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Paisley: full of possibilities

10 Jul

red paisley

Take a moment to look at this picture. Do you notice the incredible detail? The harmonized colours? The pleasant but erratic pattern? You’re looking at paisley, one of the most gorgeous decorative patterns humans have ever devised.

Paisley is an incredible pattern to work with because it is so full of possibilities: paisley can be done in any scale, it may be multi-coloured or monochrome, simple or intricate, and the pattern may be regular and repeating or varied, irregular, and seemingly random. This wonderful, natural design has deep, rich roots that date back to ancient Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers (modern-day Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Syria), where it found its way into building decoration, carpets, fabrics, and the decorative arts of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Sumerians.

This nature-inspired pattern, originally known as botteh or boteh in its native Persian, means “bush, shrub, a thicket, bramble, [or] herb. Some would even take it to mean a palm leaf, cluster of leaves…and flower bud,” according to the Heritage Institute discussing Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion and philosophy.

The boteh pattern is a much-loved, time-tested pattern that eventually made its way into India where it really dug in its heels. For hundreds of years, beautiful cashmere wool shawls decorated with the boteh pattern were popular, and during the 1700s, boteh shawls cast a spell on European women who fell in love with the soft, warm, patterned fabric. During the colonial period, British men returning home from India brought the shawls as gifts for their women, and the demand for these exotic shawls grew in Europe. Seeing an opportunity, the British East India Company began to export the enormously popular and expensive shawls to Europe during the later 18th century.

As the shawls became more fashionable, the demand for them grew, but the high cost kept many away until European hand weavers began to copy the boteh patterned shawls and produced items at a fraction of the cost of the real thing. In 1805, the weaving mill in Paisley, Scotland became the boteh weaving centre of Europe, and the name Paisley became synonymous with the pattern. As weaving technology evolved in the UK, the original 2-colour paisley shawls turned into 5-colour patterns, though this still paled in comparison to the Indian versions that boasted up to 15 colours.

What is paisley?

The paisley pattern can range from very simple to extremely ornate, sometimes positioned loosely among leaves, or flowers, other times simple in regular and repeating patterns. The common denominator is the tell-tale curved teardrop shapes. It is the shape of the paisleys that I find particularly interesting because no one really knows what it’s supposed to represent, though there are many options and theories.

Paisleys could signify halved fresh figs, mangoes, gourds, licks of flame, or Cypress trees (sacred to the Zoroastrians); kidneys, tadpoles, tear drops, pears, or sperm if you’re Freudian.  (During research, I came across a Jehovah Witness message board that discussed paisley as a representation of sperm and therefore considered “taboo”). In any case, paisley seems to have originated as a fertility symbol and becomes more fantastic as it evolves.

Modernized examples of this racy design seen below by Paul Frederick show the incredible variance in paisley patterns, from bold and multi-coloured paisley to quiet tone-on-tone, and from elaborate designs to simple shapes (photos used with permission):

Blue paisley Paul Frederick tie

Tone-on-tone paisley Paul Frederick tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Frederick paisley tie

Paul Fredrick blue paisley tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paisley in menswear

While the paisley motif was woven into fabrics most often worn by women, western men were left out of experiencing this gorgeous pattern until the 1920s-1930s, when paisley was printed on silk and used in men’s ties.

“In response to changing fashion,” says Francois Chaille in  The Book of Ties, “Paisley is constantly being up-dated: hundreds of new paisley motifs make their appearance on ties every year. The motif provides rich opportunities for coloristic nuance and formal invention.”

Of course we in the west remember paisley worn extensively in the 1960s and revived in the 80s, but paisley has never really gone away. In fact, you may find a paisley tie in your collection, or maybe a paisley bandana or neckerchief (Cary Grant liked to wear these under his collars). If you’re lucky, you may have a Ralph Lauren paisley pocket silk for your breast pocket.  Stylish introverts could opt for a pair of low-key paisley socks, and daring darlings may rock paisley Ted Baker shirts or a cool sports jacket with a chic paisley lining.

Paisley isn’t just for clothing. The high-end Italian design house, Etro, likes to incorporate paisley into its collections, and offers paisley luggage, day books, wallets, and manbags in their iconic paisley “comprised of red, turquoise, yellow, olive green and ivory adapted and evolved to become the signature pattern for the brand: an instantly recognisable style which became inevitably synonymous with the luxury world of Etro,” their website says.

If wearing paisley is luxurious, it is also refined. New York image consultant, John Molloy, said paisley ties signify good breeding and education. Alan Flusser, author of Dressing the Man says, “Of all the loud neckties, [Molloy] deemed paisley as the only permissible one because it was the “fun tie” of the upper middle classes.”

I implore you to pull out your whimsical paisley and wear it with confidence; it is so beautiful and varied in pattern, colour, and scale, that everyone will be able to find the right paisley print for them. It is a pattern that speaks of human history, elegance, and refinement; it is a delightful and permanently stylish pattern, and an excellent investment for any gentleman’s image.

 

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Boutonnieres

29 May
Oscar Wilde wearing a boutonniere

Playwright, Oscar Wilde, wearing a boutonniere.

The boutonniere, French for buttonhole,  is a flower worn in the lapel of  a man’s jacket, commonly considered a formal accessory worn with formal attire. We don’t have many occasions to dress up anymore (unfortunately), but boutonnieres have made a comeback across the pond and have been a part of the British royal/upper class wardrobe since around the mid 18th century.

Having a boutonniere made at a florist ensures a keep-fresh flower that comes with tipped pins to use on the underside of your lapel, but the flower is actually meant to be stuck through the boutonniere hole on the upper lapel of your suit. High-quality suits will have a set of boutonniere loops sewn on the underside of the lapel to thread a short stem through. Read more about boutonniere buttonholes at the Gentlemen’s Gazette, and have a look at their do-it-yourself instructions for boutonniere loops.

Canadians will fondly remember our former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, our most stylish politician to date, who wore a red rose in his lapel. Patrick Gossage, former Press Secretary to Pierre Trudeau describes Trudeau’s “rider” for out-of-Ottawa engagements that included orange juice and cookies in all of his hotel rooms and a daily fresh red rose for his lapel. To me, Trudeau’s boutonniere signifies the last vestige of the political gentleman.

Boutonniere history

The boutonniere is very British. In fact, according to The Rake, the Duke of Windsor brought the boutonniere to North America in the 1930s and influenced many of Hollywood’s top actors of the time; HRH’s signature white lapel carnation was mimicked by Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and Gary Cooper.  (Cary Grant opted for a red carnation.) Modern British boutonniere-wearers still follow the Duke of Windsor’s lead, but younger royals like Princes William and Harry like to wear blue cornflowers in their lapels.

Though flowers have been associated with men throughout history, proof of the boutonniere itself doesn’t appear until 1769 when Gainsborough painted Captain William Wade in his military dress uniform with a spring of posies worn on the lapel of his cutaway coat.

Though it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when grooms started wearing boutonnieres, the floral tradition at weddings is a long one. According to BrideandGroom, “The bouquet formed part of the wreaths and garlands worn by both the bride and groom. It was considered a symbol of happiness. Originally bridal wreaths and bouquets were made of herbs, which had magical and meaningful definitions for the couple’s future life. Traditional Celtic bouquets included ivy, thistle and heather. Ancient uses included herbs, not flowers, in bouquets because they felt herbs — especially garlic — had the power to cast off evil spirits.”

Modern boutonniere options

When choosing flowers for your boutonniere, consider your lapel width and work with proportion. Since the fashion now is to wear suits with thinner lapels, smaller blooms like carnations, small roses, or thin calla lilies are recommended. Dana William Hamilton at The New Leaf florist in Toronto says many men choose white and red boutonnieres for dark streamlined suits. “They add a little whimsy,” he says.

“Young men going to proms wear them,” Dana explains, “Young people are looking online and training themselves to dress well in the old style.”

Grooms and groomsmen are the most obvious people to wear boutonnieres. Dana stresses the importance of the groom’s boutonniere looking slightly different than the other men in his wedding party–often a flower used in the bride’s bouquet is added to the groom’s boutonniere. People often have boutonnieres made for the deceased, Dana tells me, which shows “a lovely respect”.

Dana calls for hearty flowers for boutonnieres because usually, occasions that ask for a boutonniere are long, and there is a lot of hugging and wear and tear on the flower. Hale flowers like rose, carnation, calla lilies, and stephanotis (clusters of small white fragrant flowers related to jasmine) are recommended. If you’re looking for strongly perfumed blooms, freesia is a delicious choice and the beautiful gardenia, but the latter flower is very fragile and has no stem–gardenias must be wired to create a boutonniere, so take this into consideration before choosing your boutonniere flowers.

Are all boutonnieres made of flowers? No! There is nothing wrong with a flowerless boutonniere–in fact, Dana says, he often finds himself making boutonnieres just out of greenery like Italian Ruscus mixed with Greek myrtle for texture. Boutonnieres could actually be made of fabric flowers (silk is popular) or crafted as statements like these cool ones on Etsy. Like the rock buttons of the 80s, a lapel boutonniere is a good way to express yourself and tell the world a little about you.

I would love to see men making use of their boutonniere buttonhole with a fresh flower especially now that we’re in spring, but as The Rake puts it, “Suffice to say, the language of flowers is well and truly obsolete, and a contemporary gentleman’s only consideration is whether a flower in one’s lapel enhances a suit or proves to be the detail that pushes elegance over the border to ostentation.”

Be bold, but be careful.

 

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.

The clerical collar

7 Nov

Last night, I attended a scotch tasting dinner with a room full of Jesuit priests. I’m not religious but I do drink, and assuming this would be an opportunity that may never present itself again,  I went. Between dinner courses, highland dancing, speeches, and four very different scotches, I noted the clothing of the Jesuit brothers and thought about their collars, why they exist, how they work, and what they’re made of.

Evolution of the clerical collar

The white collar worn by clerics of the Anglican, Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, Baptist, Lutheran, and the Roman Catholic church, speaks a visual language that everyone recognizes. Some say the white band is a symbol of a person’s holy calling, others that the clergy carry on the tradition of differentiating themselves from the laity – non-priests or clergy of a religious faith.

Thomas Chalmers, 19th century minister and leader of the Church of Scotland, displays a clerical cravat with tabs.

Thomas Chalmers, 19th century minister and leader of the Church of Scotland, displays a clerical cravat with preaching bands.

According to Dr. Timothy R. LeCroy in A Short History of the Wearing of Clerical Collars in the Presbyterian Tradition, the clergy adopted the dress of academics (i.e. black robes) during the Reformation, and after a while, added a distinctive white neck cloth (the cravat) to differentiate themselves. By the 17th and 18th centuries, clergy tied their cravats into bows or added “preaching bands”. These instantly recognizable pieces are still worn by some priests, pastors, and Canadian lawyers wear the same item with their court robes, but call them “tabs”. 

In Vestments and Clericals Reverend Kenneth W. Collins explains that “the Protestant clergy had been wearing white preaching bands for quite some time; [the clerical collar creator, Rev. Dr. Donald] McLeod combined them with the detachable collar that was in use at the time.”

McLeod was a 19th century Scottish Presbyterian who developed the stiff and narrow clerical collar we know it today. During the middle of the century, most men wore stiff, detachable linen collars, and McLeod used these as the base for the updated clerical collar. However, before the collar took its modern form, there was a Catholic influence to be mixed in.

Catholic cassocks

Catholic priests wearing cassocks.

Catholic priests wearing cassocks.

After the Reformation, councils of the Catholic church deemed that priests wear cassocks. Cassocks, or vestis talaris in Latin, are black, ankle length robes with deep skirts. Cassocks derive from early “closed clothing” of ancient Rome and into the Byzantine and early Christian periods; the tunica tolaris was an ankle length garment, tube-like and closed up the sides.

In his very interesting article, Why Priests Wear Black, Father William Saunders explains that the sash, or cincture worn around the waist of the cassock represents chastity, the colour black, poverty, and the square Roman collar, obedience.

Wikipedia says that the white square of on the clergy’s collar is there to mimic the collar of a cassock, but I’m not sure this is true. 

Reverend Collins says the Roman Catholic church adopted the clerical collars after McLeod’s creation, and themselves modified it into the tab-collar style. So there’s that.

Charles Hodge, Presbyterian theologian, in what will later become the clerical collar.

Charles Hodge, a 19th century Presbyterian theologian, wears the upturned shirt collar that will later become the modern clerical collar.

In Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church, Reverend Henry McCloud states that the collar “was nothing else than the shirt collar turned down over the cleric’s everyday common dress in compliance with a fashion that began toward the end of the sixteenth century. For when the laity began to turn down their collars, the clergy also took up the mode.”

After the Second Vatican Council in 1967, the Catholic Church adopted a plain black suit and the clerical band collar, as the cassock waned in popularity. For some reason, the clerical collar is commonly (and mistakenly) associated with the Catholic clergy, though the collar is worn by Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and clergy of other faiths.

Modern clerical collars

Slip in collar.

Slip in collar.

Father Alex sat at my table at the scotch tasting, and I asked him about his shirt and collar. The collar was shallow and sturdy with the fronts stitched down in a “tunnel” fashion to hold the strip of white collar that he pulled out of his shirt to show me. Somehow I was disappointed to see that it was a piece of plastic, but the concept was interesting. He said the old collars were made of starched linen.

There are different styles of collars available, as shown here. Below is the tonsure collar that is a full band version of the slip in, and the Vicar’s or dog collar.

For more information about clerical garb, check out sites like this one in the UK that only sells fair trade clothing, and Hammond & Harper of London, a member of a reputable group of companies that has supplied shirts and collars to clergy for over 50 years, complete with a “30 day no quibble” guarantee replacement policy!

Tonsure collar.

Tonsure collar.

Vicar's collar
Vicar’s collar

Chesterfield!

12 Sep

Chesterfield

Last post was an examination of velvet and its inclusion into fall 2013 men’s collections. I discussed velvet’s history, influence on world economics, usage, and care, explaining the difficulty of keeping velvet in good shape. This post offers an alternative for men who want to include velvet in their wardrobe without the stress and high maintenance of owning a velvet jacket – it’s all in the details, as you shall see.

As we move into fall and cooler temperatures, it is your dress coat that can take on the sumptuousness of velvet. A simple velvet upper collar adds a touch of richness, style, and magnificence. But velvet shouldn’t be added to just any coat – it is a dressy feature best worn on the garment of its origin – the Chesterfield.

This timeless single or double-breasted topcoat is said to have been invented by George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield in the mid 1800s. It is a straight cut coat with no waist seam, a full piece back, side pockets (usually flapped or jetted), and a velvet collar. (For more information on Chesterfield coats, see this excellent resource.)

Chesterfield’s Chesterfield evolved from the Regency Period’s “Tweedside” lounge suit that consisted of a long jacket with a matching waistcoat and trousers, jacket pockets and sleeves decorated with ribbon.

The coat changed to something called a Covert coat during the 1880s, which was popular for riding and/or hunting in the English countryside. The Covert’s cut is similar to the Chesterfield, but with side vents for easy movement, several lines of stitching at the hem, made in specific Covert fabric in earthy tones, perhaps to conceal the rider and have him blend into the natural environment. As with the Chesterfield, the Covert coat featured a velvet collar.

Teddy Boys

Teddy Boy, John aka Rockin' Nidge,  in Manchester.

John aka Rockin’ Nidge pictured next to the Horsforth Hotel near Leeds wearing a blue mohair three piece Drape suit made by the late Peter Smithard of Holbeck, Leeds.

The Chesterfield, now a mainstay in menswear, has taken a few styling turns over the years, lengthening, shortening, and tapering, but the most interesting group to embrace and interpret the coat mixed American rock and roll and Edwardian style to create a very interesting and very British look.

UK site, The Edwardian Teddy Boy, is an excellent resource for Teddy Boy history, done by an original Ted from the Teddy Boy revival of the 1970s (Nidge, shown here). The site author says that in 1953, “the major newspapers reported on the sweeping trend in men’s fashion across Britain,  towards what was termed the New Edwardian look. However the working class Edwardian style had been on the street since at least 1951, because the style had been created on the street by the street and by working class teenagers and not by Saville Row or the fashion designers.”

Teddy Boy Drape Coat

Teddy Boy Drape Coat

Worn with drain pipe trousers, waistcoats, and thick-soled brothel creeper shoes, the Teddy Boys created their own version of the Chesterfield, calling it a Drape coat because of the full cut that allowed the fabric to drape down the back.

The plainness of the coat, like a blank canvas, leaves it open to decoration, and the Drapes often had a traditional Chesterfield velvet collar and notched lapel, but some preferred to have their coats made with a long, shawl (rounded, unnotched) velvet collars. Some Teds got really fancy and added velvet to any bit of the coat they could, including collars, sleeves, and pockets. 

Teddy Boy historian, Eddie Adams, explains Ted culture and the importance of clothing: “I was in a gang called the Moorhouse boys. Our gang philosophy was to have the latest suits… I can remember having a dark blue one with herringbone material. Some people had a bit of velvet on the collar. Suits cost between £30 and £40, they were quite expensive and it used to take about 6 weeks before you got the suit. We used to wear bootlace ties, suede shoes with crepe soles… and quite a lot of hair we used to bring round the back in a DA*.”

*Duck’s Arse, more politely known in North America as the Duck Tail

It’s hard to believe that gangs of these well-dressed, style-conscious working class young men roamed the streets looking for trouble, causing fights, riots, and even murder. According to the Teddy Boy site, “When teenager John Beckley was murdered by a Teddy Boy gang known as the Plough Boys in July 1953 after a fight that started on Clapham Common, the Daily Mirror‘s headline “Flick Knives, Dance Music and Edwardian Suits” linked criminality to clothes.”

Paul Smith Chesterfield coat with velvet collar, fall 2013 collection

Paul Smith Chesterfield coat with velvet collar, fall 2013 collection – click for a closer look

To the doubtless delight of the modern gent, the Chesterfield is no longer synonymous with crime. Our beautiful Chesterfield is a classic in its own right, and will remain with us in some form or another. Recently, while wandering around Holt Renfrew, I was happy to see a beautiful Paul Smith Chesterfield with a velvet collar included in his fall 2013 collection. 

A piece like a velvet-collared topcoat is a keeper for years to come, so think of it as an investment and take care of it. To add a bit of simple but powerful style to an existing topcoat, visit your tailor and ask to have a velvet collar added to your coat, and don’t be afraid of colour to bring out the shimmer of your velvet collar. I mean, if you’re wearing velvet, darling, wear it!

PS – For those interested to learn more about Teddy Boys, have a look at this video, “Here Come The Teds”:

Velvet

29 Aug
16th C Italian velvet

16th Century Italian velvet

With lots of clothing choices for this fall, gents, you’ll be happy to see cloth coats in interesting fabrics for sale, among them, velvet, a textile that has influenced world economics and differentiated social classes.

Velvet, a term that comes from the Latin “vellus” – fleece or tufted hair, can be woven from many textiles, but the first was made of silk. “It is now a general belief [that silk velvet] arrived in Italy for the first time from the Far East, transported by Arab merchants, and was then spread throughout Europe… by the merchants from Lucca, Venice, Florence, and Genoa.” (Source)

Wool and linen were the most common fabrics in Europe but the introduction of silk and other fancy stuffs gave more variety to clothing. During the Middle Ages, men’s clothing was fairly uniform across society, but what divided the classes was fabric. Velvet was such a special textile that sometimes the number of velvet garments was limited and regulated by state and church laws. Silk  velvet created enormous fortunes for bankers and merchants of Italian city states, it clothed armies, and drove a wedge between classes. 

“The enormous Italian output of satins, velvets, taffetas and other silk textiles satisfied the taste for luxury in costume of a considerable class, composed at first of patrician and feudal noble society, then all for the wealthy throughout Europe,” wrote Francois Boucher in 20,000 Years of Fashion.

Velvet Usage

Velvet may not hold paint well, but that didn’t stop artists to paint Elvis on starting in the 70s.

Velvet has been worn for centuries by royalty and the nobility, by operatic stars in Verdi and Rossini works, it is the curtain that has risen in every theatre,  it has adorned modern artists like Liberace and even Rod Stewart who said, “Carrying 200 pounds of velvet and satin around a stage for 90 minutes – that’s man’s work, let me tell you.” Velvet can be made into home furnishings like pillows, drapes, upholstery, and rugs, and velvet has even been used as a painting surface.

Velvet became more common place with textile technologies to be consumed by people of good taste in all economic groups. Original velvets were made of silk, but velvet can be made of virtually any textile, including synthetics. Probably the most common velvet found today is cotton, including all of the wonderful velvet jackets available this fall for men.

Velvet Care

If you already own velvet or if you plan to purchase a velvet garment, think of velvet as the suede of textiles – it is something of a challenge to clean and maintain, so handle it gently.

Velvet is velvet not because of its content, but because of its weave. Velvet is considered a pile weave, similar to corduroys or velveteens, and even the terry cloth that your bath towels are made of. All of these fabrics have looped threads – your towel’s threads are uncut loops, but the pile fabrics like velvet are cut.

There are lots of fancy velvets like Cisele velvet, a fabric woven with cut and uncut loops that form a pattern, Faconne  has velvet patterns woven into a flat base, and Panne is a pressed velvet. Plush velvet, used in upholstery, won’t crush as easily under our weight, but velvet typically used for modern clothing is going to be a soft cotton velvet with longer cut loops (known as “transparent” velvet).

Though velvet is a rich, gorgeous fabric, it should be worn with care. In the modern era, we don’t have the luxury of lolling about on thrones and court couches in our velvets, so we generally wear velvet in the evening when there is less wear and tear. The longer the cut loops, the more susceptible the velvet is to crushing – this is the danger of wearing velvet and why it is usually worn at night when things like heavy laptop cases aren’t slung over the shoulder to ruin the shoulder of your jacket – it is very difficult to raise the pile of the velvet once it has been flattened. More expensive velvets will have crush-proof finishes added to them, but generally, the pieces you find in stores will not be made of a high-end finished fabric, so wear with care.

The best way to care for velvet is to not put any pressure on it, but if it has been crushed, there are a couple of ways to try to resurrect the pile (but there are no guarantees):

  • Hang in a steamy bathroom and brush pile with a soft brush (a soft toothbrush may work if you don’t lean into it – brush lightly to raise the pile);
  • For small areas, lay the fabric face down over the bristles of a clean, flat hairbrush or an unused shoe brush and steam (the trick is to keep the pile “suspended” and not pressing into any surface);
  • Lastly, remember that velvet is dry clean only.

Now that I’ve put the fear into you, wear your velvets in high style but keep a bubble of air around you so as not to damage your pile! 

April showers, rubber boots, and the environment

11 Apr

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 but comfortable enough for evening wear. The resulting boot was  made of plain soft calf skin (possibly treated with wax to make them waterproof), cut closer to the leg, housing the trim stirrup trousers of the period.

Leather “Wellington” boots.

These Wellington boots became all the rage – civilians and soldiers alike wore this style to emulate their favourite war hero and statesman. It was the boot of 19th century aristocracy, synonymous with fox hunts and country life in Britain.

Rubber Revolution

According to Scientific American, rubber footwear originated with Amazonian Indians who lived amongst rubber trees in South America,  but it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that rubber boots appeared. Natural rubber is composed of long polymer chains which, when uncured, move independently, giving an unstable substance that can get sticky when warm and brittle when cold.

In the mid-19th century, Charles Goodyear discovered a process called vulcanization that linked the polymer chains, making rubber strong, elastic, and waterproof. Goodyear used his invention to make tires and Hiram Hutchinson bought the patent to manufacture footwear, and the waterproof Wellington boot was born. (See pictures of rubber boot making in France.)

Wellingtons, wellies, gummies, gum boots, or  rain boots have been worn all over the world to keep feet dry and protected for mining, farming, fishing, food processing, chemical plants, and for those who live in wet climates.

hunter boot

The Chet by Hunter.

Remember the black rubber boots with red soles from your childhood?  They’re  still readily available at Canadian Tire, but for those who itch for a more stylish rubber boot, Hunter, the Scottish rubber boot company, makes all kinds of styles, long and short – featured here is their Chelsea-style rubber boot.

For casual dress, Sweden’s Tretorn offers cool sporty, waterproof “rain sneakers”, along with other styles and lots of colour options. Further reading. But there’ s a catch to these stylish waterproof numbers.

Environmental Considerations

Rubber decomposes, as anyone who grew up in the pre-Spandex era can tell you. I have a pair of lined, rubber Tretorn rain boots that cracked within two years. I don’t know if the lining had anything to do with it, but I can’t wear them anymore. Tretorn doesn’t have a recycling program. So what do I do with them?

Hunter sells care products with their boots to shine them up, but this doesn’t seem to affect the “long-term” ownership of these boots. I’ve looked at forums and blogs that complain about their wellies “crumbling” and “splitting” since the Scottish company moved their manufacture to China (read this blog for an excellent take on Hunter’s move to cheap labour).

A wonderful alternative to throw-away boots is Kamik‘s vegan footwear. The styles are similar to Hunters, but the boots are eco-friendly, and the Kamik waterproof footwear is vulcanized, unlike the China-made Hunters.  Kamik’s boots are recyclable and made in Canada. Kamik’s products can be found in Canadian Tire and various other locations throughout Canada and the U.S.

Find dealers. Read more about Kamik.

Rubber boots are awesome in wet weather, so feel confident to roam the streets in the rain and splash through puddles, but do be mindful of the environmental impact of your choice in wellies.

My knotty error

13 Dec

I’ve made a mistake. I’ve made a mistake and this is the public admission of my error.  No, I don’t have to publish this, but I want people to know that I’m not afraid of being wrong.tie knots

The last thing a professional wants to do is pass on incorrect information, and it seems I’ve done so. In a 2010 blog post, The new royalty, I explained that in centuries past, it was royalty who set the fashion, now, movie stars and musicians are key influencers.

In that post (now edited), I give the examples of kings’ conditions that cued historical clothing: Henry VIII was said to have gout which moved him to wear non-restricting footwear, thus dictating the shoes of Tudor times, and prematurely bald Louis XIII of France introduced men’s wigs to the world.

I made an assumption that Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor upon abdication, was the originator of the Windsor knot.  It made a tremendous amount of sense to me that the Duke, a small man, would wear a knot that took up more tie so it could graze the waistband of his high-waisted trouser, but it turns out that it was his father, George V, who (may have) originated the Windsor. But as I dig deeper, I’m finding information that refutes the George V theory. Looking at photos of George, he opted for silk cravats tied into four-in-hand knots – a traditional British necktie knot. So if George and Edward didn’t wear the Windsor knot, where did it come from?

I belong to a professional costume group and we’ve been discussing his topic. One of the costumers says, “Suzy Menkes in her book, The Windsor Style, says the Duke of Windsor had his neckties made by Hawes and Curtis, who always used a very thick lining.” (Hawes and Curtis is an old tailor shop favoured by royalty on London’s Jermyn Street.) The thick tie was too much for the multi-step full Windsor knot, so the Duke tied a four-in-hand knot. Though he didn’t wear it, he’s synonymous with the Windsor knot.

Another costume designer believes the knot may have originated in the U.S. when the Duke visited in the 1930s. In their attempt to emulate the stylish Duke, the Americans, in much thinner ties, took extra steps to create a wider tie knot, and with the help of the U.S. media, this knot was dubbed the Windsor knot.

Interestingly, the Canadian Armed Forces has adopted this knot. My military contact sent me the Armed Forces regulations handbook, in which chapter 2, section 2 explains dress. Two tie knots are allowed in the Canadian military: the four-in-hand and the Windsor knot. The funny thing is, the illustration of the Windsor knot in the handbook looks like a half Windsor knot, not a full Windsor.

The more I find out about this knot, the more confused I am. Perhaps this argument is simply a matter of semantics.

Further reading: The Mystery of the Windsor Tie Knot Revealed

Gentlemen’s Cravats – The Necktie: A Brief History

Error

In our culture, people have a deep fear of being wrong. I used to be one of these people, and then as I delved further into understanding the human condition, I realized that it’s natural and inevitable that we’re going to be wrong sometimes – it’s part of what makes us human. Knowing that humans are more prone to mistakes than to flawless victories, I’m okay with being wrong and I’m willing to tell the world about my mistake.

Many of us have experience with people who love being right all of the time and will rub your face into their (self) righteousness. But what does it amount to?  More stress for one thing – the chips on our shoulders can weigh us down and make us defensive. This black and white way of seeing the world as right and as wrong is, to my mind, limited, because there is so much to know, so many different perspectives, and the issues are often much more complex and require a different angle of logic.

What I’d like to leave you with is this: if we’re right all of the time, we’re not going to experience mistakes; mistakes are things we learn from. Insisting on being right keeps us from learning and growing, and a hard-headed, stuffing-opinions-down-throats style of communication rarely scores points. A dash of humility on the other hand, will.