Friday, March 11, 2016

Brands: Louis ii Shirt Maker

Customer satisfaction is at the heart of the customer service experience in any industry. Now, what do you get when you have a style conscious gentleman, an old world bespoke suit and shirt tailor, and a glaring gap in the market? You get none other than Louis ii Shirt Maker. This is a partnership between two gentlemen that goes back many years. In days gone by the founder of Louis ii Shirts, David Elton, was still a client of bespoke suit and shirt maker Louis Gwatkin. When Gwatkin retired from the bespoke tailoring business, David lost touch with the old man because he had 'disappeared'.

This was pretty much the genesis of Louis ii because David didn't have a trusted shirt maker anymore and the Jermyn Street merchants he purchased from while living in London had become too expensive, owing to the currency rate. Long story short; David decided to track down Gwatkin, and when he eventually found him, in Cape Town, he propositioned him about starting a shirt making business. His initial advances were declined, however, a little while later Gwatkin agreed and thus Louis ii Shirt Maker was born. Not long ago I was offered a shirt for review by the company and after scrutinising their website, I came to an agonising decision and settled on the Sky Blue Striped shirt.

I can honestly say that this is probably the best shirt I have. Simply because all my shirts are off-the-rack. With Louis ii Shirts you get a combination of bespoke and made to measure. You choose a shirt that you like (they offer a range of patterns and styles), choose a cuff style (single or double cuff) and then input your neck size. Through some email interaction I was also able to send them my sleeve length as well, so that the whole shirt making process would be complete before the start. The neck size that I chose was 39cm. I have been doing a lot of road running, just 10-12km, and I have burned some fat and lost some weight. So the neck size wasn't just a gamble or estimate because I knew that anything higher would be an ill-fit. I was slightly apprehensive when the shirt arrived (in a beautiful rectangular box replete with a thank you note, product description and David's business card), because I anticipated a problem with the sleeve length. Well, the above picture shows everything about this shirt and as you can see there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. I was aghast at the sleeve length and how it came out. 

The sleeves hit just at the base of the thumb and this allows for the proverbial two inches of cuff to show under a jacket. It is a placket front and also features a red square tag which is a Louis ii Shirts trademark.

This shirt has a few peculiar features which harken back to the old world of tailoring. It's also the right fit through the body especially from the chest to the hips; there is absolutely no unnecessary extra material and bagginess. The features I am talking about are the fuller/ classic fit and the extra long tail. There is a reason why the tail is this long; it's because it's meant to be tucked at all times. If you start wearing it out then you'll start looking like you're wearing a sleep shirt. Now how's that for harkening back to the old days? The extra long tail is a practical and relevant feature because it's meant to keep the shirt tucked in regardless of any kinds of movement.

More features of the old school are the chest pocket, this means that the Louis ii Shirts company still believe in men's clothes being practical. A two button cuff ensures that the fit around the wrist can accommodate those who like wearing watches or have slim wrists. Another quality mark of good handwork on a garment is the pattern. This is an awning stripe shirt, and when you look closely at the detail on the breast pocket you can see that not a single stripe is out of line. That's the mark of a quality shirt. This means that the company takes times and effort in the construction of their shirts. Everyone plays a pivotal role, the head cutter and seamstresses, in the process.

I just had to try it with a tie and I experimented with two different knots. The orange tie was a four-in-hand knot, which I think came out okay. If only I had pushed the knot more into the point spread. The knot on the right is a half-windsor. Long time readers of this blog will know that I am not fond of this knot but over time and considering its usefulness, I have slowly gravitated towards it. I think the half-windsor is better suited to the shirt and the collar style. The collar is full spread and this allows for the shirt to be worn with an open neck under a jacket as well.

 A close-up of the fit throughout the upper body and how the neck-tie knots compare. The shirt is made of two-fold long staple Egyptian cotton and finished with Mother of pearl buttons. There are removable collar stays and I was also wonderfully surprised by another pair of Mother of pearl collar stays. For me, this is a solid garment which would complement any style conscious gent who is given to quality. This is a proudly South African garment I am very proud of and will enjoy wearing.

This shirt retails at R2300 including VAT and it is a product I would definitely spend on given the variety of styles and patterns on offer. The Louis ii Shirts company will definitely find a home in many gentlemen's closets simply because of their dedication to quality and expert handwork. As a temporary measure these shirts are available only in South Africa.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Style: The Khaki Linen Suit

This is probably my favourite suit at the moment; because it's linen and the lightest in colour I have. Khaki linen has been in menswear for decades and this can be attributed to its casual vibe inherent in its colour and fabric. I bought this suit at the same time as the olive green one I have profiled before but it's taken me almost a year to wear it because after I had some alterations done to the trousers I gained some weight and I just couldn't bear altering them again. Per chance I tried on the trousers a few weeks ago and they fit perfectly. From the waist to the seat, on the thighs and through the leg, they are perfect. So much so that I can wear them without a belt. What I love most about this colour and fabric is that it is very summer appropriate. Even though we might be easing out of summer, it is  still an essential on non-work days. I can't think of wearing a wool suit because it just wouldn't be as practical as this linen suit. In Durban's heat and humidity no other fabric performs better than linen.

I have worn this suit for the past three weekends, in different combinations, and I really feel like it wears well. I have been able to overlook a few imperfections and that's a sacrifice I've been willing to make for an off-the-rack suit. While the trousers were in storage I did manage to wear the jacket a few times because I didn't have that many fit issues with it. The jacket has a more than usual high button stance and at times it feels like a three button jacket. I had the sleeves let out because they were quite short and I also had it taken in on the sides just to give it a little bit of shape. I have never been happy with the low armhole and this is something I couldn't do anything about. I have to live with that it and that is one of the losses one has to take when buying a suit off-the-rack.

A light blue gingham shirt and a navy blue pin-dot neck-tie, accessorised with a navy check pocket square and slim tie bar round out the upper body look. Note how everything is in proportion, the jacket lapel, the neck-tie, and the shirt collar. 

I had a single pleat inserted in the trousers because the waist was quite big when I first got them. This also explains why I inserted turn-ups. It is a menswear rule pleats need turn-ups; conversely no pleats require no turn-ups. This is a rule that can be broken however because the overall aesthetic has to be taken into consideration. Since I am a high-waisted man, I am considering removing the turn-ups because I am forced to wear the trousers low on the waist. When I wear them high, the trousers look extremely cropped. I am very comfortable with my trousers on my waist as opposed to my hips.

 A few other notable take-aways: The jacket is fully lined and this adds more heft which is counter practical because linen is supposed to be a light fabric. I would've preferred the sleeves and the upper back/ shoulder blades to be lined because this would make the jacket more breathable and lighter. The trousers are not fully lined because the lining runs to just above the knee. This allows the crotch and buttocks to be covered and the rest of the trouser to be breathable. This feature should've been consistent with the jacket as well and, unfortunately, that's the price you pay for off-the-rack. I am, however, very happy with this suit and its seasonal nature allows me to look comfortable and weather appropriate.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Style: Three More Ways To Wear The Olive Green Linen Suit

This suit is really a joy to wear and I love how versatile it is. And the fact that it's linen makes it all the more practical and wearable in hot, humid weather. So, over a period of a month I managed to wear it about four times with different combinations. A caveat is that olive green, especially in this dark shade, doesn't work well or complement a dark complexion. Now with that in mind, I must say that I liked how all of these looks came out.

Just a simple light/ sky blue shirt and an orange tie contrasts well with this dark suit. A single cuff shirt is cool for summer because a double cuff with cufflinks is a little restrictive and a tad heavy. I have become very fond of single cuff shirts.

The pocket handkerchief is a silk piece with a paisley pattern with shades of pink, navy and orange. It works very well with this dark suit; and the pink and orange complement each other.

A navy striped shirt, a solid navy tie and almond brogues all make this look serious but fun.

I think I also appreciate the deep V created by the low button stance and I think we already have an idea that navy blue also complements olive green quite well. 

Attention to detail is imperative: shirt cuff visible, wide spread collar shirt, tie dimple, stuff and fluff pocket square, and wrinkles on the jacket sleeve characteristic of linen.

I tried a white tv fold pocket square and it didn't come out right. It looked very untidy because the jacket couldn't hold it in place. Once I changed the colour and fold everything worked seamslessly. Linen is a very casual fabric so wear and accessorise in  care-free manner.

One of my favourite jackets (although the single vent irks me) worn with the trousers in a casual manner. I opted to keep the shoes just to maintain a serious vibe with the outfit. Since it's cotton and two button I thought it would work well with the linen trousers.

The trousers have undergone some altertaions; waist reduced, leg and opening tapered, and turn-ups inserted. I also had a single pleat inserted because the waist was too big, so much so that any more alterations would've thrown the waist off balance.

This shirt is much darker than it appears. It has dark navy hairline stripes and I think it broke the solid monotony of the trousers and the jacket. A sturdy collar buttressed by collar stays ensures that the collar stays upright holding its own against the collar of the jacket.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Reader Question: Summer Business Suits, Off-the-Peg, Suspenders and More

Let's start 2016 with a BANG! By dropping some practical menswear knowledge: Christopher C asks:

Thank you for responding.  It’s quite gratifying to see someone taking an authoritative interest in the finer points of fashion for men.
Your blog is appreciated.

If you could advise on the following, I would be grateful:

1.       I live in Durban.  What, in your opinion, is the best fabric for suits, except linen, considering our hot and humid climate?
2.       Do you have a preferred supplier for ‘off the peg’ suits?
3.       I am quite partial to three piece, single breasted suits but these are quite difficult to come by ready-made.  Do you know of anywhere I may purchase these or are you able to recommend a good tailor who is able to craft a suit from scratch?
4.       Have you had any experience with the online service
5.       I am always on the lookout for attractive belts and cufflinks but most of the shops keep the same boring items.  Where do you recommend?
6.       Speaking of belts, I have recently considered moving to suspenders.  What is your opinion on this?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you for your time.

Hi Christopher

1.       I’m glad that you consider linen to be a suitable fabric for summer suiting because I enjoy it immensely. I like wearing it casually and I think it is the best fabric for a man to counter the summer heat and humidity. So, besides linen there are many other fabric choices like cotton, hopsack, silk and tropical wools. Let’s talk about the fabrics I have experienced besides linen. I’ve had a cotton suit before and it was a practical garment, which was very soft and comfortable. I like how it felt against my skin and I rarely broke a sweat in it. What I didn’t like however is the fact that it lacked structure and shape, and this prevented me from wearing it in a business or professional environment. I also noticed how non-durable it was even though I didn’t wear and dry clean it much. At some point it started losing its lustre and because it was light grey it developed white patches after I wiped off some stains. I do fully endorse it for casual suits.

Last year I had the opportunity to purchase a wool suit and what prompted the buy was a small, negligible detail which has a lot of bearing on the overall wear and performance of the suit. I have profiled it before on the blog; it is a 130’S wool suit. The ‘S’ is very important because it indicates the quality of the wool and its fineness. Actually, I have a navy 120’S and a grey 100’S and they are all suitable and lightweight for summer. The 130’S however is the lightest and it is quite breathable as well. I wear all of these suits throughout spring and summer; the navy is a more structured fit and it’s appropriate for business wear. I also find that with all of them, they are crease-resistant and retain shape quite well.

2.       I don’t yet have a particular supplier of off-the-peg suits because I buy suits from everywhere; factory shops, retail shops, men’s stores. Whenever I find something I like, I buy, as long as it makes practical and monetary sense. The three suits I spoke about in point one are Trenery or Country Road. They were in the R2000-R2500 range and I consider them to be great value for money.

3.       When it comes to three piece suits I have never owned one. The few waistcoats I have, I purchased as separates and wear them as odd waistcoats when I pair them with a suit. The few three piece suits I have seen in stores were not to my liking and this made me shy away from such purchases. I would recommend that you have one tailored so that it fits to your body shape. Another advantage of having a three piece suit tailored is the fact that you can wear everything as separates, which allows for mixing and matching with other garments and combinations. For a three piece of your own I would recommend visiting Vic Gobrie at the Tailor Shop in Montclair, south of Durban. He runs a very professional service and has been in the men’s tailoring business since his teens. I have never had a suit made by him however his professional service is what makes me vouch for him. They really listen to instructions and carry them out with precision.

4.       Unfortunately, I don’t have any experience with Instichu therefore I can’t say anything about them. I have some experience with US based Combatant Gentleman and after measuring at The Tailor Shop and submitting my order online, I received a suit which was almost the perfect fit with few alterations needed. One thing about Combat Gent is the fabrics. They use Italian fabrics which are top quality. They have really endeared themselves to me. You can however take a look at this Men's Flair review of an Institchu suit.

5.       There was a time when all I wanted to wear was cufflinks because I thought there was a certain style superiority about them, but I’m well over that now. I’ve come to understand that cufflinks are an accessory which can be used to inject some fun into an outfit as well as an extension of one’s personality. It’s been a while since I bought cufflinks because I rarely wear double cuff shirts. I am partial to silk knots though. Most men’s stores sell the same types of cufflinks and belts; therefore, I suggest you try exclusive men’s stores that aren’t replicated much. Stores such as Grays and T.M. Lewin should be able to fill that need. You can also try Belmondo in Johannesburg at Rosebank Mall; Levison’s also never disappoints.

6.       In all honesty Christopher, I hardly wear a belt. Even when I’m wearing trousers with belt loops, I make sure that the waist is tight but not restrictive, so as to obviate a belt. Going beltless helps with maintaining a clean line between the upper and lower body. Since a belt cuts the body into half, I wholeheartedly support suspenders. They are fun, versatile, functional and practical. I wouldn’t go out in public wearing a shirt and tie without a jacket, but, I would try the same combination with suspenders sans jacket. That’s just how much I rate suspenders; they add to an ensemble and they draw attention in the right way as opposed to a belt. They do require some consideration because you don’t want them to stand out in a garish way, therefore blending and coordinating them with the rest of your outfit is advisable. 

                                                      PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Style: A Suit For Spring

The more I wear this suit the more I realise just how playful it is. It is really not suited for business because of its fit and the cut of the jacket. We are experiencing a lot of hot weather, a heatwave even swept through other parts of the country, and this should translate to lighter and brighter clothing. This is a very lightweight wool suit, which I am convinced is a tropical wool. I do however think it needs to be approached with a 'flippant' attitude because that's how it'll eventually work .

It's a lightweight suit of a light shade of blue and that means that it shouldn't be overpowered by too many dark colours which will result in many contrasts. I decided to keep the shirt within the same colour scheme and opted for this light blue shade. It is made of 100% cotton and it is perfect for the warm/ hot months.

For this whole year I have consciously worn my jackets with the flaps inside the pockets. And the only reason is the fact that I think it's a lot neater and excess material is minimised. This is something I have done with consistency. The neck-tie is made from 100% silk, fastened with a four-in-hand knot and a natural dimple. A natural dimple for me is one that forms without any manipulation by my hands and fingers. I will also admit that this tie is slightly more formal than the suit and this creates some sort of disharmony. A knit tie or something slimmer would've been better. I also decided to keep the pocket square relatively quaint by opting for white linen with a yellow border.

Due to some weight gain (blame it on winter) I don't wear any of my trousers with a belt. It might appear as a poor choice for some, having belt loops but no belt, but to me the tight waist obviates a belt. This suit has also undergone some alterations, mainly to the trousers: tapering the hem, bringing in the waist and shortening the length. But these are all regular alterations that were done with ease by a tailor. I opted for the burgundy oxford shoes because they seemed to complement the burgundy pattern on the neck-tie. Somehow I feel that tan loafers would've done the trick as well. As we head deeper into spring and only to face the unbearable heat of summer, one way to stay stylish and presentable is with a tropical wool suit. You won't be disappointed.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Style: Good, Better, Best

I'm a little wary of socks and how they are supposed to be worn. The sockless look is still one of my least favourite and I try to avoid it at most times. When I do go sockless with a suit or semi-casual look it's because of function rather than form. I also take this aversion back to the days when my dad read men's style books, in the early 90s. There was one particular book I used to page through just out of curiosity and one quote stuck with me ever since: "Keep your least erogenous zones covered." This was in direct reference to socks, their length, and how important it is to keep one's shins covered because of how unsightly they were when exposed between the trouser hem and the top of the socks. This post therefore is about socks, their length and how best to wear them.

Not every outfit requires socks, especially in the warmer months, however, what is important is that socks are worn for both aesthetic and hygiene purposes. The top image shows exactly what I am talking about. The socks are just above the ankle in length and they do the trick both in covering and insulating the foot however they are just not long enough to provide warmth to the leg up to the knee. Here any gent gets marks for just wearing socks and not subjecting people to uncovered ankles which could be ashy and unsightly. There is also the challenge of poor construction of the socks because the shorter they are the less workmanship that goes into their making. That's why you find that most socks of this length tend to roll down because they aren't made to stay up. This can be quite tiresome to the style conscious gent, who pays attention to detail, because he'll be forced to pull up his socks regularly. So you get marks because you're wearing socks instead of going without them. This is Good.

The next length of socks is slightly better than the ankle length because they do a better job of covering and insulating the leg. These striped socks are from a brand called Celio, which I trust very much. They are incredibly durable, considering that I have been wearing them for over five years. They have held up quite well. As the next length to consider they are calf length. They are made of a thick cotton and have worn quite well in  mild winters and humid summers. They are well elasticated at the top and this makes it impossible for them to roll down as well. Evidence of this is the fact that after wearing them for a full day I am always left with a mark right around my shin and calf which shows just how they've stayed in place. This can also be a drawback, because they are so tight at the top, they can be quite constrictive. In colder weather, socks of this length in a warm fabric can actually obviate thermal underwear. These are Better.

Over-the-calf length socks are panacea to all sock problems that might be experienced by gents. My experience with them has been nothing short of stellar. These particular socks are by Bresciani and are made of 100% cotton. They are light, breathable and wearable in hot and humid weather. Nothing feels constricted with these socks because the lightness is consistent throughout, and they stop just short of the knee. This means that the fabric is critical to these long socks because it plays such a vital part in function. I've tried these in winter and they didn't work; my feet were wet and clammy throughout the day but, in summer they were a charm because they kept my feet cool. One of the other important factors to consider is how tight they are at the top. These are tight enough in keeping with the weight of the fabric. They stay up all day and only come down when I take them off. Therefore, with over-the-calf socks fabric and construction are paramount because they play a role in function and comfort. These in fact are Best of the Best.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Style: The Grey Suit In Different Ways

This might be a little out of season for the spring season but it is wholly appropriate for the autumn and the impending winter in the northern hemisphere. The medium grey wool suit is incredibly versatile and what I like most about it is that it can be worn 9 out of 12 months in a year. At least that's how I wear this one because it is a little too heavy for sub-tropical weather.

The first two images show just how appropriate this suit is for business. With a white shirt and black shoes, the suit becomes instantly versatile because it can be worn with a variety of shirt and shoe colours. Just as long as everything is kept within the bounds of business dress code. I almost don't like wearing this shade of grey with tan shoes as the contrast is too sharp, so the darker the shoe the better it'll complement the suit.

This is my go-to business casual combination and I wear it almost all the time at work. The navy jacket belongs to another suit and this just shows how well these two pieces complement each other.  Of course the burgundy oxford keeps the look somewhat serious but the open neck shirt keeps the casual vibe. If you're also looking into experimenting with mixing and matching jackets and trousers then the age old navy jacket and grey trousers is your starting point. The combinations are innumerable.

I like to call this the after-work look simply because a polo-neck with a suit is not a favourite of mine for work or office settings, maybe casual Friday. This is also one of my favourite winter looks because it presents so many colour options where the polo-neck and shoes are concerned. Once again this is a combination of grey and navy but even a burgundy, black, light grey, beige, light blue or light brown polo-neck would complement the suit.

This past winter wasn't so cold for me and since this is a light wool suit I found that throwing on a top coat was enough to protect and insulate against the cold. It is also one of mine best fitting suits since it is a 42 regular. The jacket is slightly longer than my 40 regular but it's not baggy or ill-fitting at all. It has also gone through some alterations and I am quite happy with how both the jacket and trousers turned out after. It will also be one of my go-to autumn/ winter suits because I know it's going to give me some good mileage.

PG: Man to man, generation to generation.