Everything's just dandy
MEN ARE again embracing classic dressing, reinforced by the high number of dandies at the recent Pitti Uomo fair in Florence. You only have to look at the photographs of street-style chroniclers Tommy Ton and Scott Schuman from the Italian menswear trade fair to see that there is a shift towards the sartorial styles of the likes of Cary Grant or Gianni Agnelli or Tom Ford of late.
In fact, Ford can largely be credited for the revival. If Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme single-handedly changed men's fashion with slim suits and skinny ties, Ford put an end to that mode by bringing back a more grown-up and distinguished shape through his manly suits with their generous lapels and wide ties. A look which conveyed power, achievement and status.
And as is the nature of fashion, Ford's aesthetic ignited a rediscovery of the backbones of men's fashion: three-piece suits, double-breasted jackets, wide lapels, brogues, tassel loafers, and pocket squares.
'Classic is the new indie,' says Pak Man Lee, the Hong Kong designer behind the menswear label of updated classics the Perfect Tangent. For Lee, the epitome of classic style is Gonzales, the eccentric Canadian pianist who has an inclination towards bowties, silk robes and white shirts with high collars.
Mark Cho, the managing director of Hong Kong menswear fashion store The Armoury, explains that this trend towards classic dressing is a function of the economy. In times of economic uncertainties, consumers would rather spend their money on quality pieces that would transcend time and trends.
'Clothing has always reflected the state of the world and right now people want to be a little more sombre and to seem a little more grown up as they face their problems. Given the various crises going on, there is noticeable backlash against excess and frivolity and a strong movement towards quality and timelessness,' he says.
Because of its enduring look, when a man wears a classic style, he does not risk looking like an anachronism of certain trend or decade in the evolution of men's fashion. The same cannot be said for the skinny look (early 2000) or the grunge movement ('90s). 'I believe that the main draw of classic dressing is that it allows guys to look professional and stylish without having to constantly change wardrobes and clothes to chase trends,' says Justin Chang, a third-generation member of the Ascot Chang family, purveyors of bespoke clothing in Hong Kong.
So what does a man need to channel the styles of Fred Astaire and even James Bond? The basics are a good starting point. A two-button navy or charcoal-grey suit are good investments: they can be dressed up to look corporate or dressed down for a smart-casual look. The same for black suits, which are a little funereal and have become the standard uniforms of shop clerks from Gucci to Prada.
Dress shirts, bespoke especially, are essential. Even the very best ready-to-wear shirts cannot compete with those made to a man's exact measurements and specific requirements. 'A man should have a week's worth of dress shirts,' says Chang, whose family is one of the best in the shirting business. 'For basics, stick with white, light blue and light blue stripes. Find a collar style that best fits you and stick with it.'
Grey, khaki and cream trousers sound like the kind of pieces that every man should have in his closet, but one would be surprised to find these passed over for jeans with unfortunate washes or drop-crotch pants that never do justice to any physique. Get these trousers in flannel and light cotton.
How a man plays with accessories is also an important element of classic dressing. And this doesn't involve man-bags or diamond watches. Ties with tiny dots or in preppy stripes will never be out of style. Leather belts free of logo buckles, a discreet watch, and calf-length, dark blue socks are imperative.
Pocket squares, which are having a moment, are an essential ingredient of the get-up of a stylish man. Start with white linen bordered with a different colour and a flat fold. If you want to show more personality, go for the colourful or patterned ones and stuff them in your breast pocket. Pocket squares are to men what handbags are to women: you can have one for different types of occasions and times of day.
And lastly, invest in a good pair of shoes. Lace-ups and loafers in a narrow shape or double monk straps, which are being rediscovered by stylish gentlemen, are blue-chip investments. The dictum shoes can make or break an outfit is there for a reason.
'At its best, classic dressing is being distinctive but discreet in appearance, and being in control of how you present yourself to the world,' says Cho.
Tom Ford: If money's no object then head here for a suit - it has the best fabrics and cuts. IFC Mall, Central. Tel: 2234 7802
The Armoury: The ideal one-stop shop for the classic dresser. Pedder Building, Central. Tel: 2804 6991
Ascot Chang: With a huge selection of fabrics and styles, there's something to suit everyone. Prince's Building, Central. Tel: 2523 3663
Ralph Lauren: Nothing says 'I mean business' quite like the brand's double-breasted suits. The Landmark, Central. Tel: 2869 0388 Ermenegildo Zegna: One of the best ready-to-wear sources for that classic Italian look. Ermenegildo Zegna. IFC Mall, Central. Tel: 2295 0828
Moustache: Known for its take on tropical menswear: slim cotton suits and sheer voile shirts, cut with an impeccable eye for fit and detail. 31 Aberdeen St, Sheung Wan. Tel: 2541 1955