A longtime reader recently emailed me asking for advice on an ensemble for an upcoming holiday get-together of close friends of which he was graciously hosting. He wanted something fun and engaging, yet classy and upscale. Somewhere less than full-out-GTH but above boring and stiffy to add cadence to a relaxed and upbeat atmosphere. Something to honor Vince Guaraldi’s angelic record chiming off the Audubon china and champagne glasses, half filled with sparkly and the city’s bright skyline in the distance, guarding the evening’s secrets.
It just so happens he caught me on a brainstorming session (during a class lecture, naturally) a week out for an outfit I wanted to wear for Thanksgiving and an upcoming Christmas Gala & Fundraiser Social I was attending at the end of November. Something elegant but whimsical for the season, we both asked ourselves? Easy answer: Buy some Blackwatch Pants now damnit!
We borrow everything from the fogeys across the pond. The tartan pattern calls home to The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. But much like repp ties, the 99.997% of us who overlook the bestowed honor by swearing to King and Country that comes with privileged right to wear these patterns, have donated such magnificent styles for the Ralph Lauren F/W Catalog and our fordable use.
You know I am all for blown out of proportion preppy at any given moment, and there is certainly no problem with extremely GTH-ish four panel and critter pants, and can just as easily be worn for the same occasions you’d wear Blackwatch, but the latter tends to carry a sense of calmly splendor that answers to the call that critter pants contrastingly screams bluntly in reply. So save the vociferous (add to the GRE word list) “Santa and Reindeer” motif critters for your fraternity’s ugly Xmas sweater party and break out the Blackwatch for the formal holiday affairs.
What I end up wearing for the semi-formal Christmas Gala. If it were black tie (such a rarity these days :() then I’d propose that you can even don the Blackwatch with your tuxedo, although I think a shawl collar over a peaked lapel would compliment the best. Only for Winter seasonal affairs of course.
Worn with my trusty (and presently, only) Brooks Brothers traveler’s overcoat and Ralph Lauren lambswool white scarf. You’ll notice other recurring themes of the black alligator embossed strap and engine-turned Trafalgar plaque, black Allen Edmonds Grayson tassel loafers, and my Bucherer dress watch with black calfskin band. I stayed true with the namesake and went triple black for these inspirations. Probably one of the rare tradly cases where the black pairings just seems right, especially for after 6pm.
Blackwatch can add a touch to casual wear too by anchoring the lightly felt stark difference. Earlier that evening for dinner, I wore the standard repp bowtie and blue blazer, but for a Thanksgiving party later that night to wash down the turkey and gravy with vine, I decided to pull on a V and unbuttoned twice.
Maybe for Christmas morning? Or lounging around listening to Sinatra and Bublé? Throw in my favorite creme cable-knit shawl cardigan and wool plaid tie.
I keep the assertive cap-toe for suits and the like. So to diffuse the deep black despair, I like the tassel loafer as it adds flair to the otherwise funeral-safe margins. And if you’re keeping count, yes these are my second pair of Graysons, after the merlot. Excessive? I don’t think so for such a versatile shoe model. Plus, my first pair was only $60 used on eBay. These? $25 shipped 😉 Rule #10 folks! Even had my cobbler confirm the soles were barely worn.
There are other Scottish tartan variants other than Blackwatch. Royal Stewart is a popular one for extra Christmassyy spirit. Playing around with the red and yellow accents of these pants with the red V and gold buttons.
So where to buy for this 2013 season? Here is a list of what I’ve come up with. The two featured in my personal collection above are Ralph Lauren, but unfortunately only offered in outlets. More downside is that they’re…*shudders*….Lauren by Ralph Lauren. But at least 100% wool and in a perfectly trim cut. Purchased for ~$40 from $100 from already on sale on top of Black Friday and student discount.
Orvis for $150. I like that these are 100% wool and can customize hemming and cuff options. I prefer mine uncuffed myself.
JCrew Factory in Bedford for currently $60 in limited sizes. I was originally deadset on these for my previously limited window of time and budget, but the Laurens sneaked up on me. Wool/poly makes them a bit shiny but not necessarily a deal breaker.
JCrew PapaBear in Bowery for $158. Ludlow Harris Tweed for $350.
Castaway for $155. Unhemmed for optimal tailoring. Unknown if all wool.
Brooks Brothers Madison and Milano for $248. These are a deco variant of true Blackwatch. 100% wool. More affordable at $98, Red Fleece. Cotton and variant.
Paul Frederick at a comfortable a discounted $79, sadly pleated. 100% wool and unhemmed.
Banana Republic Aiden Chino for $59. Cotton blend.
Club Monaco Davis Chino for $89. Confirmed with brand representative that the color is not traditional Blackwatch with dark green, and has more of a grey hue. Also, a decent selection of other plaids.
Ralph Lauren Custom Fit Trouser for $495. 100% virgin wool, made in Italy. Sell your extra kidney, you don’t need it.
Heritage of Scotland kilt. Only if you’re of a Clan. And in a cultural fair or a parade. Actually, just don’t.
Bonobos has carried traditional Blackwatch before but not this year. They do offer a performance version for golf in nasty polyester for $118. We’ll check back next year. They do have some cool limited edition panel pants though.
I’ve seen Blackwatch full suits before (JCrew offers one for example) but I’m not so sure if it can be worn in a totally serious way, or at least you’ll have to be able to carry an ironic chip on your shoulder in your sartorial IQ. Blackwatch and the like is best worn mix-n-match IMHO. O’Connells offers a Made in USA dinner jacket from H Freeman. Other than that, not many other American made sources that I’ve seen. Those Ralph Italian slacks are the gold standard out of the bunch, but I like my second kidney thanksverymuch, and am perfectly happy with the bastard stepchild Lauren.
So next time you’re hosting a holiday dinner party, or attending an evening formal, or if it’s just that time of year, then Blackwatch is a safe bet if you’re wanting to dance the line. Let the critters frolic and play at another occasion. Hopefully I made the gentleman at Acute Style proud.