Hero of the week: Colonel Barry Jenkins, Royal Artillery

Tuesday, November 29, 2011
A number of British news sources are reporting on an amusing news story today. It seems that Colonel Barry Jenkins, of the Royal Artillery, sent a lengthy email to be distributed to his younger officers giving them some advice on dress. Most of the papers have predictably focused on a single throwaway remark he made at the very end about taking Princes William and Harry as a model for good civilian dress. I find that far less interesting than the rest of his comments which, from the full copy I managed to track down, seems to contain a good deal of wisdom!

A few highlights:
"Only the middle button of a 3 button (M) suit is fastened. It is a coat not a tunic. If your suit has a belt, so be it, but a slim elegant leather suit belt and not a Harley Davidson Buckle Belt is to accompany it."

Top advice there. It's unbelievable how many men do up all the buttons on a suit but, as he references, it's perhaps understandable for officers used to a military tunic (on which all the buttons are fastened). Most of the papers have reported his advice to wear a 'slim elegant leather suit belt', but have missed a much more revealing phrase: 'If your suit has a belt, so be it'.
The point he is making (I assume) is that suits really look better without a belt, and should be held up by side adjustors and/or braces. However, he's absolutely right that if you are going to wear a belt, then slim, plain and discreet are vital.

"The tie should be correctly tied, close to the collar and checked regularly. The knot must not be big fat Grange Hill special or be seen adorning the neck of a semi finalist on the Apprentice (M&F). The tie should just reach over the waist belt, not 6 inches above or below."

Couldn't agree more. I wrote before about how little I like big knots in ties, and a fair few people disagreed with me, which is fine. However, the fact remains that the sort of traditional style espoused by Colonel Jenkins does ask for a smaller knot, and big knots (especially with shiny ties) will make you look like an Apprentice contestant or an estate agent. Your call.

"Oh yes, diving watches/laptop/GPS type watches furiously scrunched up against your shirt cuff look awful. Try and use a thin elegant dress watch"

I've not done much about watches because it's so much of a personal choice that I wasn't sure I could say much about it. I think the Colonel is right, however, that sporty watches don't do much for a suit, especially if they are too chunky to comfortably slide under the shirt cuff as you move your arm around. If you only wear a suit occasionally, and like a sportier watch the rest of the time, then I would still advocate finding a slim, fairly plain dress watch to wear with a suit. It really doesn't have to be expensive.

"We are a broad church and we should not exclusively ape the armed wing of Boden, Primark, Fat Face or New and Lingwood, but I am constantly amazed by what some think is acceptable dress. It is not just the quality but the untidy scruffy manner in which it is worn –this must sharpen up."

This is a great point, and one that was disingenuously trimmed by every single paper that covered the email. They all removed the words 'or New and Lingwood'. When you read it in full, you realise that the Colonel is not snobbishly condemning Boden, Primark and Fat Face. Rather, he is clarifying that he would not want his dress standards to create a regiment filled with identikit officers all dressing from a single store, whether that is Primark or New and Lingwood. As he goes on, it is not so much where a man shops that matters, or exclusively the quality of his clothes. Instead, it is about some basic standards in how collars fit, how ties are tied, how shirts are ironed, and so forth. This matters for soldiers, but it matters just as much for anyone who wants to look like an adult.