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!

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!

How I became one of the best dressed men at Newmarket Races

In the space of just a few minutes yesterday I went from casual ‘punter’ at the Races to being faced by a media scrum (for the first time in my life!). They all wanted to take my photograph. But why?

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The third Friday of July is one of my favourite days of the year. My wife and I travel the short 55 minute train journey from home in Ipswich to Newmarket to attend the July festival of horse racing. We enjoy a leisurely two hour lunch in the excellent Mozart’s in the Premier Enclosure and then head the finish line on the course and watch the 6 races thunder by. A modest wager on each race is necessary, and we traditionally win one or two of those – certainly enough to cover all the wagers of the day!

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Yesterday, upon entering the race course, a young lady asked if I would like to be photographed for the ‘Most Stylish Man of the Day’ award. Amused, and naturally a little flattered, I agreed. This was just before 12 pm. I then forgot all about it. Four hours later I received a text message informing me I had been selected in the top 10 (out of over 300 entrants) and should report to the main marquee!

Here I am, along with mainly very young men, a preponderance of exposed ankles and no socks, beards, unshaved faces, sunglasses (worn indoors), skinny trousers, and poorly fitting jackets. There was even a young man, as bemused as me, who was wearing his Father’s old Savile Row tweed suit which he had tailored to fit him, (and he was wearing socks!

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Interestingly the gentleman on my left in the above photograph (now in his 60s) had also arrived at the races not knowing about this competition and had dressed as individualistically as he always does! After a degree of standing around being assessed and interviewed the final three were announced – I came third. It was hilarious to me to win a range of prizes for being dressed the way I normally do!! My prizes included a bespoke shirt (worth £125), two tickets to Aintree Races, some products, two tickets to a Football Match and a few other items. And then the media scrum – cameras, journalists, questions. It was rather fun!

The 2nd and 1st young men were charming, but at least 30 years younger than me!

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When I met one of the judges later she told me the key piece of my wardrobe which caught the judges’ attention were my trousers – they loved the drape, the cut, the classic look. I felt validated in my love of the classic 1920/30 look – that golden era will never be out of style (my blog article on these trousers is here). Is it too much to hope we are perhaps finally seeing the end of the skinny trouser?