Grenadine Fabric: History, Tradition, and Ties

There is no question that grenadine ties have become a staple in many wardrobes: they brighten up a dull outfit with their particular texture, they rarely collide with other patterns, and they are an excellent option when you’re unsure about the accessory to choose.

But what exactly is grenadine?

First of all, grenadine is a small miracle of sartorial tradition, since its making employs, even today, machines that originated in England during the Industrial Revolution – or their direct descendants.

Grenadine fabric is produced with a gauze-style weave, often referred to as a Leno or Cross weave. It involves two warp yarns twisted around the weft yarns in order to provide a strong yet sheer fabric. The structure is similar to the English gauze bobbinet tulle; bobbinet tulle was the first machine-made gauze to be produced, when John Heathcoat invented the bobbinet machine (also called Old Loughborough) in 1808.

However, everyone knows original grenadine is produced exclusively in Como, a small town in northern Italy you may have heard of because rich celebrities do love a mansion overlooking a beautiful lake.

The wooden looms used in Como to produce grenadine weaves are usually referred to as Jacquard looms, but they are in fact descendants of the English gauze machine invented by John Heathcoat – only upgraded to produce a more elaborate weave. Even the Italian word for grenadine is a tribute to the English gauze: “Garza a giro inglese” means “English weave gauze”, and the two varieties of grenadine are respectively referred to as Garza fine (or Garza piccola) and Garza grossa.

It’s not clear how this technique travelled from the Old Blighty all the way down to Como, but it seems to have passed through France:

“Lyon: an important French center for silk machine laces. […] A fierce competition begun between France and Britain: the English inventions – the Warp Frame (1775) the organ barrel for automatic patterns (1780) and Dawson wheels, also for patterning (1807) – were quickly copied in France, while the English were also quick to apply the French Jaquard. In 1885 an old Loughborough was smuggled across the Channel. In England, Heatcoat had used these machine for cotton nets. In France, because of import restrictions on cotton, silk was used, with great success, and nets such as Meklin, tulle illusion, and black grenadine were soon being made.”1

The Industrial Revolution and two wars played a crucial role in shaping the economies of many countries of what todays is known as the European Union – and the history of many traditions born in the 20th century are certainly worth researching and upholding.

Como’s tradition of silk-making, however, dates back to the 16th century, when the Duke of Milan – under whose jurisdiction Como fell at the time – made the decision to promote sericulture. At first, Como established itself as a crucial part of the initial process of silk-making through the breeding of silkworms and the yard spinning, whilst the weaving process used to be almost exclusively executed in other European cities (Lyon above all).

Only in the 20th century and especially after WWII did Como become the sovereign maker of silk in all aspects of its process – from sericulture to the spinning of the yarns. Other European cities did not survive the aftermath of the wars and ceased to be textile centers, propeling Italy – specifically Northern and Central Italy, and the centers of Como, Biella, and Prato – towards a second Renaissance of the textile production.

Today, sericulture is no longer part of the silk-making process that happens in Italy, due to the elevated costs of an activity that cannot be supported by technology and remains reliant on principally human labor in a hands-on job. In modern days, the silk yarns come from China or Brazil, and they are dyed and woven in Italy.

Fermo Fossati and Seteria Bianchi are perhaps the most renowned and appreciated makers of grenadine in Como.

The former is the oldest silk-making company in Italy – the third oldest in Europe after the British Vanners and Stephen Walters & Sons. They have been associated with neckties since the early 1900’s, when ties made their appearance as an accessory to embellish the necks of European gentlemen.

However, you might be more familiar with Seteria Bianchi, which produced the fabrics for the Brioni jackets worn by Daniel Craig in 007 Casino Royale. If you’re a car aficionado, you might know that Seteria Bianchi also provided Mercedes Benz with the interiors of the concept car F125. The list of prestigious clients goes on, culminating with Sartoria Gammarelli, which is the official supplier of clothes for the Church and, by extension, the Pope. On their website, they state that they can provide over 100,000 patterns for their fabrics, and that the selection of textiles is just as broad; they even offer a mind-blowing textile fiber made of silk wrapped in pure gold.

Ettore Bianchi, the former owner of the Seteria, wrote the International Dictionary of Textiles, published in Italian in 1997, from which I took the liberty to translate “grenadine” (“Garza a giro inglese”): “A fabric quite common in the past, now forgotten, which was employed to make shirts and colonial uniforms in Tropical areas due to its incredible breathability. The fabric employed is cotton, and the weave is an English gauze in which two warp yarns are twisted around the weave and around the weft. The weight is between 150 and 250 gr/m2, but the open gauze weave makes it a quite light and breathable fabric that is excellent in presence of harsh climates such that of the Tropics. This fabric has been also employed to produce curtains.2

There is still much for me to discover about this incredible fabric, and my sources in the United States are limited to what I can find on the Internet. I am certainly going to research the topic further the next time that I return to Italy, and I hope I’ll be able to provide even more details about grenadine and its history when I get the chance to talk with those who make it.

Or, perhaps we should just enjoy the beauty of grenadine and only wonder what brought it to us throughout the centuries of textile traditions in Europe. Sometimes I am torn between the desire to acquire knowledge and to indulge in the poetry that lies in the unknown.

The Romantics felt outraged by Isaac Newton’s theory of light, as they thought he stripped poetry out of the rainbow; the moment magic had a name and an explanation, it stopped being inspiring. The recent solar eclipse made me reflect on this exact thought; we all knew what was coming and why, but perhaps in our knowledge we missed the poetry of the event. Darkness overcoming light, only to let light forcefully shine again – so bright that the human eye cannot even stare at it.

“Philosophy will clip an angel’s wings,” reads one of the most beautiful poems of our era.

For the time being, let us enjoy the things we don’t know, even if it is just the obscure history of a woven fabric coming from a distant, lake-side city in Italy.

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1. P. Earnshaw: A Dictionary of Lace (Dover Knitting, Crochet, Tatting, Lace), Dover Publication, 2012, p. 103.

2. E. Bianchi: Dizionario internazionale dei Tessuti, Tessile di Como, 1999.

The Milanese Buttonhole: Beautifully Unnecessary

I don’t remember the first time I saw a Ferrari, but I do remember the one from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, because every kid dreams of ditching school someday, and what better way to do it in style?  It doesn’t matter if you’re not into cars, or if you’re too young to remember the scene.  I mean, just look at it.  You just know that day was going to be the best day in hooky history. 
Except it was a fake.  More on that later.
The Milanese buttonhole is one of the finer details of menswear.  Gaudy to some, fetching to others, its glossy, lustrous lines add a bit of finery to suits.  After all, since the lapel buttonhole once served a purpose but not longer does (other than to hold a boutonniere), might as well make it look pretty, right?  Think ornamental china and decorative soap bars.
Once, when jackets closed all the way to the top, the only thing you saw through the buttonhole was a button.  Then they started to fold over, because how else are you going to show off that amazing cravat?  The buttonhole that once was buttoned was now left naked, which is likely the reason that flowers started to be slipped in there.  Still, unless you also wear a monocle, your buttonhole is likely to remain unadorned with flora.  However, you can still ornament your lapel, albeit subtly, with the Milanese buttonhole.  
A hole is a hole, right?  Yes, but why not decorate it?  Possibly originating in central Italy, the Milanese treatment makes an otherwise inconspicuous buttonhole visually striking, an objet d’art sitting pretty atop the jacket’s lapel.  After the hole for the button is cut, a length of silk thread called a ‘gimp’ is laid around the edges.  A glossier buttonhole thread is then wrapped around the gimp and sewn through the cloth surrounding the buttonhole, and there you have it.  Easier said than done, of course, but leave it to the Italians to gussy up a pointless, but handsome, element of menswear.  JefferyD has detailed instructions on his blog, which is a treasure trove of sartorial gems.  Or check out this video:

There are many ways that a buttonhole can be made by hand, but the Milanese method is more time-consuming and arguably more recognizable than others, due to its post-cutting application.  The lowly buttonhole – once strictly utilitarian, now purely ornamental – has upgraded its status, inasmuch as it is regarded as one of the telltale signs of quality, like an automobile’s crest. Since this type of sewing and application can only be done by hand, the logic is that if such a meticulous production was done for a triviality, the rest of the suit must have equally as much effort and craftsmanship put into into it. While this is usually the case, it may just be hiding mediocre goods, much like the leaping black stallion of Ferris Bueller’s faux Ferrari.
The car shown in the movie is actually a kit car with a Ford V8.   Does that change how you feel about it?  Maybe, maybe not, but the same thing can be (and is) done on many suits.  I knew a guy in San Francisco who could put a Milanese buttonhole on any jacket for $50.  Since most people aren’t incredibly keen to strip your jacket off you, they may take your jacket to come from good stock.   Who cares if you pin an earring on a pig’s nose, as the saying goes, if all you notice is the earring?  On the other hand, a gilded turd is still a turd.
The fact is that the Milanese buttonhole, like most menswear ephemera, should be appreciated for what it is – a charming touch of glamour – and nothing more.  While generally found on higher quality suits, it can be added as a finishing touch to any jacket. Who cares if you slapped it on your H&M suit?  It’ll still look nice.  
The buttonhole, that is.  Not the H&M suit; they never look nice.

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All photos from JefferyD’s website

How Much Does a Quality Suit Cost?

How Much Does Quality Cost?
In one form or another, this question turns up every couple of days on the forumI’m looking for a quality suit/shirt/shoe/pair of underwear.  How much should I spend?” Before answering this question, it’s best to specify what “quality” is. Quality is not fit; nor is it style.  Assuming you have a department store full of identical suits, all cut in the same shape and designed with the same details, how do you identify and measure quality? There are two aspects to consider: what the garment is made of, and how it’s put together.  In other words, material and method.  Let’s start with material.

Not all fabrics are created equal.  Cheap wool uses short, brittle fibers, woven just tightly enough to hold everything together.  The resulting fabric will have the body of tissue paper, wrinkle like wax paper, and pill uncontrollably.  On the other hand, some companies approach weaving like a science.  All sheep produce wool, but some sheep produce better wool.  Most wool is bulky and scratchy, but Merino sheep’s wool, for example, contain fibers with some of the smallest diameters – 24 microns and below – which not only makes it soft, but allows it to bend and stretch without breaking and pilling like thicker fibers. 
Short fibers are cheap to make, but they fray and separate easily.  Longer fibers are prized for greater strength and resiliency, but cost more to manufacture.  Some weavers twist two or more fibers together, which gives the fabric greater spring, drape, and wrinkle resistance.  Others comb short woolen fibers to create flannel, a fabric of unparalleled softness and warmth.  All of these qualities require additional steps and processes that can be useful, desirable, or both.  Regardless of whether or not you are willing to pay the price for them, they undeniably add to the excellence of a particular material.

Whereas the measurement of quality material is objectively unequivocal – no one wants to wear a flimsy, scratchy, pilly suit – quality of method is not so distinct, at least not anymore.  Time was, if you wanted a suit to last, it was made by hand, since the clumsy, brutish contraptions of yore couldn’t compete with the finer, more dexterous needlework of a skilled tailor.  Nowadays, some parts of the suit not only can be machine-made, they are all they better for it, pieced together with elaborate stitches that are stronger and more uniform that any human hand, and in a fraction of the time.

What about the method can be quantified?  For one, the way a jacket is canvassed, or lined.  Jackets are canvassed because one of the downsides of having a quality fabric that springs back to shape and lays flat is that it often won’t drape smoothly over your shoulders, chest and torso without help.  To put it another way, it’s difficult to mold a two-dimensional fabric into a three-dimensional form.  Lining the jacket (between the outer fabric you see and the interior of the jacket) with a more malleable material gives it structure, and allows the jacket to be shaped to follow more corporeal contours, and to eventually take on your own body’s silhouette.  Whether you have the frame of Albert Beckles or Albert Jackson, a properly-cut canvassed jacket fits and flatters the wearer in comfortable, masculine elegance.

There are several methods of canvassing, the best of which is known as full-canvassing. This involves sewing the interlining (traditionally horsehair blended with other natural fibers, but can also be different fabrics), starting at the top of the shoulder and extending down the front to the bottom of the jacket.  This provides all the benefits mentioned above, but as it is time-consuming (and often done by hand) it adds substantially to the price tag.

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Left to right: haircloth, wrapped hair cloth, wool canvas, and fusible interlining

A more economical method is fusing, or gluing, an interlining to the shell of the jacket.  This greatly decreases production time, but at a cost – the resulting stiffness of the glue and interlining can leave a jacket looking like a lifeless mannequin, and in some cases the glue can actually deteriorate (due to cleaning and pressing) and the interlining will detach from the suit in spots, causing the fabric to ripple and bubble. 
Half-canvassed suits offer a compromise of cost and quality: interlining is sewn to the jacket in the top half, and fused in the rest.  This helps reduce overall costs while providing an acceptable measure of shape.  If you’d like to read more details about the differences between these processes, Styleforum member and
tailoring guru Jeffery Diduch wrote a fantastic article about the various methods of canvassing here.

Now we can start to answer the question posed at the beginning: how much does quality cost? Want the the answer? Expect to at pay least $700 (full retail, excluding sales) for a fully-canvassed suit cut with decent fabric. Why, then, do some suits cost ten times that? 

@SeamasterLux and @Dirnelli, both members of Styleforum who have their own blogs and contribute to Parisian Gentleman, have done a phenomenal amount of research that far exceeds anything I could ever attempt.  Fortunately for us, they’ve created a thread that lists an exhaustive Rolodex of various ready-to-wear makers and compares their relative quality (objective), style (subjective), and handwork (soul).  Here are a few highlights, along with a few of my own suggestions, listed in order of cost.

TM Lewin
Hickey Freeman
Brooks Brothers
Polo Ralph Lauren
Paul Stuart
Caruso (maker of many ‘designer’ lines)
Corneliani (maker of many ‘designer’ lines)
Sartoria Formosa (their RTW is made to bespoke standards)
$2500 and up
Ralph Lauren Purple Lapel
Belvest (maker of many ‘designer’ lines)
Gucci/Tom Ford

Whereas the cost of fabric and canvassing decidedly add to the quality of a suit, some may argue against the merits of style and handwork.  Frankly, the width of the lapel, shoulder treatment, and hand-padded collar contributes little to the longevity of a suit.  Styleforum member and Bay Area bud Derek of dieworkwear wrote some refreshingly honest thoughts on the subject on his blog.  After all, isn’t the way a suit fits most important?  Yes, but it’s only part of the answer.

A suit is not just another article of clothing.  A house may provide shelter, but four walls and a roof do not make a home.  For some, a well-made suit is all they require.  This austere choice is not without its advantages, and may be the only choice available.  If, however, your taste prefers it and budget allows it, do explore your options.  Make no mistake: the characteristic lapel roll of a particular maker may not add to a suit’s durability, but it does add something.  What is it you value?  Is it the fact that it was cut by a human?  Is the unique style and cut of the garment reflective of your own distinctive tastes?  Do you regard craftsmanship in high regard?  Does the manufacturer’s insistence on handwork reflect your own sensibilities?  Do you appreciate having a personal relationship with a tailor who can create a perfectly fitting garment that you yourself had a hand in designing?
If all you require is a suit that covers your body, go to a thrift store.  If you’re looking for something well-made, with a particular style, by hand, get ready to pay for all three.

Summer Fabrics for Staying Cool

Summer finally arrived last week in San Francisco, but while the rest of the Bay is baking, the city peaked in the mid-70s, which means you can still wear a jacket without breaking a sweat.  Still, you’ll want to be comfortable, and thankfully there are certain fabrics that perform well when the mercury rises.  Here’s a quick rundown of good summer fabrics for staying cool.

The most versatile suiting fabric, wool can take you from the depths of winter to the height of summer and its crease-keeping and wrinkle-shedding qualities will help to ensure you look so fresh and so clean.  
One great summer option is Minnis’ Fresco, which is a high-twist open weave that allows more air to pass through, so you can still have your hot body but at least let off some steam.  This is one of my go-to fabrics, as Minnis makes various weights – up to 15/16 oz – that are suitable for a variety of temperatures, and the texture and color variegation makes it visually interesting.  Their 7/8 oz will keep you the coolest but some have reported that it can stretch and bag.  The middle of the road 9/10 oz is best for all but the hot hot heat, retaining a sharp crease and holding its shape all day long.  I have four suits in this fabric and it serves me up to the 80’s in San Francisco.  The fabric is a little on the scratchy side, but the recently released Fresco III bunch is supposed to be softer, if less shape-retaining.  Early reviews of the fabric can be found on the forum.
Minnis also used to offer Rangoon, a take on tropical wool.  Tropical wool is very smooth and extremely comfortable, but I find it wrinkles far too easy, and not in a nice way.  Rangoon is supposed to be drier and more wrinkle resistant, so if you value those qualities as I do, keep your eyes on the Buy & Sell section of the forum, as lengths of the discontinued fabric pop up from time to time.
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Minnis “Rangoon”

Holland & Sherry’s Crispaire is another one of the forum’s favorite choices.  Styleforum member @Kolecho says it falls between in between Fresco and tropical worsted in terms of porosity and smoothness.  It runs a little warmer but has many more patterns, including a few glen plaids.
@Kolecho also recommends wool/mohair blends, which many companies manufacture.  Mohair suits were often used in the past for summer or nighttime activities, as it gives off quite a bit off sheen and keeps a razor sharp crease.  However, its bulletproof qualities can leave one hot, and its tight weave doesn’t allow as much freedom of movement as wool.  A bit (30% or lower) of kid mohair (as opposed to the less expensive but scratchier, more brittle mohair) keeps you crisp and dry with little, if any, sheen, and the more flexible wool fabric keeps you comfortable.
Smith’s Finmeresco is a similar fabric to Minnis’ Fresco.  Whereas Minnis is 2-ply (meaning 2 strands of fabric are twisted together to make a single thread), Finmeresco offers 3-ply and 4-ply, which means it’s a bit more spongy, which some prefer to the crisper hand of the Minnis option.
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@emptyM in his Finmeresco blazer

Some companies offer wool fabrics in a panama weave, which is kind of an open basketweave.  These share similar qualities to tropical wool but with a bit of texture.  Wrinkle resistance is typical for regular wool, but if you want something in wool that’s a little less “suit-y” for a sport coat, almost all makers have lightweight 8 oz fabrics in a hopsack or basketweave. These fabrics are perfect for a summer blazer in navy or lighter blue. Look for a loose weave and wonderful texture to help keep you cool and casual.  
Other suiting options: Scabal Condor, London Lounge Brisa, Rubinacci London House Hopsack 

Ounce for ounce, linen doesn’t hold a candle to the functional qualities of wool.  It is less durable, less elastic, less absorbent, and doesn’t keep its shape longer than a few seconds.  Still, nothing says summer quite like linen.  The slubbiness of linen gives it undeniable aesthetic appeal, and the slightly bumpy weave helps keep the fabric away from your skin, helping to keep you cool.
 Whereas the lighter stuff is too flimsy and sloppy for suiting, if you can stand the heavier stuff, or your summers hover in the low 70s, you want a good, hearty linen, starting at 12 oz and above.  W. Bill of Harrisons makes a 14oz linen that might sound insensible, but some can tolerate it even in the brutal New England summer.  The heavier weights are better at keeping their shape, allow for better drape, and don’t wrinkle as much as rumple.  The net result is slightly disheveled yet looks all the better for it, the sartorial equivalent of bedhead.  
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@Voxsartoria in a 12oz W. Bill linen suit

Classic linen colors are tan and navy, but if you feel like something different, try a tobacco brown; it’s surprisingly versatile. Cream and white are also options, but only if you resign yourself to spots and Colonel Sanders cat calls. Glen plaids look great as well.
Suiting options: W Bill, Cacciopoli, Drapers, Solbiati

Dylan from Dylan and Son knows that sometimes you just have to resign yourself to the heat. “In Singapore, it can get so hot and humid, shape and drape is secondary to comfort. I wear 9oz cotton trousers a lot.” Then there’s Manton, currently putting out fires in Washington, who is more intolerant than anyone of the heat, who recommends 6/7oz cotton to cope with summer’s misery. “It wrinkles,” he admits, “but so what.”  This is what you reach for when form takes a back seat to function. 
Cotton suits look great in any shade of tan. Perhaps more so than linen, cotton fabric has practically no give, so consider a slightly looser fit, especially the shoulders, chest, and thighs. Also, stick to light colors: cotton fades as it wears, and this is even more apparent on darker colors. 
Want to get really seasonal?  Try seersucker.  While verging on anachronistic, the stuff was actually created relatively recently to beat the heat in New Orleans.  Like any other fabric it can look fresh and stylish when everything fits, but for a more modern take, try a seersucker in tonal blue.

Of these there are many.  I have a featherweight sport coat in a Cacciopoli silk/wool/linen blend that wrinkles ever so slightly.  Be aware that they will never be as cool as those weaves that are specifically woven to be porous, nor never as wrinkle-resistant and those meant to keep a sharp crease.  In all but the most extreme conditions, however, they can serve as a light alternative that combine the best properties of each fabric.

The Anatomy of a Formal Shirt

Alexander Kabbaz is a Alexander Kabbaz is a custom shirt maker, clothier, and haberdasher. his article originally appeared on and has been adapted and edited for the Styleforum Journal.

Over the past 40 years of dressing ladies and gentlemen, we’ve found the majority of formal events take place in the Spring, with April/May/June being the height of the season. Of course, weddings will continue to happen throughout the year, and you may be called upon to wear formal clothing well before the weather cools off. In this article, I’ll cover the anatomy of a formal shirt, paying special attention to summer variations in both garments and style.

Number One for Men: formal dressing has Rules with a capital R!

Number Two for Men: dressing has Rules … the top one on my list being Comfort with a capital C. So how do we accomplish Rule Two without making Emily Post turn over in her grave,all the while observing the other Capital C – Caveat?

This line from old friend and renowned menswear scribe G. Bruce Boyer sheds some light on the answer: “…find freedom within the rules. Anyone can be different because it’s easy to be outrageous. The trick is to be just that bit different.”

When you’re attending a formal occasion, remember this: just about the only garments that will be noticed are your shirt, tie, and cummerbund if you wear one. Why? Everything else will be basic black or midnight blue and will be the same as every other monkey suit in the room. So pay attention to what can be different: your shirt. Unless you’re part of a style-dictated wedding party, good taste virtually mandates that the body of your shirt be white. Yes, you’ll see pink ones and blue ones and teal ones and grey ones with pink pique, blue ruffles or grey pleats. However, if you’re past the age when your high school prom was the ultimate concern on your list, leave the colored shirts to the 12th Graders. Start with a white shirt body. What should the shirt body be made of? Here is where the most important of seasonal differences arise.

anatomy formal shirt characteristics construction

The Fabric

You have two basic choices: standard poplin/broadcloth or lightweight, breathable voile. Does it matter? Only in terms of the top-on-my-list rule 2: comfort.

Face it: most tuxedos, tails, and the like are hot. They’re black. They’re generally made from a substantial 10-12 oz wool. And you usually don’t take them off and show the whole shirt … at least until everyone’s had sufficient liquid refreshment so as not to notice the fabric of your shirt body. Were it my choice and were I not in the Yukon, I’d have two shirts:  one voile body for Spring/Summer and one broadcloth for Fall/Winter. Can’t go for two? Get the voile. Even in winter, the jacket will offer sufficient warmth no matter what the shirt fabric. (Click here for more fabric information.)

The Bosom

We have a box here just above my cutting table labeled “Unique Bosoms.” Most folks coming into our studio give me that ‘you’re a dirty old man’ look and assume it’s my porn collection. Actually, the shirt maker’s term for the decorative front of a formal shirt is “bosom.” Now that what there was of my dignity is restored, let’s discuss bosoms without gawk or giggle.

Will you be wearing a cummerbund? A vest? Nothing but trousers? How much of your shirt will show determines how long the bosom needs to be. You’ll need to know how long the distance is from the bottom of your collar band down to whichever garment (vest or cummerbund or trousers) will cover the bottom of the decorative bosom of your shirt. Then, make the bosom 1″ to 1.5″ longer, ensuring no peek-a-boo ‘twixt bosom and the lower, unadorned shirt front. Why not have the bosom go all the way to the shirt bottom? Because the bosom is bulky and thicker than the plain shirt body. Aside from the discomfort of this heavy material down there, the additional bulk will do its best to push back up out of your trousers, creating unsightly wrinkles in the shirt front.

Here’s where formal shirts get to be fun – at least for me. So share my joy! Let’s start with the basics: do you want the front to be pleated, or would you prefer the more subtle pique look? One important note: if the shirt is to be worn with tails (i.e. with a morning coat, or a tail coat – properly termed a “swallowtail coat”), pique is the only acceptable and very, very, very much preferred front. Did I say Very Much?

There is also a Summer/Winter factor here. Pique, no matter which form thereof, is generally heavy. It will be covering most of the front of your torso so, again, if you can go for two shirts, pleats can be made of broadcloth or voile. Get one with a voile body and voile pleats for the warmer weather.


Come in at no fewer than dozens, if not hundreds, of different variations. At least they do at a good custom shirtmaker. The most standard is a very traditional 1/2″ pleat with 8-12 of them on each side of the front. There are 1/4″ pleats, 1/8″ pleats, even smaller ones we call “pin tucks.” There are pleats which vary in size called “variopintuck.” There are pleats designed with a complimentary set of smaller pleats to be used in the shirt’s center front.

pleats formal shirt constructionAnd yes … there are colored pleats. Reds, blues, black & white. There are white pleats with sparkly trim. There are pleats with metallic threads intertwined. There are white pleats with interspersed colored rows. Suffice it to say you should have a wide choice of pleats, and in addition to the traditional hand-made pleats, many weavers such as Switzerland’s Alumo offer stylized pre-made bosoms.

Having had the privilege for decades of creating Leonard Bernstein’s “formal” (he called them “conducting”) shirts, our repertoire of pleats and our variety of piques grew to be rather enormous. We actually have boxes labeled ‘Unique Bosoms II”, “Unique Bosoms III” and more – but for the reasons outlined above I now store these in a couple of drawers.


The most basic, traditional, often-seen pique is called “birdseye.” Why, you may wonder. Because, son, the little itty-bitty pique thingies are shaped like birds eyes. Duh!

Is that it? Of course not! There are square piques. There are basket-weave piques. There are cord piques (picture narrow-wale corduroy). Actually, there are some really interesting piques for folks like us who look at them through magnifying glasses.

Don’t fret if your shirt maker has only the standard birdseye. Stand back 18″ and you’ll never know the difference. Reminder: wearing tails? Select a pique.

Shirt Body

When it comes to the seasonal appropriateness of your formal shirt body, there are other warm weather fabric alternatives to consider. I have at times made a voile shirt body, the bosom of which was nothing more than another layer of voile cut in the shape of a round-bottom bosom and stitched onto the shirt front with two parallel rows of stitches. Very plain and tasteful, the additional outline layer of voile adds little in terms of warmth and breathes beautifully. Although voile cannot be used to imitate pique for a black tie shirt, there are a number of looser square basketweaves available which can. These don’t have the extremely tight and thick, hot construction of birdseye pique and will breath more than their heavier counterpart. In this case, one could even consider using a royal oxford. Its highly lustrous little “diamonds” would well-imitate the desired look and, again, will breath much better than the traditional birdseye. 

Front Closure

While we’re still on the shirt front, let’s deal with the studs/button issue. You have three basic choices: studs, buttons, or concealed closure (also called “fly-front”).

front formal shirt constructionstuds formal shirtThe most acceptable option is studs. Let’s return to that measurement you took from your collar band to the bottom of the bosom. Was it 15″ or less? 3 studs will suffice. More than 15″? Spring for the additional, fourth stud. If you don’t, you’ll have too much space between the last stud and the bottom of the bosom. The shirt front will gap open. Studs require advance decision-making: your shirt maker must make holes in both the left and right fronts to accommodate the studs.

There is a “cheating” alternative: specify the shirt for studs, then ask your maker to provide a “button strip” with small black mother-of-pearl shank buttons. This is a narrow strip of fabric adorned with black shank buttons which imitate studs. The wearer can use it when choosing not to use his studs or when traveling to places where the value of jewelry is a concern.

The second alternative is to use buttons as on a regular shirt. Ugh – this ain’t a regular shirt.

The final choice is concealed buttons. Personally, I’ve never understood that one. You’ve got these wonderful nature-made iridescent mother-of-pearl buttons – the absolute top of the button food-chain – and you’re gonna hide them? Whatever for?


Of course a formal shirt has French cuffs. Right? Wrong!Although French cuffs are sort of (severe nose curl here) acceptable on a shirt for wearing with a tux, they are absolutely, definitely not acceptable for a shirt meant to be worn with tails.

french cuffs formal shirt appropriateInstead, opt for single link cuffs. They have only two holes. They do not fold over. They are the first cuff ever used on a shirt (back in the day, they were tied closed with a string through the two holes). They are the most formal cuff. They are the most comfortable cuff.

Let’s do some name dropping here: Leonard Bernstein wore only them. Tom Wolfe wore only them.

Personally, I prefer them on all but my casual shirts if for nothing more than their understated elegant appearance and unparalleled pure comfort. Have I sold you yet?

The Collar

Let the arguments begin!

Which is the proper collar to wear with a tux? With tails? In the morning? Evening? For the type of occasion?

batwing wing collar formal shirt typeThe wing (properly called batwing) collar is the correct one to wear with a tailcoat. You’d look rather ignorant in a tailcoat with a turndown collar. However, a turndown collar can be worn with a tuxedo. Furthermore, a properly made batwing collar can be as beautiful and distinctive as it is tasteful and flattering.

Back to Rule Two: Comfort. If you’re uncomfortable in a wing collar, then have your (not for tails) formal shirt made with a turndown collar.

Planning to use the same shirt for both tux and tails? Have the shirt made with two, detachable collars. They’re a bit of a pain-in-the-ass to work with, but that way you can have one shirt fill two purposes. You’ll have no choice but to select the pique (or previously discussed pique alternative) front if you are going to use the same shirt for tux and tails.

There are two final but important things to remember: one, the bow-tie needs a bit of tie space to sit properly with a turndown collar, so make it a semi-spread.  Two… and the most often answered question: Tuck the “wings” of a batwing collar behind the bow tie. The only time to leave the wings up above the tie is never. 

The Basics Make You Proper

This is a word used more often when discussing men’s formal dress than when discussing anything else in the universe of menswear. Were I to show three men the same wing collar, I can virtually guarantee that one would consider it perfect; the second would blanche at the “too large wings;” the third would wonder why I had made the wings so small. And the first guy who considered it perfect? That’s on a good day!

In short, observe the basics of formalwear: Tuxedo. Appropriate shoes. Cufflinks. A shirt made for the occasion. Beyond that? Be yourself. Be comfortable in your clothes. And once you’ve checked yourself out in the mirror, forget what you’re wearing and enjoy the party!

Copyright © 2017 Alexander Kabbaz. All rights reserved.

A Guide to How Trousers Should Fit

Embdeddded photos: Peter Zottolo
All slideshow photos: Dylan & Son
After last week’s article, I received a couple PMs, DMs, and emails from various people asking how trousers should fit.  The short answer is that they should lay straight down and fit comfortably. The long answer is, well, longer. Getting trousers to fit correctly is not simply a question of making them comfortable.  Sweats are comfortable.  So is spandex.  When cut correctly, trousers can feel just as cozy, but swathe you in elegance that sweatpants will never have. Meaning you can actually leave the house in trousers.

Let’s start with the bottom and work our way up:
1) The width of the leg opening should cover about 1/2 – 3/4 of your shoe, more or less
Varying too much either way can make your foot either stick out like a ski, or be completely engulfed and unseen. The length of your trousers should be just enough to kiss the top of your shoe in the front and hit the middle of your shoe’s heel in the back.  Of course, this will vary from shoe to shoe.  Chukkas, oxfords, or heavy boots, being more substantial with a heavy sole, are vertically higher and cause the front of the pants to fold, or break.  Streamlined oxfords or loafers sit a bit lower.  Personally I like to have my trouser legs hit the top of my loafers with no break, meaning the front of the trousers stop right where they hit the vamp.  This way, heavier shoes have just a just a shiver of a break.  The crease should fall straight down and bisect the shoe in the front.  
2) The trouser should not bunch at your calves
This is extremely difficult with slim trousers, but can be addressed with bespoke.  The trouser maker will either cut or iron the trouser following the natural curve and stance of the wearer.  This allows the line to fall, curved yet unbroken, down the back of your leg.  Having your pants constantly grabbing your calves – or worse, cupping under your seat – is almost sure to happen if they’re too tight.  This in and of itself is reason enough to either widen your trousers or go bespoke.
3) Your trousers’ thighs shouldn’t be so tight as to flatten the crease
If you’re trying on a pair of trousers and notice this is the case, I’d suggest sizing up and taking in the waist.  If sending in measurements for made-to-measure, write down the width of your thigh and add at least 2 inches.  Some companies are still trying to squeeze men into sausage casings, so I’d recommend erring on the side of caution and going roomy – you can always have them slimmed down.
4) Pay attention to the seat and rise
A) If your seat and hips are too tight, you won’t have the ability to move freely and your pockets will gape.  Too loose, and you’ll end up looking like you’re hiding a diaper.  A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to put your hands in your pockets easily.  If you can’t – loosen up, bro.  Additionally, the front and back rise will ensure the pants hang properly.  If the front rise is too short, you run the risk of moose knuckle; too long and the pants will start to have horizontal folds.  If the back rise is too long, the fabric might start to bunch under your seat; too short and it’ll start to separate your cheeks.  
B) The length of your rise should be high enough so that the top of the trousers sit at your natural waist, which is right around your navel.  The low rise trend is thankfully in its death throes; more and more are wearing trousers at their proper waist and doing so stylishly.  Doing so lengthens the leg, makes movement easier, and when worn with a buttoned jacket, covers your shirt and provides a seamless transition of fabric from top to bottom.  Just don’t go too much farther north than your belly button or you risk Urkel cosplay.
5) Be realistic about waist size
As far as the waist goes, I’m realistic.  I love it when bespoke trousers fit perfectly with no belt loops or braces, but overindulgence does happen, and you’ll be thankful for an extra inch or two.  When doing so, some opt for belt loops, but I much prefer having brace buttons and side pull tabs put in.  When wearing trousers with a suit, having the trousers hang from your shoulders allows them to fall and drape beautifully, in a straight line (braces generally attach and sit directly above your feet).  Plus, cinching your waist with a belt can be uncomfortable, and adjusting it after you eat can be more trouble than its worth.  However, if you’re wearing trousers without a jacket, braces can seem a little flashy.  One option is button tabs, but they can be a bit fussy.  Pull tabs are the perfect way to fine-tune the waist of your trousers.  Mine are halfway between the waist and leg on the seam; it binds a little less than having them solely on the waist.
This is admittedly quite a bit to digest, but can easily be seen and appreciated in pictures.  A well-fitting trouser is a sight to behold.  Some of the best examples I’ve seen online are from Dylan & Son, a tailoring house in Singapore, examples of whose work can be seen in the slideshow below.  Their Instagram feed showcases some amazing trousers, not just ones they made for themselves but for various customers with less-than-ideal proportions, bowl legged stances, and everything in between.  Explanations and descriptions can be found on some posts, giving a glimpse into the art and science of clothing the anatomy.

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Your Guide to Neapolitan Jacket Characteristics

The Internet has played a crucial role in introducing menswear aficionados to the visual nuances that permeate tailoring traditions – whether they come from the good old UK or the sunny shores of Naples, and the Neapolitan jacket has undeniably grown in popularity for men who shop and appreciate classic menswear. The following is a guide to Neapolitan jacket characteristics – what differentiates them, and what makes them worth owning.

Neapolitan jackets offer comfort and lightness, and they are, de facto, the leisurewear of tailoring. If properly constructed and tailored, you should be able to perform any daily task while wearing a Neapolitan jacket – from riding a bicycle to harvesting tomatoes (tasks that you will witness with your own eyes if you take a walk in the southern Italian countryside).

As dress codes at workplaces become less and less rigid, following the 21st century tendency of upgrading leisure and casual clothing to “everyday” clothes, Neapolitan tailoring has found a niche in the market of people that appreciate fine tailoring but won’t give up comfort and a bit of edge in their style.

This is my humble contribution to explain to the many, English-speaking fans of Neapolitan tailoring the beauty behind her majesty the Neapolitan Jacket, so grab your glass of Aglianico now, and keep reading.

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The Shoulders

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Spalla con rollino VS spalla a camicia – Lanieri

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Manica a mappina – Sartoria Formosa

Traditionally, the Neapolitan jacket has no shoulder padding. While it certainly helps make the figure appear broader in the upper part, shoulder padding restricts movement, and if you are a Neapolitan gentleman who is used to gesticulating a lot, that is definitely a deal breaker.

On account of these considerations, Neapolitan tailors removed the shoulder padding from their jackets altogether. In order to facilitate freedom of movement, the Neapolitan shoulder on informal jackets is sewn like a shirt sleeve (“spalla a camicia”) and it follows the natural curve of the human body rather than give it shape. This type of sleeve is cut about 10 cm larger than the armhole, and it can be finished with the “repecchia” – that visually interesting shirring the tailor creates with the extra fabric. This little flair, which supposedly allows for even more freedom of movement, is known as “manica a mappina”, and it gives the jacket a beautiful “rugged” appearance (“mappina” is a Neapolitan word for rag).

For formal occasions, the Neapolitan shoulder features a “rollino” – a little roll of padding that raises the sleevehead to drape more cleanly.

The Sleeves

The Neapolitan sleeve is usually shorter than that found on other jackets, as Neapolitans love their shirt cuffs to peek right above their wrists, especially when adorned with elegant cufflinks. The sleeves are cut closer to the arms, in order to avoid extra fabric hanging when these are raised (again, you’ve got to admire that talent for speaking with their hands).

The Pockets

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Rounded patch pocket with handmade double stitching [Photo: Nicola Radano for Orazio Luciano]

In line with the sinuous shape and lines of the Neapolitan tailoring, the pockets of a Neapolitan jackets are usually curved and applied as patches; the breast pocket is called “a barchetta”, which literally means “little boat”, due to the higher top corner of the pocket, which, along with the rounded bottom, gives it the shape of a stylized boat. The side pockets are equally curved, and their shape recalls that of a pot – hence the name “a pignata”.

Neither of these features have any practical functionality, but they are particular to Neapolitan tailoring and they contribute to the sophisticated yet relaxed look of a jacket made in Naples. As an ultimate touch of elegance, double hand finished stitching runs throughout the sides of the patch pockets – a recurring feature in informal Neapolitan tailoring.

The Lining

Just like shoulder padding, lining is considered an unnecessary burden and the Neapolitan tailors keep it as minimal as possible. Usually, the jacket is unlined or only half lined, in order to provide lightness; even the sleeves are completely unlined, as they’re meant to fit like a second skin. Additionally, the lining is often left open (“volante,” literally “flying”) so that we can admire the fine details and construction of the jacket.

The Lapels

Neapolitan jackets are famous for their wide lapels, which oftentimes are peaked (“a punta”) for double-breasted jackets, formal jackets, and coats.

The “risvolto dentellato” (the “classic” style of lapels – not peaked) are notoriously wider in Neapolitan jackets: they can be as wide as 4 inches, compared to the 3 inches of a regular lapel width).

Just as is the case for the pockets, the Neapolitan lapel features double stitching running along the sides – a stunning detail that’s peculiar of a Neapolitan creation – although reserved for the less formal pieces.

The “scollo a martiello” (literally “hammer neck”) is the opening of the jacket over the shirt, which in Neapolitan tailoring is perfectly parallel to the lapels.

The cran (but you can call it sgarzillo if you want to give your tailor a good laugh) is the space that separates the lapel and the neck, and it is usually higher in Neapolitan tailoring to create the illusion of a more slender figure.

The Body

You might have noticed that Neapolitan jackets tend to be shorter in the back; in Neapolitan dialect, they say the jacket “zompa arrèto,” which roughly translate as “it jumps in the back”. This characteristic allows for the jacket to “slide” gracefully along the body.

The vents on the sides are notoriously quite deep in Neapolitan jackets – up to 12 inches.

The darts (“pences” or “riprese”) in the front go all the way down, to help the fabric follow the shape of the body and create elegant quarters.

Buttons and Buttonholes

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Overlapping working buttons – Sartoria Formosa

Perhaps the most infamous characteristic of the Neapolitan jacket is the three-roll-two construction (“tre bottoni stirato a due”); the Italian translation makes it clear that the lapel that hides the third button is actually ironed by the tailor, who gives it a roll that elegantly folds over the button. The reason of this choice is – you might have guessed it – the extra freedom of movement provided by a longer opening in the front.

The buttonhole on the lapel is called “occhiello” in Italian, and it means “little eye” for its elongated almond shape. There isn’t really a tradition for a specific type of buttonhole in Naples, but we should note a tendency of Neapolitan tailors to prefer slightly shorter and thicker buttonholes that resemble those of a shirt, while “regular” buttonholes of English tradition are more elongated and slender. Some tailors add a little teardrop shape at the end of the buttonhole, but that’s an aesthetic choice that does not refer to a particular tradition.

For what concerns the buttons on the sleeves, they are always working buttons, and they are always overlapping, as if they were kissing each other.

If you ever find yourself strolling by the street of Naples, please do consider investing in a bespoke piece from a Neapolitan tailor. They represent a milestone of cultural heritage and tradition, and we owe them a great deal in terms of style and lifestyle. Additionally, having a suit made by a Neapolitan tailor is an experience that goes beyond the mere object that’s handed to you at the end of the process; it is a ritual. And, like every ritual, it involves libations, which in Naples can’t be anything other than caffè. When you’ll walk in the tailor’s atelier, you’ll be welcomed by a tiny cup of black, scorching coffee, and delicious Neapolitan pastries.

Don’t be surprised when you’ll see the workers take just one sip of coffee as you drink all of yours: they greet every customer with a cup of espresso, and while they won’t let any of them enjoy it solitarily, they simply can’t handle that much caffeine in a single day.

Arianna Reggio

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Photo: Sartoria Dalcuore


L’eleganza dello Stile – Duecent’anni di vestir maschile – Vittoria de Buzzacarini, ed. Lupetti.

Note di Stile – Sergio Cairati, 2016, sold by Amazon digital services.

Photo credits:

The jacket used as a model is by Sartoria Formosa for No Man Walks Alone and can be purchased here.

Sartoria Dalcuore


How to Pair Fabric Textures: Choosing a Suit Fabric, Pt. 2

Wool plain weave or twill suit, cotton oxford or broadcloth shirt, silk tie.

That’s the current, standard armor of menswear that man begins with, is married in, and is eventually buried in – it’s a relatively easy recipe to remember, and it works very well.  Make sure everything fits, choose colors that go well together, and you’re done.  Easy peasy. Last time, we talked about the basics of how to choose a suit fabric, but there are other options – and you’ll have to consider how to pair fabric textures.

Besides twill, there’s mohair sharkskin for Mods, slick gabardine for Rockers, and cavalry twill for hunters.  There’s fresco for the heat, flannel for the cold, and tweed for a pint in the pub. And that’s just the plain stuff – patterns abound, suitable for whatever environment you find yourself in.  Try birdseye for the boardroom, chalkstripes for less formal offices, and windowpanes, glen checks, and gunclubs for the casual or adventurous.  Some men see a soft cashmere tie and cannot resist its fuzzy allure.  Others succumb to the easy-going appeal of a rumply linen suit.  All well and good, but understand that arbitrarily changing one ingredient in the recipe can lead to an unsavory sight.  The heft, feel, and texture of fabric thus come into play when choosing one for a suit.

The importance of texture in clothing is often overlooked and under-appreciated.  Those ignorant of it can make an otherwise winning ensemble fail, whereas those who understand how textures play together can upgrade even mediocre outfits with depth and interest.

First, it should be noted that the most basic iteration of menswear – dark wool suit in a plain weave, light broadcloth cotton shirt, silk twill or grenadine tie – is in and of itself a wonderful mixture of textures.  As the main component, a suit in a modest wool is discreet, elegant, and light-absorbing.  The cotton shirt adds another layer of texture, tightly woven and offering a hint of sheen.  Finally, the silk fabric of a fine tie gives off a soft luster that delicately reflects light.   Let’s go over some basic combinations below:

These three elements – again, wool suit, cotton shirt, silk tie – when worn in classic woven fabrics such as the examples above, are your bread and butter.  But…

What if you toast your bread, and melt your butter?  You have now introduced two new textures that are miles beyond their original state: the once spongy bread is now crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside; and the formerly waxy pat of butter now oozes like smooth, liquid velvet through its crevices.  

Here’s a couple of simple tables that can help pull together your outfit so that your fixins fit in:

choosing a suit fabric styleforum alternative suit fabrics suit fabric pairings how to pair fabric textures 

Deviating from the tried-and-true triad of menswear can seem a bit complicated, but hopefully the above charts will assist in making it less so.  Bear in mind they are neither exhaustive nor unyielding, but meant to be used as a guide to assist in making sure your ensemble “ingredients” form a pleasant picture.  

At the top of each chart, there is the wool suit in a plain weave, silk twill or grenadine tie, and broadcloth shirt, which you already are familiar with.  As you go down the chart, the fabrics get more casual. Here are some examples of how to pair fabric textures:

Warm Weather

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And here are some good examples of how to pair fabric textures for cool weather

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A few items are always seasonally correct and good for most outfits:

Silk ties; twill, or – slightly more casual – knit

Silk pocket squares

White pocket squares in cotton or linen

Other factors, such as patterns, also play a role in the formality of menswear.  That’s already been discussed in another article, but hopefully these charts and pictures will help when putting together items based on texture.  When all ingredients come together as a whole, the end result – simple or intricate, urbane or nonchalant – will be a palatable portrait of classic menswear in coat and tie.

Erik Mannby’s 10 Rules of Style

Erik is one of Styleforum’s best-known and best-dressed members, and you may recognize him from our Pitti Uomo coverage. Here, he breaks down his top ten sartorial rules.



  1. Always use the four in hand knot.

    I’ve noticed that the false notion of the Windsor knot being more formal still lives on in some lines of business. Here in Sweden it’s especially favored by real estate brokers for some reason. I guess the idea that it’s named after royalty and the fact of its symmetry fool some people. The four in hand is the only knot you ever need to learn. If you need a bigger knot, you can easily just wrap it into a double four in hand. The slight asymmetry is what gives it personality. Also, don’t forget the dimple underneath the knot. Fact is that the duke of Windsor, who the Windsor knot is named after, only used the four in hand knot, but with a thicker lining, thus making it appear slightly more bulky.
  2. Be comfortable.This is the key to looking good. Make sure your clothes fit you well enough to give you freedom of movement. For me this means that I wear trousers with a higher waist. The comfort level this grants has made me completely forgo all dress trousers that don’t reach my natural waist. Also, I wear all my garments cut generously enough to never restrict me. For me, a suit should always be comfortable enough to not be noticed when worn.
  3. Invest in good hats & caps.Relating back to the last point, this is about comfort to me. In the summer time a Panama hat is excellent protection against the sun, and in winter a hat or cap will keep your head warmer. Also, a proper hat generally looks better with tailored clothing than a regular beanie.
  4. Know yourself.This is more important than getting to know any “menswear rules”. This will also relate back to the point about being comfortable. This is what makes you LOOK comfortable. Your way of dressing usually looks its best when it reflects who you are. I see a lot of people wearing what they’ve seen influential or famous people wearing, and it just looks off. Are you a casual or formal person? Do you love colours or different shades of grey? Do you like vintage wear or sprezz, or both? Do you wear suits for work or for your own pleasure? You make up the questions that are relevant to your idea of style. What I’m trying to say is: “You do you”.
  5. Know the history of your garments.Once again, these are MY rules. I generally like to know what the history is behind a certain garment or design trait. I can then chose to wear it with what it was originally meant to be worn with, or if I feel it’s too anachronistic or pointless, completely discard the original rules of wearing it and choose a way that seems more reasonable.

  6. Get to know your colours.Colours can be tricky. There is plenty written on this subject, so I’d suggest you Google this if you want to learn everything about colour wheels – or read Peter’s article on color. I usually visualize colour combinations that I think would be interesting and then try them out in actual outfits. Now, since I am my own boss, I don’t need to care for dress codes, which obviously gives me a greater freedom of messing about with this. If you want some good tips, I’d suggest also looking at old apparel art, as there are usually some really interesting colour combinations to be found.
  7. Contrasts, high or low – do it consistently.Some people prefer high contrast outfits, while other like medium- to low contrast. Personally I love the whole spectrum. A good idea is to do it consistently, though. If you have a low contrast between trousers and jacket, it can look off beat to throw in a pair of shoes in a completely different shade.
  8. Mix your patterns according to size.I make exceptions to almost all of my “rules”, but this is a constant. It just never looks good wearing several garments/accessories that are in close proximity to each other, in a pattern that’s roughly the same size. It creates a disharmony in the total composition that isn’t very appealing. You can stay safe by only wearing one patterned garment, or let the patterns be big/small enough not to get confused with each other. Again, Peter has written a good primer on this subject.
  9. Vintage, budget, premium? Who cares? Aesthetic is king.To me, the end result trumps whatever brand/maker you’re wearing. Of course, crap quality clothes should always be shunned. Today, you can find some of the finest quality clothes available in vintage stores, and a lot of brands offer a great quality/price ratio. I mix and match personally. One of my favorite jackets is a vintage M51 field jacket, I’ll wear it with premium priced clothes, but it still works in my opinion, just because I have a consistent idea of what aesthetics I strive for.
  10. Learn the fundamentals, then wear it as you like.Read Flusser, Roetzel, and other menswear writers. Their books will give you a good idea about some of the conventions that influence how menswear is conceived and worn today. At the same time, be aware that they are just that: conventions. There really are very few “rules” to menswear. Look at it historically and you will see that these ideas change drastically over time. The modern suit is quite young, and when introduced to the masses were considered unorthodox and therefore free to experiment with as on chooses. Now, of course, conventions have set in, and people love to beat each other over the head with this set of conventions that they believe are actual rules. Know what’s what and you’ll be more free to wear it as you see fit.

Erik is co-founder of EFV Clothing. You can find him on Instagram at @ErikMannby.

Mastering Complex Patterns

“Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can play weird– that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple complicated is commonplace–making the complicated simple, awesomely simple–that’s creativity.”  – Charles Mingus

In today’s post-slacker world, just wearing coat and tie is enough to turn heads in many environments.  Sadly, in response to the incessant thundering appeal to “stand out,” men are blindly throwing together so many unrelated #menswear trends and patterns under the misguided siren call to “be original” that the resulting stew of glen plaids, gingham checks, candy stripes, and polka dots would make even Andrea Bocelli vomit. 

If that’s what you’re shooting for, more power to you; but do not delude yourself into thinking a random salmagundi of patterns is an expression of your creativity.   Many confuse “individuality” with “creativity”, but there is a difference: the aim of individuality is to be “different” by bucking convention.  The genius of creativity is taking something complex and making it appear simple. 

Charles Mingus released one of his best-known albums, Ah Um, the same year that Miles Davis released Kind of Blue.  Both, now over 50 years old, are premier examples of how complexity can be done well.  Indeed, despite the fact that up to six instruments played a part in each song, note the recurring concept that keeps appearing in critics’ reviews:

“Simplicity – the reason Kind of Blue has remained so successful for so long.”

“…one of the many amazing things about Mingus Ah Um is that he took this incredibly challenging jazz, in perhaps its creative heyday, and made it as easy as pop music.” – Bob Lange

“All of the contributions…only served to illuminate Miles’ zen-like approach on this record that relied on simplicity.” –

This concept was by no means new.  Over 100 years earlier, none other than Chopin himself opined: “Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”

Can this concept be applied to #menswear?  Yes, it can, in two ways:  One instrument at a time; or if many, they must harmonize.

One pattern

One pattern is easy – choose one and keep the rest solid. Non si può sbagliare. 

If more than one pattern, the scale of each must harmonize via contrast.  Think of it this way:  The items that are closest to each other should be dissimilar in scale; your ensemble should not look too busy.  If your jacket has a large pattern, the shirt’s pattern should be smaller.  If the shirt’s pattern is small, the tie’s pattern should be large.  If you decide to wear a pocket square, its scale should differ from the jacket.

Two patterns

In the first example, Mark Cho wears a suit with a large pattern, while his tie has a small pattern. Same with the second picture – large windowpane suit, small scale “neat” tie. The third example showcases the reverse: small scale gunclub jacket paired with a tie that has stripes spaced far apart. 

Three Patterns

Three patterns can be done relatively easily: anchor your ensemble with a solid suit, make the shirt and tie in differing scales, and throw in a patterned pocket square. The first two pictures demonstrate this well. 

Once you throw in a patterned jacket things can get tricky, but the following photos demonstrate how it can be done. In the first, Ethan is wearing a gunclub jacket (small repeated scale), a neat tie (in a slightly larger scale with more space in between the print), and a square with a large scale, dissimilar to the jacket. The next picture has Jake in a pinstripe jacket with quite a bit of space, a tie with less space, and a shirt with closely spaced stripes. 

Four Patterns

Not impossible, but the risks of appearing fastidiously studied or a chaotic cacophony should give one pause. Simply changing the scale can have too many lines crossing every which way in a dizzying mess.  To limit this effect, try introducing shapes and prints into your accessories, such as a medallion tie or paisley square.


Note that in all cases, the colors are not garish.  If one pattern stands out more than the other, it is not so disparate as to look either out of place or forced. Whether simple or complex, everything should just…flow easily.  Stephen Thomas Erlewine of sums it up by saying:  “Kind of Blue works on many different levels. It can be played as background music, yet it amply rewards close listening. It is advanced music that is extraordinarily enjoyable.”

Standing out is easy; just wear red shoelaces.  Don’t just be different.  Be creative by making the complicated simple.  Make Mingus proud.

Photos courtesy of Alan See, the Armoury LightboxEthan Newton, and No Man Walks Alone