Apr 012014

You’ve invested in a dinner jacket (aka tuxedo), but somehow that sharp, striking reflection in the mirror remains elusive.  Being a dandy is in the detail, and whilst there are numerous accessories available for black tie these days, the genuine vintage article can be procured for a modest sum, if you know what to look for.

Traditionally, shirts were collarless.  A separate, highly starched collar would have been attached with collar studs at the centre back and front of the collar band.  The front stud goes through both sides of both the shirt and the collar (4 layers in all) to keep it neatly together.  These collars come in a variety of shapes with their own names, so learn which suits your face, although wing is the convention for black or white  tie.  The collar MUST be the same size as the collar band.

A dress shirt (to be worn with a dinner jacket or tuxedo) should have a dicky, which is a highly starched or decorated false shirt front.  As you only see the collar, dicky and cuffs beneath the jacket, it is important that these areas are crisp, and by crisp I mean starched to kingdom come.  We’re all familiar with the 1970s ruffle shirts and the ’80s novelty versions, but the purpose is the same- to fill the chest area attractively.

Inexpensive dress shirts can often be picked up as they appear to be missing buttons.  In fact, dress (or shirt) studs are worn to close them, with a single stud going through each side to hold the shirt closed.  These range from virtually disposable and made of plastic (yuck) to those made of precious metals inlaid with garnets or diamonds.

To neaten the waist area, a waistcoat or cummerbund is worn.  A cummerbund should be pleated so it sits neatly in the curve of your waist, and made of the same fabric as the lapels of your dinner jacket- probably silk satin or grosgrain.  It clips shut at the back, well out of view.

!BuwIDdgEWk~$(KGrHqMOKjcEveeZ11LiBMBogv2HsQ~~_35For a period look, I prefer waistcoat fronts to a full waistcoat.  These were popular in the first half of the twentieth century, and consist of two fronts which meet behind the neck in a kind of halter neck, with two ties at the waist meeting at the centre back with a clasp.  They should cover the waistband of your trousers.  If you have a fuller chest, they also give a neater line.  The fabric is usually cotton piqué or grosgrain silk.  Often they have buttonholes and there isn’t a button in sight.  This is because they should be worn with decorative waistcoat buttons which attach with a clip, so they can be removed for washing.


The bow tie should be either black or white, depending on the dress code.  If white, I like a cotton piqué one that sits well alongside the waistcoat of the same.  Apart from anything else, they are hand washable.  Otherwise, the bowtie should be the same weave as the jacket lapels,  and ideally the cummerbund (in lieu of a waistcoat).  You should tie it yourself, the ready made variety are not for those over 16.  If you find it tricky, take some simple internet instructions, create a mirror image of said instructions by flipping them in Photoshop or similar, print, pin to your shirt and read in the mirror as you tie the bow tie.  Reading directly whilst glancing up at the mirror will never work.

Cufflinks are plentiful in antique sales, thrift stores and on eBay.  If you’re in London go to Covent Garden on a Monday morning and peruse the jewellery stalls in the antiques market.  You’ll find all sorts of well worn treasures going for a song.  They should complement rather than clash with any dress studs and waistcoat buttons worn.  If you’re going for classic, mother of pearl throughout would be safe, but the experimentation is where the fun is!

Pocket squares (handkerchiefs) should be pressed white silk.  Cotton may be acceptable if it is of a sufficiently high quality and matches the shirt.

Button braces should be white so they are barely seen against your shirt.  Hopefully, your trousers will have special buttons with rounded backs in the right places, giving maximum security.  If you must wear a belt, then skip the braces.  Again, I’d go for eBay as these items are often barely worn before being passed on.  Everything about braces is worth a read.

black tie footwear imageSocks should be black, finely knitted (ideally in silk), and pulled taught over the calf.  Sock suspenders can be worn if yours will not stay put.  On the right is a guide to appropriate footwear, which should be in either patent or highly polished black leather.  The Art of Manliness has more on the subject.

Hats are at your discretion, but NOT to be worn indoors.  A black moleskin topper is ideal, the sheen of the skin setting off the lapels and stripe down your trouser leg.

In the mean time, I’d trundle over to eBay, and start typing in keywords, as all these items were commonplace in the years up to the war, and are currently being released from attics and dressing rooms one stud at a time!


Mar 192014

Man in corsetThis corset was made from an original edwardian pattern in Norah Waugh’s excellent Corsets and Crinolines.   The pattern was scaled up, then adapted to fit the wearer.  Its 16 panels give a fantastic shape on any body.

The corset is made of 2 layers of stiff cotton drill enclosing spiral steel bones, which is then covered with sequined silk, and the edges are bound with bias strips of the same fabric.

There is a steel busk at the centre front, so you can dress yourself (but it’s hard to pull it very tight on your own) and metal eyelets down the back.

Due to the heavyweight foundation materials and authentic construction, it’s a corset that can truly re-shape your body to desired proportions.


Only available as a bespoke garment.  Corsets from £300, this model from £450.

Feb 192014

Possible dress alteratinsIt is possible to alter womens clothes for men.  Retaining femininity and elegance alongside dignity whilst undertaking radical alterations is the key.

Successful dressing is part art, part science and part sorcery. The rules as defined in the 1950s and 60s are best laid out in Dress for Success by Edith HeadThe Art of Being A Well Dressed Wife by Anne Fogarty also has excellent advice for looking the part, but is NOT feminist friendly.  According to Anne, discipline of the mind, body and emotions is what leads to complete femininity and successful expression of your identity.

Trinny and Susannah have a slightly dated take on body types and what suits them, and Colour me Beautiful is the template all image consultants work to when deciding which colours and shapes work for you.  Have a look at Alexa Chung for current trends. Lucia van der Post of The Times and How to Spend It shares all manner of style and beauty tips in her book Things I wish my Mother had told me:  Lessons in Grace and Elegance.  It’s not a sexy book, but it’s the best out there for the modern woman, and has great advice on clothes care too.

Camoflage by Edith Head

Dress as camoflage by Edith Head

Just as different clothes suit different body shapes, different alterations are required to make those clothes look good on different people.  Contrary to what the fashion industry would have you believe, as people get bigger in different directions proportions and aesthetics change.  The trick is knowing what you like and persevering when it comes to sourcing and remodeling the frock for your figure.

As the turnover of most women’s wardrobes is a fast one, there is much choice to be had in nearly new, designer resale, vintage and charity shops.  Know your size (measured in the correct underwear and padding) and shop with a tape measure as standard dress sizes are a myth.   Fabrics, position of pockets and buttonholes cannot be changed later.  Natural fibres are best when it comes to alterations, wool and silk being the most forgiving when it comes to loosing seamlines and adapting shapes.  Portobello Market on a Friday is great if you are looking for vintage pieces.  Ebay is worth persevering with, especially as most garments are measured rather than sized.  It will be easier to make separates work than frocks as you don’t have to worry about the length in the body.

Should you be in the market for couture or bespoke, choose your dressmaker carefully.  Visit them armed with images you like and a clear idea of what you want the garment to do.  Be prepared to explain your preferred fabrics and style and to discuss every last detail of the garment.

NB Altering mens clothes for women is a separate post.

The green panels show new elements inserted to radically alter a dress

The green panels show new elements inserted to radically alter a dress

Which alterations are possible?

The golden rules
•Always make sure the garment fits the largest part of your body.  Fabric cannot be magicked out of thin air!
•Women’s clothes close right over left, men’s left over right,.
•Armholes and sleeves must be changed in conjunction with each other.
•It is hard to alter shoulders, lapels and across the back at armhole level or above.
•Fittings must be with the correct underwear including any padding.  Ideally the right shoes should be worn too.  Think outfit rather than garment.

Tried and tested solutions
•Insertions of lace, net, or contrasting fabric to lengthen sleeves or hems.
•Replacement of back, or chest with sheer stretch net (as used by ballroom dancers).
•Adding eye catching detail at the neckline to draw attention to the face, and away from (-insert issue here-)
•New sleeves added to garment to cover arms.
•A garment can be fitted to enhance the curves within.
•Layers are your friend.  They flatter, add interest and hide all manner of garment mis-fits.


Standard alterations
Fitted with darts front or back
Extra buttons added to prevent gaping
Cuffs changed/ added
Bottom shaped or shortened

Extensive alterations
Length extended with chiffon so top can be tucked in, and stays there
Sleeves changed/ added
Neckline changed
Collar changed/ added
Inserts added for length


Standard alteration
Expand or reduce at waist
Shorten or let down hem

Extensive alterations
Move/ change zip
Alter seams down length of skirt
Add inserts to lengthen
Add panels to give fullnessAdd lining/ netting/ frills under skirt to give shape


Standard alterations
Reduce or expand waist centre back
Shorten or lengthen trousers (plain or with turn-up)
Move buttons or waist fastening
Add belt loops

Extensive alterations
Alter waist at side seams
Restyle pockets (where possible)
Take leg seams in/ out
Lower crotch


Standard alterations
Fastenings movedDarts at front and/or back to give shape
Waist nipped in
Hem shaped,  shortened or let down

Extensive alterations
Neckline changed
Move/ change zip
Alter seams down length of skirt
Replace back with stretch panel
Add inserts to lengthen
Add panels to give fullnessAdd lining/ netting/ frills under skirt to give shape
Sleeves added
Inserts put into hem or sleeves

Jackets and coats

Standard alterations
Buttons moved
Sleeves shortened/ lengthened (no vent/ buttonholes)
Darts in front (no pockets) or back to give shape
Seams shaped below armhole

Extensive alterations
Sleeves shortened with vent/ buttonholes or at shoulder
Length shortened/ extended
Fronts shaped at hips
Taking in across the back at armhole level or above
Moving sleeves to take in across the back, reduce shoulder and trim waist. (I know it sounds weird, but they are connected.)

Price guide
Small alterations from £15  (button moving from £3)
Extensive alterations from £35
All pricing is based on an hourly rate.  Most garments need several alterations to fit properly.  Once the work is underway the cost is always less than the sum of the alterations undertaken.