Tag Archives: suits

Austrian style

13 Apr

Austrian flagOne of my friends is from Vienna and works in the Trade division for the Austrian Consulate in Toronto. She organized a trade event to showcase Austrian food and wine and asked me to help out, which I did on Tuesday night. It was a fun, day-long event and a good turn out with many Austrian delegates and business people, plus European and Canadian guests.

Austrians are friendly, polite, and reserved; efficient and no-nonsense. They are a culture of people who enjoy life, tasty cheese, meats, and condiments; beer, radlers, and wine (speaking of, if you’ve never tried Grüner Veltliner, you must!).

Besides all of the delicious Austrian products at the trade event, I was struck with something else: the look of the Austrian men.

Suits

Habsburg Tacht suit

A modern Tacht suit from Austria’s Kleidermanufaktur Habsburg

The Austrian businessmen’s suit cuts are different than what we’re used to seeing in Canada (i.e. Kenneth Barlis’ fall-winter 2017 collection featured at TOM* – Toronto Men’s Fashion Week, includes very short jackets in dazzling colours). Austrian suit jackets are worn much longer and trousers are roomier as well.

Austrian suits are conservative and practical with straighter cuts than other European styles. English or Italian fits can be quite body-consciousness and sculpted to show off the body line, but not so with the more modest Austrians.

Traditional Tracht jackets are worn by men (and sometimes women) in German-speaking countries including Austria.These structured garments are easy to spot: they are typically styled with a stand up collar with or without lapels, with a of row of fancy buttons and buttonholes all the way up to the neck. These jackets often feature contrast material or decorative braid to adorn pockets, collars, and jacket edges.

Traditional Tacht jacket

Details of Tracht clothing have found their way into modern designs. Kleidermanufaktur Habsburg, an Austrian lifestyle clothing brand, features traditional Tracht designs with noble, “imperial roots”, as their website states. The navy suit above, from their 2016 fall-winter collection, reflects the traditional features in this updated version of the Tracht jacket.

Colour and other details

The last time I was at an Austrian trade event, I noticed the suit colour choices and decided to speak with one of the delegates about it.

“I noticed that you’re all in navy suits,” I said. “No one is wearing a brown suit. Why is that?”

“Brown suits are only for managers!” the Austrian businessman insisted.

All of the Austrian men at the trade event wore black lace-up shoes and belts without exception. In North America, we’re used to seeing brown/cordova shoes and belts to mix up a business look, but not for these men.  Theirs is a very quiet, traditional look for business.

There were no adornments outside of a neat, conservative tie worn with their navy suits and white shirts; not a coloured sock nor a pocket square in the room; no French cuffs, no cuff links. Austrian business men wear their hair short and keep their faces clean-shaven.

At the trade event, as I stood pouring samples at the Ottakringer beer table for the day, I realized that Austrians seem to prefer things simple, clean, and light. For Austrian businessmen, their whole look is elegant, neat and uncomplicated – very much like their taste in beer.

The power of men’s shoulders

18 Oct

It has always been my opinion that a man’s strength lies in his shoulders. Whereas women’s bodies have two expanses – the shoulders and the hips that meet at the waist (the smallest point of a woman’s torso and what I think of as the point of our femininity), men’s shoulders are much larger, broader, and rounder, holding his power and displaying his magnificence.

Zoologist, Desmond Morris, said in his BBC series, The Human Animal,  that a man’s wide shoulders above a narrow  waist is considered the most appealing. This classical shape speaks of a strong, healthy, and masculine body, and men often wear clothes to draw attention to the breadth of their shoulders, exaggerating their size, and visually increasing their power.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Take football players for example. Their padding is there to protect their shoulders but also to magnify them. Football uniforms exaggerate a player’s small waist and wide chest and shoulders, undoubtedly to intimidate the opposing team with their size, strength, and power.

Albeit all of the protective equipment worn on the “battlefield” of the football stadium, these men are not in the mortal danger that underpadding was created for – protection from weapons.

War

Unfortunately, where there is disagreement, there are wars, and with wars come weapons. The use of weapons calls for protection, and throughout history, body protection has come in different forms – thick quilted fabric, leather armor, and metal armor, each type with its own kind of shoulder protection.

In Medieval times, armies and knights wore rounded, moveable metal plates called pauldrons, worn to protect the shoulders in battle. Over these rounded pieces, armored fighters wore a gardbrace to protect the shoulder of their free arm. Sometimes two gardbraces were worn with raised guards at the top to deflect blows to the neck.

Henry VIII’s already enormous frame was further exaggerated by his armor. He wore one gardbrace with a huge guard (sometimes in the form of large spikes) on one shoulder – as seen on the left. Also note the armored codpiece peeking out of the faulds of his breastplate – even in battle, never forget the King’s penis!

Read this interesting take on Henry’s enormous girth in Daily Mail UK.

In Japan, the Samurai tradition paid special attention to the shoulders of their costume. Real Samurai wore the sode, rectangular shoulder protectors made of iron or wood strips laced together with leather. These shoulder pieces were very large during periods when bow and arrows were used as main weapons, getting smaller as Japanese armies operated on horseback. (Source.)

For modern men who wish to don armor but don’t feel like carrying around 45 lbs of extra weight, I found a Korean designer on Etsy who has created a wool “armor” hoodie, complete with fabric pauldrons, and designed so the eye moves up to the powerful shoulders.

Even when not in battle proper, men’s shoulders have been excessively decorated to draw attention to this manly body feature.

Matador costume, Museum in Ronda Bullring Arena, Ronda, Andalusia, Spain

Before bullfighting was recently (and thankfully) banned in Spain, Matadors risked goring by bulls, but strangely, their costumes offered little protection from the hard horns of an angry bull.  These  costumes featured short pants, long stockings, and a beautiful jacket with hombrera, heavily decorated shoulder pads, again drawing attention to the virile Matador’s V shape.

Because there was such little protection for the bullfighter, I’m assuming that the gorgeous, heavily adorned costume was meant for show, drawing attention to the beauty of the Matador who received for his work not the spoils of war, but roses tossed out when the crowd was pleased with his performance.

Character shoulders

Wide, majestic shoulders can give a man the illusion of size, making him more imposing than he actually is. On film and on stage, wide, exaggerated shoulders speak of size and power in heroes and villains.

Hero types are often young and strong, like Thor of The Avengers. Thor’s power is displayed through  (the illusion of) his wide shoulders.

The actor underneath does not have particularly imposing shoulders, so the costume designer illustrates Thor’s power through the illusion of big, powerful shoulders in a V-shaped breastplate with an exaggerated cape growing out of it, drawing the eye to the girth of the breastplate and the colour of the cape instead of the width of the arm.

The power suggested by broad shoulders can add a touch of menace to a villainous character. Darth Vader is tall, dark, and broad-shouldered, cloaked in a large black cape to make him a very intimidating and imposing figure.

Orcs of Middle Earth have little patience for each other and strongly adhere to their hierarchical power structure. Like any other army, these horribly ugly Lord of the Rings creatures wear costumes that demonstrate their military position, and their the shoulder pads speak of their rank.

Here, the small, whiny foot soldier Orc wears what looks like bear fur shoulder pads on his cloak, decorated with what I’m guessing are pig’s teeth. Senior Orcs not only stand taller, but wear larger leather shoulder pieces for instant visual recognition of their rank.

Suits

Modern day armies flood into office buildings every day in their version of armor – the suit. Suits, with their padded, squared-off shoulders suggest credibility and authority, but suit shoulders can get out of hand – remember the 80s? Men and women wore suits with massive, jutting padded shoulders to exemplify power. While these magnificent expanses spoke of the wearer’s clout, they didn’t do much to frame the face – to0-wide shoulders diminish the head, giving visions of melons on teeter-totters.

Paul Weller: Modfather

31 May

Paul Weller at the Sound Academy, Toronto, May 21, 2012

Paul Weller started life fronting the wildly influential new wave group, The Jam (1976 – 1982), then moved in to a smoother soulful/ jazzy/R&B sound with the Style Council (1983 – 1989). He heavily influenced the guitar-based Britpop movement of the 1990s and since that time has been a successful solo artist. I was lucky enough to see his show last week.

Not only do I dig his music, I appreciate Paul’s sense of style – he is one of the best-dressed musicians on the planet. Never ostentatious, trendy, or outlandish, his style is simple, distinctively British, and always well done.

In a recommended Observer interview, Paul explains his style beginnings: “I come from a time when every kid dressed up. Everybody. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to hang out. It was very tribal. There’s nice things in that. It’s culture, it’s roots for me. Maybe I just never grew up, mate.”

Paul’s dad was a Teddy Boy in the 50s so early on, his perception of style would be influenced by what I think is of the coolest looks of the 20th century. Teddy Boys were a cohesive group of teenage boys in Brylcreemed quiffs, stove pipe trousers, skinny ties, and Edwardian-style coats with velvet collars.  These kids grew up during strictly-rationed WWII, but now they earned their own money and spent it on clothes and rockabilly records. Teds made it okay for young men to express himself through his clothes, and this attitude set the stage for future styles in Britain, namely the “Mods” or Modernists, of which Paul Weller says, “I’m still a mod, I’ll always be a mod, you can bury me a mod.”

Though the mods have dubious beginnings, I like the sound of Shari Benstock and Suzanne Ferris’ explanation in On Fashion: “[At the] core of the British mod rebellion was a blatant fetishising of the American consumer culture” that had “eroded the moral fiber of England.” In this act, the mods “mocked the class system that had gotten their fathers nowhere”, and created a “rebellion based on consuming pleasures.”

The mods were obsessed with clothing and style and wore skinny, tailor-made Italian suits with short jackets (dubbed “bum freezers”), button-down shirts, Chelsea boots or “winklepicker” long-toed shoes, and military parkas to keep everything clean as they drove their Lambretta scooters, and popped speed while listening to the Beatles, the Who, the Rolling Stones, and Small Faces, leaning into blue-eyed soul and R&B sounds.

In the late 60s and early 70s, “we were all post-skinheads – suedeheads… too young to be proper skinheads.” Weller explains, “The main strand that forged it together was that American-college look, the Brooks Brothers look: the cardigans and sleeveless jumpers and the buttoned-down shirts and the Sta-Prest trousers. That was the common ground. It was a way for people who haven’t got much to make a show.”

Style

One source calls Mods “ice-cold, up-to-the-second hipsters”, so trying to make a show on a modest savings was difficult for a young style-conscious teenage boy from Woking, Surrey, a small city 25 miles from London.

I had to really save for my first Ben Sherman. We used to buy Brutus shirts, which were much cheaper – second best. But Ben Shermans were the sought-after item. The first one I ever got was a lemon-yellow one. I must have been 12, 13, and it was a bit too big for me. But being a kid I didn’t realise you could take it back to the shop. I wore it till it fitted me.

He says that shirt meant everything to him and speaks at length about his love of Ben Sherman shirts, how the line’s aesthetic strikes him, the colours, and their “statement of intent”. That really sums up Paul’s style – beautiful clothes worn with intent; for him, style is “like a code in my life, a religion”.

The skinny mohair or shark skin mod suits of the 60s worn by the soul artists Weller listened to were adopted by The Jam in the 70s, their signature black suit-white outfits echoed the black and white colour contrast that dominated the new wave period. It was during this time when Weller began to discover the pleasures of bespoke suits.

When the Jam disbanded and Paul began the Style Council, his look changed radically but he doesn’t have a lot of good things to say about the period. “The Eighties were a pretty rough time. There are too many [fashion faux pas to] mention. I used to think I came out of the Eighties unscathed but no one did… I don’t know if anyone had a decent haircut then… we all had stupid haircuts of varying nature. Mutant quiffs and angular cuts!”

Weller adds interest to his toned down stage gear with an interesting shoe.

It was during the Britpop movement that Weller earned the name “Modfather” – his Jam and solo work were hugely influential to the biggest names of the period: Blur, Lush, and Oasis. Through his work with Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, Paul and Liam recognized their mutual love of clothing. Now, Paul is guest-designing for Liam’s clothing line, Pretty Green, an excellent line of Mod-influenced gear for men (that happens to be the name of a Jam song).

“I’ve been into clothes as long as I can remember. It’s great with this thing with Pretty Green – I can do my designs but I don’t have the headaches of manufacturing.”

Paul’s suits are late 60s – early 70s-inspired three-piece suits. “I wouldn’t want to be involved in anything that I wouldn’t wear myself,” says Weller in a UK GQ interview. “It’s been a dream really – I brought reference pictures, graphics, sketches, vintage things I’ve collected over the years and stuff from my own wardrobe.”

In his wardrobe, you would find five double-breasted pinstripe suits because as he says, “you can’t really go too far wrong with a pinstripe”. He stresses that a jacket fit well in the shoulders and to buy suits according to your body shape. For Weller, it’s the details that count – he’s always wearing an interesting pair of shoes and a silk stuffed into his breast pocket. All that while rocking an iconic textured Mod haircut.

Hair

Paul Weller’s haircuts, like his clothes, have always stood out. He has been wearing variations of the mod haircut for years. I asked Dubliner, Aaron O’Brian, stylist at Kearns & Co. in Toronto about Paul’s specific and distinctive cut.

“Mod haircuts involve texturizing and slicing the hair to give it a feathered look with lots of movement,” Aaron says, “there are lots of variations on the mod cut, for men and women, as long as they have the confidence to go with this funky style.”

Regina stylist, Levi Carleton, adds “no Weller haircut is without this great shattered end texture that screams a sort of high-end perfected distress.”

Aaron mentions that Paul’s cut has “always been on trend but there are many variations now like textured mod styles with swooping fringes (bangs). Variations of Paul’s mod cut can be seen throughout the years on other UK bands like  Oasis, The Verve, even fashion icon David Beckam sported a variation of mod,  and we will continue to see this style for many more years to come.”

The mod style paved the way to many different hair and fashion styles. “The mod basically gave people the freedom to express themselves and experiment with fashion,” Aaron says.

Video

Some of my favorite Paul Weller videos spotlighting his style:

That’s Entertainment is a classy early video (1981) featuring The Jam in tailored mod gear.

Beat Surrender, The Jam’s last single. Paul sticks to the stovepipe mod-style trousers and simple sweater – check bass player, Bruce Foxton’s skinny sand-coloured suit.

Wake Up The Nation (2010) from Paul’s solo career features his cool, simple, and distinctive tastes – a tailored jacket and neck scarf for a bit of punchy interest.