Handkerchiefs are not easy for a modern man. Few things are as conspicuous and unusual. Enough people wear ties and waistcoats to make them anonymous – even hats, which change the silhouette more than anything else, are more likely to be forgiven for their practicality.
One easy way to reduce the impact of a handkerchief is to soften its contrast with the rest of the outfit. In fact, of the three main things that affect the formality of a hank – colour, pattern, texture – it is colour that makes the biggest difference.
Above I have shown three outfits of mine to illustrate this softening.
At top is a pure-white linen handkerchief, worn against a navy hopsack jacket. The contrast between hank and jacket is high, creating a smarter, more formal outfit. That contrast is down to the jacket as much as the hank, of course, but a pure white hank on any jacket is going to be smart.
In the next image is a cream linen handkerchief. The difference with its cousin is small, but there is a definite softening of the contrast. This is helped by the sandy colour of the jacket, which itself is closer to the cream of the hank. The outfit overall is intended to more casual, and this is reflected in the choice of handkerchief.
In the third picture we have a cream cashmere hank (all are from Anderson & Sheppard). The cream colour is similar to the linen above, but the effect is softened further by the material, which has greater texture and absorbs more light. This is the most casual outfit of the three – with tweed and denim – and a stark white linen hank, as in picture number one, would be far too smart for it.
One other variation to consider is grey, above. As with cream, the grey removes contrast in the handkerchief and so softens it. In this example the white ‘shoestring’ around the edge also introduces some contrast, keeping in relatively smart, but overall it is not as formal as the plain white alternative.
I find this formality of handkerchiefs interesting because it is slightly different to other items of clothing such as shoes and ties.
The effect of those three variables (colour, pattern, texture) is broadly the same: more colour is less formal; more pattern is less formal. But the order is different. Texture is crucial to the formality of a shoe (suede/calf) but less so a handkerchief (silk is usually less formal than linen, but more formal than wool).
The most important thing to consider with a hank is colour and contrast. If you want to wear one and stand out just a little less, dial down both of them.
On September 16th, we will be closing off the Royal Arcade in London to hold a book launch for my new book The Finest Menswear in the World.
The event is being hosted jointly by GJ Cleverley, Anderson & Sheppard and Permanent Style, with all the brands included in the book invited, as well as many others. There will be books available to buy and be signed, and drinks and cocktails supplied by the lovely people at Balvenie.
We have 100 places available for readers, if you would like to come. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a place. I’m afraid we can’t accept attendees on the night.
The event begins at 6:30pm, and will be accessible from the Old Bond Street end of the Royal Arcade.
I look forward to seeing you
German brand Merz b Schwanen has changed quite a lot since it was taken over Peter Plotnicki (below), having been bought up, moved production and overhauled its product. But thankfully the changes have been in cut and design, rather than fabrication.
In some ways Merz’s story is similar to that of Sunspel, which was bought in 2005 by Nicholas Brooke and Dominic Hazlehurst, and re-launched with a modernised line of product that updated many great pieces from the Sunspel archive.
Fans of heritage are often sceptical of such re-launches, presuming that the buyers will play on the brand’s history without honouring any of its values. But it’s worth giving them the benefit of the doubt, to begin with, if only because without the new owners such companies would often have just ceased to exist.
Merz had ceased trading when it was taken over by Peter, but he has done a good job at reviving it. Although the Merz factories closed seven years ago, Peter found another manufacturer using the famous loopwheeler knitting machines in Germany, and started production there.
Interestingly, although some would emphasise the fact that Sunspel has its own factory, the loopwheeler production is much more unusual, and most of the Merz collection is centred around its distinctive seamless look – where Sunspel has branched out far more, into shirting for example.
For those that don’t know, loopwheeling is an old technique for knitting garments in a circle, creating a tube of fabric without any seams. It was patented in 1926 and died out in the 1950s. It produces a slightly irregular knit but also one that is very dense and soft.
That density is largely down the slowness of production, which means less tension is put on the cotton. Most loopwheelers can only produce around one metre of fabric every hour.
“We were so pleased to be able to keep that technique when we moved to the new factory,” Peter told us. “But the product still needed a lot of work.”
The traditional sweatshirts that were made with loopwheelers (most famous under American athletic brands like Champion) had a very wide body shape, and sleeves that were entirely straight – the same width all the way up. There would sometimes be a triangle insert under the arm as well, for extra movement.
“They were very baggy,” says Peter. “We had to slim them down rather, as well as reshape the sleeves.” Peter has also been working on new products and materials, such as versions using Sea Island cotton.
I’ve worn Merz button-facing (‘grandad’ style) shirts as undergarments for a few years now, and the loopwheeler technique does create a distinctive softness – yet with good body and stretch.
The weight makes most of them impractical under dress shirts, but I often wear them under a shawl-collar sweater or casual jacket. Personally I also think that is more flattering, as the low-scooped collar does not suit many men.
Merz and Loopwheeler in Japan are the two biggest companies selling loopwheeler products today – and Merz is stocked in Trunk and Son of a Stag among other places in London. It is also sold in a dozen or so stores in the US and No Man Walks Alone online.
In comments to Friday’s post on my ‘go-to’ clothing, readers said they would like to see a post suggesting which types of clothing it is most worth having made bespoke.
In order to set out my views on this, I have listed five items that are often made bespoke, and explain where I see the relative value – both to other bespoke items and to ready-made.
- Bespoke jacket
The standard by which everything else must be judged.
A jacket is worth having bespoke more than any other item, both in terms of cut and of construction. The three-dimensional nature of a bespoke cut, dealing as it does with pitch, angle and curve, is of greatest benefit on the torso, which is far more irregular than the legs. This is a major reason why a bespoke jacket looks so good.
Bespoke construction then creates structure around this torso. A hand-padded chest creates a flattering yet natural shape, while a structured collar keeps the jacket closely around the neck, anchoring the jacket. No other bespoke item has this difference in quality compared to RTW.
- Bespoke coat
A coat is the second-most valuable thing to have made bespoke. Largely, this is because it has the same benefits of a jacket, above. It is usually in a heavier cloth, which might appear to be more forgiving RTW, but then we all know how great bespoke looks in a heavy cloth. Like pure sculpture.
An overcoat is also superior to a jacket in its greater proportions. An overcoat sweeps. Usually from a strong shoulder, though a wider lapel than a suit, across a double-breasted fastening, and out into a very long skirt. Nothing is as dramatic.
- Bespoke shoes
Bespoke shoes don’t have many advantages over RTW in terms of construction any more. Several brands offer hand-welting (Saint Crispin’s, Stefano Bemer) and others have top-end uppers, oak-bark soles and tight waists (Gaziano & Girling among others).
There are some more differences in terms of fit. No matter how many sizes and widths a brand offers, a bespoke fit always has the potential to be better. But then more brands are now offering altered lasts as well – such as Saint Crispin’s –that approach bespoke.
Yet I would still place bespoke shoes above bespoke shirts, bespoke knitwear and many other items. This is because although the differences between bespoke and RTW shoes are small, they are among the most beautiful things in menswear. The perfect segue from heel cup to heel stack; the sinuous irregularity of a bespoke sole. Men, including myself, treasure such things.
- Bespoke shirt
There are no construction advantages to a bespoke shirt; it is all about fit.
And while a bespoke fit is often superior, this is largely in the body of the shirt – which creases; which often remains hidden; and which has to be looser than a jacket to allow one to sit down. A good fit in a shirt is important, but it can often be achieved made-to-measure, or even altered RTW.
The most important thing in a shirt is the collar, which may be better in bespoke or may not. If you can find a RTW collar you like, that sits gracefully with tie and without, and is the right height for your neck, you’re most of the way there.
- Bespoke knitwear
I’ve always said more brands should do bespoke knitwear. Or made-to-order with alterations. Where you can try on a few sizes in the shop, then order it in any colour with slightly longer arms and a slightly slimmer waist. Well-fitted knitwear is so flattering on a man, and has broader uses than tailoring.
But knitwear still belongs at the bottom of this list, because there are no differences in make and because the alterations required are more akin to made-to-measure.
Before the public part of Tailoring Symposium in June, we all gathered next to the pool at the Four Seasons to have a chat about tailoring and its future, with The Rake busily making a video of the event in the background.
This was perhaps the most pleasant part of the day, with myself and Wei posing questions to these greats of bespoke tailoring – gathered together for the first time. As expected, everyone had similar stories to tell, about difficult customers, about the benefits and dangers of having a house style, and about new blood coming into the craft.
Our two Italians, Antonio Liverano and Antonio Panico, didn’t speak enough English to interact directly with, say, John Hitchcock of Anderson & Sheppard, but with the kind aid of Tommaso Melani of Stefano Bemer, it became clear that the three of them were saying exactly the same thing about the rigidity of house styles. Just with different mannerisms and anecdotes.
As I say, it’s what you’d expect – similar experiences, similar headaches – yet it was a pleasant surprise to see it play out before our eyes.
I’m sure we’ll organise something similar next year. Here’s hoping it is equally as productive and as enjoyable.
The event was kindly supported by Stefano Bemer and Vitale Barberis Canonico, with The Rake as official magazine. Check out Tom’s great article on the event in the current issue of The Rake.