie

Monday, April 12, 2010
I'm not sure why - whether it's mere convention or whether there's some objective reason to it, but elegant and stylish dressing often requires small imperfections, slight variations, subtle differences in texture. It's one of the reasons why I'm opposed to the perfect triangle and neat lines of a windsor knot, and it's also why introducing a dimple to your tie will look so much smarter.

To me, the dimple prevents the body of the tie from simply being an uninterrupted flow of bright fabric coming straight down from your collar. It breaks up the line slightly, and will add areas of shadow that enhance whatever colour or pattern is on the tie.

It's easy to add a dimple when you're tying your tie, just slide your finger into the knot and push the middle down, while rolling the edges up slightly. Pull your finger out as you tighten the knot and, with a bit of practice, you should be able to create a neat, and very smart, dimple.



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Evening shoes

Sunday, April 11, 2010
Until now, I've always worn black oxfords with my dinner suit. This is perfectly correct, albeit the most informal option, so long as they are plain black and well-polished. However I've always been meaning to take the step up to a pair of proper patent leather evening shoes. The super shine adds a bit of extra elegance and formality to evening wear, and patent shoes are especially important with white tie, which is one of the reasons why I've finally gone out and got a pair.

Evening shoes should be plain fronted black patent oxfords, with as thin a sole as possible. The only option more formal than this would be a pair of evening pumps, which are traditional with white tie and, to a lesser extent, with black tie. These are low cut with a decorative silk bow which should, presumably, match the facings on your dinner suit... although I'm unsure how many men would actually go to quite that length. They can look great, especially with white tie, but are increasingly rare now and also not wildly practical for those of us who might have to walk or use public transport to get to an event.

At the races

Thursday, April 8, 2010
It's the Grand National tomorrow. Sadly I shan't be going - I'll be watching on TV - but for those of you who do go, it's nice to make the effort to look smart. Although there's no specific dress code, and it's a much less formal event than Royal Ascot, appropriately smart country attire is traditional at race events.

Brown suits or odd jackets are a good bet, as is a silk scarf and a decent covert coat to stave off the cold. Knee-high riding boots may be a bit much for the average spectator (although don't let me stop you, if you really feel the need) but thick-soled derbies, or even chelsea boots, might be a good move if you're likely to end up tramping around in damp grass.

Of course, the thing to really appreciate in the above picture is the importance of keeping a decent supply of drink with you.

The White Tie project

Sunday, April 4, 2010
I have a couple of events coming up this year where, for the first time, it looks as if I will be requiring white tie, so over the weekend I have begun assembling the necessary items of clothing. White tie is a pretty expensive dress code to put together since it has a lot of individual parts, almost none of which can be taken from black tie. As a result, whilst it would be lovely to buy a brand new rig off Savile Row, or have Cad and the Dandy make me one, I have decided to save a bit of money by doing as much as possible through vintage and second hand stores. I'll be doing my best to stick to 'correct' white tie, but buying vintage is rarely perfect, so this first attempt will, realistically, have to be 'as near as I can get it', and can then be improved upon in the future. If you want an explanation of 'perfect' White Tie then The Black Tie Guide has a small but expanding section on it.

'The Ball Room' in Oxford, where I was visiting my family over Easter, is good for second hand evening tails, and here I found the necessary very high-waisted trousers (with double braid piping, rather than the plan silk found on black tie trousers) and a lovely old tailcoat from the now sadly defunct Barkers of Kensington. The above picture shows the first slight problem with a second hand tailcoat - getting the precise fit necessary to ensure that waistcoat is not visible beneath the tailcoat. Although the effect is much exaggerated by hanging on a coat-hanger, the tailcoat I found is ever so slightly too short for the only trousers I could find. Since it seemed most important that the waistcoat covers the top of the trousers, this results in a small amount of waistcoat peeking out. However, while this may be a breach of the strict gold standard, it's a small and common enough error that I think I am happy enough to put up with it for the time being.

The waistcoat itself is not a money-saving vintage purchase. Rather, it is a quite expensive one bought new from Ede & Ravenscroft on Savile Row. It was probably a bit of a mistake even going in there, but once I had seen it I was too enamored of the high-quality cotton and the beautiful mother-of-pearl buttons to go anywhere else.

The next problem is the shirt. Strictly, a white-tie shirt ought to be made of white cotton with a plain or marcella bib front, single (but cufflink fastening) cuffs, and a starched detachable collar. This is worn with a marcella cotton bow tie. I am lucky enough to have the bow tie and collar from my school days, but the shirt is a more difficult matter, since these are fairly uncommon and cost over £100 in the few shirtmakers that still do them. I shall have to keep a keen eye on vintage stores for the next couple of weeks, I think, unless any readers have any good ideas?

Cotton Jackets

Friday, April 2, 2010
Although I personally see no evidence of it so far, spring is well underway and summer is not all that far off, so a number of retailers are bringing out a fun range of linen and cotton jackets. As someone who isn't called upon to wear a suit everyday, I like odd jackets that can be worn casually with jeans or dressed up a bit with a shirt and tie. As the weather gets warmer, I'm hoping that I'll be replacing my tweed and corduroy jackets that currently fill this role with something more lightweight.

Hackett does this sort of thing particularly well and has a particularly wide range in store now, taking a bit of inspiration from collegiate-style boating blazers without creating something that can only possibly be worn at Henley Regatta. A jacket like the one below can cover a whole range of different levels of formality, and would be as appropriate in a fairly casual office environment as it would be at a more formal barbecue or summer party.
I have a much-loved blue linen jacket which will be making an appearance at some point. Like most weaves of linen it crumples almost as soon as you look at it, but that's all part of it's charm. Cotton duck is a bit more robust though, and keeps a neat, crisp look which is particularly attractive in cream or khaki, so something along these lines might well be my first purchase for the summer. Let's just hope we actually get some sunshine in London.