Nine Important Details In Menswear And Why They Matter
From Italian pockets to weatherproof shoes, these are the design features that make a difference
Despite the fact that trends come and go every six months or so, the fundamentals of menswear have been largely unchanged. This is no bad thing. For one, it means building a wardrobe that transcends the seasons is easy to do. Over the years, designers have had to find novel ways to distinguish their wares. The devil, it seems, really is in the details. Most of these small additions, alterations, trims and tweaks originated to satisfy a practical need. Others are employed merely for visual effect. Whatever their origins, they make the clothes pop. And they matter. Here’s why.
The relationship you have with your jeans is a lasting one. And, if the pair in question happens to be of the selvedge variety, it might even be for a lifetime. The tell-tale striped edging is a quality assurance – a signal that you’ve picked a pair built to last. But denim isn’t the only fabric that bears this hallmark. By definition, all rolls of woven fabric have them to prevent fraying and unravelling. So, cleverly, Officine Generale has applied the same principles to another wardrobe essential that gets a lot of mileage: the Oxford shirt. In this case, the selvedge cotton has been sourced from Japan, where it’s woven on vintage looms, creating yet another point of distinction.
02. THE FELTED UNDERCOLLAR
Menswear might be a detail-driven business – to quote perfectionist designer Mr Tom Ford – but it’s also rather prosaic, semantically speaking. It does what it says on the tin. A felted undercollar, for example, refers, literally, to felt under a collar. Some say the tradition minimises fraying and wear over time, while detractors claim it’s deployed these days to hide unsightly machine stitching. We fall into the former camp – in our experience, it adds a certain sharpness to tuxedo jackets, as demonstrated by Thom Sweeney above, and overcoats that’s unmatched by self-facing fabrics. Oh, and it looks great popped up against the wind…
03. THE GROSGRAIN PLACKET
If Mr Tom Ford is detail-driven, then it’s fair to say fellow designer Mr Thom Browne is obsessed. His signature tricolour grosgrain trims – a type of ridged ribbon you’re more likely to find in a haberdashery – are inspired by, as it happens, a trip to a New York haberdasher. But the corded fabric has had numerous applications in menswear over time – from seam-reinforcing side-striping (on both formal trousers and sweatpants) to shirt plackets. This latter practice is particularly useful when the shirt fabric in question is fine – poplin, for example. Not only does it strengthen the material at the main stress point but it encourages the placket to lay flat and, thus, looks altogether smarter.
04. BUTTERFLY LINING
It is right around this time of year, as spring begins to bloom, that we start to take stock of our suit supplies. As summer (and wedding season) approaches, finding the perfect lightweight blazer becomes something of an obsession among MR PORTER’s ranks. The catch with all the fabrics that fall into this category – linen, cotton, seersucker – is that they’re naturally inclined to creasing. This, of course, is partly the point; a certain level of nonchalant rumpling should be wholeheartedly embraced in the warmer months. But there’s a difference between this preferred state of dishevelment and total disarray. The line between them, as ever, is fine, but a butterfly lining – two “wings” of overlapping fabric lining the shoulders – helps enormously in this regard. Crucially, it won’t add bulk (or extra insulation) like a full lining but it will smooth out your frame and create some ever-so-slight structure.
05. STORM WELTING
Storm (otherwise referred to as Norwegian) welting is a more robust and, as its name suggests, weatherproof option. The technique calls for an extra-wide sole, which allows the stitches to thread down and then upwards, creating a watertight seal or channel that allows you, in the right pair, to safely traverse any puddle-strewn streets you encounter. Though, when the pair in question is as nice as George Cleverley’s Archie Derby shoes, might we suggest keeping any splashing to a minimum?
06. TAPED SEAMS
If you didn’t take heed of our advice about splashing in puddles, you’ll want to take note of what comes next: taped seams. Say what you will about the transience of trends, it’s comforting that a rudimentary form of waterproofing that’s been around for over a century still has relevance today. Making clothes, by and large, involves stitching pieces of fabric together. The problem with said stitching is that, no matter how fine a needle you use, you’ll inevitably create rows of tiny punctures, which water will seep through. Taping the seams, usually with rubber or another watertight material, is the simplest but one of the most effective ways to prevent arriving at the office a sodden shell of your former pre-commute self. In most cases, you’ll find the method employed by sports or traditional brands, such as Arc’teryx or Mackintosh, but as designers continue to experiment with technical fabrics and finishes, expect more directional pieces to become the norm. Happy splashing!
07. THE BARCHETTA POCKET
Espresso. Vespas. Emotive hand gestures. Some things are just better left to the Italians, tailoring included. But, like the country’s culinary endeavours, suits are subject to regional variation, too. In Milan, for example, strong shoulders are preferred, whereas in Naples, you’ll find that everything’s markedly more relaxed. Like the Englishman’s ticket pocket, a barchetta (literally “little boat”) pocket – a type of hand-finished chest pocket that graciously curves through the upper torso, adding definition and textural detail – is a standout feature of the area’s tailoring tradition. Boglioli’s flagship K-Jacket, a blazer available in practically every fabric and colour imaginable, offers an excellent example to follow.
08. BIAS TAPING
Once you get down to the nitty-gritty of clothes-making, there’s a multitude of manners in which a design can be enhanced or ever-so-subtly improved upon. These are the sorts of techniques you don’t come across every day; the ones that faster fashion brands might overlook or deem unnecessary in the name of cost-cutting. One such is bias taping, seen here on a rather excellent pink visvim jacket. Reminiscent of “swelled edges”, a largely forgotten tailoring tradition used to reinforce tweed suits, this type of piping uses strips of fabric cut, you guessed it, on the bias. The main rationale is to retain both the material’s strength and its flexibility – so the edging is still strong, but also unlikely to pucker or wrinkle over time.
09. THE HEADPHONE JACK
If you’ve read this far, you’ll have noticed a common thread: the details that define menswear often have a long and storied history, and are, unsurprisingly, derived from or related to tailoring. But you shouldn’t discount the convenience of more modern innovations in fashion. A headphone jack, for example, comes as standard on a ski jacket and sportswear, but why not a suit? That’s precisely the thinking behind Hamilton And Hare’s travel blazer, which is equipped with a specially designed collar to accommodate your headphones discreetly as well as a corresponding phone pocket with a cutaway for your aux cable.