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Buenos Aires style

25 October 2008

I was fortunate enough to be in Buenos Aires last week for work, and was able to appreciate a city renowned for its style as well as its steak.

Argentine men have much of the casual, easy style of their south European cousins. A photo sent to me of a lawyer I was interviewing showed him leaning against a doorway, a strongly striped suit offset by the classic Italian Background of dark blue tie on pale blue shirt.

The tie was undone, but kept neat by the buttoned jacket – a touch that is all too frequently forgotten by men elsewhere in the world, but was reflected in a recent interview with Tom Ford. “Always keep your jacket buttoned,” he said. “If I have one rule for men, it’s that. It instantly makes your silhouette. It’ll take pounds off you, just in terms of your shape. Especially if you are being photographed, you really should have the jacket buttoned.”

He puts it almost better than I could. If you don’t button your jacket, the tailoring is simply thrown away.

Elsewhere in the city, this simple style was reflected in other south European staples: brown leather shoes, simple white pocket-handkerchiefs and a taste for pale, unusual tie colours (lime green was a favourite). There was also a surprising prevalence of brown suede shoes: almost as much as there was leather.

This seemed like an inspired choice, and one I could emulate, until I considered the weather. It’s either raining or it’s sunny in Buenos Aires. The rain is heavy, even tropical, but it’s certainly not drizzle. And when it’s sunny there isn’t a cloud in the sky.

Wearing suede shoes is therefore an easy choice to make. Not so in the UK, where clouds day after day can threaten rain without ever falling, and it’s rarely guaranteed to be a drizzle-free day.

The biggest difference between Buenos Aires and Italy, however, was the consistency of this style. As one local resident confessed to me, Argentina is not yet rich enough to have a large middle class that can afford high-quality or tailored clothes. This means that the threads, many of them of European origin, are limited to a rich, professional class. It is their scarcity, in fact, that contributes to their price – a smaller market means higher margins.

So appreciate the office-bound workers that still require suits on a regular basis. As the suit and other more formal attire become less required and (probably) less popular as a result, the margins and prices on those clothes we love will rise.