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Jacket and jeans with casual waistcoat

If there is one question men ask more than any other, it is how to wear a jacket with jeans.

Behind this usually lies a desire to dress up an outfit without appearing too up-tight.

Friends in the creative or digital industries often have this problem. When your start-up company grows from two employees to 20, how do subtly indicate your authority, or seriousness, without wearing a suit?

A jacket is normally the answer, and usually the right one. But it cannot be just a suit jacket separated from its trousers. For the jacket to work, it must be similar in formality to the trousers – which normally means rougher or just more textured material than a smooth suit. 

caliendo tweed jacket and drakes handkerchief

This jacket was made by Neapolitan tailor Elia Caliendo in Permanent Style tweed – one of the first collaborations we ever did here on Permanent Style. Although it is fairly smooth for a tweed, it has easily enough texture to go with denim. 

The casual design of the jacket – minimal structure, shirt sleeve, patch pockets – also helps to lower that formality. It’s one reason I pretty much always wear Neapolitan tailors with jeans (the tailoring goes with other things, but jeans only go with them). 

a tweed and waistcoat with chambray shirt

The outfit is made a little more tricky by the addition of a waistcoat, which can be very hard to wear casually.

But as described on last week’s post on this waistcoat, it’s chunky weave and casual design make it a good match.

The handkerchief is silk, but in very muted greys and browns (from Drake’s) that mean it effectively sinks into the background.

Often when you wear a handkerchief in a casual outfit, this is its role: a relatively anonymous pocket filler. Cream or white linen works just as well, but if you wear silk, best to keep it as subtle as this. 

bespoke levi's denim and permanent style tweed copy

The bespoke jeans from Levi’s are wearing in nicely. This is the mid-rise pair of the two I had made; the other is high-waisted and would actually have been a better match for the waistcoat. 

Button-down chambray shirt from Luca Avitabile. Old Alfred Sargent suede monk straps on the feet. 

As ever, the links in the text above, and the suggested posts below this, provide more information and background on all the pieces and the artisans that made them. I highly recommend them all. 

bespoke waistcoat graham browne and bespoke tweed jacket copy

Photography: Jack Lawson

mont blanc pelleteria florence

The Mont Blanc leather facility is in an industrial park just outside Florence. All the big names of fashion are here. Gucci is across the road, Prada a few blocks down. Only Hermes from among the top brands is missing.

Mont Blanc used to made its leather goods in Germany, but moved three years ago. “It’s just far more efficient,” said Giacomo Cortesi, the head of the facility (pictured below), when we visited in the summer. “There are about 150 tanneries in the area, and they all supply everyone already. Plus all the other suppliers, for hardware and so on, come here too.”

Efficiency was a theme we would return to frequently. Because while Mont Blanc retains the same level of craftsmanship as all the other brands in the area, it mixes in some rather special touches of German management and quality control. 

simon crompton and giacomo cortesi mont blanc

mont blanc leather pieces bag

“All the talent is here, the workers we hired to create this facility,” continued Giacomo. “That was an interesting process – hiring from everyone else. And of course having everything on site means we can develop and adjust new pieces quickly. You can’t do that with a pen or a watch.”

As Giacomo talked to us, in the stark white reception room, there was a rather distracting mechanical arm moving up and down behind him. On the other side of the corridor, a big yellow machine was lifting and turning bags repeatedly, twisting them and replacing them on the floor, only to wrench them up again. 

That machine – a mechanical arm stolen from the auto industry – is pictured below. You can see a video we took of its operation here as well.

Mont Blanc leather bag tester

Eventually, we had to explain why we were constantly looking over Giacomo’s shoulder. And that led to a discussion of the quality control at the pelleteria.

There were several great machines. One tests hardware for resistance to heat and humidity (think someone dragging their suitcase on wheels through the streets of Singapore). Another tests for salinity (perhaps a wash bag carried to the beach). A third looks at how colour fast leathers are under light (sitting in the front seat of your open-topped car. A lot). 

Not all pieces are tested – merely a sample. But they are tested regularly and consistently. That colour-fast machine tests leather for three, six and twelve-hour stints. And a product line will go through the process every 1-4 months, depending on the piece. 

Belt buckle machine tester

mont blanc belt buckle tester florence

“It’s not necessarily a problem if the colour does fade over time,” said Giacomo. “It happens with veg-tan leathers But the key is to know that, so we can communicate it to the customer or, if we don’t like it, reduce the effect. If you don’t know, you’re always at risk.”

Often, these machines have been brought in to look at a particular problem. The mechanism inside a lock, for instance, is particularly susceptible to heat and salinity. All it takes is a little rust or distortion to the metal inside, and the lock will stop working. “I’ve seen that happen on other products in places like Malaysia,” said Giacomo. “There’s often 70% humidity there and you’re right by the sea.”

How does gold, rose gold and silver tarnish? (It always starts at the corners – where it’s hardest to get a consistent level of coating.) How will the gusset of a wallet react when it has been bent 100,000 times? How abrasive are different leathers when rubbed against a pair of jeans again and again? The list of scenarios seemed to be almost endless.

Giacomo Cortesi Mont Blanc florence

All leather producers do quality control. But Mont Blanc does more of it (according to those workers from other factories) and creates its own, bespoke machines.

The machine below for testing leather belts, for example, is a one-off. It opens and closes a buckle on a strip of leather, seeing when it (and the inking at the edges) cracks.

My all-time favourite, however, was the simplest. “We spent a long time trying to work out how to test a buckle when it has been dropped repeatedly – when you undo your trousers, or chuck the belt in a draw,” said Giacomo. They finally came up with a set of steps, about 20 of them going down about 6 feet. And they just drop the buckle down it. Again and again. “It’s very simple, but it works. It breaks things,” concluded Giacomo.

As I’ve said before, not everything in the Mont Blanc leather range is to my taste. I tend to prefer brown, natural leathers with brass, rather than blacks and blues, with silver hardware. But after many years (and many factory visits) it was wonderful to learn so much about something so innovative. 

mont blanc sfumato case

Mont Blanc leather

My outfit in the picture (as a reader requested recently):

  • Tan summer jacket by Elia Caliendo
  • Blue chambray shirt by Luca Avitabile
  • Green linen trousers by Paul Stuart
  • Honey-framed glasses by Francois Pinton

Sheep Day medium res-406 copy

There’s something so calming about walking on grass. Genteel even. 

The second ‘Sheep on the Row’ day, which took place on Monday, was a lovely affair. Tailors strolling around on the turf, often with their model (wearing a bespoke creation) nearby for photo opportunities. 

Shops on both sides stood open, often with staff standing outside watching the parade up and down. Many had invited customers inside, and were offering food and champagne. 

Most wonderfully, two flocks of sheep were calmly parading themselves up and down. All it took was one of them to see something interesting at the other end of the pen, and everyone would follow him. Like sheep, basically. 

It was raining sporadically, which was unfortunate, but then this is the weather than British tailoring and therefore all wool (Australian merino or not) has to deal with. 

Pictured top: Graham Browne three-piece suit in Zegna checked worsted, and Chittleborough & Morgan top coat in Loro Piana cloth. 

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Gieves & Hawkes unlined coat made in reversible Loden merino wool from Leichtfried

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Edward Sexton with his double-breasted blue and grey dice check motoring coat, with contrast shawl collar and gilet

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A cycling suit made by Davies and Son using Dashing Tweeds. Made from Navy ‘Raver Wave’ cloth, it has adjustable reflective cuffs and rear under flap, with bellows patch pockets

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Anderson & Sheppard ivory bespoke pea coat, with a half-belt, box pleat and quilted lining; knitwear by Inis Meain. With Anda Rowland

The event was all in aid of the Campaign for Wool, supported by HRH The Prince of Wales.

The Prince commented: “I sometimes think that too many people have forgotten – or perhaps they never even realised in the first place – that wool is one of the most beautiful, ecological and sustainable natural fibres in the world…it fills me with dismay when we overlook it. It horrifies me, for example, to learn that only 1.3% of clothes today are made from wool, when 60% are made from synthetic materials.”

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Photos: Guy Hills of Dashing Tweeds

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Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 16.06.06

Thank you to everyone that – as ever – supported our latest collaboration, the Friday Polos with Luca Avitabile.

This second batch of 100 has gone almost as fast as the first, but we still have a few left. 

The remaining stock is:

  • Grey: 1 medium
  • Green: 1 large
  • White: 6 across all four sizes
  • Light blue: 5 across all four sizes

The next batch probably won’t be until early next year, so if you would like one now please email asap:

More details, including sizing and colours, here.

Herringbone waistcoat Davide Taub bespoke gieves

Over the years I’ve had a few casual waistcoats made. What makes them casual? Well primarily cloth, ideally something with a pronounced texture and perhaps a chunky pattern – in this case, a tan/black herringbone woven from a wool/linen mix. 

I also prefer such waistcoats with as few pockets as possible. Sometimes two, but even none – as shown here. 

To someone used to a dress waistcoat, the absence of pockets might seem a little jarring, but this deliberate choice moves the waistcoat a little closer to being knitwear – to a sleeveless cardigan, which again I’d usually prefer to be pocket-less. 

Another nice, casual element is the extension of a band of the cloth around the back of the neck, as you can see below. It intrudes onto the sheen of the lining and breaks it up, suggesting the collar of a jacket. 

Herringbone waistcoat Davide Taub bespoke2

Indeed, I started thinking about this waistcoat recently when I wore it to a fitting for my button-in gilet with Davide Taub (pictured, head cutter at Gieves & Hawkes). Davide reminded me how high the waistcoat had been cut on the neck, up around the shirt collar. A regular dress waistcoat would never be cut like this because it risks pushing out the collar of the jacket. 

The waistcoat – cut by Russell Howarth at Graham Browne, several years ago – was also quite high under the armholes, again unlike a normal dress piece. It was nice to be reminded of these points, which I discussed with Russell at the time. 

The only thing I would change about this waistcoat now is the back – which I would have in a cotton twill or similar matte-finish material. The Bemberg is simply too shiny for a casual piece. 

Herringbone waistcoat Davide Taub bespoke preppy trad

A casual waistcoat always involves a trade-off in length. Any waistcoat will look best with high-waisted trousers, where it can be shorter and only extend a little below the natural waist. 

If it is worn with low-waisted trousers, the waistcoat must be longer to prevent shirt peeking out. But too long, and it loses all proportion. Part of the solution is to have relatively high-waisted jeans or other casual trousers (I normally wear these with my high-waisted bespoke denim from Levi’s Lot No.1). Another is not to have too big an opening at the front or sides of the waistcoat. 

Oh, and the waistcoats always have in-breast pockets. Only works in heavier cloths. 

For any recently joined readers of Permanent Style, read my thoughts on why waistcoats are so logical here:
The logical waistcoat theory (part one)
The logical waistcoat theory (part two)

Herringbone waistcoat Davide Taub bespoke4

 Photography: Jack Lawson