“Style is more character than clothes, more attitude than affluence. It’s you making visible your inner self. So forget what you learned about appearance not counting; you can no longer afford to be without style.”—Hara Estroff Morano
“Lots of fellows have asked me who my tailor is,” Bertie Wooster once remarked of his favourite tweed suit. “Doubtless in order to avoid him, Sir,” replied the ever-reliable Jeeves. Not a remark a chap’s ever likely to hear if he’s riding around town in Rapha’s take on this celebrated fabric, the Rapha Tweed Softshell.
Tweed, as any sartorially-minded fellow can tell you, hails from Scotland where it was originally known as ‘tweel’ by word of mouth. A coloured variant of twill, a traditional two-threaded weave, it was in the 1830s that a London fabric merchant mistakenly assumed a roll of material he had received from the River Tweed area had been misspelt. Today, the term ‘tweed’ is used to describe a wide variety of woollen and worsted cloths but it has always been synonymous with sporting performance.
A close relative of the tartans worn by Scottish clansmen as far back as the 16th century, just as tartans were used as a rallying point for members of the same family, so tweeds were used to identify those who worked on Highland estates. These ‘Estate Tweeds’ came into being around the 1840s, when the increasing volume of wool imported from Australia led to the decline of the native Cheviot sheep. With landowners looking for alternative revenue streams, flogging deer stalking and grouse shooting rights to wealthy southerners became a nice little earner. Thus, Scotland’s grand sporting estates were born and estate tweeds quickly became the uniform of choice.
Outdoor clothing for the sporting gentleman has always required function and form to go hand-in-hand. Sporting tweeds were developed to break up the wearer’s appearance and help them blend into the landscape particular to individual hunting estates. Even bright colours, such as red and yellow, worked effectively when combined with more sober ones and weaves could also be altered to cater for the changing seasons.
These colour combinations were meticulously researched in a bid to find the most effective solution. On the Strathconon Estate, in Ross-shire, one local weaver produced as many as eight colour variations before sending stalkers into the surrounding hills to see which proved least visible (the tweeds worn by those that avoided shotgun fire won out). In the field, these proved extremely useful for camouflaging deer stalkers, helping to disguise both a sportsman and his guide as they crept ever closer to a keen-eyed stag.
Although Estate Tweeds exist in near countless combinations, some styles have become more universal than others. Glen Feshie, the oldest, is a simple black and white design and based on the checked cloth originally worn by shepherds. In the 1870s, it was adopted as the official livery of the New York Gun Club. By the 20th century, it had spread worldwide and became known simply as ‘gun club’. Glenurquhart, another black and white check, is the tweed most widely adopted by the fashion world, while tartan, unsurprisingly, refers to designs based on clan tartans.
One of the more notable chapters in the story of tweed is the ‘Norfolk’ jacket, which has been de rigueur among sporting types since the 1860s. Thanks to the patronage of a dandy-ish Prince of Wales, his Royal Smartness made the Norfolk instantly recognisable as the single-breasted, semi-formal jacket that survives today. With box pleats back and front and a belted waist, the Norfolk was created in response to conventional shooting jackets that tended to restrict arm movement when the rifle was raised to the shoulder. It was for precisely this reason that the Norfolk featured a reinforced shoulder pad, much like the Tweed Softshell, although our reinforced shoulder is intended to protect against bag straps rather than the damage caused by hefting your 20-bore Holland & Holland Royal Over-and-Under (if you need to ask, you can’t afford one).
The Norfolk’s overall aesthetic was one of understatement and at the same time conferring a certain distinction upon the wearer (much like the Tweed Softshell). Made from a tough wool fabric, the Norfolk Jacket was breathable and insulating and a robust construction ensured it would improve with wear. It is at this point that the humble bicycle enters our tale.
An affordable means of travelling further and further afield, the rise of the bike in the early 20th century proved a simple way of carrying not just man but also equipment for a then relatively new social pursuit – camping. The father of modern camping was one Thomas Hiram Holding, a tailor from Shropshire who used his professional know-how to make a very lightweight tent, as well as specialist apparel designed for cycling and camping for which tweed proved ideal.
Holding was a founder member of the Bicycle Touring Club, an organisation variously headed by some of the greatest outdoorsmen of the age. Among them were Captain Robert Falcon-Scott, of Antarctic fame, and Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout movement. That the club was able to attract such august fellows lay in the fact that, in its early days, camping was considered a gentleman’s pursuit, one that sat as comfortably alongside hunting, shooting and fishing as trophy antlers above the mantelpiece.
This, in turn, led to the notion of the ‘gentleman gypsy’, a cultured wayfarer navigating Britain’s country lanes resplendent in tweed. It wasn’t long before the poor air quality in Britain’s cities spawned other social movements, those with missions to encourage the masses out of urban areas and into the fresh air. “There goes the neighbourhood”, as various members of the landed gentry might have said when the great unwashed pedalled up the drive.
& now we have a Sartorial cycling jacket with intelligent design
Tailored using a Schoeller® tweed exclusive to Rapha, the jacket’s main material is windproof, water resistant and has a breathable membrane. A zipped vent on either side of the jacket helps regulate body temperature further. Based on Rapha’s Classic Softshell Jacket, the jacket is cut for the best position on the bike, with side panels for a structured fit. The jacket has a high, protective collar to keep out the elements and neoprene cuffs ensure comfort even in a heavy downpour. An offset zip prevents chafing and ensures a clean fit, even when riding in the drops.
Functional details include reflective piping and a durable ‘shotgun-style’ shoulder patch to prevent bag strap wear. The arms of the jacket have cross-stitched elbow patches and two-button ‘shell’ pocket. The inside of the jacket has a neoprene-lined zip-pocket for a wallet or phone and there is also a small, outer valuables pocket for keys and other items.
Styling elements include a two button collar, brown synthetic-suede zip puller, and stitched red detailing. The jacket also has Rapha branded buttons and a trademark left armband with contrast Rapha logo. Contrast red adjuster cords and cable routing loops can be found inside, along with an illustrated story label inside the jacket.
Our favorite sunglasses are made at a factory in Randolph, Massachusetts, USA. Randolph Engineering (RE) has built glasses for the US military since 1982. NASA’s astronauts and Navy fighter pilots wear them. And yet, in getting to know them (we sent fan mail that they answered), we’ve learned that Randolph remains a small company, a family business that does things the old-fashioned way. Which is to say, the right way. And a trip to the factory only grew our love of all things Randolph.
The process as we saw it begins with the frames, which are a metal alloy wire composed primarily of copper and nickel, the best Randolph can source. This wire is spooled through a machine programmed to precisely cut each individually styled frame’s pieces.
The factory feels old-fashioned, as you might imagine, with tools, machines, people, and jigs that have been around since Randolph was founded in 1972.
Engineers work here, as do tinkerers, people committed to precision, but also creativity.
Grzegorz, of Polish origins, does all engineers proud. He’s been building and testing RE’s machines and developing new products for over 32 years.
Jigs. We heard the word often on our tour, and they’re central to the whole process. Each frame has one unique jig to its style, size, and make. Precisely cut jigs ensure precisely cut, precisely soldered frames.
Soldering is done by hand, and Randolph offers a lifetime warranty on its frames’ joints. This means that its frames’ metal alloy components, which are soldered together, will not come undone or else Randolph will fix or replace them. Needless to say, Randolph maintains very high quality control standards which include a final, 100% inspection of all frames.
There are multiple options for the temples of the frames. Shown are bayonets with plastic temple tips around them to prevent slippage.
Randolph imports glass lenses from Germany because it wants the best, and the best is Randolph’s priority. Its recently upgraded polycarbonate lenses are the next generation in polycarbonate with 5-6X additional strength and upgraded impact resistance. Machines in the factory size lenses to the precise make and style they are programmed to cut. These purple lenses belong to the Ranger series, designed for the shooting market.
The original 1981 line drawings from Randolph’s flagship product: the Aviator. Precision, or perfection rather, within +- .010 is Randolph’s culture, and everyone was very happy to explain even the smallest details to us. Though time has passed, the Aviators have remained a classic. They’re our favorites, and the subject of a future post.
Jan Waskiewicz and Stanley Zaleski founded Randolph Engineering in 1972, and grew it as a family business with a soul. Something that is not easy to do. Randolph’s ethos inspires us to continue to stand for and believe in things, like the best of American manufacturing. We’re proud to call the good people at Randolph our friends, and to offer our thanks to them for living by the words on the plaque at the entrance.
* I still have a pair of SS RE sunglasses that I purchased back in the early 90s, they have out lasted all my sartorial misdemeanours & RayBans..
Dressing like yourself, Or grown men style in the modern world.
From our earliest experiences we dress in costumes, preparing for the world we hope to tackle. From the cowboy at 5 to the skater at 15, we don the costume and feel the strength to play the role. We affiliate with our tribes though the badges we wear, be it a Nike swoosh or a bespoke Oxford, and learning which of these are someone else’s costume and which are our own is the essence of dressing well.
For many the first business suit is much the same. A costume to wear from nine till five, until the Friday bell sounds and the costume of weekend comes out. The one pair of black shoes, the two charcoal suits. A dreary garb for that aspect of life we endure, waiting for a time when we can dress as ourselves. But more often than not our non work garb is as much a costume, a uniform, as the business suit. The porsche owners ball cap or the yachting jacket, the monogrammed loafer and the designer underwear that proclaims style through association, but not necessarily style in and of itself.
The most confident dressers I have met are those that are able to eschew these badges and dress in a way appropriate to each facet, each endeavour in their lives. A suit and tie is as much a costume as a pair of overalls and red wings, depending on who is wearing them, where and when. In the correct context garments regain their utilitarian aspect, and what is more masculine, more grown man than that?
To drop the costume, the badges, the associations that come with a certain brand or team, is a frightening prospect for many. While for our grandfathers classic dress was a learnt skill, part of the essential lore passed down from father to son along with manners, etiquette, how to shake a hand and how to meet an eye, for many my age that is a verbal history that has been severed.
The rise of street wear and youth culture means that many people that were youths in the sixties had no interest in dressing like their fathers. The rules were abandoned and clothing was liberated. By the seventies and eighties, the rules were back, but being rewritten each season by designers trying to sell a new look.
When progress is dictated by obsolescence and change, both the good and the bad are abandoned, to the detriment of the man trying to dress well. It’s little wonder that many men approach shopping and classic dress with as much enthusiasm as a chore. But an increasing number of men are rejecting the lack of individuality in mass market clothing.
Men want to know the rules. Not to be bound by them, but to be empowered by them. To know what works and why takes the power away from the designer or the retailer and places it squarely in the hands of the everyday man.
I’ve often suspected that the first bespoke suit a man makes is like learning the magicians secrets - that moment when a man understands that he can dress himself more aptly as himself with much better results than any designer can.
A man who has dressed himself and understood why it works, rather than following the advice of his spouse or partner, has one more weapon to face the world with. Literally he has gained his suit of armour.
So to make it simple, how you dress depends on you. Grown men style is literally that - the style of a confident, self aware man. Dictated only by where you are, what you are doing, and who you are with. A dinner suit is a tool, perfectly adapted for the formality of a black tie event. As inappropriate at a breakfast as jeans in a board room. To respect the occasion and the people you are with by the formality, or lack of, in your appearance is truly grown man style.
Merino wool is one of nature’s little miracles. Naturally breathable and odour resistant, the interior of the fibre is ‘hydrophilic’, meaning it retains water. When merino absorbs perspiration, it holds it in the fibre without the fabric being damp against your skin. The outside of the fibre on the other hand is ‘hydrophobic’, i.e. it repels water. Add to that the fact it also absorbs UV radiation and it’s hard not to be at least a little impressed.
Merino helps regulate your body temperature regardless of the conditions. In the cold, it traps a layer of air against your skin which your body heat then warms, keeping you insulated in the process. However, what a lot people don’t realise is that it is just as versatile in warmer conditions. This is due to the fact that each and every fibre is breathable. So, when you start to produce more heat than the fabric can retain, in the form of moisture, the excess is released through the fibres as vapour and moves away from your body. So, whether riding in winter through wind and rain, or climbing mountains in the height of summer, this ‘super-wool’ works with your body and the conditions you’re facing.
There are, as you might expect, different grades of merino. You can find various grades within Rapha jerseys, boxers, hats, socks, polo shirts, sweatshirts and, of course, base layers. The merino used in Rapha products is the result of a long-running research and development programme set up in New Zealand, home to the world’s finest (and softest) merino sheep.
Combining scientific analysis with state-of-the-art breeding programmes, merino produced under the Merino Advanced Performance Programme (MAPP) is now widely recognised as the very best of an already high-quality fibre. MAPP merino not only guarantees that the wool has been responsibly sourced but also that it will perform better than any synthetic fabric.
And don’t just take our word for it. In studies conducted by the Clothing and Textile Sciences Department at New Zealand’s University of Otago, a group of significantly fitter than average athletes were monitored during a range of exercises in varying conditions. To determine the extent to which the fabric worn when exercising affected performance, the athletes were tested first wearing merino garments and subsequently wearing performance garments made from 100% polyester. In an effort to prove the versatility of MAPP merino, both athletes and garments were tested in both cold and hot conditions, 8C and 32C respectively.
The results were striking. While all the athletes displayed a lower heart rate during periods of exertion wearing merino compared with polyester in cold conditions, their heart rates in hot weather were lower still. Similarly, the onset of sweating happened much sooner when the polyester garments were worn although, interestingly, the difference was more pronounced in cold conditions than hot. Lastly, the percentage increase in core body temperature was lower for the test subjects wearing merino than synthetics, markedly so in hot conditions.
Beats per minute (bpm) one minute intervals throughout exercise using PE4000 Polar heart rate monitor.
Mean minutes to the onset of sweating during exertion, determined by examining the match in time point intervals between a marked increase in core and skin temperature with a corresponding increase in relative humidity under the garment.
Mean core temperature in degrees celsius, one minute intervals using a disposable oesophagael thermistor
High-grade merino performs significantly better in reducing physiological stress during exercise than its polyester counterparts. The key to the performance of merino produced under the MAPP scheme is the strength and length of the individual fibres. The finer the fibre, the higher the grade of the merino and consequently, the better the performance. MAPP merino uses the finest merino fibres available. This is achieved, in part, by the lifestyle of the sheep that produce the wool. Free to graze on entirely organic pasture in New Zealand’s mountainous farming terrain, MAPP sheep spend their lives between 2,000 and 7,000ft above sea level – i.e. in very clean air – and in very low concentrations when grazing, thus reducing stress. In merino terms, the sheep produced under MAPP guidelines are the equivalent of wagyu beef.
Rapha have pioneered the resurgence in the use of wool for cycling apparel. Sportwool and Merino are performance fabrics derived from a natural source, and they work with your body and skin like nothing else.
* hence why I have being RAPHA every week end all winter & will try this summer.
** “IceBreaker” from NZ also have a great range of fine merino products