Tweed Archive: Cushing and Lee Edition

Peter Cushing’s notes on playing Sherlock Holmes for his performance in The Hound of the Baskervilles [Hammer Films, 1959]:

Morning suit—hat—gloves?—cane.
Cape over tweed suit (no hat).
Put stains and burns on gloves.
Don’t make Holmes obvious—or his suspicions. Suspect everything.
Don’t do jackets up at all.
Get nervous energy over.
Just slip pipe to mouth (not open mouth). Puff clouds of smoke.
Sardonic sense of humour. Flashes of steel after laconicness.
The deerstalker has been dyed a little.
Do cuffs up as if buttoned—short links.
Make top quiff of hair stand up a little.
Have hypnotic quality. Slight mystic quality.

Dialogue from Horror Express [Granada Films, 1972]:

Inspector Mirov: But what if one of you is the monster?
Dr Wells: Monster? We’re British, you know!

Oxford 1928

The 1920s were probably the last golden age of university life on both sides of the Atlantic. It was a time when serious scholarship, gentlemanly sport, camaraderie, and collegiate gothic were still the rule, before academia became an increasingly dreary training ground for the increasingly deranged Post-War political order.

At Oxford in 1928 the Union and Dramatic societies collaborated on a short film documenting student life. It was filmed by C.C. Calvert and edited by Thorold Dickinson, who went on to direct the superior 1940 version of Gaslight starring Anton Walbrook.

Oxford can be watched in its entire 19-minutes via the British Film Institute. But just the still frame above captures much that was special about the time and place. 

Tweed Archive: Prince of Wales Edition

HRH Prince Charles, writing in The Telegraph, September 2016:

I want to encourage much greater understanding of wool not only as a global environmental resource—versatile, sustainable, renewable and natural—but also as a global fashion resource of the highest quality, with a natural elasticity that makes it easy to care for and a cell structure that allows it to adapt to its environment, making it cool to wear in summer and warm in winter.

Golden Fleece Forever

It was bad news last July when the iconic American mens fashion house Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Founded in 1818, Brooks Brothers is the oldest clothing company in the country, having passed its two hundredth anniversary. The brand was quickly bought by joint investors Authentic Brands Group and Simon Property Group for $325 million in August. This was inevitable. The label is too valuable to abandon. But that label could be stuck on anything, and previous corporate owners have produced clothing lines with little reference to the classic Brooks Brothers style.

So when the new creative director Michael Bastian announced his plans for the company’s future it came as a welcome overture. He writes at Instagram, “Where to begin? Easy—go back to the fundamental icons of the brand and of course that starts with the original #ocbd the #og the icon worn by icons.”

He describes trying on an Oxford shirt “from the archives from the 80s,” writing,

it was like seeing an old friend. The weight and density of the fabric, the famous collar roll, the precise button placement and the roomy fit (that feels so right again after years of overly skinny shirts), and of course the exact perfect pink that no one got 100% right but Brooks Brothers. It’s all coming back—we’ve set up the fashion equivalent of a forensics lab to study and measure and get this shirt back to its true original glory.

Tweed Archive: Oliver Reed Edition

Michael York, quoted in What Fresh Lunacy is This?: The Authorized Biography of Oliver Reed, by Robert Sellers:

And certainly Oliver was an aristocratic sort. I knew he had a house in the country and I could see him as the country squire type, wearing tweeds with his gun dogs. He fitted in perfectly with that kind of image. He’d been brought up in good schools, with good manners…he was like an aristocratic ruffian, a complete contradiction in terms.

Pipe Smoking at Yale in the 1950s

Pictured above: a pipe smoker from the 1957 Yale Class Book. In a back issue of the Ivy’s alumni magazine, Andrew Legendre writes:

Back in the 1950s, smoking a pipe was as much the fashion at Yale as button-down Gant shirts and scuffed white bucks. I wasn’t a smoker, but when I received my acceptance to Yale, my mother bought me a Dr. Grabow Yellow Bowl pipe and a can of Prince Albert tobacco. She thought smoking a pipe would have a calming influence on me. Her father smoked a pipe for over 60 years and was rarely, if ever, stressed out.

Over the summer, I practiced stuffing and puffing on my new pipe. It didn’t take long that fall to learn that Dr. Grabow and Prince Albert were not the choices of discerning Yale pipe smokers. The pipe smoker set in New Haven was big enough to support two local purveyors: Johnny’s Pipe Shop at College and Chapel streets, and the older and more upscale Owl Shop, around the corner on College. Johnny’s is gone now, but the Owl Shop is still smoking.

Legendre’s description of a civilized habit segues into an absolutely queasy description of the college radio station’s annual endurance pipe-smoking competition. Life Magazine covered the 1959 contest, capturing photographs of the hijinks.

Fred Astaire, Style Icon

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I recently alluded to Fred Astaire as one of the all-time best-dressed men, together with the Duke of Windsor.

G. Bruce Boyer called Astaire the “master of casual elegance.” In 1957 GQ published a long interview with Astaire on his style and philosophy of dress. I’ve mined it for quotes (arranged by topic below) but there is much more to read at the GQ archive.

On tailoring:

He believes that his measure of male dress is basically British. “You have to give them credit. They have been very stable in their designing and tailoring. They hardly ever change.”

On buttons and vents:

…he feels that all coats should have the British side-vents: “quite deep, about seven inches.” He favors two-button jackets, although he used to be an addict of three-buttoners at the age of 20. “I only button one,” he says, “and I think it looks better that way.”

On the double-breasted jacket:

One of the present-day fashions that roils him is the prejudice against the double-breasted suit. “It’s incredible how they have maligned that garment,” Astaire declares. “Abroad, you will see three or four double-breasted suits to one single-breasted.” For instance, he points out, he prefers the double-breasted dinner jacket—”for one thing, you don’t have to wear a vest or that hideous invention, the cummerbund. And I can’t comprehend red evening ties or fluffy shirt fronts or that sort of thing.”

On handkerchiefs:

Handkerchiefs should be flipped out and folded into the pocket with an appearance of casualness, Astaire thinks. He does not like the square or folded style, nor the puff type that he describes “like a range of the Andes.” Once, on a TV show, Ed Sullivan came to him and begged him to put his coat kerchief in properly. Astaire obliged. “I think it set a new standard for Ed,” he said. “At least he was still wearing it that way when he appeared weeks later on the show.’

On shirt cuffs:

He prefers a well-made buttoned cuff to French cuffs. In fact he never uses cufflinks except for formal dress, when he generally wears ruby-and-diamond studs and links or sapphire-and-diamond combinations.

On ties:

He has what seems to him to be a “thousand ties” but in reality only between 50 and 100. He likes a full tie, not the narrow ones. “I always like to use the Windsor knot,” he says. As for the collars, he dislikes the tab and prefers the button-down and the wide-spread collar— braced by staves. “Once I used to wear bow ties,” he says somewhat wistfully, “with polka-dots, too, and enjoyed it, but I’ve got away from that.” He explains his aversion for the narrow tie with a smile: “I’m narrow enough myself, too narrow.” He points out that thinness seems to destroy an essential quality of dress, its style, by misuse in ties or lapels. “Look at the thin rolled lapels with the double-breasted suits—they are atrocities.”

In his own ties, he prefers a dark color and a very small pattern. He has only a couple of striped ties, emblematic of the clubs to which he belongs.

On jewelry:

His daily jewelry is severely limited to a single gold-seal ring and the simples tie accessories.

On belts:

In the way of belts, Astaire likes to use silk handkerchiefs—purely for utilitarian purposes rather than theatrical. He has a 31-inch waist and loses pounds when he is dancing. The resilient silk allows him to draw his pants right. “I used to use old neckties for the same purpose but the handkerchiefs are better.” At home he will use a belt, usually shoving the buckle to one side, “simply to get it out of the way.”

On pant cuffs:

His trousers are cuffed and inclined to be a little shorter than most—”I don’t want them slopping over onto my shoes.

On shoes:

In the shoe department, Astaire possesses perhaps 50 pairs of professional dancing shoes and more than 20 pairs of his own. “It’s really very economical to have that many,” he asserts. “I have shoes today that are as good as when I bought them 20 years ago—and I assure you I have worn them many times.” A few pairs are slightly large for his feet and Astaire wears two pairs of wool socks with them when he goes walking. All his shoes are custom-made in London.

As for style and color, he prefers suede as a material and the loafer design. Most of his shoes, exclusive of the formal ones, are dark brown. “I don’t have any evening pumps any more,” he says. “I used to wear them ‘way back. Now they’re out of style. They were fun to wear but I don’t see any chance of them coming back.”

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“It’s a Shame When Things Like Spats Go Out”

P.G. Wodehouse on footwear, in The Paris Review (Winter, 1975):

INTERVIEWER: I suppose that the world has gone the way of spats. You were very fond of spats, weren’t you? Tell me a little about them.

WODEHOUSE: “I don’t know why spats went out! The actual name was spatterdashers, and you fastened them over your ankles, you see, to prevent the spatter dashing you. They certainly lent tone to your appearance, and they were awfully comfortable, especially when you wore them in cold weather. I’ve written articles, which were rather funny, about how I used to go about London. I would borrow my brother’s frock coat and my uncle’s hat, but my spats were always new and impeccable. The butler would open the door and take in my old topcoat and hat and sniff as if to say, ‘Hardly the sort of thing we are accustomed to.’ And then he would look down at the spats and everything would be all right. It’s a shame when things like spats go out.”

The Duke of Windsor, Style Icon

I love the late Duke of Windsor (1894-1972). Would that he could have remained King Edward VIII. In the Cantos, Ezra Pound called him a “fanatic for peace,” writing of “the three years peace we owe Windsor ’36-’39.” Edward presented a formidable obstacle to the bipartisan war party, which existed then as now. But in this fallen world no good deed goes unpunished so he was forced to abdicate in a coup d’état and smeared as a Nazi sympathizer (much like Charles Lindbergh in America) though he was nothing of the sort. In his memoir, A King’s Story, Edward wrote, “Intuitively I felt, that another great war in Europe was all too probable; and I saw all too clearly that it could only bring needless human suffering and a resurgent Bolshevism pouring into the vacuum of a ravaged and exhausted continent.” And so it did.

If Edward had remained on the throne we would still have the glorious Queen Elizabeth II (Edward had no children), but she might have kept her empire. Instead he lived out his days as the Duke of Windsor, in tactful exile, as a colonial governor and socialite. Looking back on his life in 1947, Edward wrote,

At 56 a man is not inclined to consider himself old. Yet, to a generation that takes for granted nuclear fission, radar, television, psychiatry, and God knows what else, somebody who was dandled on Queen Victoria’s knee must appear as an old fogey, a relic to be classed with square-rigged ships, kerosene lamps, and the Prince Albert coat. Indeed when I add up all that has overtaken mankind since my birth, I feel as if I have been travelling through history in a time machine.

It is a touching and rather wonderful passage from a man who was always the epitome of style. As Prince of Wales in the 1920s he was the idol of the youth—a sort of Wodehousian terror who eschewed formality, listened to jazz, spoke with an affected American accent, and dressed audaciously. He knew the rules of fashion inside and out and broke them like an expert. In my opinion the Duke of Windsor was the all-time best dressed man; he must certainly be counted among the top three, with Fred Astaire and Cary Grant.

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Halcyon Days of the Hollywood Cricket Club

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Hollywood Cricket Club members Cary Grant and Boris Karloff in their whites

From The Rake, a history of the Hollywood Cricket Club:

On the morning that Laurence Olivier first arrived in Hollywood, he checked into the Chateau Marmont hotel to discover a handwritten note already waiting for him with the concierge. It read: “There will be nets tomorrow at 9am. I trust I shall see you there.” This seems about right for the calling card of the Hollywood Cricket Club: terse, cordial, presumptuous, and with just the right amount of suspense.

The young Olivier had no cricket flannels, and certainly nothing resembling a bat. But, bound by a sort of schoolboy duty to the national folly, he appeared at the grounds of the Hollywood Cricket Club the next morning in a pair of boots that he’d borrowed from Boris Karloff (a boat-like size 13 – Olivier stuffed the toes with newspaper before remarking that Karloff must have pinched them off the set of The Bride of Frankenstein). The welcoming arm twist had come courtesy of C. Aubrey Smith, a white-whiskered former test cricketer who’d found favour in his autumn years as officer-and-gentleman fodder for the British invasion. On his first session with the club in May 1933, Olivier soon discovered that the old boy conformed to type, receiving a two hour tirade against the deficiencies in his technique, a stiff drink, and an invitation to dinner in the order named.

This was a club that had its priorities firmly in order. At the top, an obsession with the sport that would make even the old birds in the M.C.C. lounge groan, followed closely by an appreciation of the game’s liquid assets, and finally an utter disinterest in who you happened to be off the field. Let the opposition be distracted by the slip cordon of Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) Sinbad the Sailor (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) – if you’re putting down catches, you can make the sandwiches (or at least prepare the Lobster Thermidor and make sure the Veuve is on ice.)

Smith had long dreamed of annexing a corner of the Home Counties to Southern California, but it wasn’t until 1932 that he’d pulled enough errant Englishers into his orbit to populate a side (“Aubrey found us playing on rough fields under dangerous conditions” wrote Boris Karloff with just a splash of ham horror.) When the time came to pick a spot, the founding father took the brief as literally as possible, transplanting five cartloads of English grass seed onto a field in the Hollywood hills to make a wicket, and erecting a nostalgic Victorian pavilion at the cost of $30,000. The spiritual clubhouse for the team remained, however, Aubrey Smith’s home at 2881 Coldwater Canyon Drive –  a wide and low Californian villa that, underneath it’s raised Union Jack (not to mention a weathervane constructed from a set of old stumps), seemed an unofficial embassy for Britannia’s lost sons.

Read the whole article here. Also, Sherlock Holmes-star Basil Rathbone discusses the HCC in an interview from 1959; watch below.