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The Complete Wardrobe

Getting Down to Basics for a High-Quality Wardrobe
G. Bruce Boyer
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97

Long gone are the days when an English gentleman would sit with his tailor in the back office and discuss the coming season's wardrobe over a glass of Sherry and a digestive biscuit. And the Parisian no longer takes quite as much pride in his wines as he used to. In the United States, there seems to be a book published every other week on the decline of manners, morals and the quality of dry cleaning.

It isn't tumbril talk to note that style and taste are today almost regarded as character flaws. And tradition has become more a commodity, more a matter of decor, than belief. Even some of the button-down shirts in Brooks Brothers now have stubby little three-inch collar points! Fred Astaire must absolutely be rotating in his grave. The quality of mercy may not be strained, but the quality of quality certainly is!

All the anecdotal evidence suggests that quality is having a hard time of it everywhere, but even in our Age of Not-So-Great Expectations it's still possible to get the real thing. Amid all the shoddy clutter and haste couture, the genuine article can still be found: the proper navy blazer, authentic shell cordovan penny loafers, real khakis of Second World War-quality cotton drill. It isn't easy, since great steaming piles of frighteningly trendy gear have taken over even many of the better stores. But it is possible. We've done the dogged spadework, and here--for the greater purposes of removing doubts--are the results of our spirited off-the-rack sartorial excursion.

The prices listed are approximate; phone for the nearest venue.

The Suit

The basic uniform of the business world is the suit. From the 1890s until the Second World War, the trusty blue serge held sway. Since then, however, gray flannel has been the cloth of choice among the cognescenti. There is a sense of sincerity about gray flannel that seems missing in slicker-looking worsteds. It never looks too sharp or parvenu, never loud or pushy. Good gray flannel has the built-in, old-money look that one associates with tradition and refinement. It's soft and easy, with a touch of depth and texture for interest, rather than being stiff and shiny. And what better foil for accompanying haberdashery and accessories?

Mid- to dark gray flannel is best, with a slight nap and a moderately soft hand. Single- or double-breasted is equally appropriate, but the latter has the edge as being a bit more formal and dressy. Previously, flannels were slightly heavier cloths, ranging from around 12 to 16 ounces, but new technology has allowed for what are called Super flannels, woven of fine merino wool, to produce exquisite fabrics with weights as low as eight ounces. The finest of these cloths are the Super 150s. (The higher the number in Supers, the finer the cloth.) These cloths drape beautifully, retain their shape and can be worn in all but the steamiest weather. ($3,500; Brioni, 212/956-4155)

The Tie

There are a number of classics in the tie repertoire: the resplendent seven-fold, the silk knit, the woven Macclesfield, the redoubtable striped repp. But the classic whose revival we most look forward to enjoying--and it is once again being seen--is the challis tie.

Challis is a featherweight wool that is hand-block printed (originally from natural vegetable dyes) with geometric, paisley or sportif patterns. Occasionally the cloth is fashioned into particularly handsome dinner jackets, but for the most part it goes for neckwear. What is so wonderful about challis is that it ties well--firmness without bulk, for a knot that holds--and its muted colors are not reproducible in any other medium: dark Persian blue, dusky bottle green, burnt orange, rusty reddish browns and tawny yellows predominate. It is the perfect tie with tweeds of all sorts, natty with more casual flannels. ($70; Mariano Rubinacci, 617/407-0600)


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