It’s not every day that New York City’s premiere custom clothier opens shop in the heart of the District, nor is it every day that he sits down in his tastefully decorated menswear studio–17th Street’s Bespoke–to flesh out the basics and secrets of men’s style for you. But sometimes you get lucky.
Michael Andrews graciously welcomed us to his new store, though to paint it as such is a disservice; Bespoke is part lounge, part tailoring service, part menswear workshop with an air of effortless masculinity.It is here that Andrews pours a scotch with customers and works from the fiber up to help men find their style–be it suit, tuxedo, cuff link, pocket square, cummerbund–anything you can possibly imagine, he has a fabric, pattern and accessory to match.
With work featured as recently as this month’s GQ and praise from New York Magazine, Time Out New York and Bloomberg Markets, to name a few, we figured there is no one better to point us in the right direction on accessorizing, holiday menswear, buying gifts for men (ladies, take note), the three suits every man should own and more…
Hey Michael, thanks so much for having us here today!
Let’s start with a preliminary question about the shop itself. What was your inspiration for starting Bespoke?
Well our first location is in New York and we made the decision to move down to D.C. for a couple of reasons. One was that we already had a very large installed base of clients down here that were having to come up to New York, and as we were going to expand, we wanted our second location to be someplace I could split time between. So I’m spending half my time in D.C. and half my time in New York so that we put the time and the energy and the resources into making sure this shop is successful.
Right, of course. So in D.C. there are a lot of businesses, a lot of government jobs, a lot of corporations; a lot of people are going to be heading to holiday parties. What can you recommend for a gentleman who wants to look festive without looking hokey?
Well it depends on how dressy the occasion is. If it’s a more casual event, I think something like corduroy is always a great option and it’s a great opportunity to bring some color in–you know, don’t be afraid to wear bright green or bright red corduroy. You can have one piece that I think is very bright so if you’ve got bright-colored pants I’d probably tone down the shirt or the jacket or the sweater. Or vice versa, you can wear a more classic pair of trousers and wear a nice festive holiday sweater with it. Guys shouldn’t be afraid of color. You shouldn’t overdo it but at the same time, I think a lot of time guys are scared to venture out a little bit and there really shouldn’t be a reason. It looks great on most guys. If it’s a dressier occasion, let’s say folks are wearing suits to the holiday party, you can always put a bright-colored green or red cardigan sweater under the suit. That a very kind of “in” thing right now. It’s a great thing to bring color into your suit without wearing a tacky tie.
Speaking of color, are there any interesting colors this season that people might not know about?
Well, at the holiday season, people always tend to go with greens and reds. I tend to think it’s better to opt for darker shades, more of a burgundy red over a fire engine red, especially if you want to wear it and not feel too silly. The same with greens; go with more of a hunter green than a bright kelly green. Another way to do that is with the fabric itself. A lot of people don’t realize that, say donegal tweeds, have a lot of color woven through them so you can have a tamer fabric that has a lot of depth and speckles of green and red and orange and other color in it.
Excellent. I’ve also been talking with multiple friends about what to wear to black tie events. We’ve got New Year’s Eve coming up, I have a black tie wedding next month… some people are saying guys have to stick to the tux, some people are saying you can actually modernize a suit and dress it up. What are your recommendations for something black tie that also might be a little fresh?
Well you know, black tie by definition should be a tuxedo, and tuxedos for most guys are a bit of a uniform so if you’re trying to dress it up a little bit, there are a couple of opportunities. If you’re having it custom-made, you could change up the satin on the lapel; that’s really what distinguishes a tuxedo is the facing on the lapel. So you could do it in velvet instead of silk–that’s great for the winter season–and then some other opportunities to spice up a little bit are your cufflinks, the studs on your shirt, and you can have fun around the holidays with your tie or your pocket square.
Which leads to my next question: what are your opinions on accessorizing?
You know, guys–especially in this country–don’t do a great job of accessorizing. Our European counterparts tend to get it better. Accessories are great. Women know this, right? It’s really what makes the outfit. Now we have less opportunity because we don’t wear a lot of jewelry but certainly a guy could have a tie, a pocket square, a cufflink. Scarves and gloves–they’re great opportunities to bundle up from the cold weather and if you’ve got a nice lightweight scarf it’s something you can continue to wear indoors and outdoors. Hats are making a big comeback too.
Any particular styles of hat you favor?
I’m very much into the derby-style hats right now. It depends on your head shape more than anything else.
Also in terms of accessorizing–I know it depends on the occasion–but what do you think: bow ties vs neck ties?
Well if we’re still talking about black tie events, I tend to prefer a bow tie over a long tie. Long ties were sort of in style for a number of years but I think we’ve really seen a return to the classic bow tie, which you can wear with either a cummerbund or a waistcoat, your preference. Aside from that, I like guys in bow ties but I think it can be tougher for a lot of guys to pull off with a suit. I feel like in D.C. there’s kind of that southern influence; there’s a lot of quirkiness a lot of guys seem to get away with, but I find a guy with a bow tie–at least in New York–is a little hard to take too seriously.
And what about patterns in accessorizing?
When you’re talking about business dress or even casual dress, it’s a great opportunity to bring some texture into your wardrobe so you don’t have to limit your pocket square with just a linen or a cotton; you’ve got some beautiful wool and flannel-type pocket squares that are great for the season. Same with ties. You know, I’m wearing a flannel tie today and I like that richness of wool this time of year.
What’s the best type of knot for your tie?
It really depends on the tie and your shirt and your body type. If you’re wearing a spread collar or a cutaway collar, you should probably wear at least a Half Windsor if not a Full Windsor. If you’re wearing a more contemporary, slimmer fit suit with a narrow, spread collar, Four in Hand is your best bet. You know, if a guy’s got a big face, you probably want a slightly bigger knot to balance it out because a tiny little tie is just going to make your head bigger, and vice versa; if you’ve got a small little thin neck, a Full Windsor would overwhelm your neck.
Excellent. If a man were only to own three suits, which would you recommend?
Well your basics are going to be a solid blue and a solid grey. That’s an easy first two. Your third suit is really going to depend on where you live. If you’re in the south, I would definitely opt for a light grey suit or something that’s going to be more summer appropriate. In the north where it’s colder, I might opt for a third suit as a flannel suit, something that’s more of a winter suit. D.C. is fairly temperate so you’ve got plenty of choices; it depends on how often you like to get dressed up.
But it’s always nice to have inspiration. Who are some style icons men should always look toward?
Well in the industry, certainly Ralph Lauren has certainly done great things. I’m a huge admirer of what he’s done. Tom Ford is very influential right now and I really like that Tom Ford has pushed menswear back to a more elegant and romantic kind of 1930s look. Over the last decade we’d seen a very minimalist skinny lapel, short pants and now we’re seeing a return to more classic elegance. In the media, unfortunately I feel like so much of Hollywood today isn’t as classic or refined as it used to be but I think Brad Pitt has a great sense of style, George Clooney has a great sense of style, Ryan Gosling has great style.
Right. And so my last question–for any women reading–what are some menswear gifts you might consider to be safe bets?
It depends on how much you’re looking to spend. You know, in our case because we’re custom, we do a lot of gift certificates which is great because it’s an opportunity to come in as an experience. You can give a gift certificate but actually come in as part of the process. We open a bottle of wine, pour a scotch and really make it more of an event so it’s not just a gift certificate and you go to the mall and spend it. Aside from that, any accessories are much more affordable. Stick with solids and basics. You know, every guy needs a solid blue tie and a nice solid burgundy tie. And frankly this sounds so cliched to buy your dad socks but so many guys have terrible socks and I think that’s an opportunity to have a little bit of fun but don’t go over the top. Stick with solids or stripes but you can bring a little color in and find something that works with their wardrobe.
Excellent. Is there anything else you’d like to add that I might not have asked?
Well I think the main thing is just to have fun, don’t take it too seriously. Gift-giving should be a lot of fun and you’re not going to go wrong. Most things today are pretty easy to return. [laughs] Have fun, push the envelope and if they don’t like it, take it back.