Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

The Hard Part of Soft Dressing

Is being taken seriously. Even in a tie. Dressing entirely in soft clothing and accessories lends a decidedly casual air.

I was communicating with a friend in Madrid, when he posed the question about silk squares. A well known blogger has established his ground rules for dressing the pocket correctly. He avows that the silk square is used only for rougher fabrics, pairing them with tweeds and other odd jackets. He reserves silk/cotton, cotton and linen or wool/silk blends for harder fabrics like the worsted wool used for suits.

Alan Flusser, on the other hand, espouses the theory that a matte tie calls for the luster of a silk square and a silken tie the matte effect of a linen, cotton or wool.

That got me thinking and today’s weather did the rest.

You see, it is a bit chilly here in Richmond VA today. We had a light dusting of scenic snow and the temperatures won’t climb out of the mid-30’s (ºF). That’s just above freezing and I felt it when I climbed out of the shower.

I keep the house cool, with the thermostat set at 65ºF most days when it’s just me here. Heating costs can really cut into your clothing budget, especially with 11′ ceilings. So, I tend to dress in warm fabrics like cashmere, moleskin, corduroy, velvet, flannel… Under the rig above I’m wearing a long sleeve silk undershirt… to keep comfortable. Today I have a couple of things to do, one of which involves visiting the bank. So I like to be dressed marginally professionally, but still warm enough to be comfortable.

We’re all about comfort in the winter, aren’t we? Take the suit, that’s the flannel Barbera number I’ve written about before. It’s a subtle windowpane over a equally subtle grey-blue herringbone flannel. With it I’ve paired brown suede lug soled brogues, a charcoal merino wool v-neck jumper, a navy and royal blue cashmere tie and, because the whole thing reminded me of a photo of Gianni Agnelli I’d seen, an unbuttoned blue OCBD shirt by B-Squared. Not that I could get away with wearing my tie over my sweater as he did. Not for a number of years at any rate.

(Photo: Grazie Neri, Italy as seen in Alan Flusser’s “Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Style”, Harper Collins, 2002, p 155)

But I might be able to get away with something more like this:

The pocket square I’ve chosen is a navy blue linen with a cream edge.

Just for argument’s sake, compare that kit with the one I threw together for an homage to the Duke of Windsor.

Here you see the difference that the silk tie and cotton pocket square bring to the matte flannel. A bit more formal (despite the pattern mixing, etc.) and would be even more so with a more sober shirt and discreet tie.

Which do you prefer?

10 thoughts on “The Hard Part of Soft Dressing

  1. My apologies for blowing up the picture and going through your stacks but I must ask – – The ’87 Lucky Bag? Who was the anchor cranker?

  2. After examing these classic photos, I have a question about the fourth one that has nagged me throughout my pprofessional life: Just how “tightly” around the neck should a necktie be tied? Is there room for any slack if one wishes to appear professional?

  3. Hello Corp Creature and welcome. Thanks for the question. I get away with being a bit lax in the hopes of showing some sprezzatura. That said, the definition of sprezzatura, as you no doubt are aware, is “nonchalance”. Nonchalance and business are not the best bedfellows these days. In the office I think you can loosen a tie and roll up sleeves. Outside your space, it’s buttoned up and down.

    The trick to wearing a tie tightly and comfortably is to have shirts made for you as they will almost magically keep everything squared away and, because they are made for you, they fit the neck correctly giving you breathing room. I’m wearing an off the rack tab collar shirt today and it’s driving me bats. The tab keeps the tie high, but the collar just doesn’t fit well and I am too aware of it for it to be comfortable.

  4. Both are cool. The first certainly gives a country gentleman air vs the casual but down to business attitude of the second “kit”. Any addition of cashmere gets a thumbs up in my book. jb

  5. They both look fine, but I prefer the cotton handkerchief in the second example. For their to be sprezzatura, the breast pocket should be filled with something that appears functional as opposed to decorative. Men, may be tall, short or wide, but their resemblance to Christmas trees ends there. We do not require decoration. Remember your Balzac: “The rich man and the Fop adorn themselves, while the elegant man merely dresses.”

    Flusser has it right, in part. The handkerchief should contrast in color and texture any neck wear. The choice of neck wear is a function of the choice of fabric in the suit or coat, and the choice of hanky derives from that of the neck wear. So I would have to disagree with the first blogger mentioned in your excellent article.



  6. Michael, what a treat to have you stop by! thank you for an (as always) insightful comment. I’m enjoying your video series very much.

    I’ve finally finished reading the Balzac treatises (it is now available in English — more about that in another post — which is nice as my command of French has deteriorated horribly.) Enjoyable and thought-provoking, especially as there are contradictions and if I think of the author himself… .

    Mr. Begin, thank you. Head over to Mr. Alden’s new site (dresswithstyle.com) and be gob-smacked by the cut and fit of his clothing.

  7. I typically introduce only a hint of white to my jacket pocket; three tiny points of linen is quite enough. However, the above illustrations cause me to re-think my rule – each example is both handsomely and discreet. That said, I have an elderly friend who constantly allows a great POOF of glistening fabric to protrude from his top pocked; I want to ask: “Where’s the rabbit?”

    Too much colored silk tends to take over his look.

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