It’s not a question of having the world’s largest wardrobe, and certainly not an elaborate one. It’s a matter of the right clothes, clothes that illustrate the inspiration and taste of the man wearing them. The aim is a relaxed elegance, a nonchalant nod towards a simple refinement.
First there’s what I call the V area, that’s the jacket collar and lapel, the shirt collar and the tie. This V, which both supports and causes us to visually focus on the face, is arguably the most important aspect of the whole wardrobe, and getting it wrong will be even more obvious than you might fear.
Start with the shirt. Keep it simple; blue is always a good colour, as is white, in solids, small stripes or checks. Avoid extremes; theatrical collar shapes are really dumb, as is edge stitching or fancy-coloured buttonholes. Go for softness and simplicity; allow the make to show through.
Avoid jacquard weaves, anything that looks shiny, and select twill weaves only if it’s a cotton flannel. Opt for two-ply, crisp cottons. If the fabric is too fine chest hair will show through and this is, let’s be delicate, not a good look. Best stick to 2x100s or 2x120s cotton broadcloth. Good buttons are mother-of-pearl, of course.
Next the tie. The tie is important not only because it’s so much the focus of attention, but because it’s more symbolic than utilitarian. The best ties are hand made, never stitched by machine. You have a suit made in the round, and so the tie should be three-dimensional as well.
Avoid extremes: no wider than nine centimetres and no narrower than seven. Eight will look right on any occasion.
The pattern should not be overly designed, with too many colours, or too shiny; although solid satin in navy, grey or purple is fine for the evening, for a more formal look. The time-honoured tradition of lighter coloured ties in the morning, a little darker in the afternoon and darker still in the evening is hard to beat.
Seventy percent of the ties we produce at Drake’s of London are shades of blue. It’s always a good starting point.
There are only two knots worth considering, the four in hand and the half Windsor, the second also being a good standby if the tie is too long or a slightly fuller knot is required.
Best not to use the loop or ‘keeper’ at the back of the tie, to remain nonchalant. It’s ok to see part of the tail. Avoid a look that’s too stiff and rigid – think the Duke of Windsor or Snr. Gianni Agnelli rather than your local bank manager, whose ties will often look ironed flat.
Wearing a tie that is either too long or too short is another give away. In an ideal world the tie should reach the top of the trouser waistband with both the front and tail finishing at the same length. If this can’t be achieved, better to have the tail slightly longer than the front. Often the rise of the trousers can cause the tie to be the wrong length.
The chicest suit, the softest handmade shirt is a sartorial dream; but with an inappropriate tie the dream becomes a nightmare.
Similarly simple things are making sure your cufflinks do not resemble Byzantine coffin lids and the metals match up. If you are wearing a stainless steel watchstrap, your cufflinks shouldn’t be gold. For me the simple choice is a knot link made from both white and yellow gold.
A few other small, but telling details. Never puff up a white linen hank, always wear it folded. Choose the leather trim on your braces to match your shoe colour. It’s difficult but possible to find braces with silk braided ends, which are preferable to fasteners. A slight and personal disregard for coordination can be charming, but carried too far one drifts from harmony into jarring chaos.
Socks are another give away. Never wear short socks with a suit. Navy socks always work with brown shoes but black socks do not with brown. Personally I am inclined to wear purple socks with almost anything, and like to think of it merely as a signature eccentricity.
Avoid extremes in shoes: those that are too flamboyant, too pointy (or too square for that matter) or over designed. It’s too easy for shoes to call attention to themselves and spoil the overall effect.
The idea is to not look as if you have just arrived on the boat from Naples. The best-dressed Neapolitans aim for an understated English style.
As Coco Chanel once said, women should dress to either look chic or sexy. Men should look stylish.
Michael Drake founded Drake’s in 1977. Today it is the largest independent maker of handmade ties in England.