When it comes to men’s race wear rules, most are commonsense like wearing a tie and matching your belt to your shoes. With the the exception of Derby Day, when women are dressed in black and white, men in the know should wear a grey suit with a vest and cornflower blue tie or pocket square. If you are heading to Ascot the grey suit should be a morning suit. But elsewhere the rules are relaxed.
Modern British tailoring captures creativity and cut. I recently read a speech Prince Charles made when he was listed by GQ as one of Britain’s best dressed men and I think his take on going his own way is refreshing advice and also an interesting insight into tailoring. Take some inspiration then make it your own.
I must say, it was a complete surprise to learn recently that I had been voted one of GQ’s Best Dressed Men. It wasn’t so long ago I was voted by another panel of judges the Worst Dressed. In the past I have been named both in successive years. In fact, in the early Seventies, I swung from one extreme to another so often that when I turned up for a dinner at the Master Tailors’ Benevolent Association in London’s Grosvenor Square in 1971 I was confronted by my poor tailor, whose despair was only too evident when he responded to press questions about my being chosen as the worst-dressed man for that year. In an anguished voice, he said, “But you don’t know his measurements!”
It was probably this experience that made me decide I simply had to go my own way and stick to what I felt suited me. As that happens to involve what many once considered to be old-fashioned double-breasted suits, I can only expect to be considered unfashionable; although one commentator recently called me “beyond fashion”, which added a whole new dimension to my confusion. I am still not sure if she meant it as a compliment…
The recognition of GQ was, therefore, encouraging to say the least. I took it very much as a vote for what can perhaps best be described as the classic and timeless look of British style.
For me, one reason is that quite apart from it being wonderful to wear, British crafts-men and -women offer products with excellent durability. It is a somewhat sobering thought, I suppose, that I have probably spent the greater part of my life in suits. But because I do, in my view such items of clothing have to do two things. Given the demands of my life, it is a great help if a suit looks as good at the end of a day as it did at the start; and it also has to withstand the heavy battering it can sometimes receive. So the challenge to tailors, shirt- and shoe-makers is a tough one. Clothes have to combine style with sustainability and I find British-made tailoring more than meets that challenge – much to the amusement of my staff, who are sometimes surprised to find that what I am wearing turns out to be as old as or even older than they are.
Of course, trying to fit a disintegrating body into an old suit or uniform is a somewhat nightmarish experience. But the sheer fact that such suits were clearly made to last is a critical element in the celebration about to be launched by the British Fashion Council with the London Collections: Men shows, later this month. I am very much looking forward to meeting some of the many designers and manufacturers involved when I host a reception for the event at St James’s Palace – people, for instance, like John Hitchcock, the managing director of Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard. He is a typical member of his profession: he started straight from school on the shop floor at the age of 16, learning his trade from, and guided by, the vast experience of his older colleagues. As a result, he knows from first-hand experience why British tailoring is second-to-none in the world.
Many other parts of the world have lost those skills. Hitchcock travels regularly to America, for example, where the children of many of those great but humble New York tailors of the Fifties aspired to the professions, not to trade. So the skills were not so successfully handed on. It could have happened in the UK, especially during the Eighties when nobody was interested in becoming a tailor and bespoke tailoring itself was falling out of fashion. Fortunately, companies like Hitchcock’s kept the candle burning.
They invested their own money, creating highly unfashionable apprenticeship schemes. Competition to join them is now stiff. Anderson & Sheppard currently employs seven people between the ages of 19 and 28 who learn their trade over a long, six-year period in its specially created workshop. It is an expensive investment. The entire Savile Row Bespoke Association has also teamed up with Newham College in London to create a tailoring course. More than 200 students have graduated so far and the good news is that they have more students on the present course than they have ever had before. Students leave with a first-rate qualification that enables them to apply for apprenticeships with the association’s members, many of whom are on Savile Row itself.
For me, this proves the point I have been trying to remind people of for years: that craft skills matter and that, despite the wonders of modern technology, there is a huge and growing demand – particularly overseas and in Southeast Asia – for the hallmark products such skills can produce. Such schemes guarantee that the highest standards of British craftsmanship are in safe hands and are being passed on to the next generation, whereas elsewhere in the world they have died out.
Capture the classic and timeless look of British suit style with the elegant ensembles below with Free Shipping at MR PORTER:
Paul Smith London Grey Byard Slim-Fit Brushed-Wool Suit