Put This On Goes to London
Tuesday, June 19th at PutThisOn.com
Put This On Goes to London
Tuesday, June 19th at PutThisOn.com
Are These The Costumed Heroes Of Savile Row?
I was going to let it pass without comment, but since I’ve received a thousand million bajillion emails and tweets on the subject, a brief word on the protest of Abercrombie & Fitch’s plans to install a children’s store on Savile Row, around the corner from their London flagship shop, which is just off the Row on Burlington Gardens.
First of all: the folks at The Chap, who organized the whole thing, are generally very amusing. They understand that they’re being silly, and I tip my cap to them for that. The Chap Olympiad sounds like a lot of fun, and I’m all for tweed, brogues and neckties, obviously. Even if I’m not so into the tobacco thing that they’re obsessed with - a little stinky and cancery for my taste.
Second of all: I am no fan of Abercrombie & Fitch. Well, I should amend that: I’m no fan of the contemporary Abercrombie & Fitch, which is one of the worst clothing brands in the world. At one time, it was pretty much my ideal clothing brand, selling adventure clothes to the greatest adventurers in the world, but then it wound down, went belly-up, got bought by The Limited and transformed into what it is today. Which is awful. The worst.
I have to admit, though, that my general feeling about the protest is that costumes are for costume parties. Or fancy dress parties, as they call them over in the UK. The pictures of the protest embarrass me as much as they amuse me. It’s tough enough to defend traditional style against accusations of cosplay when you’re not actually engaging in cosplay. And given that the tailors of Savile Row sell contemporary, wearable, real-life-appropriate clothing, perhaps contemporary, wearable, real-life-appropriate clothing might have been worn for the protest.
The real truth is that when we were on Savile Row a few months ago, doing interviews for the very next episode of Put This On, the businessmen of Savile Row were completely unbothered by A&F. Richard Anderson, the tailor-owner of one of the Row’s more successful storefronts told me that while he’s no fan of their clothes, he appreciates the foot traffic. Patrick Grant, the owner of Norton & Sons, told us the same thing. They’re protected by a pretty extensive system of laws that require tailor-manufacturing to use most of the street’s square footage, so while it’s annoying and gross, it’s not really a threat to them.
So, in summary: A&F awful. The Chap charming. Savile Row pretty safe. Costumes for fancy dress.
(photo via The AP)
One of the most enjoyable parts of my job as editor of Put This On is selecting fabric for the pocket squares we send to the members of our Gentlemen’s Association. Above are a few that are headed to our seamstress this week. Over the next six weeks, she’ll cut them and roll and sew the edges (by hand), and they’ll be transformed into our next round of squares, which go out June 1st.
The floral was printed by perhaps the most famous fabric print house in the world (who also printed the various designs in our last round of squares). I purchased it in London last year in a tiny shop recommended to me by a friend.
The striped one is new - to me at least. It’s tough to say when exactly it might have been made. It’s an exceptionally fine, lightweight silk that reminded me of summer. I was blown away by its hand, and bought all the vendor had.
And below is something I’m sending to make into samples - a gathered silk that puckers a bit like seersucker. According to the folks I bought it from, it’s at least a few decades old. Again, I bought all that was available, but it’s so beautiful, particularly in its texture, that I couldn’t bear to leave it behind.
Members of the Gentlemen’s Association get a pocket square in the mail, made exclusively by hand in Los Angeles from new and vintage fabrics, every two months. They’re made of the finest materials, chosen by me, and feature full, hand-rolled edges. Because there’s no middle man, you pay about half what you might in a fine men’s store, and if you sign up for a one-year subscription now, your first order will include a white linen square, appropriate with any outfit.
Country Mouse & City Mouse
Almost all of menswear’s tradition is based in England, and particularly the England of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The lifestyle of the upper and upper-middle classes at the time - professionals and gentry alike - was sharply defined by geography. If you had the money, you lived two lives: one in the city, one in the country. Each of these lives had a wardrobe, and each of these wardrobes was distinctive.
This separation still shapes our dress today. Let’s take a look at how.
You can see this distinction if you watch a period television show. Jeeves & Wooster is a favorite of mine, with two brilliantly hilarious performances from Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. As Bertie Wooster, Laurie flits between city and country, discarding his conservative urban attire (left), and donning country togs (right). Sometimes absurdly outrageous ones.
As Downton Abbey has crossed the threshold of World War One and moved toward modernity, the clothes have become more recognizable there, as well. Since almost all the action on the show takes place on a country estate, you’ll see almost exclusively country clothes. You’ll also recognize the role that outdoor sports have played in the development of menswear, and of the distinction between country and city.
But is this antiquated tradition meaningful to us in modern times? Do we owe anything to the gentlemen above, passing each other on the train platform, one headed into town, one out?
Let’s start simply, though, by defining better what “country” and “city” clothes are.
What Are City Clothes?
Broadly speaking, city clothes are made to match the aesthetics and demands of city life. That means they’re largely built for business.
What are Country Clothes?
Country clothes are defined by their sporting heritage and their ties to the colors of the outdoors.
What does this mean today?
Unless you’re a member of the House of Lords, it’s unlikely that you’ll be flitting between a Mayfair manor and a country house, with a special wardrobe for each and a valet like Jeeves to keep you dressed appropriately for your milieu. Many folks in the first world live between country and city these days, in suburban and exurban environments that are neither dominated by gray concrete nor appropriate for grouse hunting. The days of strict adherence to the line between country and city are over - but understanding the line is still important.
Remember that these lines aren’t just about place, they’re also about tone. City clothes are still the most appropriate for most business contexts. Show up to court in tweed and you’ll still look foolish in the 21st century. Country clothes are still the most relaxed - that’s why you can wear heavy country brogues with jeans but sleek black cap-toes would look out of place.
So consider the tone of the place where you live, and the activities that make up your daily life. If you’re a city lawyer, your wardrobe should be dominated by traditional city clothes. On weekends, you can dabble in country garb. If you live in the outskirts of Savannah, where you’re a graphic artist, you can wear blue jeans and tweed without looking out of place at the Piggly Wiggly. No matter what you choose to wear, let it be informed by a hundred years of history and tradition.
A nice guy at Richmond Park asked “do you mind if I take a picture of the photographers in the tweed caps?”
Our London team.
Wearing semi-matching hats completely accidentally. It was cold outside.
David Saxby & Old Hat
On my recent trip to the UK, I had the good fortune to spend a couple of days in London, and I decided to head out to what I’d heard was the best vintage store in town: Old Hat. It’s on the Fulham High Street, which is about a half-hour train ride from the center of town, but it certainly delivers on its promise.
It’s actually more of a complex than a shop, with three storefronts - men’s vintage, women’s vintage and a made-to-measure gallery. Old Hat is a classic vintage shop, with racks and racks of dusty tailored clothing, ranging from the perfectly good (ready-to-wear Daks) to the fantastic (Savile Row bespoke). The lower level looks like the basement where your elementary school held gym class when it was raining, with pipes running here and there and halogen torchieres providing the light. My kind of place, in other words.
It’s the kind of spot where there are piles of trousers for day formal on top of the counter, and fifteen or twenty feet of rack space dedicated to evening wear. The staff is lovely and pleasant, and while I went home empty-handed, it was a blast to visit the store.
Even more of a blast was connecting with the owner of the place, David Saxby. Saxby was behind at the counter at the made-to-measure shop that bears his name. It’s filled to the brim with classic country clothes in bulletproof tweeds. There are stacks of sock garters and piles of driving caps on every surface. Saxby himself is a charming and fascinating host.
He told me he got into vintage clothes after a stint as a camera dealer (before that, he’d been a professional photographer). When he wanted more country clothes than he could buy second-hand, he started contracting with English manufacturers to make them for his customers. One by one, the manufacturers shut their doors, until David found himself buying the plant and hiring the staff of the last. Now, his factory, an hour or so outside London, makes the kind of rare breed clothes you really can’t find anywhere else, short of bespoke.
When I was there, David was wearing a preposterously loud country ensemble, and he looked spectacular. His manner matched his look - sharp, funny and very slightly outrageous. We discussed suit silhouettes (he only makes one and three-button coats), Fred Astaire (he says if Fred Astaire wore a butonniere with a pocket square, then it’s right, because Fred Astaire is Fred Astaire), the best American factory-made suits (that’s Oxxford, if you’re keeping track) and more. I’d meant to get back on the train and hit another shop before heading back to my wife and baby, but between the conversation and digging in Old Hat, I ended up in Fulham for two hours.
If you’re in London, or making a trip, be sure to stop by and say “hi.” You’ll enjoy the experience.
Make Your Thing in London
So, I do this talk sometimes called “Make Your Thing,” about the process of creating independent media in the internet world. I share what I think are the essential ingredients for success (specifically my 12-Point System for Absolutely Positively 1000% Guaranteed Success), along with examples of creators, like Felicia Day and Killer Mike, who use those strategies.
I’m bringing the talk to London on November 16th. Besides me, the show will also feature an introduction from my very funny pal Josie Long (pictured above). Afterwards, there will be carousing. Tickets are cheap and it’s a very small place, so if you want to come, buy a ticket now.