Opinion & Thought, Politics and current affairs, Sartoria

Suits E.U., sir!

I can hardly be the only British gent who is regularly bombarded by advertising from Jermyn Street shirt manufacturer Charles Tyrwhitt. I wrote to them several years ago pointing out that while I approved of their democratising marketing strategy, I would be more happy to buy their clothes if their tailoring and design was not all so old-school British. I pointed out that traditional British menswear is often starchy-formal and has associations of occupation and social stereotype that I don’t feel happy with – and that’s without the age profile that it still implied.

I received one of their habitually jolly letters in reply, explaining that this was what the British market still wanted. Well, some years on, I note a distinct modernisation of Tyrwhitt’s catalogue, with sharper styles and fabrics sourced from amongst others, good Italian mills. I also noticed recently, the first appearance of a non-white model in the catalogue: well done – but about time too! I’m certainly not claiming any influence over the decision, but I think it has made Tyrwhitt a more appealing clothier, and has hopefully broadened their market as a result.

While there’s no question over the quality of traditional British men’s tailoring, my reservations still hold, and this is why I tend to prefer French and Italian style – it is slightly sharper while also less formal, more open to interpretation and relatively devoid of the overtones of social class.

So I’ve been delighted to discover more recently, a number of British companies that are challenging the conservative norm by offering British clothing – designed for British body shapes – while looking to the continent for some of their design inspiration. I will be reviewing items by a number of these companies in forthcoming posts.

In the meantime, I must admit I rather worry about the effect of Brexit on this welcome development. Here we have companies doing their design work in one country, sourcing their materials and doing their manufacturing in others, and retailing from others again. A number of them seem to be relatively small start-ups, and one might almost suggest that there is the making of a pan-European industry here, which provides for a range of clients by taking the requisite elements from the different traditions. And that’s without the large number of European companies now selling internationally. If it leads to an improvement in the general sartorial standards of the male British population, that will be a welcome bonus, too.

I will mention the names of Chester Barrie clothing, Lussoti Shoes, Scarosso Shoes and of course Charles Tyrwhitt as some that seem to be taking this route (there are others) – and end by saying that I hope they have plans for dealing with Brexit, because it would be a great shame if their interesting business models and the stylish, well made products they are making, were destroyed as a result of this madness.



Shop-keeping done well



I’ve never accepted that, if you live outside a major city the local M&S should be the apex of your clothing options – so it was a great pleasure to discover, a few weeks ago a shop that is confirming the view that regional-town Britain can and should support great independent traders.

Ian Johnstone has established The Shopkeeper Store in the small Essex town of Great Dunmow. Ian has done an excellent job of creating an interior very redolent of traditional shops with wooden floors and a long serving counter.

The selection of goods on offer is what I suppose one would call Gentleman’s wares, ranging from clothing and shoes, through grooming accessories to a small selection of home wares, stationery and books. It is curated (which seems like the right word) with a mind to quality, craftsmanship and sustainability. Most pleasingly of all, the defining criterion for the stock is simply Ian’s own (very good) taste, and as a result he has achieved both a consistent ‘look’ and an extensive knowledge of his goods. It would be nice to see a growth in the more formal though still creative end of his clothing range as his enterprise grows.


The very courteous personal service and genuine enthusiasm for what he is doing is the icing on the cake, and I sincerely hope that Ian makes a success of this relatively young venture.

It is possible to buy from The Shopkeeper Store online, though if you are close enough, I would recommend a visit just to experience the lovely ambience. Oh, and there is an excellent independent wine merchant next door…

The Shopkeeper Store,

9 Market Place, Great Dunmow, Essex CM6 1AX


(Usual disclaimer)








Opinion & Thought, Sartoria

The God of Small Things


It may seem rather pathetic that an established teacher, with many years’ experience and a professional blog to his name should be reduced to blogging about…. socks. But in the year since I stopped working, certain things have come into sharper perspective. Even though I worked hard to prevent it, I hadn’t realised the extent to which a regular sixty-hour week comes to dominate your life. Even while not at work, or travelling the thirty miles to and from school, much time was spent chewing over professional matters. Pretty much everything else was shoe-horned in around the edges, at least mentally, even when I was supposedly doing other things. It did me no good.

So it is remarkably pleasurable to be able to get up in the morning and have the time actually consider what clothes I want to wear, rather than just flinging on the usual work-compliant suit and tie. I have always enjoyed men’s style, and even tried to carry this through to the rough-and-tumble of the school environment. I felt it was part of setting a good example, and maintaining high personal standards.

But now I can appreciate such niceties for their own sake, along with the pleasures of fresh morning coffee or an autumn walk. For reasons unknown to me at the time, during my period of convalescence I had the urge to renew my wardrobe, and again I have had time to choose carefully. It was remarkably cathartic.

Bresciani socks are about as good as they get, being made from top-quality materials by a skilled manufacturer in Italy. There are few outlets that retail them in the U.K., but a good choice can be had from meschausettesrouges.com in Paris. Twenty pounds for a pair of socks may seem outrageous, but as with many beautiful things, it is only when you receive them that one can appreciate the craftsmanship, the excellent fit, and the superb materials. So the price perhaps becomes a small one to pay for a small taste of excellence, and the fact that the article itself is so mundane somehow adds to the pleasure.

It’s easy to sneer at such apparent vanity, but it occurred to me that there is a deeper and more significant point here. The key to appreciating fine things is a willingness to see rather than just look, to sense and savour the material qualities of the world around us rather than taking them for granted. To stop what one is doing and just appreciate our sensory surroundings is akin to the ‘living in the moment’ that Mindfulness promotes as an antidote to mental angst. It is a tendency that can be developed with practice. I think it works – it is not shamelessly materialistic to appreciate the sensory qualities of material things – and all it takes is the time and restraint to stop and do so. In fact, the appreciation of what one has, rather than envy at what one does not, is the antithesis of the status anxiety that afflicts so many lives.

But that, I fear, is the one thing hassled modern lives deprive us of: the time to stand and stare (or feel). I suspect it is also what we hurried north-Europeans yearn for in our envious perceptions of the South – the time for the leisurely savouring of life’s pleasures, in a way our cold-climate Protestant-ethic culture does not really encourage. And the more you do it, the more one learns to value superior quality, not in the envious sense, but simply for the extra pleasure it brings. I suspect that is the secret of southern European brio, and it is a cultural meme that we would do well to learn.

Much of modern life seems to me to thrive on dissatisfaction and anxiety; instead of devoting time to fire-fighting on mental health matters, maybe it would be better to dedicate good time to the appreciation of the small pleasures in life that might make emergency action less necessary.

Like an innocent appreciation of the simple, tactile pleasures of a small piece of beautiful fabric.

https://www.meschaussettesrouges.com/en/  (usual disclaimer)




Diamonds on the soles…


What’s a ‘poor’ boy to do? Ain’t no overtime will add diamonds to the soles of his shoes…

But the fact that you weren’t born wealthy, and never landed a job with a telephone-number salary, won’t stop you appreciating fine things, if that’s your inclination. You can write it off as class- or money-envy, but it needn’t be. Neither need it be about fashion-victim-hood or the desire to show off. Fine things are considered fine for a reason, and that is often more to do with their aesthetic (and sometimes practical) qualities than the social snobberies that come to be attached to them. The possession of money is not a prerequisite for the appreciation of such things.

It’s true that desirable objects often command high prices, simply through the mechanism of supply and demand – but there are still plenty of ways to exercise reasonable discrimination in how one parts with one’s cash without trashing one’s credit-rating.

Before I get lectured at, I am well aware that poverty can be crushing, in ways that those who do not experience it rarely appreciate; but my purpose here is to debunk the myth that stylish menswear is only accessible to those who are so wealthy they take it for granted that everyone else is too. I acknowledge that am fortunate enough that the the approach outlined here brings some such items just-about into range; what can I say that would placate those still enraged by my attitude? I can only explain that my own work and (former) income as a teacher hardly put me in the super-rich category…

It’s worth remembering for a start that while wealth might make style affordable, it doesn’t guarantee it. I would guess that the majority of the world’s wealthy (starting with The Donald) spend their money demonstrating their grotesque lack of taste, not the converse. Good judgement is more or less free, if you choose to develop it.

And yet it is all too easy to fall prey to the mindset of buying on price rather than quality, something that I think British culture is still remarkably prone to.

Then there is the long-standing advice to buy the best you can afford rather than the cheapest you can find, and to buy less but better. It has stood the test of time for a reason – as more likely will things that you acquire using that maxim. On a cost-per-use basis, cheap stuff may be a false economy; we are considering things here that ought to last a decade or more.

Flashy labels add a premium to not always superior products. But this is not a competition (which you will never win anyway) nor about impressing others, but principally about pleasing yourself by looking and feeling good. If others happen to appreciate your efforts, then that’s a bonus. So while big labels are worth considering, so are others that may be much less well-known. Indeed, part of the pleasure in working on one’s dress comes from the chase and the knowledge and judgement that it requires. The appreciation of good clothing is no different from that of good food, wine, art, music or any other aspect of aesthetic craftsmanship. In some ways it’s too easy just to resort to the best-known brands.

I’ve pretty much given up on the British High Street. Unless you want jeans, chinos and sports-wear, the rewards are generally not worth the effort. It seems to me that unlike in many continental countries, what is deemed adequate by and for the average Brit is too dull to be very pleasing. Sad to say, for anyone even moderately choosy there is far better quality and choice available elsewhere.

Neither do I see the point in the fake brands that mainstream chains use to differentiate their better lines. Even House of Fraser is guilty of having a fake Italian ‘name’ – though to be fair at least the clothes are Italian-made. Why not just stock the real thing (the prices are not always so much different, though the quality often is) – or better still simply produce good-quality clothes that can be sold for what they are? Anyone who is seeking quality is not going to be fooled by such compromises, particularly on fabrics: synthetic fibres will never substitute for good naturals.

Another way of saving is to eschew the service of the boutiques. While there is inherent pleasure in the attention of a knowledgeable tailor, if price is a big issue it is something worth forgoing. You can find the same clothes elsewhere, cheaper. Although some brands now manufacture lower-spec goods specifically for factory outlets, the quality may still be acceptable if you are careful – and this practice is by no means universal. There are some great savings to be made by discerning shopping in such factory outlets – and no one will be any the wiser over where you obtained your clothes, even if that matters to you.

And above all, the internet means you can now shop wherever in the world you choose. One substitutes time for money, both in terms of rooting out the bargains, and in waiting for deliveries (and returning unsuitable items) – but it means you can effectively access desirable clothing no matter where you live, even if your local shops can’t be bothered to cater for you.

In either case, one needs to alter the approach a little. Instead of aiming to purchase a particular item as needed, one needs to be more opportunistic. Buying items that fit and that you like when you see them becomes more important than buying for immediate use; buying them end of- or out of season also makes them cheaper. I would not generally recommend the use of credit as interest can push costs back up, quite apart from the other risks involved – but the ability to draw on extra resources does make this approach easier. PayPal’s four-month interest-free credit works for me on the odd occasion when a particularly desirable item appears at the wrong end of the month…

So here, to conclude is a directory of some of the best sources I have found on my virtual (and real) travels; the list is inevitably Italy-weighted, but you can shop electronically in France or any other country equally well. I do feel a tinge of guilt about what this is doing to British retail, but I can hardly go naked just because it doesn’t deign to cater for my tastes…

If it is quality that matters, continental retailers tend to be better further down the price range than in Britain, where I suspect manufacturers cut corners safe in the knowledge that the average punter will be none the wiser.

I realise that the prices will still draw gasps from some: if you really are into bargain-basement-wear, this is not for you. But for good dressing on a relatively small budget, careful use of these resources works.

https://www.yoox.com/uk/men Possibly the largest online outlet of all. Yoox seems to have access to old-season stock from a vast range of suppliers, including some that one cannot buy over-the-counter in the U.K. I gather the founder is well-connected… It is necessary to keep a close eye on what is on offer as stock changes frequently. Ignore the terrible photos in which the clothes often don’t fit the models, and remember that shipping and returns are often free. Yoox has had some bad press but apart from the odd sizing error, I have never found it to be less than efficient. If you are prepared to sift and/or wait for their ‘action’ offers, there are some stunning savings to be made, with some items from top-notch manufacturers being reduced by 70% or more.

I would recommend looking at Pal Zileri, Armani Collezioni, Caruso, Canali and Corneliani; if you chose your moment, the prices are little different from what one can easily pay on the High Street for much-inferior goods. Zegna and Loro Piana are there too, but still at a hefty price. There are plenty of attractive items by makers not known to most in the U.K.

https://www.kamiceria.com/gb/  A vast range of shirts and other clothes from respected Italian manufacturers such as Bagutta and Xacus. Typical reductions from around £90 to nearer £40 but some nicely-designed cheaper marques too. Sale prices not infrequently dip below the £20 mark. Classic shirts most likely to fit the average British figure. Free postage and returns.


https://camiceriaolga.it/en I have already reviewed the made-to-measure shirt I ordered from this company – excellent quality for the price of €55 for their standard fabrics; higher priced fabrics also offered. I shall be returning.

https://www.boggi.com/en_GB/home Beautiful clothing, but not often found in bargain outlets. Much of their range is tailored in slim and very slim cuts, but their accessories are well-worth the money during their extended sale periods.

http://www.scarosso.com/en/men/shoes Hand-made shoes that retail around the £190- £220 mark. While that is hardly cheap, the quality is excellent for the price. 10% discount if you are prepared to be bombarded with emails and other substantial markdowns on a regular basis, bringing them nearer High Street prices. Sharper than British designs, but hardly avant-guard.

https://www.loding.fr/en/ French company which has a small chain of lovely shops in most cities there. Their socks are excellent value for money with a wide range of colours and three sizes rather than the now-dominant two (currently £8 a pair, Aug 2017). Good quality shoes as well; I am not familiar with the shirts. They do not have sales, but all products in a given category are priced identically all year round.

https://www.meschaussettesrouges.com/en/ Another way to lift one’s dress without vast expenditure is to focus on accessories, in this case socks. One can purchase high-quality, distinctive socks without breaking the bank (around £8-20); again there is a world of difference between the dull/comic/overtly branded socks that dominate the mainstream British market and something much more interesting. Bresciani are especially worth a look.

https://www.julesb.co.uk Newcastle-based clothier which offers a wide range of labels. Markdowns are often not huge, but good items can be found in their sales.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Segni-et-Disegni Excellent, high-quality ties from a little-known manufacturer in Como. They don’t have their own website, but products can be obtained from Amazon Marketplace, in reality Cravatte Avenue in Lyon, France, which also has its own website https://www.cravate-avenue.com/   £30-£40 for excellent quality without a ‘label’ premium; wider range on C.A.’s website, but slightly higher prices.

S&D2https://www.tresanti.co.uk   Dutch company that sources most of its products in Italy. Slightly off-beat range at less than sky-high prices.

http://www.angelico.it Not quite my taste so I have not shopped there, but mid-range Italian styles with some good markdowns in sale periods.

https://www.puntomaglia.it/index-en  Made-in-Italy knitwear. I have yet to investigate but they look very promising. Gran Sasso is a brand that is well worth buying.

http://www.maestripellettieri.it/ Good quality leather goods at not-extortionate prices. I have only purchased a wallet, but it is very acceptable with good workmanship.

http://www.rionefontana.com/en/ Small chain based in the Veneto; rather too trendy for me as a rule, but I have had some lovely cashmere knitwear from them at sale times, with tremendous mark-downs.

https://maisoncashmere.co.uk Another retailer I have yet to shop from, but think I will have to investigate next winter. They operate batch-manufacture as and when they reach a threshold of orders, so there may be a wait for delivery.


http://boutique.franck-michel.com/en/ Interesting-looking shirts and accessories from Paris boutique.

https://www.fatherandsons.fr/fr_fr/ Mid-range French chain, with shops in most cities. A little sharper than their English counterparts. Will deliver to the U.K., even though the website is currently monolingual.

http://www.houseofbruar.com/mens/knitwear/merino/ Perhaps a surprising addition, but the quality of their knitwear is excellent, and comparable to others of higher price. Irritatingly low on stock for much of the time, but you might get lucky.

http://www.chesterbarrie.co.uk/ Probably my favourite British brand at the moment; one of the few British tailors to be rivalling the Italians for style.  It is by no means cheap, though selective shopping on their website can occasionally reveal good reductions, and they are stocked by House of Fraser, likewise. If you are within striking distance of their outlet shop at Freeport Braintree (Essex), it is an absolute treasure-trove. The fact that it is within easy striking distance of my home is not good for the bank balance… https://www.freeport-braintree.com/stores/chester-barrie/

https://www.ctshirts.com/uk/home I wrote to Tyrwhitt some years ago asking them to produce a sharper, more modern range. They have eventually obliged, even though, annoyingly, some of the results are only available in slim fits. Nonetheless good quality shirts though fabrics tend to be thicker, in the English tradition. Prices are good during sales, down to the lower £ twenties. Their knitwear is acceptable, but the quality of their other goods tends not to live up to their shirts. I see that certain other Jermyn Street firms seem to be following their business model.

This list will be archived and I may well make additions from time to time.


Food, Opinion & Thought, Sartoria

The not-so-bare necessities

I have been looking at some architectural impressions of various new developments. I always find architects’ sketches an attractive source of optimism, a promise of a better future. But notice how the human representations within are always stylishly dressed: people who, one could imagine working in glamorous creative industries or finance.

When these creations get built, many do bear passing resemblance to the designers’ dreams of a corporate Utopia – but those who populate them most definitely don’t look the same. I’ve recently spent time in a few such places: the enormous development that is the Stratford Olympic site for one. For all the lustrous finishes of the Westfield Shopping Centre, for all the stylish shops that occupy it, the majority of the clientele actually sports jeans and T-shirts or branded leesure-wear; stylish they aren’t. Truly well-dressed people are few and far between: one wonders who actually buys the clothes on show in the windows – maybe it’s just foreign tourists? Snobbery might resort to the fact that this is East London – but the same was pretty much true of the Grand Arcade in Cambridge, Chapelfield in Norwich, the Highcross Centre in Leicester, central Manchester and Birmingham, not to mention the glamorous alien that has landed in distinctly humdrum Chelmsford – Bond Street.

Truly stylish people have become almost an extinct species in Britain. It’s not as though we don’t have a time-honoured reputation for sartorial quality – even the Italians have a soft spot for traditional British style, menswear in particular. But who wears it any more, except possibly City bankers and Sloanes in Kensington? And even there, I suspect standards are slipping – the workplace is the last bastion of formal dress in Britain, but  that too is going increasingly casual.

Having done a little delving, there seem to be two issues that might be to blame: long working hours and a Protestant Anglo-American history.

Having recently suspended my own full-time employment, I can well appreciate the effect that it can have on one’s mind; when the attention is fully on the career, there is little mental space or energy left for the other aspects of life, let alone something so supposedly trivial as dressing artfully. And that’s where the second element kicks in: for all our supposed modernity, there remains a stubborn distrust of ‘show’ in British culture. A puritanical understatement is preferred, whether people are aware of it or not. I was inclined to blame America, the source of so many cultural evils, but there actually seems to be more interest with dressing well in the States than there is in Britain, if a quick web-trawl is anything to go by.

In fact, perhaps the mistrust is less spiritual and more societal: traditional British style still has strong associations with Class. People who choose to dress smartly are ‘probably’ either Hooray Henries, Toffs or other upper-class twits, and it isn’t cool to be identified as one of them. Much better to affect the inverted snobbery of wearing extortionately-priced sportswear and bling that make you look as though you’ve come straight from The Bronx.

Or maybe it isn’t even that: I suspect the majority of modern Britain either simply never thinks about how it looks, or doesn’t care, to the point of neglect. A concern for such issues only shows how shallow you are anyway, doesn’t it?

Well, I beg to disagree. True, taking care of one’s self may be unimportant when compared to huge global issues, but if every life is precious, then why waste it through neglect? Effort expended on small niceties adds colour and artistry to everyday life; it has a cumulative effect on the quality of that life and is a sign of self-respect.  I challenge anyone not to feel better if they eat well, live in cared-for surroundings, and take care of their personal standards in general. Conversely, what does it say not to care about these things? That life is trivial, unimportant, not worth taking care with? It may be that your priorities in life lie elsewhere – but somehow I suspect that they actually just took their leave some time ago. I think it was the designer Tom Ford who said that dressing well is a courtesy to others; if he is right, then it cannot say much about one’s care for other people either, to deprive them of that small pleasure.

What is true of clothes is also true of food, standards of speech and conversation and all other aspects of social intercourse. Collectively, these things create a context and tone for social interaction. In Britain, we supposedly had a food revolution. It’s true, the quality on offer has vastly improved, but eating well is still for the special occasion rather than the quotidien, and I suspect that most foodie books and programmes are consumed vicariously. When one listens to what people actually say about their lives, casual junk and supposed convenience seem to reign supreme.

It takes courage to maintain personal standards when everyone around you is dropping theirs, but I suspect there is a sneaking respect for people who do. In the small town where I live, there is one gent, probably in his early seventies, who regularly steps out in tweeds, plus-fours, waistcoats and a natty line in caps. He is clearly untroubled by the fact that he stands out.

But, in a very positive sense, everyone knows who he is.

Opinion & Thought, Sartoria

Chasing the wrong rainbow

When your professional life takes as its raw material human beings themselves, it is difficult not to become curious about what makes them tick: why some people take one course while others take a different one, why some people respond well to a particular stimulus while others do the opposite. Then there is the whole issue of what constitutes ‘success’ in life – something the education world is almost obsessed with.

I don’t intend to delve into nature versus nurture here, but the choices individuals make do seem to be governed in part by the prevalent cultures within which they live. When I ran a partnership with a school in Switzerland, the differences were pronounced: before pairing students up, I used to ask for a written self-portrait from each participant. Year upon year, it was remarkable how the Swiss came back with long lists of favourite authors, musical instruments played, sports and hobbies pursued, languages spoken and more – while many of my own British students struggled to write much at all, even when prompted. Shopping and ‘socialising’ were the main two; there were exceptions on both sides, of course – but the pattern was too marked over too many years to be mere chance.

Long acquaintance with both countries does suggest that this reflects a wider pattern: it’s hard to substantiate such things, but my lasting impression is that the Swiss lead active lives, wherein they themselves are the main instigator of their chosen path, whereas the typical Briton is more passive and herd-like, perhaps feeling less able to assert their own direction and individuality, and more content for (and dependent on) third parties to provide the stuff of life.

The reasons for this are too complex to explore in depth here, but I suspect that they go well beyond the respective wealth (and therefore means) of the countries concerned; perhaps British passivity is rooted in history, in a strongly hierarchical society where people knew their often-suppressed place, and have never really shaken it off. The Swiss, by contrast, have a strongly egalitarian streak, and despite the immense wealth of some people in that country, it rarely seems to express itself in the kind of (anti)social snobberies that are rife in Britain.

This concerns me especially at the moment, given the current flux in relations between Britain and the continent. My own hopes of European union were always primarily cultural – but it seems that, as a nation, we really haven’t learned very much from our close relations with our neighbours – and now it appears we are about to pull up the drawbridge again.

What has always inspired me most about the continent might be summed up in its relative resistance to the ultra-liberalism of the Anglo-Saxon economic model, where just about everything in life is becomes a commercial opportunity to be exploited – and much thereby loses its authenticity. Ironically, this comes out strongly in the respective ways of life: unlike the British, there does not seem to be the same chasing of material status Switzerland, though that is absolutely not to suggest they don’t appreciate substance; things are appreciated for their quality and style, not their trendiness, branding or opportunity to flash ostentatious wealth. People seem to be less taken in by commercial manipulation, in the way one sees plenty of people in the U.K. spending their cash on armfuls of ephemeral trendiness irrespective of the fact that the quality may be poor.

It seems to me that in their rush to prove (mostly to themselves) that they are not the poor relations, many Britons fail to appreciate the things – material and otherwise – that really add up to a good life. I will develop this idea in another post in due course – but as a culture we often scoff at the things that really can improve one’s quality of life while expending huge effort on doomed attempts to be cool or trendy. The main reason is this: we don’t seem to realise that a well-lived life comes from self-respect and self-knowledge, not from the contents of your shopping bags.



Olga delivers


Quite a few years ago, I bought a lovely shirt from a small gents’ clothier in Bologna. It somehow epitomised everything that an Italian shirt should be: super-soft lightweight cotton, cutaway collar, beautifully stitched, in a shade of very pale yellow. It was one of those shops where everything is brought to you from behind the counter, and I spent a good time trying a number for size, all to helpful comments from the owner, before I settled on one.

That shirt lasted, and became a much-loved item in my wardrobe, until it eventually became too small for the – ahem – ‘lunch’ (as one of my favourite British menswear proprietors would say…)

I was looking for a replacement but yellow shirts seem to be at the nadir of their popularity at the moment – which is how I came to order one from Camiceria Olga (see earlier post).

It duly arrived some days ago after a couple of weeks’ wait. I was curious to see how it would compare with off-the-shelf items from the likes of Bagutta, which are superb but come at a significantly higher price – and would it be a worthy replacement for the original?

Well, I can’t remember what I paid for the original, but for €55 this is very acceptable. The same light, fine cotton is there, the collar properly cut away, though perhaps just a little longer than I would prefer. The stitching is also finely done, down to smaller details like the seam offset under the arms. The fit is excellent; it looked large when it arrived – but it doesn’t tug over the lunch as some off-the-shelf ones do.


The colour is even paler than the original shirt – almost verging on cream, and I would have liked it just a tad darker. But as I said, this is very acceptable; the fabric comes from Olga’s ‘everyday shirt’ range, but it is certainly a lot finer than one would find on the average British High Street – and one has the luxury of choosing collar, cuff and other details as well.


There are undoubtedly more luxurious tailors available online – but at a much steeper price; for my money Camiceria Olga is excellent, and I shall be going back for more in due course. Except I will have to wait for the autumn, as true to Milanese style, they are chiusu per ferie (closed for holidays) until then.



Advertising – but not as we know it.


The Italian menswear brand Caruso is not old; it was founded in 2009 when the former CEO of Brioni Umberto Angeloni bought up a little-known fabric manufacturer and turned it into one of the most desirable, esoteric brands in the country. It remains little-known though: there is still only one shop in the U.K., Trunk in Marylebone High Street where you can buy Caruso clothes over the counter.

I have, however acquired some items by a less expensive (but totally legal!) route and I can vouch that the quality is superb. All garments are entirely hand-made; both the workmanship and materials are top-notch.

Angeloni is a perfectionist; what else can you call someone who changes his watch several times a day to suit the hour? Part of an Italian outlook on La Dolce Vita that I find simultaneously immensely admirable and completely, narcissistically over the top.

Somehow, they manage to pull it off without appearing ridiculous, which is the most likely outcome anywhere else in the world. I think the secret is not to take oneself too seriously…

As you might expect, the price of such clothes is eye-watering, but I will explain how they can be obtained for a fraction of the original cost in another post. For the moment, enjoy the first of Angeloni’s adverts for Caruso: as subtle as his clothes are beautiful, and playing to all my fondest images of his home country – a thing of gentle, slightly humorous beauty in its own right…



Will Olga deliver?

italian gent

It hardly takes me to mention how the internet continues to transform our lives. Since I stopped full-time work I’ve had the chance to delve a little deeper into a few things that have always been on the ‘to-do’ list.

I’ve never particularly liked what the British High-street offers by way of men’s clothing. I dislike denim and trainers and branded clothing and am not into the ultra-casual mid-Atlantic look. There are still plenty of excellent clothes manufacturers in the U.K., but traditional English style has always struck me as rather fogeyish.

No, what I really like is the Italian style – superb fabrics and cuts and the chance for a little well-judged individualism. I like the fact that it comes much freer of heritage or class connotations and the cuts are rather sharper and more contemporary than most English style. (I will be reviewing some of the exceptions to this in due course). I like the fact that it combines casualness and formability and in part glories in personal tweaks rather than mindless conformity.

I am very reluctant to part with good money for anything that I don’t really like, and which will hopefully last well, and the consequence in recent years has been an increasingly severe clothes famine.

Whatever Italy’s other shortcomings, menswear is one thing they do beyond compare. And now I’ve had the time to see what could be done about my rapidly depleting wardrobe.

I have found several suppliers who will ship to the U.K. (and elsewhere) either free or at reasonable prices. More on them another time; for now I want to describe my latest experiment.

How shall I put this? Age has worked no wonders for my body shape, and so when it comes to off-the-shelf clothing what fits in one direction doesn’t always work in another. It is particularly bad when it comes to shirts; aside from the fact that in a world where body-sizes are increasing I don’t know who is wearing all these extra-slim cuts, a badly-straining shirt can destroy any outfit.

Italian gent 4
Not only for the younger man…

So I’ve taken the plunge into made-to-measure. There are numerous online tailors doing this now, and some of the prices are not as high as I had expected. My first shirt was from Studio Suits. It is well-enough made and the improved fit is definitely worth the trouble. Cost: £39 plus postage, and it arrived in a couple of weeks. But I am not so happy that they manufacture in Mumbai, presumably in sweat shops.

So I now have an order in place with Camiceria Olga, based in Milan since 1948. Most Italian online made-to-measure still starts at not much below €100, but Olga’s ‘everyday’ shirts come in at €55 plus postage.

By reputation, they are very obliging, and I have already had a little chat with a lady called Sara who wanted to be precise about my measurements. She struggled to understand why anyone would own shirts with a 2.5cm variation in shoulder width. I reminded her that I am not Italian!

Anyway, a yellow poplin shirt is underway for me in Milan. It will take around three weeks to deliver and I will report again on findings when it arrives.


(This post is not sponsored)