The Oddest Jacket

    When said aloud, the problem sounds trifling: I don’t have an odd jacket that performs well in the heat.  But who hasn’t wilted through some jacket-wearing event, sorely tempted to ditch the offending top layer at the first hint of relaxed formality?  I was at a garden party last summer where jacketless-ness spread like a fast-moving flu.  I resisted, and was ostracized by the damp-shirted other men who looked upon me as if, instead of tobacco linen on my back, I wore a scarlet A upon my breast.  Why the hostility?  Misery, or in this case steps taken to lessen it, likes company.

    At the core of the matter is an existential problem for the garment in question: why try and beat the heat with a jacket, when its absence is more effective?  And yet the garment endures, relevance be damned, in a suspended state of compromise.  Whatever other people’s motivation in wearing one, mine is split sixty/forty utility/propriety.  Utility gets the edge because I simply do not know what else to do with a phone, handkerchief and keys.  Introduce sunglasses, or, if leisure is the goal, a cigar and lighter, and one approaches tote territory.  The social expectation to wear a jacket, when not required to wear a suit, is less concrete.  Some men persist out of habit, others are obstinate traditionalists; some begrudgingly comply, still others embrace the vanishing requirements without giving the matter another look.  I suppose I fall somewhere between the first and second fellow, but propriety still accounts for only forty percent of my motivation.  I will say this though: even at the more extreme ends of the temperature spectrum, when a jacket seems correct, it always is.

    So what makes a good candidate?  A whispy navy blazer?  Crisp linen in cream?  A rumpled madras, as unserious as it is unstructured?  I’m inclined to say a single jacket won’t, in the long term, suffice.  But I wonder if, in a garment category predicated upon compromise, an amalgamation of the above examples is not possible.  The most promising cloth for the job that I have encountered draws the desirable characteristics of several fibers into a blend, creating something greater than its parts.  Wool gives body and resilience; linen, coolness and texture; silk, luster and durability.  All the big cloth makers and merchants offer cloth in varying mixtures, and I have often seen ready-to-wear jackets in similar compositions.

    But another possibility lurks—lightweight worsted merino, which, through the miracle of modern weaving technology, achieves resistance to wrinkles, breathability and durability despite its weight.  I can almost hear the collective arching of eyebrows as I suggest modern worsteds on these pages as I have always preferred more traditional and heavier cloths.  But so goes innovation (when done well), and I would hardly be alone amongst other lovers of heavy cloth in admiring the handle of these lightweight wonders.  In a variegated navy, perhaps with a modest shadow pattern and bone-colored buttons, a summer odd jacket might not seem so odd after all.

The Singularity

    Handmade tailored clothes—what might correctly be called bespoke had that term not been hijacked and diluted by scores of mediocre, machine-made startups—are not immune to trends.  Presumably, some creative soul, bored with harmonizing linings, one day conceived of lining his suits with exuberant silk, the trickle down effect of which is plainly evident in the increasingly garish innards of much of today’s ready-to-wear market.  The same could be said of contrasting buttonhole thread, or clever under-collar felt.  And what about the regional whims of Italian artisans?  Should we at all be surprised to see details like pick-stitching and spalla camicia (shirt shoulder), however clumsily executed, right down to the level of fast-fashion?  There is an irony buried deeply within all that scarlet lining and turquoise thread—a hilarious, cosmic joke between the whims of the bespoke client and the received desires of the ordinary consumer.

    Conversely, I have discovered, the greatest pleasure in conceiving of and having made a garment is in eliminating the gimmicks and reducing the special effects.  The hallmarks that I have grown to appreciate in the truly handmade are equal opportunity; one might have knowledge of tailoring or none whatsoever—either way the appeal is one of balance and shape in motion rather than flash.  These are clothes that are not just jacket- or trouser-shaped, but purposeful garments the shapes of which are dictated equally by beauty and necessity.  But the truest, lightest mark of the handmade garment is found in deriving the former from the latter.  

    This is especially the case with a bold pattern.  My loudest garment to date is a large glen plaid jacket in rusty brown, cream and slate-blue tweed.  The scale is almost double that of any other pattern I own.  While I am always fascinated by the transformation of flat cloth into three-dimensional form, I was especially impressed with how Chris Despos fashioned this jacket.  One might think of a bold pattern as something like elevation for the master chef; the ordinary cook might not give the matter much thought, but in the pursuit of excellence, every variable must be expertly considered and accounted for.   

    But Despos’ work is not mere pattern-matching.  Today’s best computerized machines can approximate some matching with simple stripes and checks, but would likely spark and catch fire if programmed to execute the miracle that has been achieved with this cloth.  The patch pockets are virtually invisible; the boldest part of the check is centered to the millimeter on the lapels; the shoulders join at an ideal pitch; darts through the front body of the jacket barely warp the check, like a singularity invisibly bends the fabric of space to the naked eye.  My jacket fits, but it does so without disrupting even for a moment the spirit of the pattern—the effect of which is a bold cloth made more wearable by the minimizing of the points at which the pattern fractures.

    Nevertheless, wearing a larger pattern presents some challenges.  Bold shirts are out, and, as of this writing, I can only envision a solid or textured tie.  This is perhaps why bolder jackets and suits have largely been ignored by the ready-to-wear market; they limit the ability of the retailer to sell complimentary accessories.  As of late, though, I have noticed louder offerings.  I wonder: like the bright linings and flash details of the past, are bold patterns slowly being drawn into the wider market?

Color Code: Cracked

 If the decision is between  Beeswax  and  Tudor Cream,  something has already gone dramatically wrong.

If the decision is between Beeswax and Tudor Cream, something has already gone dramatically wrong.

    Nothing turns me off discussions of clothes quite like color theory.  I do an about face the instant someone begins discussing shades in terms of families.  I’m far more interested in the imaginative names assigned colors than the colors themselves (which accounts for our second floor damask rose room).  The very worst, though, are those color enthusiasts who describe people in terms of season; telling someone he is a winter or a spring is an obvious invitation to tap the speaker for his bristling knowledge of the subject.  I’d rather be washed out in the wrong taupe than endure that sort of a lecture.  

    What chafes me is the quackery that seems to uphold most of these theories.  The main problem is the subject—my complexion—is a moving target.  I once had freckles, but now don’t.  Last year, following two weeks in or around salt water, what’s left of my hair became sort of reddish; it’s now flecked with silver and gray.  When it is very cold and dry, I suspend my shaving routine, and my beard grows in an alarmingly dark brown.  In the tropics I take sun easily, but lose it on the flight home.  In any event, I don’t wear my trousers tied around my head, so what does it matter if they aren’t the ideal shade of goldenrod for my eyebrows?  Also, even if teal is really my color according to one of these experts, I’m never going to have a shirt made in it.  

    And this is really the heart of the matter: regardless of what colors might or might not suit the individual, most shirts will remain white or blue and most suits grey, navy or perhaps brown.  Accessories might stray into more adventurous territory, but I often think the success or failure of a daring tie or sweater depends more upon the harmony of the composition than it does the shade of something as comparatively small as the iris.  

    That’s not to suggest color is not important.  It is, but the time thinking about color is better spent determining which ones don’t flatter as opposed to sifting through the much larger group of ones that either work reasonably well, or, because of tradition or professional expectation, are going to be worn anyway.  When confronted with vast choice, navigation is far more efficient when armed with trial-and-error proven guidelines than some shaky system that recommends flattering colors dependent upon a shifting complexion.  In short, it is easier to know what to avoid than to wonder if something is correct.  

    In an effort to sound authoritative but as unscientific as possible, I have listed as bullet points below my personal guidelines.

-Do not trust anyone who thinks brown and black don’t go well together.

-Dark green is incredibly handsome and remarkably underused.   

-Off-white is often better than stark white.*  Plus the names are better: cream, ivory, bone…

-Primary colors are forbidden, as are two shades in either direction of them.  

-Be careful with purple, orange and lighter greens.

-Gold rather than silver.

-When in doubt: Navy.

*The exception being more formal evening occasions when only a white shirt will do.

Obscura

    How refreshing it is to learn you know almost nothing!  I most recently had this sensation at a small restaurant where the wine list was devoid of my preferred Burgundies and bubblies.  What blinked back at me was, if not entirely foreign, unfamiliar enough that my finger reflexively ran itself beneath the names as I sounded them out.  Mos-chi-fil-ero, my lips forming the syllables while the patient waiter hovered with his pencil.  Ne-rell-o Mas-ca-les-e. Sure—a bottle of that one, please.  It was terrific: a Sicilian varietal high in acid, low in tannin, but with a layered wildness that might, in more familiar wines, have been considered a flaw.  This is precisely the problem with becoming too familiar with anything; at some stage the enjoyment is supplanted by a persistent desire to find fault.  The unfamiliar, however, can act as a tonic, rejiggering expectations.

    The bonus to lesser-known wines are the terrific names.  We have all likely heard of Gewürztraminer, which makes highly aromatic white wines in Alsace and Germany, but what about Grüner Veltliner, (Austrian) Chasselas (Swiss), Grk (Croatian), Xinomavro (Greek), or, my personal favorite, Zweigelt.  This Austrian grape is the product of hybridizing two other fairly obscure varietals (St. Laurant and Blaufränkisch) in 1922.  Zweigelt makes wines of extraordinary finesse, at once balanced and firm while still managing a wily character.  Smoked brisket on Royal Derby china, if you will.  Incidentally, the name, pronounced TSVY-gelt, is taken from the brainy fellow who created it, which wasn’t his choice.  Dr. Zweigelt wanted to name his new grape rotburger.  

    Strangely, a similarly jarring sensation emerges when confronted with an obscure clothing material.  Cloth enthusiasts know this well.  I have often been lulled into thinking I understand cloth, at least from a consumer’s perspective, simply because I recognize the great divide between smooth worsteds and fuzzy woolens and have a working knowledge of twill versus plain weave.  And then I behold some rare specimen—perhaps a sixteen ounce high-twist hopsack or ethereal jacketing that, impossibly, still has nap—which unhinges entirely whatever junior-league expertise I thought I had.  Tweed can be especially enlightening: I like fourteen ounce cheviot for general wear, but interest in heavier tweeds has recently exposed me to keeper’s tweed almost twice that weight.  And what about the luxury sector; cashmere is old-hat compared to vicuña, yak and cervelt (cloth woven from the downy undercoats of New Zealand Red Deer).

    Neither is the seemingly pedestrian button immune from delivering a humbling blow.  With the exception of a set of antiqued silver ones sewn on a blazer, my buttons are horn.  I always assumed these handsome articles were the last word in fastening elegance.  But all it takes is a curious perusal through a tailor’s back room, as I recently did with Chris Despos.  There I spied buttons of corozo nut, coconut shell, and mother-of-pearl—both natural and smoked—any of which would be ideal for a summer-weight navy jacket.  The most shocking of all, however, were leather buttons.  Despos’ were far from the chunky leather-wrapped domes intended to complement rustic outerwear of heavy tweed though.  Instead, these are slim four-hole buttons that, upon closer inspection, are clad in neatly pressed layers of leather.  The effect is simultaneously refined and untamed.

    But are rare cloths and difficult-to-pronounce varietals important beyond their novelty?  Does the  jacket with understated leather buttons and a glass of Zweigelt share more than a certain insider appeal?  I suggested earlier that the unusual and rare can have the tonic effect of resetting the senses, but I wonder if a deeper agency is at work.  For every appealing new wine, for every interesting fiber or button, a dozen others fall short of expectations, and even those that do appeal can have limited shelf-life.  In this sense, indulging the obscure is sometimes refreshing, but far more often, merely confirmation of a preference.

Fine Tuning

 Whipcord in brownish shades and beefy cavalry twill in an ideal gray.

Whipcord in brownish shades and beefy cavalry twill in an ideal gray.

    The warmest pair of trousers I’ve ever worn were corduroys—eighteen ounce wide-whale ones in an offensive yellow that was slyly advertised as goldenrod.  They had other problems: they bagged, were too warm indoors, disagreed with pleats and cuffs and were heavy around the waist.  Worst of all, they dressed neither up nor down, occupying a largely useless space between jeans and woolen flannels.  Despite a raised eyebrow, a second hand shop accepted them.  I sometimes wonder if they are making someone else unhappy.

    But does the trouser wardrobe really need anything other than a few pairs of flannels for cooler weather?  The other way of asking this is: what’s wrong with flannels?  The marled, unfocussed aesthetic of flannels is certainly very handsome, lending itself particularly well to shades of gray, a family that just happens to be the most useful for trousers.  Depending on the weight, flannels can be reasonably to unreasonably warm; between the extremes are thirteen ounce flannels that will insulate the legs from car to building without overheating the wearer once inside.  So if they look nice and perform well, what’s the issue?  

    For me it’s maintenance and durability.  I find myself pressing my flannel trousers more often than others, and I’m not the first to notice thinning and fuzzing at the knees of favorite pairs.  This isn’t an issue for flannel suits as occasions that call for a suit usually don’t involve much crouching or kneeling.  But odd trousers are for those more active occasions, so sometime last winter I made a note to seek out more durable, less fussy winter-weight cloth.  The results are in.

    I’m unsurprised that my search led me to a type of twill.  I’ve always been impressed with the performance of gaberdine trousers; they resist and shed wrinkles, drape well and show no wear after several years.  Gaberdine is a fine twill, though—unsuitable for the cold.  Enter whipcord and cavalry twill, densely woven, robust wool cloths with more pronounced diagonal ribbing, but all of the usual benefits of the twill family.  The whipcord I chose is fourteen ounces and the cavalry twill a stout eighteen ounces.  The idea was to provide some range in performance.  

    But range extends beyond trying to match trouser warmth to outside temperature.  Because of the pronounced diagonal rib, and mottled, tonal effect of the weaves, whipcord and cavalry twill  tread a careful line between cloth for dress and casual or active pursuits.  Perhaps this quality is what endeared this class of cloth to traditional military and sporting applications, where durability and propriety have historically carried equal importance.  Admittedly, some of these fine distinctions might seem arcane by today’s standards, especially given the availability of modern fabrics and lessoned expectations of formality.   I wonder though: what’s more current than carefully sifting through vast choice before landing on the right material for the application?

For Keeps

    I am not sure I could put a hard percentage to it, but there is little doubt: much of my interest in men’s clothing originates in the names.  Some are obvious portmanteaus; thornproof achieves what it claims because, as tweeds go, it is exceptionally densely woven.  There’s the vaguely French: covert cloth, where the “t” is silent, began life as riding and hunting cloth, but, with its marled two-tone effect, proved too handsome not to be fashioned into polished topcoats.  What about cavalry twill, which suggest mounted charges and smoke-filled officer’s quarters, or whipcord, which sounds as durable as it proves to be.  In among these I have long admired a cloth with a more complex suggestion: keeper’s tweed.  

    This is the original working tweed—the heavy and muted cloth reserved for a country estate’s gamekeeper and his staff.  There is no regulated weight range, although I would argue anything under seventeen ounces a yard, while durable and heavier than much of the ready-to-wear market, is just tweed.  Twenty ounces is a good starting point; twenty-four, better.  But weight alone does not make a keeper’s tweed.  The patterns tend to be far less elaborate as well, and the colors, while remarkably rich up close, resolve almost universally to either lovat, dark green or olive.  The lack of exuberance of a classic keeper’s tweed is a matter of camouflage.  But is blending into the fields and fens just as important as standing out from the shooting party itself?  Put another way, lilac overchecks and royal blue plaids might look dashing on the backs of those wielding the guns, but the serious business of managing land has only ever called for subtly and performance.  

    Of course few today seriously require either.  But the spirit of this historical cloth remains in books like W. Bill’s Keeper’s Collection.  I do not have a driven hunt in my future (as either a beater or a shooter).  I do, however, have dogs to walk and outdoor sports events to attend.  I also have a beloved pea coat that, after fifteen years of hard wear, has packed it in.  I suspect that with a few tweaks in design—perhaps a throat latch, slightly longer skirt and an action back—a sports jacket made of keeper’s tweed would be a sensible replacement.  This is a critical point; many fear heavy tweed for its heft and warmth.  But we do not similarly condemn our ordinary outerwear, and what is keeper’s tweed other than cloth for wearing outdoors?

Volume Control

 Something frightening lurks.

Something frightening lurks.

    I adore loud patterns; I can’t afford them though.  Let me explain.  Regardless of fiber, quality cloth is never inexpensive, and regardless of the source (ready-to-wear through bespoke), quality clothing made from quality cloth is an expensive proposition.  To squeeze the most value from the resulting garment the owner would hope for durability, an acceptable range of performance, and, most importantly, an appearance not so distinctive as to become familiar to those who regularly witness its use.  Put another way, a loud garment is a poor investment if worn sparingly, and embarrassing if worn too regularly.

    The obviously sensible approach, then, is to build a wardrobe comprised of tastefully restrained quality garments.  This is a well understood principle in classic menswear writing.  I can also personally attest to the satisfaction felt in slowly accumulating clothes expertly made of high-quality ingredients.  Importantly, satisfaction in a restrained wardrobe is derived from two sources.  There is the austere beauty of neatly hung garments in harmonizing shades, a result that appears functional and efficient.  But there is also the sense of security that originates from being prepared; nothing rattles the owner of this wardrobe, from unexpected business functions to splashy social occasions.  This is a mature wardrobe, but one built upon propriety rather than desire, and perhaps even fear rather than confidence.

 A conservative (but vibrant!) blue tropical worsted.  

A conservative (but vibrant!) blue tropical worsted.  

    I’m starting to wonder if the rubric has changed.  I have a friend who works in a conservative field, but not one that requires the daily wearing of a suit.  In fact, he is explicitly encouraged to wear nothing more exciting than chinos or slacks and tie-less button-front shirts.  He is a repressed soul while on the clock; once released, however, he blossoms in lilac checks and grass-green socks, tan brogues and electric plaids.  His tastes are far more adventurous than my own, but his comfort with color and pattern is obvious.  Most notably, though, he enjoys his clothes immensely, and because they are worn exclusively for social occasions, he is unconcerned with colleagues who might snipe at seeing some bold jacket for the third time.

    What he is, it should be clear, is a weekend dandy.  But I suspect not one of his own making.  He is, instead, a product of his environment—an American phenomenon that has concentrated propriety down to a rigidly anonymous and yet still casual uniform.  Of course some professions still expect conservative suits and accessories, but they are few, and fewer still are individual holdouts from previous generations who wouldn’t dream of relaxing their habit.  But generally the level of professional formality is greatly reduced in the US, while expectations of dress for social occasions have all but disappeared.  I suspect these are precisely the conditions that have given rise to a new breed of clothing enthusiast.  This new man might be somewhat repressed for much of the week, but the weekend unveils a wardrobe conceived in contradistinction to propriety: his is a collection grounded in confidence, exuberance and self-gratification.

 Check please.

Check please.

    Have garment makers responded?  Paging through some of the season’s better look-books reveals a steady diet of bold color and loud pattern, elements of costume and precious styling.  Some men may wear these things to work, but I suspect most wouldn’t dare in the combinations suggested.  And most retailers would rather oblige than force fashion; these bolder expressions, then, are surely reflections of where tastes are headed, one oversized plaid at a time.  Further up the chain, mills do seem to produce more exuberant cloths today than in recent memory.   Mills are an ideal advance indicator; quality cloth is not just expensive to buy but to produce, so if they are willing to bet on bold, then surely change is in the air.  As I glance at my own modest collection of semi-solids, the real question becomes: am I?

Gray Area

 Three lengths of cloth: two versatile and one downright irresponsible.  

Three lengths of cloth: two versatile and one downright irresponsible.  

    As far as I know, no one has seriously tried to document the various sub-species of clothing enthusiast.  And yet familiar categories exist—the sneaker obsessive, for instance, or the hard-boiled bespoke client.  Some groups are organized by things—those that collect and wear vintage clothing—whereas others more loosely gather  around a concept, like minimalism or, a crowd favorite, that which is deemed classic.  Lurking somewhere between all the limited-run tweed and fabled design is a small faction whose raison d’être is versatility.  I number myself in this curious group.  

    Oh to be a sneaker-head!  How satisfying it must be to chase the tangible!  Instead I snatch at an idea whose manifestations might seem harmless—a do-all blazer, the perfect flannel trouser—but require endless revision and numerous reissues.  How utterly self defeating; the repeated indulgence of versatility is admission that the premise is no more than a fable.  But ideas with compelling narratives can be dangerous things.   This is how the J. Peterman Catalogues found a following.  Who wouldn’t be drawn by the promise of a perfect travel jacket?

    My latest attempt at versatility was born in response to the success of an excellent brown herringbone tweed jacket.  Success is the slipperiest slope; if a thing is good, another, slightly different version must be better, no?  The brown tweed seems, indeed, versatile, and its limitations are purely theoretical.  Are the patch pockets too casual?  Or, is brown not a tad too brown for a night on the town?  And so a vision, foggy at first, appears.  Soon it focuses, and then hardens: a gray tweed odd jacket would be awfully versatile…

    For those less versed in the machinations that lead to this sort of an idea, permit me a brief explication of time, place, color, material and configuration.  An odd jacket (commonly sport coat) is a traditionally casual garment in that it is not a suit.  Of course any jacket these days is considered an attempt at dress.  Tweed is a casual, sports cloth that literally repels the elements but also figuratively repels associations with the worsted cloths of business or city clothing.  Gray, however, is what might be termed a business or city color.  Gray tweed, then, is somewhat of a chimera; a casual cloth in a downtown sort of palette.  The way in which a coat is styled also sends messages.  Patch pockets are rather casual, so on this coat, in an attempt to fine-tune that great unknown quantity, versatility, I’ve asked for standard flap pockets.  

    Versatility is less frightening an organizing principle when its faithful concede that everything, no matter how well conceived, has limitations.  Even the unicorns—the garments that perennially seem perfect—have one fatal flaw: a need to rest.  Rotation is the great slayer of versatility.  Perhaps this is why those of us who chase the notion can sleep at night; applied to a whole, say a wardrobe, versatility is a noble goal.

What the Blazes?

 These Royal Welsh Fusiliers blazer buttons are lovely, but not suitable for civilian wear.  Beware military and club associations to which you aren't entitled.  

These Royal Welsh Fusiliers blazer buttons are lovely, but not suitable for civilian wear.  Beware military and club associations to which you aren't entitled.  

    An advertisement for very expensive ready-to-wear suits caught my attention the other day, and not for the clothing, which seemed to be struggling to contain the muscular model within, but for the great difficulty the copywriter had in describing the various ensembles.  He or she did well enough with colors, although I cringed when I read gray flannel described as “battleship wool.”  Parsing the type of garment was where efforts failed entirely.  Suits were variously referred to as “jacket with matching pants,” “coat with trousers” and a “blazer.”  That last one was a real howler: it was written beneath a photo of a double breasted chalk stripe suit.

    Blazer is probably the most widely abused men’s clothing term.  I wonder if this has something to do with the somewhat more exciting experience of saying it aloud versus the mundane, monosyllabic coat or suit.  Maybe blazer just makes for better copy, accuracy be damned.  The other reason might be its relative isolation within the masculine wardrobe.  From a marketing perspective, tweed is for picking apples in autumn, suits are for boardrooms, and seersucker is for summer weddings and garden parties.  Because the blazer doesn't neatly fit one of these niches it explodes into the in-between spaces, surfacing when convenient as a term for anything vaguely jacket-shaped.  

    The quick and dirty version of blazer history has the single breasted version originating as a brightly colored rowing club jacket, and the double breasted version emerging as a civilian interpretation of the Royal Navy’s reefer jacket.  This is a plausible, if tiresome, convergence of stories.  Like most origin tales, though, retelling them gives the impression that one day the blazer did not exist, and the next it did.  That’s silly; like a cummerbund or a pair of jeans, the contemporary conception of a blazer is a product of slow emergence and eventual familiarity.  Put another way, the blazer is as much an idea as it is a garment.  

 This hopsack makes other hopsacks question their relevance.  

This hopsack makes other hopsacks question their relevance.  

    But we rely upon certain visual cues in order to identify that idea.  The blazer has metal buttons, for instance, to distinguish it from the jacket of a suit.  Of course my last two blazers had horn and mother-of-pearl buttons; both were handsome and still somehow registered as blazers.  Ticket pockets, patch pockets and swelled edges (slightly raised seams) are all sporty details found on various blazers, but none are compulsory.  The cloth itself should probably have some un-suit-like character.  The pronounced twill of serge, the mottling of flannel and the basket-weave effect of hopsack make all those cloths good candidates.  But suits can be made from all three too.  Slippery, no?

    I’m wrestling with these details at the moment.  I’ve had for some months a particularly hopsack-y hopsack in a deep navy sitting on a shelf with the vague idea of making it into a traditional blazer.  This cloth has so much character that I wondered for a while if that alone would be sufficient in distinguishing it from an orphaned suit jacket.  But when else would I use metal buttons?  So I’ve decided on those too.  Whether they should be brass, silver, bronze, gunmetal or copper is still very much undecided.  I also like the idea of swelled edges, because, again, when else would I have them?  The trick, if it qualifies as one, is to use enough detail to establish the garment as a blazer, without distracting from what should be a garment as elegant as it is useful.  An extra detail might easily become one too many.

Volume Button

 Fairly plain matte horn buttons rein in linen--a cloth know for having plenty of character of its own.  

Fairly plain matte horn buttons rein in linen--a cloth know for having plenty of character of its own.  

    Choosing buttons for suits and odd coats is no arbitrary task.  The general principle is buttons should harmonize with the cloth they adorn—dark brown and black with dark cloth, pale grey and tan with lighter cloth.  I even have inky blue horn buttons on a navy double breasted suit.  But what if contrast is desired?  Or what if a particularly mottled horn button just looks good on a length of cloth?  Button choice can adjust how conservative or fun a finished garment will be in infinite increments, like a tuning knob on a transistor radio.  I knew this in a vague sort of way, but the concept came sharply into focus on two recent warm weather suits.

    One of these suits has patch hip pockets as well as a patch breast pocket—a first for me.  The cloth is a very handsome light brown, something the merchant has romantically named “Tabac” for its resemblance to Connecticut shade tobacco leaf.  The result is a casual suit, if such a thing any longer registers with people who aren’t clothing enthusiasts, and while this doesn’t bother me, I did want some element to help temper the effect.  Enter buttons. Lighter ones—even something lustrous like mother of pearl—would have been in keeping with the casual cloth and styling of the suit, but restraint won out, and matte horn buttons in a harmonizing shade were chosen.  The suit now clings—by the buttons alone—to some slightly more formal echelon.

 The cream and bone tones in these horn buttons bring out the lighter elements of the cloth, including the faint overcheck.  

The cream and bone tones in these horn buttons bring out the lighter elements of the cloth, including the faint overcheck.  

    Worsted, open-weave wool, commonly known by the trade name Fresco, is a strange beast.  In one sense it is a conservative cloth in familiar blues and grays with limited pattern choice and an almost rough, utilitarian hand.  But a closer look reveals a rich mottling created by the high-twist yarn, an incredible porosity, and a springy resilience better suited to sportswear.  It was the latter rather than the former I wished to emphasize on the other of these two suits.  Once again, buttons suggested themselves as the solution.  Chris Despos and I entertained several options of horn buttons, splashing each across my length of “Derby Gray” Fresco.  It was a waste of time: the clear winner was a highly variegated tan, cream and brown horn usually reserved for odd jackets.  Once installed, the effect was immediate, dispelling any stuffiness of the cloth, edging the suit pleasantly toward the casual side of things.  

    Dialing in the character of a garment with buttons can be an enjoyable aspect of clothing, bespoke or not.  But it can also easily be overthought.  Worse, one can easily become lost in the arcane: where, on the formality scale, do smoked-mother-of-pearl buttons exist in relation to two-hole polished bison horn?  The very best scenario involves a bolt of cloth and bin of buttons.  This might encourage an urge to experiment, but once the novelty has worn off, one learns that buttons can pleasantly contrast, but in most instances should all but disappear.

Look Book

 This handsome binder contains all manner of notes, from the sensible (versatile topcoats) to the humiliating (shorts).

This handsome binder contains all manner of notes, from the sensible (versatile topcoats) to the humiliating (shorts).

    For at least a week, my daughter will not tolerate socks following a summer of sandals and canvas slip-ons, nor will she suffer short-sleeved pajamas when visiting the tropics in the midst of winter.  I can commiserate: there is something particularly unpleasant about putting one’s layered traveling clothes on following a holiday in the sun, and I always feel half naked the first day I step outside in shirtsleeves alone. 

    And yet one of the great pleasures in cultivating a wardrobe is dressing correctly for the weather, and by extension, seasonality.  Nothing quite gets me studying extended forecasts like the prospect of that first brisk day when tweed can be worn.  The same goes for summer, when a breezy 70 is good enough for most linen enthusiasts.  But this principle works in reverse too.  I can barely stand the sight of even my favorite knits come March.  In fact I protest those straggling, unseasonably cold days by reducing my outer-wear rotation to a single uninsulated Barbour from the Ides on, weather be damned.  And come September, suddenly self-conscious of exposed ankles, I have more than once run home to put on socks.

    For the clothing enthusiast, timing is crucial.   A cynic might suggest vanity as the reason, but I suspect a fear of appearing uninformed is also at play.  Of course only someone with similar interests would ever possibly notice that a tweed is worn too early or a linen too late.  Nevertheless, one of the more satisfying moments for an enthusiast is when a purpose-built garment is poised for a seasonal event and its deployment confirms the genius behind its creation.  The challenge is that great ideas for future garments are always forged during the season, and if not commissioned right away for the following year, must wait, a twinkle in the eye, until the opposite season.  In plainer terms: it’s easy to forget what is needed when the weather isn’t cooperating.

    I recommend keeping a journal.  So clear can an idea be during a warm alfresco dinner, or a chilly autumn walk, that I can crisply picture the finished article right down to the buttons.  But if I haven’t made any notes, the proposal seems grown over with vegetation and indistinct by the time seasonal orders should be placed.  Consulting notes has another benefit: they serve as a litmus.  Has your practical tweed cape idea lost some of its brilliance since last winter?  Do unlined ivory suede oxfords seem less important these days?  

    In the wrong hands, this sort of record might prove embarrassing, particularly if, like me, you are given to detail.  But detail is what is needed, so you must either gird yourself for the humiliation or find a good hiding place.  Those near to me already know of (but perhaps don’t understand) my curious interests, so I scribble without fear of exposure.  At the moment I have several good ideas aging in my notes, and this being an open and forgiving forum, I have bravely transcribed them below.  I would be flattered to hear from my readers.

 1)  Double breasted (light) tweed odd jacket in navy with grey windowpane (or reverse).  Possibly with patch pockets and in four-button-two configuration.  Possibly weird buttons.  

 2)  Mahogany (or other reddish brown) pebble-grain derbies in two- or three- eyelet configuration.  Plain toe—possibly squarish.  Double soles?  Natural edge?

 3)  Overcoat of heavy grey herringbone, the wider/bolder the better.  Single or double breasted?  Generous cuffs, and large, convertible collar.

 The collection of swatches is inevitable.  Candidates for the herringbone overcoat and double-breasted tweed projects can be seen to the left and right.  

The collection of swatches is inevitable.  Candidates for the herringbone overcoat and double-breasted tweed projects can be seen to the left and right.  

Italian Jobber

    Even died-in-the-wool advocates of traditional British cloths must concede one category: Italian mills dominate lightweight jacketing.  I find this reassuring; what assumptions might be made of heavyweight tweed that has emerged from a sun-baked southern Italian mill?  Gossamer blends of wool, cashmere, silk and linen from that same mill, however, have been conceived and tested in the correct conditions.

    One book in particular demonstrates the resulting expertise: Ariston’s Giacche.*  The translation—“Jackets”— might be read as humorous: so comprehensive is this bunch, that one wonder’s if these really are all the summer jackets.  Weights range from 210 grams (7 1/4 ounces) to 295 grams (10 1/4 ounces) but the compositions are what matter: high-super wools, cashmere and silk, wool, linen and silk, cotton and linen, wool and mohair—the combinations are dizzying, as are the finishes, from smooth to slubbed.

    One of the complaints often heard regarding light- and mid-weight cloth is the relative lack of bold pattern.  This is the last problem here; bold windowpanes, exploded plaids, table-cloth ginghams all mix with subtle herringbones, a few solids and some excellent hopsacks.  There are even two micro-checks that have been “spray-dyed,” whatever that is (the effect is mottled and, in dark brown, would make a smashing beach-side suit).  

    These things shouldn’t matter, but even the cover to the book (a powdery blue, faux shagreen) conveys the Mediterranean spirit within.  The gallery below does its best to capture the feeling, but as usual, photographs alone fall short.  This bunch wants to be held up to the light, felt between finger and thumb and generally fawned over. 

*NB  This particular bunch has since been updated; many of the cloths featured in the gallery might have sold out or been reissued in different weights or compositions.  But, you know, whatever, the point remains.  

When the Heat is On

 London Lounge's  Tabac  linen... or is that an actual Connecticut shade cigar?

London Lounge's Tabac linen... or is that an actual Connecticut shade cigar?

    I’m weak on warm weather suits.  A love of sturdy cloth has left me with few choices on suit-wearing occasions June through September.  I can usually scrape by on linen or cotton trousers, a mid weight blazer and several cool drinks.  Compromise of this sort can be pleasing, but I have been unhappy and creased enough times to do something in the pursuit of suited coolness this year.  Having a somewhat irregular need of suits in general, I based my selections upon the most extreme but still realistic situations I might encounter.  A fairly good strategy, I think.  

    One of the weddings we are attending this year is taking place on a beach in Mexico.  In July.  In the afternoon.  I’m told some of the men will be wearing guayaberas, as is the custom; while handsome, I don’t think my first foray into this traditional shirt should be at a wedding surrounded by its habitual wearers.  Goodness knows what faux pas lurk.  Instead I will play the visiting northerner in his sole well-cut, albeit rumpled, linen suit.  The idea is that while anybody might wilt in the expected conditions, doing so in linen is perfectly acceptable.  

    Chris Despos and I poured over dozens of linen samples before deciding the ten ounce offerings from the London Lounge had the nicest balance of body, porosity and charming irregularity.  The shade is that of Connecticut shade wrapper cigars—a light, golden brown.  This choice was informed by versatility; with three patch pockets and minimal lining the jacket will wear particularly well as a casual separate.  But I admit a certain timidity in the selection as well.  I love cream linen, but a suit of it on the wrong person (me, for instance) can easily seem like a costume.  Maybe in another decade when what’s left of my hair silvers.  

    At the other extreme, I needed a suit that would handle an oppressive day in the city.  This project poses a greater challenge than the beach scenario.  Whereas linen might rely upon an expectation of some rumpling, a creased and bagged worsted suit is always sad.  Instead, the ideal stays crisp, works from day into evening, and never appears obviously casual nor too conservative.  Inspired from one of my own cloth galleries, I settled upon nine ounce Fresco—a high-twist worsted woven to permit good air-flow while remaining virtually wrinkle free.  The winner is a mottled mid-grey with a very subtle windowpane. 

 The Fresco, basted, and still several steps removed from having its daring buttons affixed.  Note the patch pockets.  

The Fresco, basted, and still several steps removed from having its daring buttons affixed.  Note the patch pockets.  

    I think this cloth ticks most of the boxes, perhaps leaning a tad conservative.  I decided to alleviate any fear of appearing like a banker by employing two design elements: the hip pockets will be patch (the breast remains welt) and the buttons are perhaps two shades lighter than what might be expected on a gray worsted.  The buttons are purely a lark, but the patch pockets, at least in theory, should help keep the suit cool by eliminating some of the guts normally required to suspend a pocket.

    Patch pockets, minimal linings—these, I suppose, are the tricks that make summer suits fun.  But they all point to something I like to think of as the summer suit conundrum: In a proper swelter, anything more than a modal scarf around the waist is uncomfortably hot.  This might seem dispiriting at first—as if relief is just a mirage.  But I’ve learned to find comfort in the idea that the field is even—from guayaberas to linen to smart worsteds—and that coolness is in the eye of the bespeaker.

Diction Matters

 "Coriander?  Don't be silly.  The nose on this Syrah is straight norisoprenoid-carotenoid...  amateur."

"Coriander?  Don't be silly.  The nose on this Syrah is straight norisoprenoid-carotenoid...  amateur."

    The other evening while waiting for the butcher to tenderize some lamb, I noticed the shop’s curious short-hand for describing its stock of wine.  Little placards had been affixed beneath each selection with the following choices: Fruity, Spicy, Earthy, Silky, Flowery, Racy.  Red, white or pink, for each bottle one or several of these terms had been circled.  Other customers happily went about filling their baskets, but I stood contemplatively, suddenly aware of how abstract the task of choosing is.  Of course none of the wines were actually spicy or silken, and what could racy possibly mean—that the wine is partial to skimpy undergarments?

    Of course language only provides two options: the literal and the figurative, and the literal would make for a rather scientific description of esters and volatile compounds.  So we rely upon the figurative to convey the complex experience of wine, which would be fine if we could all agree what earth tastes like.  Wine professionals largely can, and they routinely use familiar figurative terms to accurately conduct their evaluations.  The hobbyist is left to establish his or her own lexicon, and I have never been in a room with two who can agree entirely upon a wine’s profile.  In describing sensory experience, the gray area is vast and even the broadest terms can become unmoored.

    Describing the often ineffable qualities of cloth during the bespoke process presents a similar problem.  In fact, many of the same figurative terms used for wine are tossed about when confronted by cloth bunches: dry, body, crisp, refined.  To some these terms are ironclad and when crossed about what is specifically meant, exchanges can become prickly.  I’ve even perceived discrepancies in meaning of commonly used words amongst professionals.  But this only happens when forced to describe their products for promotional material and such; behind the scenes is the science of cloth-finishing, replete with its own semi-scientific vocabulary, unencumbered by the novice’s notions of drape and durability.  

 "Sweet cloth.  No,  I mean dry cloth."  

"Sweet cloth.  No,  I mean dry cloth."  

    The problem in selecting cloth with desirable properties is particularly dependent upon experience: those with it struggle to convey accurate or consistent descriptions to those without, and those without rely too heavily upon the received wisdom of those with.  A vicious cycle if I’ve even seen one—and no doubt responsible for many garments that do not see the light of day.  Some of us novices are fortunate; under the vast experience  of my tailor, Chris Despos, choosing a dog seems very unlikely.

    At the moment, my daughter’s favorite bedtime book is an edited collection of drawings featuring a baby encountering edible and inedible things.  The idea is that the audience should decide whether the thing in question is yummy (corn, for instance) or yucky (earthworms).  Perhaps after the two-hundredth reading the real message occurred to me: acquiring experience is a similarly binary process.  A wine, a cloth, or whatever else is either yummy, or yucky.  Crucially, both is impossible.  The results of your choices—whether strapping Cabernets or mellow Dolcettos, whether gossamer super cloths or dense hopsacks—are what is called preference.  And there it was, hiding in plain site all this time.  

 

The Desert Island Bunch

    Though the thought gives me mild palpitations, had I to forsake all others in favor of a single cloth bunch, I’m not sure I could do better than the H. Lesser 311 book.  This isn’t one of those far-ranging bunches, like Golden Bale, containing everything from gossamer tropicals through to beefy flannels.  Rather these cloths all fall in around 11 or 12 ounces—a weight the cover deems “lightweight worsteds”—which is on the upper edge of middle-weight cloth by today’s standards.  They don’t feel it though; some combination of weaving and finishing gives these a lighter-than-listed appeal.  

    Fans of British worsteds will almost immediately notice that this bunch lacks the very dry hand characteristic of the genre.  In its place is an elusive softness, a certain broken-in character that, while lacking in crispness, has still retained its guts.  Perhaps this is what much stouter worsteds look like after several years of loving wear?  

    The patterns are classic though: bold pinstripes, subtler rope stripes, faint windowpanes, sharkskins, herringbones and a dizzying array of solids.  The plain and over-checked birdseyes are perhaps the highlight, the weave allowing some extra softness, and the glen checks are sprinkled throughout in perhaps a dozen shades and configurations.  The back of the book contains what I think of as the hobbyist’s corner—a dozen bold and unusual cloths reserved for those whose wardrobes have all the basics deeply covered.  

    The sum?  A comprehensive bunch that is neither too heavy nor too light; neither too crisp nor too soft; neither too conservative nor too wild.  Is this the elusive all-season cloth most enthusiasts agree doesn’t exist?  Has the grail been hiding in plain sight?  Or is this just the right bunch with which to be marooned on a desert island?  Only a dozen suits can decide.

A Pattern Emerges

 A herringbone at its subtlest. 

A herringbone at its subtlest. 

    In addition to having exciting names, variegated cloths, in my experience, make desirable garments.  The distinguishing feature to birdseyes, nailheads, sharkskins and herringbones is that the patterns are a function of weave more than anything else.  This differs from something like a pinstripe or windowpane, in which yarns of a different color contrast with the dominant ground color thereby creating pattern.  Of course a weave-generated pattern can also employ two or more shades, but the effect still tends to be subtle because the scale is small and the density of the contrast high enough that the cloth blends from even a few feet away.

 Careful, sharkskins are always sharp.

Careful, sharkskins are always sharp.

    

    

     This really is what is meant by semi-solid, a confounding expression if I’ve ever heard one.  The term I prefer, variegated, comes with connotations of irregularity, and I think that is correct.  Just as a brick facade might give the impression of a dusty red, random variance in the individual bricks make looking at it interesting.  The eye seems to like recognizing tonal arrangements, particularly when, rather than a flat presentation, some dimension is involved.  Cloth, like bricks, has dimension, and so reflects light in a dynamic way, enticing the eye to steal second and third glances as the effect changes.  Suits in these cloths (particularly at the lighter end of the spectrum) are versatile, tending to look very different from day into evening, seemingly absorbing cues from the surroundings.  In fact, a single-breasted  blue birdseye might be one of the great staple suits.  

    Sadly, the versatility isn't equally distributed.  Herringbones are perhaps alone in so easily crossing between formal and casual applications.  Depending on scale, finish and color, the weave can be found in heavy overcoats, conservative suits, tweed odd jackets—even formal wear.  Birdseyes and Nailheads really only seem to work as worsted suiting, but once made up glide easily from conservative settings to more casual ones depending on shirt, tie and accessories.  They are excellent travel suits for this reason.  Conversely, I can’t imagine sharkskin in anything other than a conservative setting; I’ve seen casual, high-contrast versions, but the effect seems to quarrel with the sober essence of the weave.

 A birdseye view.

A birdseye view.

  Often confused with nailhead, this pindot is a true chameleon, changing from mid-grey in sun to almost charcoal by night.  

 Often confused with nailhead, this pindot is a true chameleon, changing from mid-grey in sun to almost charcoal by night.  

    These matters are hard to describe though, and even accurate images won’t honestly convey character.  This is likely why all those apps intended to help coordinate suit, tie and shirt are always a failure; a screen just can’t replicate the liveliness and dimension of real cloth.  Old Apparel Arts issues understood this, often coming with swatch clippings pasted directly to the illustrations.  This is a charming, low-tech solution, but in my experience there is no substitute for spending an hour with a comprehensive cloth book. Just try and keep all those colorful names straight.

Blue Wrapsody

 The party DB at the basted stage.

The party DB at the basted stage.

    The first few months of any new year is when wedding invitations (or at least save-the-dates) start appearing, and so far a number of hefty ones have been plonked down in our mailbox.  We are honored, of course, but there are those of a certain disposition whose minds almost immediately turn to dress and whether or not the old wardrobe can accommodate.  When one considers the variables involved—location, time of year, time of day, venue—the wedding can quickly become a challenging event for the clothes-conscious guest.

    But the real moment of pause occurs when scanning the remainder of the invitation one encounters an opaque phrase like Formal.  In the classic sense, formal means nothing short of white tie and tails.  Common sense (or unfortunate experience) suggests this isn’t what’s meant, so one may consider the tuxedo.  This is usually also incorrect; in the US the F word refers to a suit.  When Black tie is Suggested, Encouraged, Optional or indeed anything short of Required, most men wear suits.  In any case, phone calls are inevitably made between guests and eventually the bride herself, or her mother, will intervene.  This is too bad; there was a time when people just knew.

    I like a black tie wedding, but the truth is they are going the way of morning dress weddings in the US.  There is practicality to consider—most ceremonies take place in the early afternoon when tuxedoes aren’t correct—but the real reasons have more to do with an increasingly casual culture, and, to a lesser extent, fear of appearing elitist.

    For those with a greater sense of occasion, however, all is not lost.  One may choose to wear a suit styled with more formal details.  At the top of this category is probably a dark three piece with peaked lapels.  If the waistcoat is double breasted, the effect would be particularly grand.  This suit is perhaps one notch below the tuxedo, and for some, that may just be the problem as its relative formality reduces its utility.  For me, a double breasted in a plain or subtle self-weave seems a smarter choice, ideally in navy for its ability to appear rich, subdued and celebratory in equal parts.  And double breasted, for that configuration’s ability to appear formal and somewhat undone at the same time, something that must stem from the classical tension between the wrapped asymmetry and symmetrical buttons.  

    Now this is not a novel idea, but what separates a standard navy suit from the consummate party suit is the cloth. The right shade of navy is crucial.  Dark, true navies always look smart but can seem too severe in the afternoon.  A navy that has been permitted to retain more blue is better, as long as one doesn’t cross the invisible line that divides navies from blues.  How to know?  One must spend hours comparing similar swatches in every conceivable way until one is certain of the differences.  No, really.

    Chris Despos (my tailor) and I spent three full hours with what the casual observer would have noted were dozens of near identical swatches of navy suiting.  We ran between, dim, artificial and natural lighting.  We set several up about the room to determine how each rendered at varying distances.  I held many against my skin while gazing silently into a mirror like some vain pantomime.  It was a trying experience, but just when I thought I was losing grasp of the objective, my awareness of the subtleties suddenly peaked, and before me no longer lay countless scraps of navy cloth but a handful of real contenders whose differences where as dramatic as a book of tartan plaids.

    The winning cloth is a rich navy in a fine twill from H. Lesser’s Lumbs Golden Bale.  The cloth is a solid navy, although the subtle diagonal rib lends a certain surface interest, and the depth of color is extraordinary.  Some may take issue with the weight (10/11 ounces) considering this suit will often be worn in the summer, but I feel that is a small tariff considering the benefits of drape and longevity.  I fully expect to be wearing this suit in fifteen years.  Of course what conventional wedding dress will look like then is anyone’s guess.

 The party DB relaxing before an evening out.

The party DB relaxing before an evening out.

In the Pink

    Pink wine, like a pink shirt, is for an unserious occasion.  Both are personal favorites, which makes the coming weeks exciting.  Spring is the best time for pink.  As it happens, a recent birthday brought a length of pink chambray shirting as a gift, and, as if these things are cosmically prearranged, several bottles of rosé, rosato and rosado.

    Whether French, Italian or Spanish, and despite the wide range of styles, I find most pink wines function similarly: they stand in as softer, fleshier substitutes for white wines that might have too much acidic backbone for whatever food they accompany.  This is because pink wine is made from red grapes, the tint of color being determined by how long the pressed juice is left in contact with the grape skins.  In this sense one might think of pink wine as red wine light—an approachable chilled version with traces of the red varietal’s character.  That’s not to say they are typically complex wines; the appeal of pink wine is that it asks very little of the person drinking it.

    They should be served chilled, but need not be kept cold for the duration.  They are good picnic choices for this reason.  In fact, pink wine has always struck me as daytime wine.  As long as you don’t encounter anything more serious than quiche, or perhaps a ham sandwich, pink wine navigates lunchtime menus confidently.  And while they don’t exactly flounder in the evening, perhaps some of their pretty charm fades with the light.  

    Pink shirts pose more of a challenge.  I find they are strictly daytime shirts, and casual ones at that.  This insistence dictates everything from the type of cloth (ones with texture and noticeable weaves are preferred) to styling details (namely, barrel cuffs and casual collars).  One of my more cherished shirts is a nubby royal oxford with semi-spread collar and barrel cuffs.  I have to limit myself wearing it so it does not prematurely wear out—which is difficult as it works casually with everything: light gray suits, navy blazers, cream linen trousers, beneath a charcoal cashmere sweater.  

    And here is where I am running into a style dilemma.  The cloth sent me as a gift is a lovely chambray from Simonot Goddard (via A Suitable Wardrobe).  The chambray I've encountered has a casual, even workwear aspect to it, but this version is utterly refined.  So refined, in fact, that I am seriously tempted to have it made into a pair of French cuffed shirts.  But I usually reserve this more formal style of shirt for evening, so when and how these would be worn I’m not sure.  Sometimes a cloth rides roughshod over whatever notions have typically defined it. 

 

I’m open to suggestions.  Below, for inspiration, is a small gallery of pink wine, shirts and cloth.

Splitsville

 Mated for life: this conservative mid-gray sharkskin suit would never work as separates.  Well, the trousers might stray.  

Mated for life: this conservative mid-gray sharkskin suit would never work as separates.  Well, the trousers might stray.  

    If what to do with black loafers is at the top of the list of contentious menswear issues, a few rungs below is surely the hot debate surrounding when, if ever, the splitting of a suit is appropriate.  And as spring suggests itself as more than a vague concept, the debate is hotting up.

    The premise—that the issue is binary—is the problem.  I like instead to imagine a casual/formal spectrum, for which all matters of cloth, color, texture, details and historical precedent are accounted.  The further to the left the suit in question falls, the more successful the divorce; the further to the right, the better most do paired for the duration.  

    For instance, a donegal tweed suit featuring a coat with patch pockets and mottled horn buttons will stray from its trousers without a second thought.  The trousers, too, are easily worn odd.  By contrast, a dark blue worsted suit with jetted pockets and navy buttons flounders if split, the jacket (because of its details) not quite a blazer, the trousers (because of the sobriety of the cloth) rather limited.  

    Life would be simple if all suits so easily revealed their character.  But because several factors dictate formality most aren’t as obviously categorized as the above two examples.  A dark gray worsted suit with flap pockets and black buttons remains bound to its trousers—a forsaken, non-garment without them, like a single sock.  But I’m afraid the trousers aren’t quite as true, readily making themselves available to any number of outfits, from sweaters to navy blazers.  That’s just the inherent personality of gray trousers.  One-sided love is always this cruel. 

    And then there are suits where one suspects either party could stray, although it remains unclear how enthusiastically.  The Glorious Twelfth book I highlighted several days ago is packed with cloths with wandering, albeit, unsure, tendencies.  They are worsted cloths (more formal) made to look like tweeds (casual).  Some have more surface interest (casual); some are almost solid (formal); others are boldly patterned (casual).  With these types of cloths split-ability really boils down to styling, and the customer must be clear in his intentions from the outset, or risk being burdened by a suit that is neither here nor there.   

    Some clothes enthusiasts commission navy suits with gadgets like swappable buttons in brass and horn with the hopes that this may mollify any marital disharmony between top and bottom when worn apart.  The idea may seem appealing, but I question whether  all the fiddling that must go on behind the scenes doesn’t deflate any prospect of real progress.  

    My laxest suit is a three-piece in a lovely glen plaid flannel, purpose-built for maximum adaptability.  My tailor, Chris Despos, and I discussed the configuration and the cloth extensively, before settling upon a fairly obvious formula.  I kept the details straightforward—no sport-inspired patch pockets or swelled edges—relying entirely upon the cloth’s fuzzy nap and bold pattern to permit the components their individual freedom.  The trousers work very well on their own beneath cashmere sweaters, or even as an alternative to plain flannels with a blazer.  The vest too looks good worn odd, especially around the holidays.  The jacket, with its usual suit configuration, is the most difficult separate, although it does compliment darker gray flannels.  But if scandal is the goal—if I want little old ladies to faint in the street and strict traditionalists to waggle their canes in my direction—I wear it with a good pair of dark denim jeans.

 Menage-a-trois: this glen-plaid three piece flannel is as likely to spend the night apart as together.  

Menage-a-trois: this glen-plaid three piece flannel is as likely to spend the night apart as together.  

Light of Heart

    Porter & Harding's "Glorious Twelfth" is a book of 11 ounce worsted cloth made to suggest tweed.  I say suggest because non-woolen cloth at that weight will only ever be an imitation of the real ambling-through-the-gorse stuff.  The patterns and colors, however, are largely those of the country.  For some purists this is an uncomfortable compromise; Glorious Twelfth is neither fish-nor-fowl--and would certainly be helpless if confronted by either.

    The other way to view this collection: as ordinary worsted suiting with an array of unusual patterns and colors.  The trick here is to discern and ignore those with obvious country-lineage (the checks-on-light-grounds, for instance) focusing instead on the muted twills with tonal overchecks.  These would work for those occasions where navy and charcoal are too stiff, but a suit still feels right (school and informal religious functions come to mind).  

    If hearts are set on sport coats, the handful of busy little gun clubs seem to be a best bet.  I would think styling important here; skip-buttoning sleeves and patch pockets might emphasize the sporty nature of the cloth, but throat latches and belted backs might betray its light-weight, worsted heart.