Friday, 6 May 2011

Gentlemen Prefer Suits

It has been said that a gentleman should dress so as not to be noticed. Whilst I understand the sentiment of that statement I don’t entirely agree. If I see a gentleman elegantly attired I can’t help but notice, as sadly today it is all-too-rare an occurrence.

While at one of the many St James’s gentleman’s clubs clustered in London’s West End waiting for my first course of soup to arrive (I believe it was Lord Curzon who once commented that gentlemen do not take soup at luncheon - oh well, never mind), sitting at a long mahogany refectory table with twenty other members, I gazed across the crisp white linen and silver-laid table and soon to be quaffed bottles of Claret, and as is my incurable habit, I noted the suits the gentlemen were wearing: almost without exception they were navy blue.

Upon hearing that I was in the clothing business, the shabbily navy suited gentleman sitting to my left proudly exclaimed that his suit was twenty years old and purchased in a sale at a department store, and very happy he was with it; quite so. The fellow to my right in a rather too sharp, stiff navy pinstripe suit worn with an exaggerated white cut-away collar shirt and overtly bold red tie with a fat knot was keen to let me know that he had this little tailor who knocked up his suits for half the price of a London made suit; is that so?

The claret was very welcoming.

Somewhat despondently, I retired to the drawing room for coffee and sat in a well-worn leather armchair close to a roaring fire. It would be a pleasant afternoon.

I was soon joined by a very agreeable chap and as it happens, dressed in navy blue. After the usual comments about the climate (the diarist Samuel Johnson famously said that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather), I ventured to compliment him on his suit to which he replied, that it was made in Savile Row, adding that it had been made for his father. Now that’s the difference! Good clothes - however old or worn - look better than cheap clothes when new.

I would always advise men to buy less but buy the best. And what better way to start than with a navy blue suit? I am of course assuming that you already own a grey flannel suit, a prerequisite for all gentlemen.

Finding the right cloth, particularly when it comes to navy blue, can be tricky as it has the propensity to shine. Therefore I would recommend a material with a dull finish, perhaps with a hopsack weave rather than a flat cloth like gabardine.

Fine herringbone or bird’s eye cloths make up very well, and as it is always the trousers that become worn first, I suggest that two pairs of trousers is a good investment, specifically when lightweight cloths are being considered.

In my opinion, navy stripe suit in either pinstripe or chalk stripe look best when they are made from West of England flannel. There are many imitations of this fine material, but if it was good enough for Winston Churchill...

It is all very well having good material but if it is made up badly you have wasted your money so choose your tailor with care. A good cutter will work miracles.

The style of your suit is entirely personal, but if you are looking for a timeless classic then a three button single breasted suit with a centre vent and slant pockets is a sensible option. Choose trousers that are made with side adjusters, not belt loops, and taper gently onto your shoes.

How you put together your suit is crucial to the overall effect. For instance, the shirt should be a properly made one in the Jermyn Street fashion, which means a classically proportioned collar which is not fused (i.e. the lining is not glued to the collar), with narrow blue stripes or blue end on end, and for the evening a plain white or ivory cotton poplin shirt. Of course the shirts should always be double cuff and your cufflinks should match your dress watch.

Ties should be discreet, in simple open designs and made from woven silk. I believe nothing looks smarter than polka dots and as the late Sir Hardy Amies said, “No man can be deemed to be well dressed wearing cheap shoes.”

Leaving the club with dusk approaching - yes, it was a good lunch - I sauntered down Jermyn Street on my way to the Hackett shop thinking that it was probably time I did a little work, when I was accosted by two Italian gentlemen who had been admiring the hand-made shoes in the window of Henry Maxwell. “Bellissimo Mr Hackett”, they cried in unison, their arms gesticulating wildly in the direction of my tailored navy blue suit. Gentlemanly it may not be, but it’s awfully nice for one’s clothes to be noticed once in a while.

For more information regarding Hackett Bespoke Tailoring, please contact our Personal Tailoring Manager, Graham Simpkins:

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