I am frequently asked whether I have an explanation for the truly appalling standards of dress exhibited by men (I can hardly call them gentlemen) on the streets of Britain. The slovenly, drab clothes worn by my compatriots – both young and old – cause shame to those of us who remember when the sartorial principles of the British (perhaps I mean English? – but no, the Welsh, the Scottish and the Northern Irish were our equal in this regard) were, to use the cliché (which was a cliché because it was true), the envy of the world.
Every item in a gentleman’s wardrobe should bring him pleasure. Those pieces which have been made for him alone – the finest suits and topcoats from Savile Row, the perfectly constructed shirts from Jermyn Street et al. – will be much loved pieces, regarded with that fondness he otherwise bestows only upon members of his own family. After all, they express not only his sartorial standards but also his aesthetic values, both of which, we hope, are impeccable. For myself, I confess that my keenest enthusiasm is reserved for the contemplation of my shoes. Fine bespoke shoes are works of art. In their form and in their practicality (for shoes must be comfortable), they manifest beauty and speak reassurance. In a world awash with the trivial and the second-rate, they tell us that there are still those with the skill and the eye to create and to care about the best. And, in my judgement, the best bespoke shoes in the world are made by George Cleverley & Co. Ltd.
For those of us who try to dress properly, life is full of hurdles. One of them can be summed up thus: how can I ensure that I have a beautifully presented shirt to wear each day when I am travelling? The answer to this important question is not as straightforward as some might suppose. “Use hotel laundries,” I can hear many a reader murmur. But I have learnt over many years that sometimes the standard of these facilities can be woefully low, and it is not difficult for a bad laundry to ruin a good shirt. Therefore I make it a rule on my travels to wash my own shirts. Consequently, I always ask for an iron and an ironing board to be placed in my room. But some hotels – particularly in Italy – refuse to supply these items, usually claiming that ‘fire regulations’ necessitate their refusal. How, in these circumstances, can one avoid the risks of hotel laundries and yet still appear in a smart shirt? I believe I have finally found the answer.
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Readers might care to look at the interview with Francis Bown on Keikari