Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Edward Crane asks, “What’s all the to-do about never buttoning the bottom button of a single-breasted suit jacket? Is that really the correct form?”
So, you’ve just pulled on your most dapper suit. You’ve a pocket square in place, a carnation in the lapel, and your best shoes strapped on—perhaps Church’s, or John Lobb. It’s a sunny day, just the right temp; you don your fedora and glancing in the mirror on the way out you can’t help but think—“The perfect gentleman-about-town; now this is the look of a true dandy!”
It’s a grand scene. But if you are a student of literary foreshadowing you just know it’s not going to stay that way. You walk down the street and women gasp, children start crying and their mothers send sharp daggers from their eyes in your direction. Gents about the lane show their malcontent by their goggling eyes and best open-mouthed codfish expression. A merciful fellow pulls you aside and says, “Great Scot man, what are you thinking? Will you give all gents a bad name? There are women and children about for goodness sakes! Now you just unfasten the bottom of your suit jacket, and be dashed quick about it, Sunny Jim.”
Two thoughts immediately strike you—1, your name isn’t Sunny Jim, and 2, from whence comes our modern day thicket of sartorial popinjays? Because you know a bit about button history…
“Look here my man,” you say, “it’s not as bad as all that.” You pat him the back in a consoling manner. “Let me give you a history lesson, hitting the high points as it were…”
The fellow’s hollow yet acidic laugh—the sort of laugh one would expect from a lemon— does not deter you.
Before hitting the high points, it may be worthwhile to mention straight-off the cricket bat that, while going against a great many very wise experts in the field of men’s suit-wear, I cannot help but coming to the conclusion that in this matter they are wrong—not because I think I know more than they, but because history provides incontrovertible facts that seem to render their position untenable—their position that the bottom most button of a suit jacket must NEVER be buttoned.
The High—er, Rotund—Points
During the years of 1901 through 1910 King Edward VII of England was, er, a growing fashion trend setter, of a sort. His girth increased faster than the royal tailors could sew, and one day, in need of relief, King Edward VII unbuttoned the last button on his waistcoat. And then he just kept on doing it. It didn’t take long for the King’s simple act of comfort for his large belly to lead to unbuttoned last buttons on the waistcoats of the gentry. Soon, this style popped up like a sartorial weed. Weeds are never static—unfastening the lower button on the suit jacket came next. It was a fad of the time, fads being the weed par excellence.
The Before and After
Prior to King Edward VII, men wore garments of coarse wool, animal hides, even bark. Wait—I’ve gone too far back in sartorial history. Ah, here we are, the 19th century. Before and for a long time after our friend King Edward VII men buttoned their suits in a variety of configurations. Walking down the street with all buttons done up didn’t cause women to faint, children to cry, or the anxious to panic. Through the 1950’s men wore suits with all buttons buttoned, or the bottom button unbuttoned, or some combination.
Yet somehow, like a dastardly bacterium, the idea spread that the bottom button ought not to be fastened, and before you could say “Bob’s your Uncle” suit jackets were designed specifically so that the bottom button is best left undone. Moving backwards, it runs like this:
The present: Many suit jackets are tailored specifically for the bottom button to be unfastened.
The mid 20th century: Still all manner of button configurations, but some people adopting the idea that suit jackets ought to have the bottom button unfastened, because some people were doing this and fashion designers kept saying it’s the way it should be.
Early 1900’s: King Edward VII becomes too large in the stomach region to comfortably keep the bottom button on his waistcoat fastened, and he leaves it unbuttoned; the gentry do what the King does, a sort of style fad. Soon it is the suit jacket with the bottom button left undone.
The 19th century: No such thing as “the bottom button is always left undone.” No rules as such—some men only button the top most button of their suit coats, some neatly button them all.
“Are you saying a fellow should always fasten the bottom button?”
No, indeed not. For one thing, it was never the case to always button a jacket in one way or another. Some jackets today really are made—the cutaway, for example—so that the bottom button is best unfastened. Not much of a choice. Or, a gentleman may have portly proportions about the old central fuselage that require the lowest button to remain undone.
But looking at photographic and print evidence from the century past, we see that some men buttoned all the buttons, and some men left the last unhitched. President John F. Kennedy, for example, buttoned both buttons on his Brook’s Brother’s suits. You can find ads for men’s suits from the 1920’s through the 1950’s that show various button configurations. These are facts of history, no getting around them. There is simply nothing to suggest that this lowest button OUGHT to remain undone or that doing so as a matter of course was ever part of sartorial tradition.
And there is good reason to button it: the look is more elegant, crisper; it looks more polished; the pelvic area is not exposed; the jacket doesn’t whip about in a breeze, a look that seems to convey disorder rather than having one’s style all together. If that weren’t enough, on a jacket with 3 or more buttons the buttoning of them all give one both a slimmer and taller appearance.
One of the arguments of our day is simply that a suit jacket hangs better with that bottom button ignored. But in reality, the manner of buttoning depends on one’s physique, one’s personal style, and how the jacket looks. A mirror, one’s wife, or both, are of tremendous assistance. Does a certain buttoning configuration cause:
—unsightly bumps due to a wallet or other item in the jacket pocket
—look generally unkempt
—Make visible too much of the waste/pelvic region
Keep in mind, the type of suit comes into play here as well. Older suit jackets tend to have a higher gorge—in a nutshell, it buttons up higher, showing less of the shirt/tie area; newer suits tend to have a lower gorge—showing more of the shirt/tie area. Thus, a rough guide:
* Two Button Suits
—for a low-gorge style, the bottom button is meant to remain unfastened.
—for a high-gorge style, the bottom button should probably be fastened to prevent wind puffing up the jacket, blowing it about or showing too much of the waist/pelvis.
* Three Button Suits
—the top two buttons done, lowest undone: this is completely correct, but there are two potential problems for which to keep the eye peeled—1) with a wallet or other object in the jacket pocket, an unsightly bugle may appear; in this case, undo the top button. If not, you may leave it buttoned, or not. If not, and the suit cut is loose, this may create an unflattering diamond-type shape.
2) With the bottom button undone, it may cause you to look wider than you would like to appear. But if the jacket is designed for this button to remain unfastened, buttoning it may cause the material to bunch up, creating the same illusion of excess girth. And men are simply not meant to give girth.
—Only the top button done: this creates a wide expanse of the waist area to be exposed, and, while it may be a style some like, I can’t recommend it.
—All three buttons fastened: a striking and elegant appearance. The entire chassis appears narrower, and taller.
The really crucial bit with buttons is simply aiming for a dapper silhouette—and this may be achieved with a variety of buttoning techniques.
So what are we to make of the “never button the bottom button on a suit jacket” doctrine? It is, it seems, sartorial myth forced into service as legitimate tradition and/or tailoring wisdom, much the same as if a chap said, “one must always use a full-Windsor knot for one’s ties.” Alas, the full-Windsor simply doesn’t work for all ties, styles and physiques, and it’s no different when it comes to buttons—there has never been, nor can there really be, a hard and fast rule that says, without exception, “the bottom button is never fastened”; it’s simply a bit of supposed sartorial sagacity that is—and I know this sounds strong—poppycock, and even balderdash. Neither history nor common sense supports such a doctrine.
I know this conclusion may be irksome to many exceedingly fine tailors and clothiers, but I only ask them to consider the evidence, the arguments against their position, and possibly re-writing the saying to read, “the bottom button is sometimes best unbuttoned, or not.”
That all being said, I am more than willing to consider any evidence and arguments to the contrary of my position. Only one view can be true though—either that button is best always left undone, or is not always best left undone; either it is a legitimate tradition based upon sound reasoning and serving a good purpose, or it is not; either it always serves to render a graceful silhouette, or it does not always do so; either it is so for all suit jackets, or is not so for all suit jackets.
Do you have an opinion either way? Evidence to the contrary of that presented above? Reasons to back up the “never fasten the bottom button” theory? Please do leave a comment, or send an email to the WDG at email@example.com
Whatever your view, we’re all in the same sartorial boat, trying to look our dapper best and cut a figure of grandeur wherever we go.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Herring Shoes: "Herring's is a family business which was started in 1966 by Richard Herring. Its purpose to supply the general public with top quality shoes with service to match. In recent years our customers have been able to take advantage of the 'Herring' own brand of footwear which is tailored to todays needs with fantastic style and value, created from years of inside knowledge of the shoe trade. Our aim is to educate people just how important good shoes are in life."
Bromleys: "A Tradition of Timeless, Classic Dressing
Bromleys is proud to supply shirts, ties and men's clothing accessories to the discerning British businessman, with some of the finest from Savile Row and
This exclusive men's clothing range is renowned around the world as the best quality, style and cut that money can buy. Now you can enjoy the convenience of having fine clothing delivered directly to your home or office.
What's more, with the added security of Bromleys' guarantee, if you're not completely satisfied, you can return your goods within 30 days for an exchange or full refund."
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
It’s fascinating how taking a gander at the origins of a particular action, or item of sartorial aspect, can transform it, turning it from something in which you simply weren’t interested or took for granted into a wondrous and esteemed treasure.
Consider the boutonnière. Wait, hold the phone—“boutonnière” conjures up images of that thing one needs to get from a florist for proms and weddings. Do not consider the “boutonnière”; expunge the word “boutonnière” from your repertoire. Consider instead: the buttonhole. True, both terms used to mean the same thing, but in our day, they are truly two separate categories.
The buttonhole debuted on the sartorial stage in 1840, courtesy Prince Albert. Arriving on the English scene to marry Queen Victoria, she presented him with a tiny bunch of flowers. Prince Albert, known for his charming and gentlemanly courtesy, took out his pocket knife, cut a hole in his jacket lapel, and called his tailor to tell him what he had done—and that he wanted a hole in the lapel of all his suit jackets from then on, because it was just the place to put flowers.
We can learn a lot from Prince Albert: He was courteous to a rummy degree; he put others before himself—even if it meant cutting a hole in his suit; and he was prepared for most any happening that may foist itself upon the present moment. In a word, he displayed a particular kindness, kindness being the pure syrup that courtesy and true gentlemanliness boil down to. Specifically, re the flowers Queen Victoria gave to him, Prince Albert showed that her gift was important to him. I’ve no doubt that Prince Albert made her day when he cut that hole in his jacket. This is the type of origin that one hopes to find for something like the buttonhole.
Today, springing forth from this gracious act of Prince Albert, any decent suit has a buttonhole on the jacket lapel, located on the same side as the pocket square pocket, and this button hole almost always has—no flower.
The lapel-flower never did become a hugely popular to-do, and today one could swing a cat by its tale and not hit a chap sporting a flower on the lapel, not to mention a pocket square. Scandalous. Not the swinging cat comment (no cats were actually swung by their tales in the writing of this article), but the naked-suit thing.
It seems that men, by and large, have no idea that the upper pocket on the suit jacket is for a pocket square or handkerchief, nor that the buttonhole on the lapel is for a flower. Nevertheless, while I would not say that a flower on the lapel is de rigueur, I would say that a pocket handkerchief is—the lack thereof is what makes a naked suit. That being said, not wearing a naked suit is a start, a beginning, and not the end—because there is still that unused buttonhole.
Before tromping on, once again expunge the word and image of the “boutonnière” from your mind. We’re not talking here about proms or weddings, but rather the everyday, gentlemanly wearing of a suit. For the everyday suit, we are talking about 1 (one) usually unadorned flower. Yes, it is said Prince Albert wore a small bouquet (though some say it was actually a single flower)—but even sartorial etiquette with a distinguished history can be modified a bit without losing its essence. Hence, today, the single flower in the lapel.
But why? Why wear a buttonhole just because good ol’ Prince Albert wore a buttonhole? In this case, it is not merely a matter of “because it’s tradition.” Rather, we need to look at why Prince Albert did it in the first place, and why he continued to do it after the initiating event. In its origin, again, he did it out of courtesy and kindness. Why did he continue to do it? For the same reason—no longer for the sole reason that Queen Victoria affectionately gave to him the very first buttonhole, but because wearing a flower on the lapel makes the day more pleasant for all one comes across, it spreads beauty and joy and what-not, and displays a truly gentlemanly character—it is the man who appreciates beauty and goodness that wears a flower on his lapel. It is, further, a man of style and panache that dons the buttonhole.
When you first insert the flower into the buttonhole and walk out your front door, you will no doubt be overly sensitive to the fact that there is, well, a flower clinging to your suit jacket. And people will stare a bit—take this as a compliment! Why do they stare? Because they are amazed that there are any men left that still know how to dress with style and elegance. You get used to it after a while, and you will receive compliments. The same thing happens when one places a fine hat on one’s head to go with the suit (I maintain that the everyday hat par excellence is the Fedora): Compliments all over the place.
So, what flowers does one trim the lapel with?
For daytime, red, pink or white Carnations. Carnations are suitable because they last a longish time without water. Carnations also have a close cousin, whose name is Sweet William, another good daytime flower.
In the evening, when one is dressed to the ol’ nines for fewer hours than during the day, give or take, a white or red rose, a Gardenia or a white Orchid fits the bill.
When it comes right down to brass tacks however, you can jolly well stick any flower you want in the buttonhole, if it isn’t too big and the color matches your ensemble.
There are, finally, some important technicalities.
Some suits these days are made with either no buttonhole on the lapel, or else what looks like a button hole yet is sewn shut. These are horrifying tailoring transgressions. While the missing buttonhole is well-nigh beyond correcting (a tailor could make one of course, but it may be too expensive to do so; and a tailor may be able to open that sewn-shut type of buttonhole; or you could do it Prince Albert’s way and use your pocket knife—you’re taking your own chances with that one though, there’s no guarantee it will be a successful venture). The trick is, never, never, never use a pin. If there's no buttonhole, or no useful buttonhole, just stick with a pocket handkerchief.
Most other suits have a buttonhole, but no supporting stem-loop. The stem-loop should be on the reverse side of the lapel and just a bit under the button hole. The stem-loop is often a silk thread, which supports, oddly enough from the name, the stem of the flower. If your suit does not have a silk thread to hold the stem in place, don’t let this stop you—you could still ply the flower, being careful to adjust it now and again, but it’s easy enough for a tailor to simply add a silk thread to the appropriate spot when you have a chance to drop your suit off at the tailor’s shop.
Remember, we’re in good company wearing a buttonhole—if anyone asks why you’re wearing one, tell them about our friend Prince Albert, and that you want to spread joy and sunshine wherever you go. Then leave them with a hearty “Pip-pip” whilst they watch you walk off, amazed that elegant gentlemen still walk the earth.
For more about flowers on the lapel, and other sterling and inside information on suits and men's style, check out A Tailored Suit--one of the very few bespoke tailors in America, making suits on par with those across the pond.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
Ask the WDG Friday
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Monday, June 8, 2009
The Etiquetted Gentleman V
You’re walking down the street. Coming straight at you is a beautiful girl you met a few weeks ago, single, eyes with stars in them, and her name is…Great Scot, what is her name? You meet each other’s gaze, she says “Hi Rollo,” you say, “Hey…you!” The result? Her face falls, her eyes no longer have stars in them, they rather contain the visage of nuclear explosions, and she slaps you, and walks away.
We can glean 2 very important lessons from this chilling tale:
- Are you aware that you’re name isn’t Rollo? You want to get this one right straight off the bat;
- The correct reply to this unfortunate situation is “Whew”—do you really want to marry a girl who slaps you at the drop of a hat? I mean, because she’s mad?
In a word, forgetting names is like removing the rabbit-proof fence from around the carrots. How many jobs have been foregone, marriages never contracted, reputations ruined, and slaps on the face incurred due to name-forgetting? There’s no poll, of which I am aware, that tell us these hair-raising statistics, so we can make up our own realistic numbers based on a professionally uneducated guess: Millions.
Memory is a truly gentlemanly facility to practice and strengthen. There are a number of ways to do this—try to recall the scenery about you as you walk, what the buildings look like, what tie that guy is wearing, the name of your kids, perhaps your mother-in-law as well, etc. This shows people not only respect, but it buoys up your reputation as a gentleman who is smart, pays attention, is respectful, and above all, treats people as they should be treated—with dignity.
Names are particularly important though, because they are so personal—when remembered, it strengthens (or establishes) bonds of friendship and camaraderie; people notice when you remember their names. You no doubt notice when someone remembers your name.
Here is one practical and proven method to develop a memory for names, thanks to a fellow named Henry Clay, who was pretty rotten at remembering names. He had just entered a career in law and figured he had to do something to correct this embarrassing fault. So, every night before he went to bed he would recall the names of everyone he had met that day. He then wrote those names in a notebook, and repeated the list the next morning. You can guess what happened—after a while he came to have a reputation as a fellow who knew many names but assigned them to all the wrong people because he wasn’t getting enough sleep. Wait, no—that’s the story of Rumpelstiltskin and the Three Bears. Henry Clay, on the other hand, was esteemed by all and sundry because he did in fact remember correctly everyone’s name, and never forgot them. People like this; especially relatives.
Listening to people is also the mark of a gentleman. This can get tricky when one is listening to a variety of, I will be blunt, annoying people: the close talker, the guy who won’t stop talking about himself, the guy who talks at you rather than with you, someone who has not yet discovered the joys of deodorant, and so on.
Yet still, as a preux chevalier, we listen attentively, and make comments here and there to show that we have been listening and understand them. Where our impulses and dislikes are liable to cause pain to another they must be controlled and put aside. In our modern world of getting what we want, when we want it—in a word, a world that emphasizes indulging in selfishness—this can be a pretty hefty order to swallow. But the result otherwise is that we turn away from others with manifest disgust or annoyance, and one is guilty not only of an ungentlemanly, but of a cruel, act.
There is a famous saying: “Be kind—be kind, and you’ll be a Saint.” It’s slightly simplistic of course, but it serves to make an excellent point: Kindness requires putting oneself aside and being truly concerned about the "other."
Lest we leave a loophole, remember—it's bad form to talk about someone in a negative way behind their back, the only exception being for a quite serious reason. Viz, if someone is rude, annoying or has not taken a shower in the past year, say nothing; if someone says they are really mad and going to kill someone, probably a good idea to say something.
Well, there it is, er--I'm sorry, what's your name again?
Friday, June 5, 2009
Ask the WDG Friday
One Mr. Tom Laurie asks, “Does anyone still wear a flower in the buttonhole of the jacket lapel?”
Ah, Mr. Laurie. Sadly, almost no one seems to do this anymore. I’m not sure why it is, but many men seem to wear a suit as a fireman wears his fire gear—not for style, not to look dapper, but as a necessary element. Granted, there is a bit of the “necessary element” to the suit, or to the dress pants/blazer combination. But when it comes to suits and the like, that shouldn’t be the main thing—if a lad simply dons a suit because it’s required, and only dons the bare minimum, then where's the snap? The pizazz? The personal touch? It's the, "a suit is just a uniform" attitude that accounts (at least in part) for the lack of style or dapperness. How many men wear a suit, or other fine ensemble, because it’s fun? Because they look smashing? Because a fine ensemble makes the world a more beautiful place? Because it shows respect for ourselves and those around us? Or, because it's timelessly classic? For those of us who do dress up for these reasons, you will no doubt find a good-ish number that wear a flower in the old lapel buttonhole. It’s just that we’re in the minority, so not oft seen.
But, to be completely fair, there are only two ways to get a live flower—stop at the store every time one goes out, or grow one’s own. In my case, I have a bunch of flowers growing about the yard, including rose bushes, and so I can just pop back there and find the right sized flower. Not residing in a tropical clime, I can only do this in the late Spring and throughout the Summer. The rest of the year, I’m afraid my lapel is sans flower. But if you can get one, or grow some, wearing a flower on the lapel is an extraordinarily dapper move. It exhibits that timeless class, style and dapperness. People will stare a bit—but only because so few men dress like a modern day Beau Brummel these days and can't believe their eyes, which seem to say, "Wow, people still dress that way!"
Whatever you do, remember—plastic or silk flowers are a fashion faux pas of a pretty serious sort; there’s only one occasion when you can wear a fake flower, and that’s if there’s a plastic tube going from the flower to a squeeze bottle of water in your pocket.
Regarding flower size, you surely don’t want one that’s too big. I would estimate a flower about half the size of the lapel where the button hole is located. As for color, try to make it coordinate with your ensemble as best you can. White goes with most anything (except a white or very light jacket). If you’re going to grow some, pick a color or colors that will most often match with what you wear. Doesn’t have to be a rose bush, it can be any properly sized, pleasant looking (and smelling) flower.
And don’t forget the pocket square—another element that many men neglect. Again, white goes with almost anything, but you can coordinate the color with whatever it is you’re wearing (though the pocket square is usually coordinated with the tie). There are also different manners of employing the pocket square. Take a look here and here for ideas; you can also research photos and movies from the 1920’s to the 1950’s to see how men back in the day folded them.
With that, I say thanks for the good question, Tom!
Autumn-Weight Summer Wear
It’s a sunny summer day, and feels beautifully like autumn, a brisk 60 or so degrees. This may not happen where you live, but in the mid-west of America as of late, that’s been the clime. It’s a time to be a bit creative, wearing the proper summer colors, but in a weight that fits the weather.
Here is but one sample of many possible ideas:
Pants—light color, lighter than khaki, even white, but in a heavier weight then normal—corduroy strength or slightly lighter.
Dress Shirt—white, white with thin stripes, or other light color (blue perhaps).
Jacket—dark blue, of the typical navy-blue blazer with gold buttons-type blue, but in Harris Tweed.
Tie—knit, since the thick Harris Tweed jacket requires a heavier weight tie. If not, say, a knit silk tie, then a tie of a heavier fabric, such as cashmere or wool.
Hat—of course! A brown Fedora or an English Driving Cap fits the bill nicely.