Saturday, June 18, 2005

NPR interview of Thomas Mahon

Last week Chris Lydon of Public Radio International conducted an radio interview of Savile Row tailor Thomas Mahon. An MP3 file of the 52 minute interview was archived on RadioOpenSource.org and can be downloaded by following the link above.

An interesting interview but Lydon could have conducted a better flowing and more engaging conversation with Mr. Mahon. He spent perhaps too much time with call-ins rather than tapping into the background, experiences and stories of his guest. That's a bit ironic since the reason for his interview is Mahon's use of blogging to converse and engage with potential customers. Nonetheless it is a worthwhile interview to get a better sense of Mahon's approach to tailoring.

Color theory: Harmonizing the shirt and tie

One could do a lot worse than learn from tutee's perceptive observation in an AskAndy discussion thread on shirt and tie matching. He argues that if your shirt and tie combination is lighter than the suit then the effect is more formal. On the other hand, if it is darker than the suit, the combination is "sportier".

This may seem counterintuitive but it works. Try to visualize a light or sky blue shirt against a navy blue chalkstripe for example. And then try on the ensemble to see for yourself.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The small world of Los Angeles men's haberdashery

Yesterday I drove to Brooks Brothers in Beverly Hills to pick up some made-to-measure garments that needed adjustments. Naturally I got into a conversation with Victor, the salesman I work with at the store, and we started talking about bench tailors in Los Angeles. I mentioned that I only knew of two bespoke tailors in the LA area and that I had visited one of them - Jack Taylor - a few weeks ago.

It turns out Victor moved out to California from the East Coast to work with Jack. Things didn't work out and Victor went to work elsewhere. That in itself was mildly interesting but even more remarkable is the relationship he has with the only other well-known bespoke tailor in LA - Giacomo Trabalza. Victor mentioned that he knew a tailor working out on La Cienega and I immediately thought of Trabalza. As it turns out, Mr. Trabalza is Victor's uncle.

The world of high end Los Angeles tailors and haberdashers is fairly small and they all know each other - Victor also knows Jack Sepetjian of Anto's Shirtmakers, the well-known shirtmakers profiled in Flusser's Style and the Man. And Trabalza and Taylor certainly know each other.

Monday, June 06, 2005

A knotty issue

For a number of years, I had always avoided thick knots like the Windsor knot. Perhaps it was due to a cautionary sentence by Alan Flusser - the de facto style reference for many men today - in one of his books or perhaps a source I have now forgotten. Whatever the original source, I had always assumed a small, neat knot was the preferred choice - namely, the four-in-hand knot.

That observation, however, is only conditionally true. The choice of which knot to use depends on the style of collar one is wearing and the relative length and width of the tie itself. One should tie a Windsor knot with a tall and/or wide collar style (e.g. English spread). As the photo of Prince Michael illustrates, it is entirely appropriate to use a wider knot for a higher collared shirt. As with many things in menswear, the issue is about balance.

Nonetheless, I still harbor a slight reluctance to tying very thick and wide knots. You need some extra gumption to pull that off (a la Robert Rufino).

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The rise and fall of sartorial standards - why?

Recently, a member of AskAndy asked the $64,000 question - since when and why have modern men been dressing so poorly? The consensus seems to be sometime in the mid-1960s, a period of political, cultural and social rebellion. As to the question of why, however, the collective answer is less certain.

My own thinking suggests an underlying causal relation between institutional changes and changes in one's "appearance". Oddly enough, something as apparently "individual" as appearance and comportment is a highly social or intersubjective activity. Hence, I suspect that institutional changes have had a significant impact on the relaxation of apparel and dress.

At the highest level, I think one can describe the decline in sartorial standards as a decline in formal or "high" culture and the rise of popular culture. The reason for this decline I discuss in my posting in the discussion thread:

... I would suspect that the decline in sartorial "standards" in modern societies has something to do with the precipitous decline of prescribed authority (namely, cultural, political and social institutions) as standard bearers of value in society. In other words, the decline in institutionalized values (enforced for example by class or social group) means greater individual autonomy and discretion, leading to a decline in adhering to standardized forms of dress.

This is essentially an application of Robert Putnam's celebrated hypothesis (at least in academia) on the decline of "social capital" (http://www.bowlingalone.com/). Put simply, the decline of social institutions in America means that we have fewer and fewer reasons to dress up or appropriately. I would suspect that sartorial standards still exist where there are institutions that informally and/or formally enforce them.

As a case study, it would be interesting to track, for example, the increasing informalization of Presidential inaugural dress standards (from morning coat and top hat to business suits).