[Ed. note: This post is by guest writer LIAM HILL (no relation to Kashmir), who will be writing a series of posts about fashion and style. Fashion is a popular topic these days. See, e.g., the undershirts post (200 comments).
Perhaps it's because Fashion Week is about to get under way in New York. You can follow goings-on over at our sister site, Fashionista, which will be covering the collections live from Bryant Park.]
With the economic downturn, lawyer layoffs, and pushed-back start dates, I’ve been wondering about the influence that such turmoil has had on — what else? — office fashion. I tend to agree with Mark Twain, who said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” (Well, unless you’re in the middle of Times Square, with a guitar and a cowboy hat.)
Leaner times tend to bring out the Brooks Brothers aesthetic, and business casual once again goes where it belongs — away. Ties and coats return, flip-flops and “commuter shoes” stay home, and “white shoe” again can once mean white shoe (but only on Fridays). Although many will resist the siren song of a more formal workplace, the trend is inevitable. I know you won’t believe me, but apparently those who want to take your job already do. At least according to Turnbull & Asser.
Read my interview with James Cook (pictured), Bespoke Manager of Turnbull & Asser, and share your thoughts on the current state of men’s fashion, after the jump.
Since I am built for comfort, not for speed, buying off the rack is a poor option. I prefer my clothes bespoke. So, the only place to seek an answer to this sartorial inquiry is from, what is arguably, the best place in New York to get the bespoke treatment, Turnbull & Asser.
James Cook – not the pirate — manages the bespoke services at T&A (acceptable abbreviation?). I sat down with him to discuss the trends in office fashion. You should read his responses in a British accent; it gives the piece that extra piece of authenticity.
ATL: What trends have you seen in your time at Turnbull & Asser?
JC: In the 90’s, many Americans came into Turnbull & Asser in London and every single person was talking of the dot com craze and how they would never have to buy a tie again. They were only ordering shirts. And then there was a massive crash, and everyone went back to a tie because the Bank Manager showed up, or the Finance Minister. Gradually people started wearing less and less ties again until this recession.
You notice in this recession that people are dressing up again. Every time that [an economic downturn] happens, people have to get suits and shirts. They have to sharpen themselves up again.
Everyone forgets about history; the shirt, the tie and the suit never change. I don’t know why people think it is okay to be casual at work…. [I]f I show up and my bank manager isn’t suitably attired, I am not going to trust that person with my money. Same thing with my lawyer.
ATL: Have you seen in your clients a trend towards more ties and business attire?
JC: People are sharpening themselves up again. They are concentrating on more ties. More younger men, the young guys we look after, all are in suits and ties. We don’t advertise at Turnbull & Asser, but we get a lot of young guys that are coming in to emulate their bosses. They get a recommendation from their bosses about their tailor. A lot of the young guys coming in all want smart shirts, and they’re buying ties — especially in this period in life, where people are all sharpening themselves up.
ATL: With the economic downturn, how has this affected your business?
JC: We have had a lot of people coming in and buying new suits, ties and shirts. August has been very good for us. A lot of these people are buying our kind of clothing; these people are going out to interview, and they need to be seen. It is not just how good they are at their jobs, it is how they look. They are representing themselves and their new businesses.
ATL: What are you seeing from your lawyer clients?
JC: Most lawyers that we look after, they are buying shirts and ties; they look sharp [because that] is what is expected of them, really. Anyone who works should dress up because they are trying to get to that [next] level.
Even though things are casual in the office, more men are dressing up because they don’t want to be casual. When you keep to the suit, the gray and the navy, it is more of a uniform. But more and more men are buying distinctive ties to separate themselves from the others in the office. People are coming in to buy something special. People say you never judge a book by its cover, but you take someone more seriously when they are suitably attired. If you are wearing a suit and tie, doors open for you. If you show up casual, you aren’t going to get into certain places.
Turnbull & Asser, a mainstay on London’s Savile Row, provides services to the likes of LeBron James, Dubya, the Prince of Wales, and Tony Bennett. They also outfitted Ronald Reagan and Sir Winston Churchill, whose purple velvet jumpsuit is on display in their Midtown shop (pictured below).
Winston Churchill. Purple. Velvet. Jumpsuit. You read that right.
Check out the slideshow below; click on each image to enlarge. A quick guide to the slides:
1 – James Cook in front of a display of bespoke collars
2 – Sir Winston Churchill’s shirt pattern
3 – Necktie and shirt display
4 – Necktie and shirt display
5 – A royal commission, from the Prince of Wales, to Turnbull and Asser, Shirtmakers
6 – Autographed magazine cover from client LeBron James
7 – Purple velvet jumpsuit of Sir Winston Churchill
8 – Tony Bennett’s shirt pattern
9 – Monogrammed socks display