Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Yes, you can immediately if the jacket is tight across the chest, the trousers feel uncomfortably snug or there is an alarming amount of air circulating about your ankles. But it is hard to remember everything else to check.
The staff itself can help a little here – suggesting sitting down in the trousers, for example, to make sure there is enough give in the crotch and thighs. But I always forget something that won’t come up until the third time I wear the suit: how secure the side-tabs on the trousers are or the narrowness of the ends of the sleeves.
So, I waited until now to give a decent review of my new suit. Broadly, the experience was positive. So many of my old suits are a little roomy in the waist (as I have lost weight in the past year) or never had their sleeves altered and are therefore a little long. Getting a new suit, therefore, that fits perfectly on the sleeves, the waist of the jacket and of the trousers is a pleasure.
The neck and shoulders fit well, as does the waistcoat – which is the hardest item to tailor. Unfortunately, the picture does not illustrate any of this particularly well as it is a stock image for the ASTF website. But one point is shown here: the collar of the jacket is forced away from the neck slightly by the collar of the waistcoat.
I enquired about this and was told that it is very tough to avoid when there is a collar on both the jacket and waistcoat. But then, my other waistcoats have a collar that stops short of the silk back, avoiding this problem. Perhaps a suggestion for collared waistcoats at ASTF in the future.
As mentioned previously, the material for ASTF suits is not amazing – roughly equivalent to a £250 or £300 suit on the high street. But then ASTF is great value that way, fitting much better for around the same price. And the company has started to introduce some more luxurious fabrics and one-offs.
I’m pretty satisfied with my suit, and I have two colleagues that are pretty happy with theirs – indeed, who are returning for second orders. If you’re looking to spend around that amount of money on the high street, don’t – go here instead.
Many customers of A Suit That Fits had a worse experience than me, as the comments to this post indicate. I recommend that readers look through those and consider my experience as just one of a range of experiences.
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
I will also leave you with a little teaser: I will be announcing a new project for Permanent Style in the next month. Keep your eyes firmly fixed here.
Monday, 27 April 2009
I’ve been learning about the Teddy Boys. Most interestingly, about how they were the first working-class movement to alter the course of men’s style. And gave formal tailoring a much-needed kick up the arse.
After the second-world war a generation of youngsters in Britain wanted to cut free and express themselves – and by the fifties, had the money to do it. Their look was taken from a failed trend that was launched by Savile Row: the Edwardian look. The Row had aimed the look at upper-class gentlemen; but the youngsters subverted it, keeping the long jacket and waistcoat but exaggerating the proportions of the collar and narrowing the trousers.
They added short, cutaway collars, bootlace ties and chunky shoes. Their hair was greased and coiffed – most importantly, they were neat. They were smart and took real pride in their appearance. When one set appeared in court, the judge remarked almost with indignation that “this working class group would wear suits and show off”.
It was just such a court case that gave the group its name. When a gang was caught up in a murder, one newspaper cut the headline describing the event from Edward to Teddy, and the name was born.
In case you haven’t guessed, I’ve been listening to ‘Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen’s Men of Fashion’ again on Radio 4, as I mentioned in a previous post. We’ve skipped four centuries since then, from the 1600s to the 1900s.
What was so incredible about the Teddy Boys was that they were such a small, underground group to start with and yet so original and influential. They were the first fashion group to identify with a trend in music (American rock and roll); the first youth group in England to identify themselves as teenagers; the first working-class style trend; and the first time youth took hold of the suit and made it their own. One tailor comments on the programme that the Teds “put more life and energy into tailoring than it had had for 100 years”.
Today, the influence of the Teds is in every youth trend that emphasises the dapper, the neat and the smart. It is in the fun, colourful and adventurous approach to suiting in modern tailors like Ozwald Boateng and Richard James.
And for me it is very English in its restrained style. It is unlike the revival Teds of the seventies, with outlandish proportions and gaudy colours, or the Zoot suit crowd in California, which was much more about ostentation and excess. (The influence of the Zoot’s style is the ego-driven rappers of today, for it was the Zoots that first started wearing oversized hats, big-shouldered suits and jewellery).
Friday, 24 April 2009
Footwear manufacturer Lodger has got a lot of good press recently. It has featured in The Sunday Telegraph, Observer, Men’s Health, Shortlist, Live Magazine, International Life, Smartlife, Esquire, Fashion, Finch’s Quarterly and GQ. All that since the beginning of February. Not bad.
Unfortunately, most of these magazines don’t understand Lodger at all. They refer to its shoes variously as ‘bespoke’, ‘semi-bespoke’ and ‘made-to-measure’. They are none of these things.
A bespoke shoe involves a craftsman creating a wooden last that is the shape of your foot. A shoe is then made that is the shape of this last – the shape of your foot. I’m not sure what semi-bespoke is meant to mean, but it’s not a word Lodger would use to describe its shoes – they recognise, as I have said on this blog before, that the word bespoke is already too misused. The shoes are not really made to measure either.
The confusion is partly created by the electronic scanner that Lodger uses to create a computer model of a customer’s foot. That model is used to find the best last, length and width of shoe for you. But the selection is of one of three lasts (shapes of shoe essentially) and the normal sizes and widths you get for a shoe.
The advantage of the scanning system is that it is easier to find the best shoe and size for you. As founder Nathan Brown says: “If you’re one of the top bespoke shoemakers in this country, the scanner will tell you nothing. But we’re not competing with them – for everyone else, the scan is a really useful way to find the right size.”
It is understandable that coverage of Lodger concentrates on this scanning machine. It is unique in men’s formal shoewear and an obvious hook into a feature. (As regular readers will I’m sure point out, it was the focus of my first article on Lodger as well.) But no one really explains the point of it. If I didn’t do so well enough in my first piece, hopefully I will do so here.
The second reason behind the confusion is that Lodger custom orders some of its shoes. Every month there is a Shoe of the Month that can only be ordered then – if you want it, an order is sent to the factory and you have one made for you in the right size. With your name inside, which is nice.
So it can seem as if the scanner creates a bespoke picture of your foot and then a shoe made to that bespoke picture is made as a one-off in a factory. No: it is just custom ordered in a particular size. Even experienced writer Tom Stubbs, on his video on Finch’s Quarterly Review, says about Lodger that “the idea is they scan your feet and build an entirely bespoke last”. No.
All of this is a shame because Lodger is unique and great value in other ways.
First, the scanner means that a lot more effort is put into finding the right size of shoe for you. The time and effort spent on this is often underrated. Men don’t necessarily wear the right size (length) of shoe; they are unlikely to have any idea what width they wear (or should wear); and they are unlikely to realise the point of different lasts and therefore shapes.
Most shoe stores in my experience, luxury and high street, do little more than put shoes on your feet and ask how they feel. Lodger is different.
Second, there is value in having a unique pair of shoes. Many men love owning limited editions and Lodger’s Shoe of the Month is very limited. Once the month has passed, you know no one will ever be able to copy your shoe. And the fact that a custom-ordered shoe is the same price as ready-to-wear is very impressive.
Third, the fact that shoes are custom-ordered means men of odd or outlandish sizes can be guaranteed a shoe for them – whatever the size and the width, it can be custom-ordered. In the English last, for example, you can order anything from a narrow E to an extra-wide J – six different widths in total. On the Italian last, there are two widths (2 and 3) but that’s pretty revolutionary for Italy, where they haven’t really heard of widths. You can even have two shoes of different sizes (though that isn’t necessarily a good idea – see previous post on Lodger).
Fourth, and probably most importantly, Lodger just makes great quality shoes. There is a very high level of handcrafting – the leather is all hand-cut, the lasting is done by hand, the Italian shoes are painted by hand, the wheeling is done by hand. That puts Lodger on a par with pretty much every ready-to-wear shoe in London.
Brown has strived to find the right balance between handcrafting, which is beautiful, time consuming, and expensive, and using traditional shoemaking machinery. Sewing the welt by hand, for example, would add a lot to the price but very little in terms of quality.
Add to that the shoe bags actually shaped like shoes, the boxes that are also draws and the pictures on the outside of both, and you have a pretty good deal.
Wednesday, 22 April 2009
A waistcoat is a practical piece of clothing. It keeps the trunk of your body warm, leaves your arms free and pins your tie in place. A waistcoat is also stylish. It allows for the possibility of different colours underneath a jacket and elongates the silhouette.
Unfortunately, a sweater cannot do both.
For similar reasons to those explained above, I would argue that the most practical sweater a man can wear with a jacket is a tank top – sleeveless and with the same shape, essentially, as a waistcoat.
A normal, sleeved sweater underneath a jacket creates needless bulk and heat under the arms. This is particularly true if your suit is of a Scholte-inspired, Anderson & Sheppard-modelled cut, with high armholes. As soon as the temperature rises a little, you immediately feel uncomfortable around the armpits and take the jacket off. The extra layer of clothing down the arms is equally needless and potentially uncomfortable.
So a tank top is practical and, let’s face it, looks fine as long as your jacket stays on. But it is not stylish and is damned to never be so. Occasional trends for geek chic aside, a normal (sleeved) V-neck sweater will always look the most stylish.
Yes it does. But it’s hard to think of a less stylish knitwear option than the lavender tank top pictured in that post. It may look good under a jacket, but it will be very unflattering once that jacket comes off – which, I admit, most men are more likely to do more often than Will. At the very least a tank top should be just as fitted as a waistcoat, to flatter the physique. Unfortunately, this one is anything but.
I believe supporters of tank tops have unfortunately prioritised practicality over style. This does happen with more traditional gentlemen, as the geekish side of them takes over and they spend their time discussing, for example, the discovery of Russian reindeer leather rather than whether it is being used on an attractive last.
I should also mention that my opinion was backed up by the second in this ASW series – on roundneck sweaters and t-shirts with suits. Generally looks bad, and specifically looks bad in these colours (a pale orange horizontal stripe?)
Sweaters can be practical or stylish under a jacket, but never both.
Monday, 20 April 2009
The restoration of the English monarchy in 1660 was a tricky affair politically. Although parliament proposed bringing back Charles from exile and putting him on the throne, the French splendour (and fashions) with which he was associated were not popular. He had spent part of his exile in France with Louis XIV (the Sun King) who lived in great opulence, and any obvious associations with this in Charles’s dress would not have gone down well.
His reaction effectively invented the three-piece suit.
I knew this story already, but it was wonderfully described and elaborated on in an episode of the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen’s Men of Fashion’, currently airing. Those in the UK can catch up with some of it at www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer.
From the moment Charles landed in England he wore few foppish clothes – neutral, classical dress without the big wigs and red high heels popular on the continent. He is depicted in painting nearly always in plain clothes or armour. And he made a point of deliberately mixing with the people as he walked up and down the Mall, as well as playing tennis – sweating and puffing around the court in a special outfit – in public view.
He looked, as one historian put it on the programme “like an ordinary bloke”.
But his court was still profligate and renowned for the extravagant tastes of its courtiers. The reaction against this and the court’s French dress was intensified by three disastrous events in the middle of the decade – war in 1664, the Plague in 1665 and the Great Fire in 1666. The Fire, in particular, was blamed on papists and the French.
So on October 7 1666 Charles issued a declaration that his court would no longer wear ‘French fashions’. Instead, it would adopt what was known at the time as the Persian vest. A long waistcoat to be worn with a knee-length coat and similar-length shirt, it was made of English wool, not French silk. The emphasis was on cloth and cut, not ruffles and accessories.
Indeed, you could argue that the English suiting tradition began here – concentrating on silhouette and quality of wool rather than colour or decoration – systematised by the plain propriety of Beau Brummel a century later.
The outfit was finished off with a sash, stockings and buckled shoes. Over time the waistcoat became shorter and shorter, until by around 1790 it reached the length we recognise today. It had been sleeveless since the 1750s.
The first version was modelled by the King himself outside Westminster Hall and, as described by diarist Samuel Pepys, was “of black cloth and pinked with white silk under it”.
Over time it became an excuse for extravagance, with some in the 18th century wearing them with up to 20 buttons and in patterns of spots, stripes and flora. But the version worn by Beau, in white or black is the one known to us today as part of a three-piece suit.
Friday, 17 April 2009
Rule 5: Double-breasted suits add breadth to a man. They should only be worn by those with slim builds.
To reiterate the philosophy behind this series: All rules are there for a reason. They become rules because they have practical advantages. But there’s nothing wrong with breaking them, as long as you understand these practical advantages.
A double-breasted suit adds breadth to a man because it creates horizontal lines. Rather than going straight down, the lapels run across the body. The buttons, whether there are four or six, create horizontal lines as well. They create a box that adds squareness to a man.
The peak lapels also create breadth because they point outwards – no matter how high on the collar they appear, they add another horizontal line across the top of them.
This is all fairly straightforward. Horizontal lines create breadth – just like belts, checks and cuffs on trousers. But consider those lines for a minute and think how their breadth-giving properties could be minimised.
(In other words, consider the practical advantages behind the rule – why they are good for a thin man – and play with them.)
A double-breasted lapel that cuts across the chest and ends at a point above a man’s natural waist (so just above his belly button) will create quite a flat line. But if it ends lower down, buttoning below the natural waist or even on the hips, the line becomes more vertical.
Now narrow the distance between the buttons. The smaller the overlap of the double breast is, the more vertical the line of the lapel will be and the more its broadening effect will be reduced. And the shorter the horizontal line between the buttons will be.
Obviously you don’t want to push this too far, otherwise you might as well have a single-breasted jacket. But slightly adjusting both of these things will make the jacket more slender in a very subtle way.
Lastly, a personal quirk of mine is only having two buttons on a double-breasted suit. So just the two buttons required to fasten the jacket, and no more. It is a little bit individual and it means there is only one horizontal line, not two or three.
So there you go. A double-breasted suit does not necessarily make a man too broad. By lengthening the lapel, making it more vertical and reducing the buttons you can create a double-breasted jacket that a large man can wear and will only give him broad shoulders – not a big stomach.
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with Blake-construction shoes (the method used on all traditional Italian models). They are just more delicate and will not last as long as Goodyear-welted shoes.
The same could be said about suits made from super-180s wool or even super-150s. They are lighter, more delicate and possibly more elegant. But they will not last as long as an English tweed suit.
I have explained in depth previously what Blake construction is (see posting here). But in brief, the shoe’s upper is folded over at the edge and sewn directly onto the sole. With Goodyear-welted shoes the upper is sewn onto a new ridge of leather, before attaching that to the sole. Most English shoes and their American heirs use Goodyear welts. They make the shoe harder wearing and tougher. They also make it easier and quicker to resole.
The advantage of Blake construction is that the sole can be cut a lot closer to the upper, leaving less of a lip and making the shoe sleeker. The width of a sole around the upper varies among Goodyear-welted shoes, but none are quite as thin as Blake models.
Blake shoes get a lot of stick on style forums. The biggest reason is that they are not as long-lasting as Goodyear – but this is the case for lots of different types of clothing, from silk socks to summer suits. As Nathan Brown at London shoemaker Lodger comments:
“If you go and buy a lightweight suit from Kiton it’s not going to last as long as a Huntsman shooting jacket – those things last for centuries. But that doesn’t mean the Italian suit isn’t beautiful and it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the money.”
In my opinion, the problem is that style forums can really only discuss practical matters. They are great for recommendations on tailors, news about discounts and explorations of sartorial history. But you can’t discuss taste. It is subjective. A full English brogue on the Tricker’s model is very ugly to some; to others, a pointy Italian slip-on is the height of crass. Neither is right or wrong.
So forum discussions of shoes tend to focus on the quality of construction. They swap experiences on longevity and value for money. On those grounds, Goodyear-welted shoes will usually win. In fact, what you want is a cordovan boot with a triple sole – it’ll last a lifetime.
Monday, 13 April 2009
- A traditional navy-blue single-breasted suit
- A trusted location to take my existing suits, to be examined and adjusted
- A pair of brown shoes to accompany my beige suit
- An entire selection of shirts/ties/cufflinks to match my current suits and the third I intend to buy
Is Jermyn Street way above my station? Are the likes of TM Lewin or Hawes & Curtis ‘high street’ by tailoring standards? I am not sure whether £25 buys me a half-decent shirt, or £200-£300 a half-decent suit? Whether I should be getting traditional leather as opposed to suede for the brown shoes if to be worn for business? I’d be perfectly happy spending from £1000-£1500 to outfit myself with a new suit, have the existing ones altered if needed, six shirts, some cufflinks, perhaps a new belt and the new shoes as well. Am I being naive in thinking I can get all that, at good quality, for that sort of money?
This was a remarkably detailed question from Zenith. The entire thing can be seen as a comment here. The advice, hopefully, should be quite succinct, especially as several previous blogs deal with related areas (see the various links throughout this piece).
Broadly Zenith, I don’t think you are being too ambitious in expecting half-decent quality with that amount of money to spend. Let’s start with the suit. Your choice of a navy blue for your third suit is wise – that way you will have the two staples (grey and blue) and one more unusual, summery colour.
I would recommend two places to go: Suit Supply and A Suit That Fits. Prices start at £399 at the former and around £280 at the latter. Both offer a made-to-measure service where a suit is factory-made but to your measurements. It will therefore always fit better than off-the-peg and not need adjustment afterwards (though this is often free if you did want it).
As I have mentioned previously in reviews of these services, the quality of the material and workmanship is not as good as a top-end suit from the high street. But it is as good as you will get in a £250 suit, plus it will fit perfectly. And fit is more important than anything else. (Reviews here)
As to alterations, I use Atelier Colpani on Avery Row – just off Bond Street in London. Adjustments to the waist of a suit will be around £30, to trouser length around £15. But personal experience is key and there quite a few good tailors of this sort in London. Perhaps ask around your office when you start work for someone nearby?
On shoes, it looks like you are looking to spend £200-£300. For that there’s quite a lot available and you should be able to take a step up from Barker’s, good as they are. I would recommend Cheaney, which is a step down from Church’s but owned by the same brand (slightly fewer hand-worked stages). Alfred Sargent is also good, and probably one of the best brands for value in the country.
Either way, a great source for this stuff is John Rushton shoes, just off Oxford Street. There’s a fairly consistent supply of good benchmade shoes there. I wrote about it here. The Paul Smith sale shop is also worth a look, as those shoes come into your price range on sale – try and get the high-end range as well (post here).
And yes, you should definitely get brown leather, not suede. Brown suede shoes are great and very versatile, but brown leather is even more so and if you have one pair, they should be leather. Will go wonderfully with your beige suit and a white shirt.
On to shirts. It is odd that you should mention TM Lewin and Hawes & Curtis as high-street shops, yet ask whether Jermyn Street is beyond you. Both retailers are old Jermyn Street firms that began to expand rapidly a few years ago, around London and around the country. I don’t think the marketing directors of either would be pleased to learn from you that they have both lost their West-End aura in the process.
A TM Lewin shirt is now definitely not worth the £79 it is theoretically priced at. But for the lowest price in the sale (and there are always sales, always) it is good value. Get four for £100 or whatever the offer is and you’ll get value for money. However, the key to shirts is fit – it is worth the time traipsing around each of these Jermyn Street names in turn, trying on their regular, semi-fitted and fitted ranges and deciding which one is for you. Good made-to-measure shirts are a little too expensive (around £80 minimum) to make them worth the money when you are starting out.
With belts and cufflinks, these Jermyn Street stores are also pretty good value at the low end. Get a handful of silk knots to start with (dark colours, similar to your suit or your favourite ties) and one pair of silver if you can afford it.
I hope this was helpful – any further questions feel free to ask.
Sunday, 12 April 2009
"But I remember sitting there watching this guy smoking. He seemed undecided on where to store his cigarette pack and lighter. Anywhere in the jacket or trousers would have ruined the silhouette. So instead he tucked them inside his long, pastel-coloured socks. It was probably the one place he could put them where they'd be hidden from the outside."
So if you're worried about messing with the line of your suit, that's where to store things. Notes might work better than loose change, though. And you'd better be wearing calf-length socks.
Friday, 10 April 2009
“God, you look like a …”
Insert the appropriate style paradigm here. Sailor, English huntsman, City banker, Italian lothario, geography teacher, preppy Ivy Leaguer. This is the reaction you normally get when an outfit has particular connotations for those around you.
But it is important to realise that everyone’s connotations are different. You can’t let your dress be driven by the subjective and very local associations of your peers. Instead, recognise the intrinsic qualities that have given these style paradigms longevity.
Let’s have some examples. If I wear a blue blazer with white trousers or chinos, I might be ridiculed in the UK for looking like a sailor. But in the US it is a staple of everyday dress, one step down from a suit and perfectly acceptable for business meetings.
It is also rather elegant – a smart, crisp combination that gives a lot of potential for great tan shoes, even spectators. Although it’s not to my personal taste, I would like to think I wouldn’t be put off by local connotations if I chose to wear it.
If I wear brightly-coloured driving shoes without socks, under narrow, short white trousers, someone might mock me for pretending I lived on the Italian Riviera. But in Genoa there would be no such remarks – everyone would be wearing it, at least in the summer.
It is also a rather chic option for casual wear. Both colourful and practical, it is a great way to remain stylish in the heat. On bright day in July, therefore, I wouldn’t worry about any associations of wearing it in Hyde Park.
Two quick caveats here. First, make sure you consider the practical background to a particular paradigm. Don’t wear white trousers and driving shoes on a wet, grey day; don’t wear a huntsman’s tweeds in the height of summer. An Italian wouldn’t do the former and an Englishman the latter. Second, make sure no paradigm ever slips into costume, as warned against in my posting here.
Red socks have connotations for some of arrogant City bankers, as do pinstriped suits, waistcoats, elegant umbrellas, braces, contrast collars and bowler hats. Don’t let that put you off – with the exception of the bowler hat I would recommend all of them, in moderation.
Brightly coloured trousers, checked suits, knitted ties, waxed jackets and tweed all have connotations of in-bred, grouse-stalking country folk. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t stylish, on their own or in occasional combination.
With each, consider what has made it a style paradigm. Think about why it is still worn and revered decades after it was first worn. Then take what you like and ignore your peers.
Thursday, 9 April 2009
The 40 pairs were put in an 'aging pit' to give them an antiqued look. I've always preferred painting on undyed leather, but if you like the look go for it. They are named Scarpe di Fossa or entombed shoes.
Wednesday, 8 April 2009
Nathan Brown has seen a lot of feet. He has worked at Nike, Adidas and Puma, and now has his own formal-shoe shop, Lodger, just off Savile Row.
But my feet still surprised him.
I recently tried out the Lodger measuring system, which features a 3D laser scan to build up a virtual model of your foot. You insert your foot into a machine about twice the size of a shoebox, and several little cameras map its contours. That electronic picture is then used by a CAD (computer-aided design) system that suggests lasts, sizes and widths.
Fitting shoes is as much an art as a science, though. The CAD fit that Nathan showed me was perfect across the ball of the foot (the widest part of the foot – from the joint where the little toe joins the foot to the equivalent with the big toe on the other side). But it left too much room behind the heel.
Part of shoe fitting is also psychology. Men with wide feet tend to wear shoes that are a little too narrow for them. Initially, this is because they can’t find shoes that are wide enough. But over time, they become used to that fit – so anything that is the correct width will feel too big. The same goes for men with narrow feet: they feel most comfortable in shoes that are a little wide.
With me, the laser scanner showed that the right foot was a centimetre shorter than the left – almost half a size difference. Lodger can provide men with two shoes that are different sizes through its custom ordering service – which is what makes it unique. But as with narrow or wide feet, men with differently sized feet have got used to wearing shoes the same size. Put them in differently sized shoes and it feels very odd.
Nathan is discovering all of this over time. He set-up Lodger, and started applying this new technology from the world of sportswear, just over a year ago. One customer did order shoes that were different sizes, but it felt too strange after years of shoes that were either slightly big or slightly small on one foot. So Nathan no longer recommends that.
What surprised him about my feet was another measurement the scanner made. It showed that I was very wide across the ball of my foot (indeed, the smaller foot was slightly broader here) but I was also very high across the top of the foot. As regular readers will know, historically this has led me to buy shoes that are slightly too big, as nothing else would accommodate the width across the ball.
However, when we tried some shoes on, it quickly became apparent that my feet weren’t quite as high across the top as we’d thought. The lacing on each shoe was tight all the way up on the size I required to fit my width. It turned out that the arch was rather low, so even though the foot as a whole was tall, it was lowered by the shallow arch.
I understand if this level of detail is dull. But for me it was great. I’d discovered why I normally buy big shoes and why in-soles don’t normally help (they lift the whole foot up, restricting the width across the ball where I need it most).
Nathan quickly reached the same conclusion as I have (though it took me a lot longer and a lot more money). Tongue pads. By filling out the tongue of the shoe, these allow me to push down the back of the foot while keeping the ball free to use the full width.
As regular readers of this blog will also know, tongue pads are not easy to find. Most cobblers in London (and cordwainers for that matter) don’t stock them. But just like the self-professed shoe dork he is, Nathan wanted to find a solution. So he cut the heel off the in-sole we had been using, trimmed it down and tried wedging that underneath the tongue of my shoe.
It worked perfectly. Nathan gave me the cut-up insole and instructed me to stick it underneath the tongue of another pair of shoes with rubber cement (available at your local DIY shop). Any excess should dry and be able to be rubbed off, and if it didn’t work there would be no damage to the shoe itself.
I plan to try it on a pair this weekend. Nathan is keen to hear the results and I will report back here as well.
It is worth pointing out that at Lodger I experienced the best customer service I have ever had in a shop, as well.
Monday, 6 April 2009
A rich vein of style runs through American men. It is a style that is partly imported and partly their own. But each part constantly and consistently informs how they dress, and gives them a little-recognised advantage over their peers in England and Italy.
Americans love their history – no other nation reveres and studies the events of its past with such fervour. Perhaps it is because they have so little of it. Perhaps it is because it is all so recent.
As with the Civil War or the civil rights movement, so it is with US sartorial history. Much examined and much loved, American traditions of dress are loyally pursued.
English men have lost touch with their traditions, by comparison.
Go to a city in the UK outside London. Ask an average man on the street about England’s sartorial tradition; he will draw a blank. Ask him what Northampton is famous for; he will not say shoemaking. He may have heard of Savile Row, but he will be able to tell you little about its fame.
And this is the country that stylish Americans usually hold as the source of the greatest style in the world.
Most importantly, there are very few English men that revere England’s traditions of tweeds, three-piece suits and brogues. By contrast, preppy style in the US is held in the highest regard. There are more blogs on that than any other aspect of men’s style.
A friend of mine grew up in Baltimore. (Remove the t and i for the local pronunciation.) He spent his childhood outdoors, camping, skiing and going fishing with his father and grandfather. Not a posh kid from the metropolis.
Yet he told me recently he never wears t-shirts, just polo shirts and dress shirts. They just look better on a man – or at the least flatter more men. This is the great preppy tradition filtering down: polo shirts are the casual standard, not t-shirts.
Equally, he apologised for wearing deck shoes into the office, sockless. Yet to English men, wearing loafers without socks like this is an element of fashion – something continental and stylish they seek to emulate.
One final example, drawn from my day job. During a trip last week to New York, meeting lawyers at the big American firms, I was struck by how well dressed everyone was. To a man they obviously spent more time (and money probably) on their dress. Crisp white shirts, elegant cuff links and a smattering of bespoke.
A rich vein of style runs through American men.
Friday, 3 April 2009
The G20 has revealed a lot about bankers’ sartorial taste. It has shown uniformity and a complete lack of awareness of what ‘normal’ people wear.
As protests were announced for the day before the G20 meeting in London, City workers were warned to “try and look inconspicuous” and “dress down to avoid being targeted as bankers”. Protests were scheduled for everywhere from Grosvenor Square to Canary Wharf, the Bank of England to Trafalgar Square – so a large number of people was threatened with disruption and possible attack.
Unfortunately, bankers aren’t very good at disguise. As a columnist in local paper City AM put it: “What a feast for the eyes the streets of the City were – colourful, vibrant and loud. I am, of course, referring to the sartorial elegance displayed by bankers.” Not the protestors.
“Predictably there were some who believed the streets would be transformed into a country club for the day, and opted for the traditional chinos and tweed. At least, if nothing else, they fitted in with each other.”
Which was rather the problem. A man in a suit can be a clerk, a security officer, even a waiter. But a man in chinos, a tweed jacket and loafers is definitely a banker. Fortunately, there were no reports of bankers being targeted with violence. But if protesters had been so inclined, their targets could not have stood out more.
It got worse. “Reports soon started to come in regarding all manner of attire unlikely to go unnoticed by your average anti-capitalist protestor. On one end of the spectrum there were three-quarter length trousers, Louis Vuitton soap bags and St Tropez polo club-branded rugby shirts. On the other was the very well-groomed gentleman who was conspicuous as much for his reeking cologne as for his tassled brogues, pressed jeans and cashmere top,” said the columnist.
A colleague reported similar sightings. “It was hilarious seeing all the bankers in disguise on the train this morning,” she said. “With their perfectly ironed blue shirts, cufflinks and loafers you couldn’t really miss them.”
There were an admirable few that refused to be bowed, however (my father among them). Many cited the IRA bombings in London and said “I didn’t sneak and hide from that so I’m not going to do so now.” It was almost freakish how often that reference came up.
Equally, some bankers deliberately scaled up the traditional dress. City veteran Justin Urquhart-Stewart of Seven Investment Management proudly wore a pinstriped suit, bright red socks, red braces and no less than two red handkerchiefs. Even he conceded he couldn’t get away with a bowler hat, however.
Thursday, 2 April 2009
Back then it had only been open a month and was still finding its feet. Now it is expanding its offering (quite impressive for a luxury store in these straitened times) and has hosted trunk shows with likes of Pierre Corthay, Tony Gaziano and Denis Dwyer of JM Weston.
Part of that expansion has been the addition of a few new lines, including Church’s women’s shoes and a few models from American stalwart Alden.
Church’s shoes for women only emerged in the UK in the past year, but they have already had a big impact. In the company’s financial statement it was reported that women’s shoes were a big success and almost flew off the shelves.
Indeed, I am slightly embarrassed to say that I have once or twice done a double take outside a branch of Church’s, looked lovingly at a pair of patent crocodile shoes, and only after a while realised I was admiring ladies’ shoes. Oh well. Perhaps they are just so slim they cannot help but look elegant.
Steven at Leffot says the patent crocodile-patterned shoes are the most popular, which doesn’t surprise me: womenswear tolerates a lot more experimentation and idiosyncrasy in this area. (That’s them, third from the left in the image above.)
The shoes are displayed on a leather Union Jack that Church’s gifted to Steven. Apparently a couple of sections for the new window displays were cut incorrectly, and they were offered to the store as a potential piece decoration. As it turns out, it couldn’t fit more perfectly on Leffot’s long slab of a table and does a rather good job of subliminally reminding customers of Church’s heritage.The second addition is Alden, which is the first American brand for Leffot to carry. The chukka boots shown in the photo below are my favourites of the selection. Somehow the heavier tread of these shoes seem more suited to workmanlike boots to my eye.
But then what would I know? I like women’s shoes.
Apparently the cordovan is very popular with the Aldens, which isn’t surprising given its heritage. One Leffot customer is so obsessed with the material he admits he can’t look at a horse’s arse without seeing a shoe-shaped hole in it.
And finally, a bit of gratuitous shoe porn. For all those fanatics out there, a pair of derbies from my favourite shoemaker in Leffot, Pierre Corthay.
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
Turnbull & Asser believes 'anything is possible'. Daniel Craig, looking for a whole new set of bespoke shirts in a day, put that to the test. Simon Crompton reports
The phone rang. It was Daniel Craig’s stylist. They were running out of shirts.
Craig had been doing five to six TV interviews a day promoting the new James Bond film, and he was changing shirts almost as often. Turnbull & Asser made all the shirts for Craig (indeed has made the shirts for every Bond going back to Sean Connery in 1962). The stylist wanted a set of new shirts the next day.
Bespoke, handmade shirts in 24 hours.
PR liaison Rowland Lowe-McKenzie took the call. “I had to phone our seamstresses in Gloucester and plead with them,” he remembers. “They were wonderful about it. They stopped all other production, all the machines, and worked furiously on Mr Craig’s order. They were there into the night.”
Eventually it was done. Lowe-McKenzie admits he wasn’t popular for a while up in Gloucester, but at least the panic was over. He put the shirts in a bag and ran over to Bond HQ, with a little note for the stylist (a personal friend) explaining in no uncertain terms that she owed him a favour. A big one.
Unfortunately, the delivery was picked up by Daniel Craig himself. “He was so sweet about it,” says Lowe-McKenzie. “He wrote a delightful note back saying how grateful he was for all the effort we had gone to, and sent hand-signed photos to the ladies in the factory. But it was so embarrassing knowing he had picked up my note instead!”
We need butch shirts
This was not the first time there had been problems with the new James Bond’s shirts.
Craig came in the Turnbull & Asser bespoke offices to be measured even before it had been announced that he was the new Bond. The tailors at 23 Bury Street measured him up for the shirts he would wear, primarily in the initial scenes on the beach and then the casino confrontation, but had to keep the secret.
Thirty shirts were made for the casino scene alone, plus 30 for Craig’s double. Some of that 30 were specifically designed for the action scenes, cut on a block that allowed a little more room to manoeuvre. But then the others “were pretty much sprayed on,” remembers Lowe-McKenzie. “Though if you’ve got the body, you might as well flaunt it.”
It was that famous body that caused the problems. Between the initial measuring session in London and starting to shoot the film, Craig put on a huge amount of muscle. So part way into filming in the Bahamas Turnbull & Asser got a distressed call from the director – the shirts didn’t fit!
Cue panic in London. The measurements had been perfect, the shirts had been perfect; but the man himself had changed. So two tailors from the Turnbull & Asser office in New York were dispatched to the Bahamas. They measured him in an hour and quickly sent the new, butch measurements to London so a whole new set of shirts could be made.
Being the official supplier of shirts (and ties, and accessories) to the Bond franchise is not cheap.
But it does have history: it began with Sean Connery and the first Bond film – Dr No. Producer Albert Broccoli and director Terence Young shopped at Turnbull & Asser, so when they found Connery they brought him to the store to show him where a real gentleman shopped. The relationship has kept going over the years, through the Broccoli family.
Growing your own umbrellas
Turnbull & Asser purposefully places special (and necessarily costly) restrictions on its shirt-making process. All the shirts are made in the UK, in factories owned by the firm. All the cotton cloths are designed in Jermyn Street and are unique to T&A (all 900 of them). Indeed the bespoke shirts are still made on Jermyn Street – the firm is one of the last, if not the last, to produce shirts on the famous London street.
For Turnbull & Asser, there are distinct advantages to owning your own production process. Without that, there’s no way Daniel Craig’s orders could have been fulfilled. You can’t stop the production process easily if it is offshore – you don’t know the people, they’re not driving distance away, they may even be in a different time zone.
“Our motto is, anything’s possible,” says Lowe-McKenzie.
“And we can put a label in our produce knowing exactly how it has been put together, which is easier with local and integrated production. We have complete control of the process. So many companies have lost that.”
The production process is part of an over-arching ethos at Turnbull & Asser, of ethical employment and sustainability. Which brings us onto another of the firm’s demanding clients: Prince Charles.
T&A holds the royal warrant to supply shirts to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and is justly proud of it. But the Prince’s passion for ecological production does have an influence on the firm. All the mother-of-pearl buttons, for instance, are organically grown and harvested from renewable sources.
In fact, there is one item that is entirely organic – the umbrellas. A journalist once enquired whether anything at Turnbull & Asser was completely organic. A hasty survey of the staff finally turned up a positive response from the umbrellas guy. The shaft of each is a single stick, grown without fertiliser and tenderly managed for four to seven years.
How to have a shirt like Bond
If you have the time and money to have a bespoke shirt made at Turnbull & Asser (and happen to be near Jermyn Street one day), the prices start at £165. Cost rapidly increases with the type of material used – the firm is about to put into production a Super 240s cotton, which would be so thin you could barely feel it on. It’s thinner than tissue paper.
Master Shirt Maker David Gale (who began his career with T&A in the seventies and recently rejoined from Savile Row) will take 28 individual measurements. These include collar (some 200 different collar shapes and styles), cuff width (including the difference between left and right cuff to include the diameter of a watch), shoulders, chest, mid rift and seat.
As well as the aforementioned Daniel Craig and Prince Charles, Gale has made shirts for Frank Sinatra, David Niven and Jude Law. So a pretty good shirt and pretty good company.