The story of a shoe – Roger Vivier and Yves St Laurent

posted in: History of fashion | 2
YSL Mondrian dresses worn with Roger Vivier Pilgrim shoes
YSL Mondrian dresses, worn with the correct shoes

I am sure you would agree that this iconic look is not just about the dress – the dress is set off by the look as a whole. What I find interesting about the Mondrian dress – the star of Yves St Laurent’s 1964 collection – is that the dress is hardly accessorised at all. No jewellery, not even a watch. No stockings. No hats or gloves or nail varnish. The hair styles are of the time, but low-key rather than showy. Neat, tidy styles with straight fringes – short or chignonned, and off the collar. The only item these ladies are obviously wearing with their dresses are shoes. They all wear the same style.

These shoes were designed, in collaboration with YSL, by Roger Vivier, one of the most famous footwear designers of all time. This shoe co-ordinated perfectly with the dress – black patent leather with a square “Pilgrim”buckle, low heeled, almost flat and low-cut at the front to make the legs appear as oblong columns. It was so simple.

Design for a Pilgrim shoe, Roger Vivier, 1964
Roger Vivier shoe design 1964
1960s YSL tights ad
Advert for YSL tights

This shoe helped to define the 60s. The typical dress was fairly straight and geometric, finishing at the knee or higher, with a strong emphasis on the legs. The shoes were neat and elegant but a bit more experimental than hitherto, and boots began to play a big role for the first time. Roger Vivier’s desirable stilettos gave way to his even more desirable court shoes. Here is Jackie in hers.

Jackie Kennedy wearing Roger Vivier shoes 1960s
Jackie Kennedy wearing Roger Vivier

And Catherine, who wore them in Belle de Jour (1967).

Catherine Deneuve in Roger Vivier
Catherine Deneuve in Roger Vivier

These days young women seem to be obsessed with shoes which have become the all important accessory, almost more important than the outfit itself. I wish one of the design companies such as Zara, Office, Topshop or Boden would do some 60s shoes, especially a low-cost version of the Pilgrim shoe – preferably in some good colours as well as shiny black.


A commissioned post – Culture Vulture for 24 housing

posted in: Inspiration | 5

Jon Land is the Editor of – one of the must-reads in the Housing industry – and he has asked me to write about my “passions outside housing” for the Culture Vulture spot. Here are some of the standard questions:

  • what was the first record you bought?

  • what’s the book you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to?

  • favourite TV show?

  • what car do you drive?

  • what do you listen to on the way to work?

  • what sports teams do you support?

I feel embarrassed by this list. I don’t have a car, I barely watch TV, I have little interest in sport.

Here are the questions I would prefer

What art and artists do you most admire?

I am a member at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate, and I go to most of the exhibitions. The Matisse cut-outs was stunning and joyful.

Matisse at Tate Modern, in front of Matisse arrangement, with baby carrier
Matisse at the Tate Modern

I also loved the David Bowie, and the Club to Catwalk (1980s fashion) exhibition. My favourite artists would start with Picasso, and many 20th century greats – Monet, Matisse, Warhol, Mondrian, Gauguin, Dali, Freud, Van Gogh, Bacon, Rothko, Hockney, Henry Moore. I also love 15th century religious art, and became interested in Aboriginal art recently – I am open to lots of different art. I know something of their work from going to exhibitions and listening intently for an hour or so to the headphone commentary. It is well worth paying extra – I learn a lot this way and really get to appreciate the work. I find human endeavour and creativity astonishing and overwhelming, and believe our free museums and galleries are second to none. Also, in my view, we do art exhibitions really, really well in the UK.

What plays have you most enjoyed?

My bucket list includes seeing all the Shakespeare plays so we go to the Globe a lot – the last play we saw there was Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar at the Globe
Julius Caesar at the Globe

We see most plays at the Jerwood Theatre upstairs, and the Young Vic. The Jerwood have plays by new writers which are always exciting and interesting and sometimes brilliant. The Young Vic has some modern classics like The Dolls House, A Street Car named Desire and Glass Menagerie, and modern writing too. Live theatre is exciting and I especially enjoy being in a small space where you can really see and hear the actors, and the other audience members. On Saturday we saw To Kill a Mockingbird at Regent’s Park.  In terms of TV series I thought Breaking Bad was wonderful, enjoyed Game of Thrones and Mad Man, and liked the Scando-crime series.

Any books you have read that you would recommend?

I read the FT on the bus and usually tweet about housing issues first thing. Novels don’t normally get a look in unless I am on holiday. Recently I read, and loved, Susan Hill, Strange Meeting; Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves; Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies;  Nicole Mary Kelby, The Pink Suit; and Donna Tart, The Goldfinch.

The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch

Who are you favourite dress designers and styles?

For me clothes are more important than sport, music, cars and watching TV. I really admire Vionet, Chanel, Dior, Schiaperelli, Vivienne Westwood, McQueen, Cardin, Yves St Laurent. I like the clothes of the 1940s and 1970s for wearing, but for pure style and experimentation it would the 60s. I am a keen seamstress and have a blog called Fit and Flare, ( What I find amazing is that you can still buy, for a few pounds, designer patterns from the past and make up the outfits to fit you. I have made a Chanel-style jacket, and an YSL dress, and have my eye on this 1966 Nina Ricci pattern at the moment.

Vogue 1650
Vogue 1650

Matisse printing experiments

After the marvellous Matisse exhibition I was keen to do something interesting. Here is one of the post cards I bought, showing Matisse using cut outs of sea-weed or coral type structures along with blue pomegranates, the mermaid and the parakeet (which looks more like a budgie to me).

Matisse,The Parakeet and the Mermaid 1952, Post card
The Parakeet and the Mermaid 1952 (PC)

I had in mind using heat transfer inks on cuts out pieces of paper and printing them at home using my iron. Recently, in Spain, I had got up close with a pomegranate tree.

Matisse painted (or got his assistant to paint) large sheets of paper, which he then cut out. As my heat transfer ink was quite expensive I  cut the paper first and then painted it. I used three varieties of red/pink, two greens, three blues, the yellow and mixed an orange. They looked quite nice, if rather subdued, drying off on plastic. With this technique the printed colours are much bolder.

Painting and drying the cut outs
Painting and drying the cut outs

But when I heat transferred them to a piece of polyester I found the results rather disappointing. Two of the pinks were very pale, whereas the blues and greens were robust. But with the deeper colours the edges were not sharp but bled quite badly even with the driest iron. So here is the result. I don’t feel this is a satisfactory outcome (I had been planning to make a Christening robe for Kit) so I will not use this fabric. I bought the paints on the internet from a company called Colourist. Compared to the brand I used at college (where the inks were not so watery) they are very inferior and I would not recommend them. I will have to do some more investigation.

Polyester printed with Matisse like cut outs
Fabric printed with cut outs

I  also kept the paper I used to protect my surfaces. I may try printing with these as the more abstract look maybe better than hoping for bright colours and sharp edges.

white paper with painted shadows from heat transfer inks
“waste” paper

I discovered many examples of designers using Matisse as an inspiration but here is a favourite, from Yves St Laurent. I think applique may be the only way to go to get the sharpness of line and strength of colour required, but I will persist.

YSL 1980/81 A/W collection
YSL 1980/81 A/W collection

Furthermore, while I was on holiday, my “Fabric Swap Buddy” Amandine was busy making me a piece of printed cloth. She bought a nice, heavy linen/viscose fabric in a neutral beige. She writes “I wanted a simple and minimalist design with a combo of blue and orange. Nothing too extravagant. Something that can be worn. I can picture it well as a Zinnia skirt from Colette Patterns.” This particular pattern has a full skirt gathered or pleated onto a waistband, with pockets. I think that is a nice suggestion and maybe something I will produce over the next few weeks. Here is the cloth.

Beige fabric with blue and orange printed motifs
Linen/Viscose mix printed by Amandine

Thank you Amandine of – nice work!

Book review: The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby

posted in: History of fashion | 4

I read a review of this book on Ooobop’s blog, and decided it would be a nice holiday read. It was! Who would have thought of basing a whole novel around the topic of making a ladies suit, but what a suit, and for what an occasion – Jackie Kennedy wore this one the day her husband was shot in Dallas on 22 November, 1963. The suit, complete with blood stains, has since been boxed and stored for the nation.

Jackie Kennedy, following the assignation of JFK
With Robert Kennedy, after the assignation

Amazon reviewers, wanting more on the topic of Mrs JFK or the assassination found it a bit of an odd book, but if you enjoy making clothes this is a luxurious read.

It is a work of fiction, based on fact. It covers the story of Kate, an Irish immigrant tailor, who works for Chez Ninon in New York. They buy couture in Paris and then copy it in the States. Such was the feeling of the American public (and the garment workers union) against foreign imports that Jackie Kennedy was slated for buying the work of French designers. So the copying was actually endorsed – wearing American made clothes with a Chez Ninon tag – was a political necessity. The suit on the left, shown here in a darker shade, is the one Jackie ordered.

four suits by Chanel, 1960s
Chanel Suits photographed in Paris

So this book tells the story of how the toile for this suit came from Chanel, the fabric from Linton tweeds in England (a raspberry boucle) and all the trimmings from Chanel herself. The toile is not just the pattern – it is made up so that the exact “line by line” construction method can be followed exactly. The suit is made entirely by hand, and in this case was fitted on a body double. The story of the hat is also included.

Jackie Kennedy in the Pink Chez Ninon suit
Jackie Kennedy in the Pink Chez Ninon suit

The book is also a love story of how the tailor falls for a butcher so you get quite a lot of information on cuts of meat which I could have done without, but otherwise a fine book.

I really enjoyed reading about the other “knock offs” that Chez Ninon made for the First Lady and others. Here she is in a copy of a Nina Ricci evening gown from 1961. The original was made up in brown and yellow, but JK’s version was made up in black instead.

JK in 1961 copy of Nina Ricci dress
JK in 1961 copy of Nina Ricci dress

Kelby also mentions a further Chez Ninon number worn by Jackie on Valentine’s Day in 1962, this time a red two-piece dress

JK 5 December 1961 in Red Chez Ninon dress
JK 5 December 1961 in Red Chez Ninon dress

A French site elaborates some of Jackie’s couture choices. It’s a good book, which I recommend. But mostly I recommend having a good look at Jackie’s choices – she really understood what suited her and rarely got it wrong. I think she loved the Pink Suit, and felt really good in it. Here is another picture of her in pink – isn’t that the most perfect shade – set off by the yellow sofa and white windows? This picture shows that a great fit and the most flattering neckline, with a good shade of lipstick draws you attention to her fascinating face with her widely spaced eyes. It is almost irrelevant that she is also accessorised with a President.

JK in Pink dress and Pearls. With JFK
JK in Pink dress and Pearls. With JFK

Sevilla – my Spanish inspiration

posted in: Uncategorized | 5

We have just got back from our holiday in quintessentially Andalusian Seville. It was hot, beautiful, sensuous and inspirational. Here were the things which I loved the best.

  • The ham, Jamón Ibérico – thinly sliced, cured ham from free-range acorn-fed pigs – is the local speciality, eaten by most people even the poorest, often. We liked it best on toast with a thick layer of fresh, raw tomato sauce in between, sitting in an old-style tapas bar
  • The smell of the jasmine in the garden late in the evening and very early in the morning
  • The traditions of the area – bullfighting, Spanish guitar music and flamenco, and the colourful costumes associated with it; the formal clothes the children still wear for best; the colourful fans and Sombrero Sevillano; the beautiful embroidery and lace work
  • Perfect weather, really great food and very friendly people. Highly recommended for a holiday.

For a dressmaker, lots of inspiration, especially the Flamenco, the Bullfight and the Hats. I am not sure how these images and experiences will come out in my work, but I am in love with them all.

Old Photograph of flamenco dancers
Old Photograph of flamenco dancers
Matador "suit of light", Museum of Bullfighting, Seville
Matador “suit of light”, Museum of Bullfighting
Seville Hats
Seville Hats

Home Dressmaking by Agnes M. Miall

posted in: History of fashion | 6
1944 Pitman book on Home Dressmaking by Agnes M. Miall
1944 Pitman book on Home Dressmaking

I bought this book in a second hand shop in Clitheroe. As its age spots and dilapidated cover attest, it has been around since 1944. If you ever see old dressmaking books do buy them. Much of the advice is just as valuable today as when it was written. But this book, published as it was during the Second World War, has a number of dated attitudes, which I will share with you. You will enjoy the advice a great deal more if you read it out loud in a “Mrs Chomondley-Warner” voice – or as if you are an old BBC type announcer.

“Home dressmaking is an enthralling hobby and a creative one. It satisfies the two-fold, deep-rooted feminine craving – to make something and to add to the beauty of the world. This craft is a personal service – and women are at their best in personal service. If you can make a cushion cover – and who can’t? – then, given a little courage and patience, you can make a dress. Still more easily can you make an undie.”

1940s woman sewing
Drugget, footstool and WPB

Once you have purchased your drugget and rearranged your bedroom thus, you can begin to make a dress or an undie, or a present for one’s mother or sister.

Two pictures from 1940s sewing book on how to create a sewing space
How to convert your bedroom

The first advice given, at the start of Chapter 2  Does Your Pattern Fit suggests you measure the pattern against you (or your measurements). Hurrah. Excellent advice. And as a debate on Mrs Mole’s marvellous blog attests something a number of young “sewists” fail to realise. She writes hilariously and gives amazingly useful fitting advice. Agnes tells us that professional dressmakers “take about twenty measurements, but that would muddle the home needlewoman” and suggests just ten. It gives simple and effective advice on how to alter a pattern – to my mind the most important aspect of making a garment. I can’t understand why anyone would want to make a garment with minimal chance of fitting. My figure is not extreme in any respect but I would normally, to achieve a good fit

  • alter cross chest width
  • back chest width
  • tighten neckline
  • lengthen torso
  • on sleeveless dress drop arm hole
  • shorten sleeve
  • narrow wrist
  • narrow waist
  • increase hips
  • shorten length.

Chapter 3 Cutting out made easy suggests you make a “bracelet pincushion”, and a second one, “which hangs round the neck to just below the bust” made from “Cheap flannel, wound into a roll then covered with ribbon ‘cracker-fashion'”. While I have the former I have never seen the latter, but maybe it’s worth a try.

Tomato pin cushion worn on wrist
“Bracelet” pin cushion

The rest of this chapter gives sensible cutting out advice and provides suggestions on how to save fabric – “cutting to save coupons”. During the war when fabric was hard to come by ideas like facing the hem, or reducing the fullness in a nightie made sense. Chapter 4 takes us on to Tacking and Marking, advising us of the

“Dressmakers jingle” which goes “‘Well basted, No time wasted’, and these five pithy words should be memorised by every woman who makes her own clothes and is inclined to think that “tacking is really too much fag”‘.

Well, there you go. I happen to agree although sometimes marking with washable felt tip, and basting with pins is OK. I often find it “too much fag””, but always regret skipping marking and basting. I completely endorse her suggestion of marking the centre front on most garments as it is very useful in fitting, ensuring symmetry and keeping everything on grain. Agnes usefully gives us four tacking stitches

  • tailors tacks
  • even tacking (where there is strain on the join)
  • uneven tacking (when there is no strain)
  • diagonal tacking (used for holding interlinings)

A further (war time) tip offered is to save your used tacking treads on a used cotton reel and reuse them!

1940s lady fitting a garment on a manequin
Fitting on the stand


Chapter 5 covers A perfect fit, where Agnes suggests that “Home-made frocks look far better because they have been moulded to the person who will wear them. They also wear infinitely longer. No doubt this is because a perfect fit means a minimum of strain on the stuff.” I have found the same thing. In terms of fitting she advises that “all wrinkles, sags, and strains are caused by the weave hanging crooked” at the CF, CB, bust or hips – sage advice that makes fitting more straightforward. Again she has some golden rules that I find helpful and, in my experience, true.

  • most dresses should fit closely from the bust-line upwards (getting a good fit at the shoulder and necklines is very important!)
  • get the back length right to avoid pooling of fabric at the waist line, or the dress riding up
  • a badly fitting sleeve is normally caused by poor sleeve insertion “a sleeve that puff up at the top of the armhole, instead of joining the shoulder nice and flat, is one of the commonest home-dressmaker faults – and one of the worst”.

Hear hear Agnes!

Everyone can wear white, right?

In addressing my winter wardrobe needs I decided I would make up  Vogue 2031 Geoffrey Beene’s fitted 1988 “Career” dress, probably in a grey woolen fabric. But first I wanted to make up a toile that I could get some wear out of, so I made it up in a piece of white cotton, with a little stretch. This good quality fabric came from Simply Fabrics in Brixton. I would certainly line the final version but this toile one might just get the facing treatment, as intended in the pattern. White is traditionally a summer colour and this weight could certainly work for warm days, but I am thinking of it as something that could be worn in cooler weather, perhaps with a coloured or deeper neutral jacket.

Here is the dress basted together so I could see if my adjustments  were correct.

Fitting Vogue 2031
Fitting Vogue 2031

While I always do my fittings wearing jewellery, I failed to zip it up properly!

However you will see that the fit is more or less fine. The dress fits nicely around the torso and waist, with sufficient flare over the hips. The princess lines come across the bust in the way that they should, the dress is fitted while skimming the curves. The pockets and pleats are pleasing and once the neck and cap sleeves are finished it will probably frame the face well. I am actually wondering, looking at the photos whether I should bring the neckline up a little (as 5/8″ will be taken up in the facings) in the final version. Also the dress is unhemmed so it will be around 3″ shorter and should come to the knee, or thereabouts.

2014-08-28 09.51.19The sleeves are self-faced and the zip is sewn in by hand. I hope to finish this dress when I get back from holiday. So making this dress carefully, always washing my hands and keeping the pieces folded in a bag, made me think about making white clothes.

Everyone can wear white, but it has to be the right white. Pure, brilliant white suits cool complexions, but doesn’t look nice on warmer skins that need some yellow to complement the golden tones in the skin, eyes and hair. For people with muted colouring your white is a little bit softer – with a touch of grey or other softening element. Effectively we are only looking at three versions of white – people with deep, cool and bright colouring can wear pure, clear white, and do not look good in the creamy whites. It is important to check this when choosing patterns on a white background as a creamy colour scheme can make you look a bit “muddy”.

Bright or Muted?

Bright and muted white
Bright and muted white

Cool or Warm?

Cool and warm white
Cool and warm white

On its own white is said to be  empathetic and approachable, but also pure and innocent which is why it is invariably chosen for babywear, and weddings. Although it can be seen as cold, and even a bit mystical, all-white oufits can look classy and smart. I prefer to wear a darker shoe and accessories, even with wedding wear. White looks marvellous with all the colours in your wardrobe, so long as it is right white – especially for warmer skinned people.

If you want to look powerful put it with black, or your darkest neutral. This is the most authoritative look anyone can choose to wear. Black and white is an assertive look – the colours of power and intimidation. Not for nothing are police and prison officers, and judges, dressed in black and white.  For me, without black in my palette, this would be white with dark brown, or navy. But white for work looks good combined with grey, beige, lighter browns and blue greys. White is such a versatile colour. While it can show the dirt very easily with care it can be worn as a dress for work. Don’t restrict it to summer holiday dresses or swimsuits. Consider a nice white, cream or off-white jacket to wear with business dress in the warmer months, especially if your colouring is light.



Men’s style – what not to wear at work

posted in: Style advice | 13

Warning! This is a very opinionated post. I am suggesting rules on what men should never wear to work. You can say “mind your own business”, or “what does she know?”.  If you worked really hard you maybe able to show me an acceptable, stylish version of each of these “rules” being broken. But Fit and Flare is meant to make you laugh, think and question rather than requiring obedience. You choose what you wear. All I can do is indicate how it might be received.

A short sleeved shirt (and especially not with a tie)

short sleeved shirt with tie
Short sleeves with a tie

This man is an actor in the satirical programme The Office (US version), but wearing a short-sleeved shirt with a tie is far from funny. You can see this look in offices around the country – especially in finance teams. I really hate short sleeved shirts on men in the workplace. I associate this look with men in the housebuilding industry who live in the “home counties” and have non-working wives who pack for them. What is the point? To stop your cuffs dangling in industrial processes? To keep cool when the AirCon fails? I find it faintly indecent, especially when the man has hairy arms. I will admit short sleeves, perhaps in linen, look fine at weekends and on holiday (without a tie, obviously), and I accept that T shirts and Polo shirts have short sleeves. But for work, in my opinion, shirts should not only have full length sleeves, but should also ideally have double (French) cuffs, with tasteful cufflinks (see below). If you really cannot stomach the double cuffs then single cuffs are fine. Another alternative, if it is summer, is that you can carefully fold up your long sleeves to make a short sleeve.

Man with long sleeves folded up to make short sleeve
Folded short sleeve

Wearing a suit that is too small, or too big

Why does someone as famous, rich and good looking as Daniel Craig wear a teeny-tiny suit? It is two sizes too small. The shoulders, torso, sleeves are too tight, and it is also a little short. Believe me, wearing clothes that are too small for you doesn’t make you look slim. Skin tight clothes are not sexy – they make you look fatter than you are. And I have no idea why Daniel  felt the need to wear a waist coat. It is not adding anything except more bulk to under the poor solitary button. He can hardly be feeling the cold.

It is not a bad suit in itself although I would have put him in a lighter tie (green, blue or pink) given his generally light-cool look.

James Bond in a small suit
Your suit’s too small Daniel

But although a too-small suit is faintly ridiculous, a too-large one is clownish. What was he doing? He looks like he is wearing someone else’s clothes – a boy in a men’s sizing. Or perhaps he is dieter of the year and is wearing his “before” outfit. But no, this man is a serious sports commentator on US TV, and there is no explanation for this outfit at all, except that he enjoys lots of “room” in his trousers. The trousers would have hit the floor if he didn’t have his hands in his pockets to hitch them up. The colour and accessories are nice.

Man in over large suit
Your suit’s too big Keith

Getting a suit in the right size is not rocket science. Measure your chest, waist and leg length or ask the assistant to do it for you. Jackets and trousers are available in a variety of sizes and lengths off the peg. The most important place for the fit for a man is across the shoulders. Bear in mind that men with broad shoulders and an angular look need a different cut (Continental) to straight (English) and contoured (American) figures. Buy the shape that suits your shape. If the sleeves are too long then pay for an alteration.

Trousers that are too long or too short


man with black shoes and navy trousers that are too long
Trousers are too long

Wearing trousers that are too long is the look I see most often in the workplace. Men buy the longer leg believing themselves taller than they really are.  Then they just leave them, thinking they will make them look taller. Wrong. Baggy pants and pools of fabric at floor level just look silly, and actually emphasise your lack of stature. Buy the right size and have them taken up so that they break on your shoes in the proper way.

Sepia picture of men's shoes, socks and too short trousers
Too short (but increasingly fashionable)

Trousers that are too short is becoming a bit of a fashion statement. Women have been doing it for years (Capri pants, or 7/8 length). It can look OK so long as it is deliberate and paired with the right shoes, and no socks. If you are tall and your trousers are just short because that is how they come off the production line you will  look like an overgrown school boy, ie a bit sad. Get a long pair from a specialist outfitter if you are 6’6” or whatever.

Clunky shoes with a suit

Please. If you wear a suit for work wear a conservative pair of shoes with it. Brogues or Oxfords caps are nice. Laced up and elegant. Don’t wear a shoe that looks like a weekend walking shoe or anything remotely like sixth form wear from Tuff or Bata. Steer clear of square toes, elastic, slip ons, velcro, thick soles that protrude etc. Just keep it neat, tidy, polished and unobtrusive.

Black, elasticated sides, clumpy men's shoes
Clunky shoes


Anything grubby

Good grooming is essential. Dandruff, dirty clothes, unkempt, overlong hair, dirty finger nails, shoes that need attention, stains, unpressed pants, smelly jackets. No, no, no. Most men need their hair cutting every six weeks. Suits need taking to the dry cleaners after around 20 wears. If you have an outdoor jacket or coat that you travel in have it cleaned. If you have weekend jackets or outdoor wear that can’t go in the washing machine they will need dry cleaning too.

Columbo in an old mac
Dirty detective

Anything frayed

I know men hang on to their well loved items. Below is a shirt that my husband has had for at least 20 years. He won’t part with it. What can I do? But it must not be worn on formal occasions, and ideally just for gardening. Check you don’t have any wear and tear on your collar or cuffs. Pulls on your tie mean “dusty bin” please. Any holes or any shabbiness, shiny trousers or worn hems – just put them out with the rubbish – the charity shop doesn’t want them either!

Blue denim shirt with frayed collar
Badly frayed collar (and cuffs)

A matching set

How hard is it to match your tie with your shirt? Not that hard. Matching a tie with a shirt and a suit is about the only act of creativity allowed to men at work. Choosing the right colour, and matching patterns when relevant is what stylish dressing is all about. Make the choice so it expresses you personality. Personality that doesn’t come out of a box on a market stall, or from M&S. Therefore don’t buy, or give, a shirt and tie combo to your son, dad or partner. These items are just horrible. Imagine feeling obliged to wear one of these sets. Just say no. I suspect “gift sets” are made to appeal to mother’s who feel their son needs a bit of help. The ties are invariably made of Polyester as well, which brings me to my next rule.

Four shirt and tie sets
Matching sets

Never wear polyester work wear

This fabric is entirely unsuitable for suits, ties or jerseys. You are looking for wool, silk, cashmere, merino or cotton. End of. This suit is from Primark and only cost £35. It’s not funny. It will produce static, it will make you sweat and will be identified as cheap and nasty by everyone who sits near you.

Grey suit from Primark £35
Primark suit £35

Wearing a belt and shoes in different colours

This photograph is truly horrible. The trousers are too high in the waist, the shirt cuff looks stupid, the shoes are clunky and to top it all the shoes and belt don’t match. If you suit deep or brighter shades black accessories are great. Otherwise brown (deep for cooler colouring, yellow- or red-brown for warm) is better. You don’t need both. That way if you get dressed in the dark or a hurry you can be assured that your shoes and belt will match. And the buckle should not be obtrusive or clunky. Thank you.

Brown belt with black shoes
Brown belt with black shoes

A tie that is too long or too short

OK, this is a joke picture, but the schools round here are full of young people who make their ties ridiculously short as a rebellious statement against the wearing of school uniform. Many men get this wrong and I see versions of it daily. Your tie should end at about your waist, where you belt should be.

Your tie is too long
Your tie is too long

Doing up all the buttons on your suit jacket

Young men, and men who lack confidence do this a lot. They think well this jacket has two/three/four buttons – what are they here for but for doing up. Wrong! With a two button suit, just the top one. With a three the two top, or middle only. And in most settings you can undo the button when you sit down. With a dinner suit (tuxedo) or double-breasted keep it done up. The man below reminds you of  a hotel receptionist doesn’t he?

Grey suit with three buttons done up
Three buttons done up

Anything “amusing”

I absolutely hate the idea of socks, ties, cummerbunds (yes, really), bow ties, jumpers with something “novel” on them. The only thing funny about these items is that some people think they are meant to be worn. They are just a joke like the one in the Christmas cracker. Smile and put in the bin when you clear up on Boxing day. While, luckily, most men understand this, there are some men who wear these items thinking their kids will love them more. If you really want to wear your My little Pony socks, or a Dopey tie, you can wear them at weekends, but please don’t go out in them.

Which brings me to cuff links. I like a double cuff, even on women. I think they look distinguished and polished. But they are not that common. Men who wear them occasionally panic because they don’t have any cuff links. Except maybe a pair that say Hot and Cold and look like a tap. Or maybe rugby balls, or union jacks or  batman masks. These hateful items are given to the best man at your wedding or by work “mates” in the Secret Santa game. Also in this category are any items that crafty wives have loving made – pottery cufflinks or hand painted ties, and jumpers (as a rule). So if you want to wear a double-cuff shirt then you need to also buy some nice plain cuff links. In gold or silver to go with your colouring and watch. Or vintage can be nice. The silk knot type are OK at a push, as are homemade button ones. Here you sew together two very nice vintage or great quality pearl buttons, with a strong button thread and blanket stitch (like a loop for a hook and eye).

90% of cuff links are unacceptable
90% of cuff links are unacceptable
3 Christmas Novelty ties
Novelty ties

A plastic watch with a digital dial or similar

Oh my – who would wear one of these to work? Or even at weekends? You would be surprised – I see them most days. Adolescent, cheap and geeky – popular with IT teams and people who do retro. Wear a leather strap to match your shoes and belt (ie brown or black). Men have so few chances to make any style choices so a nice watch is good idea. You don’t need to know the time to the nearest tenth of a second, or a luminescent screen.

Black plastic digital watch
Plastic digital watch

Black – why do people love wearing it?

posted in: Colour Analysis | 3

Black is such a popular colour in the UK and most of Europe.

ladies in black
black uniforms

I think the main reasons are:

  • it’s slimming and everyone wants to look slimmer
  • it goes with all other blacks
  • it doesn’t show the dirt
  • it doesn’t look as cheap as other colours
  • it’s available with many items coming in black year after year
  • it doesn’t need much thought for people low on confidence
  • it is not a colour that makes you stand out unless you style it especially
  • it can be seen as somewhat rebellious for teenagers, artists, etc
  • it is seen as a sophisticated evening colour (men’s evening dress and the LBD)

Black is ultimate authority colour – it is seen as assertive, powerful and sophisticated. But equally it can be seen as oppressive and  menacing – Darth Vader, riot police, etc. Wearing it in an all-black outfit can make you look a bit scary, but sometimes being unapproachable is exactly what is required. But for many of us we would look better in shades of grey, deep aubergine, the deeper blues or browns.

All-black is a look favoured by dramatic dressers and done well it can look stylish and individualistic.  It may need a bit thought and effort to create a sensational look.

Girl dressed in black next to a green wall
When dressed in black stand next to something colourful

Here leather trousers, military boots, a bulky but textured jersey and a warm parka with a silver zip and a bit of greyish fur, is set off by bleached blonde hair and a sassy look. he model has taken off her charcoal beanie so that she looks less like a Commando for the photograph. Maybe she has a whole range of black clothes in the bag – pyjamas, a skirt, tights, strappy sandals. Or maybe she wears a little grey or white for relief. One of my favourite films is The Last Seduction, where Linda Fiorentino always looks great in this restrained palette.

The Last Seduction (1994)
The Last Seduction (1994)

Black is best on women with black in their own colouring, and less effective on those who are light. Black can overwhelm them and make them look a bit unwell, emphasising the darker parts of their look – lines and dark circles for example. But sometimes it can make you feel like Linda – invincible and in charge.

How your clothes speak about what you stand for

Recently I wrote about wearing jeans for work, and had a day long Twitter conversation about the subject. Anyway, for those of you who don’t know, Housing Associations in the UK come from very humble, often radical, beginnings. My own organisation was founded in 1964 by left wing Christians, and beardy beatniks. Here are some charming old photos from the archives.

two long haired hippies, 1960s, Notting Hill Housing Trust
Two of the early Notting Hill Housing Trust team

Long natural hair, untrimmed beards and  “NHS” glasses (often known as John Lennon glasses these were the old fashioned frames you could choose, free of charge, with your eye test prescription. They had a plastic coating which could be stripped off to leave metal rims). These housing workers both wear almost identifcal denim shirts, as a jacket, over a T-shirt or shirt. Enthusiastic young people like these two worked their socks off for a low wage, or as volunteers, doing repair work to run down homes to help homeless families in west London. The clothes they chose were pratical and radical.

1960s hippy volunteers at Notting Hill Housing
Two volunteers help an elderly lady move into her new home

In this photograph we have an old lady dressed in the fashions of the 1940s, with her fitted wool coat, sturdy leather shoes, thick woolen stockings and a fetching furry hat. The two young men helping her are from a different era. One wears a beard, flared jeans and carries what maybe an old Singer sewing machine. The other man wears an ethnic Indian block printed jacket over his polo neck. He carefully holds the aspidistra aloft.

Most of these committed young people were fired up with concern about homelessness and the terrible circumstances people were often forced to live in, facing intimidation from private landlords as well as sharing grim, run down homes with countless others. They were very hands on, practical people – doing repairs and improvements, driving vans, organising fundraising as well as being anti-establishment. It is no surprise therefore to hear from retired CEO Tom Murtha (@tomemurtha) that “When I started in housing we all wore jeans”, before Robin Lawler (@robin_lawler) added “And beards!”.

Man wearing bleached jeans, 1970s
Tom Murtha, in bleached jeans in 1968

Housing Associations did much good in those days and if you want to read more please have a look at our own website. But over time the demand for cheaper homes for people on low incomes became pressing and it was vital to do much, much more. It required huge sums of money, most of which had to be borrowed from banks. In the 1970s this is what a bank manager looked like (women were not allowed into the Stock Exchange until 1972).

Conservatively dressed bank manager 1975
Bank Manager 1975

In order to get loans the Housing Associations had to become more respectable, more conservatively dressed, as by the 1980s many of those working for Housing Associations were qualified professionals. We still worked with homeless people but many of us had to work with other professionals and we started to copy their styles of dress. There was a joke when I started out that the property development teams all wore double breasted grey suits, had BMWs with car phones (remember?) and boasted about the size of their building programme.

Grey Hugo boss suit
1980s Grey Hugo boss suit

During the 1980s, as you will have appreciated if you watched Wolf of Wall Street, it was all about the money. Although people were still committed to the objective of building homes for low income families they were now running substantial businesses, and they had to look the part. Donald, one of my predecessors, was a Labour party activist as well as a CEO and his slightly random fashion sense (checked shirt with patterned tie can work, but it needs a bit more thought) showed that doing good was far more important than looking good.

Donald Hoodless, CEO of NHHT in the 1980s
Donald Hoodless, CEO of NHHT in the 1980

Personally I feel indepted to the previous generations, and am inspired by their efforts. Some could not be parted from their denims and remained on the front line until retirement. But many realised that they had to appeal to new audiences and changed their clothes accordingly. Dressing appropriately means respecting those you work for and with – as true today as it ever was.