Ardor for Barbour

Barbour Beaufort jacket

Jeremy Hackett, the man behind Hackett—a brand that, by copying and improving upon English classics, is in many ways the British equivalent of Ralph Lauren—waxes eloquent about the time he discovered the virtues of a Barbour jacket:

When I opened my first shop in London in 1983, I sold — as one magazine kindly put it — dead men’s clothes. Today they are known as vintage, and some items can fetch exorbitant prices. Once, on one of my frequent forays to Portobello Market, I chanced upon an ancient, patched-up Barbour jacket. I bought it and put it in the window, where it sold within minutes at a price not far from what it cost new. The attraction, I realized, was precisely that it was worn. In no time at all, no self-respecting Sloane Ranger would be seen without this distinctive olive green coat. Young army officers wore them as part of their mufti, teamed with straw-colored corduroys, suede shoes and red socks. Aspiring bankers adopted the Barbour, and it also became de rigueur over black tie. It was a way of airing your country pedigree, though you may have actually lived in a two-up, two-down in Fulham.

It spoke of damp dogs sleeping on tartan coat linings in the back of battered Land Rovers, of point-to-points and Badminton Horse Trials, all things dear to an Englishman. I recently retrieved my old Beaufort Barbour — with its oily texture, brown corduroy collar and brass zipper as strong as a railway line — from the attic, where it had lain neglected for nearly 20 years. Suddenly, I was filled with nostalgia for the countryside. So, despite not owning a large pile in the shires, I shall wear my shabby Barbour the next time I go shopping on Sloane Street — but I think I’ll leave my green wellies in the Land Rover.

Kilt Tough

UtilikiltWorkman's Utilikilt

Far from being a traditional Scottish kilt, the Utilikilt is a proud representative of the “men’s unbifurcated garment” a/k/a the manskirt. Offered in eight styles, in materials including cotton, leather, duck cloth, and lightweight nylon, it aims to be a manly, well-ventilated alternative to the tyranny of trousers. It’s also great for anyone looking to pick a fight.  Obviously only for the brave, the garment is best attempted by big, burly men.

The Abecedarian Companion

ABC of Men's Fashion

First published in 1964, and long out of print, the ABC of Men’s Fashion has just been re-issued. Izzy can’t claim ever to have read the guide, but it was at least written by Hardy Amies, the conservative-minded British designer most famous for being dressmaker to the Queen. (The son of a civil servant, he was notorious for his in-your-face snobbery: “I can’t help it,” he once defended himself, “I’m immensely impressed by all genuine upper-class manifestations.”) Izzy thinks it a shame that the new, bland cover ditched the original’s head-turning gentleman in a mod suit—note his narrow trousers and the jacket’s high gorge (where the lapels meet). His hat’s proportions are unfortunate, but such were the times. Even James Bond had to suffer a high-crown, narrow-brim trilby in Dr. No.

The Narcissism of Minor Differences

Jude Law in tiny collar

Having once criticized Jude Law for wearing a too tiny collar and tie, Izzy must admit that the combo above does work.  Could it be that they’re just the smallest bit larger than his earlier, unsuccessful try?  Or perhaps his leaving the tie askew does the trick.

Killer Tees

Izzy generally doesn’t wear t-shirts, at least not visibly, but this video is such a fun homage to hipster tees that it almost changed his mind. (The song is “D.A.N.C.E.” by Justice, a French electro-funk outfit.) For a brief while, some of the shirts were being sold at très supercool Colette, but they’re all gone now.

Through Rain, Sleet, or Snow

Perry Ellis windbreaker

From the looks of this Perry Ellis jacket, recently on show at New York Fashion Week, it looks like Izzy spoke too soon about the Tyvek windbreaker.

Self-Portrait in Tyvek(TM) Windbreaker

James Merrill

Pulitzer-prize-winning poet James Merrill was raised in a highly privileged setting (his father was a co-founder of Merrill Lynch), which should be kept in mind when reading his “Self-Portrait in Tyvek™ Windbreaker,” a meditation on the effects of dressing down. Here’s an excerpt, but Izzy encourages you to read the whole thing:

The windbreaker is white with a world map.
DuPont contributed the seeming-frail,
Unrippable stuff first used for Priority Mail.
Weightless as shoes reflected in deep water,
The countries are violet, orange, yellow, green;
Names of the principal towns and rivers, black.
A zipper’s hiss, and the Atlantic Ocean closes
Over my blood-red T-shirt from the Gap.

I found it in one of those vaguely imbecile
Emporia catering to the collective unconscious
Of our time and place. This one featured crystals,
Cassettes of whalesong and rain-forest whistles,
Barometers, herbal cosmetics, pillows like puffins,
Recycled notebooks, mechanized lucite coffins
For sapphire waves that creast, break, and recede,
As they presumably do in nature still.

Sweat-panted and Reeboked, I wear it to the gym.
My terry-cloth headband is green as laurel.
A yellow plastic Walkman at my hip
Sends shiny yellow tendrils to either ear.

[...]

Americans, blithe as the last straw,
Shrug off accountability by dressing
Younger than their kids—jeans, ski-pants, sneakers,
A baseball cap, a happy-face T-shirt . . .
Like first-graders we “love” our mother Earth,
Know she’s been sick, and mean to care for her
When we grown up. Seeing my windbreaker,
People hail me with nostalgic awe.

“Great jacket!” strangers on streetcorners impart.
The Albanian doorman pats it: “Where you buy?”
Over his ear-splitting drill a hunky guy
Yells, “Hey, you’ll always know where you are, right?”
“Ever the fashionable cosmopolite,”
Beams Ray. And “Voilà mon pays”—the carrot-haired
Girl in the bakery, touching with her finger
The little orange France above my heart.

Everyman, c’est moi, the whole world’s pal!
The pity is how soon such feelings sour.
As I leave the gym a smiling-as-if-I-should-know-her
Teenager—oh but I mean, she’s wearing “our”
Windbreaker, and assumes . . . Yet I return her wave
Like an accomplice. For while all humans aren’t
Countable as equals, we must behave
As if they were, or the spirit dies (Pascal).

[...]

Black, White, and Crinkly

close-up of Diddy in seersuckerDiddy in black-and-white seersucker

Sean “Diddy” Combs shows some inventiveness in a custom-made peak-lapeled suit made of a material Izzy has never seen before, black and white seersucker (a word, incidentally, that derives from the Hindi “shir shakkar,” meaning “milk and sugar”; like the fabric’s alternating stripes, milk is smooth, while sugar is rough).  While Izzy can tolerate such flamboyance in an entertainer, Diddy’s untucked t-shirt, by sloppily peeking out below the jacket, ruins the whole outfit.

The International Screen Actors Garment Workers Union (ISAGWU)

Cary Grant knitting in Mr Lucky

In honor of Labor Day, Izzy wishes to remind his readers of the travails of the working man. After all, even Cary Grant nearly burst a blood vessel in his forehead while knitting his own sweaters.

Breeching the Peace

low-hanging pants

Having deplored low-hanging pants before, Izzy was happy to see that communities are taking action to end the uncivil plague. Pushed to extreme measures, municipalities have criminalized the attire, which is all-too-appropriate given that the style originated in prison, where belts are prohibited. In attempt to get around free-expression Constitutional claims, the laws are aimed at prohibiting public indecency.

The New York Times’ story taught Izzy something new:

Not since the zoot suit has a style been greeted with such strong disapproval. The exaggerated boxy long coat and tight-cuffed pants, started in the 1930s, was the emblematic style of a subculture of young urban minorities. It was viewed as unpatriotic and flouted a fabric conservation order during World War II. The clothing was at the center of what were called Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles, racially motivated beatings of Hispanic youths by sailors. The youths were stripped of their garments, which were burned in the street.

Although Izzy would never encourage a riot, he would like to see a peaceful march that chants “Do not share / derriere / We can see your underwear!” And of course the placards would read “Up with pants!”

Think Yiddish, Dress British

A long-time sufferer from Anglophilia, Izzy is in the midst of reading Ian Buruma’s tribute to that passion, Anglomania. The book contains this fascinating description of Theodore Herzl, the Austro-Hungarian founder of Zionism:

Herzl had always loved dressing up. He was a dandy, with the politics of a dandy. Here he is in a photograph of his Viennese student fraternity, looking more immaculate than his gentile friends: cap at a rakish tilt, coat buttoned up just so, ivory-toppedRobert de Montesquiou cane clasped under arm like a sword. There he is, in morning coat, gloves, cane, and top hat, looking remarkably like comte Robert de Montesquiou, the famous Parisian aesthete, in the portrait by Boldini [pictured at right]. And there we find him, waiting for an audience with the kaiser in the Palestinian desert, sweltering in black formal wear and white tie…And there, in Basel, at the first Zionist Congress in 1897, he is in top hat and tails greeting the delegates. He insisted that all delegates, many of them poor Jews from the east who had never worn such clothes in their lives, attend in white tie. That way, he said, they would appear, in their own as well as as they eyes of the world, as gentlemen of substance.

How ironic that Israeli politicians, in rejecting the jacket and tie and other niceties, became the least formal in the world.

Buruma also includes this tibdit:

Herzl’s Anglophilia as a young man, typically, was largely a matter of his taste in clothes. The playwright Arthur Schnitzler never forgot the devastating occasion when the young Herzl examined Schnitzler’s cravat with a look of distate and said: “And I had considered you a—Brummel!”

En Garde, Vogue

Jay Fielden

The Financial Times just published an article about the growing success of grown-up men’s magazines, paying particular attention to Men’s Vogue, which is edited by Jay Fielden (pictured above in a dapper silk-knit tie):

One of Mr Fielden’s most artful sleights-of-hand has been his treatment of fashion. He has banished male models from the editorial pages and instead outfitted subjects such as tennis star Roger Federer and survivalist Bear Grylls in clothes that are stylish but accessible. It is a Trojan Horse strategy of sneaking fashion into the magazine on the backs of interesting, well-rounded men whom other men might care to read about.

“Fashion is not a word that translates well to men in America,” Mr Fielden says. His readers are more comfortable with the notion of “looking good”.

While getting rid of pouty male models is all well and good, Fielden seems to conflate “fashion” with “looking good.” Fashion, as women’s magazines demonstrate, is about constant change, with a focus on what’s “in” for this or that season. To be fashionable requires the ability to buy lots of new clothes with the “right” labels.   It’s not the word “fashion” that most American men have a problem with—it’s the very idea. They may care about looking good, even having style, but that’s something entirely different from being on the sartorial cutting edge.  Unless that distinction is kept in mind, Fielden’s magazine will likely have a hard time finding its audience.



For those seeking Men's Suits please consider Jos. A. Banks.