“A rash of stylishly essential items for the discerning male that wouldn’t go amiss this Spring.”.
I’m 29 and I’m still no closer to knowing what underpants are best for me: briefs, cotton boxers or those stretchy Calvin Klein ones? What’s best for this hot climate? I wear slim-cut chinos or suits to work, and lounge around in shorts on weekend. And please don’t suggest a G-String. I’m not a member of the Chippendales.
There is only one option when it comes to underwear and that is the cotton boxer. Briefs are a complete no no as they are just plain tacky while, I’d be worried about your mental health, if you proposed a G string as, there is no need for such items to exist, never mind wear. And, as for those stretchy Calvin’s, why have your crown jewels encased in a cloth that is part lycra, which means part nylon, which means darned uncomfortable when you can opt for a pair of roomy boxers in 100%Egyptian cotton? A word of warning though, some boxer shorts-even though they might say 100% cotton-still sport nylon elasticated waistbands which can play havoc. My favourite make is Sunspel who make a no nonsense cotton boxer.
As a regular cyclist I’ve got really beefy thighs and can’t get away with wearing slim jeans, but I want to look stylish. I’m 5 feet 11’’ and I want something I can team up with a blazer. What brand and cut are best for me?
Only those who are under 25 and skinny as an anorexic greyhound should wear slim jeans. To add, unless you are a 14 year old wanna be fashion designer, they are so so over. So opt for a generously cut pair of selvage such as Levi 501 XX or Lee 101 and look as if you know the score and don’t need to try. But as for wearing any jean, especially a tight pair, with any blazer is a sartorial crime- unless you want to look like David Cameron on his day off. Undeniably, this is especially tragic (the very thought has given me hives) if your blazer is a traditional number in a plain cloth with brass buttons(which is the definition of a proper blazer) as then you must wear a nice pair of slacks ironed to perfection, (such as Dockers Never Iron essential Khaki-) as they verge on the formal. Of course, some consider the unstructured unlined jacket a blazer and, although I disagree (as to me they are sports jackets) they are undeniably more versatile and can be worn with a softer chino. I’d opt for the Dockers Field Khaki classic fit, The Bills Khaki Classic or the Calvin Klein soft wash Chino Dylan pant all of which come in a variety of colours.
“I’ve just got my tailor to make me a few double/French-cuff shirts so that I can finally wear all the cufflinks my wife has been buying me every Christmas since 2009, however I read somewhere that they’re OK for weddings but too formal for the office (I work in the finance sector). What’s your take on this?”
It depends on the link. A nice plain simple vintage cuff link is perfect for the office whereas a extravagant affair is certainly only just about only appropriate for nighttime. Indeed, anything that catches the eye is unsuitable for work in any sector -unless you’re a children’s entertainer -and that goes for ties waistcoats and shoes. Keep them simple and plain and, for Heaven’s sake, whatever you do, NEVER EVER, wear a novelty cuff link even if it is a present as, folk will laugh at you and not with you.
”If all that a Duffel Coat, sums up for you is Paddington Bear then you MUST read on. A great and truly unique Brit topcoat it’s enjoyed a deserved place in the annals of unimpeachable global sartoria since its inception and looks as good today as it did back then.”
Indeed, many of you probably suffered the item as school wear -one’s ma diligently buttoning up the toggles to the top -the rough wool cloth causing an unsightly rash and then soaking up the rain like a Turkish sponge so that by the time you arrived at school you were double your normal weight. Halcyon days of walking to school, runny noses, Vick’s inhaler and soggy outerwear. Undoubtedly, in the seventies the item was de rigueur but only on the backs of school kids their grand dads, hippies and geography teachers.
The first duffel I ever saw was worn by my uncle Peter who, some 15 years older than yours truly, who sported the item in the mid sixties along with his big Aran jumpers Abe Lincoln beard, tight jeans and desert boots while listening to the likes of Lightning Hopkins and one Robert Zimmerman. He smoked a pipe, was barely twenty, was in University and spoke French. I was fascinated. And rightly so. He was Beatnik who diligently admired, On The Road (first published in paperback in the UK in 1961) Arthur Rimbaud, William Burroughs, Jack Brel, Jean Paul Sartre and Juliette Greco – most of whom loved good duffel. But back then you were a Beatnik, a Mod or a Rocker. The former loved an exotic roll up, philosophy and attended college, the second a nice dollop of speed, soul music and was an apprentice and the latter beer, ugly birds and worked in a factory. What all three had in common however was a penchant for a services top coat: Mods had their US army parkas, the rockers their Royal Air force flying jackets and the Beatniks had their duffels.
It’s roots lie in an a marriage between an item designed by John Partridge in 1887 featuring the trademark wooden and rope closure and a hooded Polish frock coat of the 1850’s. Its existence and consequent recognition is down to the Royal Navy big wigs who in the 1890’s employed an unknown to design the duffel coat-based on the above – that, hardwearing and practical, seemed perfect for sailors. The coat, initially a rather spartan unlined hooded affair featured wooden toggle and hemp rope fastening, a square shoulder yoke and large square patch pockets, was deliberately roomy to allow sailors to climb rigging unfettered. Its name comes from the Belgian town of Duffel which produced a heavy linen and woolen cloth that was used for the original duffel bag although not the coat that obeyed the British Admiralty’s insistence in 1900 that only British fabric could be used for forces mufti and so a heavy double faced, boiled woolen twill was employed instead. The original color was camel beige as popularized by one Field Marshall Montgomery made it his own. Accordingly the British government fearing the war would never end produced thousands of the blighters that, after the war, went into army surplus stores nationwide.
At first the duffel was adopted by the likes of Dylan Thomas, Samuel Beckett, Jean Cocteau and Labour supremo Michael Foot – bright, bohemian left wing thinkers who, just as their US counterparts, adopted surplus and utility wear as a symbol of rebellion against the stiff collars of the past ultra conservative generation.
One couple who spotted the trend were Harold Morris and his wife Freda, who in 1950, augmented their glove and overall business by buying bought some surplus duffle coat fabric from the navy along with some duffle coats and recreated the item. The brand became known as Gloverall – an amalgamation of gloves and overall –and instead of the original heavy-duty amazingly itchy fabric a kinder 34 oz Tyrolean Loden fabric was used.
Soon the style dripped down to students such as Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett who, along with many other undergraduates of the mid to late fifties sported the item alongside corduroys, brown suede shoes and pullovers (Brown being rather very unconventional back then) smoked pipes, had collar length hair and beards and hung out in cafés such as Soho’s Le Macabre on Meard St and The 2 I’s on Old Compton and embraced a bit of trad jazz, skiffle, folk and blues and supported the CND. The Beatles wore the duffel, as did the US Ivy League brigade.
Ever since designers such as Burberry, River Island, Gabicci and Ralph Lauren have constantly reinvented the duffel, but the TRUE original takes some beating. Of late said item (such as Gloverall’s Monty) has popped up again on the backs of canny souls who, whether sporting it with Levis jacket and jeans and Weejuns, a pair of cords and a big jumper or a sixties suit, tie and wingtips, realise that this is a classic worth revisiting.
”Even though many ascribe the invention of this great British classic to Nathan Clark who, in 1949 designed a boot that was based on an item that officers of the British Eighth Army had made for them by local Egyptian tradesmen during the Second World War, its roots actually lie in India along with the jodhpur and the khaki trouser.”
Initially, this traditionally two eyelet suede boot was named the ‘chukka boot’ after the playing period in polo and, often unlined and fitted with a rubber or leather sole had been brought back to the UK by the British Raj from the thirties on and was worn by rather louche crazy corduroy trouser wearing bohemians. Thus it was but a hop skip and a jump away when said ‘cool cats’, stationed in climates far too severe for the Brit army boot, had their faithful Chukkas copied in Cairo’s Old Bazaar. The result was the simple, comfortable, roughly fashioned crepe-soled suede boots which they wore off duty. And as often is the history of any garment when an original is copied what is lost or added in translation becomes the norm and as such becomes the blue print for another slightly different and at times equally iconic style. Ipso facto what is a desert boot if not a sloppily constructed chukka. And it was such an article that Nathan Clark (of the famed Quaker Somerset shoemakers, C+ J Clarke) brought back from Burma where he’d been stationed with the West African Brigade in the late forties. Consequently, without a bye your leave he set about perfecting the Clark’s Desert Boot desert boot. In 1950 Nathan unveiled them at the Chicago shoe fair and sales went through the roof rocketed.
Of course the boot ticked all the relevant boxes for ‘hep’ in the early fifties. Their soft no nonsense structure was perfectly aligned with the free thinking jazz ideology of the day and paired with jeans and sweatshirt s became, along with open toed sandals and loafers, the chosen footwear for jazzers, beat poets and long hairs alike such as Jack Kerouac and his hero Neal Cassady..Over in the UK middle class trad jazzers, skiffle kids and later beatniks – who added the obligatory Aran jumper, beard and duffle coat – initially championed the boot. They met in the 2i’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street and The Cat’s Whisker’ at the corner of Kingly Street and Beak Street, Soho and marched in their desert boots to Aldermaston holding their Ban The Bomb banners high.
As a result the item became associated with a certain breed of jazz cigarette smoking existentialists and it was this that, coupled with the opening of the first Clarks store in Regent Street in 1957, ensured their place in the annals of great British youth culture. The Beatles in their early days sported desert boots, as did Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones and Patrick McGoohan star of the massively popular Danger Man series while in Paris the left bank was chokka with desert boot wearing non conformists who frequented the famed Beat Hotel. Simply there was no other groovy casual shoe in the early sixties.
In 1963 the shoe took an almighty leap in popularity when the Godfather of Mod Steve McQueen decided, apparently of his own volition, to wear desert boot s (along with a sweatshirt, chinos and a A1 bomber jacket –all curiously ex military gear) in the film The Great Escape.
Previously the item had been aligned with beats and dropouts – the ancestors of hippy -but now it would jump ship and grace the feet of their diametrical opposite – the Mods – who were in the words of John Stephens His Clothes proprietor and the man behind Carnaby Street in the sixties, ” Influenced by American clothing.” Curiously, the most prominent items of the Mod portmanteau- the button down shirt and the desert boot – were both seen as American but were both in fact taken directly from the polo field and were quintessentially British.
By the mid sixties the boot had lost any and all connections with polo and conquered the high street, The chosen footwear of The Who, The Small Faces and The Animals it was all over the country like a rash. The item came full circle in 1967 when the Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Shackleton, came back from Aden wearing a pair of locally made desert boots. He returned to Aden with orders from several Government ministers for pairs of desert boots.
Such governmental approval might be seen as the death knell for any street wear but not so much as its approbation by Marks and Spencer’s who, in 1970 ,copied Clarks Desert Boot at 55 shillings a pair as part of a revamp of their men’s fashion department teaming the once proud boot with a navy blazer, Scottish tweed trousers, a button down shirt and a silk paisley scarf. No longer the hep item it once was it was now the chosen shoe of geography teachers, rollup smoking hippy soundmen and middle class dads who wanted to get down with the younger generation. And so the shoe continued as a laughing stock .No one wanted them. They were a pariah. That is until the film Quadrophenia came along in 1979 that, riding on the wave of the new mod revival, gave the shoe yet another lease of life. Subsequently championed by the likes of Paul Weller they at this point well and truly attained the level of unimpeachable classic UK street wear – an accolade awarded only to the likes of the Fred Perry, the Barracuda G9, the Levis 501 and the Doc Marten.
Consequently, when any band or youth movement gleans any influence from Mod culture out comes the desert boot. Oasis, again drawing on the sixties, influenced yet another generation of popsters who were mad for the article , Damon Albarn still wears them while the Arctic Monkeys are often seen padding around West London in said footwear. Today desert boots are seen to be back in vogue and are coming from all corners and all manufacturers but , for my money, there’s only Clarks (particularly the Tobacco Suede) Ask The Missus at Office and Roamers for the more casual minded while Church’s Ryder III Brown Suede (as worn by Bond in Quantum of Solace) and John White are for those who want something a little more sturdy. Best consign the likes of Dry Bones, Mantaray and Skechers to the bin say I.
But the question that often provokes heated debate is what do you wear the desert boot with? “Only wear desert boots with jeans or cord (the latter rarely), you could probably wear ’em with sta-prest – personally we wouldn’t,” says the Brit website Mod Culture. “But a suit and desert boots is a big no-no! “ You have been warned.
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