The Stylish Gent’s Guide To Wearing Silk
From left to right: Dries Van Noten runway, Paris, January 2020; photograph by Isidore Montag/IMAXTREE.com. TOM FORD runway, Milan, January 2020; photograph by IMAXTREE.com. Ermenegildo Zegna runway, Milan, June 2019; photograph by Mr Daniele Oberrauch/IMAXTREE.com. Dunhill runway, Paris, June 2019; photograph by Mr Carlo Scarpato/IMAXTREE.com. Casablanca runway, Paris, June 2019; photograph by Mr Alessandro Viero/IMAXTREE.com.
You’re probably familiar with silk in the form of ties, pocket squares and the occasional lapel facing, but what about the rest of your outfit? In recent months, the popularity of silk has rocketed on the menswear runways, from louche shirts to statement tailoring, and as our silk aficionados explain here, putting silk on your back comes with myriad benefits that pay dividends for its initial outlay. So, without further ado, here’s how to wear silk, and, perhaps most importantly, how to take care of it.
01. Silk shirts
Up until the mid-20th century, silk shirts were largely worn as evening dress – Turnbull & Asser, which has long had the patronage of distinguished dressers including multiple James Bonds, continues to excel in this genre. “While I love a crisp white cotton dress shirt, a silk one is far more refined. In contrast with a structured dinner suit, it looks totally effortless,” explains Ms Becky French, the brand’s creative director. “For our shirts, we use a spun plain weave, sand-washed silk – it comes in a heavier weight and has a wonderful matte finish, instead of the slinky, shiny appearance that silk commonly has.”
By the 1970s, rakish silk shirts in trippy, kaleidoscopic prints worn from day to any ungodly hour began to climb the style ranks, thanks largely to rock icons such as Mr David Bowie and Sir Mick Jagger, who were known to favour a louche, billowy shirt. That particular style has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance in recent seasons, and a fluid, retro-inspired shirt is a great way to dip your toes in the trend. Gucci, Fendi and Casablanca all have plenty of styles on offer with jazzy, continental flair in spades.
For something a little more low-key, see French brand EQUIPMENT, which has a solid reputation with silk that harks back to the 1970s. “Silk shirts are amazing to wear – they’re light and fluid so they’re incredibly comfortable,” says Mr Tim Bailey, senior vice president of EQUIPMENT. Due to the way it falls, silk can do much to flatter your physique – whether you’re been putting in the extra hours with the weights or, perhaps more likely, have been neglectful of your usual gym regimen in recent months.
It’s also worth looking at L.E.J, founded by Mr Luke Walker. “Silk shirts blur the boundaries between formal and casual. A rare and delicate fabric – worn unbuttoned, in a casual design, sleeves rolled, crumpled, tucked into jeans – silk can make what is essentially a very dressed-down look suddenly expensive and refined,” explains Mr Walker. “I use a relatively heavy sand-washed silk for our shirts. This rich, full handle, coupled with the washing, which makes the silk matte, gives a very masculine version of silk, making them really easy to wear.” So, if you have reservations that a silk shirt might be a bit too Mr Władziu Liberace for your tastes, then L.E.J’s understated, down-to-earth approach is worth a punt.
02. Silk tailoring
It’s a widely held belief, particularly among tweed and flannel-clad Brits, that tailoring is most suited to cooler climes. While that might have some truth, look away from traditional heavy English cloths and towards Italy, where tailors pioneered the use of lightweight wool and silk-blend cloths that breathe like a second skin to combat fluctuating mercury levels. Thankfully for the rest of us, the Italians aren’t playing solo on the field anymore. Mr Tom Ford turned heads with a collection of rather bold silk suiting in his AW20 show, as did a decidedly contemporary-focused Dunhill.
Mr Oliver Spencer, founder of the eponymous label, as well as the London-based formalwear brand Favourbrook, is another, albeit slightly more buttoned-up, example. “I find it’s a brilliant fibre to use in our spring/summer tailoring and especially formal pieces that sit close to the body, such as waistcoats – it can absorb 30 per cent of its own weight in moisture and dries extremely quickly,” says Mr Spencer. “It’s also a beautiful fabric to embroider as the triangular prism-like structure of silk fibres subtly reflects light, highlighting colour and detail.”
Mr Dag Granath, co-founder of Stockholm-based brand Saman Amel, which fuses a fuss-free Scandi sensibility with an obsessive appreciation of fabric engineering, also favours the use of silk in tailoring. “It adds another dimension to your garments,” he says. “The lustre and and character it imparts gives tailoring an entirely different appeal – one that’s elegant and carefree.”
While linen tailoring might be a more wallet-friendly option, a silk-blend suit resists creasing more readily, a bonus if you’re not a fan of the artfully crumpled look that accompanies a linen ensemble, or if you’re just not much of a dab hand with an iron. “Its better resistance to wrinkling means silk-blend tailoring holds its shape better than linen throughout the course of the day, from work to after hours. It’s smarter, more elegant,” says Mr Granath. “Of course, silk is ideal for statement eveningwear. A black or off-white dinner jacket in solid silk is as handsome it is comfortable” he says. “But beyond the black-tie sphere, silk-blend tailoring can be easily broken up and worn as separates, and it’s just a sexier alternative to typical wool tailoring.”
03. Silk knitwear
Cashmere might be considered the king of yarns, but when it comes to your woollens, adding silk to the mix has its own merits, says Ms Isabel Ettedgui, owner of artisan label Connolly. “Silk is a natural fibre, so it blends beautifully with other natural fibres, such as cashmere and merino wool and it enhances any colour by giving it a rich depth, due to the how well it dyes,” she explains. And it’s not all about extra kudos for your Pantone palette, either: believe it or not, there are even health benefits to having a bit of silk in your Sunday pullover. “Silk has natural anti-viral qualities and is a superb temperature regulator – it cools you in warmer weather and keeps you warm in winter, like a natural thermostat,” says Ms Ettedgui. This benefit is down to the presence of sericin in the fibre, which also makes silk hypoallergenic and airy, helping to prevent skin irritations, which is of particular advantage if you tend to come up a bit hive-y in wool.
Mr Patrick Munsters, the brains behind SALLE PRIVÉE, a label founded on the concept of well-built, quietly elegant staples that resist seasonal shifts in taste, is known for using silk to improve the structure and longevity of his knits. “Adding silk fibre to knitwear makes it stronger, without taking away the softness or thermal regulation properties of wool,” says Mr Munsters. “It actually helps to hold a garment’s shape, preventing distortions in shape over years of wear and cleaning.”
The brand’s cashmere-silk bouclé knits are a particular favourite of ours with their fuzzy, rich texture that makes you think you could live the rest of your life in a sweater. It’s the acute attention to detail that goes into the crafting of these knits that Mr Munsters is particularly proud of. “Bouclé has an extremely soft feel and fine texture. Our version is densely knit, whereas many you will find will have a looser weave. We pay particular attention to this as we don’t want your T-shirt beneath to show through.”
04. How to take care of silk
It goes without saying that as a fabric, silk has a reputation of requiring the sort of maintenance more expected of a Kardashian than a piece of clothing. But contrary to popular opinion, it’s hardier than you’d think, says Mr Will Lankston, operational director at Jeeves of Belgravia, dry cleaner to Prince Charles. “Of course, some silk items do require dry cleaning, like tailoring. But some silk garments can be washed. It’s a natural fibre and copes with moisture well. It’s best to handwash in cold water with a natural soap detergent,” advises Mr Lankston.
This eco-friendly approach is also favoured by Mr Walker, but for different reasons. “I treat my silk shirts possibly a little rougher than I should, but the fabric is more resilient than people realise. I throw mine in the drum – on a delicate cycle with appropriate detergent, of course. I like the seasoned feel that develops when you wear and wash them, they just get more comfortable with age.”
One area where you do need to think a little differently is storage. Silk can be sensitive to UV light – and like pasty, sun-starved skin that’s not had the factor-50 treatment on a roasting summer’s day – it can wreak havoc, causing fading and discolouration, so keep them in a dark area of your wardrobe for long-term storage.
The good news is, unlike your treasured cashmere, which is like Christmas lunch to hungry moths, you don’t need to store silk in vacuum-packed bags. In fact, Mr Lankston recommends the opposite. “Silks need to breathe so never seal them up in plastic, which can retain moisture. Store them in a cool, dark section of your wardrobe and use breathable covers if you have issues with insects.”
Of course, despite our best intentions, accidents can happen, particularly if you’ve become a bit cack-handed after thinking it was wise to polish off that vintage bottle of chianti at the end of the night. “In the event of a spillage on silk, never rub the stain or apply water” advises Mr Lankston. Using two pieces of plain tissue or handkerchiefs, hold them either side of the fabric to blot the excess, then take it to a reputable dry cleaner who knows how to deal with silks. It always helps if you explain what caused the stain, too.”