Thinking outside of the masculine box

17 Apr

Media dictates gender roles.Last fall, I attended SkyWorks’ Real Change Boys Filmmaking Project to watch short documentaries about gender and identity by young men between the ages of 14 and 21. The films depicted issues around masculine identity, stereotypes, expectations, and the images of boys and men in media and popular culture.

One film spoke louder than the rest to me. In his film, Boxed In, Brandyn Pereira describes his realization that media portrays men and boys as one of a few narrow stereotypes. Brandyn was only 14 when he questioned gender portrayal and made his film. This outstanding young mind recognized the unnaturalness of gender stereotypes in media and started a conversation about it. I’m writing to continue that conversation.

Boxed In

Brandyn had a moment of recognition while watching television one day and noticed the stereotypical gender roles presented on TV.

“Almost every guy on these TV shows liked beer and sports, or they were the family man or the hero of the situation. Boys always liked video games, sports, and they rarely showed any emotion with their friends,” he says, “I’m wondering why the media depicts young men or boys like that.”

Media is enormously influential to us whether we like it or not; it tells us what to wear, how to smell, what music to listen to, what lifestyle to lead, and it doubles as an inadvertent guidebook to life. People—especially young people—look to television and the media to try to understand who they’re supposed to be. I remember looking to the TV for cues on how to be when I was a kid and sometimes I took on fabricated affectations because I wasn’t sure what else to do, and hey, if they did it on TV there must be some kind of truth to it, right?

Wrong.

Jeff Perera, Community Engagement Manager at the White Ribbon Campaign says in the film, “To be human is to be yourself; society is about trying to put you in a box.” It’s that gender box that Jeff is referring to and what Brandyn’s film is about.

When I met with Brandyn recently, we talked about the limitations of living in a gender-stereotyped box. “TV shows show only a few specific types of men: a) genius/smart guy, b) dim-witted, c) strong, or d) a wimp,” Brandyn says, “I noticed how the stereotypes don’t allow men and boys to be anything else.”

The men and boys in Brandyn’s film discuss the unreal masculine ideal presented in media, where males are always slim, fit, emotionless, macho, in control, and tough; good-looking, sports-obsessed, beer-drinking, video game-playing slices of the masculine ideal, out of touch with reality and their natural emotions.

These media stereotypes have the power to take us hostage and hold the dagger of social expectation to our throats. For some people like Brandyn, the media-generated masculine stereotype is not only confusing, “it is depressing for young people when they recognize they don’t fit the role and image of what is presented in the media.”

Contradiction, shame, insult

As a young person, Brandyn is quick to call out the media’s mixed messages. “I don’t know how I should act,” he says, “the message aimed at young people is to be yourself, but the next second we’re being told to conform. It’s confusing.”

Not only confusing but potentially damaging. We’ve had gender ideals pushed on us since birth, and some people believe so strongly in prescribed gender roles that they will cause trouble for people who fail to embody these expectations.

Calling someone “gay” as the go-to insult of childhood is sadly still holding its ground and it’s been around for a very long time. Brandyn told me about a time when one of his friends (a girl who has her own suite of gender expectations to deal with) accused him of being gay because he didn’t like all of the stereotypical masculine pastimes she learned about via media.

I’m quite sure that a child calling someone “gay” doesn’t understand what “gay” really means, though they do pick up on the term as an insult. Accusing someone of being “gay” really means that there is something “wrong” with that person because he doesn’t conform to the (white, str8, patriarchal) media-generated and socially sustained gender stereotype.

Brandyn says products “make kids cool” and explained that a few grades ago, he and his friends picked up on and adopted the gender stereotypes and products associated with it out of fear of not fitting in and the shame attached to that. Fear plays a strong role in motivation and retailers and marketers work this to their advantage.

Gender-differentiated products means more profit for retailers. Gendered colour is manufactured and nothing more than manipulation by the retail industry to get you to spend more money. Gender-specific products and marketing drive profits, and sexism in media sustains gendered ideals that are best left in the dark ages.

Deep down we know that no matter how much we shop and try to adopt these perfect lifestyles presented by the media, we never will truly become what we see and so we must settle on being ourselves. Jeff Perera believes that we need examples of diversity in media, to see men from different racial backgrounds, different sizes, shapes, tastes, and talents, to offer people more options to relate to.

Instead of ridiculous and unnatural gender codes, let’s celebrate and appreciate men and boys as wonderful unique creatures who can enjoy sports and video games if they want to, but may also like to sing, cook, and write short stories.

Guys like Brandyn.

 

April showers, rubber boots, and the environment

3 Apr

Leah Morrigan:

New season and new footwear required–from the archives!

Originally posted on In the Key of He:

Period Hessian boots.

It’s April again and if you’re lucky enough to be in a snowless spot, it could be time to get out the umbrellas and rubber boots for a change!

Rubber boots as we know them today didn’t start as rubber boots. The style of boot derives from Hessian boots, a high style from the Regency Period. These 18th century boots were made of leather with a heel and slightly pointed toe, and decorated with a coloured tassel. This is the boot from which rubber and cowboy boots derived. (Click here for further period boot reading.)

Though also worn by Beau Brummel, the most famous of dandies, the Hessian boots were adopted by the military and favoured by officers. One of these officers,  Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, modified the style and changed footwear forever. Wellesley wanted a boot tough enough for the battlefield…

View original 540 more words

Ethical man = sexy man!

20 Mar

By this point, we’re all well aware that we have to manage manufactured goods by recycling, reusing, and repurposing, because the earth won’t get healthier if we continue to create new stuff out of raw materials and toss them into a landfill when we’re done.

The movement to creatively and stylishly reuse existing materials and objects is in full swing and I’ve seen some super cool ways to reuse stuff: got an old ladder? Mount it on a wall to make a book shelf! Make lamps and other cool stuff out of cassette tapes, and for die-hard sports fans in possession of old soccer or basketballs, make a hat! (Check out this blog: 25 Interesting DIY ideas to reuse old things.)

As an image consultant, I like to offer eco-friendly alternatives to my clients and for this post, I’ve found some super stylish accessory pieces for the eco-conscious gent.

Men’s environmentally conscious accessories

Mod wallet by Couch

Couch Mod arrow wallet available at Nice Shoes.ca. Image used with permission.

One of the cooler Canadian eco-conscious and cruelty-free businesses is Nice Shoes, which sells much more than nice shoes. Nice Shoes sells an obvious array of footwear plus great bags, belts, and wallets at their Vancouver shop and online store.

Shown here is the Couch Mod wallet. Couch makes cruelty-free vinyl wallets out of material leftover from their guitar straps (see below). Wallets have lots of room to hold 12 plastic cards and a bill fold for cash.

Repurposed vinyl pieces are strong, durable, easy-to-clean, and vegan/cruelty-free, and I recommend them if you want an inexpensive, ethical long-term investment: I’ve had a vegan bag for several years and it hardly looks worn.

Nice Shoes carries different men’s, women’s, and unisex lines. Below is a fine brown satchel by Matt and Nat, a great overnight bag for the discerning eco-conscious man:

Jack satchel

“Jack” by Matt and Nat, available at niceshoes.ca. Image used with permission.

Vintage car-conscious

Can you think of anything cooler than using the vinyl interior of an early 1970s Volkswagen Beetle to make a guitar strap? Neither can I. Couch, out of Signal Hill, California, does guitar and camera straps from vintage vinyl and repurposed seat belts along with other cool gear.

Couch vintage Volkswagon guitar strap

Couch vintage Volkswagen upholstery guitar strap. Image used with permission.

Being a vegan myself, I like what Couch stands for:

…when it came to making guitar straps, we were not into purchasing the actual hides of leather and then stamping the tabs out of asymmetric sides of beef before sewing them on our straps. The buying and selling of animal skin carcasses was a little too weird for us, thanks.

Couch also makes excellent, hard-wearing, gear for men like wallets, belts, and shaving bags. The toiletry bag below is made of vinyl upholstery originally intended to cover the interior of late 60s/early 70s Pontiac GTOs. This houndstooth model has a metal zipper and is lined with waxed canvas to keep your stuff dry when you splash around the sink.

GTO shaving bag

The houndstooth upholstery of the Pontiac GTO makes for a cool shaving bag. Image used with permission.

In the end, gents, you’re responsible for your actions and the products you use. Like men who volunteer, support animal rights, walk a mile in heels as a gesture to end violence against women, or get involved with anti-bullying campaigns, impassioned, eco-minded men are attractive and in demand. More than that, guys who use repurposed goods out of an eco-conscience are not just good for the future of our planet, dang! they’re downright sexy!

A little gift for the winter blahs

6 Mar

dirty boots

This winter has been horrendous. Gawd, when will it end? Many of us have reached our winter breaking point: it’s friggin’ cold and I’m at my palest; I’ve been wearing the same clothes for months, salt has eaten my footwear alive, and I just want it to be over!

Take a breath and decide to give yourself a gift and clean your winter boots. An odd gift, I know, but you’ve been neglecting them for weeks and the winter has been so cold for so long that you didn’t even notice that their lower third are white with salt. Have a good look at your boots, pick them up, and bring them into the bathroom.

Clean one boot at a time using the instructions below so you can compare the grimy boot to the clean one. I promise that this will give you a feeling of proud accomplishment that will lift your winter spirits:

You’ll need:

  • about 15-20 minutes
  • dirty, salt-stained winter boots
  • damp rag
  • drying rag
  • spent toothbrush
  • cup of warm water
  • shoe polish, leather conditioner, protective spray

Then:

1. Clean your boots:

toothbrush

Toothbrushes are fantastic cleaning tools

For smooth leathers, use a damp rag to wipe off the surface of your boots. You may have to rinse the rag a couple of times before you’re done depending on the filth level your boot finds themselves in.

Elbow grease may be necessary–this is where the toothbrush comes in handy. Short nylon bristles can get into places a cloth can’t, so start scrubbing with your toothbrush and get the dirt and grime out of boot seams, shoelace grommets, the boot tread, and the texture of the sole. Dip the toothbrush in the cup of warm water periodically.

If and only if your boot is waterproof, you can rinse the salt-stained sole under a warm tap, then rub dirt and salt off with a rag and/or a toothbrush. Dry.

2. Clean your laces: 

Do you tie your boots with dirty laces hardened by salt? Fix the problem by unlacing the dirty strings, then submerge them in warm water working the stains away with your fingers. Add a little soap if you like. Push the water out down the length of the lace, then hang to dry (over the shower curtain) or press water out with a towel. Re-lace when dry.

3. Lubricate your zipper:

As you know, fellas, lubrication is important to anything mechanical–and this includes zippers! If your boot has a zipper and that zipper is salt-dried and sticking, it’s time to clean and lubricate the mechanism. If you’ve had the misfortune of having to replace a boot zipper, you’ll know how much it costs, and this will save you some hard-earned dough.

I looked around and found zipper lubricating info on the web. One site suggested using Vaseline or soap (I tried this but it didn’t work well… uh, was the soap supposed to be wet?), but ended up choosing almond oil for the job. I squeezed a few drops onto a Q-Tip and lightly swept it up and down both sides of the zipper, then moved the lube around by zipping and unzipping the boot several times – worked like a charm! Cooking oils like olive oil may work here too, but not sure if any specific types of oil would react to the plastic zipper teeth, so use at your discretion.

4. Polish and protect:

Your boots are now looking a whole lot better than they did 10 minutes ago. To make your leather boots look better for longer, apply a leather conditioner to keep the material supple, allow to dry, then you can go ahead and use polish to cover the scuffs and bring back the colour. Always spray with a protective spray to ward off the next round of winter filth.

5. Shoe repair:

I can’t stress enough how important shoe maintenance is. You’ve invested in your footwear, so take care of it. You can have your boots re-heeled and re-soled; cleaned, stretched, and waterproofed, so you don’t have to throw this winter’s boots away, just get them fixed. Easier on the earth and more money in your account.

Well done! Wearing clean footwear feels civilized and it will give you a lift, no matter what the temperature. Just remember, only a few more weeks of winter 2014 to go, then spring arrives–hooray!

My uncle the Olympian

20 Feb
Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame

Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame

If you aren’t old enough or you’re not from the Canadian prairies, you probably haven’t heard of an amazing man who fostered the sport and spirit of wrestling and amateur sport in Canada, a man who competed in three Olympic Games, and a man with a twinkle in his eye and a smile to share, my Great Uncle, James Trifunov.

Uncle Jim was a featherweight and bantamweight self-taught freestyle wrestler who competed in the 1924, 1928, and 1932 Olympic Games, won ten national championships between 1923 and 1933, and was awarded a gold metal in the 1930 British Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games).  According to the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Famehe had only one defeat on Canadian soil. 

I was just a kid when Uncle Jim and Aunt Mary would come to Regina to my Grandmother’s house from Winnipeg for Christmas, Easters, and sometimes Thanksgivings. I remember him fondly; he spoke in a voice tinged with a far-away Slavic accent, always happy, always interested in what my brother and I had to say for ourselves. I was too young to understand his passion for wrestling and his outstanding achievements, and I never knew of the difficulties he went through to make it to world-class competitions (literally).

History

Jim immigrated to Canada from Serbia with his family in 1910 and settled in Regina, Saskatchewan, where, I suspect, his early life must have been difficult. His father died a few years after the family relocated, and his mother had four children to take care of. Then there was the climate. Being from Saskatchewan myself, I cannot imagine what it must have been like trying to survive without central heating on the harsh Saskatchewan prairie in the winter. Hard times.

In 1922, Jim took up wrestling at the Y.M.C.A. despite the Y’s lack of a formal wrestling program. Still, it sent a team to the Canadian championships and the following year, Jim won the Canadian bantamweight championship. In 1924, he was selected for the Olympic wrestling team.

Back in those days, the Canadian government’s athletic funding was rather limited, leaving athletes scrambling to pay their own way to compete in the Games. In 1924, Jim’s colleagues took up a collection to send him to Paris, and in 1928, friends and help from the Saskatchewan government got him to the Amsterdam Games, where he won a bronze medal for Canada.

Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame

Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame

“For each of his three Olympic appearances,” says the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame (CSHF), “he had to take his annual two-week holiday plus an additional four weeks leave from [his job at] the Regina Leader Post. In 1936, the Leader Post sent him to Winnipeg for two weeks to help with the administration of the Free Press.”

Those two weeks became 57 years and Uncle Jim became an active leader in Winnipeg’s amateur sport community. He started off with the Winnipeg Y.M.C.A. wrestling club, then coached at the University of Winnipeg. From then on, his list of accomplishments grew out of his love of sport:

  • President of the Manitoba Wrestling Association for 25 years;
  • Director of the Canadian Amateur Wrestling Association;
  • Director of the Winnipeg Y.M.C.A.;
  • President of the Winnipeg Bowling Association (1950-52);
  • Chairman of the boxing and wrestling committee of the Canadian Amateur Athletic Union (1952-1960);
  • Coach for the Canadian wrestling teams at the 1952, 1956, and 1960 Olympic Games;
  • Team Manager for the Canadian wrestling teams at the British Empire Games (1954) and the British Commonwealth Games (1970) where his wrestlers won nine medals in ten weight classes;
  • Inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (1960);
  • Inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame (1966);
  • Chairman of the Manitoba Boxing and Wrestling Commission;
  • Diploma of Honour International Amateur Wrestling Federation (1976);
  • Inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame (1981);
  • Founding Director of the Manitoba Sports Federation;
  • Chairman of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame & Museum Inc.;
  • Member of the Order of Canada (1982).

Respect 

“Jim Trifunov was the President of the Hall of Fame when they hired me as Executive Director back in 1990, so I knew your great-uncle fairly well,” says Rick Brownlee, Sport Heritage Manager at Sport Manitoba“Jim was a role model who taught me what a solid work ethic could accomplish, what a few kind words could do to encourage, and what a firm handshake meant.”

“He just happened to be the most energetic octogenarian I had ever met.”

Uncle Jim was a true gentleman, polite, friendly, and always neat in a jacket and tie. My family remembers him fondly as a kind, happy, generous man, the kind of man who could carry on a conversation with anyone, and a man who loved to be with family. He was an absolute delight.

My brother remembers him as a gentleman of a by-gone era who taught him the difference between Greco-Roman wrestling and the campy 1970s Western Canadian Stampede Wrestling (that bore the Hart brothers).

“When I was seven, we went through the Sears Christmas Wish List catalogue to see what I would buy with one million dollars,” Danny says, “It stopped at about $100.00 when I got bored of it. He thought it was great fun.”

Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame & Museum Inc.

Jim Trifunov, courtesy of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame & Museum Inc.

Though I didn’t get to see much of Uncle Jim as I got older, he continued to do amazing things for sport, wrestling, and for the people of Manitoba. The CSHF explains that Jim “worked tirelessly to achieve a permanent home for the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, which opened five days before his death.”

When we finally cut the ribbon to open his dream of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame Museum in 1993,” Rick Brownlee recalls, “Jim as wheelchair-bound and a shell of his former self. But he cut the ceremonial ribbon nonetheless and I saw a spark in his eyes that day that I had not seen for quite a while.”

Jim Trifunov changed the face of Canadian amateur sport and built a foundation for future athletes with a passion I had never imagined. I’m fortunate to have known him, if only for a brief time, and the memory of his spark still brings a smile to my face.

The Sting, among other things

6 Feb

I was lucky enough to see Susan Claassen’s wonderful A Conversation with Edith Head in Toronto last month. Ms Claassen’s 90-minute near-monologue was impressive, as was learning of Ms Head’s costume design work on over 1100 films. What really struck me, the men’s image consultant in love with men’s clothes, was that Edith Head, winner of seven other Oscars for dressing the most talented and glamorous actresses in Hollywood, named The Sting as her favourite costume work because she learned that she preferred dressing men to women (sounds familiar!). 

Oscar winning The Sting costume designs
Edith Head’s costume renderings for The Sting. Photo by Jason Hollywood. Used with permission.

Head was able to make her stars look flawless– “Accentuate the positive and camouflage the rest,” as she used to say. She had two men, the equivalent of today’s George Clooney and Brad Pitt to outfit in period costume, and I though I can’t imagine what would need camouflaging on Paul Newman or Robert Redford, Ms Head certainly accentuated the positive in these two actors.

Seen in the top rendering, Redford’s pinstriped suit nipped in at the waist compacts his torso and broadens his shoulders, boosting his masculine shape, and at right, note the photo of Paul Newman in the soft royal blue suit and dove grey hat playing up his brilliant blue eyes.

I watched The Sting last night and took note of the costumes which made me think of a quote from Savile Row tailor, Edward Sexton: “The man should wear the suit; the suit should never wear the man”. Similarly, Edith Head said, “My motto is that the audience should notice the actors, not the clothes.”

If you are part of the audience who didn’t notice the clothes, let me take you on a brief walk through the character, the costumes, and the celebration of the period, filled with timeless visual symbols and signs of gentlemanly demeanour.

The Sting

The time is 1936 in Joliet, Illinois. The first scene begins with a shot of a pair of fancy two-tone shoes walking past down-and-out men lying on the dusty sidewalk. The man in the shoes walks up the fire escape of a building into a busy gambling den– our first suggestion that despite the country’s Depression, there is money to be made and those who make it, dress fine.

The Sting

The man in the two-tone shoes is conned out of $11,000 by three men, one of whom is small-time con artist, Johnny Hooker (Redford), scruffy in his dust-coloured unmatched trousers and jacket, and tie-less shirt. The first costumes we see strike the contrast between small and big-time crooks.

The Set-Up

By the time Hooker meets up with Henry Gondorff (Newman) in Chicago to do the “Big Con” and swindle crime boss, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), out of half a million dollars, they’re getting their gang together to create a theatre of success and wealth in a fake betting club. Each new gang recruit is told to “go grab yourself a suit”. And so the set-up begins.

1930-era silk tie available at Kingpin's Hideaway.

1930-era silk tie available at Kingpin’s Hideaway.

High-rollers wear shiny shoes and three-piece suits with loud, short, wide silk ties. Hooker, the young and eager up-and-coming con-man, needs grooming, and we watch his metamorphosis from small-time grifter to big-roller. Gondorff takes him to a barber shop for a shave, a haircut and a manicure, then to a tailor who fits a high-waisted navy pinstriped suit with peak lapels and matching waistcoat with a short colourful silk tie.  This silhouette, especially in pinstripes, elongates Redford’s legs and exaggerates his masculine V shape, giving him added visual appeal and at the same time, reflecting his character’s youth, its impatience, and its folly.

Snap-together composite and mother-of-pearl cuff links available at Kingpin's Hideaway.

Snap-together composite and mother-of-pearl cuff links available at Kingpin’s Hideaway.

We watch the rest of Gondorff’s gang transform into “men of wealth” with the addition of pocket hankies, spats, shiny two-tone shoes, tie pins, French cuffs and cuff links; starched collars, braces, walking sticks, and gloves to their already fancy suits and waistcoats.

“Not only do these men look more the part by dressing dapper, they’re more confident,” says Jonathan Hagey at Kingpin’s Hideaway, a men’s vintage shop in Toronto, “They carry themselves with more authority and create the illusion that they are well-to-do types.”

When Gondorff’s gang changes from small-time to big-time, it isn’t only their wardrobe that changes, but their behaviour as well. When Gondorff first meets Lonnegan at a poker game, he wants to fool Lonnegan into thinking he’s an inexperienced and foolish card player. He bursts in, smelling of gin, and says, “Sorry I’m late, I was taking a crap.” Lonnegan has little patience for the unrefined dress of the crass newcomer. “This is a gentleman’s game and a tie is required,” he says sternly.

Though the gang plays it as close to Lonnegan’s look as they can, not all the details are the same. Enter the costumer’s insinuation of character.

Charles Dierkop, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw.

Have a look at the above screen shot and notice the difference in lapel widths and shapes. During this period, lapels were high and often peaked. Redford, the “hero/hunk”, has rounded and upward pointing peaks on lapels in proportion to his body and suggestive of his young age but Shaw, the “villain” is always seen in wide, exaggerated lapels with straight, pointed peaks. In this shot, Shaw looks larger than the other two and particularly devilish with his sharp, massive lapels and waxed moustache.

The Aftermath

The Sting won seven of eleven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and of course, Best Costume Design, but this doesn’t come without some dispute. Edith Head is fabled to have been a little ruthless in her career path, not giving credit where credit was due. In fact, she was sued by the costume illustrator who said it was she who actually designed Newman and Redford’s costumes (source), but I can’t seem to find the outcome of that lawsuit, so I can’t say if it’s true. 

What I do know is that when Edith Head, the most celebrated costume designer in Hollywood history, accepted her Oscar for best costume design for The Sting, she flitted onto the stage in her signature dark glasses and short bangs, in a long white dress with a matching black-trimmed vest.

“Just imagine dressing the two handsomest men in the world, and then getting this!” she said, holding out her award. Her joy and pride in the project cannot be disputed; it is a wonderful film on every level, and tells the story of elegant and ageless gentlemen’s dress and behaviour.

For those of you stylish and confident enough to blend 1930s elegance into your wardrobe, here are more period goodies from Kingpin’s Hideaway:

Dove grey beaver fur fedora.

Dove grey beaver fur fedora.

Two-tone leather spectator / correspondents shoes.

Two-tone leather spectator / correspondents shoes.

Grey double breasted wool jacket with oxblood pinstripe.

Grey double-breasted wool jacket with oxblood pinstripe.

The spawn of Savile Row

23 Jan

It’s the third and final instalment of our Savile Row series, where we’ll get better acquainted with the men that have moved Savile Row style into the 21st century.

In its 200 year history, Savile Row has experienced three major changes: the elegance of proper and formal dress for the first 150 years or so, the reinvention of the Savile Row workmanship woven into the modern style of the Swinging Sixties, and into the new bespoke movement of the 1990s and into the future.

Remember Tommy Nutter, the maverick tailor of 60s London, and his cutter, Edward Sexton who dressed the Beatles and other dandies of the period? These two gents bent the hard rules of Savile Row set during the late 19th century and turned fine tailoring into “the male peacock revolution of the Sixties” (read more from Nutter’s obituary).

Both Nutter and Sexton are the roots of modern bespoke, and their guidance and influence is rampant in modern bespoke and design.

Sexton is Paul McCartney’s tailor and according to the Savile Row Style Magazine, McCartney’s daughter Stella trained under Sexton, “serving an apprenticeship that stood her in good stead when she went on to found her own design business.” Sexton continues to design for men and women like musicians, Annie Lennox and Pete Doherty; models, Cindy Crawford, and Naomi Campbell, and designed costumes for Bill Nighy and Reece Ifans in The Boat That Rocked (recommended watching about a pirate radio in 60s England), among many others.

Tommy Nutter died in 1992, but his legacy has been transferred to two of the three “New Generation” designers: Ozwald Boateng, a self-taught tailor “inspired and guided by Tommy Nutter [who has] carried on his mentor’s legacy of introducing Savile Row to a new Generation,” and Timothy Everest, a one-time Nutter apprentice who blends “impeccable craftsmanship with individualism”. (Source.)

Savile Row’s New Generation

Ozwald Boateng is serious about style based on personality and emotions–”soul, spirit, energy, that’s what it’s about,” he says in a 2009 short film, Why Style Matters.  As a teenager, Georgio Armani inspired Boateng to want to become a superstar of international design, and he has certainly reached his goal. Boateng has designed suits for US president, Barack Obama, and the likes of Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker, Spike Lee, John Hurt, and Sir Richard Branson. He has injected into the tradition of Savile Row, bright, exciting colours, and indeed, his shop at 30 Savile Row pops with colour–he says his shirts look more like jewels. 

To Boateng, suits represent respectability, and he uses the time-honoured ways of Savile Row and its traditional fabrics in his unconventional cuts and colours to make modern, stylish, and individual clothes because as he says, “Style is a journey, it is an extension of who you are and your character”.

Unless he’s doing  commissioned bespoke, Welshman and MBE, Timothy Everest, though not as fearless as Boateng when it comes to colour, celebrates the modernization of Savile Row’s tradition of craftsmanship. “The perceptions of tailoring were old-fashioned, long-winded, boring, expensive, and elitist,” Everest explains, “So we had to turn these things around to be relevant.” 

On his website, Everest explains his sartorial evolution: “It was the early 90s and everyone had gone through the whole “designer” and “brand” thing,” he says. “I felt like I could introduce a new generation to the joys of handmade clothing–investment pieces that stood out and were built to last.”

Everest’s career is incredible–he collaborated with Marks & Spencer to create off-field uniforms for England’s football team for the 2008 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, was the Group Creative Director for Daks, acts as M&S’s Creative Consultant overseeing the Autograph, Sartorial, and Luxury tailoring collections, and designed the uniforms for the Virgin Racing team, among many other varied projects.

Teaming up with British fashion design company, Superdry, Everest did the unthinkable and created a modern clothing collection based in traditional British tailoring. The Superdry line offers a “trans-seasonal” collection of casual coordinating separates in razor-sharp skinny suits in fine fabrics and much attention to detail.

At #29 Savile Row is the shop of Richard James, whose business philosophy is to “produce classic clothing of unsurpassable quality, but to push the boundaries through design, colour and cut.”

According to UK GQ, “James ruffled feathers by maintaining traditional suit-making techniques (using English mills like Fox Brothers & Co, reflecting his commitment to craftsmanship) yet at the same time sweeping aside tradition where necessary (by reflecting the catwalks and having the audacity to open on weekends).”

James designs for the rock and roll elite like Mick Jagger, Mick Ronson, and the Gallagher brothers when Oasis was at its peak but before Liam started his Pretty Green line. James is responsible for Elton John’s stage costumes for his Vegas shows too.

Richard James and I share a love of fabrics and textures and we also agree that black is not the wonderful colour that people think it is: “I don’t like black very much on men,” he says in a Details interview, “It’s not a very flattering colour. A bright navy blue cheers you up. I remember going to see [UK Prime Minister] David Cameron, and he wanted a navy suit. I said, ‘Well, if you have a navy suit on television, it usually looks like a black suit.’ So we made a brighter navy, and he looked fantastic!”

Our feature designers, Boateng, Everest, and James, the spawn of Savile Row, have succeeded in modernizing the deep sartorial traditions of the Row to update younger generations with wearable style, sophistication, and impeccable craftsmanship.

 

The Beatles + Savile Row? Yes!

9 Jan
On the 1969 album, Abbey Road, three of four Beatles wore Tommy Nutter suits.

On the 1969 album, Abbey Road, three of four Beatles wore Tommy Nutter suits.

Part two of our Savile Row series has links to a well-loved and heavily-influential band that shaped our modern musical world – The Beatles.

Back in the day, the “I buried Paul” phrase heard at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever” claimed by conspiracy theorists to mean that Paul McCartney was dead, was supported by the image of Paul walking in bare feet across Abbey Road outside of Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles recorded. The idea was that John, in white, symbolized the preacher, Ringo in black, the undertaker or a mourner, Paul, presumed deceased (with a secret imposter taking his place in life and in the studio) in bare feet, and George in hard-wearing denim, the gravedigger.

Complete crap, of course. It turns out that the three of the four Beatles wore Tommy Nutter suits, the rebel tailor of Savile Row.

(Have a look at this interesting page with a short video about the famous cross walk, or “zebra crossing”.)

Nutter, together with his expert cutter, Edward Sexton, opened the influential Nutters of Savile Row in 1969. Nutter’s was a solid symbol of Swinging London – the shop had financial backing from singer Cilla Black (who also worked with Beatles producer George Martin and recorded in Abbey Road studios) and her husband Bobby Willis, who happened to be the Managing Director of the Beatles’ Apple Corps, Peter Brown, board member of Apple Corps and a one-time assistant to Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, and lawyer, James Vallance-White.

“Tommy was a one-man revolution, single-handedly responsible for introducing fashion to Savile Row, whilst committing the equally audacious act of inviting the fairer sex to share a world that had previously been the preserve of gentlemen.” (Source)

Nutter and Sexton were famous for their modern bespoke suits with wide lapels, and flared jackets nipped in a the waist, with accompanying flared trousers in bold colours and patterns that catered to posh businessmen and rock stars. Timothy Everest, then a young man who apprenticed with Nutter interviewed with The Arbuturian, said, “Tommy was very good at articulating to a new audience what bespoke was all about.” 

Nice, but their clientele, especially during the late 60s, were unpredictable even at the upscale Mayfair address: “Tommy came to work one morning to find John Lennon and Yoko Ono standing naked in his shop window, and was later called over to Apple Studios to hear Hey Jude before it was released. “Paul and John asked him what he thought and he said it was a load of sh*t.”” 

Location, location, location

Carnaby Street, the leader of Swinging Sixties fashion was just a few blocks away from Savile Row. Carnaby Street was wildly popular among young people, offering cool mod gear by designers like Mary Quant in shops like Lord John. These young, hip, up-to-the-minute disposable fashions were quite different from the quality of the Savile Row tailors, but times were changing, and so were the neighbours.

The Beatles took over 3 Savile Row in 1969, setting up the offices of Apple Corps, each Beatle taking his own office in the five-storey building, a former gentleman’s club. It was here, or rather, the roof of #3 that became the stage for their final live performance and the Let It Be film that came of it.

For an excellent account of the day and the performance, see this link on the Beatles Bible webpage, and enjoy the music, recorded on the roof of Apple Corps, shocking bespoke-wearing business men and delighting fans who climbed up on their own roofs to see and hear this fantastic spectacle!

PS – Paul kicked off his shoes before walking on the zebra crossing because that day in August was warm

Savile Row style

26 Dec
"He's a great tailor with a lousy sense of direction."  - Hawkeye Pierce, MASH

“Trapper” John, from the 1970s television show, M*A*S*H, unveils his new pinstripe suit. “How do you like it?” he asks his colleague, “Hawkeye” Pierce.

“To make yourself instantly insignificant,” I told a client recently, “Don’t hem your sleeves and wear your pants too long.”

"He's a great tailor with a lousy sense of direction." -Hawkeye Pierce, M*A*S*H*

“He’s a great tailor with a lousy sense of direction!”

What I was referring to is of course, tailoring. Tailored clothing is fitted to an individual’s body while adhering to a set of sartorial rules that casts a proper, gentlemanly, and quite frankly, dashing light on the wearer. A man who pays attention to the fit of his clothes is of an esoteric breed, and everyone can sense it.

One of the world’s authorities on men’s clothing is G. Bruce Boyer, former fashion editor of Town & Country, GQ, and Esquire, who explains that “Individuality, propriety and comfort can be nicely brought together in a good-fitting, well-made suit.”

In his article, The History of Tailoring: An Overview, Boyer says “The English tailor was trained to use woolen cloth, and over years of experimentation and practice he developed techniques for “molding” the cloth close to the body without exactly duplicating the true form of the wearer. In short, the tailor could now actually develop a new aesthetic of dress: he could mimic the real body, while at the same time “improving” and idealizing it!… Men came “gentlemen”… [favouring] discretion, simplicity, and the perfection of cut… the Modern had finally arrived! And the Modern was the tailor’s art.”

“In this age of the shoddy and the quick, the vulgar and the mass-consumed,”  he continues, “tailors can still be counted on to champion uniqueness and quality. It is the hallmark of their tradition.”

This tailoring tradition has been centred in London’s Savile Row in the Mayfair district, near Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus, for over 200 years. The Row was built in the 1730s and until the early 1800s, housed writers, politicians, and military planners until tailors moved into the street to make it the mainstay of what would become the home of the best tailors in the world. 

At its peak, Savile Row boasted forty bespoke tailors – cutters and stitchers who spent up to fifty hours and four fittings on one exquisite suit, but by the late 1960s, interest began to wane and through the 70s and 80s, the number of Savile Row tailors dwindled down to 19. Economies and fashions changed, but one thing that did not was the splendid work that only a Savile Row tailor can deliver.

One of the celebrated tailors of  Savile Row’s “modern” era was Douglas Hayward, the man who “outfitted the Swinging Sixties” and suited up major actors of the period: Steve McQueen, Peter Sellers, and Roger Moore, including the Bond suits of the 1980s. Hayward became friends with his clients, apparently refusing to build suits for people he didn’t get on with.

Another of Hayward’s clients, Michael Caine, explains the simple elegance and ease of wear of his Doug Hayward garments: “It was brilliant tailoring without drawing any attention to itself whatsoever. You didn’t care that anyone didn’t notice it, you knew. You see, it wasn’t for anyone else, it was for you.”

Caine still frequents the shop, though Hayward himself passed away in 2008. Cutters Ritchie Charlton and Campbell Carey, formerly of Kilgour, another Savile Row tailor shop, maintain the shop today and cut their suits in Douglas Hayward style that Carey describes as “typically a West End London-looking jacket, a soft but natural-looking shoulder line, [the construction] nothing too robust.” A softer canvas is used for a Hayward suit, giving the suit more of a relaxed look, and “less of a coat of armour”.

This is the first of a three-part series on Savile Row, its style, its influence, and its legacy. For further reading, please see the links below.

Cut from a different cloth

The real Alfie: The man who was the model for cinema’s most famous lethario

The suits of James Bond

*Thanks to Pete Dangerfield for his stills from “Iron Guts Kelly”, M*A*S*H episode 4, season 3. M*A*S*H fans, please visit his website.

Why you should avoid hot showers

13 Dec

showerGreetings from a very chilly living space in Toronto! This week has been quite cold – today is minus 10 with a minus 19 degree wind chill, and because we’re right next to a Great Lake, the cold blowing off the water is bone-chilling (though nothing compared to what’s happening in SK, where it’s -31 in Regina today).

My first thought when I walk in is to get the chill out of my bones, and how do I do that? Like a lot of you, I think about having a hot shower. Then I stop and grab another sweater because I know that though hot water may feel good at the time, ultimately, it’s not a good idea.

Hot water does some nasty things to our skin – dries it out, makes it tight, and strips the natural oils from skin, leaving a dry and itchy feeling. If you use commercial soaps that are heavy with synthetic fragrances and colours, this will further rob your skin of its natural oils and keep the skin dry and tight.

Discovery’s Fit and Health offers an excellent information on avoiding hot water in winter, explaining that the heat from a hot shower makes the skin’s oils soften, and when soap is added, the skin’s oil barrier is easily stripped away (at first, this isn’t a bad thing, they say, because that same oil barrier traps dirt and sweat, which leads to body odour). But without those oils, “the moisture in your skin easily escapes, leading to dry and itchy skin. The longer and hotter the shower, the faster this process takes place and the more moisture you’re likely to lose.”

That’s when the discomfort begins – not only is there a lot less moisture in the air in winter, keeping your skin significantly dried out, hot showers make the skin hot, tight, itchy, and if you’re cursed with sensitive skin like me, you’ll step out of the bath covered in red splotches that take hours to calm down.

Cool off!

The Art of Manliness recommends to take a “James Bond shower” – the book version of James Bond explains that every time JB took a shower, he would start with hot water, and then turn it down to cold for the last few minutes. Apparently invigorating with many health benefits, bathing in cold water has been the norm for centuries. The site lists ways in which cold water improves circulation, relieves depression, makes for healthy skin and hair (I notice that when I turn the warm water down and rinse my hair in cool water, it is much shinier), strengthens immunity, and boosts testosterone!

Moisturize!

Dr. Mathew Avram, director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Dermatology, Laser, and Cosmetic Center, talked winter skin care with Boston Magazine, saying that lukewarm showers or baths are best for winter bathing. He recommends that after bathing, “wipe off the excess water on your skin, and then immediately moisturize. Your skin will absorb the moisture better that way.”

For those of you who think, pfft! real men don’t moisturize!, I would like to remind you that your skin is an organ, in fact, the largest organ of your body, so why wouldn’t you take care of it? Moisturized skin feels better, looks better, does not crack, and will not bleed from cracks!

Exfoliate!

On top of moisturizing, exfoliating is a fantastic idea at least once a week to slough off the top layer of dead skin cells that keeps moisture out. Dry skin is one of the worst feelings in the world for me, so I like to use exfoliating gloves (available at the Body Shop, drug stores, or alternative health stores) in the shower. Pull them on, soap them up, then wash your entire body with these scrubbing mitts that leave a soft layer of fresh skin. Apply a natural moisturizer like shea or cocoa butter afterwards to feel smooth and comfortable. Yum!

More winter skin care tips here.

Re-lining jackets and coats

20 Nov
Ratty linings will not boost your confidence.

Ratty linings will not boost your confidence.

This is my jacket. It’s an old and well-worn thick wool Club Monaco piece that is still in good condition (on the outside), but the lining is worn and torn and looks terrible. Lining is a simplified version of the outside of the coat; it is the fabric that helps the jacket slide over us and keep us comfortable when we wear it. Lining often wears most at the cuffs, at the hem, and under the arms, which is what happened to mine. 

Sometimes I wear it lined with a zip-front sweater (for added warmth and to hide the ratty lining), but I had a good look at it the other day and decided that I am doing myself – and the coat – a disservice. So I went out and bought some new lining fabric to re-line the jacket. 

Lining can add so much to jackets and coats, but we don’t often pay attention to it, unless they are works of art like beautiful Etro or Ted Baker linings that demand attention. In my case, my Club Monaco lining is a plain black and generally unnoticeable. Sometimes, this is okay, but since I now have the opportunity to change it, I’m going for it with plum and navy lining to make it brighter and more fun.

I started taking the Club Monaco jacket apart to make a pattern from the existing lining. While inside, I started to notice the wonderful construction details in the garment. When I was in fashion school, one of my instructors worked for Alfred Sung, founder of Club Monaco. One of the things I remember her saying was that “Alfred is an artist”. Though Polo Ralph Lauren took over Club Monaco in 1999, the tradition of Alfred’s artistic pattern-making remains true.

Having taken apart a Club Monaco dress a few years ago to fit it to me properly (I’m petite and most garments don’t fit me well), I recognized the complex pattern and surprised myself having got the thing back together again. Though my jacket lining is much simpler, there are excellent construction points that make the well-designed jacket sturdy, stable, and well-fit:

  • The sleeve lining is tacked (sewn to a specific point as an anchor) to the side seam of the jacket so it doesn’t slide around;
  • A short length of twill tape (strong woven “string”) is sewn to the shoulder seam and stitched to the lining shoulder seam, giving space for movement and lining stability – I have a jacket without any lining reinforcement, and the silky lining slides around inside of the jacket, making it a bit difficult to wear;
  • Stitching is reinforced at the elbow in the jacket lining, giving extra strength to the well-used sleeve joint;
  • Shoulder and armhole seams are supported with interfacing (inside stiffening material), making for sturdy seams and jacket in general.

We see the macro when we look at clothing, but the micro can be amazing. My jacket was an excellent investment because it is made of good material and it is very well-designed, taking body movement and the movement of the lining into consideration. This makes for an excellent wearing experience.

TIP – Look at the inside of your coats and jackets to see what state they’re in. If the lining is looking ratty/shredded/holey, look into having your garment re-lined and breathe some new life into the garment you invested in.