Classic Old School Style
True-blue traditionalists, who consider themselves above fashion, patronize sanctuaries like STEED (9 Savile Row; 44-20-7287-7227), where conservative style and impeccable quality rule. Known for elegantly soft tailoring even with heavy flannels and tweeds, the firm uses light interlinings and little padding. Slightly sloped shoulders, a fuller chest and blade, a shaped waist, and a flared jacket skirt, with full-cut trousers and lapelled waistcoat, are the preferred styling. Altogether a Duke of Windsor sort of thing.
The traditionalist's shirt is undoubtedly from TURNBULL & ASSER (71-72 Jermyn Street, St. James's; 44-20-7808-3000), beloved since 1885 by clients from Winston Churchill to Sean Connery, Picasso to Ronald Reagan. T&A is justly famous for its classic cut and array of patterns and materials that tend to produce a giddy, sweet-shop mentality.
For footwear, the narrow line and chiseled box toe designed at mid-century by the renowned GEORGE J. CLEVERLEY & CO. (13 The Royal Arcade, Old Bond Street; 44-20-7493-0443/1058) remain the hallmark of elegance. Cleverley's former pupils John Carnera and George Glasgow carry on the tradition. Their oxfords cut from a single piece of box calf and suede monk straps are sublime.
A Chesterfield, hat, and umbrella complete the outfit. Clothmakers since 1805, CROMBIE (99 Jermyn Street; 44-20-7839-1375) is best known for stylish overcoats with dark velvet collars. For 326 years, JAMES LOCK & CO. (6 St. James's Street; 44-20-7930-8874) has made hats for men such as Horatio Lord Nelson and Prince Philip. Of the 300 styles, the most popular is the felt Voyager trilby, which the traditionalist will order in dark brown. His tightly furled umbrella, used mostly to hail cabs, will have a Fox frame and fitted whangee handle from JAMES SMITH & SONS (53 New Oxford Street; 44-20-7836-4731).
. . . and a Modern Twist
Now don't get us wrong, we are not talking chartreuse suspenders or bespoke running shoes. The mood of the modern dandy is more romantic; you might even say he has the air of an Edwardian peacock. There's certainly no softness about his suits—they're honed and sharp and blazing. The m'lord of the Row is RICHARD JAMES (29 Savile Row; 44-20-7434-0605), who pioneered the approach of giving traditional silhouettes a bit more body-consciousness. James infuses classic worsteds, flannels, and tweeds with stripes of aqua, fuchsia, lime, and teal. His perfect suit: charcoal wool/cashmere with burnt-orange space-stripes, narrow in the lapel and longer in the body.
The modern dandy will probably sport a fancy silk-embroidered waistcoat from FAVOURBROOK (55 Jermyn Street; 44-20-7493-5060) for a dash of British eccentricity and spirit—think Four Weddings and a Funeral or Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. He'll top it off with a bright satin cravat in salmon or mulberry, worn like a four-in-hand, and a smart raincoat from CONNOLLY LUXURY GOODS (41 Conduit Street; 44-20-7439-2510).
For custom shirts, it has to be PAUL SMITH's flagship store, Westbourne House (122 Kensington Park Road; 44-20-7727-3553). Dean of British menswear designers and master of the witty sartorial excursion, Smith designs many of the fabrics himself and absolutely wallows in the business of detail: ruffles, angled cuffs, mitered gauntlets, spiral monogramming, flowing collars.
TRICKER'S (67 Jermyn Street, St. James's; 44-20-7930-6395), a fifth-generation family firm, offers ready-made and bespoke shoes for both town and country. The preferred model is the sturdy Bourton shoe in marron-antique brown.
Whether your taste runs to the classic or the modern, the British still rule the weaves.
Five Masters of the Bespoke
Hamish Bowles, the peripatetic and ever-stylish European editor-at-large of American Vogue, nominates five special gentlemen for upholding traditional standards:
HARDY AMIES, royal designer: Although known for his innovative menswear, to me he represents the quintessential understated British style—seemingly insouciant but actually rather fastidious.
PRINCE MICHAEL OF KENT: The best exemplar of royal style—Windsor knots and that czarist beard!
MARK BIRLEY, nightclub impresario: Dignified, elegant.
MANOLO BLAHNIK, shoe designer: Although perhaps a little too dandified to qualify, he certainly embraces the worn-in, Savile Row look of the old-school English gent.
NICHOLAS ALVIS-VEGA, artist: Designer Liza Bruce's husband takes a bath in his Anderson & Sheppard suits to take away the parvenu look of the new, which is the height of traditionalism.
AND WHAT ABOUT TONY BLAIR?
The Prime Minister is, by most accounts, rather conservative, although he does show a penchant for quirky classics. Take that Paul Smith shirt he wore last March in Australia. The cuffs were painted—yes!—with a naked woman inside.
The Mod Squad
Nick Foulkes, fashion writer, restaurant critic, and a self-described "new traditionalist," singles out his favorite modernists:
PETER YORK, coauthor of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook: A snappily suited trend analyzer and image consultant.
OLIVER PEYTON, restaurateur: The man behind trendy spots like Admiralty, he's a pioneer of the elaborately disheveled look. He'll wear a tie . . . maybe.
RUPERT EVERETT, actor: If Oscar Wilde were alive today, he'd be writing plays for Rupert Everett.
DYLAN JONES, editor of British GQ: A customer of Richard James, a great ambassador for British style, and a proponent of stealth wealth.
YANN DEBELLE DE MONTBY, spokesman for Dunhill: He brings a European dimension to the traditional British look.
PIERS ADAM, nightclub entrepreneur: Having launched Rock London and K-bar as well as Kabaret, Adam is the man responsible for some of the most expensive hangovers in London. He looks great in John Pearse suits and Olga Berluti shoes.
NICK FOULKES: A devoted customer of Terry Haste, the tailor now working with Alexander McQueen.