Return of the Cravat – a contemporary look

Of all the decisions I recall making in my recent journey to explore the boundaries of style and what it means to a middle aged man, I think the most challenging has been whether or not to embrace the wearing of a cravat. The cravat, once an easy to wear item of leisure clothing, now has several connotations:
  • Will wearing a cravat make one look ridiculously old fashioned?
  • Is the cravat (as suggested by Bernard Roetzel in his book ‘Gentleman’) something only a film director, a playboy in a film script, or a military officer at weekends wears?
  • In our ‘relaxed’ society where everyone seems now to be dressed ‘casually’ is there a need to define we are in relaxed/casual mode by donning a cravat?
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The great Terry Thomas
I am, as regular readers will know, inspired by the vintage styles of the 1920s and 1930s, and constantly on the look out for ways to take these vintage images and adopt them to today’s more contemporary style. The cravat, notwithstanding my above hesitations, is so prevalent in that era it naturally became an item I wished to adopt. But why wear one today at all?
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Image from Cravat Club
As someone who loves to wear a tie I find the exposed neck, when not wearing a tie with an open neck shirt, esthetically challenging. My look always seems incomplete. This is, in my view, where the cravat has an essential role to play. There is a certain elegance at the weekend of wearing one with a Tattersall check or a Oxford shirt and a V-neck sweater, and I have been inspired by some vintage images to even don one with a polo shirt! An open neck shirt and blazer or tweed jacket would have been unthinkable in the past without a cravat – I even recall seeing photographs of World War 2 Battle of Britain Royal Air Force pilots wearing a cravat with their uniform (as the silk does not chaff the neck when twisting and turning the head in a cockpit during air-to-air combat).
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Image from The Imperial War Museum
My search for a good cravat supplier began with my local traditional menswear store – they stocked a few, disappointingly mainly cotton rather than silk. A check on EBay found a plethora of second hand/vintage, but I am challenged by wearing something next to my skin which has been worn by other people.
Then, by chance, I came across a relatively new British company called The Cravat Club. Founded in 2014 by Julian, an avid lover of cravats, the company produces a range of beautiful silk cravats. Many are a limited edition (some are frankly a little weird!), but there is a wholesome selection of paisley, polka dot, and patterned styles in a range of colours to suit everyone – especially if you like something a little ‘edgy’. Cravat Club now sell in 50 countries around the World.
I ordered a ‘Costello’, from a limited edition of just 50. It arrived in a few days in a beautiful presentation box – something suppliers often overlook as important (especially for storage), as those of us fortunate to own a Hermes tie will attest to, there is something wonderful about keeping beautiful items in elegant packaging.
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My cravat in its box
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My Hermes tie in its original box
I cannot speak highly enough of the quality of the silk, and the workmanship. Made in England as well! Once tied correctly (there is an excellent video on the Cravat Club website showing you to tie a cravat here) my cravat stays in place all day.
Contrary to my fears of appearing ridiculously old fashioned, my cravat wearing has drawn many welcome plaudits. An easy return to elegant, not shabby casual, individualistic dressing at weekends and on leave. I would encourage anyone, young, middle aged and old to revert back to this form of dress and help redress the dreadful downward spiral into cargo shorts, flip flops and t-shirts!

Tailor Me by Moss Bros – a welcome return to tailoring

Thirty years ago, in 1987, I entered the World’s oldest Air Force Academy – Royal Air Force College Cranwell – as an officer cadet.

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Royal Air Force College Cranwell

Those first few days were spent in a whirlwind of excitement and continuous movement as we cadets raced around the College being introduced to Officers’ Mess etiquette, medical examinations, the gym, the swimming pool, and most importantly being ‘kitted out’ in uniforms. In those days (and sadly no longer so) our Number 1 and Number 5 dress uniforms were made for us by external tailors. The College at Cranwell was home to three such tailors and one of our tasks in those hectic first few days was to visit each of the three tailors’ shops and decide who to award our uniform contract to.

After visiting all three I selected Moss Bros – at the time they offered a full shop at Cranwell, with not only uniforms but a range of civilian clothes and accessories. They had a long history of making uniforms for the military, especially the Royal Air Force.

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1940s Moss Bros Advert

Having been carefully measured for my two uniforms by a tailor (not a salesman) I also decided to have made my first ever Made to Measure (MTM) suit. One should remember as well in those heady days we cadets (and serving officers) were still required to ‘dress for dinner’ every night by wearing a suit, or at a minimum a jacket and tie. I selected a dark blue wool cloth for my suit and, 2 months later, became the proud owner of an extremely stylish suit – and my first experience of the exquisite pleasure of owning clothes which had been made to fit me, and me only. That suit lasted me over 15 years.

I was therefore delighted to recently step back inside a Moss Bros store for the first time in 30 years to find they have re-introduced a MTM service, called ‘Tailor Me’. 

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The process supporting Tailor Me is very similar to my Moss Bros experience from 30 years ago – the only real difference is one is now measured by a sales person rather than a professional tailor.

Tailor Me works best if you make an appointment in advance, simply because the whole process can take (and did in my case) up to one hour. I made my appointment for 11 am in the morning, knowing the store in my home town of Ipswich would unlikely be busy at that time of day, and the staff would be less distracted.

I have set out below the process in steps we followed:

  1. A discussion with the sales person concerning any special requirements, such as what the suit is for (work, wedding, special occasion etc), time of year the suit will be worn, type of fabric etc.
  2. A review of the fabric book. Unfortunately there are only 140 fabrics to choose from, even less if you discard the ghastly wool/polyester mix. I needed a dark blue suit, mainly for the spring/summer months, capable of travelling well (on trains and aeroplanes), lightweight, but with a subtle pattern to make it a little different from my other plain blue suits. This, of all the steps, took the longest – not because of the size of choice (which after the eliminations on non-blue and wool-mix fabrics was significantly reduced), but in trying to assess how the small fabric swatch would look on a larger suit frame. I narrowed the choice eventually to three fabrics and then took the fabric book out of the store and into real daylight to obtain a better sense of the pattern and how it reacted to light. I selected a dark blue fabric, with a subtle glen check in light blue. It was a Super 110, Reda, made in Italy.IMG_8154
  3. Style. There are three styles of Moss Bros suit cut to choose from – skinny, tailored and regular. I choose the regular.
  4. Sizing. Next one tries on a number of jackets in the chosen style (any fabric jacket will suffice) to find the ‘off the rack’ size closest to you. Mine was a 42. Important here is the fit of the shoulders and the chest. Some work was identified as necessary to ensure the jacket could be fastened without the lapels losing their flat drape. The same process is followed with trousers and in my case a waistcoat as I had opted for a three piece suit.
  5. Measuring. Now the careful part. Using a combination of the ‘off the rack’ suit and a tape measure measurements are recorded for the shoulder, arms (both arms are measured, especially as in my case where I have one arm slightly longer than the other), chest, waist, leg, inside leg, the drop from the shoulder to the waist for the waistcoat. I much admired the young lady taking my measurements, as she insisted on taking every measurement twice, and then cross-checking with a colleague.
  6. Individual style elements. Finally, comes the personalisation. I opted for a peak lapel (I did not own a single breasted suit with a peak lapel so felt I should personalise this one as such), slanted pockets, a ticket pocket, a half canvas construction (fused was an option through why anyone would make such a selection!), side fasteners on the trousers, no belt loops, a fish tail waistband at the back, no turn ups, working cuffs on the jacket. I also selected the colour and style of buttons and a rather bold lining to the jacket (and matching back panel to the waistcoat), the font and colour and stitching for my name which would be the only label on the inside of the jacket. I declined the option of having the lapel buttonhole and last working cuff button hole stitched in a contrasting colour to make them stand out (why would you do that?).
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    Peak lapel – the Glen check fabric
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    Loop stitched onto back of lapel
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    Slanted pockets
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    Working cuffs
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    Fish tail waistband
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    Lining and my name

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    Side fasteners
  7. Deposit. I double checked everything, signed the order, paid a deposit and left in just over one hour. It was an enjoyable experience, though I’m glad I have been studying style and classic mens’ clothing for the past years and understood enough to navigate myself through the process – it would be very easy to get carried away with the individualism!
  8. Collection/fitting. Exactly one month to the day the suit was ready. No appointment is needed for the collection, but fortunately the store manager was available when I arrived to oversee my trying on the suit – at this stage I am advised any additional tailoring needed is at no cost. My suit however was a perfect fit.
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Wearing my new suit on a recent business trip to Cascais, Portugal

Moss Bros charge £150 in addition to the cost of a suit in the fabric you select to cover the costs of the Tailor Me process. Frankly, this is extraordinary value for money – most suits in Moss Bros, assuming you select a quality fabric, cost about £250- £300 so the £150 to both personalise and guarantee a perfect fit is money well invested.

I loved my first experience of a perfect fitting suit in 1987 and, looking back, it was, combined with my tailored beautiful military uniforms, the beginning of my love affair with classic gentleman’s style. To be able to walk back into Moss Bros 30 years later and find I can still replicate a perfect fitting suit on the High Street at a affordable price brings much joy.

Moss Bros’ clientele seems to be younger than me, but there is an upside to this – judging by the number of suits now being produced through ‘Tailor Me’ in my local Moss Bros we may be seeing the beginning of an appreciation by younger men of perfect fitting clothes, which we more senior men already know is addictive!

Is there a link between slobbish behaviour and casual dress?

Following on from the recent strange decision by the Speaker of the House of Commons to allow MPs to discard ties in Parliament, you can probably imagine my joy when I read the headline ‘golfer wears a tie in the Open’. Perhaps, I thought, all is not lost in the declining sartorial state of the world. My joy was however short lived when I eventually found an image of the said golfer and his tie.

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I suppose it comes down to definitions. My definition of ‘wearing a tie’ is that the top button of the shirt is fastened and the tie is knotted appropriately – not slung at half mast around one’s neck. Why even put on a tie if you are going to disregard its relevance in such a way? Add to that not having shaved, and the hideously large logos and the ball cap – well.

This leads me to a growing hypothesis in my mind over the increasing ‘casualness’ in our society and its implications. Walking my dogs in the local park is increasingly disturbing as I have to witness endless trails and deposits of rubbish left behind by people picnicking or just sitting on the grass. Often this discarded pile of food wrappers, empty bottles and cans, are left on the grass less than 20 yards away from rubbish bins. Why do people today believe it is acceptable behaviour to just dump their waste and walk away – assuming someone will clean it up for them? Such rubbish attracts vermin, poisons and damages wildlife, and is a risk for small children and people’s pets. It says much about the slobbish manners of those who deposit it.

Is slobbish too strong a word?  The dictionary defines ‘slob’ as ‘a person who is lazy and has low standards of cleanliness’, so I would suggest it is the appropriate word to describe these people. But it is not just parks, rubbish is everywhere, anti-social behaviour is increasingly acceptable, rudeness is widespread. Why?

I suggest it can be increasingly linked to the decline in standards of dress.

G. Bruce Boyer recently addressed the matter in an article article about the “casual revolution” of society and the loss of sartorial occasions. He argues the term “casual” is considered obsolete as it can only be opposed to “formal”. Since “casual” has become dominant it is no longer “casual” but simply “normal”, or “ordinary”. When casual was unusual in public, suits were the norm. Now that suits are the exception, they are considered formal.

What is perhaps also concerning here in evolution terms is what will come to be the norm once ‘casual’ is seen as ‘formal’. There are already open disagreements over exactly what the boundaries of ‘casual’ are – recently whilst flying to the USA on BA in Club Class I could not help but notice the man across the aisle from me was dressed in a strangely logo’d t-shirt, cargo shorts and flip flops. He proceeded to walk about the aircraft in bare feet, displaying feet which had clearly never been near a pedicure – his feet were frankly disgusting to look at. I felt sorry for the flight attendants, smartly dressed in their uniforms, having to administer service to someone who I perceived as disrespectful to the surroundings he was in. But, I suspect, he would argue he was simply dressed in a ‘casual’ manner – casual used to mean clean trousers, a collared shirt and shoes and socks, not cargo shorts, bare feet and flip flops.

If we adopt such a casual disinterested approach to how we look surely that ultimately influences our attitudes and behaviour. Perhaps it is a stretch to label overly casual styles to slobbishness, but I am increasingly convinced our society is heading to a state of complete disrespect for traditions, culture, history which can only lead to an eventual breakdown in basic acceptable norms of civilised behaviour.

It is therefore time to take a stand, to refuse to be shamed or bullied into lowering our standards to the new ‘norm’ of slobbish behaviour. I for one will wear my suit and tie to work with pride, to dress in a casual style (when appropriate) respectful to those around me, to create a pleasing aesthetic (and never wear cargo shorts and flip flops). Heaven help my local MP if I ever spot him in the House of Commons without a tie – he has been warned!