Monday, 25 June 2012

New service: Man Buys Present

I've been looking at this new website, It seems like a good idea. You have a reason to buy a female loved one a gift - birthday, Valentine, anniversary it has a lot of categories including, reassuringly, "just because" (you do not, repeat not, need an excuse to get your partner something nice).

It's blissfully easy to do. You enter the information - relationship to the giftee, their age, the occasion, your budget - and it comes up with some suggestions. Enter your card details and it's all delivered nicely wrapped (this could be a problem; if it doesn't look as though a retarded chimpanzee has attacked some expensive wrapping paper with sellotape whilst wearing boxing gloves they'll know I didn't wrap it myself).

So far, so faultless. There seems to be the odd glitch - I tried finding something for my daughter and on the shortlist of three presents there was a friendship bracelet, which isn't quite dad-ish. But the other stuff was OK.

I have two minor problems with the idea, though. The first is with the concept itself. I've a horrible feeling it's entirely correct to say that a lot of us blokes are hopeless at buying stuff, or we forget. But my wife and daughter aren't stereotypes, they're real people. I prefer to take the time to get something for them specifically rather than something to suit some random female.

Embedded in there is my other issue. Guys, I have male relatives as well. And they are difficult to buy for, BUT THEY DON'T WANT SCENTED COAT HANGERS I CAN ASSURE YOU.

Maybe this should have been called Manbuyspresentforwomen. That's certainly its market. And it does a reasonable job, if you're genuinely too busy or too bone idle to do it for yourself. Perhaps male presents could be a followp-up service..?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Strawberries and cream for Wimbledon

I'm not a football fan (that said, good luck England for this evening) so it may not come as a surprise that I'm considerably more excited about Wimbledon fortnight which starts on Monday. I'll be popping along, probably wearing a rather nice new King and Allen blazer which my wife says is boxy but which I rather like.

But I'm not blogging about blazers today - I'm blogging about the Wimbledon tradition of strawberries and cream. Related to this Lindt has launched a new flavour of choccy bar, Strawberry Intense (pictured) and they've been kind enough to send me a bar to try.

I get a little cynical about these new flavours, particularly when strawberries are involved. When I was a kid there were strawberry ice creams and strawberry chocolate and indeed strawberry custard, all of which shared in common one thing: they tasted of sugar and not strawberry in the slightest.

Presumably things have changed since the seventies. Dentistry is better, clothing is on the whole made with lighter fabrics and this bar certainly tastes of what it should do; there's an intensity in the filling which has been missing from a number of previous attempts by other manufacturers.

I could certainly recommend this as a fun variant on the standard chocolate bar. My daughter's certainly demanding more, which tells you something.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Shopping for duty free tailoring

Flickr: Hakan Dahlstrom
OK, here's an idea. I've done some business travelling recently and as such been in a few airports. One thing that occurred to me whilst doing all this was that it would have been good to know where the best Duty Free shops are so I could plan a bit before leaving. So, here's a brief summary of my recent notes - anyone wanting to add their own destinations and comments would be more than welcome. I'm excluding spirits and tobacco because that's not what this blog is about - of course all the usual duty free stuff is available.

London City Airport: Tiny as you'd expect from a small airport but a good selection of Boss shirts (not to my taste), Mont Blanc pens and accessories for the rich and I bought a nice Dunhill tie for my meeting (at which nobody wore ties so it's unworn). This was £62 as I was travelling just outside the EU.

Gatwick North Terminal: Under modernisation, sports gear, Harrods, Kurt Geiger shoes, no doubt there will be more as works progress.

Gatwick South Terminal: Fat Face, Boss, Kurt Geiger, several others - remember to check the retail prices outside the airport as many people have a perpetual sale on.

Heathrow T5: Vast shopping experience if you have the time, dominated by Harrods which has most of the designer brands you'd want - Hilfiger, Polo, just about everything. Also several designer shops opposite.

Copenhagen: Actually bigger than Heathrow T5. We're talking Boss, Polo Ralph Lauren, Burberry and Hermes with their own shops and a couple of menswear shops with a selection including LaCoste and others.

Luxembourg: Small but perfectly formed - as long as you like Boss and Lacoste in the menswear department. I was thinking about Polo Ralph Lauren shorts, the shape of which seems to sit OK on my body - and there were none.

Istanbul: Less of the clothing, just one or two shops, but an extensive selection of scent (as most of them have) and a Mont Blanc shop to go and drool over (I do like Mont Blanc pens, why the hell I can't develop cheaper tastes I don't know).

Milan Lenate: Are you kidding, it's Milan! Superb shirt shop caught my eye, if only I'd needed some shirts. Sadly I didn't. Also good shoes and suits - does anyone really buy suits duty free, though? Not easy to return goods I'd have thought.

Newcastle: Believe it or not you can buy duty free in internal flights, look, don't stare, I didn't know. Mostly sports gear and the usual drinks and stuff, but some nice watches at a better price than average.

Zurich: Curiously little in the tailoring department unless I walked straight past it whilst looking for my wife's cosmetics, which is entirely possible.

Please note this is not intended as a definitive guide - I wasn't specifically looking to write this entry when visiting most of these over the last 12 months or so, and may well have overlooked items. I'll welcome corrections and of course additions as comments and will add to and update this entry - leaving a note and link to say it's updated as and when.

So, what have you found recently on any business or pleasure travels whilst in the duty free shop?

Friday, 15 June 2012

London Fashion Week: ten male style mistakes

Flickr: Paul-In-London
This is London Fashion Week and the weekend, quite unusually, is devoted to male dress. So, this being a blog for the older male, I thought it might be worth kicking off with a few mistakes we make too frequently.

10: Heavy aftershave or EDT in business meetings
You know that feeling when you're in a meeting and someone's smelling as if they're about to go on a really hot date?  Just don't do it.

9: The cheap, emergency shirt
This week I was away on business and had to go into a meeting immediately I came back. Knowing that I had a bunch of shirts being tailor-made so they'll be ready in a few weeks but not yet, I bought a cheapie from Marks and Sparks - twenty quid - to put on for the meeting. It. Looked. Terrible. Low-grade material, unflattering cut - it even made the suit and tie look cheap, as my wife reassured me on my way in (for which my thanks, you need a confidence boost for meetings). Cutting corners simply didn't work.

8: Clashing patterns
Don't listen to the 'never mix spots and stripes' brigade - they're wrong about a lot of things, as anyone with a colour-co-ordinated striped shirt and spotted tie combo will vouchsafe. It can look rather good. But be judicious: stripes on a suit are fine, so are stripes on a shirt but if you have them on a tie as well it can start looking like interference on an old telly.

7: Buying online and not admitting mistakes
A number of mistakes of mine - ties with which I was less than delighted, pocket squares which ended up looking dull - were made after seeing the items only online. That's on a computer with a backlit screen, which can make the colours look substantially brighter than they are in real life. If you find you've fallen victim to this, the next big error is to go into a strop and insist on wearing the stuff anyway.

6: Modelling your look on someone else
Actually this one's OK as long as they look a bit like you. But be realistic; if you're not tall, lanky and young-looking then the Matt Smith tweed-and-bow-tie look is just going to look middle-aged. One good tip I've seen is to look at pictures of fashion designers; if they have a similar body type to you, it might just be that they're designing for it.

5: Take the catwalk look too literally
Models on the catwalk are there to look extreme. You can take a few ideas and adapt them; maybe the preppy-looking ones are all wearing patterned pocket squares that tone in but don't match the tie; maybe the tweedy look is in, can you incorporate these things a bit without looking ridiculous? It should be fairly easy.

4: Skimp on the shoes
The old saying says you can tell an Englishman by his cheap shoes. Which is a bit rubbish when our best shoes from the likes of Church's are so good; invest decent money in your footwear and look after the shoes and they'll top and tail your look perfectly.

3: Wear boring socks
OK, this isn't essential. Nonetheless when I'm wearing a pink shirt or pink tie I like to tone in a bit with socks - it's a tiny touch that links the whole outfit together. Even if people think it looks ghastly they'll see where you were going with the idea.

2: The comb-over
No, seriously, I still see this. Listen, gents, if you're losing your thatch (or "it's changing" as I like to think of it, I reject this idea that ageing is about loss rather than development) then get it cropped and celebrate it - it's absolutely the only way. Nobody except you will find it at all worth remarking on - unless, of course, you adopt the comb-over in which case everyone will notice.

1: Jeans half way down the bum
Oh come on, even young people can't carry this look (although many think they can - see the picture above). We early middle agers would simply look ridiculous - don't even think about it!

So, ladies and gents, what are your favourite fashion howlers?

Related entries: Dress sense mistakes men make

Monday, 11 June 2012

Campaign sees results

Just a quickie this afternoon - you may remember A Suit That Fits had a campaign running to get people to donate suits to homeless people. The idea was that if you get a job interview to pull yourself out of homelessness you really, really need a suit for the interview.

They've just been in touch to say the campaign is over and they received over 1000 suits. They are over the moon as are their charity partners.

Heartiest congrats to them for the initiative (I know other people do similar things) and if you gave a suit to this or something similar, nice one - you're part of something pretty damned decent.

Don't let Branson tell you what to wear

One of those things that annoys me intensely is when people tell me what to wear. When I started up as a journalist I would be summoned to meetings in the Institute of Directors which, at the time, would not let people in without a tie. This struck me as a complete liberty. I wasn't scruffy, just tieless. It's different now.

But there's another insidious trend - people telling me not to wear ties when actually I have some of which I'm rather fond. Richard Branson holds forth in this article about how he is "delighted" that the tie-wearer is usually the odd one out at a meeting. Not in my experience he isn't, but there's no problem with the idea that we move in different circles.

I like my ties. There are some good designers around, I've mentioned a few of them on this blog, here and here for example. Opposite is a picture of one by Victoria Richards, and I've highlighted others in the past. Hand painted or woven to an individual design by someone who knows what they're doing, these are never boring and can be a lot of fun to wear. I've had several compliments when wearing one on television. There's nothing wrong with the mass produced variety either; designs from Liberty, Duchamp and others can be attractive. The dull single-colour variety I tend to leave to the dull meeting or funeral.

This isn't, though, a polemic to say everyone should wear ties. No, if Richard Branson doesn't want to wear a tie then that's clearly fine by me - why should he? No, what I object to is his decision that it's a victory of some sort when other people don't wear one. I'd still be annoyed to get told to wear one when I didn't wish to, but my neckwear is my own choice, thanks.

Sorry if Branson doesn't agree. But then we're probably not going to go to the same meetings anyway.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Trunks for charity

I have new swimming trunks - probably not the mental image you wanted to start an abridged working week but there it is. They're from StarBlu and they have nice pictures of dolphins on them.

OK, I don't care much about the pictures of dolphins (although prints rather than plain colours seem to be in for this season, a bit of a shame for we fatties who like to keep it as dark and inconspicuous as we can). The very firm stitching, the comfort and the fact that some genius has thought to put a waterproof back pocket in so I can keep my keys and money safe. I'm half-inclined to try the phone in it and see if it dies, but not being pathologically stupid perhaps I won't.

They do look good, it's a fun design that manages not to be gaudy. The really nice bit is that every year StarBlu donates 5% of its global sales of men's and boys' swimming gear to a marine conservation charity; this year it's the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, and for information on progress made last year with the turtle charity it supported you can look at the website.

I shall enjoy wearing these on hols.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Socks appeal: Incredisocks

Ah, the old socks appeal joke, never gets old, does it. OK, maybe it does - but anyway, I've been testing a pair of Incredisocks from Incrediwear. The idea is that they're impregnated with a few whizzy extras to stimulate blood circulation and help with a few other health issues.

For example, they have a 200 thread count for extra comfort - which is going to be more important to hikers and sportspeople than blokes walking between meetings as I was - and they're designed to regulate temperature efficiently, and the weave promotes dryness.

They did so pretty well and as such are very well suited to diabetics, of which I'm not (knowingly) one. What I liked about them, in my usual shallow way, was that the ones I was sent, in black, didn't stand out as somehow therapeutic; so often you see these things and they're in garish colours or very obviously for hiking or sport. I would imagine, assuming they do alleviate some of the symptoms of diabetes, that City workers (who'll be able to wear these without drawing attention to themselves) will welcome these.

OK, I like a splash of colour in my socks. That's up to me, but it's nice for once to have the choice. They're available from Vital LIfe.