A Change Is As Good As A Rest

As the nights begin to draw in and the temperature begins to drop, my hopes of an Indian Summer fade. That said, Tuesday of this week was incredibly warm, so much so that I set-off on the school run wearing only shirt sleeves – perhaps an informed decision based on the knowledge that by the time I had raced across the park I would be a sweaty mess. Or, perhaps I had realised an opportunity to collect one’s seersucker from the local dry cleaners – given the inclement weather of late, I thought it a safe bet to surrender one’s summer attire for cleaning before it is retired until the Spring. Although seemingly only to refresh it in time for Autumn?!

 This years version of Summer has had it’s highlights, reaching some absolutely balmy temperatures at times which were perfect for road testing this summer addition to our Custom Collection. But alas, what it has not afforded us is the countless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors come the weekends, as we did last year. In stark contrast to last years many road trips, and in spite our eagerness to give the newly painted Brown in Town camper a spin, we only managed three trips and it rained each and every time! Talk about unpredictable.

But given the balmy weather we enjoyed earlier in the week, perhaps our autumn will be unpredictable too. And if that is the case, then I am relieved that for once, I will be prepared!

I am typically late in organising my seasonal wardrobe – not to mention late to most engagements it has to be said – but I took the opportunity just before Christmas last to design the new Custom Collection in it’s entirety, so as to be ahead of the game. Which means that I am now the proud owner of a rather elegant tweed jacket, perfect for the season – at least you’d have thought.

Now, I say elegant for several reasons. For one, this jacket is unlined. This means you see the wonderful autumnally coloured cloth throughout, because there is no lining inside. And because the seams inside are not covered, they must be taped – to prevent them fraying – in a colour of your choice. This is a painstaking task, which is why, ironically, the cost of an unlined jacket is greater than that of a lined jacket. Now you know.

I must confess that it’s being an unlined jacket was not intentional but what a beautiful mistake to have made, as David Bowie used to say, because now I have a jacket which can beat off a chill, but is not too warm, as traditional tweed jackets can be. Typically offered in weights upwards of 14oz so as to provide warmth and protection from the elements when participating in outdoor pursuits, this coarse but very wearable shetland tweed from Abraham Moon weighs in at just 11oz, so is perfect for this changing of the seasons when 14oz is perhaps too heavy and overcoats overkill.

Given Brown in Town’s association with tweed, it might come as a bit of a surprise that this would be our first tweed jacket under the label. And contrary to tweed’s association with country life, the inspiration for ours was much more urban. I wanted to make a jacket that could be worn with both our Custom Collection chinos and grey worsteds.

And not only is this our first foray into creating a tweed jacket, it is also our first showcase of a completely hand-finished garment. Those that appreciate the figure hugging nature of our full canvas, will enjoy the incredibly soft handle of this jacket’s hand-quilted canvas, not to mention the artisanal nature of a hand-finished garment; the generous roped shoulders may not suit all tastes. You have been warned.

But I wouldn’t say that I am looking forward to a long winter, but like many Englishman, I find Autumn attire much easier than Summer attire to master. So as one season gives way to the next, let us take solace in change being as good as a rest.

Here’s to the unpredictability of Engish weather..

Hanging in the Balance

After a suits colour, which I take very seriously indeed, I consider balance and proportion to be the most important elements of a fine suit. In fact, I have often argued that, if the fit of a suit is good then one could have their suit fashioned from their favourite (insert favourite childhood hero or movie here..) duvet cover!

But why? Because of balance.

The current trend for cropped jackets, or bum freezers as they are known in the industry has, in fairness, gone on much longer than I had anticipated. But I still say that it makes the very tall look ridiculous as it accentuates the length of the leg still further. Conversely, it does not make the vertically challenged among us appear taller; it just reveals a vertically challenged man endeavouring to make his legs look longer!

Given the majority of the suits which Brown in Town makes are wedding suits – which are in turn immortalised in wedding photos – that the suits look as good on the Big Day and forever more, is as important as the groom not letting the bride down in the wedding photos by choosing the wrong colour suit!

While the wedding dress may (or may not) be hermetically sealed after the big day and consigned to the attic, the wedding suit will be worn again and again. And, though the average cost of a wedding suit is a fraction of the cost of the wedding dress, this may not always be the case. Regardless, the groom, unlike the bride, must be seen to be investing in a timeless classic so as to ensure maximum value is redeemed from such a financial outlay. But whether for wedding or for work, Brown in Town likes to ensure that the suit can be used beyond the maiden voyage, which requires it to look as good on the wearer on the Big Day as it does every time it is worn on the trading floor or at friends weddings.

We achieve this firstly by ensuring that the colour of the cloth is flattering of the wearer i.e. not a colour which washes them out, and secondly by ensuring the overall silhouette of the suit is a flattering one. Not only is the suit cut using the wearers measurements, but also incorporating the figurations of their frame i.e. sloping shoulder v’s square shoulders into the pattern to ensure a good fit. This, together with consideration of balance between the top and the bottom e.g. the jacket and the trousers.

This used to be governed by the length of one’s jacket being cut to the top of the thigh, so as not to reveal one’s bottom! Other sartorial litmus tests abound, such as the hem of the jacket falling into the palm of one’s hand when arms are at rest by one’s side, but your tailor will most likely wax lyrical about these sartorial etiquettes whilst measuring you. And this is not to say that cut is not important, but let’s assume that this would be one of the reasons for utilising the services of a tailor to fashion our suits, shirts, jackets and trousers.

When I am measuring someone for a suit, I will consider what length of jacket is going to be most flattering; just as I  do the length and cut of their trousers. For example, if the wearer desires a slimmer cut in his trousers, the cutter makes a beeline from the seat of the trousers (typically the widest part of the pattern) to the knee, as opposed the ankle. This eradicated some of the drape behind the thigh: but be warned, if you are blessed with rugby or cyclists thighs, ergo weightlifters quads, you will find your trousers sticking to your legs when you stand!

This does not mean that I am against the slimline cut of the modern suit, far from it. My own sartorial inspirations come from the suits which were worn by my heroes both on the silver screen and also TV during the 1960’s; think Michael Caine in the Italian Job or cult tv show U.N.C.L.E. And I would suggest that the style of this era had a profound effect on Savile Row, not only in the cut of the suits, but also in the cutters who were inspired to pursue a career in tailoring – my own sartorial hero, Dougie Hayward, was a South London lad like me who was unable to secure a position on Savile Row owing to his Sarf’ London lilt, and so opened up on Mount St. The rest is history.

Not that Savile Row would admit to being inspired by Italian tailoring, but just look at the changes which came about during the era of the Mod; brightly coloured iridescent two-tone, mohair suits, sharply cut with drainpipe trousers and worn by young men with pixie boots! Love it or loathe it, this style most certainly had a an affect on the traditional Savile Row suit and is probably the greatest influence on modern tailoring, and which still abounds today.

And whilst I may be inspired by our sartorial past I am certainly not hindered by it. Ergo, nor do I believe that tailoring is the place for imitating current trends if those trends do not afford the wearer a garment which is flattering – these experiments are best conducted in a fitting room on the the High St.

By all means be inspired by what the movers and the shakers are wearing, but consider how you will look in the same get-up. No more would you have me cut your trousers too short if they made you look ridiculous (nor too long for that matter), than you would have me cut your jacket too short if afforded you the same.

I think Dunhill said it best in one of their campaigns; “Trousers are made in three lengths: too short, too long, and just right”.

Hear, hear..

Take me to my tailor..!

When I first had the idea of Brown in Town, aside the desire for a well stocked atelier of pocket squares, ties and umbrellas etc. I considered how best to broach that subject which hitherto, tailors are oft’ embarrassed to i.e. the cost of Sirs or Madams finery..

Moreover, and as part of the service which we consider part and parcel of being a patron of Brown in Town, I was keen to offer the most agreeable payment terms. Initially, we sought to meet our Customers half way by requesting a deposit of 50% the total cost of their order that we might go to market and procure the cloth and trim they had requested (bespoke); the balance being settled at the first fitting. We still offer this service to this day.

But in the tradition of Savile Row tailors, I was keen also to offer our patrons the option to have an account whereby one pay a monthly subscription and, when the need arises, they commission a new tailored suit, shirt, jacket, blazer, slacks, chinos, shorts or what have you, which, providing the account is in good order, we would make – the balance of which would be paid at the first fitting, in the same way, if agreeable.

Sadly, the idea fell on deaf ears when I approached the private banks on the Square who were my neighbours, who were more interested in the assets of a business, as opposed the proposition the business offered its Customers.

But just recently we have had a slew of requests from both our regulars and new Customers alike, interested in resurrecting this method of doing business with one’s tailor.

So, for our Customers who may be time deficient but are not prepared to sacrifice on style, Brown in Town now offer the option of having an account whereby a deposit, if applicable followed by monthly installments can be made towards their ongoing sartorial requirements.

In turn, we will of course continue to offer our outfitting service to include making recommendations on all sartorial requirements one might have. Sound good?

Enquire within..

Birthday Blog: Things What I Have Learned

I turn 45 today. And for the first time in many years I feel like celebrating my Birthday!

And what better way to kick-start the day I thought, than to put pen to paper! For I have learned that writing is my catharsis. So I thought I’d share just a few of the things which I have gleaned in my 45yrs on planet earth – though there are probably many things which I have learned at 33,000ft, like how emotional I become when in flight, but these are not tears of sadness, only joy!

Many of the things which I have learned I have read in magazines – I LOVE magazines; from the Surf and BMX magazines which I consumed in the 1970’s to the Skateboard magazines of the 1980’s and my current favourite Monocle Magazine; which keeps me up to speed with my former ex-pat life and it’s take on architecture, global affairs and style.

But the greatest lessons which I have learned have been through trial and error. And of those, perhaps the most pertinent lesson learned is that I should never say never, as I invariably, I will fall foul of my own hardline – Brown in Town takes it’s name from the sartorial turn of phrase “never brown in town”.

This would certainly be the case where my recent penchant for two-piece suits is concerned, as I am historically a three-piece man and vowed I would never wear a two-piece unless it was of the double-breasted variety. Indeed, there was a time when I said that I would never be a suit wearer.. Who Knew?!

From a young age it was quite clear that I wanted to dress in my own way, irrespective of what others were doing; not always the right choice I hasten to add. Which might explain my penchant for sartoria so late in life – I managed to be a suit dodger until I was in my mid-thirties, at which time I was introduced ‘to my tailor’ and the rest is history.

And though I may have joined the suit wearing masses, to my peers and certainly my family, I am still the odd-one-out. Buy it transpired that I enjoy being the odd-one-out. This came to me when I lived overseas where I felt at ease being the only Farang or Guilo in an otherwise South-East Asian community. Even being a white face in an otherwise Jamaican South London community appealed to me. I tell you this; the brothers knew a good suit when they saw one!

I have also learned that while my fellow man may have invented a great many wonderful things, mother nature can still compete; I walked to work this morning on my own two legs quicker than I would have got here by car, and while enjoying the sunshine to boot!

And Man may have made Gore-Tex to wick away heat in the summer sun, but linen suits can absorb 20% of their own weight in moisture; the man from Del Monte he say yay! Moreover, while a blend of manmade fibres can offer a crease-resistant suit, a relatively new cloth from the Smith Woollens mill offers crease a resistant cloth which coils a 4th yarn of wool around the other 3 yarns, causing it to spring back into shape: vivre la mother nature!

And contrary to popular opinion, the current trend for cropped jackets does nothing for the vertically challenged among us; for instead of giving the wearer the illusion of longer legs it actually reveals a short guy trying to make his legs look longer! In fact, it is the longer jacket which elongates the frame and provides a more elegant silhouette. The exception to the above would be the sports jacket, which I typically cut shorter as I have learned that it provides better balance and proportion in an ensemble which generally includes chinos or jeans, which have a shallower rise and, ergo look better with the hem of one’s jacket being inline with the top of the inside leg.

And as the name our tailoring house would suggest, one of our favourite lessons learned is that if you look good in a certain colour, then wear it. The caveat to this being that you must look good in the colour which you want to wear –  men in particular have a habit of making their fashion choices in the same way they choose the colour of their cars i.e. they go for their favourite colour.

But if your favourite colour is purple, we suggest save the purple for the lining of your jacket or your braces, tie or even socks but not the suit itself! Unless of course your name is Prince.. RIP.

So enjoy the sunshine on my Birthday and many happy returns to my fellow Taureans! And remember; legends are born in May, so they say..!

Shirt Collars: Pressing Times

The original idea for the name given to the Brown in Town blog, the Advisory, came to me as these things often do, at 33,000ft. We were flying to New Zealand to see my Sis’ and her wonderful family,  when a light bulb went off; what if I could reach a wider audience than my London customer base by cataloguing the sartorial advice which I dispense day-to-day and share it via a blog or some such.

But over the next couple of years, the Advisory became something much more than just sartorial advice. Within two years, Brown in Town had been born and we had the opportunity not only to offer sartorial advice but also dress those who sought sartorial council.

And here at Brown in Town HQ, there are many topics which are discussed but the one which has risen above all others of late is the age old dilemma of how to prevent one’s shirt collars from curling, either inwards or outwards. We have all seen them; collars which curl up and collars which curl down which I had always believed was caused by the collars wingtip being sucked into the cavity beyond the collar bone, or being spat out by it.

And whilst I was of the opinion that it is our own collar bones which dictate whether or not it is necessary that we wear collar bones, it has come to my attention that the pressing of one’s shirt may also play a part..

Now, most dress shirts are supplied by the shirt maker with collar bones. And, whether rigid or pliable their purpose is to prevent this happening. But whether or not you sport plastic, bone, titanium or sterling silver collar bones, they appear to do just so much in the fight against a curling collar – if anything, I think this encourages the collars tip to become dog eared beyond the point which they are supported by the collar bone.

Much as I love the beauty of a beautiful pair of horn or, dare I say it, ivory collar bones; I don’t actually own a pair. The disposable one’s which we supply with our Brown in Town shirts I do exactly that with; dispose of them. For, having laundered and pressed my own shirts since I began wearing tailored shirts, I learned that I don’t actually need them. My collars sit flat against me, neither curling inwards or outwards.

I have always lived in areas where the water is not particularly soft – in fact it is downright hard here in Bristol and also in London before that – and I have long since taken the precautionary measure of not only pressing my shirt collars first, but pressing them on the reverse. Because this prevents the entire shirt being ruined if one is unfortunate enough to experience the expunging of scale and water from the steam iron, when we depress the steam button!

For it would appear that, by pressing one’s shirt collar first on the back, then the front it stabilises the canvas within the collar. Thus preventing it curling one way or t’other. However, if we find that this does not cause the collar to sit flat against our own collar bones when worn, then I suggest holding the collar at the button or button hole, depending which side you are pressing, with the iron in your other hand press the tip of the collar whilst lifting the the area already pressed upwards, then vice versa – this is similar to the method of making paper chains, whereby we curl strips of paper with the edge of a pair of scissors. See video here.. 

The effect this should have is to cause the tip of the collars to curl up slightly, so that when the shirt is worn, the collar will sit flat against the body and not curl any further, in either direction.

Try it, you might be surprised how effective it is!