Black Tie opportunities these days are very few and far between. The fact that so few men currently own a black tie rig is behind why event invitations so often include phrases like ‘black tie optional’. This allows men to arrive in lounge suits if they don’t own a dinner jacket and aren’t enthused about the expense and time involved in renting.
When I was at university there were occasional formal functions, which came around frequently enough for some of my mates to acquire their own dinner jackets even when they weren’t interested in sartorial matters on a day-to-day basis. Despite the opportunities back then I didn’t own my own rig. It seemed like a step too far for my own tastes and I didn’t want to attend a party if I wasn’t going to feel comfortable in my clothes.
So what caused me to change my view? My memory may be playing tricks but I have a vague recollection of seeing the singer Paul Young at the BRIT awards back in the eighties, when attendees often attended in formal threads. He was wearing a dinner suit with a short jacket similar to a mess jacket. I’ve had a hunt around but can’t find an image to illustrate this. Did I imagine it?
This is the kind of jacket that originated from a formal tail coat with the tails removed. Many formal military uniforms incorporate this style and I understand they enjoyed a brief period in vogue midway through the last century before rapidly falling out of favour and becoming more commonly seen on serving staff rather than party guests. The look quickly changed from being an interesting addition to the Black Tie ouvre into being a huge no-no.
Anyway, my recollection is that Mr. Young looked great and soon after the very brilliant Terence Trent D’Arby made a similar style jacket part of his signature on-stage look.
So these better-than-the wait-staff versions influenced me to consider my own Black Tie options. During my summer break from university in 1987 I acquired a similar short jacket from Strip in London’s Kensington Market. Mine was double breasted with peak lapels and I got some great strides to match with a fishtail rear and buttons for braces. Above is the only picture I have in this rig, taken at Headingley Cricket Club in Leeds during our graduation party in June 1989:
This was my first foray into black tie. I’ve since acquired a variety of options, some of which I’ve featured on the blog here, here and here.
Recently we were invited to an event for the Tampa Bay Ghanaian Association which stated “Dress code formal or traditional. Black tie preferred”.
I was tempted to give the ‘Goldfinger’ ecru jacket an outing – it was certainly hot enough – but in the end I went with the more traditional ‘Thunderball’ midnight blue rig. It was broad daylight when we left which explains the paradox of wearing sunglasses with an evening outfit:
Sunglasses – Ray Ban Gatsby Metal Squares Dinner suit – midnight blue one button shawl lapel with satin facings Shirt – Thomas Pink marcella Bow tie – midnight blue silk from The Tie Bar Pocket square – no name Cufflinks and studs – Kent Wang Socks – Uniqlo Shoes – Allen-Edmonds
I’ve had two funeral services to attend recently. The first was formal so out came the black suit. This used to get regular wear during the latter days of my nightclubbing period but not so much in recent years.
When I started my first ‘proper’ (white collar) job in 1991 I wore suits with a white shirt and white silk pocket square every day for eight years. I’m not sure what the inspiration was there. Perhaps a bit of a nod to old tradition along with a passing admiration for the signature Cary Grant look, but at some point I realised that blue doesn’t wash out my pasty complexion so white shirts are rarely pulled out these days.
I see lots of admiration for the use of black ties on Styleforum but I have to admit that with my preference for brighter colours, in my view there’s always a better option so this grenadine has seen very seldom use.
Sunglasses – Ray Ban Gatsby Metal Squares
Suit – J. Crew
Shirt – Tyrwhitt
Tie – Grenadine Garza Fina by Paul Winston at Chipps
Pocket Square – No name
Socks – Uniqlo
Shoes – Robot by George Cox
For the second service there was a definitive instruction that no black was to be worn. I have noticed this more often in recent years and despite being a traditionalist in many aspects of getting dressed I really don’t mind it. I’m reminded of my Dad’s funeral which was very formal and somber and it felt all wrong to me as he was a lively and sociable bloke who was often cracking jokes and telling tall stories, so the occasion didn’t fit his personality. In any event the dress code choice is entirely the prerogative of those organising the occasion and if they feel that a more colourful and less dour event is called for then so be it!
I love this blue sharkskin suit (the third ‘shoe’ pic shows the colour most accurately!) but there aren’t many occasions to wear it as it’s too flashy for work and too bright for many evening events. I chose my brightest fuchsia accessories in keeping with the instructions. it was nice to see that just about everyone else complied too and there really was a celebration of a life well-lived without a lot of tears and long faces.
Sunglasses – Jacques Marie Mage Comanche (Reserve)
This has to be one of my favourite jackets so I make no apology for a repeat showing here. It’s been a while since I wore it but every time I do it puts a smile on my face.
I came across this several years ago in Suitsupply and it was one of those times when it was love at first sight. I’d already made a few purchases from Suitsupply and knew that their 38 regular fits me fairly well off the rack so this was probably one of the easiest and fastest sales the assistant ever made.
Anything that comes in this range of bright blues – cobalt, electric, international Klein, azure, royal … will always catch my eye. The fabric is 96% mohair 4% silk in a slightly rough-textured hopsack weave, and with no padding, lined only in the sleeves, it wears like a light weight cardigan.
It’s a general habit of mine to try and mix in some patterns or textures along with solids for visual interest. The shirt is a prince of Wales check that has a fine green overcheck, and the tie has green spots on a basket weave blue silk ground.
The strides are in a tropical weight with a subtle nail head pattern. I got these from a fellow named Ed Morel who had a one-man web shop selling ties, shirts and strides. They’re great quality, with lots of hand stitching and the waistband lining and pockets are made from Oxford cloth cotton. There’s no fabric tag inside and I don’t recall the composition but I suspect that they are mostly wool with maybe a hint of mohair. Unfortunately this website has gone the way of many one-man-shows in the menswear world, either out of business or with a very diminished online profile. Conrad Wu, Yellow Hook and Henry Carter are names of other businesses which seem to have suffered a similar fate. I think Howard Yount is still going but with a much-reduced presence. We can all make guesses as to why they’re no longer as active, if they’re even active at all. The pandemic seems to get the blame for most things these days and the attendant shift away from more formal men’s clothing won’t have helped, which is too bad.
I’ve written in the past about knitted polos. I generally like them for cooler weather. A sub-set of knitted polos is the button-through variety. I’ve never been much into ‘standard’ cardigans. I think there’s a valid association with the grandpa look, plus in the mid-eighties a lot of lads my age – some of them ex-Mods – gravitated to that style of beige cardigans, baggy washed-out jeans and Doc Marten shoes. The jangly guitar music of The Smiths, The Housemartins, Orange Juice et al usually went along with it. It wasn’t for me!
Cardigans in the style of button-through polos are a different breed. They seem to be a mainstay of mid-century casual style – as worn by Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in ‘Goodfellas’, Jon Hamm as Don Draper in ‘Mad Men’ and Jude Law as Dickie Greenleaf in ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’.
Button-through polos can be found in short- or long-sleeved versions but neither were much in evidence at all during my youth which I believe was an oversight as they can be a stylish alternative to traditional cardigans or knitted polo shirts.
I’d been looking for ‘the right’ button-through polo for some time but never saw one that seemed to have the right look for me at the right price. My cyber-pal Rafa tipped me off to this knitted polo from Next which has all the elements correct – bar the actual button-through feature:
Finally I was able to get this one a few weeks ago in the sale from Fred Perry. The colours are a little more subdued or muted in real life compared to what I was expecting from the website pics, making this one likely to be put aside for when cooler weather arrives.
I recently had to make a brief visit home to England at short notice. My schedule was really packed but I did have a couple of hours to get to Dalton Park on the outskirts of my home town. This is an outlet mall which I’d heard had been built during my absence and I was most interested to see the adidas shop. When I arrived I realised that the whole place looks very similar to the outlet mall about ten miles from me in Florida. I go there occasionally but real bargains are few and far between, and you have to beware of many shops using the place not to sell last season’s mainline styles at discounted prices but instead to sell cheaper diffusion brands created specifically for the outlet shops.
Anyway I didn’t see anything to take my fancy in the adidas shop but right next door was the Ben Sherman shop. Ben Sherman shirts were popular in the sixties as they were a British take on the famous Brooks Brothers Oxford cloth button down shirts. They broadened the look with a variety of colours and cloths, and then broadened it still further including stripes and gingham checks. The trademark look was a long button down collar with a locker loop in the back like the BB style but with a stitched down rather than open box pleat and rear darts for a slim, fitted look. This style had a bit of a comeback during the revival years, but the brand has probably expanded, contracted and been sold off numerous times since then. There was a really nice Ben Sherman shop on Spring Street in the Greenwich Village area of New York City which I liked to visit. I got some bargains there when I came upon a closing down sale and they have since shuttered all their American shops.
I saw a couple of nice button-through polos on the sales rack at the Dalton Park outlet shop and when I found it was ‘buy one for GBP 30 get a second for GBP 1 that took away my indecision as to which one to get and I got both! That works out at $21 each! Bargain!
In 1998 my brother told me he was going to Barbados to watch the cricket – England v The West Indies – and if I got a flight there I could bunk in with him at the hotel. He didn’t have to ask twice. I saw an exciting one-day game which England won, but when the five day test match was on I was off scuba diving. For the one-day game he was wearing a sky blue polo shirt with a Union flag pattern on one sleeve which I always liked the look of. I believe it was a version of England’s one-day international kit from 1994:
I had recently seen that Ben Sherman were doing a line of gear for the upcoming Olympic Games and was particularly taken with a polo shirt they did which wasn’t a million miles away from the style of my brother’s cricket shirt. This one had the British Olympic Team lion / union flag emblem on the sleeve.
These appeared to be cheaper in the Ben Sherman outlet shop than I’d seen them for online so I snagged one for myself. I don’t wear crew neck t-shirts very often unless I’m on my way to the beach or the pool but there was some sort of ‘buy one get one’ deal going on with the polo shirt too so I grabbed a crew neck t-shirt to make up the deal.
I plan to one day do a more comprehensive post about the Union flag. I know I take some stick for having it on display so frequently. Obviously it points to the pop-art partnership that Mod style has with the Union flag and the RAF roundel dating back to the early sixties but along with that, having been an expat for over thirty years has caused a bit of patriotic fervour to sneak into my outlook over time which might partly explain my liking for it. Anyway – despite a very limited time to go shopping during the trip home I was happy to come back to America with a few goodies in my suitcase!
My second ever post on this blog discussed cycling shirts. I mentioned how we’d read about them in Richard Barnes’ ‘Mods!’ book but there weren’t many around in the limited shopping arena of the pre-internet revival period.
Happily that’s no longer the case and there are a variety available out there – from modern tech fabrics to reproductions of vintage designs. I acquired a few from the collaboration between Fred Perry and Bradley Wiggins but that ended a few years ago. Fred Perry has continued to occasionally put out retro-inspired versions and I got hold of a few this year. For me they occupy more or less the same space as pique polo shirts so I usually wear them with similar gear as I would with polos: jeans or five pocket strides and classic trainers.
Sunglasses – Ray Ban Wayfarers (metallic teal frames, mirror lenses)
Strides – Levi’s 511 Commuters
Desert Boots – Clark’s
Sunglasses – Ray Ban Wayfarers (royal blue frames, grey gradient lenses)
Strides – Levi’s 511 Commuters
Shoes – adidas EM Comp
Sunglasses – Ray Ban Wayfarers (red frames grey gradient lenses)
The main reason I started up this blog was to create a way to connect with like-minded people as I felt isolated when it comes to matters sartorial, in particular relating to Mod style. I love the discussion of the details. Like any ‘hobbyist’ – cars, sports, watches, antiques, dogs, films … it’s not much fun if you don’t have people to talk with about your hobby, so I welcome any thoughts, opinions and questions that provoke the discussion.
Recently Rob wrote in asking about my thoughts on parkas, and on checked shirts. I’ll address checked shirts soon but here are my thoughts on parkas …
Yeah I confess that I haven’t mentioned them much on here but there’s no denying they are part of the Mod culture. Maybe too much part of the culture! Unfortunately the image of ‘Mod’ to the general public is often encapsulated in someone wearing a parka, two-tone suit and Jam shoes! I’m sure I’m not alone in having been guilty of falling into the trap of wearing these sort of togs as a clueless teenager, upon first getting swept up in the revival era of the late seventies. This image is viewed with such disdain, even by Mods themselves and ex Mods, that they go to lengths to distance themselves from the entire shooting match. It’s quite typical for those of my vintage to discreetly sneak out the back door of Mod and enter through the door of Ivy League style which has a similar – even overlapping – aesthetic to classic Mod style, but seems to have a bit more of an ‘adult’ connotation and less ‘youth cult’, so it suits those of us advancing in age.
Anyway if we’re being honest, most of us involved in Mod style in our youth owned a parka at some time. Over the years I owned three – none of them for very long.
When my brother was in his early teens in the early seventies he had two. They were non-Mod olive green four-pocket versions something like in the pic below, except I think his had four rectangular front pockets with flaps secured by exposed silver press studs:
I remember his first one had an olive green quilted lining which when he grew out of it was replaced with a similar version with a red quilted lining.
A few years later when I asked my Mam to get me a parka she refused as the youth cult connection which had been absent during my brother’s era was not something she was going to condone or finance, so I had to pay for my own with milk round money!
Most of the lads who joined the revival in my town bought German Army parkas from the local military surplus shop.
I hated these things. They didn’t have fish tails like those of the original Mods. They were dirty and smelly, absorbed rain rather than repelled it and like many parka styles, due to the pocket placement they encouraged everyone to walk around in that gormless hands-in-pockets elbows-out manner!
The first parka I had was bought from ‘Jeremy Adam’ a long since defunct menswear shop in the town centre aimed at teens and young adults which, during the revival period, had a small selection of off-the-shelf Mod items. Aside from parkas they had skinny ties, button down shirts, boating blazers and three-button suits. None of them were great quality but at that time we weren’t very discerning. This parka was a replica with a fur-edged hood and fishtail but had no military provenance and was clearly knocked up in a factory somewhere to quickly take advantage of the revival bandwagon. I bought a Union flag from a mail order shop advertising in the back of the NME and my mate’s girlfriend did a sterling job of stitching it on (thanks Amanda!). I wore this when a bunch of us went to see Secret Affair at Newcastle City Hall and when we went backstage to meet the band after the gig we got them to sign our tickets and Ian Page also signed my parka alongside the zip.
I also wore this one when I went to see The Jam soon after. I didn’t get to meet the band but if you’re paying close attention to the Complete Jam video there’s a glimpse of me at the Newcastle City Hall gig during their performance of ‘David Watts’:
Me in parka, arm raised, bottom right
My mate Chad had a lighter-weight fishtail parka with a quilted lining. It was an olive green colour which was darker than the sage green of most of the other parkas we saw and I managed to pull off some sort of convoluted trade where I passed on my parka and ended up with his.
I don’t know what happened to this one but don’t remember having it for long. Some time later I acquired from a friend of a friend what was probably a decent replica of an M-65. He was a big fan of Keith Moon and had written ‘Mooney’ in ball point pen on the sleeve. I think I left it round my mate Gary’s house and never went to reclaim it. Gary was a scooter nut so he’s welcome to get some use out of it.
Parkas of course were very practical coats for keeping a suit clean and dry when riding a scooter during the long periods of inclement weather in Britain, and as such have been worn by scooterists from the early sixties to the present day. I never owned a scooter in my youth so the attraction of wearing an otherwise less than stylish coat which brought instant aggravation from rival youth cults became lost on me. My Dad gave me some money to get a beige trench coat for my birthday in November 1981 – an obvious copy of a Burberry with the same tan checked lining – and I never wore a parka again. Some of my mates who were among the more dedicated to the scene also started to move away from the ‘Identikit Mod’ look. Stu got one of those very stylish US Army gabardine trench coats in olive green as worn by Richard Crenna as Colonel Trautman in the ‘Rambo’ films, and Phil got the similar US military sateen version as worn by Gary Shail as Spider in ‘Quadrophenia’:
(Many years later I got an Air Force blue gabardine trench coat like Stu’s which was subsequently lost during a house move around 2003 and I’ve been trying to replace it ever since, but they seem to be very rare!)
Those of my mates who got involved with scooters and sustained their interest beyond the early eighties went for the authenticity of US Army M-51 or M-65 parkas – the style worn by original Mods.
Genuine US military versions in good condition are becoming increasingly difficult to find now decades after they were superseded by newer military versions, although there appear to be a variety of replicas available. I see some people getting hold of NB-3 parkas like the one pictured below:
I can’t get behind this trend. They are what we called ‘snorkel parkas’ when I was a young teen. I had one in navy to wear during winters when I worked on the milk round at age thirteen. They were as common as dirt among school kids and in my view they may be very practical in winter weather but they’re completely devoid of style.
The image of ‘identikit Mods’ wearing modern replica parkas festooned with patches, badges and the obligatory target on the back was ubiquitous for a brief time in the revival period around 1979-1980 but then was quickly abandoned. Sadly as mentioned this image remains front and centre for many in their impression of Mod style.
The peak period of Britpop in the nineties largely passed me by as I was already living in America, but the likes of Liam Gallagher made the wearing of parkas cool again for some people. He seems to be the biggest advocate for parkas since the revival. I still think it’s a hard look to pull off and I’m just happy that I live in a climate where I don’t have to think about wearing such a heavy coat.
I’ve written in here a few times that as we approach the extremes of weather, style starts to take a back seat to practicalities. For me right now parkas are over the boundary of style. If I was still living in England and regularly braving the wind and rain driving in off the North Sea at the Stadium of Light, or persevering through the English winters on a scooter there’s no doubt I’d think differently! I’m happy that these challenges aren’t something for me to be concerned about right now, so despite its historic association with Mod style, the likelihood of me getting back into a parka remains slim!
Back in August 2018 I wrote about my then newly acquired grey gingham checked jacket, and at the time I was still undecided about the best colour strides with which to pair it.
Since then I’ve acquired these Air Force blue strides from The Tie Bar on Madison Avenue in New York City which I think work perfectly. The slightly grey cast to the blue works well with the grey ground of the jacket and they’re a better option than the rich royal blue strides suggested in my original post. I’ve read on menswear forums that dark blue / navy odd trousers are difficult to pair up with. This may have something to do with our eyes being used to seeing a more conventional dark top and lighter bottom outfit (think classic navy blazer with grey or beige strides). Anyway with a bit of thought it can look fine and I’m happy with the way this outfit works.
The Tie Bar got their foothold in menswear – obviously – by selling inexpensive silk ties. Divergence being a key to financial success they branched out into selling other accessories – socks, pocket squares, lapel pins etc. – then more recently offered shirts and strides.
The strides are 97 percent wool and 3 percent spandex – very lightweight. Quality-wise they won’t get purists salivating and they may not prove to be very hard wearing but their lightness suits the climate in which I normally operate and they fit me perfectly without the need for alterations. (They may seem slightly short in this picture but I hitched them up to show off my socks, normally I’d have them sit on the tops of my shoes!)
For a long time I’ve been planning a blog post about my cufflinks collection and I’ll get to finalizing it one day but for now I just wanted to show these latest acquisitions from my trip to Cozumel.
My first visit there was a trip arganised through a dive shop in October 1995. This was my first experience of scuba diving beyond the checkout exercises I had done in a pool and a disgusting mud-filled gravel pit in Texas to get certified!
I liked it so much in Cozumel I’ve now been there twenty times.
There’s a small town on the island – San Miguel – with some shops selling t-shirts and other tourist fayre and In years past there seemed to be dozens of silver jewelry shops. Over time the number of these shops seems to have diminished and I’m not sure why. I have a vague recollection of having (possibly) seen cufflinks made in the scuba flag design using red coral. I may have just imagined that but more recently the memory set me off on another of my obsessive holy grail style hunts.
Did the cufflinks really exist or was it my imagination projecting from having seen the design on various other items of jewelry? With the number of silver shops having reduced significantly over the years, during the last couple of visits to the island I didn’t have the time to make a thorough search.
This time I got lucky. I found a shop just off the main square in the town that had rings, ear rings, bracelets and pendants with the red coral scuba flag but no cuff links. The shop is family-owned and has a silversmith who works behind the scenes somewhere, so while I couldn’t find the cufflinks in stock they were able to take a couple of tiles from a bracelet and convert them to cufflinks. Success at last!
These go really well with the dark red accessories I use for one of my favourite outfits that I’ve posted about several times before, this time including some new shades with dark red accents too:
As a PS – day-to-day I usually carry a small amount of cash and my cards in a bifold wallet, but when I’m on holiday I carry only my driving licence and a couple of cards in a slim card holder. In addition I always have a large wad of cash which is mostly five-dollar bills and one-dollar bills for taxi rides and tips. This wad is too fat to fit into a wallet and I usually secure it with a rubber band. I noticed the shop had a silver money clip with the scuba flag so I bought that too, to use especially for holidays:
I also got a caduceus charm for my wife and a dolphin charm for my daughter so the shop did well out of me!
I’ll definitely stop by the shop next time we go to see if they have any other goodies!
Sunglasses – Jacques Marie Mage Comanche (Reserve)
Back in 2017 I wrote a post about packing for a beach holiday so here’s another version. We recently came back from Cozumel – that’s my twentieth visit to the island and I absolutely love it there. Thankfully my family loves it too. A week lounging on a beach might seem like the ideal time to abandon any anxiety about what to wear but with just a little bit of thought and preparation you can look good and be completely situation-appropriate without devolving into the absolute nadir of a wife-beater and crocs ensemble!
This time around I stuck with an orange and blue theme – that makes mixing and matching easy if you’re forced to improvise and make substitutions to your original plans like I had to after I spilled parsley sauce on my polo shirt during the first night’s dinner!
A typical day is me going scuba diving in the morning then a quick shower and change for an afternoon with the family – either lounging by the hotel pool or visiting one of the beach parks. In the evening we’ll wander into the town to look at the shops and pick out a place to eat.
Aside from my scuba gear, daytime threads are usually a crew neck t-shirt and swim shorts. In the evenings I’ll probably wear a polo shirt and cotton shorts. If there’s an occasion to visit a slightly more swanky restaurant – this time it was my wife’s birthday – I might wear long strides.
Here’s my gear for travel to and from the island – it’s always wise to have long sleeves for a drafty aeroplane:
Jacket – Umbro
Polo shirt – Lacoste
Strides – Lacoste
Trainers – Adidas Topanga
Here’s my daytime kit for five days pool and beach at the hotel:
T shirts – adidas X 3, Scubapro; Dive Paradise;
Swim shorts – adidas X 2; Old Navy
Here are my evening options:
Polos – Fred Perry X 2, Lacoste
Madras – Lands End
Shorts – Tommy Hilfiger (orange), Levi’s (blue)
For my wife’s birthday dinner at Pepe’s restaurant:
Shirt – Uniqlo
Strides – Lacoste
Driving mocs – Ralph Lauren Polo
D-ring belt – no name
Driving mocs – Ralph Lauren Polo
Linen Scarf – Levi’s
Trainers – adidas Topanga
Panama hat – J Crew
Sunglasses – Ray Ban New Wayfarers X 2
Watch – Seiko Prospex solar PADI
Our holiday last year got cancelled due to the pandemic so we may end up going twice this year. Watch this space for details if we make it back. I’m thinking of a red white and blue theme next time!
This suit provides a slight contrast in formality to the lightweight linen suit posted recently. It’s 100% cotton and very robust with structured shoulders and although a similar colour, it wears quite a bit warmer than the linen version. Acquired many years ago from eBay for $75. Again, to prevent the pale colour from washing out my pale complexion I like to combine this with a saturated shirt.
Now that the temperatures are well into the eighties where I’m at, it’s time to break out the linen. When we go out for dinner in the summer months I’m usually to be found wearing a loose linen shirt, linen strides and driving mocs. Something like this:
You can’t beat those linen shirts which are available at a very decent price and can come in a broad variety of colours. I’m not a great fan of short-sleeved shirts and only own a couple. I prefer the look of long sleeves, even if they’re rolled up a couple of times. In the above pic I’m wearing penny loafers with Dainite soles instead of the more typical driving mocs. Wearing these shoes, along with the jacket to match the strides, steps up the formality of my usual rig by a notch or two which was warranted for a neighbour’s birthday celebration held on a restaurant patio.
I took the pic with the jacket closed but left it open most of the night, partly as I was mostly sat down and partly just to ease the formality to fit the situation.
This look takes some inspiration from Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in ‘The World Is Not Enough’:
I say ‘inspiration’ as I wasn’t trying a full on emulation here! Brosnan’s suit is herringbone linen, his shirt is a Turnbull and Asser broadcloth and his shoes are single monkstraps, but the general colour scheme is similar. I’m somewhat more pale and pasty then he is but in either case wearing a light beige, almost ivory suit looks good with a bold, saturated shirt. I really like these pebble grained loafers in a chestnut reddish-brown.
Stand by for a post about a different version of the beige suit coming soon.
Aside from several Breton-style shirts I seem to have acquired a ton of hooped polo shirts too.
Recently my mate Dave – proprietor of the ‘Rock and Roll Brit’ blog linked on my home page – invited me to sit in for a few songs during an informal gig he’d arranged in St. Petersburg. ‘That’s Entertainment’, ‘Wonderwall’, ‘You Do Something To Me’ got a run out!
Let’s get a couple of ‘full disclosure’ statements out here first, concerning my preferences.
1. I’m becoming increasingly bored with jeans. For any male who grew up since the 1950s, jeans have been a near ubiquitous component of their wardrobe. This is understandable to a degree. Since the early career days of Marlon Brando and James Dean they have represented a cheeky rebelliousness for kids as they weren’t favoured by the earlier generation. They also stood up to the knockabout back-street lifestyle of a typical pre-teen whether coming up in the city, the suburbs or the country. And when that kid moved into adulthood, if he moved into a blue-collar occupation then jeans transitioned perfectly into workwear, due to being hard-wearing and somewhat protective. But after seventy years of this ubiquity I’m frankly bored to death with them even though I accept that in certain contexts, paired with certain other items, they remain appropriate.
2. I’ve never liked ‘cargo pants’. The side pockets look clumsy and unflattering to me and I’m left to wonder what people need to be carrying around with them that requires so many pockets. If the cargo pockets are there for aesthetic rather than practical purposes then my reaction is that this bulky look is totally at odds with the sharp, trim silhouette that’s characteristic of Mod style.
So in my search for an alternative to wearing jeans that does NOT include cargo pants I’ve noticed a general appreciation in menswear circles for what Americans call ‘OG pants’. The ‘OG’ refers to ‘olive green’, the default colour of American combat uniforms from the Second World War throughout the Korean War, Vietnam War and beyond. Anyone familiar with the TV show MASH will have seen uniforms in this colour worn by the cast in every episode.
As a kid I would often go away with the family stay to at a rented cottage in the Yorkshire Dales for ‘Blackberry Week’ (half term holiday in late October), and as the Army’s Catterick Camp was in the same area near Richmond we’d often see soldiers in uniform wandering around the market towns that we’d visit. In those days the British Army combat uniform was a ‘DPM’ (disruptive pattern material) woodland pattern camouflage jacket and ‘Lightweight’ trousers in solid olive green.
So in considering military surplus strides as an alternative to jeans, my Anglophile leanings caused me to check out the British version first.
I’m not really a fan of the button down belt loops, and some versions come with a large map pocket on the front thigh which is too close to cargo pants for my liking.
The American version is named ‘OG 107’ and they are available from military surplus stores as well as a plethora of recreations ranging in price from cheap to laughably expensive. Somewhere in the middle are Stan Rays reproductions which retail for about $85, but I recently scored a pair brand new with tags from eBay for $45 shipped.
I haven’t handled the military version up close so I can’t write about how close these Stan Rays are to their origins. Details-wise they have deep patched front pockets, zip fly, belt loops and button down patched rear pockets. They appear to be robust but lightweight 100% cotton which is exactly what I was hoping for, with a fine ‘hopsacky’ hand. Upon receipt I immediately put them in a hot wash and tumble dry to soften them up a bit and maximise any shrinkage in the cotton, then had them tailored.
eBay buyers are beggars not choosers and mine were sized 34-34. If I’d had a choice and a chance to try them on in a shop I’d have probably gone for 32 or 30 waist as even the slimmer versions are generously cut as shown above, so I had some slimming done in the waist and legs.
Advocates for Stan Ray OGs seem to enjoy wearing them in a loose and even sloppy manner, with the high waist allowed to sag and the hems casually rolled up once or twice. This of course is not my style so the tailoring allowed me to sharpen up the silhouette somewhat. In hindsight I think my tailor was a little over-aggressive in taking in the excess. I wouldn’t have minded a slightly more louche look and fit which might have been a benefit in hot weather.
The intention was to have strides that I can grab and don without much thought, for activities like the school run or a quick trip to the supermarket. I admit that it would be generous to suggest that strides like these have much of a connection or provenance to the classic 1960s Mod look, but in the interests of pushing the boundaries whilst keeping one eye on style they have a place in the casual section of the wardrobe alongside chinos, sta-pressts, five-pocket strides and cords, and provide a viable alternative to the ubiquity of boring jeans!
In the classic 1974 film ‘Chinatown’ set in 1930s Los Angeles, there’s a scene in which Jack Nicholson as well-to-do private eye Jake Gittes is snooping around the cliffs investigating some dodgy goings-on with the municipal water authority when he’s suddenly swept up in an unexpected deluge of water being run off from the reserve supply in order to create the illusion of a shortage. He makes for a sorry sight as he trudges back to his car with his bespoke suit drenched and missing one “god-damn Florsheim shoe”.
Florsheim is just one of many once-reputable American menswear brands which have taken the long journey from being highly regarded, through the downward spiral of offshored manufacture and reduced quality in the race to the bottom, and which now trade on long-past glories. Their famed Kenmore longwing brogues remain much sought-after in vintage circles but the current version is not nearly as robust as those from the past, made in America.
Perhaps in a grasp for credibility, in 2009 Florsheim partnered up with New York fashion house Duckie Brown to produce a range of shoes – Florsheim by Duckie Brown – that combined traditional styles like longwing brogues, loafers and suede bucks with a wonderful array of bright colours. This wasn’t a million miles from the George Cox Robot shoes which I discussed here and were once available in every colour in the rainbow.
I was a bit late to the party on finding out about these great looking Duckie Brown shoes, and by the time I got into one of those all-too-familiar obsessive hunting modes the collaboration with Florsheim was at an end and available choices were limited. I missed out on the royal blue calf brogues but I did manage to snag this pair of tangerine suede bucks which I’d lusted after for a long time … and which have subsequently remained on my shoe rack with very rare use.
As a teenager I was an admirer of The Jam almost to the point of obsession, but when it came to being influenced by style I was always much more into Bruce Foxton than I was Paul Weller. That’s why I joined a band and took up playing the bass and of course my first bass was a Rickenbacker.
When Weller split up The Jam my musical interests were exploding, partly as a result of being in a (non Mod) band and partly just from the wonderfully eclectic cacophony of new music that was the environment of the second half of the eighties. I didn’t care much for The Style Council and haven’t followed Weller’s solo career very closely since then. I certainly haven’t been interested in his baffling approach to clothes and hair styles since those days!
A couple of years ago there was an excellent documentary on The Jam named ‘About The Young Idea’, and more recently I’ve seen equally well done films ‘Into Tomorrow’ about Weller’s career and ‘Long Hot Summers’ about The Style Council. At some point in the latter there’s a clip of the band around the period of ‘The Cost Of Loving’ in which they were decked out in white trucker jackets and white jeans.
I thought this was a fantastic image for the band and a great look for spring and summer. I believe the pic below was from the ‘Heavens Above’ video which was a song from the album which was clearly influenced by the Philly Soul sound, released as a single in America but not back home. The video was shot around a windmill, possibly in The Netherlands, which may have influenced the preponderance of orange!
I have Levi’s trucker jackets in white and blue but neither have been worn in a long time. I’ve mentioned before how jacket season where I live is short and the truckers have to compete with – and usually come off worst against – several Harringtons, monkey jackets, MA-1s and cotton blazers.
I’ve been an advocate for white Levi’s as an alternative to blue jeans for many years now, and this renewed admiration for the kit worn by The Style Council inspired me to dig out my white denim trucker jacket. The double blue denim outfit – the Canadian tuxedo! – has been frowned upon for a while which may partly explain why my own blue trucker hasn’t seen the light in a long time, but a double white denim outfit? Maybe I could go for that – maybe it should be named the ‘Florida tuxedo’? Wearing that with a ‘Cost of Loving’ style orange polo would give me a great excuse to dust off those long neglected orange bucks which in my opinion would be an upgrade on the stark black leather loafers Weller wore at that time.
Then I remembered that drummer Steve White provided a bit of contrast to the whole ensemble image by sporting an orange denim trucker and that set me off once again on another of those all-too-familiar obsessive hunts.
Once again I found I was late to the party as there were several decent looking versions popping up on my internet search, but they were all from a couple of years ago and all sold out.
Then I got lucky with this from Amazon …
Of course its great that that there was a happy conclusion to this particular round of compulsive behaviour on my part but I’m equally happy that I now have a couple more outfits with which I can wear my long neglected orange bucks and put away that nagging feeling that they were the epitome of white elephant purchases in my wardrobe.