Channeling Churchill

With the Olympic Games in London, financial turmoil all over the globe, near daily reports of severe unrest and brutal atrocities in various corners of the world, and a bitterly contentious presidential campaign in full swing here in the USA, I am wondering what Winston Churchill would have to say about all of it if he were alive today and I could get him to sit with me for a few moments, perhaps with a pint of Newcastle Brown or Deuchars IPA.

Short of that fantasy becoming a reality, or my reading a biography of the great man to cipher out his wisdom, I thought the most expeditious way to begin a journey into the mind of Sir Winston would be to wear his favorite tie pattern, and to wear it in a bow as he did. Churchill regularly wore a bow tie and his tie pattern of choice was the iconic (because of him) navy blue with white dots: always distinguished, with the right balance of punch and formality.

Long associated with intellectualism, a bow tie is like wearable punctuation. A signature look for some (like Churchill), wearing a bow tie is a way to mix up your business look, or to show some whimsy in a dressy casual or social situation. According to Warren St. John, as published in the NY Times,

“To its devotees the bow tie suggests iconoclasm of an Old World sort, a fusty adherence to a contrarian point of view. The bow tie hints at intellectualism, real or feigned, and sometimes suggests technical acumen, perhaps because it is so hard to tie. Bow ties are worn by magicians, country doctors, lawyers and professors and by people hoping to look like the above. But perhaps most of all, wearing a bow tie is a way of broadcasting an aggressive lack of concern for what other people think.”

Tim C. from Milwaukee, an avid bow tie wearer, says:

“The truth is when you wear a bow tie you’re making a statement. But in all instances, it’s a great statement. People assume if someone has the courage to wear a bow tie then they must be smart (let’s be honest, the nerd connotation is there, you’d seldom assume someone wearing a bow tie has a low IQ) and, because they’re wearing the bow tie, they are confident with who they are. In business, being “cool” all the time isn’t effective. Being smart and confident? Who doesn’t want that?”

Bow tie wearing is clearly gaining momentum. Aaron H., who works in San Francisco for a Gaming software company, told us that his firm has instituted a policy called “Dress up Friday.” A bow tie is now part of his look on those days. A menswear publication, MRketplace, reported last winter that “Bow Tie Friday” is catching on at a NYC financial firm that has recently reverted to a “full business attire” dress policy.

What’s the biggest hurdle for most men to even consider wearing a bow tie? Until you’ve actually done it a few times, learning to tie a bow tie can rank with the world’s most frustrating activities. I would further reason that the degree of difficulty is also why it is so satisfying when you finally do it, and at least part of its character and “cool” factor. It’s true that one could buy a bow tie that is “pre-tied”, but that kind of shortcut makes the bow look too perfect. If you’re going to make the statement of wearing a bow tie, do it well. Learn to tie your own.

Watch Tom James clothier Tim Cornell reach Bow Tie nirvana.

Want to wear a bow tie like Sir Winston’s? The navy dot pattern (style16956-400) is available through your Tom James Clothier as a bow tie, a regular tie, or even as a pocket square.

Channeling Churchill and feeling better already,


When you mean to say “I ain’t playin’,” (aka “I mean business”) that’s a time to wear…Pinstripes


In an early scene (sometime in 1963) of the film Catch Me if You Can (released in 2002 and based on a true story), when Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leo DiCaprio) was sixteen years old, he and his father, Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken) were standing in front of Chase Manhattan Bank when Sr. asked Jr., “You know why the Yankees always win, Frank?” Jr. replied, “Because they have Mickey Mantle?” To which Sr. said, “No, it’s because the other team’s players can’t stop staring at those damn pinstripes.” Truth be told, the Chicago Cubs’ uniforms have had pinstripes since 1907 and they are recognized as the first Major League Baseball team to incorporate pinstripes into a baseball uniform. Since then, several other teams in baseball and other sports have included pinstripes in their uniforms. Could there be a reason?

Pinstripes (and chalk stripes) have long possessed an aura, a kind of power, which commands attention, respect, and deference. Pinstripes take names and leave no prisoners. Mr. Abagnale could just as well have said, “Those impressive pinstripes” or “those awe-inspiring pinstripes.” Pinstripes also make the wearer look taller and cause the eye to move up and down, drawing one’s attention to the heavens (or at least up toward your face, which is where you want it go.)

So inherently a part of the Wall Street and traditional banking cultures, a pinstripe suit, one that is navy blue in particular, naturally causes one to think about investments. Investing in stocks and bonds can be a good thing. Some people like to invest in real estate or precious metals. But, among a long list of investment options, the one that we all have the most control over and the one most likely to pay recurring dividends is an investment in one’s self: from education to image, both of which are a life-long endeavor, in need of regular updates.

Of course, it’s not only what’s on the outside that one should pay attention to. In the long run, the quality of character and interior substance of the person and his suit are what sustain success. We will talk more about that in weeks to come as we open up the world of quality and excellence that is Oxxford. For now, I invite you to learn about The Anatomy of a Tom James Suit (note: within “How it Works,” go to “Tailoring” to see video.)

While pin and chalk striped cloths are available in a multitude of weights and finishes, a mid-weight flannel version is the hands-down choice for cooler climes and for those who just plain want that extra dash of “cool.” Similar to cashmere, the finish will make the one who takes you by the arm want to hold on that little bit extra. (Bummer.) If you really want to make an impression, add a vest, like the double-breasted number that is part of the featured look at the top of the page. Stop it already. You’re killing me!

To borrow a line from a popular advertising character: The occasion may not always call for a commanding presence, but when it does, wearing a well-proportioned pinstripe, with just the right amount of verve and swerve, will lift you to a place of maximum confidence and self-assurance.

This time I mean business,

Glen Plaid: A Sartorial Change Up

The national pastime’s All-Star break was two weeks ago, and the teams that are still in contention for the playoffs are looking to shore up their lineups for the home stretch run. One more power hitter or an extra arm in the bullpen could make the difference. Most baseball aficionados would tell you that come playoff time it will all come down to pitching. Great hitting brings out the crowd, but great pitching wins championships. Whether or not that is altogether true, it is likely that the pitchers who have more in their repertoire than just a 95 mph fastball or mesmerizing curve ball will get more outs in the clutch. What you really need to win more of the close ones and the big game is a well-disguised change up.

A change up is an illusion: a pitch that looks like a fastball as it leaves the pitcher’s hand, but is actually moving much slower. If the batter was looking for a fastball he will be fooled and swing early. Sartorially speaking, if a navy pinstripe or charcoal solid suit is a fastball, then the reliable change up is, surely, a black & white glen plaid. While the desired effect is not to fool, the intent is to lighten the mood, soften one’s appearance or to appear more relaxed and approachable.

For the man who is usually seen in darker colors and/or simpler patterns, the look is unexpected and refreshingly different. Eric P. from the San Francisco bay area says, “The thing I like the most about my black and white plaid suit is the fact that every time I wear it I get nice comments. I also like how many different combinations I can wear with it.” While a glen plaid suit has been an essential part of a well dressed man’s wardrobe for several decades, such was not always the case. The “change ups” inclusion in the list of essential suits required a shake up.

The shakeup that occurred in the 90’s when casual clothing found its way into the boardrooms of big business was not the first or only time that the rules of propriety and style have been turned on their head. Prior to the 1920’s, the line between urban and country (rural) clothing was clear and solid. It may not have been double yellow, but certainly wasn’t dotted. A glen plaid suit would have been reserved for wearing outside of the city and never in the evening. It required none other than Edward, the Duke of Windsor, to blur the distinction.

The Duke was said to prefer a style he called “dress soft.” With that came a fondness for the soft hand of flannel cloth, suede shoes, and the pattern historically known as the Glenurquhart plaid. The Glen Urquhart plaid (also called the Glen plaid, or ‘Prince of Wales check’, as popularized by Edward, when he was Prince of Wales) was originally a woollen, Scottish tartan cloth with a woven twill design of small and large checks creating a box-like effect.

The name is taken from the valley of Glenurquhart in Inverness-shire, Scotland where the fabric is thought to have first been used in the 19th century by the New Zealand-born countess of Seafield to outfit her gamekeepers. However, the term “Glen plaid” did not appear in usage before 1926. It was thought that the name took hold because the pattern resembled an aerial view of the glens of the Scottish landscape.

Over time, the pattern became a popular suiting, since it can look dressy, depending on the scale and intensity of the pattern. As a general rule, when the scale of any pattern moves from small to large, the garment becomes more casual. It is also good to remember that if the plaid is bold enough to use as an odd jacket, then it shouldn’t be tailored as a suit. Likewise, if it is subdued or fine enough to worn as a suit, it is generally too muted for an odd jacket. This is, once again, a good time to lean on your faithful clothier!

What’s your favorite “change up” look?

Sartorial Solutions,

The Iconic and Essential Navy Blazer

Could Civilization (western anyway) survive without it?

My first serious piece of clothing from the local men’s store (The Squire) was a navy blazer – a wool/poly blend, purchased for my high school graduation. I realize that some of you reading this got your first blazer at a much earlier age; but for me, that jacket was symbolic of my transition into manhood and filled me with pride.


Not including the powder blue leisure suit, purchased a few years earlier, of which nothing more needs to be said, I didn’t get my first “real” suit, a three-piece grey herringbone, until I was a senior in college. A more modern approach to wardrobe building might be to purchase the suit first; with a blazer (and grey trousers)being the second addition. Either way, the essential nature and casual elegance of a navy blazer is inarguable.

For those who care about such things, red, green, navy or blue, or a boldly striped cloth containing similar tones, would all fall within the range of acceptability for a jacket properly referred to as a blazer. Respected sources, G. Bruce Boyer in particular, suggest that the original blazer was in fact “red” and was worn by the members of the Lady Margaret Boat Club of St. John’s College, Cambridge.

The term “blazer” referred more to the color – which appeared to be set-a-blaze – than to anything else about the jacket. The model for what most of us now think of as a blazer has nautical roots, thus the term “navy blazer.”  Midshipmen in the British Navy began wearing short navy jackets called “reefers” as early as the 1820’s. (The multiple meanings of the term “reefer” are the subject of a different blog.)

Navy blue, more than any other hue, has long been the international standard for the most fundamental and versatile of “odd jackets” (a jacket not belonging to a full suit of clothes.) The most traditional cloths for a blazer are wool serge, gabardine, or flannel. More often than not a blazer would be accented by gold (or brass) buttons, historically exhibiting the crest of one’s family or club. For a more relaxed look the buttons could also be bone or mother-of-pearl, ranging in color from white to a medium or even dark brown.

The navy or blue blazer remains a beloved and iconic wardrobe essential because of its universal acceptance, extreme versatility, and at least a mildly subconscious if not direct connection to the sea and a sense of discovery. What’s better, there are numerous ways to fine tune the details of a blazer to make it both a classic and very personal expression. Your Tom James Clothier can help you design one that is just right for you.

Already have a blazer? Think that a blazer is just too basic? Consider these five ways to update your blazer in a way that you will thoroughly enjoy:

  1. If the blazer you own is made from a smooth cloth, choose one with noticeably more texture. Or vice versa.
  2. Pick a new shade of navy or blue. Dare to go blue and enjoy the compliments.
  3. Go Double Breasted this time. Classic elegance epitomized.
  4. Get a new blazer with an updated, trimmer fit.
  5. Have your next blazer made by Oxxford (Worth every penny. It will change the way you think and feel about clothing.)

Blazing new trails,