Friday, December 4, 2015

Review: The Cordial Churchman (Black Satin Narrow Butterfly)

For six years now, The Cordial Churchman has been hand making bow ties in a small workshop in South Carolina. They got their start when a wife of an online menswear aficionado (and pastor) made a rather fetching bow tie out of leftover seersucker fabric and his friends asked where it could be bought. She also started converting tired old neckties into fresh looking bow ties, a service that is still offered to this day along with "cut, make, trim" services (sending your own special fabric for product construction). Now they mostly deal in making bow ties from bolts of fabric as is traditional, but these products are no less special. You can't find many of these fabrics elsewhere, they are pretty unique.

Recently, I decided that a better quality, black satin bow tie was needed in my collection. I also thought it was time for a more classic butterfly shape instead of the diamond ended ones bought from The Tie Bar. At the same time, it was difficult to find what I wanted. That is, a butterfly shape that wasn't as wide as traditional but also not very narrow. I didn't want a straight-ended "batwing" tie either. To my surprise, none of the major clothiers one would expect had such an animal available for purchase. I then remembered TCC and how they make bow ties to order.

Arriving in minimal packaging with just some tissue in a small box, the bow tie came complete with a hand-written note from Ellie herself. This, to me, was a great little gesture. The neckwear itself seems pretty decently made for someone who was "merely" self-taught in making them just a few years ago. It has just enough body without being overly stiff and makes a pretty fine bow. Most of all, the 2 1/8" butterfly shape is precisely what I was looking for to wear at future black tie events.

The only minor downside for some is that the adjustable band doesn't have precise neck size markings like most of the major retailers' bows do. I'm a 16" neck and somehow the setting it arrived on works perfectly, but most other people will have to do some fussing before it's right. I'd like to see this feature on their bow ties in the future, but maybe it just won't happen. That's okay. I'll still be buying more ties from them in the future, because they make a great product for almost half of what the major retailers charge.

Wearing the bow tie in my James Bond (Casino Royale) inspired shoot.

Dinner jacket by Brooks Brothers
Evening shirt by Modena
Wristwatch by Kenneth Cole New York
Cuff links by Express

Photo by Cnidarium Photography

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Review: UnderFit (V-Neck)

I've had the pleasure of reviewing a few different undershirts on my blog from RibbedTee and jT Invisible Undershirt. Recently, Paul Beck of UnderFit contacted me and asked if I would review his product, since he considers it superior to both those brands. I agreed and received a package of one V-Neck soon afterwards. Besides the kind note included, the packaging is pretty minimalistic with just a bubble envelope over the clear plastic wrapping of the undershirt -- as it should be in my opinion. I believe more clothing brands should use less waste when packaging their products. Anyone can use a fancy box, tonnes of tissue, and lots of plastic wrap to pump up their brand image (and the amount of waste in landfills). What counts is what's inside.

I'll spare my readers the indignity of looking at my pale torso in the undershirt. But if you'll kindly trust my written description, it fits the best of any undershirt I own. And I am not as muscular or defined as the men modelling the undershirts on their website. It feels just right around the sleeves, something I typically have a bit of gap in with other undershirts and t-shirts. The torso and armholes also fit snug enough, not feeling binding or constricting whatsoever. The length sits at the perfect point for tucking into your underwear or leaving out if you prefer. Either way, it hugs the buttocks well and doesn't come untucked. Though the modal fabric includes some stretch (95/5) it is by no means a compression undershirt. I am a pretty slender guy at 6'1 and 190 lbs and most undershirts, even those by RibbedTee and jT Invisible, don't fit quite as well as they could. A side note, I believe it's best to get the same size you usually get for t-shirts and undershirts. According to the size chart, I should actually get L due to my height and weight. I usually wear M, selected that, and feel it worked out for the best here.

The fabric does well at regulating temperature and keeping its original feel wash after wash, dry after dry. Many modal undershirts will unfortunately pill after machine washing and tumble drying, even if the care instructions tell you to do so! Thankfully, this one (like the jT Modal) will not. I felt pretty cool and comfortable throughout nine-hour days at work.

So, the elephant in the room: Price. Considering one of these costs as much as a decent quality printed t-shirt, I don't think $25 is that pricey. Contrary to many menswear enthusiasts, I don't consider underwear "disposable", let alone dress shirts. They should be an investment like any other piece of your wardrobe. Your mileage may vary of course.

The v-neck could use slight improvement. Though promised to not show with two buttons undone, on half of my dress shirts the neck opening comes to just above the third button. I feel jT Invisible achieves this somewhat better, with the opening coming clear below the third button. It will probably not show most of the time and may not be a big concern. The other minor complaint I have is that the seams are not taped on the neck and shoulders. This is a feature I believe should be standard on undershirts and t-shirts, not only for comfort but long term strength.

I rate these undershirts highly. Did I mention they're made in the USA? Like RibbedTee, that's a pretty good selling point. Go get some if they're in your price range, they are well worth it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Why the jacket vents?

A comment on my Kingsman post sparked an interesting conversation with a friend about how tailored clothing should be both practical and look good.

The question came up: Why vents on a jacket?

It's interesting to note that in a period known for its full cut, pleated trousers (1930s-1950s) the fashion was to have no vents at all on a jacket. This is a curious juxtaposition to me, especially when one considers that men used to wear suits the same way most men now wear jeans and a t-shirt. What baffles me even more are the jackets that had a bi-swing back yet still no vents! Why give freedom of movement in a couple areas but not in another?

Searching the internet has yielded very few real answers, except for the assertion that cinematographers believed ventless jackets filmed cleaner. Whatever that means. Though it's safe to say film had an influence on fashion, perhaps more than it does now in the age of internet, I don't quite think that's the end of the story. Some have claimed that vents are a relatively recent innovation, but that makes little sense as well. Just in the previous decade (1920s), all jackets had a long single vent. Furthermore, all the tailored clothing we now think dressed up was derived from sporting clothes; namely shooting or horseback riding. Those certainly had vents for movement. In short, I'm uncertain why this trend started or lasted so long. Even into the 1960s some suit or sport jackets were being made without vents.

Generally, I follow the guidelines that tuxedos/dinner jackets can be ventless or have double vents, single breasted suits and sport coats can have single or double vents, and double breasted suits and sport coats should always have double vents.

A lot of great things were innovated for menswear in the 1930s. I don't think ventless jackets were one of them. They restrict your movement, place more stress on the buttons, and wrinkle more easily. I used to think otherwise when I was heavy into the vintage clothing community, but now believe some things date badly for a reason.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Sebastian Ward now more affordable than ever.

You're hearing it here first -- in a couple days (8/3), Sebastian Ward is reducing their price to a more accessible $99 versus the debut of $175. For now, this is just on the shirts they currently offer, but later they will be getting new product from another supplier that is near identical in every way.

For those who haven't heard of Sebastian Ward yet, here are some of the features they boast:
  • Extra long tails with expanding side gussets keep it tucked all day, even after sitting down.
  • High armholes, snug cuffs, and longer sleeves to allow a full range of arm movement.
  • Trim "athletic" fit. Not extra slim or very full, just right.
  • High two-button collar that stands on its own with or without stays.
They are one of the best shirts I've had the pleasure of owning just by virtue of the fit and features. So if price was ever an issue before, now you have no excuse.

Friday, July 31, 2015

More new collars from Proper Cloth

Proper Cloth just launched three new collar styles, the Stiff English Spread, Stiff President Spread, and Stiff Roma Cutaway. Technically no different in dimension than three of what they've previously released, these are merely stiffer than the default versions. Yet they have an unfused interfacing, making them sound a little more luxurious than their fused offerings. Though they say it's not as appropriate for wearing ties, I disagree. I just received a Turnbull & Asser shirt with a stiff, unfused collar and don't think the average person is actually going to know the difference.

As always, be sure to go through my link for $20 off if you've never purchased from Proper Cloth before.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service -- Colin Firth's Suits in Detail

Based on a graphic novel, Kingsman: The Secret Service got a lot of well-deserved press upon release for its style, besides being a pretty fun movie. But sadly what has been published isn't a very complete picture. A few friends of mine asked if I could write up an article about the suits of the movie, even those who normally aren't into menswear. I went looking for an article, any article, that described them in detail. Sadly most gloss over details besides that they are double breasted. Because Harry Hart (Colin Firth) is the most prominently tailored character in the movie, I've decided to focus on his suits.

Martin Nicholls London, a Savile Row bespoke firm, made the suits bespoke for all the movie's principles. His other film work includes Dark Shadows and Hugo. The suits sold in Mr Porter's off the peg Kingsman collection are produced by Crewe Tailored Clothing, until recently known as Cheshire Bespoke. They are better equipped for the demands of mass production and copy Nicholls' style well.

The look of the "Kingsman Tailors" shop was inspired by H. Huntsman & Sons Ltd but their services were ultimately not used for the film. Though director Matthew Vaughn has been a customer since he was 18, they may not have been able to meet the needs for an action film production. Typically a few copies of each costume are made or purchased for stunts, such as wearing a wirework harness and in case they get damaged during filming. Stunt performers will also need a different size than the actors they are doubling for.

Arianne Philips designed the costumes for the movie and intentionally selected heritage English brands to fill out the wardrobe.

Warning: Minor spoilers of the movie may follow.

"The first thing a gentleman needs is a good suit."
Harry Hart -- codename Galahad -- wears five suits throughout the movie, all cut and styled identically. The other briefly-seen Kingsman agents and his protégé Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton) wear the same style of suit. They are said to be bulletproof. The first suit, seen in the prologue, is navy worsted twill with white chalk stripes. The one seen most often in promotions for the film is charcoal heavyweight worsted with a unique chalk stripe; white and rust side by side. His most briefly seen suit is solid, medium grey whipcord which is an appropriate defence against cold London winds. Another suit that gets pretty short shrift is a dark grey plaid in woolen flannel, used in a lunch scene with his superior. The next suit looks light grey at first glance, yet is actually black and white Glen Urquhart Check in worsted flannel. The navy chalk stripe suit is reused for a climactic scene despite taking place 17-18 years later. It's either a testament to the durability of Kingsman suits or the timelessness of good bespoke tailoring. Possibly both.

Navy chalk stripe as seen in the opening of the movie.

The coat is double breasted with six buttons, two to close. The top two nonfunctional buttons are spaced further apart to emphasize the chest and present a more masculine appearance. Harry leaves the bottom button undone as do other characters. One can use both buttons if they wish, unlike on a single breasted suit, but the former choice makes sense if you'll find yourself thrashing goons in a pub and need unrestricted movement. There are standard length side vents in back, which are the only appropriate choice for double breasted jackets. The peak lapels are traditional in width and have some "belly", or curve, to the underside. They are not as narrow as current fashions yet avoid the excesses of '70s tailoring. Double breasted coats sold today mostly have a lapel hole on the left side but Nicholls puts them on both sides, cutting them sans keyhole per Savile Row custom. Not only does it recall the golden age of menswear, it provides visual balance to all the buttons and overlapping of fabric.

Galahad wearing his charcoal chalk stripe suit in a promotional image. This is a pretty good shot of most of the details.

The sleeves have functional, four button "surgeon's cuffs". This was once reserved for bespoke, but recently many off the peg retailers copy it straight from the factory. It's best to avoid those (which unfortunately include the $2500 Mr Porter Kingsman suits) unless the sleeves fit you precisely; any length alteration past a half inch will be difficult or costly. Harry occasionally leaves the last button undone on his sleeves to show off this feature. Clothing purists mostly advise against this practice, decrying it as gauche or even outright vulgar. But is it really that distasteful?

Harry may just be thumbing his nose at the establishment. After all, he makes his dislike of classism known early on.

The front coat pockets are gently slanted and flapped, wider than average in proportion to the lapels. The welted breast pocket is also gently slanted. There is subtle pick stitching on the lapels, collar, and pockets. It is easy to miss if you are not looking for it, but pick stitching should not be that visible to begin with since its purpose is to keep edges crisp and neat. The buttons are polished horn with recessed domes for the thread, something often seen on bespoke suits.

Recessed dome buttons as seen on a Kingsman Mr Porter suit.

The coat has straight, lightly padded shoulders with roping at the sleeve head. Not exactly "natural", but also not as built up as some other tailors on the Row. It has a nipped waist and flared skirt. The sleeves are also slightly flared at the end. Naturally, the armholes are cut high for more movement which probably helps in Harry's profession. Most off the peg suits have rather large/low armholes, but a smaller armhole is superior both aesthetically and comfort-wise. Overall, Nicholls' house cut looks like what many would associate with Savile Row, even if there is a lot of variation between its tailors in reality.

Medium grey whipcord suit with dark navy, white pindot tie.

Harry's trousers are perhaps the most modern aspect of his suits. They have a medium rise, flat front, and plain hems. There may be darts in front, but they are difficult to discern if so. Many bespoke tailors prefer to do this instead of a true flat front since they better curve over the hips. The legs are straight cut and trim but not fashionably skinny. In front there is an extended waistband with hook and eye closure which makes for a cleaner look than the typical button type. They are held up with slide buckle tabs instead of a belt as one would expect of an English bespoke suit. There is likely rubber grip tape sewn on the inside of the waistband to aid holding them in place. In back there are two welted button-through pockets and a split waistband. The latter expands when sitting, keeping the trousers more comfortable to wear.

A good view of trouser fit from the 1997 prologue. Most men were actually wearing full cut double pleated trousers at this time, whether or not they were made bespoke.

Harry wears a white poplin spread collar, double (french) cuff Turnbull & Asser shirt with all his suits. Though the collar somewhat resembles their "Classic" spread, it lacks the signature under curve. T&A creates personalized collar shapes specifically for the wearer on their bespoke shirts so they likely did for Colin Firth as well. Like many English double cuffs, the link holes are closer to the fold than on American or Italian shirts. This makes cufflinks easier to see when wearing a jacket. The fit is close to the torso and darts shape the waist even further in back. Unlike most "slim fit" shirts today there are shoulder pleats which certainly ease in aiming a gun.

Behind the scenes look with costume designer Arianne Phillips. You can just make out the shoulder pleats and darts.

A straight folded, white linen pocket square is worn with every suit. Some may assume it was chosen to coordinate with the shirt, but it's really a wardrobe staple one can wear with a variety of shirt and suit colours. It is probably made by Drake's of London and has hand rolled edges just like the Mr Porter Kingsman pocket squares.

Surprisingly there are only two ties worn in the movie, both made by Drake's of London and knotted in a half-Windsor (possibly a regular, "full" Windsor at one point). The most prominent is the club tie of Kingsman Tailors which features two pale pink stripes framing a burgundy stripe on a dark blue ground. Mr Porter offered a grenadine version, now sold out, of this tie but the actual film version is cavalry twill with satin stripes. Magnoli Clothiers sells a more accurate version for those interested, though the quality won't be as nice at $60 (average department store) compared to Drake's $195 (quite luxurious). The stripes go in the British direction, from left shoulder to right hip. The other tie is dark navy satin with white pindots. It sometimes appears black depending on the lighting. The Mr Porter Kingsman ties measure three inches wide at the bottom, but the film versions look a touch wider in proportion with the suit lapels.

Glen Urquhart Check suit. His tie knot may be a Windsor in this scene.

The cufflinks are rose gold plated ovals embossed with a crest of unknown origin and connected by a short chain. They are made by Deakin & Francis. Double sided cufflinks like these dress both sides of the cuff and thus appear higher class. Despite being harder to put on than the common hinge back design, the advantage is that they come out less easily.

Unknown if this is specifically a Kingsman crest or one pertaining to Hart's family.

"Oxfords, not brogues."
The shoes are black cap toe oxfords (balmorals to Americans) made bespoke by George Cleverley. Like most English shoes they have a sleeker shape, or last, and smaller sole profile compared to American brands such as Allen Edmonds or Alden. The toes have an elegant, rounded chisel shape. This looks more timeless than the very angular or pointy chisel toes that have been fashionable for the last decade. The writers unfortunately make a gaffe in the script when Harry refers to oxfords as having "open lacing". Oxfords actually have closed lacing at the the throat, whereas derbies (bluchers) have it open. In the Kingsman universe, the right shoe contains a hidden blade coated with neurotoxin, activated by clicking one's heels together. This is obviously inspired by many such spy movies with a similar gadget.

Not sure why he has brogued wingtip oxfords on display if he advises against them, or shoes that just happen to fit Eggsy despite them actually being bespoke, or why only the cap toes have a hidden blade... ah, never mind.

"A bespoke suit always fits."
Since Eggsy's two suits are nearly identical to Harry's, they are worth a brief mention. The most significant difference is that they fit closer to the body, perhaps to accentuate his youthfulness and chiseled physique. They also fasten higher, creating a smaller "V" of shirt and tie. Egerton is four inches shorter than Firth at five foot ten, so this was probably considered more flattering by Martin Nicholls. It also disproves the myth that only men over six foot can wear double breasted suits.

Eggsy's closer fitting copy of Harry's first suit. 

His first suit is of the same navy chalk stripe as Harry's. There are a couple of minor fit issues. One is that the shoulders dimple slightly, indicating that they or the upper sleeves are a bit tight. Secondly, the trousers do not drape as cleanly due to the fit. For whatever reason, his next suit is superior in fit to the first since the shoulders do not dimple. It is the same charcoal chalk stripe fabric as the suit Harry introduces himself in. Egerton may have gained more muscle mass after fitting for the first suit, explaining the problems. And despite Mark Strong's line, bespoke clothing actually requires multiple fittings and certainly much more lead time than the movie implies! These suits are worn with the same accoutrements as Harry's, the only difference being that his eyeglasses have black instead of tortoise frames.

The second and final suit donned by Eggsy. Note that the shirt collar is smaller spread to better frame Egerton's features.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the movie's costumes. If there is demand for it, I will write a bit more about the other characters' tailored clothing. A big thanks goes out to Matt Spaiser of The Suits of James Bond for inspiring this post and helping out a great deal with the terminology and identification.

Screencaps taken by

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Personal style and changing standards

Greetings, readers. I know it's been a while and I apologize for that. A combination of work and other things have kept me away or not that inspired. (Which is ironic considering my work involves menswear yet it leaves little time in the evening for blog writing. On my days off I still couldn't find inspiration.)

But I've finally come to a subject I'm fascinated by: Personal style. Or rather, how it evolves. Those who have read for a long time or looked in the archives will notice a bit of a shift in my preferences. I used to be all about the vintage, 1930s style clothing and found little to no inspiration in modern clothing. I was also into the '60s proportions almost exclusively for a while, coinciding with my "Trad" obsession. Now, as I've gotten older and experienced more, I've actually become more tolerant. I still think those 10" rise trousers are pretty bad, make no mistake, but I'm not quite as into the high rise stuff I used to be. Actually, if anything, a mid-rise seems to suit me better and feel more comfortable. I also think there's something to be said for a lot of the clothing being made by designers like Tom Ford that use classic proportions in some areas (like the lapels and shoulder width) yet update slightly in others (like the trouser fit).

When I started this blog, my ideal would have been a heavyweight suit with three buttons and a ventless back, spearpoint collar shirt, and lightly lined vintage tie in some obscure repp stripe. My ideal outfit now is more like a lightweight darted suit with three roll two closure and side vents, spread collar shirt, and robustly lined tie in a small repeated pattern. To say nothing of the difference in fits, accoutrement choice, and other details. I still have a fondness for all those other styles I adopted,

Why the change of heart? I don't know, besides that for some time I was feeling a little frumpy in what I wore. Those baggy, reverse pleat, WWII-style Polo chinos I used to treasure about eight years ago are far from what I'd wear now. There's still value in secondhand clothing, but I've limited my impulse purchases to things that fit well and suit my personal taste to begin with. Working in a menswear store for a while has also exposed me to a variety of personal styles and more modern fits. I've also learned more about clothing alterations and how to fit a variety of body types.

Again, there are some limits. For example, I still more or less adhere to The Black Tie Guide's definition of what is proper for tuxedos, even though I will rent or sell whatever my customer prefers. I can steer them a bit if they don't have a clue what they want. Oftentimes they think they want classic black tie only to go back and choose a bright red waistcoat and long tie with a two button slim fit tuxedo. But that's their call, not mine. I'm only there to guide them.

What is different now from when you started getting into menswear? Please share in the comments.