Vestis Legis

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

The Suits of James Bond

With the latest James Bond installment, Skyfall, hitting theatres in North America this coming Friday, I thought it would be worthwhile to pay homeage to the character that has given #menswear so much.

Although we didn’t realize it at the time, for most young men James Bond movies were our first exposure to the concept of “dressing well” - to being “debonair”. Though as boys we sat down to watch a Bond flick to see car chases and gunplay, we couldn’t escape the conclusion hat 007 was suave guy, who knew how to handle himself in a shirt and tie. Even at that age it wasn’t a big leap to connect dressing well, and carrying yourself with some confidence, to excelling at your job and talking to beautiful and exotic women. That such an impression can be made on young men who don’t yet fully appreciate what it means to be well dressed, and that this sentiment can be conveyed without trademarked logos or explicit references to clothing labels, is a testament to the Bond franchise, and likely a nod to the timelessness of #menswear.

 

Today I think most men find it hard to walk away from watching a Bond film without thinking about upping their sartorial game. Bond’s style is traditional, conservative and above all masculine, which it what makes it so relatable. 007’s wardrobe is built around well made, and properly tailored suits, shoes and jackets. Nothing more. Bond makes wearing a suit look desirable, attractive, and for lack of a better word “cool.” Seeing 007 wrestle a Russian secret agent, evade capture in a speedboat chase, and share a martini with a stunning woman - all in the same suit - is a message to the masses that suits are more than just stuffy office-wear.

Though the 20th century has had other sharply dressed heroes who have made the transition to the silver screen - Gatbsy and Holmes to name but two - neither of these fictional gentleman have inspired men the same way. The recent Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are a fine example of this. Though Holmes and Watson are unquestionably well dressed throughout these recent Hollywood Blockbusters - their fashions come across slightly affected or cumbersome for many; it is unlikely generations of young men will ever adapt puffy shirts, capes, or three-piece tweed suits for their evening wear. I think the same could be said for the upcoming release of the new Gatsby movie. I don’t doubt the blogosphere will be exploding with discussion over the Brooks Brothers styled outfits, but it is unlikely that bowties and tophats will become widely accepted in the New Year. 

For these reasons Vestis Legis recommends Matt Spaiser’s tireless efforts curating the suits of James Bond. Fabrics, tailors, buttons and lapels – The Suits of James Bond is a blog with some real substance. It’s worth checking out for inspiration, or cheer nostalgia.

 

 

A proper law firm letterhead

It wasn’t so long ago that law firm letterhead would contain the name of every lawyer in the firm.  Though today such layouts are less common, I always take notice of the modern firms that still adhere to this traditional - almost anachronistic - way of doing business. I’ve always thought the practice makes sense: it’s good to know exactly who you are dealing with when you receive any sort or formal correspondence. Putting the names of all the lawyers acting for you, or against you, out in the open is a great way for all concerned to spot potential conflicts, or potential allies.

I was doing some document review the other day when I came across some correspondence from Vancouver’s now defunct firm of Russell & DuMoulin, pictured above. The size and detail of the Russell & DuMoulin letterhead was so impressive I couldn’t help but take a picture (with a regulation size highlighter nearby for scale). As you can see it took almost the entire width of the paper, and about 1/4 of its length, just to list everyone. It’s hard not to be impressed perusing the generous register.

It’s also worth noting that this letter is not an artifact from the legal dark ages, it was written in 1989. I’m not sure why the formal, and rather detailed, letterhead went out of fashion: it’s possible that it was simply a creature of a law society requirement that went extinct when the rule was relaxed; maybe it was nothing more than a conservative form of marketing that has fallen out fashion; or perhaps the lengthy and proud masthead was a casuality of the modern era of national and international law firm mergers. In 2000 Russell & DuMoulin merged with Toronto and Quebec (Montreal and Quebec City) based Fasken Martineau to become the now 770 lawyer-strong Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP. I realize 770 names might be masthead overkill.

Nevertheless, for those firms still small enough to manage it, the traditional legal masthead is a trapping of the profession that’s worth honouring.

You can affidavit your witness; I’m a rising star in this biz-ness. Inspirational. #lawschoolhustlin

The Canadian Heraldic Authority

Heraldry is really awesome. Above is the Coat of Arms for British Columbia. Commit this to memory.

According to the Governor General’s website heraldry began as an “emblematic form of individual identification” for 12th century European knights. When suited and booted in full sets of plate-mail knights were understandably hard to tell apart. This was an unhappy state of affairs for the more stylish of these noble champions. The steezy solution? Shields painted with coats of arms.

When the monarchs realized that “coats of arms” were going to be the next big thing, they took control of the official granting and use of coats of arms, and in the process transformed armorial bearings into a recognized and orderly system of honours and bloodlines. Crispy.

Heralds — court officials who also acted as diplomats — were responsible for curating heraldry within a monarch’s jurisdiction.

Unlike many Canadian traditions that are expressly French or English in their origins, heraldry is a practice that was brought to Canada by both founding nations in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

Until heraldry was patriated to Canada, Canadians who wished to acquire arms from a lawfully established authority under the Crown were obliged to apply to one of Her Majesty’s two heraldic offices in the United Kingdom: the College of Arms in London or the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh.

In 1947, the Letters Patent defining the authority of the Governor General expressly authorized the Governor General to exercise all the prerogatives, powers and authorities that His Majesty George VI held as King of Canada.

On June 4, 1988 then Governor General Jeanne Sauvé authorized the creation of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, making Canada the first Commonwealth country to patriate the practice of this ancient authority. This was made possible by new Letters Patent, signed by Her Majesty on the advice of Her Canadian Privy Council, which authorized and empowered “the Governor General of Canada to exercise or provide for the exercise of all powers and authorities lawfully belonging to Her Majesty as Queen of Canada in respect of the granting of armorial bearings in Canada”.  

Remarkably, the patriation of the Canadian Heraldic Authority remains the lesser known of the two major “patriations” of formerly British statutes that decade.

Wondering how to get a heritage-inspired modern classic for yourself? Yah, me too. Canadian citizens or corporate bodies desiring to be granted armorial bearings by lawful authority must send to the Chief Herald of Canada a letter stating the wish "to receive armorial bearings from the Canadian Crown under the powers exercised by the Governor General."

Requests for new arms or registrations of existing arms take the form of a “petition” addressed to the Chief Herald of Canada, who must assess and approve the request before a warrant for the grant can be signed by the Herald Chancellor or the Deputy Herald Chancellor.

A herald then works with the petitioner to create a design, which is then rendered artistically by an artist assigned by the Authority. Completed grant or registration documents are recorded in the Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada, and the notice of the grant or registration is published in the Canada Gazette. 

In total the process takes about 12-14 months to complete, and will cost you between $2000-$3500. I can’t think of a better investment.

Late last night I had a vision.

A world with no blogs.

No Tumblr.

No Twitter.

Not even fucking elbow patches.

It was horrible.

In a world without swag how does one stunt?

How does one stunt in a world without swag?

A cycle perpetuated by clearance racks at Kohl’s.

The finest men of my generation.

Those known for the crispyest kits.

Those known for the sickest fits.

Those known for tweeting the most ridonkulous sample sales.

Those known for taking pictures of themselves in public restrooms.

Those known for reblogging the steeziest street skeezers.

My heroes.

My brethren.

My bros.

Were suddenly different.

An entire generation lost in space.

And time.

Their go-to-hell souls vanished into thin air.

Gone forever.

They were doing volunteer work to meet bomb ass chicks.

Instead of just looking fucking awesome.

They had real jobs.

Instead of freelancing on Wordpress.

No one owned their own domain.

No one owned their own webstore.

My worst nightmare.

Worse than a T-Brizzle fashion show.

It was horrible.

I awoke in a panic.

My APC manjamas soaked in sweat.

Club collar twisted in fear.

I ran to the nearest of my walk-in closets.

Grabbed the flyest gear within reach.

Threw it on as quick as possible.

Making sure my sprezzy was still on point as fuck.

My fingers trembled as I took a seat.

At some rando granddaddy’s typewriter that I copped on Etsy, I began to flesh it out.

Doing my best to write it all down.

So I could save the world if need be.

So I could prevent the future if necessary.

So I could scan this dope ass shit to my blog later.

Back then, if a gentleman reached, it was for the weapon. Now gentleman are reaching just to get their cards.

Handing out your business card should be a pleasure. It should be a smooth and casual interaction, something that can be done quickly if the conversation is abruptly ended, or subtly if you find yourself in a situation where talking shop is frowned upon.

Keeping your cards in pristine condition and readily accessible is fundamental. This means not keeping them in your wallet, money clip, or business card case.

While these vehicles work for transporting your cards from the office to the reception, or keeping them on your person for those unexpected occasions when presenting your card is required - they are less than ideal for full-on networking events.

Keeping your cards tucked away in a case or wallet draws attention to the exchange: it puts the natural flow of the conversation on hold, and eye contact is broken. This awkwardness, however slight, is exacerbated if the recipient takes your cue and starts digging for his or her cards. A tightly stuffed wallet or money clip only adds to the agony as you try and pluck out a single card to hand over.

Worse, and I’ve seen this, is after you make the grand gesture to reach for your cards - putting the social interaction on ice - you discover to your embarrassment that you left your business card case at the office, or you gave your last card to Johnny Accountant over at the oyster bar.

"So", you say, "why can’t I keep them in the large pocket inside my suit jacket?" The short answer of course is that in a pinch you can, but for two very practical reasons you shouldn’t.

Think about the last time you tried pulling anything small out of the bottom of your inside pocket - you probably had to really reach. Those inside pockets are deep - deep enough for pens, cellphones and gum packages. The reach for your business cards should be slight, not like a magician reaching into a top hat for a rabbit.

Indeed, all that digging and cell phone shuffling throughout the night is going to leave your cards dog-eared and bent, or stuck inside your pack of Dentyne Ice. This is not a good scene.

Salvation can be found in the conveniently placed, and thoughtfully designed “card pocket” on the inside left of some suit jackets. The Hugo Boss suit pictured above, while  perfectly acceptable in other respects, lacks this crucial design feature.

If your suits have them - and you’ve never noticed them before - start using them. If your suits don’t, next time you’re shopping consider this feature - especially with custom jackets.

The card pocket is wide and shallow and sits just above your hip. This positioning allows for easy and very casual access. Cards loosely put in this pocket can be drawn and produced quickly without breaking your stride. Think about reaching for your card like you’re drawing on your sidearm.

Keeping your cards here as a matter of course is a good “set it and forget it” policy. While all manner of technology, cigar tubes and brochures may move in and out of your main jacket pocket throughout the evening, knowing your business cards are safe and ready to be called on in a moment’s notice will keep you one step ahead of the next guy. In real life you don’t always get ten paces worth of notice before you need to draw on your cards.

Undoubtedly this is a “little thing”, hardly worth mention in some circles. But in my experience it is the culmination of countless “little things” that separate the suave and charismatic operators from the clumsy and average.

Welcome to #menswear.

A couple weekends ago a dear friend of mine celebrated his call to the bar with friends and family at a local watering hole. We’re privileged in Vancouver to enjoy a tightly-knit legal community, especially amongst the junior ranks, and this becomes especially apparent at call parties.

It was obvious though, from the moment I stepped into the room, that my friend was celebrating his admission to our noble profession by doing more than throwing a mere party; that very day he also decided to purchase his first sport coat – his admission into the slightly less exclusive, but no less sophisticated, brotherhood of #menswear.

Wearing a suit for work everyday and dressing well are not equivalents. For most, the suits they drag themselves to the office in every morning are no more than uniforms; mandatory articles of clothing that they have no great affinity for, and will be haphazardly thrown back on the hanger from whence they came as soon as 5:00 rolls around. #menswear though is something more.

So much has been written elsewhere on the blogosphere about the significance of dressing well that I need not repeat it here, save for a few thoughts.

It’s a trite observation to note that there is more to clothing than simple function and aesthetics. Clothing is probably the most obvious, immediate and accessible way that we represent ourselves to others. As Jesse Thorn wrote on Put This On, “when you dress, you are making a statement; not a fashion statement, but a statement of identity.” When you choose to put on a jacket and tie, you are signifying to others that you take the occasion seriously, whatever that occasion may be. If you choose to make sure that your jacket fits properly, that your tie is tied properly, and your shirt matches all of the above – the message you send is that much stronger.

When people observe the way we dress, whether they are friends, co-workers, or complete strangers they are going to interpret what they see. They are interpreting the signals our wardrobe’s emit. Those signals may read “I am to be respected, I am successful, I take myself seriously” alternatively they can read “I don’t give a fuck, I don’t know any better, I’m lazy.” In some demographics, and in some professions maybe none of this matters. But I suggest that if you’re an upwardly mobile young man you’d rather come across as the former, rather than the latter.

Law Chambers. Victoria, British Columbia

Thorn observes that “the language of clothing is as complex as the spoken word, but ignorance of it is no excuse.” Are ironic t-shirts and board shorts easier? Sure. Can the respect of your peers be earned in other ways? Of course. But why not afford yourself every opportunity to make a better first impression, and a better lasting impression?

No one leaves a cocktail party (certainly not women) remarking to their friend about the guy “with the really clever slogan on his t-shirt” or the “really original Canucks logo on his baseball cap.” What does stick with people, men and women alike, is the gentleman who looked really sharp. People attribute positive characteristics to well dressed people, it’s human nature.

Dressing well is in many respects a lot like observing good manners or being a good host: it doesn’t have to cost you very much, but it will bring you considerable returns.

Ultimately dressing well comes down to effort. So many people hide behind “cost” or “not knowing what to buy” or a misplaced resistance to “conformity” as excuses for dressing poorly. Dressing well is not prohibitively expensive, and there is considerably less “conformity” in wearing a logo-less blazer than a t-shirt emblazoned with a trademark.

So long as one is willing to put in the effort to seek out sales, utilize ebay, or shop second hand, good clothing can be had at any budget. The price of a few graphic t-shirts, baseball caps, and high-street jeans (the crutches of the poorly dressed) is not that different than an oxford shirt and pair of chinos. The difference is that t-shirts don’t have to be ironed, and baggy jeans don’t need to fit well.

The moral of this story is that my friend’s new sport coat genuinely looked good on him, and our friends took notice.

Men’s suit jackets, sport coats, and blazers are designed to flatter men by broadening the shoulders, squaring the chest, and narrowing the silhouette. By throwing a sport coat over his button-up shirt and jeans, and ditching the sneakers for a pair of boots, my friend was saying “I’m a lawyer now”. Welcome to the brotherhood Bill.

Royal Warrants. Fundamental.


Nothing marks excellence and superior quality quite like a Royal Warrant of Appointment. If you aren’t familiar take note: the unmistakable mark of a Royal Warrant on bottle, suit or label is the surest way to guarantee that the contents of what you’re about to purchase is well worth your money.

Since the Middle Ages tradesmen who have acted as suppliers of goods and services to the Sovereign have received formal recognition for meeting the Sovereign’s exacting standards. In short, the receiving of a Royal Warrant is something of a peerage for the trades: it’s a centuries old practice that rewards worthy tradesmen with a title that lets consumers know their product is of the highest calibre.

Currently there are about 850 privileged tradesmen who have earned the right to display the Royal Arms along with the words “By Appointment” on their product, packaging or advertising.

Royal Warrants are currently granted by Her Majesty The Queen, who has two Royal Arms (one used in Scotland), His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother was also a grantor of Warrants; Warrants granted by her were retained for five years from her death (until 2007).

Royal Warrants are granted at the discretion of the grantors to companies who have regularly supplied products or services to their houses for a period of at least five years. Each grantor can grant one Warrant to one supplier per industry, though one supplier can receive more than one Warrant. Barbour for example, a maker of waxed canvas jackets, holds Warrants from all three grantors. The holders of Royal Warrants are thus as diverse as the trades that the Royal family employs. While some Royal Warrant holders and their respective products may be intuitive: Twinings (tea), Laphroaig (scotch), Lea & Perrins (Worcestershire sauce), other industries like opticians (Boots) and ironmongery (NLS Fabrications) are a little more esoteric. In any case Royal Warrant holders truly represent a broad cross-section of trade and industry.

Although Royal Warrants are largely associated with brands, they are actually awarded to a named individual who must be the Chief Executive Officer, Managing Director, Sole Proprietor or the holder of a senior management appointment with direct access to the Board of Directors. This person, the grantee, is personally responsible for ensuring the Royal Warrant is used correctly.

A Royal Warrant is initially granted for a period of five years, after which it comes up for review by the Royal Household Tradesmen’s Warrants Committee. Some Warrants have been renewed for over 200 years. However Warrants are just as likely not to be renewed if the quality or supply for the product or service is insufficient, as far as the relevant Royal Household is concerned. 
A Warrant may be cancelled at any time and is automatically reviewed if the grantee dies, leaves the business, or if the firm goes bankrupt or is sold.


The next time you’re at the liquor store, the cobbler or your tailor keep an eye out for products proudly displaying a Royal Warrant, you’ll be happy you did.

The Numbers Game

I was suit shopping with a friend a couple weekends ago when we were introduced to the Brooks Brothers Special Order program. In our case my friend wanted a Milano suit  (Brooks Brothers slimmest cut, with natural shoulders) in grey or charcoal. The problem was Milano suits only come in navy blue. Salvation came in the form of the Brooks Brothers Special Order program. The Special Order program allows the customer to select a model of suit currently in production, and modify it with a selection of premium fabrics, liners, and details not found on suits regularly stocked.

Made-to-measure this is not; the purchaser is still limited to standard sizing, but at least he has the option of ordering his jacket and pants in sizes that are not necessarily paired together (a 40R suit traditionally comes with 34 waist pants for example).

Though the thought of a tone-on-tone paisley liner in your new Brooks Brothers suit certainly helps close the deal, the real value in the Special Order program is the better fabrics. You pay a premium for a Special Order suit, but the better wool makes the upgrade an investment rather than a mere indulgence in flashy bemberg.

How a suit holds together over time, how it creases when you sit, how it breathes, and how it hangs when you stand is largely determined by the quality of wool it’s cut from. Yes, the construction of the suit is important too (floating or fused canvas? Natural or padded shoulders?) but for those of us who buy off the peg – quality of wool is probably the single biggest indicator of the calibre of a suit. When paying a little extra for better wool is an option, it’s always worth doing.

But how do you evaluate the quality of wool a suit is made from? The simplest answer to this question is to trust your senses: handling the suit thoroughly, and inspecting it closely for defects in the weaving are good first steps.

Good worsted wool should be soft, consistent in texture, and smooth. While good wool will have some natural oils in it, under no circumstances should wool feel greasy. Some manufacturers will dress-up poorer quality wool with chemicals to give it a uniform sheen, and cover up defects. These chemicals will break down over time, and leave you disappointed with a second-rate product. After being crumpled in your hand, a sleeve should fall naturally back into place. The wool should also have a natural elasticity, rebounding quickly from a slight tug.

A close examination of the wool itself will also tell you a lot about the craftsmanship that went into the manufacturing of the fabric. A tailor of mine used to remind me of this whenever I brought him in a suit jacket to alter. Although more apparent on patterned materials, wool that has been cheaply woven will be riddled with slight imperfections: missing or raised threads, miss-coloured threads, or threads that are knotted, broken or woven out of sync. While these imperfections are rarely so egregious as to attract the ire of the casual observer, they are indicative of a poorly woven fabric that was likely sourced for a cheaply made suit.

A superficial examination of fabric will only take you so far: you must also consult the label. It is here where you are likely to see the familiar label “Super 100s” or “S120s” or something of the like. I hear that on Savile Row you can find Super 250s. But what does this mean? And is it a reliable indicator of quality?

Answering this question involves a little bit of historical understanding, but the short answer is “no”.

Nearly all the suiting-grade wool produced today comes from Australia, and to a lesser degree New Zealand and Tasmania. But Australia does not have a large weaving industry. For over 150 years the fleece of Australian sheep has been spun into yarn, and that yarn spun into cloth, in factories in England and Italy. 

The City of Huddersfield, Yorkshire, was formerly the epicentre of the world’s wool trade. Here, in the mid-19th century before modern grading technology could measure the width of a single thread of yarn, the “fineness” of wool was judged by how much yarn could be spun out of one pound of the stuff. The finer the fibres the more “hanks” (a spool totaling 560 yards of yarn) could be spun out of a single pound of wool. Thus a “60s” count wool meant that one pound of the yarn could yield 60 hanks. The higher the count number, the finer the wool. Finer wool is softer, silkier, lighter, and of course proportionately harder to source.

Various parts of the sheep, and indeed different breeds of sheep, produce fleece of different quality. Spainish sheep (merinos) in the early years of wool production produced the finest fibres in the world, their undercoats could produce wool as fine as 70s and 80s. Not content, Australian growers eager to break into the Savile Row market (who demanded the finest wools available) relied on selective breeding practices to produce generations of sheep with undercoats that were finer still than the 70s and 80s counts that had long dominated the high-end wool market.

During this period fibre count numbers were strictly an industry measuring stick that the average consumer would never encounter. This changed in the 1960s when Joseph Lumb & Sons – perhaps the most famous spinners of the day – introduced to Savile Row the 100s count wool and branded it “Lumb’s Huddersfield Super 100s.” The choice of the adjective Super proved to be such a powerful marketing tool that the suiting world has never looked back. The introduction of the Super 100s wool was to #menswear what the four-minute mile was to track and field: it was not only ground breaking event, but also a new industry standard.

By the early 1990s, “Super” 120s had become the industry standard fabric for a decent high-end suit, with 150s available for those with expensive tastes. Today the most exclusive brands don’t work with anything below 150s and are more likely to use 180s.

It’s worth noting that “hanks” are no longer used to grade wool destined for commercial use. Raw wool is now evaluated using industry standards related to the thickness of the natural fibres, as measured in microns under a microscope. This system is unquestionably more accurate than its predecessor, but nevertheless the measurements are still scaled in the traditional way. For example any raw wool measured to be finer than 18.5 microns is said to be at least “100s Grade”. 

The rise of the Supers however has been controversial. Thread count was never meant to be an exact science, instead it was shorthand for wool merchants to sort fabrics without close examination. Indeed until recently even good cloth labeled as 90s might have had a smattering of thicker 60s or 70s unavoidably mixed in. I suspect that even today, despite improved sorting and grading technology, wools out of less reputable mills are likely several counts courser then they advertise.

Like everything you read on a label, be skeptical: if it seems too good to be true it probably is. Good wool is expensive. Comparatively few sheep can produce especially fine wool. So when you’re talking about wool finer than 150s you are talking about a true luxury product. If the made-to-measure suit you’re looking at online is advertising that it’s made of 120s wool, but costs less than $500, I don’t know what you’re getting but its not 120s wool.

Ultimately there is more to wool than fibre diameter. The length of the fibres, the amount and quality of lanolin and natural oil present in the fabric, as well the strength and consistency of the weave itself are all integral to the quality of the finished product. Another consideration is warmth and wear and tear. The finer the fabric, the lighter the suit. The finer the fabric the quicker the suit may wear. While these aren’t significant considerations for most consumers buying in the 100s - 120s range, if you start looking at 150s or finer it can start to be an issue.

The moral of the story is this: trust your instincts when shopping for a new suit, and don’t get too caught up in the numbers game. 

 

Thanks to Nicholas Antongiavanni  and his book, “The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style,” published last year by Collins.

The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London. Required autumn reading. A virtual “to-do” list.

The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London. Required autumn reading. A virtual “to-do” list.