Friday, February 26, 2010

Pocket Squares vs. Handkerchiefs

I realize that in many people's view, I am a bit conservative in my clothing selections, but that is the nature of a gentleman's wardrobe, so I make no apology for it. The fact is that most of the clothing on this blog is fairly timeless – with minor variation it would have been in place in 1935, it is in place today, and it will be in place in a hundred years. By building a wardrobe in this manner, a young gentleman who builds his wardrobe carefully and with consideration will be able to wear his gray flannels thirty years from now, and he will be perfectly at home.

Today, however, I must apologize because I am going to "kick it old school" for awhile.

What do you put in the breast pocket of your suit? Many elegant and conservative stores sell little eight inch squares of silk in a variety of colors to tuck there. Some even manufacture pocket squares that match neckties. Personally, I think that all this is quite silly. The most elegant thing that a gentleman can tuck into his jacket pocket is a neatly pressed and folded white linen handkerchief. Choose a hemmed or corded edge, whichever you prefer, though the corded edge is a bit more formal. What the color is of your suit, jacket or necktie is irrelevant: your handkerchief is white. Despite the fact that it is being used as a fashion accessory, your handkerchief is fully functional.

And this brings me to my next point: Carry a handkerchief or two. While I will argue that the handkerchief in your breast pocket should be linen, that is a fairly high expense for a pocket handkerchief, so if linen is out of the question, go for a good quality rolled cotton. Take the time to press it and fold it and keep it in the weak-hand pocket of your trousers. Nothing else goes in that pocket, just your handkerchief. If you are wearing Bills Khakis, or other trousers with similarly deep pockets, go ahead and carry two. If you need to use it, a handkerchief is far more elegant than Kleenex, but it is imperative that you produce only a clean handkerchief. A hard used rag, whilst useful in private, may be offensive to others.

Perhaps most importantly, especially at weddings and funerals, is the ability to offer a clean and pressed handkerchief to a young lady. Many of us tend to become incredibly uncomfortable when faced with a crying lady – a clean and elegant handkerchief offers us a comfortable gesture that we may engage. You will find that it is generally graciously accepted, and it makes for a kind and old-fashioned gesture that is well appreciated.

As far as availability goes, I am very fond of the product carried by Brooks Brothers, but it is not cheap at $60 for a three-pack. I do like Irish linens the best, but that is prejudice on my part – there are excellent linens available from mainland Europe and elsewhere. Check eBay for bargains – you may often find vintage products in new condition there. Make sure that they are not yellowing, and you are good to go. If you like monograms on your handkerchiefs, keep them white on white, and make sure that you fold your handkerchiefs in such a way that the monogram is entirely hidden.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tying the Knot

Calm down. Take some slow, deep breaths. I am talking about neckties.

I called your attention to the Tie-a-Tie website the other day. This leads me to the discussion of neckties and knots.

There are a number of necktie knots, some of which fall in and out of favor. I am limiting my discussion to three basic knots that I find to be of the greatest use, and the bow-tie knot. Given my habitual lack of illustration, I will not attempt to describe the creation of these knots here, but I will refer you to the excellent Tie-a-Tie site.

The Four-in-hand Knot: I view this as the 40s/50s style knot. Frankly, it was the only knot that my dear old dad ever wore when he wore long ties. He was more of a bow-tie kind of guy, on the whole. The Four-in-hand is a simple, smallish, slightly asymmetrical knot most suitable for the least formal of neckties and with button-down collars or long pointed collars with narrow space at the neck. With ties made of exceptionally course materials, such as mohair, woolen or silk knit ties, this is probably the best choice of knot. Generally speaking, this is the least formal of necktie knots and is suitable for the most casual of settings in which one might wear a tie.

The Windsor Knot: This is the extreme opposite of the Four-in-hand: it is the most formal of long tie knots. Do not think of it so much as tying a knot as building a knot. Take your time to get everything just right, and you will be rewarded with a vast and well-sculpted knot. Worn with spread collars, this is the knot that you see Tony Blair and the Duke of Edinburgh wearing. The knot projects confidence. It takes a good deal of material to build a Windsor knot, so if you are very tall or a bit corpulent you may need to consider going to an extra-long tie for this one. When wearing a tie-tack or clip you have the option of shortening the narrow end of the tie a bit, allowing you to get away with tying a Windsor in a slightly short tie.

The Half-Windsor Knot: This one falls somewhere between the other two. It is a bit smaller than the Windsor, but it is larger and more symmetrical than the Four-in-hand. Personally, except with the very heaviest of necktie materials like the knit ties discussed above, I prefer this knot for most casual and semi-formal wear. It is suitable with a button-down collar, a plain point or with a modest spread collar. For the really broad spread collar varieties, the Windsor is really de rigeur.

There are a number of additional knots that are suitable to differing situations. Tie-a-tie discusses one called a Pratt Knott that seems quite similar to a half-Windsor when executed. Another great resource site for ties and knots is Ben Silver. Here you will find a grand selection of really fine and expensive neckwear as well as a great tying guide offering options such as the Prince Albert, the Small Knot and the Cross Knot as well as advice on tying ascots and bows.

The Bow Tie: As I said, my dad was a bow tie kind of guy. In the 1980s bow ties made something of a resurgence, and then they seemed to disappear again in the 90s. My old dad, however, started wearing them in the 30s, and he never stopped. A bow tie expresses a degree of non-conformity with a sense of classic style. My personal tendency is not to wear them to job interviews, but I have no compunction about wearing them everywhere else. The reason Dad liked them was because he did not have to worry about them flopping about when he was working. I like them because they are cool. Bow ties may be worn with button-down collars, plain point and, possibly, the narrowest of spread collars. Anything wider however will require a Windsor. When called upon to don a tuxedo, despite the request for a "black" tie on the invitation, you may now elegantly wear a bow of just about any color you choose. Do not follow the trend of the Hollywoodies and forsake the bow for a long tie – no matter what the silly little fashionistas like to say, it is not correct. Whether for formal or more casual wear, stay away from extremes in your selection of bows: never go with the uber-wide C. Everett Koop/Orville Redenbacher varieties, but stick with a modest width. The British call the ones with the plain rectangular ends "bat-wings" because they are shaped rather like cricket bats, and I think that these look the best when tied. Nearly as good, and a bit easier to tie for beginners, is the Slimline or Standard tie which has a dip in the middle. The term "butterfly" is tempting, but avoid it as it generally connotes a very wide bow.

Bow ties do seem to be making another comeback, and there are some great sites devoted to them. My personal favorite is Beau Ties Ltd., but they may be found at any gentleman's store that deals in classic men's goods.

Ascots: I must admit that for certain wear and in certain settings, I love ascots. Unfortunately Hugh Hefner and Tony Curtis have kind of ruined these for the rest of us, and they can seem like the punch-lines of fairly bad jokes. Frankly, you should probably be over 50 before you start wearing these, and then you need to be prudent in how you wear them. If you have your own sloop of not less than thirty feet, then you may get away with an ascot no matter what your age. If you are part of the cruise crowd, make sure that you are sailing on one of the better lines. On Carnival, ascots are always out of place, on Crystal, there may be a time and a place for one.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I will go into the various necktie knots in a later post, but I want to call readers' attention to this wonderful website: As an old Scout, I am fairly proficient with knots, but I still struggle when I am trying to sculpt a perfect Windsor at 6:15 in the morning. This site provides videos and clear instructions for most of the major knots and guidance for their use.