Welcome back to part two of my tips for what to wear this Autumn!
This is a three-part post:
With head-wear and scarves covered, let’s move on to the upper body. Here it becomes more interesting, as with the upper-body we get the opportunities for adding layers. As hinted at in part one, the Autumn and Winter brings us cold and wet, and their cousin wind-chill. With a dual goal of keeping both warm and stylish, we have a wide array of possibilities, some of which follow here.
Let’s start by looking at what makes Autumn so special, apart from the spectacular array of natural, warm colours on display, conkers to be kicked when walking under Chestnut trees in the process of closing down services for the season and the generally dismal weather: Rain. This is the season of dampness, from mere morning fog to the torrential downpours so furious that even natives of Bergen, Norway (rain capitol of Europe) feel it may be on the wet side.
The mere dampness is no challenge. If you can wear a regular jacket and the water doesn’t penetrate more than allowing it to be dried up in time for lunch, we’re not looking at a very large problem. If it’s really raining though, what do you do? Well, it’s 2013 and mankind has been putting major effort into improving on natures efforts. We have stuff like Gore-Tex now, and much is made of it’s technical capabilities and so forth. So why are most jackets made of modern material so hideous and lacking in style? Very rarely have I seen a Gore-Tex jacket I would consider wearing. There is nothing inherently wrong with the fabric, I have seen quite acceptable examples with pleasing colour, pattern and texture, but it seems to be mainly used for the sort of technical type of all-weather jackets the urban-explorer would go for. The sort of guy that thinks cargo-shorts with huge pockets are a fine and practical idea.
Ok, so Gore-Tex is a maybe, but unlikely. We’ve already established that I like things with a story and some heritage, so how about the mother of all rain-wear, a Mackintosh? With a history going back to around 1830, it’s still basically the same waterproof rubberised fabric as the one that gave name to the Mac. Mackintosh still make raincoats, and also produce quality jackets for other brands, and sell their fabric to other brands. Very waterproof and on the expensive side, though if you have need of proper protection you may like to look into them.
Another classic material is Ventile. A very dense cotton with a story going back to the days of WWII, it’s having something of a resurgence of popularity today. More of a universal material than rubberised cotton, as it works for days when it’s not raining as well. Mainly used by British brands, there are quite a few very stylish jackets available in Ventile now. Perfect for Autumn really as the styling works well and the material will hold up well if you’re caught in the rain.
One of the most iconic British materials is of course the waxed cotton, without which companies such as Barbour would surely not exist. That dull, green material with the slightly sticky surface. Maintain it with the thornproof dressing and it will last a lifetime. Maybe not everyones cup of tea, but if the jacket is the right style I like it. If me mentioning Barbour has you thinking about the hateful waffle-style jackets though, please don’t. They are fine for ladies, or people that genuinely meddle with horses, but they are not a good look for men. Trust me.
Waxed cotton comes in many types, one of which is British Millerain. I’ve had good and bad experiences with this and it appears to be connected to the colour of the fabric. I have a green Gloverall jacket which has a good fabric, but I also have a yellow one that was a huge disappointment, not being very water-resistant at all.
Heavier waxed cotton, with a less obvious wax content can make for some terrific jackets as well. Not as absolutely waterproof, but with more styling and features. These would be your more typical jackets for when it’s getting colder, and maybe with sufficient layering they’ll do for all winter.
Let’s not forget the wool jackets though! Anyone that has been caught short in the rain whilst wearing a thick tweed jacket knows that wool and water are not a good mix. The tweed gets wet, very wet, and smells. And can take a while to dry as well. For warmth and style though, it’s great, whether it’s a tweed or just a thick wool fabric, like a duffel-coat say.
A good jacket in Harris Tweed (or similar, there are other tweeds that have quite the same properties if not the name of the Hebridean tweed) is a fantastic piece. Make sure you get the sizing right though, you want it to be snug, but not tight, with space for at least a thin lambswool sweater, though not lose. And you want the arms and body of the jacket to be correct. Some of these things can be corrected by a tailor, but it makes a lot more sense to get it right without someone messing around with the design. Especially if you’re buying something a bit nice with an idea that it will last many years.
Duffel-coats are another classic. They’ve been around and popular since the 70’s, varying little in style over all these years. The thick wool material is hard wearing and if you buy one in a good colour, I’d go for either the traditional camel colour or navy blue, in a decent quality (a Gloverall would be a safe bet), with properly made fittings and detailing. While duffel-coats normally don’t have a zip, a heavy duty zip would really increase the utility value of the coat, as the toggle-fastenings alone can make it a little airy in the front.
So, layers. You’ve got the waterproof outer layer. And since waterproof and wind-proof have many of the same requirements, you may already be good on keeping the wind out and warmth in as well. Keeping the wind from blowing the warmth out is important, as touched upon when discussing hats and scarves. You can wear no end of woolly goodness and still be cold if the icy wind is blowing straight through it all. Wool only works at keeping the heat when the air it holds is stationary, so look for cuffs that button, hoods that can be tightened and a good sturdy zip up the front. As long as the basic requirements are there you should be ok.
So, layers under the jacket. I’ve already mentioned wool, and wool is good. You really don’t need much more than wool. Thick, proper wool, natures own way of keeping us warm. I recommend going for the higher content of wool and buying decent quality knitwear. If the wool isn’t 100% pure new wool, a part content of silk and cashmere is good, but don’t go for the man-made materials. There is no end of cheap knitwear available, but that will tend be poor at keeping it’s shape, and a sloppy sweater will have little style, and the cheaper wool will be afflicted with pilling. Not that price itself is any guarantee of long-lasting woolly happiness, I’ve had more expensive wool garments be pretty poor as well.
Looks-wise, you can never go wrong with a wool jumper without a pattern. A nice subtle mottled grey will work in many combinations. Things get trickier when you start adding patterns. My advice is to not go for a very loud pattern. Knitted jumpers with loud patterns are often the province of the poorly dressed husband. You may feel very cheeky while wearing it, but you’re really only signalling to people that you should not be trusted and to leave you alone.
While I realise I may be the lone voice in the wilderness when it comes to Fairisle style sweaters, I must express strongly how vile I find sweaters like the above. At no level at all does either pattern or colour work for me. They bring to mind the sort of thing your granny might knit when old, partially sighted, and trying to be hip.
Cotton is not a terrific choice when it comes to keeping warm. The much tighter knit used will hold less air, and hence be less warm. As a thin layer it will work OK, but it also tends to be clammier, and where wool actually neutralises odours, you will find that cotton retains them. Not what you’re after at all. Cotton is OK for undershirts, but have a pile of them so you can wear a fresh one every day or two.
How about fleece, you may be thinking? Just say no, please. The fad for fleece has passed and it’s back in the utility closet where it belongs, with the all-weather jacket and suchlike. There is a big difference in what you wear to work in the garden and what you wear when you hope to give the impression of being an adult capable of dressing yourself with a little style. As a quite general pointer, man-made fibres are more likely to be something you wear in the garden.
Thinking aside from sweaters and jumpers, we can of course also layer up with shirts and waistcoats. Whilst a well dressed chap will usually be wearing a shirt, which negates using a second thick outside of that, a waistcoat or vest in either tweed or wool makes fine sense. When it comes to waistcoats, I very much prefer ones that have the same material front and back, and this does make good sense for warmth as well. The common variant with a wool front and silk back won’t be of as much value in the cold.
A very brief note on colours: Given the splendid spread of fine colours the season has to offer, why not try for a similar spread when dressing? Think colours that complement each other, and your own colours. I fear I may sound like a lousy women’s magazine, but a warm colours might bring a bit of a glow to your increasingly pasty post-summer complexion as well.
And with that I conclude part two of my Autumn tips. Next time should see us reach the ground, with coverage of leg and footwear.
This is a three-part post: