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!

New Year, New Custom Collection

It used to be, way back when, that I could set my watch by the annual wedding season – enquiries come early in January following the Christmas break when groom is likely interrogated by both sides of his family about progress with finding himself a wedding suit! Measuring would then start in February/March for the May/June weddings and whilst conducting these fittings we conduct the next wave of consultations for the August/September weddings. But add to that the odd shotgun wedding and now January weddings, instead of the end of the year being a time to reflect, take stock and get excited about the year ahead, it was Christmas Eve before I finally got the first of the new Custom Collection pieces onto the cutting table!

So, what is in store this year..

Well, owing to the success of our Summer Suit, we will finally be launching the tobacco Summer Suit to accompany last years blue incarnation – those who follow us via Social Media will have had a preview last year – but you’ll see it in all it’s glory on our website this Summer. Whereas the first incarnation was cut from Holland & Sherry’s fantastic 11oz Classic Cottons range and in the most vivid of blues, the second coming will be cut in Brisbane Moss’ 9oz Cotton Drill – which drapes and handles a little more like a classic chino cotton, as opposed Holland & Sherry’s which drapes more like wool i.e. it does not crease like a classic chino cotton does. Both have their merits so choose wisely.

And, owing to the incredibly positive feedback from my associates – namely the girls at the salon – whenever I wear separates, we thought we’d push the boat out and endeavour to wear separates during the course of the working week; quelle horreur, I hear you cry! But we have become increasingly inspired by the preppy look of our peers at some of my favourite tailors, outfitters and haberdashers, so we are going to experiment with a more preppy look this year that is natty and perhaps a little rakish.

So, to complement our Custom Collection chinos, we are introducing a pair of mid-grey worsteds to complement our blazers and jackets. This ensemble will mean that it can be worn in a more formal setting, where chinos may be too casual. I have to say that these slacks are among the most comfortable which I have worn. They are cut from an 11oz worsted twill from Harrisons of Edinburgh. And this particular shade of grey has been a sartorial stalwart since the 1930’s when flannel ruled supreme, all the way through to the 1980’s when the informal wardrobe consisted of grey flannel trousers and blue blazers. But there will be no brass buttons here, just fine tailoring inspired by our sartorial past, not hindered by it.

The most successful piece for me personally was our flannel blazer. Cut from a b.e.a.u.tiful 14oz Wellington Check flannel jacketing from Fox Brothers, it not only contained many of ‘my colours’, as it were (increasingly grey and fawn as I get older and fairer/greyer) it has provided warmth and utility during the Autumn and Winter months. If you have never tried it, there is something incredibly luxurious in the handle and and the wearing of flannel that has to be experienced to be appreciated. So we will continue in this fashion with another flannel blazer, this time cut from Holland & Sherry’s Dandy range, in order to continue our appreciation for authentic cloths and pieces which provide the wearer investment in our iconic heritage mills and brands, not to mention garments which are incredibly versatile, functional and hardwearing.

2017 will also see the introduction of a tweed jacket; our first would you believe?! We have chosen the Abraham Moon mill for this cloth, with whom Brown in Town has not worked before but their cloths are synonymous with heritage brands such as Toast and Jack Wills. They have some wonderful tweeds, as well as lambswool jacketings in their collection and we are very excited, not to mention a little proud to be working with them and following in the footsteps of our creative director Saffron Darby, who worked closely with them for many years in her capacity as Senior Designer at Toast.

We will likely add a summer jacket to the collection, when the time is right. Presently I am thinking a seersucker, but more of that when the ice has thawed..!

Finally, but perhaps the most exciting of all, Brown in Town will be launching it’s first item of outerwear. Still in the R and D stages at present, it will take it’s inspiration from my own Belstaff heritage motorcycle jacket which has stood me in good stead during our Winter walks, as it fits perfectly over my blazers and jackets and is a go to when my Covert Coat is too long for the occasion. The Belstaff is not what I would consider to be sartorial, so I sought inspiration from the Norfolk Jacket, which was invariably the precursor to today’s Field Coat – a boxy jacket, traditionally used for stalking and shooting. The Norfolk was cut from heavier and harder wearing cloths, invariably tweed and featured a sewn on belt which buttoned at the front, which gave it a more fitted and tailored aesthetic.

We have chosen to use Abraham Moon’s 18oz overcoating in a green khaki. Famed for it’s use as a ‘Greatcoat’ cloth and used since the 15th Century by the military for keeping troops warm and dry, owing dense felted wool construction. Our version of these two classics will take the most sartorial  elements of their utilitarian designs to provide a go-to item of outerwear.

We have had lots of fun designing the latest offering from our Custom Collection and we look forward to sharing it with you in due course. We hope that the start to your New Year has been as exciting as ours and we hope to see you at our Bristol studio or London outpost soon..

Brown in Town? Never!

I could hardly let it pass without offering some missive, given our name’s sake. At the very least offering my five pence worth. I have lost count of how many times I have been sent this inflammatory article, but regardless, I shall do my level best to set the record straight.

Now, I should probably point out at this juncture the origins of our house’s name. In addition, perhaps it would be pertinent to reiterate the origins of this erstwhile turn of phrase.

“Never Brown in Town”, it is generally understood, refers to the colour of one’s cloth. That is, the colour of your tweeds, which, were you a member of the British aristocracy, you would have worn whilst on your country estate but never into the City. Vis a vis, this was also the view taken on one’s footwear when venturing into the city i.e. no brown shoes with one’s black or grey suit. Navy suits were not a consideration back then and ergo, it should come as no surprise that brown shoes were not worn; if ever there were two colours where a common ground were difficult to find it would be black and brown. Not impossible mind.

Now, if you did not own an estate, nor live in the countryside, it is unlikely that you would have owned tweeds – you were likely to have own led but one suit for the working week and Sunday Best. The problem, I would imagine, occurred when the nouveau riche got their hands on the accoutrement of the aristocracy and start playing the game without having being educated in etiquette and the foibles which accompany them. For example, the unfastening of a jacket or waistcoat’s bottom button. Mere foibles passed down from monarchy to court, which we still adhere to today.

Where I myself fell foul of the code of the school yard, was offering sartorial advice to a visitor to our shores, who had taken a job in the City and was proposing to wear a blue suit and brown shoes. I was asked to set this chap straight by his friend, a contemporary and admirer of my work at a former house. But when I suggested that it all hinged on the particular shade of a pair of brown shoes and the shade of blue of his suit, I fell from grace rather rapidly..!

Such was the furore surrounding my sartorial advice, that I remarked to Saffron Darby mid-way through what was to become a rather protracted debate, that should we ever decide to set-up shop ourselves, that we might consider consider calling it ‘Brown in Town’.. My own personal motto in life is, Never Say Never.

Whilst I completely agree with dressing for the job which you want and not the one which you have, if the job you desire is bound by an unspoken, or otherwise, code of the school yard, then play by the rules. However, if you are prone to revealing your own personal style, then maybe the job which you want is not for you. However, if you are convicted of both, then you will find a way of dressing to impress without breaking any codes and remaining true to yourself.

Of course, I am responding to the cry of Brown in Town’s patrons who work in the City and know how to play the game, but who have the last laugh by having their clothes tailored. Ergo, they choose their cloth and their shoes, which are black I hasten to add.

When we give advice to our customers whether or not brown shoes might be suitable footwear for their new suit, they are more often than not grooms. In some cases, they might be men who are either required to wear a suit for work, or those who take great pleasure in wearing a suit for work, whether they are required or not. Either way, they are typically not contending with the thorny issue of discrimination.

For let us not forget what this article is actually about; discrimination. Which, for all of our advances, still looms large. It did then, it does now. And if you think you are going to stop it by wearing brown shoes, you are wrong. If you are the aristocracy, the old rear guard, or could care less about what you wear or, rather, would prefer not to draw too much attention to yourself; wear only black shoes in the City.

For everyone else, there is Brown in Town.

Tailoring That Tells A Story

Everybody has a sartorial jumping off point. My own was being shipped-off to South East Asia by Target Corporation and introduced, as all self-respecting ex-pats are, to my maid, my housekeeper and my tailor?!

Of course, I knew what the first two brought to the party, but what of this tailor chap; I didn’t wear suits.. My employer had other ideas.

It may not have been the most orthodox of introductions to tailoring, but that journey led to Brown in Town and we soon enter our 4th year. And having scratched our heads all the while, I think we have finally answered the age old question of what it is that we do; Tailoring That Tells A Story.

Now, this may not appear to be much of a revelation, nor come as a surprise to any of our Customers, particularly those whom we have dressed for their weddings. But, sometimes, the most obvious answers to the most testing questions, can be right under our noses – which, given my rather distinguished conk, can seem rather far away at times.

But 2016 also saw some firsts for Brown in Town, among them our first real foray into women’s tailoring, with no fewer than three ‘Trouser Suits’, as they have become known affectionately, for civil weddings. I dare say that in 2017 we may actually launch our female tailoring officially. Watch this space..

But we have also produced some of our best, if not challenging, work to date. Our first first,  was creating customised linings, whereby the customer designs their own jacket lining. We created no fewer than five personalised linings all told, for some discerning patrons for whom our huge selection of house linings and fancies and those from Lear Brown & Dunsford are plainly (pun intended) not enough. These would include; Iron Maiden’s Eddy (for a barrister, no less), Dandelions (designed by our good friends at Mondo Magna), Wallace & Gromit (for whom I am sworn to secrecy) and Batman – which is actually still in the workshop and is required for Bruce’s wedding next week (when I said I needed the artwork in a hurry Bruce, I did not mean two weeks later..!).

And fancy linings are not the only thing which take a little extra time to create, for it may have taken us a year, but we are finally getting Strawberry (the Brown in Town van, christened by our daughter!), liveried. When I say liveried, do not expect to see our name emblazoned on the side, but do expect to see our wardrobe on wheels painted a colour inspired by our Brown in Town  carrier bags..!

It took a lifetime to find my chosen vocation and whilst it may not take us that long to make one of our suits, it was my story that lead me here in the first place and it is the story of those who commission us to make their suits that is sewn into everything which we make..

As they say, all good things come to those who wait..

The Summer Suit

In a classic case of getting a taste of one’s own medicine, the Brown in Town Summer Suit has been incorporated into our Custom Collection because it proved so popular with our patrons and has continued to do so since it’s maiden voyage.

You see, the original concept of the Custom Collection was to create a capsule wardrobe for our professional patrons who are required less and less to wear a suit to do battle. Moreover, they are required to accommodate the dreaded ‘smart-casual’ – which leaves us all, myself included, floundering at the threshold of our wardrobes; but help is at hand.

Following a trip to Florence for the bi-annual rag trade faire, Pitti Uomo, earlier this year – before wedding season was in full flow and I was able to spend a day or two with one’s friends and peers – I was enamoured with the style and panache of the old Italian rear guard. Their laissez faire attitude and natty two-piece suit ensembles, accessorised with braces, scarves and full heads of salt and pepper hair, really made an impression on this sartorial traditionalist.

Given my recent love affair with the two-piece suit – see A Change is as Good as a Rest – and with the onset of summer, I thought it a good opportunity to trial a two-piece suit made from cotton twill to create a suit which was less formal than suits made of pure wool and more relaxed looking owing to the drape and natural crease of cotton – not quite as crumpled as linen, but exuding summer in it’s patina and appearance.

Having worn it but a handful of times and each time a patron showing such interest in the suit itself, as opposed the concept of wearing just something that was tailored, it was clear that we had found a go to suit for the suit dodging fraternity, moreover, an ally of the Custom Collection.

But which colour cloth to choose, there are so many! Moreover, there are colours which you will find in cotton that you will not find in pure wool suits. Linen suiting and jacketing cloth comes close, with it’s variety of brighter and also muted shades like khaki, brown, olive green through the colour spectrum to pink and red, as well as black and a plethora of blue hues.

The particular shade of blue I chose, I found at Holland & Sherry and was inspired by one of my favourite sweaters. The contrasting tobacco buttons and stitching were inspired by my favourite summer shoes – a pair of mahogany William monk straps from my shoesmaker of choice Joseph Cheaney & Sons. I also added braces buttons so that I could sport my new bright yellow box cloth braces from Benson & Clegg – which are also selling like hot cakes at the Brown in Town atelier!

So impressed have I been by this rank outsider in one’s armoury, I am having a tobacco one cut as I type. Both colours are available from the Custom Collection and also two different weights. So if you are looking for an easy suit to wear, that can be dressed-up, or down and which is as non-suit as a suit can be, look no further than our cotton twill Summer Suit.