Friday, September 19, 2014

Changing Seasons

There is usually a change in the air around the start of September, some new scent that once said that it was time to go back to school and more recently reminds that it is time to replace linen and mohair with flannel and tweed.  

In California, sunny weather and the scent of fall sometimes disagree but as it happened Air France pilots decided to go on strike this week (for the second time this summer). That forced hundreds if not thousands of travelers into airline lounges and (shudder) airport hotels, forcing at least one traveler to cut his holiday a day short in order to fly from Venice to Amsterdam to Paris so he can possibly make a flight to San Francisco. But travel is, as they say, also broadening and judging by the men in those same lounges, the scent of fall is in the air. There were a surprising number of faux tweeds despite temperatures around 75 (24 C) and cream linen was in a definite minority.    

Timing being everything as it so often is, Mr. Thomas Ritson of English Cut wrote to say he was sending along an 11 ounce (330 gram) double breasted cut from H. Lesser’s remaining stock of Golden Bale. Another hint that the season has changed is enough - should he eventually make it home, this writer will get be getting his fall clothing out of storage.  

In the photo, summer airplane clothing that included tortoise eyeglass frames, an elephant print bandana, Pureness tee and orange barathea braces. The safariana was hung in a closet somewhere. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Man Needs Variety

Luggage has its own baggage, such as the challenge you face in a place like Venice where your transportation choices are limited to the size of your boat. Which means that, if you take a taxi (that is a fleet of them passing by a bus and gondola station on the Grand Canal), the bag containing most of your clothing must be hoisted by hand over a rocking rail to a frail looking fellow standing on a flooded tile landing.  It would be quite a tense moment if you were not focused on trying to maintain your balance in your leather soled shoes. 

For all of that, the principal problem with packing light is that boredom sets in by the second week. Few others may have seen you wear anything repeatedly but you have and, unless you were conditioned by years of uniforms, you are quite tired of the things you brought by now. After all, you have probably worn each of them five times, which is as much as a man with a medium sized wardrobe wears anything over the course of several months. Few of them are likely to get out of the closet again until next year. 

It may seem unrelated but, to me, the mystery of trade show attendance is that a show may be half way around the world, but while you are there you socialize with any number of friends and acquaintances who live within a few minutes drive  - and who you only see at shows. In much the same sense, though theoretically our paths have crossed on several occasions, the only time the Neapolitan tailors Napolisumisura and I could find to see each other this season is after my plane touches down in San Francisco late Saturday night.  They will hopefully have with them the navy linen jacket that was not fitted when I was in Florence in June, which is to say that, being out of the country themselves, NSM sent what we hoped was a completed coat to my hotel sight unseen.  Unfortunately, it was not quite right in a number of ways and I sent it back. Now of course, linen season is about over even in California and it will not get any wear before next spring.  In retrospect that may be a good thing - I won’t be tired of it.

A man needs variety. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Surprisingly Useful

Some years ago the British Medical Association recommended that doctors stop wearing neckties on their rounds, suggesting that such “functionless items of clothing,” infrequently cleaned, could harbor and transmit “superbugs” by brushing up against sick and healthy patients alike. Coming as it did when the tie’s popularity was at its lowest ebb, this recommendation appeared to be another nail in the coffin. The implication that our ties, in addition to being somewhat unfashionable at the time, were filthy disease vectors was disturbing even to those of us who weren’t doctors. Perhaps it was an unexpectedly successful bit of psychological warfare from the bow tie lobby, for the BMA’s report advised doctors who had to wear some badge of formality to consider switching.

I have an admittedly irrational prejudice against the bow tie. While some friends may be able to look good wearing them, I fear I would look, well, poindextrous (to coin a term) in one. Nor does fear of disease prompt me to buy an antimicrobial tie, which at least one company began selling following the increase in fears about hospital-borne illnesses. Those of us who wish to protect both patients and our ties from the depredations of the world around us can instead turn to another small item which has surfed the tie’s resurgence back to (relative) popularity: the tie bar.

As classic, or classically-inspired, clothing has come back to fashion, all sorts of old-fashioned accessories have also returned. In my more cynical moments, I suspect it is because for many if not most, classic clothing is just another fashion to be indulged to extreme and retro affectation, as have done the cosplayers in the Chap movement. Those of us who like clothing for its own sake, or for our own reasons, can reach for the tie bar (also called a tie clip) despite fashion. After all, its primary function is to stabilize the functionless.

As I’ve written before, we all search for rationalizations for our obsessions. Here are a few more for the tie bar:

It can keep the narrow end of your tie in place. No less a #menswear Elder God than Michael Drake, founder of Drakes London, recalled that at the start of his career, one of the most elegant men’s shops in the world used to sell its ties without keepers in order to avoid their outline being impressed into the front of the tie when worn. Although I haven’t encountered that problem, I still often ignore the keeper when I wear a tie, partly because I often used to forget that I had used it, leading to knotty results when I tried to take off the tie at the end of the day. In addition to keeping the front of your tie from flapping around or dangling, a tie bar will keep the narrow end from peeking out the back.And it wears less warmly than the waistcoat of a three-piece suit.

It can help your tie pop. Depending on how it’s placed, a tie bar can add a bit of an arch to your tie, giving it a subtle pop. And it does this without resorting to the sort of clothing gimmickry that adds complication and fuss without noticeably saving labor or time, such as magnetic collar stays, shirts made with taint strips in order to stay tucked, tie dimplers, or the iPod tie one brand proposed (the wearer was supposed to put his iPod in a pocket on the back of the tie and plug his earphones into a jack farther up the tie)..

It does all that without mutilating your tie or shirt. Tie tacks could also hold your tie in place, but I can’t get my mind around using an accessory that mutilates your clothes. I’ve heard that holes are supposed to close up on ironing, but it’s not been my experience, and it’s generally a bad idea to iron ties anyway. For the same reason, I dislike collar pins, used by some to add pop under a tie knot. They either poke holes in your collar or force you to wear shirts made with those pre-sewn holes, which is a somewhat precious look.

And if you have a concern with looking too affected wearing a tie bar, or of looking like the currently trendy crowd whose skinny ties display one above the openings of their too-short suit jackets, don’t worry. Tie bars do their job more effectively clipped lower on the tie, so clip yours below the close of your suit jacket. The books that mention them say to put it your tie bar in at a bit of an angle. My impression is that readers have interpreted that the same way that the neoclassical architects translated the ancients’ use of slight convexity in their columns into exaggerated squash shapes in their own. Stick the bar in more or less horizontally and don’t expend much time or thought on it – it’ll go to a jaunty angle on its own.

Unless searching for an engravable gift for someone else, vintage is the best way to look for tie bars, as there is a large supply from several generations that used them far more frequently. While demand is currently up it is nothing like the size of the supply. It’s how I found the old Sulka clip in the photo. Vintage, of course, doesn’t mean novelty. You can find plenty of souvenir or splashy tie bars that are best suited to a period movie. There are also supposed classics in the form of safety pins, golf clubs, and other slightly mannered designs. Unless you can wear such a thing completely unself-consciously (and you have two strikes against you already for reading this piece), I’d suggest avoiding those. Simple or unobtrusive is the way to go, so that you always have the fallback defense of utility. Form can hide behind function.

Words and photo by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans

Monday, September 15, 2014


It could seem odd to wear a necktie in a place where formally dressed waiters in rubber boots serve Bellinis and frito misto while walking through the two inches of Venetian high tide that is sloshing onto the patio of their restaurant.  The other diners speak half a dozen languages and the only dark suits in sight are worn by a group of tieless older men whose faces would easily have earned them roles as extras in one or another of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather series.

Rather than feel odd a man can wear a scarf covering the vee of his jacket. We tend to think about scarves as things that keep us warm in cool weather, but well dressed men have been casually wearing lightweight scarves in lieu of a necktie for nearly a century. They look smart, and under them one need only wear an easy to care for tee rather than a dress shirt.

In the photo, a cream linen suit with one of Rubinacci’s pochettes in the jacket pocket, black and white spectator shoes, and a lightweight scarf over a Dark Shadow Pureness tee shirt.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Midnight Brown

Formal eveningwear is the last bastion of die-hard sartorial pedantry. For well over a century, it has been technically defined as a single platonic form: the immutable tailcoat ensemble, negotiable only in the cut of the waistcoat. Contemporary convention has of course promoted the semi-formal tuxedo* to be the gussiest gear most of us will ever don, but even here, acceptable variation is limited to a handful of styles -- single button or double-breasted, peaked or shawl lapels -- and two colors: black or midnight blue. But as it is now, must it ever be, world without end? Having myself recently joined the small band of miscreants who possess brown tuxedos, I will now attempt to use this modest platform to justify them. Bear with me.

The avatar and alibi of the brown tuxedo has always been Noël Coward, who had his made in the early 1970s by Dougie Hayward. Curiously, it’s cut from polyester -- an artifact of a more optimistic era, before the space age wonder fabric (and space itself) had lost its futuristic luster -- but being exquisitely rendered in otherwise impeccable form, it carries no whiff of Sextonian excess. It has long held my fascination as a garment particularly befitting an iconic dresser who made his name roasting high society’s mores and peccadillos from deep within. By artfully challenging an orthodoxy it obviously respects, the brown tuxedo embodies a Cowardly quality rarely noted in classic clothing: wit.

Brown is, of course, not a color that conjures urbane evening elegance, but I suspect the reasons for this are more arbitrary than generally supposed. In the mid to late nineteenth century, when eveningwear was more widely and frequently worn, it was considerably more varied, more vital, more fashionable than the classically calcified costume we’ve enshrined as the apex of elegance. Part of that dynamism was the wider spectrum of color in play, particularly in the burgeoning and controversial semi-formal stratum then being defined by the elder Prince of Wales and his sartorial disciples: garnets, emeralds, sapphires, and yes, even rich browns. According to this aesthetic, the essence of eveningwear was not necessarily strict uniformity, but sumptuous understatement, and a liberal understanding of smoking jackets and their derivatives as leisure wear -- play clothes, even: mildly naughty liberations, if one was so inclined, from the sober worsteds so ubiquitous in daytime business attire.

Ironically, at the other end of the sartorial bell curve that peaked in the interwar years, the time for more discretely playful (semi-)formality may have come again. As its occasions dwindle, “black tie” becomes less a starchy ceremonial obligation to be endured, and more an exotic opportunity to be sought and savored. The callow hubris of “creative” black tie is finally sparking a reactionary traditionalism on various red carpets; perhaps this renewed respect for the rules can carry a cautious appreciation for those who break them not out of ignorance, but in pursuit of an elite elegance.

Whatever we may claim, no recreational dresser wants to melt into a crowd or disappear into the woodwork; whether by virtue of flamboyance or impeccability, we strive for differentiation. The fact that midnight blue tuxedos are having a moment reflects not abandonment of traditional sartorialism, but its renascent vigor: more men wanting their clothes to be noticed. As they nudge the mean up the color spectrum, more rarefied dressers may seek higher ground.

This could all end very badly, of course, with a kaleidoscope of jewel-tones at formal functions. But I don’t think so. I may well confront the odd fellow dandy dressed to the teeth in his equally unique brown tuxedo, but not a pack of them. There simply aren’t enough outliers, enough dressers with the cheeky confidence to brave the clucking of their peers. There are certainly more than there used to be, and that’s a good thing for us all. Don’t let’s be beastly to them.

* Hush, Jeeves. “Tuxedo” is a mellifluous term, conjuring both sex appeal and best of the garment’s competing origin narratives (see the Internet) -- a classic parable of English polish and American brass. It is also delightfully infuriating to those who prefer the infinitely worse Anglo(phile) term “dinner jacket” -- usually abbreviated by natives to the utterly savage “DJ.”
Words and photo by Andrew Yamato