Dressing for the office and for more formal occasions requires good shirts, suits, ties and shoes. Rob Broadfield goes shopping.
I know a bloke who met a bloke on a fishing trip who informed the bloke I know, that, “I've only got three shirts. I got me fishin' shirt. I got me goin' out shirt and I got me drinkin' shirt.” The fishin' shirt, by the way, was resplendent with the words, “Women want me. Fish fear me.”
There are many Australian men who consider themselves fashion forward but, in truth, their wardrobe is not much farther up the evolutionary ladder from that of our fishin' mate. While casual dressing, so called, has its rules, you can really do as you please. The real minefield for men is how to dress fashionably for business and weekend semi-formal.
The French have it easy. Middle-class Parisians have a uniform; button-down blue shirt, chinos, slip-ons or brogues and a blue blazer. The English invented men's couture, particularly the ultra-slim Edwardian style, but in the last few decades they've lost their way. Gone are the slim, nipped-in silhouettes of the bespoke suit. Australian men, at least those who wear good suits, are archly conservative and generally afraid to add edge to their tailoring.
All is not lost. English tailoring, still the best in the world, is undergoing a renaissance. Designers such as Paul Smith and Ozwald Boateng are re-interpreting the traditional suit, with a modern twist, revisiting the super cool looks of the pared-down dandy, a style which emerged in Britain between the wars and has endured in varying classical forms ever since. It's a look that can be achieved without going out on a limb.
Shoes. If nothing else, buy good shoes. Shoes say a lot about a man and too often, it's saying the wrong thing. Churches, Lloyds, Bally or Paul Smith are good labels for when your shoes really matter. Similarly, you can never go wrong with a pair of RM Williams' Craftsman boots in the cupboard. They are much favoured by corporate chiefs as the alternative business shoe. For those who like to make a statement in the casual shoes arena, Camper might say you have the right European sensibility and sound political views, but who needs to look like Zappo the Clown? Never, ever wear Birkenstocks, unless of course you really are a member of the Fremantle Wildlife Men's Collective. The Zegna sports collection and the Bally range of casual shoes are a good place to start.
Shirts. Lash out on good shirts. You don't need that many. The best brands in Australia are Herringbone, and Baubridge and Kay. All the big brands sell their own shirts - Zegna, Hugo Boss, Paul Smith, Prada, Gucci - and while they're terrific, a high-quality stand-alone shirtmaker is always going to design and construct a better product. The best of the couture range is probably Paul Smith. Deeply cut-away collars are still in vogue as are proper cuffs, although collars are now trending away from the very British cutaway. Herringbone and B&K might be hard to find in Perth, so go online to www.bkay.com.au or www.herringbone.com. Zegna's casual range of shirts is superb. If your budget extends to great shirts for casual, hunt down a thick linen for summer. Men's linen can be difficult to get in Australia, but Country Road sometimes does a thick, lush casual linen. Buy long-sleeve and roll it. Short-sleeve linen isn't quite the same. Ralph Lauren often has a fine linen range and in some exciting colours. Some of the better British brands such as Hackett and Boden do a great range of linen shirts for their (northern) summer ranges. You can buy online but as they're going into winter now, the range will be limited.
Suits. If it costs $399 and comes with two pairs of trousers, it's dodgy. If it costs $5000 it's a Brioni. Somewhere in between is your suit. The first thing is the fabric. In all of human history, no one has ever uttered the words: “What a lovely pair of gabardine trousers.” And for good reason. Natural fibres make your body feel better because they breathe properly. Natural fibre suits also have better recovery, except for pure linens and cottons. Wool, cotton, cashmere blends really bounce back well after a day of meetings and a flight or two. Some of Australia's finest wools go into Zegna's ultra-lightweight 100 per cent wool fabrics, which are fine enough to wear throughout summer. In terms of tailoring and design, Zegna hits the mark. But it is English tailoring that is still the sartorial benchmark with its slim silhouette. Four or five-button suits are out, not before time. Three buttons are the norm, but Paul Smith has made a bold return to the one-button suit jacket, as he re-invents the slim, Edwardian style that is most associated with the urbane London gentleman. Angled jacket pockets, double venting, even a second ticket pocket on the jacket are both fashionable and classic. Of course, you can buy single vents or no vents, but nothing cuts a figure like a double-vented, nipped-waist English-style suit jacket updated for the modern man. Paul Smith is probably the best bet if you like this look. Zegna also make magnificent, double-vented suits in terrific fabrics and they are the closest thing in Perth to an off-the-peg, contemporary Savile Row suit.
Americans have never learnt to wear a proper suit, but they are clear winners when it comes to casual or sporting wear. Ralph Lauren and Gant, both available in Perth, are great examples of the American sporting and top drawer casual.
And save your fishin', drinkin' and goin' out shirts for a fancy-dress party. Perhaps you could go as Rex Hunt.
© The West Australian
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