EPISODE 21: VELVET REVOLUTION
I was 30 before I owned my first double-vented blazer, and 40 before I ever contemplated a velvet one. My son is seven, and he recently arrived at the dinner table in a midnight blue, double-vented velvet blazer. I was merely in a gingham-checked shirt. The heir eyed me up and down with a disapproving look.
"Dad, is that all you're wearing? Aren't you going to change for family dinner?" Clearly, no one had informed Dad that tonight's side dish would be cheek.
"Where did you get that?" I snapped at Nicholas as he jammed both hands in his pockets and swung his torso from side to side. The plan for the afternoon had been that while Dad cooked up some steaks and potatoes dauphinoise for the family, Nicholas and my wife, Honor, were meant to complete one simple task. They were meant to buy Nicholas a new pair of blue jeans, not indulge his fantasy to lounge around like Lord Lygon at Madresfield.
The reason for my being piqued was that the finer things in life are better appreciated if an aesthete works his way up to them. "Luxe is wasted on the young" would be my variation on George Bernard Shaw's hoary aphorism. I'm old school this way. I subscribe to the spare-the-lamb's wool/ spoil-the-child school of thought.
The finer things in life are better appreciated if an aesthete works his way up to them. 'Luxe is wasted on the young' would be my variation on George Bernard Shaw's hoary aphorism
Cashmere was not something most children ever wore when I was growing up. As a teenager, I remember mistakenly charging a cashmere V-neck sweater to my dad's Brooks Brothers account. Most of the time he overlooked (or pretended to overlook) the odd wardrobe refresher, but that $350 cashmere item was like waving a red flag in front of the old bull. Soon after the bill arrived, my dad sat me down and explained, "You shouldn't wear cashmere until you can pay for it yourself." The man had a point. I didn't develop my drinking legs on grand cru Bordeaux. I did it with beer, rum, whisky or anything cheap I could get my underage paws on.
In a way I am to blame for Nicholas' velvet jones. One day as I was getting dressed for work and he was chatting with me, he wandered over to my wardrobe and grabbed at the sleeve of one of my tweeds. I admired the grab. It was the same one I had seen my Savile Row tailor use when he caught me two-timing him with some Italian off-the-rack. "You have so many blazers, Dad. What do you call this one?" he said pointing to an old green Harris Tweed that was so durable it would probably outlive me.
"A tweed. Tweeds are great because you can really beat the crap out of them, and they just get better and better with age."
"I'd like you to get me a tweed jacket. It gets a little boring wearing a blue blazer all the time," Nicholas said of his schoolboy workhorse.
Instead of waiting for me to take him tweed shopping, Nicholas conned his mother into allowing him to skip all the intermediate stops - no need for corduroy, seersucker or madras. He had decided to go from the bunny slope to the double black diamond of velvet. I admired his guile. When my wife escorted Nicholas to the fitting room of the local boys' shop to try on a few pairs of jeans, he acted skittish. "Mum, I can't try these jeans on," he informed her from behind the curtain of the fitting room.
Countless dollars later, the heir was headed home dressed for a duet with Michael Bublé
"Why not?" she asked.
"Because I'm not wearing any underwear, so I probably shouldn't take the pants I'm wearing off." My wife took a flyer on the size of the jeans and headed to the register to pay for them. But before she could get there Nicholas stopped in front of a mannequin featuring a midnight blue, velvet blazer. He began to pet the jacket as if it were a lost puppy then looked at my wife with his big blue eyes. Gosh, Mummy, can we keep him?
Countless dollars later, the heir was headed home dressed for a duet with Michael Bublé. When I saw him at the dinner table in his selvedge jeans, Chelsea boots and velvet jacket, I could not be upset. He lacks all fashion inhibition while his dad still hears the voice of Sir Hardy Amies crackling over ship-to-shore radio, through the mists of time. "As a collar, velvet can be an elegant adjunct to a London overcoat, but it looks terrible with anything other than a stiff-collared shirt," wrote Amies in his ABC of Men's Fashion circa 1964. "[As a dinner jacket] it can look well in a cold country house."
Sir Hardy's advice has meant that velvet only adorns my dancing slippers and the trim of my best topcoat. I will probably never have the pleasure of dressing for dinner in a dilapidated country house of my own, but it is my hope that Nicholas will have the sort of successes in life where he will. And this pint-sized swell will be ready, as he already has the perfect jacket for a drafty family dinner in the salon.
To read Mr Brodie's previous columns, click here. Follow Mr Brodie on Twitter @jbrodieny