Sunday, April 26, 2009

Recession-savvy shirt care: How to iron a shirt Old World style

As a follow up to my recent entry on shoes, here's another feature in the "recession-savvy" series of wearing your clothes for longer wear. This time we're talking dress shirts and how to care for them.

This blog entry by shirtmaker Laliquette goes into detail on each step that he goes through in ironing a shirt. Since this is a global recession, he very helpfully provides instructions in English, French and Russian! I chatted with my own shirtmaker who said the instructions were very good and similar to what he does.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

1970s style: The roast as artform and dress code

Ah, the 1970s - it was the best of times and the worst of times. In terms of good clothes and decent style, it was perhaps more of the latter. While I suspect many would agree with this assessment, the 70s were not a complete loss. Take the slowly disappearing art of the roast. Style may have been on the decline but the classic roast was alive and well.

I've embedded a YouTube clip of a Dean Martin Roast of the Hour featuring the comedian Don Rickles. The broadcast is undated but circa early 1970s I believe. The dress code is black tie albeit with the exaggerated proportions of the 70s in full force.

Other celebrities and personalities on the dais in this clip: Joe Namath, Angie Dickinson, Paul Lind, Gene Kelly, Jimmy Stewart (in a shawl collar dinner jacket), Bob Hope, Orson Welles, John Wayne (in a 3 piece dinner suit), Muhammad Ali, Sen. Hubert Humphrey, Howard Cosell. Rickles' one-liner on Namath and Dickinson contains a double entendre for the ages.

A few restrained standouts can be found. Gene Kelly and Jimmy Stewart were the sartorial standouts along with the arch-conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater. Make a note at 1:24 and 1:56 in the clip of Barry Goldwater wearing a blue OCBD shirt with his tuxedo. You might remember the very same blue shirt idea mentioned in my earlier entry on creative black tie.

The following clip is from the documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project:

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Enzo Caruso: An Ulster-style overcoat

The idea of clothing as a uniform is a historically rooted one and quite appealing. Comfort through conformity has worked for men for ages. Nothing wrong with adhering to a reliable formula for dressing. It's worked in a military setting for centuries and has crossed over repeatedly into the business/civilian sector.

However, I've always have been dissatisfied with the relatively uniformity of modern overcoats, especially RTW. Modern coats often come in a sedate navy blue or charcoal grey. Moreover, in my experience the overall proportions seem hard to get right in a RTW overcoat (especially the length and shoulders).

This past winter I began to think about developing an overcoat, specifically for travel and all the requirements that imply, as well as something distinct, even interesting. In my case, this meant wearability in temperatures above freezing and below and versatile enough to wear on formal business and sportier occasions. I also wanted an overcoat style that would be highly functional in terms of coverage and warmth.

I felt an Ulster-style overcoat would be my best bet. In particular, I went with a double-breasted Ulster-style overcoat with six on three buttoning, a large "storm" collar, a martingale (half-belt) back. darted back, kick pleat, slash pockets, wrist tabs and three interior pockets (two chest pockets and one large scarf pocket on the lower left). Below are photos of the coat just prior to completion at Enzo Caruso's shop (the back of the overcoat is still missing the half-belt piece at this stage).

Caruso Ulster DB 02

Caruso Ulster DB 03

Caruso Ulster DB 06

Regarding my choices, I probably violated a few discussion forum rules. First, I selected a midweight fabric (16oz) in a distinctive blue/gray herringbone with a touch of cashmere (10%) rather than a heavier weight cloth. The cloth is from the Drapers Tessuti Pregiati overcoating book if you're curious. A midweight made sense for me given my criteria and the offsetting weight of the lining. Paired with a 13-14oz three-piece suit, the overcoat should provide sufficient warmth in colder weather.

The overcoat lining differs from the norm in terms of construction and look. Instead of a single interior lining in one color or pattern, I went with a dual lining with an underlayer and overlayer. The base layer of lining is a lightweight seasonal wool plaid by Butterworth & Roberts (250/280g). In addition, for the upper body and arm sleeves, we used an overlayer of Lear Brown Dunsford viscose satin lining in cornflower blue.

Caruso Ulster DB lining

The dual layer lining was the result of some fairly extensive collaboration and back and forth between Enzo and me as well as several conversations with a contact in the cloth trade. After I laid out my initial thoughts with Enzo, he suggested improvements addressing issues that I had not considered. So all in all it was a very productive bespoke "dialogue" rather than a "monologue". Both Enzo and I greatly enjoyed the process and the end result.

I like this Ulster-style overcoat so much that I'm thinking of getting a similar version for next winter, made up in whipcord or covert cloth for cold, wet weather conditions.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on overcoat ideas - Excellent ideas and pictures
- SavileRowStyle article on winter 2008-9 overcoats in Savile Row
- London Lounge thread on demystifying the paddock coat and the historical frock overcoat
- Styleforum thread on overcoat linings