Paul Galvin: Getting shirty
Paul Galvin on simple colours and, more importantly, buttoning up
Published 05/02/2011 | 05:00
This week, I wore some great shirts. I felt smart, grown-up -- gentlemanly, even. It's amazing what a good shirt can do for a man. They can scrub up even the scrubbiest of us. The gentlemanly properties of shirts notwithstanding, have you ever listened to Jay-Z's song 'Run This Town'?
If you listen carefully to the fourth verse, just after Rihanna finishes the chorus, Jay-Z goes into a rap. He says "and ain't nobody fresher, I'm in Maison Martin Margiela". I'll omit the rest of the verse as it is in poor taste.
If you're now wondering what any of this has to do with shirts, let me explain. Maison, for those of you who took Irish as a foreign language in school, is the French word for house.
Martin Margiela is a Belgian fashion designer with more than 20 years' experience, recently departed as creative director of his own label, and an inspiration to a raft of new, young designers such as Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga and Raf Simons.
Simons was so moved after watching a Margiela show in the early 1990s that he vowed to become a designer himself. He is now regarded as a pioneer in menswear design.
Margiela is also the man who put that beautiful, white waffle, €220 shirt on my back (right), as well as the blazer. I normally never wear two-button blazers, but this one fitted quite well.
I have quite a thick neck, and it's difficult at times to find shirts that will fit. A lot of my friends wear formal shirts from Gant, Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren; because they have bigger builds than me, these suit them. I've always found their designs too big for me.
Collars are a bugbear of mine. Well, not so much collars, but collars that are too big. I'd just be walking around in permanent fear of a rogue gale of wind sweeping up under my huge collar causing me to take flight, so I never wear them.
I'm wearing collarless shirts at the moment, and I really liked the fit of the Margiela shirt and the fabric, and the fact that I could close the top button.
Liam Gallagher was the first guy I remember wearing the top button closed in the mid-1990s, then Mike Skinner a few years later. I like that look. It's different and really accentuates a strong jawline and good cheekbones -- none of which I have. I just wear shirts that way because I find open-necked shirts a little boring.
I had a strange experience a few months back when I was approached by someone who asked me why I closed my top button. I replied that, in the interests of fairness to all the buttons -- not just on the shirt I was wearing myself, but to buttons on shirts the world over -- I felt it only right and proper to treat each button equally, and that means buttoning all of them or buttoning none of them. I mean, why button all the other buttons and not the top one? Isn't that a little unfair?
I was sure the sincerity of my plea won her round until, unimpressed, unsatisfied and certainly undaunted, she took matters into her own hands and undid it, said "that's better" and walked off. I couldn't help but wonder if I'd have gotten in trouble if I had started undoing her buttons in the same way!
But back to the point. For Jay-Z to name-check Martin Margiela in a hit song demonstrates two things: the first is that Margiela, though a relatively old designer now, enjoys a credibility and recognition he may never have envisaged or even wanted as, ironically, he is notoriously camera shy. He never takes to the stage after his show and has always sought to keep a low profile.
The second is this: fashion and hip hop -- two of my favourite hobbies -- are officially in love. Both realise the value of one another. Hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Will.i.am bring major street credibility to fashion houses plus exposure to new markets.
Fashion houses, in turn, give hip-hop artists everything they need in a game where image and style are worth their weight in gold. The perfect symbiosis. The blue, short-sleeved shirt with capped sleeves is by Marc Jacobs, and the Gucci shorts are a real summer look when teamed with the Tod's loafers. Perfect for a day out on the yacht with the chaps, as you do.
Jacobs, as creative director of Louis Vuitton, of course teamed up with Kanye and created a range of high-top trainers, which kick-started the whole high-street, high-top craze. I loved that collaboration.
The last shirt I wore was the blue, houndstooth D&G one. The Italians dressed Tinie Tempah for his last tour (my final fashion hip-hop reference, I promise).
It had everything I look for in a shirt: a great fit, long, fitted sleeves, a neat collar, a subtle check and a conservative colour. There's nothing quite as horrendous as the sight of a shirt that looks like an Opal Fruit -- bright red, orange, green, yellow, cobalt blue or purple are vomitous. Brown also, but that's just my own opinion. Each to their own.
I like my shirts to be shades of white, grey or light blue, with any variety of check or pinstripe to add a little colour. Simple and understated.
Jude Law has to be the world's best shirt-wearer. He always looks good in a suit or just a shirt with jeans. He keeps it simple and that's the key: well-fitted, neat-collared, conservatively coloured shirts. He looks equally well with his shirt buttoned right up to the top as he does with it not buttoned at all, over a T-shirt or vest.
Another man whose shirt-wearing ability caught my eye of late is Simon Cowell. He wears only white shirts and I've come to conclude that the man is brilliant at three things in life: producing multimillion-selling popstars, and ironing and starching shirts. I've never seen more carefully pressed, straight, neat, crisp, clean collars.
Shirts are so common that I like to do something different with them if I can. I like to experiment, and the only way to do that is with the buttons or the sleeves. The rest is common to everybody, so try to do something a little different with yours. Experiment with sleeve length, buttons or collars. Or don't.
And if you don't agree with me, don't get shirty -- just tear away like a tinker's shirt but, as sure as the shirt on your back, some fine day that rogue gale of wind will catch you and you'll take flight. You can put your shirt on it.
Don't say I didn't warn you!