Guys – beat the heat

Over the last couple of weeks, the weather has been decidedly Men-Casual-Office-Dresses-2015undecided here in the UK. Can you believe it reached 37 degrees in the south of England on 1st July, yet the morning of 31st July dawned at just above freezing ? Things seem to be on the up, however, and temperatures are rising again.   So what’s the best way to remain looking polished and professional in the heat, while keeping your cool ?

The shirt should be your starting point. I’m hoping you packed away your heavy winter suits, jackets and trousers weeks ago, but it’s surprising how many men wear the same shirts all year round. Branch out a bit. First, consider the fabric – opt for natural fibres such as cotton, linen or a blend of both. Or even seersucker. More commonly worn across the Atlantic, it can look very smart – think Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Although linen is wonderfully light and breathable, it does crease like mad, and a blend keeps those creases at bay. Lighten your colours too – and think beyond white. I freely admit to secretly admiring Michael Portillo in his ice-cream coloured shirt and jacket combinations. His choices of pale yellow, mint green, pink and sky blue exude summer and have a certain Continental je ne sais quoi. If pastel or bright colours aren’t your thing, the same summery effect can be achieved with a gingham check. Gingham looks crisp and is much more interesting than the usual stripe; you’ll find it adds a bit of personality to your look without sacrificing formality.

Turning to jackets, cotton, linen (or best yet, a blend) should be chosen in favour of hot, stuffy wool. Choose neutral shades (navy or beige for example) that will go with a number of your shirts, to give you maximum wearability. Mr Portillo wears his rainbow assortment of shirts with navy, red and even yellow blazers – but I don’t expect you to go crazy…

Smart_Casual_Dress_ExampleFor more informal office days, pair your shirt with chinos and a lightweight blazer and you’re ready to go. Keep short sleeved shirts for casual or smart-casual occasions – they can be a bit too informal for daily business attire. If you’d like to forego a tie, you can button your shirt fully (very modern) or leave the top button undone (depending on the cut of the shirt). You could also opt for a cotton pique polo shirt; just make sure you choose a tailored version with no logos. White, navy and other neutrals are your go-to colours here. A crisp white polo can look really smart under a lightweight suit – try it.

SC_Shoes_0002I’m a huge fan of the suede loafer worn without socks. There’s nothing quite like it for evoking a bit of ‘summer on the Riviera’ attitude. And please – always wear closed toe shoes in hot weather (think suede brogues or chukka boots as alternative options).

Enjoy the summer !


Guys, look great on your friend’s big day


My readers know that I am not a fan of the traditional wedding look. Many men often wear badly-fitting morning dress or rely on the same old boring office suits. Many people leave it to the last minute, and panic buy. Here are some tips to help you be the best dressed guest this summer, without, of course, upstaging the groom.

I’m sure you don’t want to show up to a friend’s big day looking like you’re going to the office. He won’t appreciate it, and you won’t feel up to scratch. Dressing for a formal wedding is fairly straightforward. There are a number of places on the high street to hire or buy morning suits and formal highland dress. But do plan in advance to ensure your size is available and alterations can be made.

For black tie weddings choose a wool dinner suit in black or midnight blue (the Duke of Windsor’s favourite). Single breasted is the most popular option, although double-breasted is making a comeback. For a modern look, go for a slim leg trouser, and don’t worry about a cummerbund.

For weddings that call for lounge suits or more informal dress, there are a variety of ways to look stylish and up to date:

  • Think three: the three piece suit is back and is a clean and sharp take on the lounge suit
  • Add some colour: suits in bright blue, pale grey, stone or pale grey check are great alternatives to dark grey and navy
  • Beat the heat: keep things cool with lightweight wool, wool-mohair blends or cotton. Or choose linen, but beware the crumpled effect
  • Show some ankle: slim cropped trousers worn with loafers and no socks is a contemporary informal look
  • Lose the tie: a beige or soft grey suit worn with a white shirt, pocket square and no tie looks fantastic while keeping you cool
  • Add pattern and texture: injected into ties, pocket squares and socks – a way to breathe life into an office suit if you can’t stretch to a whole new outfit



Clearing out the clutter…

This is an edited version of my article in Fine Magazine.  Images courtesy of Charlie Strand Photography.

Clients come to me for a variety of reasons. They may be looking to revamp their professional wardrobe, refine their off duty look, or shop for a specific occasion. Whatever the reason, the process usually involves a ‘wardrobe detox’, where I review a client’s clothes and we discuss what they wear, what they don’t, and why.

wardrobe_beforeThis was the natural starting point for Louise. In her mid-40s, Louise recently joined a lingerie and swimwear company. Her role involves organising photoshoots and trade shows for the brand. She wants to ‘look the part’ in her new role, and felt she had too many clothes.

Louise was keen to clear out the clutter and get fresh ideas on new outfits. She explains, “I had no idea what goes with what, and I tend to stick to the same clothes. I struggle with a smart casual look for informal meetings and lunches. And I want to achieve a fashionable, funky look, as I often accompany models to shoots in far-flung locations.”

Louise’s wardrobe was crammed. There was lots of colour, but no overall palette stood out. “I’m not sure what colours actually work,” she said, “I’ve got too many tops, too many dresses – too many choices !”

No pile 2We started by weeding out the definite ‘no’s’: items that don’t fit, that hadn’t been worn for over a year and those that need repairing. We created piles destined for the charity shop or consignment.

Lou in grey tunicWe then turned to the ‘trouble spots’ – those pieces she wasn’t sure how to wear. Louise has a beautiful black leather jacket with metallic chevron detailing – a real investment piece – but had no idea what to wear it with. We created several outfits, pairing it with jeans as well as a black dress. A long knitted vest came into its own with a camisole and bomber jacket, perfect for gigs or a casual lunch. A grey and black tunic worn with leggings, leather trainers and silver jewellery was another casual option. As we cleared things out and put outfits together, I captured a list of ‘gaps’ – those items that Louise needed to create complete outfits.creating gap list 2

Louise was surprised by the emotional attachment she had to some of her clothes. People often hang onto things in the hope they’ll come back into fashion, or that they’ll ‘diet’ back into them. Louise had been hanging on to things that she could now let go of. Your life changes, so why shouldn’t your wardrobe?

She explains, ‘My life has changed completely in the past year. My kids are older and I’m now working in the fashion industry. My wardrobe needs to take me from the school run to meetings in London with our PR agency to travelling to a trade show in Paris. Sam has helped me achieve that. I can open my wardrobe and know what to wear, and it will be easier to shop as I now know what I’ve got – I won’t be wasting money on things that don’t work for me.’

at work 2


Are you ready for the sales?

It’s June – my favourite time of year – and the sun is (finally) out.   We still have Wimbledon Fortnight to look forward to. And of course, the summer sales, which seem to be starting earlier each year….

Everyone loves bagging a bargain, but sales shopping is often hot, fraught and stressful. To help ease the pain, here are my five top tips for surviving the onslaught and securing the pieces you covet:

  • Prioritise your sales ‘must-haves’ and make a list. Are there gaps in your wardrobe that need filling? Do you need specific items for your holiday?
  • Stick to this list. Don’t get distracted by ‘too good to be true’ bargains – they usually are. Sometimes shops include past season stock that just hasn’t sold, and for good reason
  • Build relationships with the staff in your chosen shops. Make sure you’re on their mailing list as you’ll get advance notice of the sales (or better yet, invitations to pre-sale events)
  • If you prefer to shop online, it’s worth doing some ‘bricks and mortar’ research first. If you can, go and try on the pieces you want – that way you’ll know the exact size, colour and fit saving you the hassle of returns
  • I know your holidays are precious – but taking a day off and shopping mid-week can pay dividends in time and stress. Do this early in the sale period – after week two there’s not much good stuff left anyway

Happy shopping !

The Suite Vallauris

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Thierry’s uniform. Thierry, if you remember, is one of the fabulous pair who own the beautiful guest house in the provencal hills that we stayed in recently.IMG_1103

Thierry had spent many years as a hairdresser to the great and the good in Paris, and ran a salon whose clients included Yves Saint-Laurent’s mother (she had her ‘brushing’ done daily by Thierry).

IMG_1098And Thierry loves fashion.IMG_1099

Our room – the beautiful Suite Vallauris – paid homage to his obsession. There were beautiful books on haute couture and the women who wear it, from Alexander McQueen and Dior to the late Princess Diana, Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.IMG_1136

There was also a framed vintage black velvet Hermes jacket, and a personal invitation to YSL’s last show. Adorning the window latches and door handles were Chanel, Dior and Cartier bags and ribbons.

It was the perfect room for me. And best of all, it was a complete surprise.


What is smart casual?

This is an edited version of my column in June’s Platinum Business Magazine.

An invitation lands on the mat. You rip open the envelope and scan the details. Your heart sinks as you see the dreaded phrase ‘smart casual’.

What exactly is ‘smart casual’? It’s a question many of us have been asking for years, particularly men. These days, even occasions that were traditionally formal now strike a much more informal tone.Men-Casual-Office-Dresses-2015

‘Smart casual’ is subject to wide and varied interpretation. It won’t come as a surprise that the phrase originated in the US. Evidently, it was first used in 1924, in the Iowan newspaper The Davenport Democrat And Leader. The term ‘business casual’ emerged in the 1950s, but simply meant wearing an alternative to the traditional business suit, perhaps in a lighter cloth or colour. Work environments and casual wear have both moved on considerably, so what do ‘smart’ and ‘business’ casual mean for us today?

Debretts states: A dress code of smart casual requires that you look smart but not overly formal.  That in itself is not very illuminating. Unfortunately, they then add to the confusion, citing a division between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ smart casual.

‘Formal’ smart casual ‘requires a jacket or blazer, flannels, needlecord trousers or chinos, a shirt with a collar and smart shoes, not necessarily lace-ups (but not trainers or sandals).’ You can wear a shirt and tie but an open collar is also acceptable. I would argue that a tie is not required, but it does depend on the occasion and your host.

‘Informal’ smart casual

Debretts permit jeans in their definition of ‘informal’ smart casual, but specify that they must be ‘smart, clean and dark in colour’.Smart_Casual_Dress_Example

In the office

I worked for a financial services firm for several years, which introduced the concept of ‘dress down Friday’ with disastrous results, particularly in the summer. Men (and some women) would come into work in shorts, flip flops, sandals and trainers, and all sense of decorum went out the window.

For casual days in the office, the key is to find the right balance. I would advise sticking to shirts or polo shirts with chinos or very dark jeans. And always, always with closed toe shoes (think suede brogues, chukka boots or release your ‘inner Italian’ and go for suede loafers in a vibrant tone).

A few golden rules:

  • Dark denim and chinos: these are your ‘go-to’ options for smart casual trousers. They work for a wide variety of occasions, and can be dressed up (or down)
  • Avoid ‘sportswear’: tracksuit bottoms, baggy sweatshirts and trainers (unless they are leather or dark trainers) are a definite ‘no no’. Wearing these evokes laziness, slovenliness – surely not attributes you want applied to you
  • I would part company with Debretts and say that there is no need to wear a tie, even with ‘formal’ smart casual. An open collar shirt and blazer can be a great look
  • Pay attention to the fit of whatever you choose to wear. I’ve said this before – so many men let themselves down with ill-fitting baggy shirts, jeans and trousers.

Keep it simple. If you are in doubt about the dress code at a particular event, ask your host. And remember, ‘casual’ does not mean sloppy. Keep your standards  high and take pride in your appearance. After all, you never know who you might run into…


Thierry’s uniform.

My beloved and I spent five days in France last month, staying in a beautiful guest house owned by Thierry and Guy. These two complemented each other beautifully. Guy had spent years in the hotel industry, and Thierry had been a hairdresser to the great and the good in Paris in the 1960s and 70s. Both love interior design, collecting art and antiques, books and quirky objets.

But there was one fundamental difference between them.

Thierry was incredibly stylish, in a way that his partner was not. I often advise my clients to create their own ‘uniform’ – a look that they feel comfortable and look great in. Doing so alleviates wardrobe stress and saves lots of time. Thierry had created the ultimate uniform, one which he has not deviated from in years….


He only wears shirts and jeans by Comme des Garcons. Always. The jeans may vary in cut, but they are always dark denim. The shirts are white, blue , checked or striped – always sharply ironed and with interesting details on the buttons, cuffs, collar or hem. His shoes are an extensive collection of brogues and oxfords – mainly by Heschung (a longstanding French footwear brand), but also our very own Church’s. The jumpers are cashmere, in grey and navy. In fact, the whole palette is white, grey, navy and black. And every month, he travels to Paris to top up on culture, books and a new shirt or two.

This may sound severe and uncompromising, but Thierry always feels comfortable in what he wears and so carries it off with aplomb. It’s his look, and it works. Have you created your ‘uniform’ ?IMG_1160

Guys: the devil is in the detail…

American financier Sanford Weill once proclaimed that ‘details create the big picture’. Now, Sanford may have been talking about pounds and pence (or dollars and cents), but the same holds true for your wardrobe. The details – your accessories – are vitally important to your overall picture. Applied well, they contribute to the creation of a coherent whole, adding colour, texture and individuality. Worn badly, they can wreak havoc with your look and render elegance an elusiSC_Lookbook_AW14_0010ve pipe dream.

Accessories add much-needed colour, texture and personality to otherwise conservative clothing. I would go so far as to assert that adding carefully chosen accessories to a gentleman’s business or casual look can have more of an impact for a man than for his female counterparts, as he has fewer overall outfit options. At first glance, you may think that there are limited accessories to choose from. I would disagree. Let’s take a closer look.


Watches are an obvious starting point. Even in these days of gadgetry, an elegant watch speaks volumes about a man. It’s worthwhile having more than one: a watch for daily business wear, a dress watch and a sporty version for weekends.

Socks (plain, striped or spotted) are an easy way to add colour and fun without undermining your professional credentials. Braces are another way to add interest – but you must be comfortable wearing them or you will not be able to pull off this look successfully !

The cufflinks market has exploded, and there are so many designs and materials to choose from. You can choose cufflinks that reflect your personal interests, hobbies and passions: horses, anchors, propellors, playing cards, etc.

Cufflink Darwin Lacewing

When considering ties and belts, it’s always best to go for contrast, so that at least one element stands out. If you’re wearing a striped shirt, go for a completely contrasting tie (a solid colour, or even a contrasting pattern). The stronger the contrast, the greater the impact. Newsreader Jon Snow lifts his overall look with bright ties and socks; they have become his immediately identifiable ‘trademark’.

I spent the morning at Simon Clarke’s Brighton boutique recently, and the team there told me that tie clips are also big sellers. They are another small way to add an element of individuality (and old-school elegance) to your overall look.

Wallets, although not often on display, can add pizzazz as you pay for your morning latte. Paul Smith and Aspinal of London make leather wallets with iconic British designs – union jacks and classic Minis – to liven things up a bit.

When selecting your accessories, choose carefully. Remember: invest in a few simple pieces that work with a number of items in your wardrobe.

Thanks to Simon Clarke Brighton for the images.

Shoes capture our imagination

This is an edited version of my article in April’s Platinum Business Magazine.

Shoe designer Roger Vivier once said that ‘to wear dreams on one’s feet is to begin to give a reality to one’s dreams’. Shoes capture our imagination and are a recurring cultural motif: ruby red slippers in Oz, Elvis’ blue suede shoes, Nancy Sinatra’s walking boots (the list goes on…)

Why are shoes important? A cheap or ill-fitting pair of shoes can instantly let down an entire look. It is the one element of the wardrobe that I would implore everyone to invest in. Good quality shoes lift your whole outfit, are (usually) more comfortable, and, they will last.SC_Shoes_0008

Men love shoes too

It’s a commonly held misconception (in my opinion) that women love shoes more than men. Many men love shoes too – they’re just quieter about it. And they tend to own fewer pairs…

The well-dressed man’s wardrobe should contain these ‘essential five’:

  • For work and more formal occasions: a pair of leather brogues (dark brown or black) and a pair of black leather derby’s (with or without broguing)
  • For off-duty days: a pair of loafers (leather or suede, neutral or colours), a pair of deck or boat shoes and a pair of desert boots

During the tricky transition from winter to spring, you may want to consider additional options. These work well with less formal trousers on ‘dress down’ office days as well as with denim or chinos at the weekend.

  • Suede brogues: can be alternative work shoes, depending on your office
  • Chukka boots: versatile lace-up leather boots that are less formal than brogues but smarter than trainers
  • Leather trainers in dark colours: increasingly popular in recent years and great for very casual occasions.

21 pairs and counting

I believe women have a more explicit (if I can put it that way) relationship with shoes – one that men don’t quite understand. Women’s shoes tend to be beautiful, with the ability to transform the everyday into something spectacular. They are also the one article of clothing that remains constant – no-one has to diet to fit into them! And high heels make every woman look taller and slimmer.


Ignoring the fact that most women have, on average, 21 pairs of shoes, my ‘essential five’ for women are:

  • A pair (or two) of flat shoes (ballet pumps, loafers, brogues, etc) in neutral colours that go with everything
  • good court, mid or kitten heel shoes for workwear and more formal outfits
  • two pairs of evening shoes – slingbacks, peep toes or strappy sandals
  • knee high boots for wearing with skirts, dresses and under trousers
  • a pair of wedges for height in warmer weather

Obviously you can add to these, but in doing so, please choose quality over quantity. Marlene Dietrich once advised buying one pair of good shoes instead of three pairs of poor quality. And finally, do not be seduced by a sensational pair of shoes in the sale that you know you will never wear or that are cripplingly uncomfortable. Say goodbye to them and let them go. There’ll be another pair along soon enough…



In conversation with Gresham Blake

IMG_0996_me and GreshamLast week I attended a Brighton Chamber of Commerce Spotlight Supper event at Silo, where the special guest speaker was tailor Gresham Blake, in conversation with Miranda Birch. Gresham and his team specialise in bespoke and ready to wear suits, shoes and accessories, with shops in Brighton and London.

As well as being quite handy with a sewing machine, Gresham is also a fantastic storyteller. Prompted by Miranda, he regaled the room with tales of how he got started, what are his key influences, and his words of wisdom for anyone wanting to go into fashion.

IMG_0998_Silo frontage

Here are some snippets….

When did you start to make clothes:

I started young, at about aged 5. I remember making a sleeping bag, vests and a gun bag for my Action Man. Later, I wanted my trousers tight so my mum made me take them in myself, teching me how to use a sewing machine. Half of the job of tailoring is being confident with a sewing machine. At age 26 I finally decided what I wanted to do. I did an art foundation course – originally I wanted to do sculpture but there’s no money in it – but I loved fashion, so I got into that.

And why?

I could never find the items I wanted, so I made them. An orange rollneck was particularly memorable….

What inspires you?

I don’t take any notice of what others do in fashion. You end up following if you do that. I do stuff ‘from the gut’.   If I like it, someone else will. I always have fun with it. For example, we may only do 20 of a particular shirt print – it doesn’t matter – people always buy them.

What are your iconic pieces?

Our prints and our printed shirts. They always sell out before they even go into the shop. Accessories are also key for us: ties, cufflinks, pocket squares, etc.

And your favourite design?

It has to be a red and white striped jacket with cherries on it – I designed it purely for a photoshoot – it evoked childhood memories in Tunbridge Wells.

What’s advice would you give to someone starting out in fashion

Be honest and respectful of people. Take your influences from far and wide – art, architecture, etc. And learn bookkeeping !

What’s next for you and the Gresham Blake brand?

Our business is at a crossroads – we have the finance to expand, but I know I can’t do everything. I need to choose one direction. Do I go purely retail ? Or focus on corporatewear? Or expand as a fashion brand? The problem with expanding as a fashion brand is that then we become a slave to’ season’. And I’m a bit too anarchic for that’.

Watch this space to see which direction Gresham heads in next…

The evening was also memorable for the amazing venue. Silo is a restaurant, bakery and coffee house specialising in pre-industrial sustainable food, and is completely zero waste. Next time you’re in Brighton, drop in.


Men: guide to the new season

Last week I had the pleasure of talking to John, co-founder of Badger Clothing on Bond Street in Brighton. We talked about what’s hot for men for spring/summer 2015 and the key new pieces and brands he’s got in store.

One of the key trends for women Badger_Ben Sherman 1also holds true for the guys – the dominance of denim.   And yes – you can wear double denim, provided you vary the colours, washes and textures. But what about fit ? John says, ‘We’re still seeing fitted jeans for men, but not quite so skinny.   Levi’s, in particular, are having a real resurgence – they have woken up to the pressure from the premium denim market and have introduce interesting new cuts and fits’.

Colour and fun are also key, Another good look for the new season is the emergence of the printed shirt. John: ‘We’re seeing lots more fun and colour for spring/summer. Our John Smedley bright pink polo shirts and knitwear are flying off the shelves. Ben Sherman have introduced a Brighton rock-print shirt and a pier-print shirt – both with matching swim trunks – really fun and a great connection for us. Best of all, they have cross-generational appeal – a guy and his son came in the other day and bought the button-print shirt.’

Badger_Realm & Empire John also told me about some interesting new brands he’s got in stock. Nottingham-based Realm & Empire are a contemporary collection ‘inspired by original finds from the Imperial War Museum garment and print archives’. Each piece has authentic detailing and its own back story. The collection includes merino waffle knitwear, ‘Newton stripe’ t-shirts and ‘officer’ shirts.

What about footwear ? John tells me that classic American brand Bass is selling well, particularly the loafers (penny or tassel) in black or brown. He adds ‘Sanders desert boots, which are still made in Northampton, are also doing well, along with their brogues.’

I asked John what key pieces the well-dressed man should invest in, in terms of his casual wardrobe: ‘Our core products are always a good bet – polo shirts, jeans and chinos, and we have a variety of options depending on budget. For this spring I would also buy the Levi’s dark denim shirt, perhaps a Smedley knit in a bright pink or blue, some J Lindbergh chinos or some Scotch and Soda jeans. The beauty of our casual wear is it’s all interchangeable, so it’s really easy to create a complete wardrobe.’

Badger_John Smedley

Sussex guys – get down to Badger and check it out. And tell John I sent you….

Badger Clothing, 25-26 Bond Street, Brighton BN1 1RD

Twitter: @BadgerClothing




Look sharp, gentlemen !

This is an edited version of my column in Platinum Business Magazine, January 2015

Designer Pierre Cardin once said, ‘I can go all over the world with just three outfits: a blue blazer and grey flannel pants, a grey flannel suit, and black tie.’  All are, of course, variations on the suit, which became the ubiquitous ‘uniform’ for many men in the twentieth century.

The suit as we know it today began to take shape at the end of the 19th century, when riding jackets and waistcoats became shorter to accommodate city dressing, and darker colours began to dominate.  By the end of the 1930s, the three-piece suit (jacket, trousers and waistcoat) had become the accepted daily wear of office workers in Britain.  This hasn’t altered much, and remains the basis of the modern suit.

The twenty first century is arguably more casual, and this relaxed approach has crept into suit wearing too.  So many men wear badly fitting, scruffy suits – I’m sure Mr Cardin would despair.  This is ironic, given the fact that men take more care about how they look and recognise that their clothes are a vital aspect of their ‘brand’.

Let’s get back to looking sharp, gentlemen.  In this article, I am going to remind you what to consider when buying a suit, the key elements and the most common mistakes. My aim isn’t to encourage you to instantly revamp your wardrobe, but inspire you to invest in it.

Cut, cloth and colour

The cut is the basic pattern regarded as the standard by tailors and manufacturers.  It is better to buy a well cut suit in a lesser fabric than vice versa. Above all, the cut should look ‘natural’, allowing movement and suiting your measurements.

A medium weight cloth (12-13 ounces) is sensible for a suit you can wear most of the year.  A tailor will advise choosing a cloth as heavy as you can bear as it hangs better, but keep your personal preferences and purpose in mind.  Wool is by far the best cloth for suits.  The ‘super number’, as in ‘super 150’, denotes the fineness of the individual fibres (much like the thread count in sheets).

Many men choose traditional colours: blues and greys.   Think of building your suit wardrobe – start with the basics in block (plain) colour then move on to different textures and patterns.

Common mistakes

The most common mistake is poor fit, with many men opting for jackets and trousers that are too big.  Is this because our obsession with ‘comfort’ has crept into our psyches to such an extent that everyone automatically goes up a size or two?  Know your true size, and stick to it!  Remember the tailor’s mantra: balance and harmony are the keys to a well-fitting suit that allows the wearer to look ‘natural’.

Keep in mind that a good wardrobe (with the suit as a central element) is built over a number of years – a bit like decorating your house or building your business.  It is a personal process and should result in a style that is uniquely yours.