In last month’s issue of GQ, the magazine managed to twice make an assertion that puzzled us here in Tradsville: namely, that a buttondown-collared shirt is not a dress shirt.
The first instance occurs in question-and-answer format in Glenn O’Brien’s “Style Guy” column:
Most of my dress shirts are buttondown- collar oxfords, but I recently started a job overseas and I’m receiving mixed reviews on pairing them with ties. Most Brits say it’s a faux pas. What is your opinion? Is the oxford too Americacentric to take abroad?
Surprise! The oxford cloth button-down is not a dress shirt! Don’t tell Congress or they might pass a law making it one. It’s not a faux pas to pair a button-down with a tie—say, if you’re going to lunch on the weekend or to see Arsenal play—but for the office, you might want to consider European wisdom and get with the dressier options.
European wisdom? Didn’t we take the ingredients we wanted from European culture, cuisine and wardrobes and come up with our own way of doing things? And for much of the 20th century, as the United States rose to its preeminent position in the world, the men who were running the country (such as the gentleman from the State Department in 1959 who’s pictured above) had no qualms about doing it in buttondown collars. Going back farther, to the time when the fictitious Nick Carraway was a struggling bond salesman, the buttondown was even the chosen shirt of Wall Street. (Continue)
I’ve mentioned here before that I haven’t owned a suit for the past few years, preferring grey trousers and patterned sportcoats.
But I now have a simple charcoal suit to wear to weddings and a funeral — my own funeral, that is. Perhaps someday I’ll be buried in this.
The suit was made by Kamakura Shirts — that’s right, they’ve got even more tricks up their sleeve. We posted recently on their ties and pocket squares, but back in Japan they also have a made-to-measure suit business that goes by the name Tex-Teq. During the summer their fitter visited and took my specs. I chose a simple charcoal worsted fabric from Dormeuil, and asked for as close to an Ivy suit as possible. We hit one barrier immediately when the fitter said he didn’t think the factory could make an undarted chest.
But the result is a superb-fitting and very well made suit perfectly in keeping with how I dress. It features swelled edges on the lapel and lapped seams, hook vent, and two working buttonholes on each sleeve, which they placed kissing for a non-kosher twist. A small amount of sleevehead meets an otherwise unpadded shoulder. Trousers are flat-front and slightly tapered with 1 3/4 inch cuffs.
The suit arrived just in time for Kamakura’s one-year anniversary party last week at its Madison Avenue store, where I was thanked profusely for introducing the brand to America in that first blog post. Even random middle-aged women I was introduced to (hardly our readers or their customers) somehow had heard that a website called Ivy Style was responsible for the brand’s success. Those polite Japanese, always overstating things.
I’m seen above walking in the front door (and, thanks to the diminutive photographer, looking taller than Tyler Thoreson), wearing a short buttondown from Ledbury, a navy satin tie (with the sky blue rear blade sprezzidentally showing) from Tommy Hilfiger, black and white rep-striped tie bar from Rugby, black grosgrain watch band, and black Alden tassels with blue and white houndstooth socks from RL.
No idea if Kamakura will ever bring its suit program here to the States, but if it does, you can bet you’ll find the same quality-to-price ratio as with its shirts. — CC
Without preppy style — not to mention other WASP values — to act as a guiding beacon over mainstream American culture, bad things happen. People are chronically rude and selfish. They don’t exercise. They’re suckers for false, gaudy dreck. They become obsessed with celebrities and long to become one on reality TV.
And their pants get really long.
The November issue of Vanity Fair includes a photo spread on the “new establishment” of technology, media and entertainment moguls who gather each year in Sun Valley. Surely some of these entrepreneurial brainiacs went to an Ivy League school, but as we all know (with Zuckerberg and his hoodie the most flagrant example), kids today don’t graduate Harvard having become educated in how to dress.
According to oral tradition — plus citations in film and printed matter — at some point in time teenage preppies began to wear their pants short either because they outgrew them, or had recently bought them but were aping the look of their betters, whose frayed and grass-stained khakis were purchased at an earlier stage of puberty. Likewise, Ivy-clad grownups wore their grey flannels with little to no break. (Continue)
For the trad who can’t get enough rep stripe in his life, there are these striped boxer shorts from Sleepy Jones. (Continue)
Ivy-style tweed sports jackets and suits are often distinguished by detailed quarter-inch stitching from the edge of the lapels down the front of the jacket. This distinctive feature is usually echoed by lapped seams that run across the shoulder, down the back seam, and around the pocket flaps.
But how did it get there?
Everyone who’s considered this question agrees that the stitching gives the jacket a sporty look, and that the addition of what English tailors sometimes refer to as a “swelled” edge makes for a casual, jaunty touch. It’s certainly something that one would never expect to see on a fine worsted or flannel business suit. We seem to intuitively recognize that this almost imperceptible detail is at home more in the country than in town, that this rakish element produces a casual, country effect.
And, as it happens, our intuitions are once again right. The quarter-inch stitch is in fact a vestigial visible trace of something long gone from utilitarian practice — and memory. It hangs on as decor rather than as a functioning detail, but like the two buttons in the small of the back of a tailcoat (originally used to button the tails when in the saddle), the quarter-inch stitch once had an important function. At least if you lived in the country and followed country pursuits.
Tweed jackets and coats, it should be remembered, were the Victorian equivalent of sportswear, the most useful country garment a gentleman could devise at the time to protect himself from the cold and wet of a day’s hunting, stalking or riding. The wool fabric is hearty and handsome, absorbent, abrasion-resistant, and warm. But without the tailor’s art, it would become a baggy mess after a few short hours on the moors. That’s where the quarter-inch stitch comes in.
In order to prevent the lapels (and therefore front of the jacket) from collapsing when soaked with rain, some unacknowledged tailors figured out that a reinforcing row of stitching down the front edge of the coat would keep the whole thing better in place. And it does. The additional stitching along the lapel helps the coat keep its shape by holding the cloth – both the inside and outside layers — together when wet.
Today we really don’t wear our sports jackets in the rain: various synthetic fibers and waxed fabrics have replaced wool for so many occasions. But that handsome quarter-inch of stitching is there as a jaunty reminder that these handsome coats we now wear as mere plumage were originally designed with great utility in mind. — G. BRUCE BOYER
Legendary menswear writer G. Bruce Boyer was men’s fashion editor at Town & Country throughout the ’70s and ’80s. He has recently returned to writing for the magazine.
Above image is a 1962 illustration from Brooks Brothers, which features swelled edges on its current Own Make sportcoats.
We’ll conclude the recent batch of Kamakura-versus-Brooks discussion (aka the “buttondown showdown”) with a couple of photos snapped yesterday in the Madison Avenue store.
The shop may be small, but it still has room for some newly arrived pocket squares and wool neckties, in addition to all the shirts. (Continue)