Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Debenhams and online beauties

Retail store Debenhams has extended its offerings online with the Beauty Club iPhone app. I'm telling you this because it's great for blokes too - shaving stuff is available, skin care and the like, aftershaves, everything you'd get in that line in the store itself.

Just go to the iTunes store (you'll be familiar with this if you're an iPhone user), download and start using it. It's miles easier if you already have an online account or existing loyalty card; although you can (and I did) register straight from the phone app, if you have any difficulties then the website rather than the phone app is your best place for help.

So why bother? Two words: free delivery. Yes, you can find just about everything on the app on Amazon too - I was checking for the new Armani Code Summer edition eau de toilette for men, which I'm eager to try, and it was the same price but minus a fiver delivery makes a difference.

If I had two wish list items for the app then the first would be that it could stand by itself a little more rather than be quite so tied into the website. For a first "draft" of the app this is pretty good, though. The second is that there could be a less obviously feminine interface available as an option. I had to check with the public relations person (who was highly responsive, 10/10 for her efforts) whether there was actually anything in this for the LifeOver35 audience.

Arguably there needs to be a whole new vocabulary here. Not only is there stuff for blokes behind this feminine facade but it's all classified, in the shops as well as online, as "beauty products". Very few blokes are going to wander into those areas for items for themselves.

And on the strength of this, once we've got past that there's money to be saved.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Win a tailored suit

Just a quickie today. A Suit That Fits is running a competition so you can win a tailored suit from them.

The link I've put up is a sponsored one (please click generously, I get loyalty points) - but if you scour the site and find the pic of the guy holding the Easter Egg, and then tell them the URL on this entry form (which also signs you up to their newsletter), they'll tailor you a suit free of charge.

They won't be expensive suits - I've had a few made and never paid over £400, which for a tailored fit I find unbelievable.

There it is. Free tailoring. Nothing to do with me, I'm just telling you.

Good luck.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

David Mitchell is turning...

Only time for a quick link here. Comedian David Mitchell is in the Observer today on fine form, on men's cosmetics - I recommend a read:

Whilst on the subject of other reading matter (the great thing about writing for nothing for your own blog is that you don't have to worry about recommending the competition, it really makes no difference to me if you read their stuff too) I suggest everyone has a look at the Grooming Guru - an excellent blog, as is The Chap Blog.

OK, back to my Sunday - have a good one.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Money clipped

Only time for a quick entry today. I've recently mentioned my meeting with Adam King of King and Allen - well, he gave me a small gift. It's a branded thing, and inexpensive so not a huge bribe or anything, but it's a money clip.

Something I'd noticed for a while, particularly whilst wearing suits (of which, as you'll have gathered, I've become rather fond) was that if you carry a bulky wallet then it distorts the line of your jacket. Not that this is a big deal, nobody's going to stare and as my wife's the first to point out, I have a much bigger issue with carrying change around and ruining the line of the trouser.

So I'd been looking for a slimline wallet - then Adam gives me his branded money clip (not the one in the picture). It holds money in place and of course you can have your debit card wedged in it safely as well. It feels less secure when you first start using it but that's mostly psychological, someone can pick a wallet out of your pocket just as easily as they can one of these.

The curious thing is that I've been using it during the hot weather whilst wearing jeans as well. It's obviously less bulky than a wallet so it's easier to carry money around, and of course a bit tidier than carrying loose notes in a pocket.

Above is a rather nice one I've seen on Amazon, which isn't branded. They're useful, simple and I'd recommend one to any bloke who's been carrying anything more bulky around for any length of time. I might even treat myself to one if anyone gives me any Amazon vouchers for my impending birthday...he hinted...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Curry in a hurry

When I was a boy (here we go...) there was a thing called a Vesta Curry. It came in a box. You cooked it. There was (and is) also a thing called the Swan Vesta. This was a match, made of wood. It had almost the same flavour and nutritional value as the curry.

Things have changed, I'm happy to say, and now that we're in to the holiday season I've been testing a few DIY curries. It's not that I'm bad at curry making or cooking in general but there's never the time, particularly when the kids are off, and if they go to bed before you do it's good to be able to whip something up quickly. So I thought I'd road test a few ready mixes.

And what's really changed since I was a kid is the quality. First I tried a few bits from Kent's Kitchen. These come in three parts; some spice, some oil and some garnish. The list of the rest of the ingredients you need is on the back of the packet. We had the Thai Green Curry, the Chow Mein, Korma and also a mushroom risotto to which you only need to add the fresh mushrooms. My favourite was the Thai; careful not to put too much water in it (measure and try not to be tired when you do it, I wrecked the Chow Mein by doing this) but the fact that the spices are properly measured out rather than made for the lowest common demominator shows. There isn't a substitute for fresh ingredients but for something that took half an hour these were distinctly above average.

As indeed was the red curry sauce from Thai Taste. There's a package of these available with coconut milk and fresh basil which makes Thai curry for three people in about 15 minutes. I can vouch for the flavour - we used to live near one of the best Thai restaurants in London by our reckoning and OK, this doesn't match up to their standards but it's as good as the new owners cook. And they're not bad at it.

It's quick and it doesn't taste as if it's out of a packet. I was hoping to write something a little more balanced and critical but for the money and the speed these items really are very good indeed. The Thai New Year runs from tomorrow until Friday; have a good one, and you might want to consider celebrating with one of these convenience meals.

Monday, 11 April 2011

What's a floating canvas?

A tailor, from Flickr: Smabs Sputzer
My thanks to Adam King of Surbiton-based tailor King and Allen for a convivial couple of hours and a coffee last week, during which we discussed some of the finer points of tailoring. He'd invited me along to one of his pop-up tailoring events partly because he wanted to meet me and I accepted for that reason plus the fact that I've been guilty of writing mostly about one tailor alone in this blog so far.

I'm pleased to say he wasn't one of these people who believes in diminishing the competition - although he (along with A Suit That Fits) was bemused by a recent Financial Times interview with another of the competition for budget tailoring which referred to the interviewees (established 2008) as more established than his company (set up 2004, and A Suit That Fits launched in 2006).

He was keen instead to communicate his enthusiasm for what he does and the difference between his outfits and those of some for which you might pay a good deal less. There was the quality of the cloth - we met at one of his suppliers (Holland and Sherry) in Savile Row to underline this point.

But there was also the floating canvas. This I found quite interesting. If you go to the High Street and pay your £200 or so for a suit, you'll get the best approximate fit you can (I always find the shoulders ruck up terribly because I'm this awkward square-backed shape) - and there will be a lot of glue in the suit. It holds the canvas reinforcement to the cloth people will actually see.

There's nothing wrong with this, nobody should be getting snobby about it, but it's a fact. This is why less expensive suits pucker up quite a bit when they've been dry cleaned too often, because the glue has melted at high temperatures, or when it rains - I've had to take suits back because a downpour has ruined them (and the tailor replaced them by making new ones for me, I should add, then investigated why there was a problem - I have no complaints at all).

When you move towards the tailored, you move away from glue. At the less expensive end of tailored suits, say £250-£300, you're likely to get a partially glued, partially-sewn suit or "partial floating canvas". You couldn't commission someone to sew it by hand at that price. So the suit will be more durable (and therefore probably less expensive in the longer term) than an el cheapo jobbie and it'll be an excellent fit. I have a number of these at this price point and believe me they look good.

King and Allen majors on the fully floating canvas - so you can soak the suit, boil it, anything, you'll find only cotton and wool and silk for the lining in their suits, so there'll be no puckering, after a press it shoud look fine again. You can even pour oil all over it - mind you, that'll ruin it completely so I wouldn't.

You can actually get a sense of where these various companies are in the market. Move away from off-the-peg as I've done and you can be delighted to find A Suit That Fits costs only a little more, and you can design clothes online and have them delivered once the measurements are right - you can even take your own. Their founders have told me that their business is based on the principle that too many people buy off the peg. King and Allen (only my opinion) is nibbling away at the customers of the more traditional tailor - they won't let you take your own measurements, they sell a fully floating canvas and there's another couple of hundred quid in the equation accordingly.

Then there's Gieves and Hawkes - no. 1 Savile Row, all of the ritual and comfort of ordering from an upmarket establishment with access to the very best materials. And you'll pay more than I paid for my last car - I can't see myself troubling them unduly with my custom in the foreseeable future but if anyone could supply me with the next lottery tickets I might - and I'm gaining an understanding of why you might want to.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Drinking for charity

...but there's no alcohol involved. Soft drink maker Bottlegreen is donating a percentage of sales of the pictured special edition bottles to the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer campaign and I'm pleased to urge everyone to go out and buy some, the elderflower never lasts long in my house and I find the ginger has a nice kick.

I find increasingly as I get older (or maybe just less fit, as this doesn't seem to hit everyone equally) that a sudden increase in temperature makes alcohol a less and less good idea. A cool beer in the middle of the afternoon would have had me salivating in my twenties; it now has me anticipating an evening in which I'll be a bit drowsier than usual. Which is why I rarely touch the stuff before evening meal time.

I also don't drink when I'm out as often as I did. There are two reasons for this. First, in my day job I'm a jobbing journalist and in the past there have been a lot of occasions on which wine and beer has been on offer as part of a hospitality package - and I've found I'm very bad at finding the "no thanks" switch when I'm having fun. Second if I'm out during the day and someone offers me a glass of something and I take it, that's it - I can't and won't drive. Which, as I grow further into middle age, feels pretty much like an inconvenience.

So drinks like the above are more than welcome, less sugary than the fizz I grew up with as a child and with more actual fruit juice in them to boot. The charity angle is a bonus. If you're interested in that angle then do spare a thought for the male cancers as well, which are just as nasty but as yet not as well publicised. If you're a middle aged bloke - and that's who this blog is aimed at - or even a younger male, do yourself a favour and check your testes for unexpected lumps every so often; you can save not only yourself but your family absolute agonies if you find something before it develops too far.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Designer labels: don't be fooled

I've just been blogging at - one of my paid gigs - on a new survey reported in the Daily Mail today. It seems employers are falling for the "designer label" look something rotten, giving people better jobs as a result and in some cases 9% higher salaries.

In the picture on the left I'm wearing a designer shirt I suppose - it's a Ralph Lauren with a Polo logo. I have it because I bought it in a sale at a lower price than you'd expect to cough up for an off-the-peg Marks and Sparks shirt when you're buying it new. Personally I don't think this makes me particularly affluent, any more than  visiting my mother in Dorset and swinging by the Outlet stores in Clark's Village in Street. By all means visit the place looking for bargains; you won't be disappointed and by no means should you miss the Jaeger store where you can pick up some very nice looking formal shirts indeed for about thirty quid a throw (people who're fooled by designer labels will be disappointed to note that these shirts are unmarked).

Then there's T. K. Maxx. One of my favourite shirts (until it got caught on a loose screw in my wardrobe) was a mint green thing my wife bought me; it looked great, was emblazoned with the Polo Ralph Lauren logo and - you guessed it - came in at under £30.

Designer logos, in an era of outlet stores and discount places like T. K. Maxx, aren't a sign of affluence. They're as likely to be a sign of precisely the reverse. Use them by all means to trap unwary employers, but beware - they might have twigged too, and will be listening to what you say rather than the way you look.

P. S. The other designer item I'm wearing in the picture is the suit. It was made by A Suit That Fits (affiliate link, do click, it'll cost you nothing but I get loyalty points) - and technically I'm the designer because you get to specify everything. It's the same with other tailors like King and Allen, quoted on this blog last week - and either of these companies will kit you out with something to your own spec and your individual measurements, with prices starting below £300. Designer gear, phooey...

Friday, 1 April 2011

Styling mistakes of the moden male

Microsoft has this week put up an entry on male grooming errors women find unforgiveable in its MSN "Him" site.  It's here and is worth a look. Of course I had to put my thinking cap on and come up with a few other things we do that women - and everyone - will find on the negative equity side of "appealing".

Flickr: Gregoconnell
1. Teeth
My last dentist was called Ahmed and he once asked me about my teeth (it goes with the territory). They were, he said, unusually clean for a straight bloke. I think that tells us all we need to know about what he thought of the average straight bloke's teeth.

2. Overly tight clothes
OK, let's get this straight once and for all. Clothes that fit you will always look better than clothes that don't. But if you've put weight on then wearing something a bit tight won't hold it in, it makes it all bulge and draws attention to it. Walk down a high street and see how many men are wearing stuff that doesn't fit.

3. Shaped eyebrows
Trimmed if they're excessively bushy is fine - my barber has had a go at mine without my even drawing attention to it. But there's a way of shaping them that makes them look completely unnatural and gives off the air of someone trying just that bit too hard. If women had started shaping theirs only recently so we weren't used to it, it would look as peculiar.

4. Scruffy shoes
It's sometimes said that mainland Europeans can tell an English man from his cheap shoes. People spend a fortune on clothing and then cap it off with shoes they haven't looked after. Guys, we're not all David Tennant or Jamie Oliver, who can get away with trainers and a suit (Tennant only when in character) - clashing styles if you don't know what you're doing makes you look as though you're trying too hard.

5. Inappropriate aftershave
I've blogged on colognes here a number of times and I have no doubt I'll be doing so again. I like them, although I note a number of people had difficulty with them, but any more than a quick splash while you're in a business meeting can make you look a bit insecure - see "trying too hard" under scruffy shoes.

I'm sure there are loads more - and I'd be interested to hear from members of either sex about styling howlers you've noticed.