Tag Archives: colour

White: Physics and snobbery

3 Sep

primary colours make white lightWhen I was in Theatre school studying design, I got a good rounding of other theatrical tasks and took classes in stage management, performance, and sound and lighting. I learned a lot of things during the lighting class and developed an understanding of light and colour as frequency. I also learned how to make white light out primary colours. White is a combination of all light frequencies, so focusing blue, red, and green lights in one spot gives us white light. This experience was the beginning of my fascination with colour. (For more information on light frequency, see this page from NASA.)

White as a reflecting colour

From a light perspective, if we think about light and how it changes throughout the year, it makes sense to wear either reflective or absorbing colour depending on what season it is. In the spring and summer, there is bright, warm light and it makes sense for us to reflect light away from us which keeps us a bit cooler, while in the fall and winter, we have cool and limited light that we want to absorb to keep the heat in, so we wear darker colours. (A psychological link seems to exist as well, as we mimic the natural world.)

White is sleek, clean, and classic; we can all envision basic white but there are many, many whites, some cool, some warm,  some with coloured undertones. If you’ve ever looked at paint chips to decide on a room colour, you may have been surprised to see just how varied white can be.

types of white

Believe it or not, these are all considered white. Notice the variations between colours. From Benjamin Moore’s 2015 white collection.

White, along with black and grey, are considered neutrals, and will mix well with other colours of the same level of warmth or coolness. Warm-skinned people will do well in warm – red or yellow-tinted – whites (cream, oatmeal, eggshell white), while cool-skinned types look best in cool – blue or green-tinted – whites (ivory, stone, oyster, silvery white). Notice the subtle differences in cool and warm whites below; you may also see that warm whites advance and cool whites recede slightly:

warm whites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cool whites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

White after Labour Day

The Labour Day argument can be a source of confusion for those of us in the Western world. We’re not truly in autumn until the fall equinox which falls the third week of September, so theoretically, we shouldn’t fret about wearing white after Labour Day. This tradition, once fiercely defended, is not longer a sticking point – many of us wear white into the fall which is perfectly acceptable.

The “white season” is an American concept devised by rich white women after the American Civil War. This sartorial snobbery was created to differentiate between the wealthy and the common; people who could afford multiple seasonal wardrobes and those who could not; white was for those who were lucky enough to enjoy resorts, cottaging, and summer holidays between Memorial Day and Labour Day. According to TIME, wearing white after Labour Day was impractical in cooler and rainy fall weather and by that time of year, it was time to return to the more formal attire of city living anyway.

Modern society likes to break old rules, including the not-wearing-white-after-the-September-long-weekend rule. Depending on where you live, September can still be very hot (it certainly is in Toronto) and dark colours wouldn’t be appropriate – hot weather still begs for light colours even at the end of summer. White should still prevail into the fall when the temperatures start to drop and we can get snuggily in deeper, richer whites that lend an air of class and elegance.

Maybe that pompous when-to-wear-white rule does have a basis: white is one of the more elegant colour options no matter what time of year it is, so go ahead and don’t be afraid to indulge in the classic brightness of white.

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.

 

Forty seconds of awesome

6 Jun

It has been a week of intensity: my hard drive died, I lost data, and I’m working on foreign computer system; I’ve had to rebuild a contact list from a box of business cards, I’ve recreated several digital projects for today’s deadline, and planned, arranged, and constructed  a video that I released today.

Here it is. Hope you like it.

Seasonal dressing

1 Sep

It’s September 1st and the bus is taking a turn down Autumn Avenue.  Toronto has had an excruciatingly hot summer this year and I for one welcome the change in season. It’s almost time to get out the woolens, add a blanket to the bed, put on a sweater in the evening, and pull on a pair of socks.

Canadians live through complex seasonal changes and our weather goes to extremes.  Canadians have seasonal wardrobes appropriate to each season, but some of us go to extremes in our dressing during transition seasons (spring, fall) – i.e. people who wear shorts on a “warm” day in March, flip-flops in November (if there isn’t any snow), or overdress in August because they’re longing for a change in temperature or perhaps a change in wardrobe. I’m not big on stripping down before the warm weather hits, but by the end of the summer, I am more than ready to change my light wardrobe to pieces more substantial and cozy.

The people who like to go to the extremes explained above and dress out-of-season look odd. At least they do to me. Why? 1) Wearing the bright colours of spring’s new growth in winter stands out and feels weird, and wearing winter’s dark, subdued colours that reflect the limited light feels weird to wear in the spring, and 2) the weight and fabric of their out-of-season garments are not suited to the temperatures – wearer will be too cold or too hot and they stand apart, but not in a particularly good way.

My goal today is to educate you gentlemen about seasonal dressing as we turn and face the fall this week, so that YOU don’t look odd.

Colour

A high energy spring/summer colour and a low-key fall/winter colour in my palette.

Let the colours of nature guide you through seasonal dressing. In the longer days of spring, bright colours are appropriate, mimicking the flowers, green grass, brightly coloured birds, and general freshness of the season. During the fall, we like to wear the mustards, browns, oranges, and rusts of the foliage around us and later, darker hues that echo the lack of light in winter. The design and retail industries understand this and cater to our need to feel comfortable in clothes suited for seasonal elements, and our desire to change with the seasons.

I’m warm and spring-coloured and find it hard to find good pieces in good colours during the winter, so during the dim season, I force myself to succumb to the darkness of my palette (cinnamons, navies, and candy colours like caramel and chocolate). Secretly though, I’m dying to trade in my brown mohair dress in for a hyacinth-coloured knitted wool dress, but I’ve never seen one. That’s because the clothing industry follows the seasonal colour changes; spring-coloured wool garments are hard to come by for the same reason you can’t find a turquoise sports jacket in winter. Perhaps because it’s natural or perhaps because we’ve been conditioned by the clothing industry to accept this colour practice, I know that even if I could find a hyacinth-coloured mohair dress, I would feel weird wearing it during the winter due to its brightness.

True spring colours are high-frequency, highly active colours that seem to take up a lot of space. A large piece like a dress in hyacinth would really stand out and practically vibrate in winter, but not in spring. Similarly, the often-seen sidewalk greys, blacks, and other drabs of winter look so hard to me in spring; without life and ill-matched to the environment. That’s why wearing out-of-season colours look odd to me. Take this chance to observe the people who try to pull this off and see what you think.

Weight

As with the colour cycle, fabrics change through the year. During the warmer months, we wear light fabrics that will keep us cool like cottons and linens, but during the fall and winter, we reach for richer, heavier fabrics to keep us dry and warm. With the exception of cruise wear that hits the racks early in the New Year, we won’t find lightweight cottons and absolutely no linens during the winter, because they just aren’t practical, as in, you’d freeze wearing them in the wrong season. Similarly, you would not find heavy woolen clothing in spring because that isn’t practical either. And you’d look weird. You might even feel weird too.

This gives Canadians two distinct wardrobes for our whole lives, and this can take up space and cost a lot of money, but sometimes we get a break. In this case, we’ve been blessed with animals who provide their hair so we can use their fleece to clothe ourselves and keep us warm. Wool is the most varied and versatile fibers on the planet and can be worn in all seasons  – yes! even summer.

Angora goats provide mohair wool.

Wool comes from sheep (Shetland, Merino), rabbits (Angora), goats (cashmere, mohair), camels, and llama-like alpacas, giving wool of different textures and differing degrees of warmth.

“The degree of thickness determines whether the finished fabric will be a fine dress material or a coarse floor covering,” says the Canadian Sheep Federation. The thickness of the fibers and the weave of the resulting fabric can produce extremely varied wools, some spun so fine that they might be mistook for cotton!

Important concepts in wool

There are some basics to understand when shopping for wool suits, trousers, coats, or jackets:

TWIST – Yarns are twisted to bind the fibers together and strengthen the yarn. With a tighter yarn twist, the harder-wearing the fabric, and the less likely to pill (rogue fibers that are not twisted into the yarn will tangle on the surface of the garment and create a pill, or a fuzzy ball). Also, the higher the twist, the higher the price – one must pay for quality, you know.

WORSTED – Worsted wool is made of even, equal length combed wool fibers that are spun into smooth, firmly twisted yarn or threads. Worsted wool is high quality and will often cost more than a carded wool due to the extra processes that give the yarns a high twist and a longer wearing garment.

WOOLEN – Wool that is carded, that is, worked though with instruments to smooth the fibers and clean vegetable matter from the fleece, varies in length and is looser, bulkier, and less regular than worsted wools. Soft garments like sweaters and other knits are made of carded wool.

Types of wool: worsted 

Wool gabardine featuring a twill weave.

Good suits and trousers are made of fine wools, often worsted, and some can be worn all year around (called all-weather wool). Suits made of all-weather wool are great investments because they’re so versatile (though I advise to keep a pair of long johns close by on cold winter days!).

GABARDINE is a fine worsted wool fabric with a twill weave, giving it a cross-wise raised texture. Wool Gabardine is a tightly woven fabric that is lightweight and often has a natural luster. Gabardine is strong, wears and drapes well, and resists wrinkling. A good wool choice for the spring and summer.

Examples of sharkskin fabric swatches.

SHARKSKIN is a smooth-textured fine wool worsted fabric with a high twist and a bit of a sheen, resembling the skin of a shark. It has a two-toned appearance because a white thread is woven with a coloured thread to produce this effect. Sharkskin is lightweight and hard-wearing. Another good wool choice for warm weather.

Types of wool: woolen

Harris Tweed in a heather-coloured herringbone pattern.

TWEED is an example of woolen fabric for gent’s coats, jackets, suits, trousers, waistcoats, and outer/sportswear. This rough, unfinished wool fabric is flexible and soft to the touch (but not meant to be worn next to the skin). Tweed is often woven into subdued “heather” colour blends, herringbone, houndstooth, or check patterns.

The most famous tweed is Harris Tweed, hand-spun and woven on the island of Harris, in the Scottish Isles. The cloth was created about 150 years ago by Harris islanders and to this day is spun and woven by hand, as far as I can make out.  Have a look at the Harris Tweed website and watch the short, charming video about the history of the fabric.

If you’ve taken this post to heart, you’ll understand the logic of seasonal dressing in terms of weight and colour:  generally, light-coloured, light weight fabrics for warm weather and dark-coloured, heavy fabrics for cool weather, with the exception of all-weather wool garments which can be worn any time. My advice is to check the weather daily and find the most comfortable and appropriate clothing for it.

PS – While I was publishing image inc., Canada’s first image quarterly for men, I did a textile series on natural fibers – you may find the wool issue of interest.

Confidence

28 Oct

When the weather cools, my hands can get dry and nasty-looking and I know this is not a good reflection on my person, so  on Tuesday I decided it was time for a manicure.

I walked into a local nail shop and sat chatting happily with Alecia who worked on my hands. There was one other customer there having her feet done. A few minutes later, a man came in and made himself at home as his foot bath was prepared.

He knew the woman in the pedicure chair. They chatted a bit then I heard him talking about the NFL players wearing pink shoes and gloves (but he didn’t seem to know that the pink accessories are an NFL breast cancer awareness promotion… interestingly, the CFL isn’t into it – read the CFL commissioner’s reasons here). Anyway, he decided it looked cool and he was going to go out and find himself something hot pink to wear.

“Men should feel comfortable wearing any colour they want,” the feisty older woman in the pedicure chair exclaimed, “and if people don’t like it, tell them to shove it.”

Words of wisdom.

Now, I know many of you are expecting me to write about the pink-blue gender thing here, but I’m saving that for another day. Today it is about masculinity, decisiveness, openness, and belief in oneself because indeed, men should feel comfortable making their own conscious choices for their own selves. They just need some guidance sometimes.

In 2007, I began Canada’s first men’s image quarterly, image inc., where  I conducted a poll asking men the simple question, what is masculinity? I included the most poignant answers in the first issue and share my three favourites with you below:

  • Masculinity is an inner confidence that speaks, I am what I am. (Bobby)
  • Masculinity is fearlessness and the willingness to try new things. (Doug)
  • Masculinity is being secure in the knowledge of who I am without feeling the need to prove it to anyone. (Steve)

Lovely. To the point. Brilliant in quiet strength and contemplation, all. That these men even considered the question let alone answer it is a thing unto itself, I think, and it’s interesting to note that they’re all speaking of the same thing: confidence.

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So what is confidence all about? Being self-assured, knowing that you know? I think that part of being confident comes from having knowledge, awareness, and the skills to do stuff. When my clients want to know something (i.e. how to sew on buttons),  I explain as best as I can because I know this knowledge is empowering and it will increase their confidence and make them more competent and self-reliant. (In 2010, there are more single people in the world than there ever have been in history, so knowing how to take care of yourself is definitely a bonus. Also, men who know how to take care of themselves are impressive, no doubt about that.)

Confident and attractive men often take time and thought to put themselves together, and a well-dressed man must be self-assured enough to be able to handle the attention he’ll attract – women feel very strongly about a sharp dressed man, you know.

Confident people are decided and they don’t care what other people think of them – they are their own person, they are deliberate, and they make their own rules.  A confident man doesn’t doubt who he is, he knows who he is.

Guys with confidence can rock anything. People love a confident man – an authentically confident man, not a puffed-up-because-I-have-more-stuff sort of man. A man with that quiet inner pride like Bobby and Steve mentioned, a man aware of his distinctions, and a man who respects himself.

So if a man is confident, he knows who he is and what he stands for, why wouldn’t he wear pink gloves and pink shoes? Or an ascot? Even a skirt? If a man is confident, he’ll wear whatever he dang-well wants to wear without apology, thank you very much (as in, “Tell them to shove it.”), which I think deserves some respect.

Now that’s confidence.

Yellow

30 Sep

All sorts of kooky things happen when we are in that stretch of time that connects the end of summer with the beginning of autumn. People aren’t sure what to wear in this changeable weather, so they’ll step into flip-flops in their coats and scarves, or wear autumn boots with sleeveless t-shirts. There is more confusion than consistency, but one thing I notice remains true is that when the temperature dips, Toronto reaches for drab.

Yellow wardrobe pieces add interest and style.

I’ve been shopping for some new fall pieces lately and everywhere I go,  it’s the same story – collections of greys, blacks, and other dark neutrals to camouflage us into the sidewalks of the urban jungle. It’s curious.

“Does the fashion industry conspire to chromatically induce seasonal depression?” I mused, noting yet another shop window holding grey-clad mannequins,  “And wouldn’t it be interesting if the pharma companies secretly lurked behind the scenes…”

Whatever happened to the human ritual of mimicking nature through clothing? It feels natural to wear gorgeous blazing autumnal colours when the time is right; warm browns, deep greens, bright oranges, golds, rusts, and reds, especially if they’re warm and wooly, and even better if they’re well fit and stylish. (Autumn is a fun time to dress because of the sensible layering options for warmth and expression.)

On a cool but humid day last weekend, I was out for a walk to the city’s east end. I passed a very attractive man in a yellow t-shirt.

The vibrant colour (plus the brand done in rhinestones emblazoned across the chest) drew my eye to this handsome dread-locked fellow. He absolutely stood out but not in a demanding way – he was confident enough to wear something he knew looked fantastic on him, and though the colour was bright and quite obviously YELLOW,  it was flattering and blended harmoniously with his colouring and his person. He totally pulled it off.

Yellow just isn’t that common.

I know that many people are afraid of yellow, but when it’s done right, it can be glorious.  I often see pale yellow dress shirts as a choice for business wear and many men own yellow ties. Yellow is a good choice for men because our culture hasn’t labelled it gender-specific, and it is unusual enough to stand apart, but not to the point of alienation.

Yellow is heavy with meaning: caution, happiness, the sun, and jaundice, and it’s uses are varied:

  • A yellow card in soccer indicates a conduct warning
  • If you are called “yellow-bellied”, you are considered a coward
  • China’s Emperor, Wu-Ti, was known as the Yellow Emperor and wore yellow silk robes
  • It is the colour of the chakra associated with the solar plexus and left-brain reasoning
  • Yellow is the colour of the Beatles’ famous submarine

Yellow is a good colour to pair with the dreary neutrals that are forced upon us when the weather cools, and it comes in many forms: mustard and custard yellows, golden rod, tan, canary, harvest gold, butter yellow, saffron, ochre, lemon, banana, and turmeric yellow, to name but a few.

Now that we’re moving into the darker months, give yourself a hint of cheery yellow in a scarf to brighten your outdoor gear, and if you can find yellow shirts and sweaters to suit you, snap them up – I’ve been clutching my wool daffodil yellow sweater for years and I refuse to let it go!