28 October 2013

Some thoughts on quality, snobbery and sartorial indifference

I am often amazed by the lack of attention many people seem to pay to their appearance and equally amazed, or annoyed, by the way people have no appreciation for quality. I believe it is in a gentleman's nature to have a genuine appreciation quality and craftsmanship and I am frequently frustrated by the diminishing importance craftsmanship and quality have in society. There are two areas where this is particularly evident: food and clothes. I'm not going to say much about the food situation, but with such a large proportion of the population living on fast food and ready meals, unable or unwilling to prepare their own meals, I do wonder how it's going to end. The funny thing is that people wonder why so many are overweight or obese. Enough said about that, what I actually want to discuss in this post is different people's approaches to clothes and appearance.
In very general terms, I think people can be categorised into four main groups when it comes to the way they dress and buy clothes.
  • The ones who don't care, or pretend not to care about the way they dress.
  • The ones who follow the latest fashion trends but are less concerned with brands and manufcturing.
  • The ones who follow the latest fashion trends but are mostly concerned with brand and price.
  • The ones who are mostly concerned with quality and lasting style.
The first group who don't pay much attention to their appearance is the most curious one. This is for the simple reason that I don't really think many people go through life without caring about how they look. Thus, I'm fairly certain that there are other reasons behind this apparent lack of care. Two factors are certain to play a part here: fear and opposition. For many men, fear is likely to be a reason not to care about how they look. Unfortunately, an interest in clothes, shoes and accessories are frowned upon by many men, and men with such interests are often depicted as less manly or gay. This is probably enough reason for many men to shy away from making an effort in the dress department. The other reason for giving the impression not to care may be to establish an opposition to society. This is mainly reserved for younger people who feel the need to protest against one thing or another. These people who dress in clothes I wouldn't wear if I got paid for it are, paradoxically, the ones who pay a lot of attention to what they look like. Dolly Parton have said that "it costs a lot of money to look this cheap" and the same goes for the opposers, it takes a lot of effort and consideration to look like you don't care about the way you dress. So, although I wouldn't dress in any rebellious manner, it can't be denied that these people actually care a lot about how they look, and that is a fair bit better than indifference.

The second and third group contain the people who are very eager to fit in and are continuously led by trends and clothing companies. There is no doubt that these people care about their appearance but, as far as I'm concerned, largely for the wrong reasons. Following fashion trends means that your style will change quite frequently and it will be very difficult to really develop your own characteristics. None has a quicker wardrobe turnover then the fashion followers, which means it's quite expensive (even if you buy the cheaper brands), and it is also doing the environment no favours. It is also regularly revealed that the conditions under which many of the fashion items are produced are less than satisfactory. In many cases the working conditions are so repulsive that it really should put you off these clothes altogether, but it doesn't seem to have much of an effect. Cheaply produced clothes are as popular as ever. These are just some of the reasons why I think it is better to develop a lasting style than being a fashion follower.

Among the fashion followers, there is a sub group which goes against everything I believe in and that is the people who are mostly concerned with brand and price. You meet them every now and then, people who are so eager to show off the brands of their clothes and to point out how expensive it was. I think some of these would wear the price tag if they could. This group is probably spending the most money on clothes but, unfortunately, have generally little concern for either quality or craftsmanship.

The last group contains the people who are mostly concerned with the quality of what they buy and that it should last. It should last in the sense that it won't break or be worn out any time soon, but also in the sense that it won't go out of fashion for a good while. In my opinion, this is the sensible approach to clothes and appearance. That's why, for example, I am reluctant to buy a double breasted suit. I know they are on their way back but the single breasted suit will outlast the double breasted once again as it did in the late eighties when the double breasted suit faded into the background and disappeared. I like to buy clothes and shoes which I can wear year after year, and for that I am willing to pay a little extra. Even though some of the clothes and shoes I buy may seem expensive to some, I am fairly certain I spend less money on such things than the fashion followers.

There are several reasons why I think this is the sensible approach and I will briefly point out these in the following:

  • There is no certainty that quality products equals better conditions for the people working with the production of the items, but I believe there is a greater likelihood that products of high quality and a higher cost is the result of more ethical production than the cheapest items on the market. To be absolutely sure one should really ask before buying, but I know this can be difficult. One of the best ways of making sure your items are ethically produced is to buy bespoke products.
  • Buying products of high quality which last longer means that you are likely to buy less items. This is definitely good for the environment.
  • When buying long lasting products you will get the chance to really develop your own style.
  • The feeling of wearing well fitting quality clothes is something I would like everybody to experience. 
  • Although quality comes at a price, I also think this is the cheaper approach in the long run. 

18 October 2013

Wear your finest

Why do many people think it requires a special occasion to dress well? Very often people save their best clothes for special occasions and feel the clothes are too precious to wear unless a situation is deemed worthy of wearing something out of the ordinary. To me, this doesn't make sense. Why should you look nice only couple of times a year? It is the normal days that are important, this is when you meet the most people, both socially and through work. Most of your life consist of average days, so my advice is to pay more attention to the way you dress on these days.

I sometime hear that people don't wear certain clothes and shoes because they were too expensive. These items are  usually the ones people are most proud of and I think many people would like nothing more than to show them off and wear them on a regular basis. Instead, they are so scared of ruining these clothes that the clothes hardly ever leave the wardrobe. Occasions worthy of these clothes are so rare that they are worn only once or twice a year, at best. This is a strange kind of logic. In my opinion, the more expensive it is the more you should wear it. Your finest and/or most expensive clothes are supposed to make you look and feel good, but they will never do that hanging in the wardrobe.

Remember, the easiest way you can make the world a better place, or at least a prettier one, is to take care of your appearance and dress well.   

An ironed shirt, a suit and a tie is probably the easiest
way to look presentable on a regular basis.
Photo: AGL

A pocket square can bring some extra sparkle to a nice outfit.
Photo: AGL

16 October 2013

Promotional post: Get dressed for autumn/winter with House of Fraser

House of Fraser recently had a feature insert in the British GQ magazine and I think that is a good opportunity to write this promotional post. I've had a look at what House of Fraser has to offer for the coming autumn and winter and I would like to show you some of the products I like. The below is only a handful of the thousands of products they offer, so if this is not exactly what you're after, have look at their site yourself.

A magnificent coat by Hardy Amies
Photo: House of Fraser

Single breasted trench coat by Aquascutum
Photo: House of Fraser

Cardigan by Ted Baker
Photo: House of Fraser

A very elegant scarf by Linea
Photo: House of Fraser

A satchel bag by Ted Baker I really like
Photo: House of Fraser

10 October 2013

Holding doors

I've never thought of holding the door for someone as anything special but rather something one does because it's common courtesy to do so. It is plain rude to leave the door in someones face. What I've recently discovered, however, is that holding the door for someone may not be so common after all. As you may know, I'm on Twitter and to my surprise, hardly a day goes by without someone finding it worthwhile tweeting about someone having held the door for them. That said, the threshold for sending a tweet isn't particularly high but there are still a few aspects of this I find it interesting. 

Firstly, the great majority of the people who tweet about this seem to be relatively young.  Is this a sign that manners and gentlemanly behaviour is something that young people want but are missing in their lives? I'm not sure if this is the case,  but I like to think so. A stronger emphasis on manners and good behaviour can only improve society. 

Secondly, nearly all of the tweeters are women telling about a man having held a door for them. The few men tweeting about this are exclusively telling about how they hold doors for women or how men should hold doors for women. The consensus seems to be that the act of holding the door for someone is reserved for men when there's a woman to hold it for. This is, of course, absolutely correct behaviour but I really think this could be taken a step further. When there is someone right behind you and it is appropriate to hold the door for them instead of dropping the door in their face,  it really shouldn't matter if it is a woman or a man. A proper gentleman will hold the door for anyone, regardless of the person's sex, or anything else. 

Remember, a gentleman is a gentleman towards all, regardless of sex, age, colour, status etc. A selective gentleman is hardly a gentleman at all. 

7 October 2013

Erntedankfest in Austria

The hats worn by the members of the brass band are magnificently decorated
with feathers and fresh flowers.
Photo: AGL
If there is one thing most gentlemen are able to appreciate, it's tradition and I am currently in the Austrian Alps where, as in the rest of the country, traditions are strong. Yesterday I took part in one of the early autumn celebrations, "Erntedankfest". On the first Sunday of October each year "Erntedankfest" is celebrated, which is the celebration of a well completed harvest where thanks are given for all the produce the harvest has brought. The celebration will vary somewhat depending on where in Austria you are and the celebration are, of course, larger in the bigger cities than where I am at the moment in St. Lorenzen in Lesachtal. St. Lorenzen is only a small village with no more than about 400 inhabitants, situated approximately 1200 metres above sea level in the Carnic Alps. It's a place which offers great opportunities for nature experiences and the valley in which the village is situated, Lesachtal, is full of similar villages which each are worth a look around. The basilica in Maria Luggau is well worth a visit. If you would like to come here there are several options for accommodation in St. Lorenzen and in the neighbouring villages in Lesachtal, all of which receives great reviews online.                   
The days starts at eight o'clock with the band playing.
Photo: AGL
The day starts at eight o'clock in the morning with the brass band playing in the village centre. People gather around to listen to the music and to the priest giving his blessings and praying for the harvest. 
The priest gives his blessings and prays for the
Photo: AGL
After this the band starts playing again and the priest leads the procession from the village centre to the church where mass is held. Some of the children are carrying small baskets with fresh fruit and vegetables to mark the occasion. 
The procession from the village centre to the church is lead by the priest
while the band plays.
Photo: AGL
This young boy is carrying a lovely little basket
with fruit and vegetables in the procession to
the church.
Photo: AGL
While the majority goes to mass, some prefer to do it differently as you can see in the photo below of several of the band members taking a break outside. 

Some of the band members taking a break while others go to mass.
Photo: AGL
During this time you can also see band hats and instruments lying around like decorations on the lawn.

The hats and instruments make nice decorations on the lawn.
After church the band starts up again and all the people gather outside where cakes and sandwiches are served together with gl├╝hwein for the adults and warm juice for the children.

The celebrations continue with music, food and drinks.
Photo: AGL 
 As per usual for this blog I will, of course, say a few words about what people are wearing. This is no different from anywhere else in the respect that some people dress up and some don't, but there is one thing you will always see at any Austrian celebration and that is the traditional costumes and jackets. The band is very traditionally dressed with lederhosen, knee high socks, buckle penny loafers, red wool jackets, a decorative scarf over the shoulders, and a had beautifully decorated with feathers and fresh flowers. For the others, the predominating colours are different shades of brown, grey and green. Although you see jacket with notch lapels, often with the collar in a different colour, the most common design are Nehru jackets with a band collar, also most commonly in a contrasting colour. The photos below show examples of this. What the different jackets have in common is that they are all may from thick, durable, wool fabrics and the buttons are almost always made from deer antlers.  

Traditional jackets in Nehru design with band collars.
Photo: AGL

Traditional jacket with
contrasting collar.
Photo: AGL

Band members in very traditional dress.
Photo: AGL
Finally, I would like to end this post with a photo of the lovely band hats with the slightly cloudy Alps in the background. Take a trip up Lesachtal if you get the chance, it well worth a visit. 
The band is playing with the Alps in the background.
Photo: AGL

2 October 2013

Some basics for dressing well

I think what I'm about to write in this post may be basic knowledge for most, but it is also obvious that quite a few people lack this knowledge or maybe they just ignore it. It could, of course, also be that they disagree. Anyway, here's a few of my thoughts on the basics being well dressed.  

Dressing well has got a lot to do with getting a few simple details right. Here follows a couple of points to bear in mind which will serve you well if followed.

Shoes, socks, belt, gloves, watch wristband and cufflinks. 
After you've chosen what suit, or trousers and jacket you're going to wear move on to decide what shoes to wear. The shoes will determine what socks, belt and, if necessary, gloves to wear. Socks, belt and gloves should always match the shoes. For everyday use, I think it's sufficient only to get the basic colour to match. It is perfectly fine if the belt is a slightly different tone of brown to the shoes, but don't wear a black belt with brown shoes. If you have blue shoes, get a blue belt. The same applies to the socks, always let the socks match the shoes. On more formal occasions I would always also try to get as little tonal difference between the shoes, socks, belt and gloves as possible.
Another thing which could also be mentioned here is the wristband for your watch. If your watch has got a leather wristband, it should ideally also match your shoes. This could be slightly more difficult to follow as watches are expensive items and you may not have more than one. I only have one watch and I'm very happy with that but I have opted for a gold, metal wristband. I think wearing a metal wristband is the solution if you only have one watch. I do, however, try to match my cufflinks with my watch, and as a result I have mostly gold or gold coloured cufflinks. 

Shoes and belt in different kinds of blue. Works well,
although the match isn't perfect.
Photo: AGL 
The socks are hardly visible, blending well with
the colour of the shoes. As it should be, unless
you want to make a statement with your socks.
Photo: AGL 

Tie and pocket square.
With regard to ties and pocket squares I don't think there are too many rules which must be followed. These are accessories which should bring some sparkle to your outfit, especially the pocket square, and there is a lot of room for creativity with regard to these items. There is, however, one thing which should be mentioned. Never wear a tie and pocket square in the exact same colour and pattern! It basically looks like you haven't given it any thought yourself and just bought a finished set somewhere. Likely because it was on sale and you thought you got a good deal. If you're going to accessorize you're suit with a pocket square, be a bit creative. Otherwise leave the breast pocket empty, that is perfectly fine as well. 

A good example of a tie and pocket square combination. The colours in
the pocket square contrast with the suit while the yellow in pocket square
pattern links well with the yellow tie. The tie and pocket square compliment
each other but do not match.
Photo: borrowed from an article on the "Perfect gentleman" blog.