Tag Archives: style

Become the Perfect Gentleman

12 Nov

The Perfect GentlemanI was lucky enough to have not one but two two-hour long interviews with Zacchary Falconer-Barfield, founder and 1st Gentleman at London’s The Perfect Gentleman, an operation that seeks to make the world a more respectful, stylish, and gentlemanly place, one man at a time.

The Perfect Gentleman runs courses and events to teach men the art of the gentleman, and includes dressing, how to dance, how to be charming, etiquette, romance, and modern chivalry. North America is fortunate to have the two-day PG event, Becoming the Perfect Gentleman, tour in early 2016 and visit five American cities: Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, with one Canadian date (Toronto). For any of you who have fallen under the spell of Downton Abbey, you will agree that it is high time to resurrect the gentleman and all the niceties that go with him.

Falconer-Barfield explained to me that the gentleman is who he is and what he does. As a child, he spent countless hours watching old movies and was influenced by the most stylish and gentlemanly of gentlemen: Cary Grant, James Bond, and David Niven, among others. He was raised by women who gave him an understanding of etiquette, and he always dressed well. In fact, every Friday is Cravat Friday for our 1st Gentleman.

He explained that there have been centuries of gentlemen, but World War II saw the beginning of his decline. It was a time of austerity that saw the massive loss of life, the rise of women, and changes to the socio-economic world that urged men not to bother anymore.

“It’s been four generations since the war – three moved away from the gentleman and now we’re moving towards it again.” Falconer-Barfield believes that it’s just in the recent past that men have had style ideals to live up to and the social freedom to make an effort. He says that men are being held to a standard again, and cites George Clooney, David Beckham, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Hugh Jackman as modern icons of style and gentlemanly ways.

Please enjoy part one of my interview with Zacchary Falconer-Barfield.

Interview

LM: Do North American audiences/men differ from British audiences/men?

ZFB: Yes. English men think they’re already gentlemen – English women will disagree. North Americans wonder when we’re coming over! The difference between the response to learning how to be a gentleman is that there is no culture of self-improvement in the UK for men; the thought of a “gentleman” is perceived as elitist, but of course this isn’t true. In the UK, it’s immigrants who seek out self-improvement.

LM: Do men in different countries have different challenges?

ZFB: The same challenges seem to be generic across the world – dating, romance, but there are minor cultural differences: business etiquette and style. How do I approach a lady? How do I have a good date? Universal. Style? Cultural differences, but a suit is a suit. Male icons are fairly universal.  Confidence is king.

LM: What drives a man to be a gentleman?

These are general drivers: everyone wants to be better and have better relationships; dress smart, feel good, climb the social ladder, make more money. When men realize what they’re capable of, the world opens up. It’s a kind of enlightenment.

The next article will feature a gentleman’s attitude towards women and romance, and women’s attitudes towards gentlemen.

Click here for tickets for the Becoming the Perfect Gentleman in Toronto March 5 – 6 2016.

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Hanky Panky

5 May

A silk square with a fine wool suit can look just as dashing as wearing a tie.

I’m working with a client who likes to “dress to the nines” out of respect for himself, his profession, and for his law clients. I was at his house recently and went through his closet full of dark suits and white shirts, his ties, and a fistful of pocket squares that were laying off to the side.

“James!” I said, “You’ve got to start integrating these pocket squares into your wardrobe,” explaining that a little splash of colour in his breast pocket can really sharpen up his suit, adding flair and personality to his look.

“But how do I match them to my ties?” lawyer James asked, “And how do I fold them?”

The pocket hanky is a common dilemma of the modern gent and I’d like to try to make things a little more clear so you can effortlessly polish yourself off with this simple yet statement-making accessory.

What is it?

First, let’s define this thing. A pocket square is the same thing as the handkerchief, hankie, hanky, silk, or puff, and is a square of fabric usually made of cotton, linen, or silk. It should be worn to express oneself, like a tie, and should compliment the rest of a man’s attire.

Sources differ in sartorial background and tradition,  so everyone has a slightly different opinion of when and where to wear which pocket puff to what occasion, but for our purposes, gentlemen, we’re going to keep it simple: add a pocket square when you want to be stylish, when you want to add interest to your jacket, and when you want to stand apart. A pocket square is a wonderful compliment to your suit or jacket.

A little history

Research shows that the first handkerchief originated with England’s King Richard II (1367 – 1400), who is said to have used a piece of cloth to wipe his nose. BBC’s London Life explains uses for handkerchiefs during times when taking snuff was popular. (Snuff is powdered tobacco sniffed up the nose – not sure why…) Often, snuff sellers would sell handkerchiefs to accompany the pulverized tobacco. You may be able to imagine what sniffing brown powder up one’s nose does to one’s nasal passages, so the hankies came in handy to brush the powder from the nose and to dab the brown mucous that was generated from taking snuff. (…yuck!)

Hankies were originally carried in a gent’s trouser pocket, intermingling with dirty coins and other bits, and later moved to the breast pocket when men’s two-piece suits (Sack Suits) became popular during the mid 19th century. It was at this time that the handkerchief became a fashion accessory more than a practical nose-wiper. Hankies have also been used as white flags of surrender and dropped as bait by women in the first half of the 20th century who wanted to attract a fella’s attention. (A gentleman would always pick up the lady’s hankie and return it to her.)

Handkerchiefs were largely replaced in the 1920s by Kleenex, or disposable hankies. However, proper woven hankies are much more stylish than ratty, throw-away paper products and casts a very good light on the user, suggesting elegance and care. A fun thing to do next time you’re in a vintage clothing store is to look at their collection of hankies and see if any tickle your fancy.

Match textures

When you want to add a square, you want to match textures, smooth with smooth, rough with rough. A woven cotton, linen, or cashmere hankie will go with a rough suit or jacket, like a tweed. The smoothness of a fine wool suit could take a cotton, linen, or silk pocket square, and a cotton suit for the summer would ask for a cotton hankie to echo the texture of that textile.

The very British 365 Style and Fashion Tips for Men suggests “white linen is the simplest choice for a pocket handkerchief as it goes with any business suit. Either fold it into a square, or push it loosely into your breast pocket.” James Bond, Dean Martin, JFK, and Cary Grant couldn’t agree more.

Colour and pattern

As our British reference states, “Your necktie and pocket handkerchief should never be the same colour. Do not be tempted by any tie and handkerchief sets on sale in the stores.” GQ stresses the same point, calling the matching tie and hankie route “tackier than a matching shirt-and-tie combo,” adding that men can find “colors, stripes, and other decorative elements in hankies,” so there are lots of choices to play with. Sometimes, you may find a suit where the designer has lined the breast pocket with the same fabric as the jacket, which can be pulled up to act as a built-in coordinating puff.

When thinking of handkerchief colour, choose one that enhances or picks up the colours of your suit, shirt, and tie, but be careful not to repeat a colour more than twice (i.e. a burgundy shirt with a burgundy tie with a burgundy square would be too much).

Matching patterns can be tricky, so with your solid-coloured shirt, try to match one large pattern with one smaller pattern in your tie and square, coordinating the colours in each. Our 365 Tips suggests wearing “a dark blue tie with red stripes to go with a dark red paisley handkerchief or a blue silk one with tiny white dots.” For those creative fellas, this can be quite a fun exercise, so start playing with your wardrobe and see what you can come up with.

Folding

365 Style Tips warns,  “Never be tempted to use a ready-folded dress handkerchief, or one with just a triangular point. It would be better to do without one at all.” So this you must learn to do on your own, men, but there is no need to feel intimidated. Below are some easy folds to start you off:

Simple square: Fold hankie into quarters and insert it into your pocket. If your hankie falls down out of sight, try folding it as a rectangle and insert the long part into your pocket.

Simple puff: Lay square on a table, then pick up in the middle, letting the fabric bunch in your fingers. Insert into pocket with corners down, pull up to arrange and fill the width of the pocket top.

Corners up: Lay square on a table and pick up by the middle. Insert puff side down in pocket. The corners of your pocket square should stick up and out of the top of the pocket. Arrange for width.


Hankie thoughts

–> For my client who dresses formally in suit and tie at his office, a splash of colour on his breast is very appropriate. Depending on the day’s mood and who he’ll be meeting that day, will he choose a solid lilac-coloured silk, the brown checkered square, or a traditional white linen handkerchief?

–> If you’re a smaller man, do beware of making too much visual fuss with the square and the tie. Be aware that large patterns can overpower a short man, so keep one pattern quiet or choose a solid-colour.

–> I’m always a fan of a coloured shirt under a suit with a pocket square and no tie. To me,  this looks really sharp, telling the world about a gent’s sense of style, his confidence, and his character.

There is no doubt that the pocket hankie adds polish and interest to a man in a suit and as a recent client pointed out, “the square really brings the whole visual together”.

So gents, in your quest for style, reach for a hankie not only to give yourself a visual polish, but also to play the part of the gentleman, ready to dab tears away, or wipe lipstick from your collar.

What would Cary Grant wear?

24 Feb

One of the questions I pose to new image clients is “who’s style do you admire?” A great percentage of my clients identify silver screen Hollywood actor, Cary Grant, as their style icon.

Cary Grant inspires modern-day fellas because he was tall, dark, handsome; he wore beautifully stylish clothes punctuated by the best accessories, from sunglasses to pocket hankies. Cary Grant never wore anything outlandish or poorly fit; he seemed fabulously low-key in his dashing dress that complimented his witty and gentlemanly demeanor.

Cary Grant was an old school gent who held the door for ladies, kept his shoes polished, and I’m sure charmed the pants off of  everyone he met – men wanted to be him, Cary married five women and shacked up with a sixth for 4 years, and as a young man in Hollywood, got cozy with fellow actor, Randolph Scott. He had that charm, that charisma that drew people to him.

Through the wonder of social media, I have come across a great true story by writer / producer, Tyler St. Mark who describes the sartorial impact that followed a Cary Grant sighting in a Beverly Hills restaurant:

I used to attend a monthly breakfast at a trendy (and expensive) restaurant in Beverly Hills. Each month I would meet with a group of young P. R. execs at a Sunday brunch. This was during the era when “dressing down” became popular and I was disconcerted to see my colleagues dressing more and more casually.

One particular Sunday, I observed the entire restaurant suddenly go silent and all eyes were directed to the entrance. There, at the top of the stairs was a handsome older man with white hair, wearing an impeccably tailored gray suit with a white dress shirt and pale blue sweater under it. He was obviously over-dressed but the smart ensemble complimented his tan face. Clearly the guy was a “class act” and vaguely familiar.

The entire restaurant followed the man and as he passed our table, he smiled politely and acknowledged our group. We all seemed to recognize him at the same time and rose to our feet almost at the same time as we scrambled to meet him and shake his hand.

The man was, in fact, Cary Grant.

After he left, we all seem to bask in his “afterglow,” but one young upstart in our group remarked, “Can you believe he was wearing a SUIT?” We all looked at this jerk who was dressed in a simple sport shirt and shorts. “Yes,” our equally casual host replied, “and we WEREN’T!” I smiled as it was exactly what we were all thinking.

The next Sunday, almost  every one of us was wearing slacks and a sport jacket and from then on, whenever I attended any special event, I would always think to myself, “What would Cary Grant wear?”

And so gents, through this tale I want you to remember a couple of things: it’s better to be overdressed than under dressed, and next time you’re standing there staring into your closet, ask Tyler’s question and take Cary’s cue.


Let’s talk about suits, baby

3 Feb

Like my suit? Bogart Menswear, Toronto.

Do you know the difference between off-the-rack, made-to-measure, and bespoke suits? Want to learn about basic suit features so you’ll be a more efficient suit buyer? This week, let’s talk about suits, baby.

I’m inspired by the lovely bright navy striped suit I had made recently at one of my men’s stores. Not quite warm enough to run around in during a Canadian winter, but I’ll appreciate the lightweight wool in the summer.

During the process of deciding on how I wanted my suit to look, there were many things to consider. My first decision was how the suit would be created: by hand to my exact measurements, my measurements worked into an existing pattern, or something already made.

BESPOKE According to Savile Row tailors in London, “bespoke” is a 17th century term for cloth that was “spoken for” at tailor shops. Bespoke clothing is born of many individual measurements and a pattern created to fit only you. It is the most prestigious type of suit one can get, the most comfortable, the best wearing, and the best investment. True bespoke suits are hand-made in every way from seams to buttonholes; bespoke work is art and the epitome of clothing decadence (with a price point to match).

MADE-TO-MEASURE A made-to-measure suit takes your measurements and applies them to an existing suit pattern. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a made-to-measure suit, as you will have your choice of fabric, style, lapel, pocket, lining, etc., but it is not a bespoke garment and the proportions of the pattern may or may not work for you. Your tailor should be able to help here, as mine did.

OFF-THE-RACK When we buy off the rack, we get instant gratification – it’s already put together! We can wear it out of the store if we want to but try to take a pause between ringing up the sale and walking out with it;  most of you will not be able to wear an off-the-rack suit off-the-rack because these garments are built from patterns made of “average” measurements and so few of us are truly average. Also, humans are not symmetrical and the factory-made patterns are. The best thing to do with an off-the-rack suit is to take it to a tailor to have it hemmed and tweaked to our bodies. It isn’t going to fit as fantastically as having something made, but it will really make a difference.

When having a suit made, we become part of the design process and make design decisions that dictate what the suit will look like. This is the most fun part for me because I get to use my imagination.

FABRIC One of the most beautiful freedoms in dressing is choosing material for the garment we’re having made. For a suit, we have thousands of choices of wools in varying degrees of softness and weights, a billion colours, thin or wide pinstripes, chalk stripes, or tone-on-tone patterns woven into the fabric. My tailors tell me that the best fabrics come from Italy and Britain (i.e. Savile Row), and these bolts of wooly wonder are absolutely glorious to the touch and delightful to the eye. My suit fabric is very light, soft, and bright!

STYLE Single or double breasted, one, two, three, and four button jackets go in and out of style. Double breasted suits looked great in the 40s and the 80s, but are not so chic these days, though I expect them to have a future hey-day. Four-button jackets in the 2000s seemed a little severe to me, especially on the shorter man, but what the hell, I hope guys felt good in this short-lived style.  Personally, I went with a never-fail two-button single breasted jacket.

Youthful and thin?A skinny suit may be for you.

FIT Let’s be logical and proportionate here: if you’re stylish and slim, wear a skinny suit, if you’re average or heavy, don’t wear a skinny suit. It’s all about proportion: the small box of Grapenuts cereal we buy in grocery stores is relative to the size of the intended serving, and similarly, a man’s build should be relative to the cut of his suit. Dig?

Right now, the Mad Men-inspired skinny suits are very much in fashion and can come off looking youthful, very sharp and fashion forward, but these suits are a very trim cut with a high arm hole, making them suitable for you Slim Jims out there. A too-trim sausage casing may be uncomfortable on a larger man AND there isn’t a lot of room for your junk, if you know what I’m saying… again, Grapenuts.

Peaked lapel

Notched lapel

LAPELS Another nice thing about having a suit made is that you and your tailor can choose the shapes in your suit. In my case, I chose the more dramatic peak lapel, because I know I’m the type to pull it off, but this type of lapel doesn’t suit everyone.

A safe and common-place notched lapel is an alternative to the edgier peaked lapel. Notched lapels widen and thin over time, but the notched style has remained true since the creation of the suit in the 1850s.

I felt that my personality and my suit fabric complimented the sharp, peaked lapel style, so I’m rocking it.

VENTS Another decision that you and your tailor will make is what type of vent you want on the back of your jacket. I think a single vent from the center back seam is the safest way to go for most men’s builds, and this is what I went with.

Double, single, and no vent.

Double, single, and no vent

Double vents can be quite stylish on a slim man and gives more room to access what’s in his trouser pockets, but if you’ve got a prominent caboose, opt not for a double vent because your seat will make the vents gape. Also beware of jackets with no vent at all – this was the 1980s suit look: boxy, short, and closed. Depending on the style of your suit, this style may look dated, so be aware of that.

POCKETS There are different types of pockets to choose from on your suit jacket: flapped, unflapped, ticket pocket, and patch pockets, built in slanted or straight.

Flapped, unflapped, and patch pockets

Personally, the patch pockets are reminiscent of the 70s to me, so I generally avoid them; an unflapped pocket is nice and streamlined, and the most common suit jacket pocket, the flapped version, can easily turn into a unflapped pocket simply by stuffing the flap inside of the pocket.

LINING Another perk to having a suit built is that you have the freedom to choose your lining to accent your suit. This is where we make a splash on the underside of our fabulous suit. I went with a bold red lining and asked for extra inside pockets – phone, lipstick, business card folder, $, etc.  For more on lining, have a look at my lining post from September.

TROUSERS With suit trousers, there are several decisions to make: the cut, fullness, style, pocket type, cuffs, and pleats. I follow general rules of thumb:

1. Flat front trousers suit most men, have an updated look, and streamline the body; single pleats will add a little room in the leg, and double pleats I just avoid in general because they can give a guy visual weight.

2. As a design feature, I really like cuffs, but if you’re a shorty and you want your leg to look longer, don’t cuff your pants.

3. Slash pockets on the side seam and pockets of shallow angles may gape and give a “hippy” look if a guy is heavy and / or has wide hips to begin with, and especially if the fabric is thick (hello cotton twill Dockers):

1/8 Top Pocket

Pockets slanted at a deeper angle toward the front will prevent this, but don’t be afraid to try a non-linear style that eliminates the problem:

Western or jean-style

Full top

My jacket fits very well but the tailor wasn’t expecting me to have bulgy legs and cut the trouser tapered to the ankle – I could barely get them over my calves! They went back and opened the seams as much as they could so now they’re passable, but we learned that Leah can’t wear a tapered leg – we of the generous shank and booty need more space, so please lay some straight cuts, athletic cuts, or relaxed cuts on us.

A suit is an investment so it’s best to have an idea of what you’re doing. I hope this helps and inspires you to go find a tailor and have a gorgeous suit built that you feel fantastic in because when we feel fantastic, we do fantastic things.