Shopping for clothes can be a man’s worst nightmare. It can be time consuming, stressful and confusing. Poor purchases are often made when one is under pressure; to guide the modern man I have detailed a few important points below.
1. Wear good shoes
Buy decent English shoes and look after them. With traditional English shoes – those that are bench grade and Goodyear welted, you get what you pay for. Loake represent good value for money; upgrade to Crockett and Jones and eventually Edward Green if and when you can. Proper shoes are a big jump up from the basic glued on pointy toed shoes from high street retailers. They will last longer, are better value for money, and most importantly will look better. Use a shoe horn every morning (preferably buffalo horn, but plastic will do), cedar shoe trees after use, brush down after a day’s wear and wipe down before. Try not to wear on consecutive days and never dry wet leather shoes under a radiator. Polish/cream as appropriate to replace essential oils and keep the leather supple. As winter approaches consider commissioning your cobbler to apply a thin strip of rubber atop your leather sole.
A quick tale here to illustrate my point. I used to work with a chap who, to the untrained eye, was impeccably dressed. He wore perfectly fitted custom suits, stylised with a contrast colour buttonhole. The colour of the buttonhole would match the lining of his jacket. He would then match his tie to this colour, as well as his socks. So a typical outfit could be a navy business suit with a bright yellow buttonhole, yellow jacket lining, yellow tie and yellow socks. He was clearly concerned with his appearance and put thought into his dress. Unfortunately for him, rather than exude the confidence of a well dressed man, he looked a prat. The point here is that matching should be subtle. It always looks inelegant to match colours exactly; colours should blend and complement each other. By matching exactly, your look becomes too affected. Your staple work wear socks should be navy or grey, perhaps a deep green or wine red. The majority of men think that black socks go with everything; wrong – they go with nothing.
3. Wear proper trousers
Jeans are ubiquitous. They are a man’s default choice of attire for almost everything outside of the office. Jeans and a t shirt at the weekend. Jeans and a shirt when going out. Wearing them all the time is boring; variety is required.
Chinos and moleskins are the obvious alternative to the layman: casual and available in a range of colours. Smart when paired with a belt and shirt, prevalent amongst young and old alike. The thinking man’s choice of trouser however should be flannels. They can be cut slim, with tailored turn-ups, a low waist and flat fronted. They can be dressed up with a jacket and tie. They go with any knitwear you own. They go with fitted T-shirts as well as Oxford button-downs. They are the perfect trouser: soft to the touch, sophisticated, comfortable. My mid to light grey flannels from Reiss are my favourite item of clothing. Go out and buy a pair.
4. Understand yourself
Wearing good clothes should not be the preserve of the well off. In years gone by, the majority of men dressed well, now the un-affordability of tailoring sadly means it is very much the minority. Furthermore, those that are sartorially inclined tend to be associated with particular interests or pursuits. Because I appreciate fine clothes does not mean I like fine whiskies. I dislike swanky bars and pretentious restaurants; I have no interest in jewellery or sports cars. This quite probably excludes me from being ‘cool’, but then descriptions of such men omit two thing fundamental to my enjoyment of life: family and sport.
This leads onto my main point: that there are certain characteristics – aside from dressing well – commonly ascribed to a gentleman that I do like, and deserve greater attention. They tend to be more personal, rather than public pleasures. They are less prone to pretence. They are built on a respect for oneself and others.
I think I have always been polite; on occasion to my detriment. They taught you to hold the door open for others when I was at school; to stand up when a teacher walks in. But I appreciate it more, the older I get. It is the gentleness that makes a gentleman. It is, for me, a natural extension of the careful consideration you should give to what you wear and what you surround yourself with. It is personal – how one chooses to dress and conduct oneself; it is not etiquette. Etiquette is public.