PTO Place: W. Bill

Excerpted from S2E3 of Put This On: “(New) Traditions”

Ray Hammett of W. Bill tells us about the world’s most legendary tweed merchant.

Put This On Season Two, Episode 3: (New) Traditions

Put This On, a web series about dressing like a grownup, visits London, where we examine how traditions are being reinvented in the birthplace of classic menswear.

We go to Savile Row, where we meet up with a historical guide to talk about the history of the world’s oldest tailoring street. We also chat with the tailor Richard Anderson about what’s special about The Row. Patrick Grant, the owner and designer of Norton & Sons, talks about how Savile Row can become a vital part of the international fashion world again.

Just off Savile Row, we go to the basement showroom of W. Bill, the world’s most legendary tweed merchant. Ray Hammet, who’s worked at W. Bill for decades, shows us around the stacks of wooly majesty.

In our PTO: Man segment, we talk with Ian Bruce, painter and member of the band The Correspondents, about re-imagining the SoHo dandy for the 21st century. He takes us through London’s red light district, and tells us why he doesn’t want to look like a painter at the end of a long day of painting.

We visit the tie factory owned and operated by Drake’s of London to learn how a high-quality tie is made, from fabric to finished product. Then we buy one to send to a supporter of the show.

Plus Dave Hill tells where sport sunglasses are and are not appropriate, in Rudiments.

This is the third episode in our six-episode second season. In this season, we visit the three greatest men’s style cities in the world, as chosen by our readers - New York, Milan and London.

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Watch it elsewhere:

Vimeo / Youtube / iTunes


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Buy Season One on DVD for $16

This episode was supported by our viewers and by The Put This On Gentlemen’s Association.


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Executive Producers: Jesse Thorn & Adam Lisagor

Director: Benjamin Ahr Harrison

Host / Writer / Producer: Jesse Thorn

Rudiments: Dave Hill

Producer: Kristian Brodie

Director of Photography: Charlie Cook

Sound: Kristian Brodie

Above are samples of Robert Noble’s Gamekeeper tweed. I found them after reading Eric Musgrave’s post about Kathryn Sargent, and seeing the handsome Robert Noble tweed jacket he had her make up for him. This is some really, really beautiful stuff.

Country Mouse & City Mouse

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?

Absolutely.

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.

Defining characteristics:

  • An urban color palette of gray and blue.
  • Solid-colored suits.
  • Business-striped suits.
  • Small-scale checks in conservative colors.
  • Worsted wool.
  • Black leather shoes and accessories.
  • Color in patterned shirts and (in some cases) ties.
  • Dressing down from suits with conservative blazers.

What are Country Clothes?

Country clothes are defined by their sporting heritage and their ties to the colors of the outdoors.

Defining characteristics:

  • A country color palette featuring the colors of nature, like tans, browns, and greens, with sometimes-bold complimentary accents, like burgundy and orange.
  • Frequent use of bold patterns, like checks and multi-colored tweeds.
  • Suits often replaced with sport coats and odd (non-matching) trousers.
  • Sporting details like hacking pockets, ticket pockets, patch pockets and leather buttons.
  • Fabrics with soft finishes and sporting heritage, like tweed, corduroy and flannel.
  • Brown leather accessories, including suede and heavier shoes and boots.

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.

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.

Just saw a note over on StyleForum that our friends Kieran & Shaun Molloy at Molloy & Sons have gotten some stock together for retail sale. This is a relief to me, as ever since I posted our video on the Molloys, I’ve been inundated with questions about when consumers will be able to buy yardage from them. The price is a modest 39 Euros per meter, and they have a selection of basic styles in a traditional heavy weight of 18 oz for the plains and 20.5 for the herringbones. You can see the selection on Flickr here, and get in touch with Shaun & Kieran directly here to place an order.

I had the first length I bought while I was visiting the Molloys made up into a suit last month, and you’ll be able to see it in our second season.

One of my favorite blogs, Heavy Tweed Jacket, has a habit of long hiatuses wherein he takes down his content completely. Luckily, he’s back, posting pictures of Secretary of State Dean Atcheson in three-piece tweed suits. Which is tremendous.

One of my favorite blogs, Heavy Tweed Jacket, has a habit of long hiatuses wherein he takes down his content completely. Luckily, he’s back, posting pictures of Secretary of State Dean Atcheson in three-piece tweed suits. Which is tremendous.

“The tweed hat is favored by men of intellect and science, who would not wish either their foreheads or their thinking to be restricted by rigid hats.” — Bernhard Roetzel, “Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion

Our friends Shawn & Kieran Molloy, of Molloy & Sons, are featured in this very short, very lovely piece by filmmakers Jamie Delaney and Keith Nally. This is what happens when you send a professional instead of a dumb blogger with a camera phone.

This is the picture I’m taking to my tailor when I get my Donegal tweed made up.

This is the picture I’m taking to my tailor when I get my Donegal tweed made up.