Of the many sorrows bestowed upon man at the Fall, the most tiresome was his sudden compulsion to wear clothes. The King James Bible tells us that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Life, ‘the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons’ (Genesis 3. 7).
Well, we all know what happened next. Aprons begat clothes, and clothes begat shopping, and shopping begat the Westfield shopping centre, and as any man who has ever visited one of those benighted establishments will tell you, Westfield begat depression. Never since the Creation has any man trawled around a clothes shop with pleasure, for he is reminded there of his eternal damnation as surely as is the serpent, crawling upon its belly and eating the dust.
Fortunately, however, man now has the internet, and if there is one benefit that has accrued from the digital revolution, it is that you can shop without entering a shop. With only one significant exception (of which more in a minute), it is now perfectly possible to buy everything you should ever wish to wear without looking up from
Most high-street shops will deliver direct from their website to your home. But the best places to shop online are the new digital department stores: sites like Mr Porter (mrporter.com), My Wardrobe (my-wardrobe.com) and the American site Park & Bond (parkandbond.com), inspired by what the founder describes as New York’s two most stylish streets — Park Avenue and Bond Street.
Here, collected as if under one giant electronic roof, you will find large but logically organised ranges by the best designers, usually at better prices and certainly in a greater choice of sizes than can be found in bricks-and-mortar shops. Rather than being guarded by surly or (worse) snooty staff, the gear is helpfully described, photographed from a number of angles and accompanied by articles about trends and clothing maintenance and expert advice on styling. You browse it not by thumbing through racks and rails, but by using search tools that help you refine what you’re looking for by size, colour, price, designer, style and availability.
Better still, there are no other humans about. No queues. No other shoppers. Some sites arrange courier delivery to your home on the evening you order — almost all do a next-day service by DHL. (Order on a Friday afternoon from
ln-cc.com and they will stick your order in an Addison Lee cab so that you can have it in time for the weekend.)
What if you buy something that doesn’t fit? Or that, as it turns out, you don’t like? Well, every site expects you to swap items that aren’t right. In that sense, you use your bedroom as the changing room
(and what could be nicer?). Deliveries usually include a courier form to arrange return or exchange. A number of sites are now contemplating ‘butler service’, a system pioneered by Chinese electronic retailers in which the courier waits while you try on the clothes and takes away what you reject.
The best of the sites is Mr Porter. The male spin-off of the very successful women’s store net-a-porter, Mr Porter is ‘curated’ not by a shopkeeper, but by a style oracle: Jeremy Langmead, who edited Wallpaper* and Esquire before working out that the best place to be in an uncertain age of publishing was flogging clothes as well as writing about them. Langmead is editor-in-chief and he is assisted by Jodie Harrison, former style and grooming editor at GQ. These are two serious men’s style journalists, and the content and elegant aesthetic of the site reflects their combined nous.
‘Men want to be able to shop more conveniently from the office or home and we tap into this,’ Langmead tells me. ‘We’ve found a way to engage with men by bringing information, tips, facts and inspiration online. A report last
year said that most men dress to impress their peers. And yet not many men will ask their colleagues or even friends for style advice. We’re the people you can safely ask anything without anyone else ever knowing about it. Mr Porter is designed to be a totally man-friendly shopping experience.’
Mr Porter is patronised by the rich and famous and although the staff are too coy to tell who’s been shopping there recently, editorial collaborators include such smartly dressed men as Bill Nighy, Dermot O’Leary and Jason Sudeikis.
There is plenty of competition, however. My Wardrobe (my-wardrobe.com) carries a large, well-priced range of modern designers, leaning towards more youthful designers such as Marc Jacobs and Polo Ralph Lauren. Matches (matchesfashion.com) has a good selection
of businesswear and accessories.
ASOS (asos.com) — closer to Topman or H&M in conception — does great, affordable basics.
The only area currently unsuited to online retail is bespoke (or even, really, off-the-peg) tailoring. I now buy all of my clothes online, but find there is still no way to fit a suit other than by trying it on the shopfloor, or fitting up in the tailor’s. Which is a shame — but a tolerable one. Rather a trip to Savile Row to have your fig-leaf apron stitched together than another journey to Westfield. Right?
And, of course, the real shops have moved online too. No editorial or style Q&A, but everything you’d find on the floor in Knightsbridge… without going to Knightsbridge
Upmarket younger designers such as D&G, Vivienne Westwood and Levi’s Vintage, with a large range of stock which is updated daily
PARK & BOND
without traipsing the
length of Fifth Avenue — Salvatore Ferragamo loafers,
Michael Kors trousers — for a $19.99 international delivery fee
The legends that inspire Mr Porter
Very cool in his own right, Robert Redford was never more stylish than when in character, and his look really came alive when he was dressed by Ralph Lauren for The Great Gatsby in 1974. With its sumptuous suits and Redford’s aristocratic bearing, the film is a masterclass in how to dress up. And be aware — the fully accessorised look is very much back in vogue this season
Drake wool three-piece pinstripe suit
TURNBULL & ASSER
Luxury double-cuff shirt
Slim silk tie