Penny for your thoughts? Sartorial diaries is a new column with words of wisdom from sartorial makers and merchants. For our inaugural post, we hear from Mr. Ignatious Joseph, the founder of his namesake brand IGN Joseph shirts. Easily recognized by his oxblood oxfords and warm greetings towards friends and strangers alike - such is his gracious personality. From his rather well stocked diary, he offers his thoughts on silk clothing for men.
Silk clothing is the last great legacy of China's early contribution to the civilization of European attire. The fiber produced by the consumption of mulberry leaves was first produced in Europe after the silkworms had been successfully smuggled out of China, where silk production originated. It fast became a luxury fabric, used not only in clothing but other luxury products.
Some of the properties of silk which make it attractive are its strength and insulating qualities. It is a robust fiber yet light, performing the function of fur - without the weight and cumbersome volume. Of course like other victims of the industrial age, better called the chemical age, fine silks for clothing were displaced by less labor intensive cotton textiles and synthetic fibers in the 20th century. In other words, one reason silk garments are so rare, with the exception of ladies lingerie or men's neck-wear, is that the drive for higher margins always displaces a natural product in favor of industrial solutions.
Aside from that aspect, the silk shirt is still the epitome of leisure, in the ancient sense, as opposed to entertainment. Working clothes, to which the sack suit in business belongs, sacrifice suppleness and delicacy for apparent practicality. The only silk a man is likely to adorn today besides his necktie may be the canopy of his parachute, while landing armed in some foreign land - but even that is likely to be synthetic. Then of course there is a certain stigma attached to silk because of the peculiarly European notions of manliness. One wears silk in Europe, if one does not have to work (once for privileged women). Real men wear cotton, and even more so camouflage.
Travel to those warm climates of central and southern Asia and silk can still be found in its elemental function. It is both cool and warm, well-adapted to the temperature fluctuations found throughout Asia. Silk attire is not without its proper care. There is no tossing it into the washing machine to remove last evening's sauce stains. Hand-washing silk is even more laborious. But what traveler has not found himself in situations where this was the only way to assure a clean garment for the next appointment. One ought to wonder in today's society, where people are obsessed with quick-service that they shun personal care for their finer and more versatile items of elegance. Silk blends aside, perhaps we need to see more of this venerable fabric.
Words by Ignatious Joseph.