I’ve really enjoyed seeing Peter’s coverage of Pitti Uomo 96 last week, in particular his Instagram stories (if you haven’t seen them, they’re highlighted on the Instagram page of Styleforum). I’ve also enjoyed the photographs he’s been sending back (with a little help from his friends).
As with Pitti’s past, I’ve sifted through the images and chosen five fits I’ve liked, and found similar (or sometimes the very same!) clothes to emulate the fit.
The first and second days of Pitti are insane – meetings, parties, and press. The third day slows down dramatically, and by the fourth day, everyone just wants to go home. Presently on the train to Rome to start my trip home, I’m just now realizing that I mostly trawled the booths to take as much advantage of the air conditioning as I could. I should have taken more pictures, but I did catch a lot of video, so check out the stories on Styleforum’s Instagram on these makers:
The days and nights are flying by. Plaza Uomo held an event at the Palazzo Budini Gattai, a 16th century that was built and is still owned by the eponymous family. The next day a few of us got a chance to sneak away from the madness. Andreas Klow (@flannelsandtweed) and Aleks Jovanovich (@aleksjj) and I rented scooters for a jaunt in the Tuscan countryside, and later that evening enjoyed good company with Matt Hranek from W.M. Brown Project and Douglas Cordeaux from Fox Brothers hosted a party where everyone ended up parting ways with a smile on their face.
Check out the StyleForum Instagram feed for stories. These photos are from the evening of day one to the evening of day two. Thanks to Andreas and Aleks for sharing their pics when this third-rate pretend-photographer was slacking off.
Looking around Pitti, I wanted to photograph the people that were more visually interesting to me. Sometimes, those were characters who bordered on the absurd. But in general, my goal was to photograph those who I felt would be more interesting to users of Styleforum, people who tended to have a more conservative or classic aesthetic.
Back in the day, Esquire magazine stalwartly carried the torch of classic black tie. One of my favorite writers of that era, John Berendt, grew up in Syracuse, New York, not far from one of the first appearances of the tuxedo. Almost immediately after graduating from Harvard, he became an associate editor of Esquire from 1961 to 1969 and continued to contribute from 1982 to 1994, when his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was published. Many of his columns begrudgingly acknowledge trends while scornfully piss on what he calls “atrocities.” A particularly funny one is when he took umbrage with some of the spirited choices his contemporaries passed off as acceptable black tie. After observing that the first two public exhibitions of Henry Poole’s dinner jacket in America caused quite a stir, he wrote:
“I mention these two episodes…to make the point that, historically, there has never been much tolerance for individual touches when it comes to formal attire. And properly so–if not for the sake of tradition, than because for some reason the classic model is almost always debased rather than improved by innovation….But in a perverse sort of way we can be grateful to them because of what they reveal about the wearer’s level of taste.”
Classics: The Tuxedo, from Esquire, January 1983
For about 100 years, the classic black tie model has remained more or less the same, and is fairly straightforward: the suit itself can be black or midnight blue wool. As for the jacket, the most formal is single breasted peak lapel, and happens to be the most flattering one. Your shirt, which is always white, should be the quintessential marcella bib with two or three studs. A wing collar would have been the first choice a century ago, but nowadays a soft turndown collar has become the norm. Pleated shirts are fine, but I find they go better with peak lapels in a double breasted jacket or shawl collars in either configuration. A notch collar is acceptable, but has the tendency to look more waiter than waited on. Your bow tie, which should never be pre-tied and always in front of your shirt collar, can be in either black silk satin or grosgrain. Ideally the same material should be repeated in the lapel facings, buttons, and a single stripe down the trouser’s outside seam. Your waist should be covered by a double breasted jacket, a formal black waistcoat, or a cummerbund that matches your tie. Shoes are black oxfords or opera pumps in patent leather, although either in properly shined calf leather is a fine alternative. Hosiery is black silk.
Once you have a tuxedo in any of the above, you can start to go crazy – a little – for less ceremonious affairs. An easy way to do this is by simply swapping the top. An off-white jacket is a fine choice for daytime or if you happen to find yourself on a boat. On informal occasions, such as a party in someone’s home, a velvet smoking jacket in deep jewel tones is a louche option, or plaid if you’re feeling particularly festive. In these cases, lapels should never be notched, and facings can be in black silk or in the same color and material as the jacket, depending on how shiny you wish to be. If you feel especially casual, you can swap your courtly footwear for slippers in silk or velvet in black.
There are other options, of course, but listed above are already a dozen or so that will take you everywhere from the opera to the stag party. With the proviso that you have them all already and are exceptionally popular with a calendar bursting with fancy engagements, just don’t. Unless you’re Andy57.
Andy Poupart is a self-professed romantic that loves black tie more than anyone I know. His job, like most of us, doesn’t pit him against secret agents or nefarious megalomaniacs, but if it did, he’d be ready for the part. His black tie closet includes:
Straight-ahead, classic, by-the-book, black, peak lapel, grosgrain facings, single-breasted dinner jacket, with matching trousers, cummerbund, and U-front waistcoat
Midnight blue, shawl lapel, midnight blue satin silk facings, single breasted jacket, with matching trousers, cummerbund, and U-front waistcoat
Deep bottle green velvet, black grosgrain facings and cuffs, shawl lapel, single breasted jacket
Thai silk, red, self-faced, peak lapel, single breasted jacket
To accompany these, he has socks in black and midnight blue silk, two shirts each in white and ivory, all with soft turndown collars and marcella fronts, several sets of studs and links, a butterfly and diamond point bowtie in black grosgrain, another in black mogodor, a fourth in midnight blue satin silk, and black patent leather oxfords. If that sounds like overkill, be assured Andy has worn every piece in his armory many times over, and has his eyes set on a few more. “I keep thinking about a burgundy double-breasted jacket in a fantastic wool/silk velvet,” he grins.
Although all of his outfits are excellent, Andy reckons his favorite is the ivory dinner jacket. “I designed it after Humphrey Bogart’s in Casablanca. When I wear it, I’m a 1940s gun-runner, one step ahead of the bad guys, with places to go and things to do that you can’t be any part of, but we’ll always have Paris. Oh, and a martini in one hand.”
“I know that all sounds silly, but I don’t care,” he states. “It’s how I can express the side my personality that I want to portray. I think that when we get dressed, in any sort of clothes, we are telling a story about ourselves, how we wish to appear to the world. When I wear black tie, I feel I’m presenting the best me.”
I have to catch up to Andy – I’ve got a few black tie rigs myself, but alas, no velvet yet.
You can wait until the invitation requests it, or you can do like Andy and where it wherever you want. To be honest, even a black trash bag is better than not trying at all, but as long as you’re trying, you might as well do it right. To that end, try your best to follow John Berendt’s sage words:
“My advice is to stick with the classic unless you happen to have a tailor with the prescience of a Henry Poole. And the odds are you do not.”
As soon as sweater season rolls around, you can be sure to see menswear guys post pictures of Steve McQueen in Bullitt and caption it with “mood.” It’s a no-brainer, the turtleneck look is absolutely killer and has gone on to influence countless gents around the world. Not only is it stylish, but it’s pretty practical and is perhaps one of the easiest things a guy can wear due to its minimalistic, yet sharp look. The best part is that no shirt or tie is necessary (unless you really want to wear them, despite them not being seen).
Now, most people know the progression of the turtleneck thanks for the copied content across different blogs. Some of the more romantic bloggers say that knights wore one of the first variations, an undershirt to protect themselves against their chainmail and armor. It then was adopted as a sweater, no doubt to keep the wearer warm and to prevent the need for a scarf, which featured an extended neck. Then, they briefly touch on Noel Coward before ultimately landing at the 1960s and later, calling it the uniform of the anti-establishment, citing beatniks, the Beatles, Steve McQueen, and Steve Jobs. This alone should be enough to point you in the direction of this loved sweater. If not, that’s why I’m here.
More personalities than people imagine wore the turtleneck back in the Golden Era. You could find it across everyone from film actors to the naval officers to even university students. In general, the chunkier turtleneck (whether plain weave or in the cable knit) was the main one worn, no doubt due to it’s more utilitarian nature. The finer weaves were reserved for loungewear at home rather than to be worn out. Early pictures and advertisements will have the turtleneck done in bold block stripes or with embroidered years or motifs, something that seems to have been lost today. Still, many guys back then wore them on their own or with full tailoring.
Inspiration can be found across all eras. While everyone likes to bring up Clark Gable and Noel Coward for Golden Era moods, one of my favorite has to be a 1910s illustration of a student wearing a cream roll neck with a stingy billed cap, grey flannels, and opera pumps. Pretty rakish, but I’m sure that it provides plenty of inspiration for your own outfits. I also have found photographs of the Prince of Wales wearing one with jodhpurs and the beret combo from an old archive of 1930’s European family pictures.
The 1960s-1970s definitely reflected the shift away from mainly utilitarian use and more as a true replacement for the shirt and tie combo. The chunky cable knit ones were still in play, but it’s the thinner, finely woven ones that took the spotlight. These newer turtlenecks were more form-fitting, echoing the trends in the mod and disco phases. Now they were available in much more than dark navy, black, or cream: you could now see them in saturated colors and earth tones. Though they were a classic item, they were definitely a trend during this era.
In some cases, the growth of their popularity was indeed a rejection of corporate culture (think artists and musicians) as other people have noted. In others, it’s more of a futuristic fashion trend that negates the need to think too much about shirts and ties. For example, a solid turtleneck will contrast or help mute a tailored outfit making for a sharp, minimalistic look. Even if you were against neckwear from the beginning, you could achieve a more formal vibe with a turtleneck than if you simply wore an OCBD and a crew neck sweater; this is all thanks to the high, closed neck that subtly harkens back to the tunics worn by royalty back in the day. Michael Caine even doubled down on this “high neck closure” by wearing it with a double-breasted suit.
Looking back now, we have a plethora of different examples to follow if you want to rock the turtleneck. Obviously the most common is that minimal 1960’s look with a nice, slim finely woven variation. It’s not a bad look, as it looks fantastic with most tailoring and serves as the starting out point for many. Navy blue is probably the best choice to get since it will work across a variety of outfits, but you could always experiment with something in light browns or burgundies/yellows to evoke the earthy palette of the 1970s. It especially helps when you feel like the patterns in your suit or sportcoat are too loud and need a bit of grounding. If you want to go for that look, I suggest looking at merino wool, since it’s supposed to be ultra fine in its texture. Luckily, you can find these at most stores like Uniqlo and J. Crew at a great value. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with the different colors they offer (pairing it with simple grey trousers is great), but keep in mind that they won’t be as versatile as the navy or black ones.
Despite the fact that I live in California and merino are the only pieces I can wear without vigorously sweating, I definitely have a soft spot for looks that incorporate chunky turtlenecks. These make more sense if you’re wearing selvedge denim, heavy peacoats, double-riders, and scratchy tweed. It feels a bit more nautical and workwear-focused, that’s for sure, but I’ve always been a fan of a more rugged take on tailoring. Cream is probably the way to go, but soft greys and intricate weaves or even fair isle patterns can also work. North Sea Clothing is a place to consider if you want a solid wool one that echoes the traditional maritime ones, complete with a wide ribbing on the neck, cuffs, and hem. Lambswool variations can be found at Drake’s (whose latest lookbook has plenty of turtleneck ideas) while the cashmere ones can be found anywhere from Uniqlo, Todd Snyder (at $300), and at Berluti ($1000+). I personally wish they made heavy guage in cotton for warmer climates, but a guy can dream!
Overall, I really recommend that you guys try the turtleneck out if you haven’t already. The utilitarian benefits are clearly there, but I like the added bonus of being able to look sharp without having to wear a tie or even a shirt. While I like that this “throwback” piece of clothing has stuck around, I just hope that the horrid v-neck sweater/turtleneck hybrid doesn’t make a return appearance. That simply belongs in the mid-1960s and should stay there forever.