Vestis Legis

Primogenitus. Curator. Vancouver. Halifax. Lex. Menswear. Coffee. @vestislegis

To Gift a Groom

I was at another wedding last night. A classy affair held at a century-old mansion tucked away on the northwest corner of the University of British Columbia campus. Weddings monopolized a significant portion of my weekends last summer, and this year has been no different. Apparently I am at that age

Although I don’t profess to know much about weddings, I do have an appreciation for many of the elements of a good wedding: tradition, ceremony, gifting, public speaking, and open bars. For the bride and groom, and their immediate family, the wedding is always going to be more meaningful than its constituent parts. But for the rest of us, the spectators, a wedding is most enjoyable when these disparate elements come together to make a memorable evening. While that may be a trite observation, the volume of books and magazines written about the subject suggests that despite how common they are - most people don’t know where to begin when it comes to participating in a wedding. 

I had the good fortune of being the best man at several of these aforementioned weddings, and on each occasion I was required to deliberate on what is the appropriate gift for my friend, the groom. As the best man you want your gift to the groom to be something that you can be proud of, something that conveys deliberate thought, and rises to the occasion. It’s not going to be a toaster that you wrap and place on the table at the back of room alongside the gifts from the in-laws. It’s not going to be an envelope of cash you sheepishly place in a basket with the rest.

Your gift needs to have gravitas.

It should be the kind of gift that is delivered over scotch the night before, or bleary eyed at brunch on the day of. It doesn’t have to be particularly expensive, but your best friend is only going to get married a couple of times, so you want whatever you select to be of substance.

I am of the firm view that monogrammed sterling silver cufflinks will more often than not be the correct choice.

A simple oval or rectangular cufflink, unobscured by superfluous gemstones or etching is the classic choice. Even with initials etched into their face, sterling silver cufflinks remain tastefully understated - barely discernible to the unaccustomed, while conveying an air of subtle sophistication to those who take notice. They are the kind of detail that only the wearer, and those with a keen eye, get to appreciate. Even if the groom does not wear a suit or double-cuffed shirt with any frequency, he will recognize that this is the kind of gift designed to mark an occasion. He may not yet own any monogrammed clothing or accessories, and if that is so then he will appreciate that you spent time and money acquiring these cufflinks for him, and that you know in the years and decades that follow he will have occasion to wear them. Alternatively if the groom is a regular wearer of cufflinks then all the more reason for him to enjoy this particular pair, purchased and monogrammed to commemorate the occasion.

Cufflinks have a rich, albeit fading, history of being used as gifts to commemorate significant occasions. In medieval times cufflinks were made almost exclusively as items to commemorate royal weddings and other affairs of state. The custom of using cufflinks as a gift or a keepsake has been so widely practiced that in some circles it is said that a man should never buy his own cufflinks. I’m not sure I agree with that sentiment entirely. If that were true I wouldn’t have many pairs to choose from in the mornings. 

What I can agree with is that gifted, and personalized, sterling cufflinks do fall into that fetishized, and jealousy guarded group of “heirloom quality” #menswear accessories. Unless lost or stolen it is a safe bet that some day the gifted cufflinks will end up as a cherished possession of the groom’s son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter.

Above are my late grandfather’s cufflinks. Gifted to him by my grandmother, and more recently gifted to me.

 

Saturday. The Field. Black Coffee.

Saturday. The Field. Black Coffee.

The Office Wardrobe

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If you’re fortunate enough to work in a profession where suits and collared shirts are still expected five days (or more) a week, then you need a proper wardrobe in your office. 

Consider it a trophy case of sorts for the safe keeping of your painstakingly acquired suits, ties, shirts and shoes. For the iGent crowd who go to work in sneakers and jeans, or work exclusively from home (or not at all) this is obviously less of a concern. For the rest of us however, having a selection of work attire kept neatly in the office year-round will prolong the life of the clothing, provide greater flexibility in coming to or leaving the office, and lend a little gravitas to what may be an otherwise unremarkable workspace.

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If your daily commute involves any combination of walking, public transit or bicycling, the wear on your shoes and suits from the elements will wreak havoc on them over time. If you live in a particularly rainy or cold climate the wet and salt exacerbates this process. Even the most cautious gentleman finds it next to impossible to walk a short distance to the office through rain (or even a wet parking garage) and not arrive at his desk to find light mud splatter on the back of his suit pants. 

Wet leather soles, mud splattered pants, crowded subway cars - your business dress can be spared these realities of the daily commute if at the end of each workday you return them to their wardrobe. This leaves you free to make the trek home, to the gym, or wherever else life takes you without subjecting your suits to inclement weather, or spilled coffee from the commuter pressed against you on the bus.

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Keeping a stocked wardrobe in your office also gives you peace of mind in the event that your workday throws you a curve ball. With clean shirts and a selection of neckwear on hand, a red wine spill at lunch, or a surprise chambers appearance in the afternoon, are challenges that can be met with ease.

Of course there will always be evenings out with clients, or in the corporate suite, where you head home for the night with your suit still on, and tie firmly fastened. Any imbalance this creates between your office wardrobe, and your home closet, can be remedied at the weekend. The equilibrium need not be perfect, the office wardrobe must always remain an object of convenience and not become a tedious balancing act.

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I commissioned this wardrobe from a local cabinet maker for many of the same reasons men go to bespoke suits makers - I was unsatisfied with what was readily available in the marketplace. Like a department store suit, wardrobes from most retailers look pretty from afar, but on closer examination are far from good.

Glossy advertisements and cleverly accessorized showrooms are designed to convince you that particle board and plywood are acceptable mediums to construct furniture designed for daily use. Anyone who has ever owned anything from Ikea or Pottery Barn knows this not to be the case. The wardrobe offerings from the high street retailers seem to come with superfluous “features” like plastic partitions and sliding shelves, or glass and metal components that I suppose are meant to be chic. 

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Wardrobes should be basic in design, their purpose being to offer a dark, dry and breathable place to store your clothing between uses. They should be enclosed to keep out dust, and spacious enough to allow suits and sport coats to hang naturally. Shelving for shoes, belts and clothes brushes is also useful - but should be minimal so as to avoid the temptation of turning your otherwise useful wardrobe into a repository for all of your #menswear paraphernalia. For example if you start keeping shoe polish and cologne in your wardrobe it is only a matter of time before your suits and shirts start to smell like a wretched combination of them both.

If the hatstand in your office is groaning under the weight of one-too-many suits, and your dry-cleaning hangs awkwardly off the hook on the back of your office door, than do the right thing and invest in a wardrobe.

My wardrobe featured here is made from African Mahogany. It is about 6’ tall, 2’ deep and about 2’6” wide.

#menswear minutiae

If you spend enough time reading Flusser, Crompton, Chensvold and the like, you can’t help but pick up random bits of relatively useless #menswear trivia. 

I say “relatively useless” because while having a working knowledge of Edward VII’s fashion sense doesn’t usually come in handy, and knowing what part of the suit jacket the “gorge” is rarely takes you very far with the ladies - such teachings are not entirely without merit. 

In a general sense a fulsome understanding of the history, function and manufacture of clothing informs one’s sense of style, and provides for better purchasing decisions. But more specifically, in some circles such trumpery can double as a party trick. 

I found myself in just such a situation the other weekend at a wedding in Ottawa. The groom, a military officer, was wearing the regimental tie of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, a ceremonial guard that stands watch over Parliament and Rideau Hall. Above is the current Governor General, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, wearing the very same tie.

Over a scotch at the reception, and without knowing the significance of the tie at the time, I complimented the groom on his regimental colours. He was surprised, and more than a little impressed, that I was able to distinguish his otherwise ordinary red & navy repp tie. I confessed that it was an educated guess and told the groom my secret: traditional English regimental and school ties contain stripes that descend from left to right (some say this is a nod to the left-over-right fastening of men’s jackets). You rarely see them worn in North America.

On American made (designed) repp ties the stripes run the opposite way, descending from right to left. Brooks Brothers explains that when it introduced the repp tie to Americans it wanted to be sure their designs could be distinguished from the English regimentals, lest an American on business in London find himself in hot water for parading around in a tie to which he has no business wearing.

To illustrate the difference, above you can see a Brooks Brothers tie laying beside the Governor General’s regimental tie.

For me, these sort of subtle details - where history and fashion intersect, are the real gems of #menswear.

 

Study the Art. Every day.

Study the Art. Every day.

Vancouver, British Columbia. Weekend. Springtime. Chocolate Lab. Nova Scotia Tartan. Top-Siders.

Vancouver, British Columbia. Weekend. Springtime. Chocolate Lab. Nova Scotia Tartan. Top-Siders.

Bruichladdich. Laphroaig. Tullibardine. A proper liquor cabinet.

Bruichladdich. Laphroaig. Tullibardine. A proper liquor cabinet.

Barristers’ accommodation. New Westminster, British Columbia.

Barristers’ accommodation. New Westminster, British Columbia.

We might be vanilla but our labs are chocolate

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In the spring of 2007 my college roommate from Boston introduced me to the Tea Partay video. It changed my life.

Forever. 

I realize not everyone has the privilege of being able to point to the defining moment in their life (or in my case a viral advertising campaign) that had such a profound impact on their very identity that they were never the same afterwards. I suppose I’m lucky that my “moment” involved topsiders, cable-knit sweater vests, pastel coloured polos, and alcoholic malt beverages that came in flavours like lemon, peach and of course raspberry. Granted, the P-Unit wasn’t for everyone – but those geezers will snicker at just about anything.

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For me the Tea Partay was a new way forward - a road map to a lifestyle I hadn’t previously known I wanted. That summer, and again the following spring, I would travel down to New England to gorge on the trappings of my new self. Ironically I was never able to obtain any Smirnoff Raw Tea.

In the years that have passed since college, filling my plate with Tea Partay trimmings has been pretty straightforward. The chinos, the merino sweaters, and the private clubs have all come my way pretty easily. Getting a chocolate lab was a little more difficult. This only leaves taking up residence in New Hampshire or Vermont as my final obstacle to achieving Tea Partay nirvana.

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Once I acquired my chocolate lab I knew I had to set her up, make sure she was looking right and earning the respect of all the other bitches on the block. That meant a Barbour waxed dog coat – something that would match my Beaufort to wear on our long walks on the beach. She’s now pretty much a canine Muffy Aldrich.

I’ll be the first to admit that before I got young Scotia I thought jackets for dogs were a pretty dumb idea. Maybe they still are. I doubt very much her little Barbour keeps her “warm”, but the waxed cotton does keep her back dry, which makes drying her off at the end of a rainy Vancouver outing that much easier.

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2014 - The Year of the Wool Tie

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I’m very much over silk ties.

In the latter part of 2013 I found myself acquiring wool ties almost exclusively – and I don’t foresee that trend abating in 2014. I suppose it is natural to be drawn to warmer fabrics, in more subdued colours, in the fall and winter months - but for me I think it is more than that.

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Wool ties have an inviting and complex texture to them that is lacking in their repp silk brethren. By working with a considerably more muted palette, wool ties convey rich colours with a depth that is at the very least different than silk, and for my money more pleasant. The traditional nature of wool ties, both in their colouring and styling is no doubt owed to their pedigree as a “weekend” tie – put to best use in the countryside, on the hunt, or in the study. Though historically viewed as more causal than silk, and not typically featured in the English gentry’s city wardrobe, when you consider how much brown is being worn in town these days, I’d venture that it is safe to knot-up a wool tie in even the most conservative of workplaces. 

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The truth is that a lot of silk ties look cheap. Cheap silk ties look too shiny, too glossy, or too chunky to be taken seriously. Today everyone wears a tie that reads “100% silk” or “all silk” or some other descriptor that is really of no assistance in determining the value of the tie. Cheap ties look terrible. Also only the finest ties in the world are actually made of nothing but silk. At the very least the interlining of the “100% silk” tie is made of a material other than silk, and in most cases the tipping and thread will be as well.

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Because wool ties remain somewhat of novelty, only worn by those in the #menswear game, or those geezers too old for the game entirely, they remain somewhat of an unadulterated product – and thus less likely to look like they came from Nordstrom Rack, even if in fact that’s where you got them. They also continue to be manufactured, by and large, in conservative patterns and colours, rather than in garish hues with obnoxious designs. This means that unlike some of those Tommy Hilfiger ties in your closet, they won’t look terribly dated after only a couple seasons.

Like the silk grenadine, the wool tie will never dislodge the silk repps from the lofty heights of workplace hegemony, but in 2014 I’m going to try and let them make a run at it.