Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dressing the Frugal Gentleman

An excellent question was posted on my last post, 'Dressing to the Nines'--how does one dress well and yet maintain a frugal budget?  Is this simply impossible?

In short--certainly not!  Though I do not ever advertise the fact, and this is probably the only public setting in which you will hear me say it, I am often currently quite short on ready money myself.  It is the curse of being an adjunct professor...doing what one loves for a fraction of what one would like to be paid.  This may be surprising to some of my acquaintances, as I do live by several important maxims: 'A very well-bred man intensely dislikes the mention of money, and never speaks of it (out of business hours) if he can avoid it'...'A gentleman must always appear as if money is of no consequence to him'.  Nonetheless, the wise gentleman--and the gentleman who wishes to retain that status in society--is, in actuality, careful and meticulous in his financial affairs.

Many men who may have half a mind to attempt dressing as a gentleman are immediately discouraged by the erroneous assumption that all high fashion costs at least a small farm to obtain.  However, one need not shop regularly at Brooks Brothers to dress to the nines.  The following are some suggestions on how one can dress like a gentleman whilst on the budget of the working masses:

1)  Sales, sales, sales.  Many people think, quite wrongly, that cheap stores with inferior quality clothing are the only way to save money on fashion wear.  However, the cheapest prices that I have ever paid were at department stores such as Macy's and Boscov's.  I have literally spent less than $10 on designer blazers and waistcoats, and all of my tuxedos (save my evening tails) have been on sale and cost far less than if I had rented a set from some horrible place such as Men's Warehouse for only one event!  All one has to do is keep an eye out for sales and then comb through the racks for stylish options.  In England, I found Slaters Menswear to have some excellent prices on very nice suits (especially three-piece), and even Next had some rather good sales on their men's formal styles from time to time, as well as department stores like Debenhams.

2)  Discount stores.  Stores like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx often carry some very lovely clothing for even lovelier prices.  One may, of course, have to do quite a lot of combing through the racks to acquire such finds, but the end result can be more than worth the effort.  I myself recently picked up a set of French cuff dress shirts for excellent prices in my local Marshalls.

3)  Antique/Second-hand shops.  For items such as cuff links, collar bars, studs, pocket watches, etc., sometimes these shops are perfect.  For instance, I recently visited the antique mall 'Days of Olde' in Smithville, NJ, and picked up a smashing set of gold-plated abalone cuff links and studs and a pair of silver and mother-of-pearl cuff links--all dating to the 1920s--for $25!  Though some antique dealers charge exorbitant prices, others sell things quite reasonably, so it is always worth a look.

4)  Goodwill/Charity shops.  Personally, I do draw the line here.  I just cannot bring myself to enter any sort of Goodwill store, and I myself do not like to buy clothing that has already been worn by someone else.  However, if you do not have such scruples, these may be excellent options.  A friend of mine found several Harris Tweed jackets in a Pennsylvania Goodwill--for those not familiar with the make, Harris Tweed is one of the most established and respected makers of tweed suits, all handmade in Scotland.  In the UK, a jacket alone easily costs at least $200-$300, while my very fortunate friend paid less than $20.

I hope that this provides some ideas as to how one can begin building his gentleman's wardrobe without emptying the bank, selling the farm, and enslaving the children.  Of course, one can also learn to sew (which some of my more industrious friends do) or marry a girl who does.  In the meantime, I wish you all the best of luck in your hunt for affordable gentlemen's fashion!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dressed to the Nines

One of the most lamentable aspects of our current society is the almost complete collapse of rules for dress.  It used to be that a gentleman (and a lady) was expected to dress in various levels of formality depending upon the event which he was attending.  Now, people wear whatever they like, with a most regrettable emphasis upon remaining 'comfortable' at all times.  The root of this maniacal need for comfort is far deeper than the scope of this blog can discuss, but suffice it to say that I adhere to the following maxim:  'If you're too comfortable, you don't look good'.

Many of my own acquaintances think that I am too inhibited by the old rules of dress, but on the contrary, it gives me great pleasure to know when to wear tweed and when to wear linen.  Such boundaries are what separate men from beasts and gentlemen from the unwashed masses.

Thus, I shall outline various times, seasons, and events that occur in the gentleman's life and the proper corresponding clothing.  However, for most of these, I shall give two possibilities, the first being the height of traditional correctness (which I follow more or less constantly), the second being a slightly more modernised version, in case some gentlemen are still rather shy of appearing too 'different' or 'eccentric' in our generally slovenly culture.



In General:  It is generally accepted that lighter colours are to be worn in the morning and into the early afternoon.  In the summer, for example, a seersucker jacket and white trousers are an admirable choice of morning wear, but if one were to dine out in the evening, this should be substituted for a suit of darker hue.  Likewise, in the winter, tweeds and corduroys are perfectly acceptable during the day, though a black suit, dinner jacket, etc. (depending upon the formality of the event in question) should be assumed in the evening.

Weddings:  Traditionally, a morning wedding requires a morning suit--full morning tails (grey or black), grey waistcoat, and grey striped trousers, as shown below.  However, a three-piece suit or a lounge suit is also acceptable in the current society.  If one wishes to wear a morning suit, grey gloves and a grey or black top hat are the proper accoutrements; either a tie or an ascot may be worn.  Below is a picture of HRH Prince William wearing a morning suit.  Events such as Trooping the Colour or the Royal Ascot also require a morning suit.



In General:  Evening wear ought always to be of a dark colour, usually black.  For most dinner engagements, a dark three-piece suit (or a lounge suit, if one really must be less formal) is perfectly acceptable.  Sadly, gone are the days when all men donned the dinner jacket whether they dined out or at home.

Weddings:  In our times, the level of formality at a late afternoon or evening wedding varies significantly but should always be detailed on the invitation.  Some may only require a suit--a three-piece suit is always advisable at a high event such as a wedding--though this ought always to be of a dark colour, preferably black.  Among those who wish to do the thing properly, or if the invitation stipulates 'black tie', a dinner jacket (a tuxedo jacket in American English) fits the bill, along with a black waistcoat and a black bow tie.  For the most formal of weddings, those labelled 'white tie', traditional evening tails must be worn, along with a white waistcoat and bow tie.  With this last, white gloves and black top hat may also be worn, along with a long dress coat or opera cloak and a white silk scarf if the weather requires it.

Opera:  I never find myself more appalled than when I see the outfits that people now wear to attend the opera; they appear to be more prepared for a general gathering of field hands and washerwomen than a performance of Don Giovanni.  If one attends opening night, white tie and tails are the proper mode of dress.  However, if this is not possible for whatever reason, black tie and dinner jacket (tuxedo) will suffice.  Anything less on opening night would be, in my opinion, an insult to the entire opera company.  For performances other than opening night, though tails or dinner jackets are traditionally still recommended, a three-piece suit is acceptable.  A lounge suit is better than nothing, no jacket is reprehensible, and jeans ought to be cast into the outer darkness.

Theatre:  Generally, the same rules apply as those of the opera, though the theatre--West End, Broadway, etc.--seems to have become regarded as much less formal than the opera.  Thus, suits may always be considered acceptable, though I still deplore anything less.



From autumn until Easter, tweed is an admirable fabric for day wear.  It used to be that tweed was mostly worn when visiting the countryside, but that is no longer the case.  The same time frame is true for corduroy and velvet.  However, after Easter (as a general rule), these fabrics ought not be worn.

From Easter through the end of summer (again, generally speaking), one may wear light colours, especially white, and lighter fabrics such as linen and seersucker.


Shoes, Hats, and More:

Shoes should always match the entire outfit, of course, and they should generally be the same colour as one's belt.  For example, with a navy blue suit, one should wear either a navy belt and navy shoes or an oxblood belt and oxblood shoes.  A gentleman's shoes should always be cleaned and polished before going out, especially when he is dressed in evening wear, as only patent leather ought to be worn on such occasions.

Fedoras and homburgs are the best hats for daytime use with three-piece suits or lounge suits.  If a hat is desired with evening wear, black or white tie, it must be a top hat.

Traditionally, a gentleman always wore gloves when he went out, though this has definitely fallen out of fashion.  However, if one wishes to remain old-fashioned, grey, black, or navy gloves can be worn with suits, while white gloves must be worn with evening wear.

If one wishes to be very old-fashioned (and, in my opinion, very elegant), walking sticks may be used.  For daytime, a regular walking cane is used, an example of which may be seen below:

With formal evening wear, a dress cane is most appropriate.  Below is my own turn-of-the-century dress cane, which I generally carry when in white tie.


This is just the briefest of outlines regarding a gentleman's dress, but I hope that it might prove useful to someone in his own attempt to dress to the nines.  Once one overcomes the fear of possibly being a bit more uncomfortable than he would be in sandals and t-shirts, it is really quite exhilarating to enter society with panache.  Life is far too short to waste on drab dumpiness--why not live with flair, dash, and elegance?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Pocket Watch Panache

These days, the most common timepiece found upon a man is the ubiquitous cell phone, occasionally a wristwatch.  However, there is an undeniable allure about a man elegantly pulling out a gently ticking pocket watch to check the time.  Even in our age of technology, the carrying of a pocket watch is not completely pass√©.  Pocket watches are still made, bought, and sold, though most are inevitably worn in jeans pockets, the chain attached to a belt.  While this at least keeps the ownership of such watches alive, there are far more striking ways to wear a watch.

However, I must first point out that there are various ways to correctly wear pocket watches, as scores of antique photographs prove.  Thus, I shall merely present two of the most common ways that watches are worn; I personally also find them to be two of the most polished-looking ways to sport a watch.

First, allow me to introduce the different parts of a pocket watch; if you are already familiar with such things, please forgive my pedantry.  Naturally, there is the watch itself.  Some are lidded, while others are open-faced.  If your watch has a case lid, do remember that it is never wise to snap it closed--eventually, the catch will wear out and the lid will not remain shut.  Instead, press the crown (the winding button) to release the latch, close the lid, and then release the crown to secure the latch.  Attached to the watch is the watch chain, which can come in varying lengths.  Typically, a T-bar is attached to the chain and slips through the buttonhole of the wearer's waistcoat (like the back of a tie tack).  At the end of the chain (or in the middle, if you wear the chain across the waistcoat in each pocket) is the watch fob.  A fob is really just a bit of finery used to make one's watch chain look dashed spiffy.  It can be something useful, such as a little cigar cutter; something sentimental, such as a locket; a medallion from one's club or society; a signet ring...the possibilities are endless.

The watch is always worn in the right pocket, with the face turned toward the body.  In this way, it is easy to slip one's hand into his pocket, take out the watch (nestled in his palm), and open it all in one fluid motion.  Like the older custom of taking snuff, there is a distinct art to the elegant removal of one's pocket watch; just a bit of practice makes a world of difference.

Here, in the first photograph, I am wearing my watch chain through a button above the level of my pocket, showing the fob off nicely against the waistcoat.

In the second photograph, I am wearing the T-bar of my watch chain through the buttonhole that is on level with my pocket, the watch in one pocket, the end of the chain (attached to a cigar cutter for weight) in the other.  My fob is now hanging from the middle of the watch chain, a the end of the little T-bar chain.

Like I said, there are other ways of wearing watches correctly; these are my personal preferences.  Regardless of how you wear your watch, do wear it proudly and often.  Perhaps, with the help of a few trend-setting gentlemen, the wearing of pocket watches (and waistcoats) will once again become all the rage.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

To Speak Like A Gentleman

Speaking like a gentleman does not only mean using proper grammar, avoiding slang, and shunning bad language.  It also has much to do with the tone and volume of the voice.  Etiquette for Gentleman, a highly useful compilation of gentlemanly instruction written in the 1890's, states, 'There is a certain distinct but subdued tone of voice which is peculiar to only well-bred persons.  A loud voice is both disagreeable and vulgar.  It is better to err by the use of too low than too loud a tone.'

Unfortunately, unnecessarily strident voices are often heard in public places, most lamentably in places such as restaurants.  When sitting down to dinner, even amongst good friends, it is important that one's voice retain a respectable volume and tone.  It is useful to note, too, that in any situation, a man with a quiet voice yet a firm, commanding tone and bearing is going to be heard and given regard by those to whom he speaks; in contrast, a loud, insistent way of speaking is sure to result only in the annoyance and, eventually, the abandonment of one's audience.