The very funny Steven Merchant, co-creator of The Office, meets up with comedy legend Ronnie Corbett of The Two Ronnies for a bit of a polish-up. Hopefully an inspiration not just for comedy fans who like to dress, but also for those of us who are of, well, distinguished stature. Physically.
Q and Answer: How To Get the Stink Out of a Barbour Jacket
Warren asks: I bought a Barbour jacket on ebay a while back, and unfortunately it’s got a musty smell. I’ve been hanging it in my garage for most of the spring, and put it outside on sunny days in an attempt to let the sun clear the smell out… but the musty smell remains. Any ideas on how I could get rid of it? I’d like to avoid having the scent transfer to my other clothes…
There’s a reason that an English farmer keeps his Barbour in the foyer by the back door and not in his coat closet. Barbour jackets are musty.
Partly this odor is due to the proofing itself - the wax sealed into the jacket that keeps it waterproof. Partly this is due to the fact that the jackets can’t be washed without ruining said proofing.
It’s not usually an overwhelming odor, and for a lot of folks it just reminds them of the great outdoors. For others, it’s a dealbreaker.
There is one way to dramatically reduce the smell, if you so chose. You can have the jacket cleaned and re-proofed. In the United States, the primary company that does this work is New England Reproofers. They’ll strip the jacket, clean it, then re-proof it. The cleaning costs $30, and the reproofing costs $45. They’ll also repair your coat for you if it needs it.
Just remember: even sparkling clean, Barbour jackets have a smell.
Last night I watched the BBC documentary “The Perfect Suit.” It’s a breezy history of the men’s lounge suit. I particularly enjoyed the segment with Eric Musgrave, author of “Sharp Suits,” which details the history of the lounge suit. The designers selected were very interesting as well - Antony Price, who helped define the suiting aesthetic of the 1980s, and Paul Smith, who speaks with passion about finding ways to make a uniform special on a mass-market scale. It’s also chock-full of charming archival footage. The special paints with very broad strokes, and there isn’t a lot of insight in it, but it does get everything pretty much right.
I only wish I could muster 1/10th of the host’s wide-eyed naif credulity. I get it: he is baffled and confounded by suits. You can find his brief article about the suit here.
The Chap is reporting that Doctor Who will be wearing… wait for it… Chinese tweed. Apparently the costumers have sourced star Matt Smith’s jackets from a Canadian company which in turn sources its tweed not from the iconic Harris Tweed, but from mills in East Asia. Not only that, but the fabric is an acrylic blend.
The new Doctor’s wardrobe (including bowtie & braces) was a key part of the conception of the new series of the iconic Doctor Who series. I spoke with the Doctor (Matt Smith) and the writer of the new show (Steven Moffat) last year for my radio show, and was sure to touch on it. Last year, weavers on Harris & Lewis were overwhelmed by demand from fans of the show. This year, will those fans be phoning Beijing?
It may feel absurd to declare a change in wardrobe sourcing to be a “betrayal,” as The Chap does, but there are few more significant and beloved shows in British television than Doctor Who, few more significant costumes than The Doctor’s, and few more significant fabrics than Harris Tweed. So, let it be said: BETRAYAL!
What Is Traditional American Style?
Our most recent video, Tradition, features a conversation with Jay Walter, a true-blue American style traditionalist. The American aesthetic is largely a creation of the mid-20th century, and after some years of being maligned, it’s being re-evaluated at the moment, as “Ivy League” style (a close variant) has its moment.
Above are two men in tailored clothing. In black and white, we see a customer at J. Press in the mid-20th century. In color, we see a contemporary photo of Patrick Grant, proprietor of Norton & Sons, a Savile Row tailor. Each of these guys is wearing an outfit that couldn’t be more emblematic of their nation’s signature styles.
Difference to note (pictured and unpictured):
- The American suit features what’s called a 3-roll-2 buttoning arrangement. That means that there are three buttons on the front,but only two are openly visible and only one is intended to be used. The third (top) button rolls under the lapel. This is a classic button arrangement for suits of any nation, but it’s particularly vital to the American look. The English suit is in a classic English configuration: a narrow double-breasted.
- The shoulders of the American jacket are soft and nearly unpadded. This is called a “natural shoulder,” and it’s comfortable and casual. Contrast this with the built-up, strongly-shaped shoulder on the Savile Row suit.
- The American jacket lacks darts (folds, sewn into the fabric for shape) on the front. Most continental jackets have a dart on each side, running from about nipple level to the waist. This gives the jacket shape over and above the shaping permitted by the side seams. The classic undarted American coat is called a “sack,” because, well, it’s sack-like, rather than following the countour of the front of the body.
- The classic American jacket has a single vent in the back, often a “hook vent.” The hook vent, a J. Press innovation, is cut wider at the top (giving it a hook-like shape) to prevent awkward splaying. An English coat is typically double-vented (sometimes called side-vented), which helps prevent splaying. Sometimes it’s unvented, in the style of the “golden age” of men’s style, the 1930s.
- Pants in the classic American suit are, as Jay Walter described in our piece, typically flat-front, rather than pleated. They often have plain fronts as well. Generally, this is a simpler, more relaxed style.
There are of course other difference in the aesthetics - Americans have a predilection for button-down collars, even sometimes wearing them with suits, for example. The knit tie is a particularly Ivy League aesthetic. Belts are favored over braces, and loafers, especially penny loafers, are beloved.
The end result is a distinctive, American aesthetic. The shape is youthful. Because it lacks darts, the jacket falls straight, rather than emphasizing the shoulders and chest and narrowing the waist. The goal here is to attain the slim, straight body of the 20 year old, rather than the strong-shouldered, broad-chested body of the Powerful Man favored on Savile Row.
Of course, this style is just as much associated with an insurance salesman in Muskogee as it is with a young Bobby Kennedy. On the hefty man these youngsters of the 1950s and 60s became, the look has a different effect. The shapelessness and weak shoulders of the look can make a heavy man look, for lack of a better word, dumpy. Still: it is classic, comfortable and proudly American.
What’s important to remember is that a suit’s silhouette isn’t an absolute value, following exactly the curves of the body. There are choices about what to emphasize, what to de-emphasize, what to build up and what to slim down. These are informed by individual aesthetics and cultural tradition. I hope this will help you make informed choices for your own wardrobe.
The English shirt makers Thin Red Line are offering a pretty remarkable deal today. Sign up for an account on their site, and all shirts are just £14.99 - or about $25. This is a 65% discount off their usual price of £45 ($75). In fact, there’s currently an additional 20% off for members that brings the price down to $20(!) per shirt. I ordered six shirts and paid, including shipping, $150.
These shirts are solid, traditional English shirts. The quality isn’t remarkable in most ways, more TM Lewin than Turnbull & Asser, but the half-dozen shirts I bought in the last crazy sale have been workhorses in my wardrobe. They do have some nice details, like gussets at the side seams and convertible double cuffs. Really this is an opportunity to score real basics - like solid blue and whites - for a great price.
My biggest complaints about the last round I bought (slightly baggy fit, stiff collars) have, they say, been addressed in a redesign that introduced a slim fit option and a softer interlining, so I’m very hopeful. From what I’ve read, the new “slim fit” is a moderately slim fit, not a dramatically slim fit, which is good for a medium-sized guy like me. More comparable, in other words, to Brooks Brothers’ slim fit than an Italian slim fit, or Brooks’ extra-slim.
So if you need to build a basic shirt wardrobe, you could do much, much worse than a few whites and blues in single and double-cuff variations and a few patterns from Thin Red Line.
(One technical note: I found that in Firefox, I had to hit refresh once on a few of the shirt pages before picking my options in order to successfully add stuff to my cart. And from what their customer support folks told me, some US debit cards have odd verification issues, so use a credit card if you want to avoid that.)
It’s On eBay
New & Lingwood Wallet
If you put in a little effort, you can get something wonderful for the price of something passable.
Controversy is brewing in the UK over outfits. Prime Minister David Cameron has issued a press release, announcing that he won’t be wearing morning dress to the impending wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Instead, he’ll wear business dress - a suit and tie. He will be the first Prime Minister to shirk the traditional dress code, and will perhaps be the only man so dressed. (Above, by the way, are Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles at their wedding.)
Many speculate that Cameron is dressing this way to avoid the stigma of his upper-class past. Cameron was a member of Bullingdon, an Oxford club notorious for its exclusivity and its destructive binges. He’s shunned formal dress since his past became an issue when he rose to national prominence, and this is in keeping with that pattern.
It’s tough for an American to judge a choice like this, since class plays so differently here, in a land where we at least pretend that it is a fluid status that comes with hard work and seized opportunities and so forth. Besides which, we have no monarchy, and essentially think of the British royals as amusing anachronisms. So I write from the perspective of a bemused outsider. That said, Cameron’s decision does strike me as both disingenuous and self-centered.
It is disingenuous in that it is an attempt to obscure his past. When Prince Charles dons Highland Dress, it is not because he is trying to pretend to be a Scottish warrior, or lead people to think that he anything other than an English Prince. Instead, it is an act of fellowship and a gesture of respect. Part of dressing, particularly for men, is to humble yourself, even if you are a Prince, by asserting that the custom of the whole is as important as your personal choices. This is why we wear business dress, as well - it is an assertion that we’re all in the same boat, all respect the importance of the situation, and we’ve chosen ceremonial clothing to reflect that fact.
Perhaps if Cameron were a representative of the proletariat he could genuinely claim that breaking this tradition was a revolutionary act. One could then quibble with whether he was leading a just revolution, of course, and the answer would depend on how one felt about the monarchy and so forth, but he would at least have some ground to stand on. Instead, it seems transparent that this is an act of obfuscation in the service of self-interest.
Indeed, it is that self-interest that is the most annoying here. The reason that we all dress the same way for a wedding is respect for the occasion. For those of us in the pews it is a joyous day. For those on the dais it is the most important day of their lives. This is true for Kings and Queens just as it is for street sweepers. We wear clothes that reflect that celebration, but we also wear clothes that indicate ceremonially that we understand how important that day is, clothes that reflect that we are the community that binds together the couple being wed.
If given the opportunity to chat with the PM, my message would be simple, and it wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that these people getting married are royalty.
I’d just tell him this: it’s not about you, man.
(Thanks, Ari, for emailing about this.)
It’s On eBay
Polo Ralph Lauren Oxfords (11UK)
This is the kind of simple, classic, high-quality shoe that’s worth spending $300 on. Buy a pair like this every year, and in a few years, you’ll have a shoe collection that rivals anyone’s.