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History of Men's Fashions by NJS


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#1 Sator

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Posted 17 April 2009 - 11:00 PM

Ever since the French Revolution, the well dressed man has striven to emulated the ideal of the well dressed English gentleman. One of the leading Parisian shoemakers is called John Lobb, another French maker J.M. Weston. The Hungarian maker Vass calls one of its models the Old English. The Italians hanker after the Romantic ideal of "lo stilo Inglese". Everywhere I looked in the Ralph Lauren store on Madison Avenue the place seemed to be decorated wih cricket bats and polo boots. The Romantic ideal of the English gentleman lives on.

However, most of the books written by self-professed Anglophiles have curiously been written by foreigners. Bernhard Roetzel is German. Alan Flusser is American. So when you get the authentic English perspective written by an Englishman, it is cause for celebration.

The title of the book is somewhat misleading for the dress etiquette protocols and traditions outlined within it remain largely of relevance today. I must confess, that while very little of the content of these dress protocols were in any way foreign to me, it came as a surprise to see them so full and engagingly articulated, without once seeming prescriptive in an old fashioned authoritarian way. Rather, the tone of the writing is engaging, the language clear, readable and informative. Above all, the content is carefully researched.

Even things such as Levee court and diplomatic dress are decribed here - I thought I would never see such a thing written in this day and age, but there it is. Particularly impressive is, for example, the insistance in using the expression <i><b>formal</b></i> morning dress. Indeed, earlier in the nineteenth century, morning dress encompassed quite informal forms of day time dress and so within it there were gradations of formality. These days, we tend to use the expression "morning dress" as a synonym for formal daywear, but this was not always so. A good example of the remarkable attention to detail includes a contemporary source of lemon chamois dress gloves for morning wear. Where NJS dug that one up from, heaven knows, for that is precisely the sort of thing that the great dandy Count D'Orsay was once described as sporting. Not only that, but charming things such as tatersall check waistcoats for country wear, and even correct hunting frock coats (in hunter's pink) are described for wear in their correct context.

One point that is particularly worthy of praise is that NJS also gives us the correct term "reefer jacket" for the double breasted, blue serge jacket with gilt buttons that has latterly ursurped the name of "blazer". Mercifully, he steers the reader away from the stereotypical colonial look of the blue reefer worn with grey flannel trousers. Instead, he insists on the proper nautical and sporting combination with white ducks or flannels. Perhaps for future editions he will challenge the Americanism that has taken hold of calling reefers, "blazers".

Another authentically English touch is the clear distinction between country and city wear. This is taken to traditionalist extremes to the point that the old fashioned idea is revived that sporting a breast pocket handkerchief with anything but country and casual wear is naff. I had thought this idea died in the Victorian era, for this was the reason that frock coats and dress coats used to made without a breast pocket - a feature that was thought fit only for sporting and country garments. In the Victorian era that meant only lounge and morning coats had them - the latter being a type of sports coat for riding. Once these two garments started to be worn in town, so too did the breast pocket remain adorned with a handkerchief. Next, evening dress ('tail') coats started to be made up with the welted chest pocket to display a handkerchief.

Perhaps of greatest note of all, is the quiet debunking of a few oddities that have been widely recommended on American internet clothing fora. The first of these is the widespread recommendation to wear brown, rather than black, shoes with a city lounge. The second is the prescription to have the coat sleeves short enough to show 1/2" of shirt sleeve, which NJS suggests is an Americanism. Curiously, Roetzel also recommends this. Although it is often claimed that this is "traditional", in all the many tailoring and cutting texts I have seen published over the last 170 or so years, never once have I seen it recommended that the sleeves be finished like this. Nor can I find this in old etiquette books. Rather than inventing fictitious "traditions" to support his case, NJS tells us that the coat sleeve length should be finished to taste - a recommendation I can find textual support for in older texts. It is typical of NJS that he mentions such revolutionary concepts that upset the apple cart of internet convention so quietly, almost as an aside, unannounced by fanfare, and unadored by rhetoric.

One surprising compromise to modernity is, however, the rather easy acceptance of city lounges in checks and plaids. In some conservative British circles this still reputedly remains cause for the offending employee to be sent home to be told to return after changing into more "appropriate" attire, or else for the wearer to be subjected to snide comments such as "off to the country, are we?" It is indeed unfortunate that Americans and Italians all love to wear "British" style Prince of Wales check lounges with their brown shoes in the city. With the exception perhaps of the acceptance of checks in town, NJS gives us a much more authentically English view of the English dress heritage, which from St Petersberg to Tokyo, has become the international lingua franca of the well dressed modern man. For dress is a language that always speaks volumes about its wearer.

The book may be purchased here or by contacting NJS directly:

http://www.amazon.co...57377702&sr=8-1

#2 NJS

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Posted 17 April 2009 - 11:42 PM

Dear Sator,
This is most generous and I thank you again. Out of interest, my father has generally owned a pair of lemon chamois gloves but he does not confine their use to formal occasions and I recall a neighbour in my childhood who generally carried a pair. George Sanders in his Saint films (true to the books) often carried them too. I think that they are incredibly smart (and what an abused word that is!!). You are absolutely right about the main title; I am afraid that the publisher decided upon it and refused to budge, despite the fact that, although there are historical references, it is not a full history and the book is intended to record some information that is still relevant but being neglected.
best,
NJS
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#3 Sator

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Posted 18 April 2009 - 11:11 PM

I am afraid that the publisher decided upon it</b> and refused to budge, despite the fact that, although there are historical references, it is not a full history and the book is intended to record some information that is still relevant but being neglected.



I should have known as much.

#4 NJS

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 02:16 AM

These days (and maybe for a long time) publishers seem to take the view that there is so much material that might be published that those who have their material published should just be thankful for that. They have something of a point - but they ought to listen to authors on such fundamental things as titles. But there we are!
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#5 Sator

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 03:55 PM

Now that we've clarified the source of the title, the first question I'd like to ask is how you came to question the half inch of shirtsleeve doctrine. Your book is well researched and I sensed that you had made some enquiries before putting your thoughts to print.

This is actually a very important question as it does relate to objective matters of fitting a coat on a client: how long should the coat sleeves be? How much shirt sleeve, if any, should show? And why?

#6 Sator

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 04:31 PM

Here, BTW, is a photo taken around 1949 of the cutting rooms at Bailey and Weatherill, a West-End tailoring house:



Notice that the shirts sleeves of only one cutter are clearly visible - and he has his arms stretched forwards and slightly bent so as to cause this, even if his cuffs were finished to show no shirt sleeve when his arms are at his side.

#7 Sator

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 04:49 PM

Here is one of the most comprehensive discussions on the topic I have been able to dig up anywhere:



It comes from Hamza Simrick's book The Art of Tailoring, 1983. Simrick studied with Jean d'Arroux in Paris and later at the Tailor and Cutter Academy in London. He worked on Savile Row for 12 years before heading a CMT company.

#8 Sator

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 05:19 PM

The other thing that troubles me is what this "half inch Rule" is meant to signify. Does it mean that the fitter should finish the cuffs so that 1/2" of shirt sleeve shows when the client has his arms to his sides? Or, does it mean that the cuffs should be finished with sufficient length that when the wearer moves his arms eg to shake someone's hand, no more than 1/2" of shirt sleeve ever shows?

What does it mean? And if it is such an Immutable Rule has existed since Time Immemorial stipulating precisely 1/2" of sleeve must show, why has nobody published on it in the last 200 years except the previously mentioned Flusser and Roetzel?

Here, at last, is an older American text that deals with some of my questions in more detail:



It comes from Right Dress by Bert Bacharach, New York, 1955. He states that 1/4" is correct. So where on earth did this prescriptive to show a full 1/2" appear?

#9 Sator

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 06:04 PM

After going through my library, I also managed to dig up the following quotation:



It comes from:



You would have thought someone in that position would have known something.

I guess if this were an episode of Mythbusters the summary statement would go like this:

It is often asserted that it is an immutable Rule of "timeless men's style" that a man should have his coat sleeves finished so as to show half an inch of shirt sleeve. The precise point at which the shirt sleeve should show is not stipulated eg with arms hanging at side, arms outstretched etc.

The following textbooks on cutting and tailoring were examined to determine if any publications over the last 150 years corroborate the above statement. Older textbooks were included due to the claim that the Rule is grounded in tradition. Textbooks that were reviewed included those published in Britain, America as well as the German language:

http://www.cutterand...hp?showtopic=11

http://www.cutterand...hp?showtopic=12

http://www.cutterand...php?showtopic=5

http://www.cutterand...php?showtopic=4

None of these textbooks corroborated the stated Rule.

The only two writers to mention the half inch Rule were Bernhardt Roetzel and Alan Flusser. Both writers have published over the last 15 years and neither are tailors. The author NJS states that the Rule is American in origin and not traditionally adhered to in Britain. However, older American writers also either fail to mention anything on this or else state that 1/4" shirt sleeve is correct.

Although two published authors were found to corroborate the Rule, the usual claim is that the Rule is somehow "timeless" or "traditional". The absence of books older than about 15 years that could corroborate the Rule, while just as many other authoratative sources contradict it means that:



#10 NJS

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 01:42 AM

I did a reply to this but then promptly lost it! The only authority cited in my book is C Northcote Parkinson who was just a well-informed satirist. I say 'modern rule' but I mean 'modern practice' and even 'modern American practice' - as recorded in the modern books that you mention. My own practice of showing no cuff derives from my first bespoke suit by Davies & Son. The cutter, Mr Matthews and I discussed this and he said that his American clients liked to show 1/2 an inch of shirt cuff but that it was up to me. At the first fitting the coat sleeves decided their own length by the way that they fell - to show nothing. Maybe George or Thomas Davies had stepped back from beyond the veil to supervise the process, because there is a decided scent of Georgiana about the cuffs on those suits. Moreover, can one imagine Brummell shooting his shirt cuffs - any more than sporting a pocket square in town? Probably not!
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#11 Sator

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 10:58 AM

Moreover, can one imagine Brummell shooting his shirt cuffs - any more than sporting a pocket square in town? Probably not!


Well, Brummell didn't have a chest pocket to put one in, even if he wanted to! :)

#12 NJS

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 09:38 PM

Well, Brummell didn't have a chest pocket to put one in, even if he wanted to! :)


This is true - have you ever done any research into the evolution of the breast pocket and its - Ahem! - purpose?
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#13 pvpatty

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 10:57 PM

I've finally ordered a copy of this book after deciding to get one months ago and I am sure that it shall not disappoint.
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#14 NJS

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 04:32 AM

I've finally ordered a copy of this book after deciding to get one months ago and I am sure that it shall not disappoint.



I hope that it won't but do post up your views and criticisms by all means. I have already adjusted the text for any reprint on the basis of suggestions made here and elsewhere. All gratefully received!!
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#15 Le vieux homme

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:47 AM

Here is one of the most comprehensive discussions on the topic I have been able to dig up anywhere:

<img src="http://img17.imagesh...ngthsimrick.jpg[/img]

It comes from Hamza Simrick's book The Art of Tailoring, 1983. Simrick studied with Jean d'Arroux in Paris and later at the Tailor and Cutter Academy in London. He worked on Savile Row for 12 years before heading a CMT company.



Mr Simrick runs a shop not too far from where I live; do you think it would be worth a visit?

#16 Sator

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 09:54 AM

Mr Simrick runs a shop not too far from where I live; do you think it would be worth a visit?



All I can tell you is that the cutting system he outlines in his book is just the Tailor and Cutter Academy system found in Archibald Whife's The Modern Tailor, Outfitter and Clothier. It is a very good system.

#17 NJS

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 03:45 AM

Here is a Spy cartoon that was cut from my book on the subject of cuffs (it is of Harold John Tennant MP):-

Attached Files


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#18 Chris Kavanaugh

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 08:08 AM

First, I owe NJS an apology. His book was mentioned in another forum.

Individuals who should have, could have been more aarticulate were not.

A tribal frenzy worthy of Lord of the Flies insued.

Mea Culpa

My own thoughts on sleeve length?

If braces are meant to be unseen, save for perhaps a brief sunrise/sunset of colour

then I am thinking perhaps the same starategy may apply to cuffs, and the display of cufflinks.

Outerwear is after all descended, and still properly a devise of protection against the elements.

The somewhat relaxed venue of a dinner table with an unbuttoned jacket showing a bit of brace

and cufflink seems more reasoned?




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