What ho! Lay out your best tweeds – chaps are dressing up again
It says something when even 'men-of-the-people' politicians are wearing tails. Jogging bottoms and mateyness are out, elegant dress is in
Sunday 24 April 2011
Time was when you paid your valet to fret about the correct choice of tweed for April. Today, few men could claim to own a tweed suit, let alone know the differences between a heavy Harris herringbone and a lightweight Donegal dogtooth.
All that could be about to change, if the authors of a new bible for young fogeys have their way. Am I a Chap?, published next month, is a sartorial handbook for the latest generation of young men who can only dream of being dressed by Jeeves.
Written by Gustav Temple, 46, the book is the latest product of the Chap movement that he founded 11 years ago. It started with The Chap magazine, and the drawing up of a 10-point manifesto, of which the first edict is "Thou shalt always wear tweed".
Next month, the first Chap of the Year contest, a one-day event held in central London, will be launched. Ten carefully chosen contestants will pit their gentlemanly skills against one another in three categories: sartorial flair, etiquette and seduction. It has been timed to coincide with the launch of the book, which aims to serve as a "how to" for the swelling ranks of men who are turning their backs on the progressive fashions of today.
It's not the first time that men have sought refuge in the past. The term bears comparison with "young fogeys", a term coined by The Independent on Sunday's late columnist Alan Watkins in 1984. But Mr Temple says the Chap movement is very different.
"We are rooted in the modern world, but it's also come out as a reaction to the modern world," he says.
When The Chap was founded, it was partly a reaction against the culture of lads' mags. "We're not just a bunch of toffs who want to show off their money. It's more a question of taking elements of gentlemanly dress, completely subverting it and making it into a fun way on how to comment on the blandification of modern society.
"We do try to publish a message of be courteous, be liked, be debonair, be witty, and be old-fashioned."
Johnny Vercoutre; Owner, Time for Tea
Johnny Vercoutre specialises in period film production between 1939 and 1959. He became interested in wearing clothes from the era after collecting vintage vehicles
"Everything I own is from the era 1939 to 1959, so if someone wants to produce a period piece on a minimal budget, then obviously the cost is a lot less because I own everything. Also, because you 'live' the era, you look at things in a different way and can offer better advice to producers than a general historian.
"I think my whole passion for the era came from collecting historic vehicles. I've got a 1939 BSA motorbike and a 1959 Commer van, to name a couple. Then, because I started driving those vehicles around, it didn't really work to wear modern clothes, so I started to wear period clothing.
"The one thing I've noticed among all the really well-dressed chaps in London is that they all seem to wear American vintage clothes and watch American films. But I've always watched British films and wear British vintage.
"I ran one of the very first vintage events about eight years ago, called the Modern Times Club, but now there are a lot of big, commercial 1940s nights on. The last one we did attracted about 700 people."
Master tailor and owner of Tom Brown tailors, Eton
What's a Prime Minister to do? The gilt-edged invitation is specific: "Dress: uniform, morning coat, or lounge suit". Never served, so Dress Number Ones are out. Tails? Well, that's just asking for trouble after the difficulty with the Bullingdon Club tail coats. Lounge suit, then?
Well, no. There are times when non-toff credentials have to take a back seat. The wedding of the second in line to the throne is one such occasion. David Cameron might have spared himself a very public volte face on the matter had he consulted his childhood tailor.
Just a stone's throw from Windsor Castle, Tom Brown is perhaps the foremost of a tiny number of outfitters to the young masters of Eton College. At the oldest tailor on the high street, wedding tails and waistcoats were getting the finishing touches for the royal nuptials.
David Coulthard, proprietor and owner, is unequivocal: Cameron and all guests at the wedding should wear the full morning rig, as will Mssrs Miliband and Clegg. "They should. People dress up because they know their other half will. Anybody that's been invited to a function like the royal wedding has to make the effort."
He's equally dismissive of any talk that wearing a morning coat would be an anachronism in modern Britain. "The occasion demands more than a lounge suit. It has to be the full tails. Traditionally, it's what is done," he said. "Especially at the royal wedding where you'll find everyone else dresses up. Nothing could be worse than the person at the top of this country going in a shabby old suit."
Naturally, the master tailor and cutter of more than 40 years is far too discreet to discuss whether Young Master Cameron sported one of Tom Brown's school uniforms. It is enough that his firm has been fitting out Eton's finest since it was established in 1784.
Past the lining rows of tails and classic ties is the entrance to the cutting room, where on a table one of the waistcoats to be worn at the wedding awaits its matching, braided morning coat which will arrive later in the afternoon. Mr Coulthard, 62, educates us, gently: "The jacket's double breasted and it's always herringbone, traditionally. It's definitely a three piece, and when they are in 'pop' at Eton they can wear anything as a waistcoat – that's the privilege."
Of course, he is not prepared to disclose the identities of his clients. But he vouchsafes that one of the guests he is fitting for the wedding will sport a black, full morning coat; Oxford grey bespoke waistcoat. Oh, and one will wear Eton's checked "spongebag" trousers – perhaps a little too ostentatiously flagging up his former membership of "Pop" – on the big day.
The bill for a standard three-piece rig is £1,700. But you cannot put a price tag on correct form. "You don't have to be posh to make the effort, not at all," Mr Coulthard insists. "It's uniform."
Roger Snook; Owner, T Snook Hatters
The gentlemen's outfitters in Bridport, Dorset, has been selling hats since 1896
"Being a chap is all to do with the style of dress and the decorum of being a gentleman. It's also a general outlook where people want to hark back to the old days, and as retro is very much in vogue at the present minute, it's coming back. It's bringing back nostalgia and a nice way of doing things. Old and young – lots of people want to wear tweeds now, for example. It's lovely to see it coming back.
"But I'm an absolute aficionado of hat wearing. The business – T Snook Hatters – was established in 1896, and I'm the third-generation owner. We just used to sell caps and a few hats originally, but nothing in big numbers. Today I suppose we carry about 3,000 pieces of headwear. We're one of the biggest hatters in the country and supply hats all over the world.
"Hat-wearing is growing tremendously – especially in the US. Their recent figures on the growth in the hat industry were quite staggering: they had increased by about 45 per cent in a year. But one hat I won't allow in my shop – the baseball cap. The baseball cap is a dirty word.
"However, there is a tremendous resurgence in tweed flat caps with a lot of young people wearing them. You can often pick them out around town – they're proper dandies!"
In the spotlight: Gentlemen onstage and screen
With his tweed jackets and elbow patches, Fry cuts the figure as the perfect gent. The polymath played Oscar Wilde – perhaps the ultimate dandy – in Wilde in 1997. Many say it was a role he was born to play.
The former Roxy Music front man has always been a natty dresser, even during the group's early days at the height of glam rock. Eschewing the normal louche rock star look, Ferry is often seen on stage in a black tie. The designer Nicky Haslam once said of Ferry that he was more likely to redecorate a hotel room than trash it.
The British singer-songwriter, painter and poet favours working men's clothes from the late Victorian era to the 1940s. He can often be seen walking around his native Chatham in Kent in a bow tie, waistcoat and hobnailed boots.
Boxers are not normally known for their sartorial elegance. Yet the former world middleweight champ is just as likely to be remembered for wearing Harris tweed as for boxing shorts. He would never be seen without jodhpurs, bowler hat, riding boots and monocle.
If ever the phrase "hooray Henry" was made for a person, it was the son of Tory former MP Derek Conway. The fashion journalist and author was named in GQ's top 20 worst-dressed men of 2009 "for going way past the mark for being too flamboyant". He is often seen wearing anything from a ruffled cravat to a sequinned peacock-feather headdress.
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