Thursday, 30 September 2010

Suits for the (COUGH) larger man

The following also appears on the blog as a guest entry - many thanks for including it, guys! And welcome to any readers who've come to have a look around after seeing it on the ASTF pages. To find out more about LifeOver35 here's a link to the first entry on what this blog's about, other entries on Boris Johnson as a style icon and dress sense mistakes men make. I hope you'll find something to enjoy and maybe follow the blog and/or join in the debates through comments.

So, to the entry...

So I'm overweight and want to look reasonably good in a suit. Yes I know I should get fit rather than blame the clothes, but that's got to happen gradually - I hear about too many men my age (45) taking to exercise and changing their diets radically and keeling over suddenly. I've lost a stone in the last year and that's steady enough thanks.

Clothing can be a bit of a minefield and I've only really been happy with it since going the tailored route (and losing that first stone). I have what they call "squareback" which is where my shoulders jut out more or less at right angles, too. It's not an off the peg shape. Even with the help of bespoke tailors I have still managed a few terrible sartorial mistakes, though. I bought my first fitted suit one Summer. Linen. So far so good. Light, oatmeal linen.

Oh dear.

No matter what anyone tells you, if you have a spreading midriff then light trousers won't do you any favours. The jacket still looks great - it's a perfect, tailored fit that you can wear as a separate - but I should have stuck with the darker legwear (and bumwear, which is what we're all thinking).

Stripes can also be awkward. I have a pinstripe in a silk/wool mix. It looks good but I chose it because everybody thinks vertical stripes are a bit slimming. Let's leave aside that tests have proven that this simply doesn't work; one glance at a fat bloke in a pinstripe and everyone knows the trick you're trying to pull. It's still one of my nicest suits for presenting, but the plain grey one I bought a little later is better. Maybe because it's not trying so hard.

This is why I've actually concluded suits that work best on a big bloke are the ones in a solid colour, like the blue linen jobbie in the picture, which is half-lined to reflect the summer weather which you might remember. The patch pockets you probably can't see on the jacket give it an air of informality so it works as a sports jacket too when the weather's right - other options are to have flapped pockets but please, please slant them so they don't look like a contour line around your gut.

With a solid dark colour, careful cut (slim fit - this means it's fitted around you rather than expecting you to be slim, the bigger stuff looks like a tent) and slanted pockets I actually end up looking as good as I'm likely to, short of getting back into the gym. At that point I'll need a bit of suit remodelling and look even better. A good style advisor who's honest without being rude while you're choosing is of course invaluable throughout the process.

All of which leaves only one thing to address - the habit Certain Tailors have of leaving a sheet with your detailed measurements in the pocket, with legends like "seat: protruding" and the same for "stomach" - it reads less like a spec sheet, more like a review of your shortcomings. And yes, A Suit That Fits, I'm looking at you.. ;) !

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The man-bag - to carry or not?

I've been looking into bags recently. Not going up to someone carrying one and looking directly into it, you understand, just looking into the concept of a man-bag.

People have advised me against this. It's still not as acceptable for a bloke to be carrying a bag as it is for a woman unless it's a briefcase, I'm told. Sports bags are also acceptable but that's about it.

Only the rules are changing. They must be, because the amount of things a bloke beyond 35 has to carry around are growing. Picture this: it's summer, so it's probably too hot to be wearing a jacket with enough pockets. You're middle-aged like me so you probably need reading glasses, or even if you have varifocals or something as I do there's the glasses case, the smartphone, probably a laptop computer, book or magazine to read, pens, notebook. Maybe a bottle of water if you're organised.
Grays Savile Row City Bag

That's when you can start to find the thing gets a bit heavy so something with a strap rather than a formal briefcase (although there are plenty of those around which can be shoulder-borne) is better. I also prefer something that doesn't scream "HE'S CARRYING A LAPTOP, SOMEONE MUG HIM!" - so dedicated laptop bags, efficient though they may be, are out when I'm using public transport.

One reasonably attractive option is the forthcoming range from Grays, which is opening a shop on Abbey Road in October. There's a series of models, pictured is the distinctive Savile Row City Bag. The bad news is that this one costs £450; no doubt there's a market and it certainly has a good look, but it's not something I'd care to take on public transport a lot (although it does at least zip up - I once won a laptop bag from a well-known manufacturer which had magnetic fastenings. Guys, that's not a fastening at all, a thief can just lift it up!)

be.ez Le Rush En Ville
If you've succumbed to the iPad craze, and millions have, then French company be.ez has a possible answer with its Le Rush En Ville range, from which you'll have change from £40. Specifically designed around the latest magic box from Apple it has a padded compartment for the iPad plus compartments for wallets, smartphones and anything wallet or smartphone shaped. I prefer something with compartments which will keep my pens upright too, but there are plenty of spaces for organising other stuff.

The other slight drawback with this one is that it's designed to be compact, which is great, but it means if you have a bulky paperback or hardback book it's not going to be a comfortable fit. No doubt the theory is that you don't have to carry anything at all if you already have the precious iPad. And it does look significantly cheaper than the Grays, which is probably something to do with it being a tenth of the price.

The one I use "in anger" is a Victorinox Swiss Army backpack. It has a padded compartment for the laptop without being an obvious laptop bag, and of course a backpack has two straps so is more secure than anything else on the shoulder. It has a number of compartments and pockets for pens, CDs and a media player and a rubber hole for earphones. You can carry just about as much as your back allows you in one of these - I went to CostCo and had change from £30 (expect to pay around double that from, say, Amazon) so there are bargains around.

Happy hunting...

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Editing Ed Milliband's look

Picture from Flikr: Net_efekt
I'm trying to work out why Dave Cameron looks so much more authoritative than Ed Milliband. We have to attribute some of this to Milliband's inexperience of course; he probably wasn't expecting to win his current job until a matter of days ago and he's been leader only for three working days. I've been watching him making his first major speech as leader.

Cameron somehow manages to wear a suit better even once you've taken the inexperience into account. If I were a Milliband advisor here's what I'd suggest:

1. Change the hair somehow. The little bit of gelled hair sticking up is of course commonplace but if, like Milliband, you have a sloping chin it's just going to make everyone think of Beaker from the Muppet Show. What? That's just me? OK, fair enough.

2. The choice of tie could change quite usefully. Not that it's a bad thing to avoid the Party colours, since most politicians do so, but this one seemed to have a yellow stripy thing going on underneath it. If it's going to be stripy, fine, stripes are good - but on the surface please, don't distract me while I try to make it out. It might leave me thinking the speech is less interesting than the clothes.

3. The jacket. I know he was wearing a well-tailored and immaculately fitting, crease-free jacket. And I know Tony Blair did the taking-the-jacket-off-to-look-as-though-you-mean-business thing to death. But looking at Max Atkinson's blog on dressing to make an impression (the bit on jackets is some way down) removing it does seem to make a difference. Milliband looked to me like a young man trying to look more serious than he actually is by keeping the jacket on - another time he might want to consider removing it as he's done in the picture above, taken from Flikr.

That's what I'd have changed anyway - I'll leave the political bloggers to dissect the content!

Monday, 27 September 2010

In which I tell knits to get knotted

Look, can we stop this crappy calling a jumper a "knit" thing sometime soon? Autumn's definitely arrived (and guess who's got himself stocked up with only summer suits, oh well done that man) so I've been looking in shops and online for warmer stuff. And suddenly anything that's a jumper or cardigan is called a "knit".

I mean, come on, it's not even consistent. Wool gloves aren't knits, beanie hats are accessories rather than knits and so are scarves. Never midn the fact that they're knitted too.

I take it this is one of those bloke things - women's jumpers are also called knits but it'll have started in a marketing department aiming at men. Probably the same one that decided we'd never buy moisturiser unless they called it "face protector" (as the comedian Sean Locke said so memorably, moisturiser is in case your skin gets a bit dry, face protector is in case someone shoots at it because you're a MAN).

"Knits" has the same air of Gordon Ramsay doing one of his unintentionally hilarious monosyllabic cooking demonstrations ("Eggs...fork....heat...scramble...done" - which, with the addition of a few effing eff words, would be how you'd caricature the bloke if you tried).

So here's the deal. "Knitwear" I'll accept because it's got to cover more than just jumpers. But if anyone - anyone - styles their warmer clothing as "knits" I'm going to assume it's aimed at someone at least 20 years younger who doesn't want to be seen buying jumpers like their dad did (unless they're trying to be "ironic", of course) and I just won't buy it.


Friday, 24 September 2010

Boris Johnson, style icon

Boris Johnson. Picture from Flickr: Think London
OK, clearly this time you'll think I've gone mad. But I was watching the excellent "This Week" last night and they had what they described as "fashion bully" Trinny Woodall discussing politicians and how they dress.

They went through the inevitable isn't-Nick-Clegg-well-tailored-these-days routine (of course he is, he's deputy PM and has to represent us abroad) and how Barack Obama adds stature to a suit rather than the other way around. They also mentioned how a number of Labour activists in the 1980s tried to break the mould a bit when they took to wearing deliberately scruffy and out of place clothes on the podium, making sure they didn't look the classic politician part at all. This backfired on them because ordinary people expect someone to make a bit of effort when they're rolling up to the front door and asking for a vote.

Conversation then turned to two politicians: Ken Clarke and Boris Johnson. Michael Portillo said people actually liked Ken Clarke's bad shoes, and they loved Boris Johnson in spite of the appalling dress sense.

Actually in my view both of these men are pulling the same trick as the Labour men in the 1980s - but doing it rather better.

The thing about the Labour types was that they were deliberately shunning smart appearance. This wasn't "I'm not wearing a suit", it was "I'm wearing anything I damned well like". This is the right thing to do in all sorts of contexts but not when you're looking for support from complete strangers, businesspeople etc.

Boris and Ken play a much more subtle game. They wear the suits but then get something slightly wrong. Clarke famously wears his suede Hush Puppies, and Johnson was once caught out on "Have I Got News for You" by comedian Paul Merton, who said he'd had neat hair before the show and only after going into makeup did he look dishevelled. This isn't "I'm wearing what I like", it's "I'm playing the game and putting the suit on but I'm not immaculate and flawless, I'm ordinary and average just like you." The voter identifies with the politician and some sort of rapport is struck.

The really clever bit is that neither of these guys is ordinary or average, and my guess is that Johnson in particular knows exactly how to play on his image. That's a debate for somewhere else - but don't ever believe that someone with Boris Johnson's upbringing doesn't know exactly what to ask for from a tailor, nor how to look immaculate should he so choose.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Aftershave clearance

Just a quickie today.

First let me assure you I'm not in any way associated with or affiliated to the Cheapsmells website. I'm not taking any form of payment or goods for putting this note up.

So now you're confident of its independence I'm going to tell you Cheapsmells is having a clearance sale. The price cuts are pretty savage so if they have something you like you should do well.

Here are some thoughts on buying and using male scents:

1. Don't be swayed by the packaging. Only you and anyone sharing your bathroom cabinet is going to see it.

2. If you can get a sample before buying, do so. Don't just sniff it from the bottle - spray it on and walk around with it for a while. The times I've bought stuff that smelled great on a bit of paper in the shop and then became rather cloying after wearing it for a couple of hours...

3. A related point, and one I made on yesterday's blog too, is that you need to smell the stuff before buying - pay no attention to the hard sell on any website.

4. Use it sparingly - nothing makes you seem more of a poser than a waft of scent arriving five minutes before you enter a room.

5. Check with your other half - they've got to live with it too!

6. Matching shower gel can work and make you feel fresh - but don't forget you'll need even less scent on then.

7. If you have sensitive skin you might want to use a moisteuriser or balm after shaving. Many scents offer a matching balm; it's cheaper and just as effective to put an unscented balm onto razor-burned skin and put your cologne around the base of your neck.

8. Regardless of the discount, if you weren't planning to buy any aftershave and do so only after seeing something like this blog or a mail from someone with a sale on, buying something you otherwise wouldn't have bothered with isn't a bargain!

Happy sniffing.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Dress sense mistakes men make

Today I've been reading the excellent Holykaw list of ten fashion mistakes men make - it's well worth a look. I've been thinking of some of my own errors, and for what it's worth here they are:

1. Buying pale trousers. There is of course nothing wrong with a light pair of trousers or jeans but do be sensible about your shape; a tailored suit I bought a year and a bit ago was made of pale-ish linen, the jacket still looks good with jeans but the lighter linen colour just makes my lower half look fat. OK, it's no use blaming the trousers completely - but a darker pair covers a lot more sins.

2. Buying something that looked good on someone else. I was in a shop and the guy serving me was wearing a really good shirt. So I bought one the same. The fit was fine but on reflection, given that he was tall, slim and ginger, there was nothing to say that colouring looking good on him would look anything at all on me.

3. Dressing too young. This is a really tricky one because young people have adopted a lot of classic middle-aged styles, which they wear a bit ironically (or so they say). Try buying the same thing, like a cardigan, when you're past forty and you look like an older bloke trying to dress like a young man apeing an older bloke - I'm getting a headache just thinking about it.

4. It looked good in the catalogue: Bit of a variation on 2, maybe with a bit of 3 thrown in. I once bought a chocolate "funky" jacket from Charles Tyrwhitt. It looked great in the catalogue, on the model who was about four stone lighter, 15 years younger and A PROFESSIONAL MODEL WHO'S PAID TO MAKE CLOTHES LOOK GOOD, FOR GOODNESS' SAKE but when I put it on it was just like a sack of potatoes trying to sell used cars.

5. Asking my daughter what she thinks of a new look. If someone could tell me at what age they learn tact that would be just fine.

6. The four button waistcoat: So I thought, four buttons, that'll show less of the gut, and the guy selling it to me agreed. Unfortunately once it was on, the shape of it and the positioning of the top button meant there was this arrow pointing exactly at my stomach area, and it wasn't flattering.

7. Forgetting to buy slim fit: A few years ago I was buying a jacket, got the right size and avoided slim fit as I didn't regard myself as slim. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Slim fit in a jacket often means it's a bit fitted. The non slim fit versions look like tents by comparison and don't do you any favours (see point 1 about not blaming the garment completely, of course).

8. Getting an aftershave because you like it. Christmas 2008, my mother in law bought me a bottle of Dunhill London eau de toilette, and very nice I thought it was too. Oddly my wife couldn't detect it at all - something odd about my skin chemistry meant other people couldn't smell it while it was on me, whereas I could. Bit of a pointless exercise, then - the moral being always take someone with you for a second sniff and opinion.

9. Ordering loads of stuff from the web: Or "variation on no. 4" - people buy not only clothing on the Net before seeing how it looks on them but - and this I find incredible - perfumes, aftershaves, which they can't possibly have smelled, from websites as well. Re-ordering something you know you like on the Net makes sense, but trying for the first time? Expensive.  (Although I find dropping a note to Mankind will get you a few tryout samples if you ask nicely).

10. Dyeing our hair: Sir Paul McCartney, you'll have noticed, has gone prematurely orange. This is because dark hair dye goes orange after a couple of weeks, my hairdresser tells me, there's nothing you can do about it. Frankly if all Macca's millions can't get it to look convincing (and let's not forget your skin tone and texture will age as well, so if your hair doesn't it'll stick out) it can't be done.

OK, I've never actually done the last one but I've seen it often enough. So, what sorts of style mistakes has everyone else made..?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Designers: a material difference

So I was at a tailor today getting orders for a new suit straightened out - more on that when it's ready in a few weeks - and I mention that I was at the designer outlet in Ashford, Kent, yesterday. And I picked up an Aquascutum white shirt for £28.

The tailor was impressed, or would have been if it hadn't meant I wasn't going to buy a shirt on the spot. So - I couldn't resist it - I asked why exactly it mattered that this was an Aquascutum rather than, say, a Marks and Sparks?

The answer, it appears, is in the fabric. Of course a shirt's got to be well cut but you'll know that if it's comfortable when you put it on, if the seams appear to be pulling (if so it doesn't fit), and if, like an atrocity I once picked up cheap from a designer range in a supermarket, it was designed for someone whose wrists are level with their knees.

The rest is in the quality of the material. Aquascutum simply has access to better stuff (ie it throws money at it) than the High Street brands.

So when you pay your money to a designer or tailor, that's one of the key differentiators. Bespoke tailoring of course means you can dictate the exact cut, material, collar etc. and if it doesn't fit absolutely perfectly you're welcome to take it back in a bit of a huff.

But if you were wondering about the price you pay for a designer brand then that's one of your pointers. Of course there's a premium to pay for a prestigious label too, which is largely a matter of supply v demand and how much the designer can get away with is worth, to the buyer as much as anyone.

Personally I thought for £28 I had a bargain.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Shoes and faux pas

Flickr: Most Comfortable Shoes
I was watching one of those Mary Portas programmes a while ago - you know the ones, retail giant Mary Portas goes and visits a small shop, tells the owner off and they all live happily ever after. She was critiquing some of the outfits people had put together to retail, and one of the things she didn't like was formal shoes with jeans.

I do agree - but only up to a point. I couldn't help noticing when I was browsing through brogues on  that many of the tan brogues were being modeled with jeans. And they looked damned good and of course I'm going to go and get some.

I'll happily wear them with a suit - tie-less, open shirted blue suits actually look more relaxed and less formal with brown shoes - and of course with jeans. Try it, mix and match a bit - you can look pretty good without going all mid-life crisis. Says the bloke who's started a style blog at 45, I know. Black brogues or semi-brogues like the ones in the picture are less successful with the informal approach I find - well polished with a suit and tie combo and I feel like a million dollars (if I'd spent it on inexpensive clothes and got lots of change).

The only snag is that the whole ensemble looks better with a matching belt and this is where the brown brogue thing can come a bit unstuck. All the style mags and catalogues tell you to buy matching belts and shoes to co-ordinate the look, but when I searched the My-Wardrobe site for matching belts to go with the tan brogues, you've guessed it, I came away empty handed. I used Twitter to ask Austin Reed about matching and they suggested I stuck with black - I suppose that's intended to be helpful but it didn't feel it.

The obvious choice for jeans is of course the trainer. Two thoughts here. First, don't cut costs: I went to a discount store a while ago, got some nice looking trainers and had sore feet within a couple of weeks. I bought a pair of Nikes for twice the price and what do you know, they've lasted better, the feet feel better and I'm confident that per-wear they're already cheaper than the avowed discount store offering.

Second, you might want to look at the shiny "work trainer" offered by a number of shops. These look OK with jeans but are really intended as a substitute for office shoes. The snag is that the soles and particularly heels are slightly flatter than formal footwear so if you have a suit that normally fits properly the bottom of the leg will probably start dragging along the ground and get badly scuffed.

Which is fine if you're in jeans, it's accepted, I keep telling my wife (who never believe me). A sharp suit, on the other hand, will be completely ruined in a few days.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Charles Tyrwhitt opens a shop

To London's Regent Street, an eight minute walk away from Jermyn Street, the alleged shirt capital of the UK - and a swift visit to the new Charles Tyrwhitt shop. Inevitably there was an offer on.

I've never been a fan of the ongoing offer in retail. When I was a child there was a company called Queensway - I think they sold carpets, but whatever it was there was a constant "Big Q Sale" (so called because there was never a big queue outside the stores, I imagine). DFS is the same now for sofas.

And Charles Tyrwhitt, I'm afraid, is becoming one of those companies like T M Lewin which gives the same impression for shirts. At the moment - you can possibly just about make it out in the photo - Charles Tyrwhitt is selling shirts at four for £100. TM Lewin is doing roughly the same and I've no doubt all the other shirt makers are joining in. The problem is that it gives out the idea that the items were never worth full price. I can't remember the last time I paid the RRP for a shirt, and I certainly don't recall receiving a catalogue or going to a website without an offer on.

Guys, if you want to charge £25 for your shirts that's fine. If that's the fair price you've arrived at and it's going to be that for most of the time, then great - just make that the RRP and your customers will understand. But as a customer I'm getting really, really tired of these permanent "offers" so many of you are adopting - they stopped making any difference to my buying decisions ages ago when everybody else joined in.

End of rant. It's a welcoming shop, on two levels and with helpful staff. Shirts range from formal to casual and don't be too put off by phrases like "slim fit" - if you're not actually potbellied this can be quite a flattering cut even if you don't count yourself as "slim" - it's more of a tailoring term than an accurate description of the customer, although I find the ones over the road at Austin Reed are just that bit too snug (ie I look ridiculous in them).

The new Charles Tyrwhitt shop opened in Regent Street last week - all existing branches remain open and are unaffected.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Dress sense in later life

OK, it's like this. I'm starting this blog because one of the newspapers has annoyed me a bit. Last week the Times didn't publish its men's style page on Wednesday. The men's style bit was also cut from the Saturday magazine.

And we're starved of this stuff, us blokes of a certain age. You remember a couple of years ago there were those undies adverts featuring real women? You know, some had slightly fatter thighs than most models, some dared to have breasts - they were real people.

Now check the latest Esquire. Or GQ. Or any of the men's mags. I'm interested in how I look, I'm interested in whether a suit's going to make me look slimmer or even fatter, I want to know who's selling the best shirts at the best prices. I'm not a twentysomething waifish model - and I don't want to see examples of fashion that are going to make me look like a walking mid-life crisis. The models we see in the papers are never going to represent the same problem as they do in the women's market of course; men are under nowhere near the same pressure to conform or lose too much weight - but the facility for finding out how you're likely to look and what's out there in the market for you rather than for a much younger man is still pretty limited.

That, essentially, is what this blog's going to be about. I (and others if it grows) will look into elements of men's styling - nothing flash, nothing that kids us that we're going to look young again (at 45 I can quite see how ridiculous I'd look in some of the 'ironic' clothes doing the rounds); I'll also be looking into aftershaves/colognes/eau de toilette (and maybe explaining the difference), gadgets where appropriate and anything else that seems right.

This is going to be a blog about being middle aged in 2010 and beyond. I'm not claiming any massive expertise, I'm just taking an interest and sharing my learnings (and welcoming any disagreements!) as I go.