The Shirt - An Essential For Every Man's Wardrobe*

*This is a collaborative post*

A couple of considerations when buying a nice shirt for yourself! There are so many styles, patterns and fits out there, that for many of us it can be difficult to know where to start, so here are a couple of factors to consider when shopping.

The majority of us will know that shirts are a classic timeless garment which look just as 'at home' as part of a casual outfit as they do a smart one. (Some would say √† la James Bond.) Speaking of Bond, notice how he always chooses to wear a fine black suit with a crisp plain white shirt? Good, please take note. Every male should have at least one classic plain white shirt, it is an absolute staple of any man's wardrobe or at least it ought to be in my humblest of humble opinions.

Often when it comes to men's tailoring, or to the purchasing of suits and shirts and other 'dress' garments, there is the assumption that quality is always associated with the price that one pays. We've all no doubt heard that saying, 'you get what you pay for!' However, I would say that there is no need to spend a fortune, it's more than possible to get high quality and well made, nicely fitting shirts for a price which wont break the bank. 

Esprit have a varied selection of shirts ranging from the more casual to the dress shirt and there are some excellent quality, crisp looking white shirts which would definitely look the part. In my opinion a shirt should be well fitted enough that there is little excess material, but not so tight fitting that when worn you can see creases all over your body.

Some Basic Rules

If you're considering wearing a shirt with a suit jacket or blazer, try to avoid clashing slim or narrow lapels and collars. For instance, a shirt with a very slim collar will look unbalanced when worn with a suit jacket with a wider lapel. This rule also goes for ties too, try and match the width of your tie to the width of the lapel. For a truly classic look I would advise you to always opt for the wider lapel option combined with a collar to match. Bear in mind also that the larger the collar the easier it is to wear a neck tie. On which note, the larger collar will allow the tie wearer to utilize whichever kind of knot one prefers without marring the overall effect of the outfit. However, shirts with smaller narrow collars are increasingly being worn with ties. This can be at great detriment to the impact of the attire as one needs a thinner tie with a thinner material in order to tie it in a small knot otherwise it ends up looking oversized and cumbersome. 

Due to the fact a smaller knot is required in order to compliment the outfit, I would recommend a 'Half-Windsor' or basic '4 in hand tie knot.' The 'Full-Windsor' and other larger knots should be reserved for larger collars in order to attain the classier finish and to maintain the flow of the garments.

A good classic shirt leaning slightly more towards the casual end of the dress code spectrum is the white 'Oxford' cotton shirt by Ralph Lauren Polo which can be found online for £45-£90 depending on which site they are being retailed. The regular fit of this allows a little more room for manoeuvre and looks equally great with a pair of jeans or chinos, loose or tucked in and the collars are great for wearing with a suit jacket. The cotton is relatively thick and therefore is more insulating during the colder months compared to some shirts which are really quite thin. However due to being made from 100% cotton fabric, it also still affords some breathability in the summer months.

Charles Tyrwhitt are specialist shirt-makers based at Jermyn St, London. Of course to have a shirt specifically tailored for yourself here would cost a small fortune, but 'off the rack” shirts made by Charles Tyrwhitt offer a good alternative for a fraction of the price. N.B. Keep an eye out at outlet stores for some great finds. 

*Written by Michael David (Photos courtesy of Esprit)

The Importance Of Sustainability In The Fashion Industry*

*This is a collaborative post*

Years ago I probably wouldn't have given much thought to sustainability in fashion. And yet ever since my nephews have arrived in the world I've become much more aware of the planet and how our actions have consequences. Fast fashion in particular leads a huge helping hand to environmental damage. The clothing industry is the largest world polluter, second only to the fossil fuel industry. As young children, my nephews are currently blissfully unaware of any environmental issues at hand or of global warming and yet it is indeed them that will be living with the result of our present day actions. It's a scary and sobering notion when you think about it. As such, I myself have made some changes in the way I live my life and in the brands I support because I believe we have a responsibility and the ability to bring about change. 

Fast Fashion 

It's a term we hear about every now and again and then often brush under the carpet. Out of sight, out of mind. But here are some of the harsh realities that go hand in hand with fast fashion. With fast changing consumer tastes, new catwalk trends every season and clever marketing, we are encouraged to splurge on the latest 'must-have' pieces on a regular basis whether we need them or not. Obviously it's nice to want and to be able to have new things, and it's nice to feel good in what we wear. But this isn't where the problem lies. The problem with fast fashion is that it's often classed as disposable and understandably so. Garments are made quickly to keep up with changing trends and to please consumer needs, but then they often fall apart and end up on one of many landfills, therefore impacting on the environment. Here's a scary fact for you thanks to Forbes, in the US, 13 trillion tons of clothes get sent to landfills where they'll sit for two hundred years leaving toxic chemicals and dyes to contaminate local soil and groundwater. 

Here's another fact for you. 75 million people are making our clothes with the majority earning less than $3 a day. $3 a day?? Would you work for that? As Forbes highlights in their article, fast fashion unfortunately traps a generation of young women into poverty. 80% of workers are women working in dangerous conditions and aren't being paid fairly. 

C02 emissions are expected to increase to nearly 2.8 billion tons per year by the time we hit 2030. Particular cotton producing countries such as China and India are already facing water shortages. The vibrant colours in our favourite garments are often achieved with the use of toxic chemicals. Textile dyeing is apparently the second largest polluter of clean water globally after agriculture. How many of us watched Blue Planet 2 and cried as the whale carried it's dead baby around for days?? I bet you didn't know that when we wash one of the fashion industry's most used fabrics in domestic washing machines, it sheds microfibres that add to the levels of plastic in our oceans. The guilty fabric?? Polyester. 

I could sit here all day and talk to you about the issues with fast fashion, about the social impacts, about poverty, about pesticides, about the impact on our own health as well as the environment, but there is so much information out there already. We just need to open our eyes and our minds to see it because education is key. 

Change is already on the horizon. Many celebrities have recently backed eco-friendly fashion brands and have put their faces to slow fashion campaigns. Many of my friends are already investing in vegan and cruelty free beauty brands. How long before they make a change in how they shop for their clothes? As a society I believe that we do care, it's just about educating ourselves and then making changes where we can.

But How Can We Make A Change?

There are some simple changes we can make to end fast fashion.

* Forgetting the environmental issues for a moment, the reality for us as consumers is that if we were to invest in fewer higher quality pieces, they'd last longer and we would save money in the long term. Investing in about thirty quality pieces means you can build a capsule wardrobe and you'll be able to mix and match items to produce several different looks. 

* You could donate unwanted garments to charity shops but unfortunately the reality is that most of these still end up on landfills. Instead you could learn to sew and up-cycle pieces to give them a new lease of life. 

* Get thrifty and buy second-hand. Not only will you be reducing your own clothing and carbon footprint but you'll be grabbing a bargain too.

* Do your own research. Change to buying sustainable or eco-friendly fashion. This will help to reduce the negative human impact on the environment and will also mean we're supporting working conditions of those who make our clothes.

* Wash your clothes less. 

* Educate your friends and family.

I had a quick chat with the lovely folk at Hawthorn who shared their own thoughts on the matters of fast fashion, the fashion industry and on sustainable practices.

In a world where climate change and sustainability is on the forefront of many minds, the fashion industry it seems is starting to take note. Dare I say change is happening? That said, although consumers may want to buy into eco and sustainable fashion, they also won't want to compromise on style. I spoke to Tom Lovelace from Hawthorn, a clothing manufacturer who is working hard to raise awareness of sustainable fashion to find out some more. 

Ignorance is bliss for many and often a consumer will prefer to turn a blind eye. How many consumers in reality go shopping thinking about ethical consideration or the planet? Do you think that it's the fashion industry's responsibility to ensure that all garments are made ethically and in a sustainable manner so that consumers can shop with complete peace of mind? If so, can you see this happening in the future? 

At the moment, the number of consumers who actually go out with sustainable fashion in mind is lower than we would like, and it's only through education and awareness, working with bloggers like yourself that we will be able to raise the profile of sustainability. In an ideal world, all garments would be made using sustainable fabrics, however of course, we don't live in an ideal world and there will always be a case for fabrics like Polyester being used in active wear or for sports clothing for example. We at Hawthorn think a realistic aim would be to make eco friendly fashion more of a priority for brands and manufacturers, ensuring that rather than being something which isn't thought about at all, it is a consideration at least. It is at that point that brands will realise that there are very few negatives to using sustainable fabrics and more positives than they would have first realised. Even brands which aren't outwardly “eco friendly” are brands that we would like to see using organic cotton in place of traditionally farmed cotton for example.

I've found often when I'm browsing for sustainable fashion that many garments look quite basic and dare I say, boring. A consumer will almost always plump for something pretty and attractive. Does sustainable fashion mean that we have a boring future ahead for our garments or do you think that more companies will get more innovative with designs? 

Of course, the main consideration of a consumer is usually style, and at Hawthorn we're seeing brands which are more style focused starting to use eco friendly fabrics in their garments. Sustainable fashion doesn't have to mean we have a boring future ahead at all. As brands begin to realise through increased awareness that sustainable versions of the fabrics they're already using are available freely, we want to make these as accessible as possible so that sustainable options can become the norm over all sub sections of the industry.

I've spoken to friends who say that when perusing a store they assume any 'sustainable' labels will come with a heftier price tag. Although this can be the case, it means that they're not giving the sustainable labels a chance as they're tarnishing them with the 'too costly' brush. Do you think if the term 'sustainable' was dropped that more people would buy eco-friendly clothes? 

At the moment, sustainable options do cost a little more, however this can only be combatted by increased awareness, and therefore increased demand, which will force manufacturers and brands to increase their supply. As with any industry there are economies of scale which have a great affect on price, so as more supply is required, costs will fall. The term sustainable shouldn't be dropped however, since this is key to helping the consumer realise that the items they're buying which are lasting longer and proving to be of a higher quality than other items they've bought in the past are also helping the environment. 

What is the long term mission for Hawthorn? 

As a clothing manufacturer specialising in helping small start up brands, our mission is to help make sustainable clothing accessible to not just the large brands and high street chains, but to the masses also. With so many brands starting up in the UK alone every year, if we can capture that market and help to make a difference by offering sustainable options in place of traditionally farmed or “fast fashion” fabrics, we can help to make a really positive impact on the environment.

How do you integrate sustainability into all aspects of your business?

Sustainability isn't just about the origin of the fabric, it's about being as eco friendly as possible with our materials and in the packaging of the goods we send to our customers. We ensure that we have as little wastage as possible from the fabrics we use, ensuring that we don't over purchase and then have a lot of fabric which is left over in the warehouse. We also package all of our bulk orders very economically to ensure that the least amount of space possible is used on the plane, which will burn less fuel and therefore have a lower carbon footprint as a result. Although this may seem insignificant, we ship thousands upon thousands of products a year, and all of these shipments add up.

To end, here is a fun quiz to see how eco-friendly you lovely lot are.

With thanks to Hawthorn for working with me on this piece. What are your own thoughts about sustainability in the fashion industry? 

How Can You Increase Your Intake Of Vitamin D In The Colder Months?*

*This is a collaborative post*

Keeping up your recommended daily amount of vitamins is important - especially during the colder months when we’re more susceptible to colds and flus. From April to the end of September, most people can get their recommended daily vitamin D intake from direct sunlight. However, as the days become shorter between October and March, we often don’t get as much of the vitamin as we should.
So, what can you do to keep your intake of vitamin D up? Together with Dobies, retailers of garden plants, we provide some suggestions:

What are the benefits of Vitamin D?
Enough vitamin D can increase our happiness levels, as well as improve our overall well-being. Not only does it provide us with its own benefits, it enhances absorption of other vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and phosphate.
Some of us are more susceptible to deficiencies of vitamin D than others. For example, people with darker skin tend to have lower levels of the vitamin as their skin pigmentation acts as a natural sunscreen. People over the age of 50 also produce less vitamin D as their older skin is less able to generate it. Finally, overweight and obese people are more susceptible to deficiency as vitamin D is a fat soluble which means that it becomes collected in the body fat and does not benefit the body.
Vitamin D can help you shed a few pounds too. Upping your vitamin D intake was found to reduce new fat cells in the body and fat accumulation. It has also been linked to better skin, higher brain function, bone health and dental improvements.
The miracle vitamin can also increase your happiness too! It has been found to fight off depression too, as it is associated with higher serotonin levels. This is often why we feel happier in the sunshine. When it comes to the dreaded flu, vitamin D was found to reduce your risk of the illness by 50%.
If you experience prolonged deficiencies of the vitamin, it can have negative effects. These include osteoporosis, rickets, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Currently, it is recommended that adults should take no more than 25 micrograms per day, but some experts claim that this is too low. Too much vitamin D however, can cause a build-up of calcium in your blood which can lead to poor appetite, nausea and vomiting.

Incorporate it into your diet

There are changes that you can make to your regular diet in order to increase the amount of vitamin D that you get.
One food product that is high in vitamin D is fish. Examples of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and tuna. These can easily be included in your daily meal at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Tinned tuna is great for salads and pasta dishes, and a glazed salmon fillet is the perfect accompaniment to vegetables for an evening meal. Including red meat such as pork, lamb and beef into your diet can also help to increase your vitamin D intake.
It can be difficult for vegetarians to get all of their vitamin D intake because of their restricted diet. Egg yolks are an alternative way to gain vitamin D, and these are easy to incorporate into a breakfast or lunch time meal. For vegans, mushrooms and almond milk are both good sources of vitamin D.
One thing to keep in mind is to ensure your diet is balanced. Don’t eat red meat every day to get your vitamin D intake, but alternate it with other recommended foods instead.

Are there any other actions you can take?

There are some other things that you can make a conscious effort to do in order to increase the amount of vitamin D you get. In supermarkets and pharmacies, there are supplements available that you can take. Multi-vitamin tablets are a good way to keep all of your vitamin levels on track.
Having access to sunlight is also a great source of vitamin D. Experts advise that exposing your forearms outdoors for 20-25 minutes each day can boost levels. Try to get out of the office at lunchtime and absorb some natural light! Or how about some gardening at the weekend. Despite the colder weather, there is still plenty to do in the garden - exposing you to some sunlight.
There are some foods available in stores that have added vitamins. Check labels and dietary information to find food with added vitamin D.

Is The Customer Always Right? - Why Exceptional Customer Service Is Important*

Great Britain was once a nation which both prided itself on and was also famed for its customer service standards, as well as other things. Having worked in customer facing roles (as most of us have) I have always been a fan of the old clich√© that 'the customer is always right'. Actually a motto of mine which I probably overuse is “manners maketh man” (as in mankind), I guess to bring the slightly dated and slightly sexist quote into the 21st century I should perhaps say “manners maketh HU mankind. And I think being raised to have good manners really enabled me to enjoy interacting with customers and on the flipside as a customer, I can instantly recognise when somebody is putting in the effort to give good customer service rather than just the standard.

We all go through so many such transactions in our lifetimes that few will be worthy of note, but it doesn't take much to keep me happy, if i'm in my corner shop I will be quite happy with a cordial greeting and a thank you when I hand over payment. Manners cost nothing after all. CCSN recently conducted a survey of over 600 people and found that 25% of respondents stated that a lack of accessibility was their main customer service pet peeve. So it seems only sensible to recommend CCSN to anybody who may need the customer service contact number of any well known company in the UK, expediting the process of trying to find the right email address of fax number or local office number, it really is a big help. I used it when I was failing in my search to reach the local office of my insurance provider.

I can recall one time when I received excellent customer service. It was when I was in Luxor, Egypt in the summer of 2009. It was my first time on the African continent and I vividly recall the swelteringly blistering heat as temperatures soared above 55 degrees Celsius in the shade. In such heat even the most ardent of holiday shoppers might refrain and choose instead to sip another cocktail in the pool-bar rather than to go traipsing around the shops. However, the time comes, preferably before all one's spends run out when you have to buy gifts for people back home.

And so reluctantly I headed out on such a mission. I remember walking into a shop which sold all manner of traditional Egyptian goods such as Egyptian cotton, various kinds of papyrus scrolls and eclectic collection of trinkets relating to King Tut, Rameses 'The Great' and the awe inspiring history of the place. As I walked in through the door I could instantly feel the blast of air conditioning which at that moment would have probably qualified this shop as having the very best in customer service and facilities. Alas, as I took a few more steps into this oasis of cool nirvana I was greeted in perfectly spoken English by a man with a smile, we exchanged pleasantries and I said that I was just having a browse, however his wife suddenly appeared from the back room of the shop holding a leather chair a bit like a puffet but slightly higher and planted it down in the very centre of the shop, the man then followed with a pot of tea. I then was invited to sit down and drink my free cup of tea while he and his lovely wife both went and picked out anything I pointed at. It was really an amazing case of how far some people can and will go into making sure that the customer has a positive experience. It is even more touching when one considers the severe and dire living standards they have to endure, barely making enough to feed themselves and their families yet humble, kind, generous and above all, genuine people. It was a beautiful insight into a side of Egyptian and African culture which you don't really hear about or read about in books.

As an aside, some of you may be wondering why I might be drinking hot tea on a hot day when it seems obvious to have a cold drink, however, as I learned there: When the temperature is so high the Egyptians drink tea as this actually makes the body produce more sweat which cools you for longer. 

Below is an interesting infographic courtesy of CCSN.

Do you have your own customer service story to tell? Join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag, #AtYourService.

*Written by Michael David

Retirement Hot Spots

As we walk into the new year, it might be time to start looking for places to retire and enjoy the rest of your life without any stresses or worries here in Britain. Retirees can look forward to decades of active living, but the big question is – where? With the help of Stagecoach, providers of the Oxford to London Coach, we've discovered some of the best hot-spots for retirement in the UK.

Regional retirement

When we looked to see the trends of where most people put their feet up after a lengthy time working, we could see that the South West had the largest retirement percentage with 19.6% in total. Followed was Wales, with 18.4% and then the East of England with 17.5%. From this, we can see that the top three retirement regions were at the bottom of the country – we wonder why and aim to find out.
In fourth place came the North East, with 17.3%. At fifth place the South East region came in with 17.2% of retirees. Closely followed was the East and West Midlands, the East Midlands had 17.1% of retired people whereas the West Midlands had 16.9%.
In eighth place came Scotland with around 16.8% of workers retired. From the North West which scored a 16.6% of retirees, we can see a continuous drop in the percentages of retirement hotspots. Yorkshire and The Humber had the same as Scotland, scoring 16.6%. Followed came Northern Ireland with 14.6% of retirees and finally, London with 11.1%.
Overall, 16.4% of the UK is retired and longer living is the cause. As 65 was once the retirement age for workers in the UK, at the time, 9.2million across both England and Wales are over the age of 65 leading to a one in six people over the age of 65 rate. However, the retirement age is on a continuous climb and currently stands at 67.

Best places to retire

The options are endless when it comes to retirement, from city spaces to rural areas and even seaside locations – there are plenty of hotspots here in Britain that will make your retirement more enjoyable. In our list, we look at what factors contribute into making this a great place for retirement, from activities in the area, transport link and what the community is like.

Chichester, West Sussex

This is one popular location for people moving swiftly into their retirement as it brings an idyllic vision that most retirees have to life. With Georgian architecture throughout the city, it’s definitely a place with a lot of culture and art attractions to visit. There are a lot of markets that are held in Chichester, allowing the residents to be brought together on a regular basis and endorse that community spirit. With this being in the south, it has great transport links to London and Gatwick, allowing those in retirement to venture in and out of the capital if they want to immerse themselves into a busier culture or to even jet around the globe on their next holiday.

Cromer, Norfolk

If you’re looking to add a bit of colour to your retirement years, there’s no better option that Cromer in Norfolk. With the sandy beaches and light blue ocean reflecting onto the colourful buildings in the town, you’ll wake up with a smile on your face every morning. This town is famous for its long pier which is home to the Pavilion Theatre, the theatre has regular productions highlighting its enthusiastic arts culture with productions from all over the country -  allowing retirees to stay in the town rather than venturing out to see the same production they think might only be available in a popular city. This town has tight transport links in and out of Norwich including buses and rail.

Newcastle upon Tyne, North East

If you’re looking for a place full of smiling places, Newcastle upon Tyne might be your best bet! Named ‘the happiest place to live in the UK’ by the European Commission, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be able to love your days of relaxation in this city. Whatever you’re interested in, the chances are that Newcastle has it – from the Baltic Art Centre to over 300 cafes and pubs and even over 92 parks and churches to visit during your time off. If you’re looking to venture out of the city, whether this is abroad or to other places in the country, there’s Newcastle Airport that does both long and short haul flights, as well as Central Station that sits closely in the city for anyone wanting to travel by train.

What makes a good retirement?

It can sometimes be difficult to know the key ingredients that make up a happy retirement. However, some that we found make complete sense and are achievable by any retiree. One of the main factors is affordability – you want to enjoy your retirement and now have to worry about having spare money to spend after paying your bills. You want to make sure that you can lead your life and not worrying about the cost, that means heading to the theatre every now and then or even treating yourself to an item in one of your favourite stores. Another aspect of retirement that people should look at is the amount of activities that you are able to carry out can also have an impact on how good your retirement becomes – you don’t want to move to a place where much isn’t going on!
So, where will you be retiring to? A coastal area with a great view of the beach? A city like Newcastle with all the essentials you need? Or a rural village where you can participate in regular walks in the sun?

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