The Square Mile: Finery for a Steaming Summer

Maintaining dress decorum in the City of London is a fading phenomenon, only exacerbated in the summer. Don’t fall into the slouchy sections; there’s a selection of revered tailoring brands that can see you through the uncomfortable temperatures in real style. 

The Square Mile: Finery for a Steaming Summer

“London is a city where history meets modernity, where the past and present coexist in a dynamic and fascinating way”, said the iconoclastic cockney lensman David Bailey. Extolled as a touchstone in shaping the bohemianism revolution against the old-world in the swinging sixties, he's probably unlikely to make such an influential foray into the City of London in the 2020s. However, when examining dress codes, their status and their future in the colloquially named Square Mile, Bailey's assertion serves as an interesting parameter to consider. 

Founded by the Romans in approximately 43 AD, Londinium, as it was known then, encompassed a small catchment area that on a geographical sketch would roughly delineate the coordinates of the “city” as it's otherwise referred to, thus making it the oldest settlement in London. Even the Roman legion designated the land as a grand commercial centre, but it wasn't until the mid-1600s that the grandest and most architecturally rich junction, consisting of the Bank of England, Mansion House, and the Royal Exchange, monopolised Threadneedle Street as the official hub of the financial district.

While the British capital has developed into a sprawling metropolis, the 1.12 square miles that the city actually covers have never expanded in terms of acres, but within the perimeter the change is unquantifiable. Even ten years ago, the sight of the Gherkin towering over St Andrew Undershaft, a largely Tudor church dating back to 1520, was an eye-searing juxtaposition from a meeting on the top floor of a neighbouring skyscraper. In the current decade, the rapidly evolving landscape of commerce has compelled those plying their trade there to expedite their business etiquette. In addition to adapting with technical aptitude to the newfangled business practices, sartorial demands hold equal importance. 

Colin Tennant in Mustique in 1984. Getty Images.
David Niven, 1960. Getty Images.
CBS network founder William S. Paley with his first wife, the former Dorothy Hart, New York, 1940. Getty Images.
Zsa Zsa Gabor and Porfirio Rubirosa, Santo Domingo, 1965. Getty Images.
Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, ca 1935. The two stars shared a beach house during the 1930s. Getty Images.

Otto Hermann Kahn, often known as the "King of New York," was born in Mannheim, Germany, in 1897.  He and his German-born Jewish banking contemporaries, including Meyer Amschel Rothschild, Paul Warburg, Sir Ernest Cassel, and Jacob Schiff, have left a behemothic legacy in corporate finance, which began at Frankfurt's Bankenviertel and continued to the Square Mile and Wall Street. However, Otto Kahn stands out when examining the gravitas that dress holds, not only in the sphere of elite deal-making but also for a freshman at a respectable financial, legal, media or other service whose mandate is to deliver with the utmost professionalism.

Following in his father's footsteps, Otto Kahn was placed as a junior clerk in a bank in Karlsruhe. At the tender age of 20 he completed his three-year tenure, followed by a year of service in the Kaiser's hussars, before being poached by Deutsche Bank's London agency. The traditions of London forcefully appealed to him. Otto Khan would especially relish visits to Savile Row, where he would find suits cut by the best hands, in superior fabrics that transcended to prosperous business because they imparted respect, capability, congenial attributes, and even a hint of subtle flair, which is no bad thing in an often intense yet staid discipline. Armed with these business traits, Otto Kahn quickly attracted interest from the renowned London banking firm Speyer & Co., which offered him a prominent position in their New York house. From the Gilded Age until the Great Depression, Otto Kahn attained undisputable prominence in New York and London. 

During this period, particularly in the US, anti-Semitism significantly limited opportunities for Jewish individuals, making Otto Kahn's achievements all the more remarkable. Returning to the topic of business attire and its ability to enhance relationships, let's examine Otto Kahn's outfit in more detail. In Otto the Magnificent: The Life of Otto Kahn, author John Kobler describes his appearance one day as: “His hair was silvery white, and his moustache waxed to fine points. He wore pearl-grey spats, and the vests beneath his impeccably tailored jackets were trimmed with white piping. Spruce as a Savile Row dandy, a fresh rose in his lapel, he was one of New York’s best-dressed men.”

In 1942 a young Frank Sinatra performs as a solo act for the first time in New York City. Getty Images.
Surrounded by family members, Nelson Rockefeller sits at the wheel of his 1931 Ford in 1958. Getty Images.
Randolph Scott with his long-term housemate Cary Grant at ‘Bachelor Hall’. Getty Images.
Senator John F. Kennedy and fiance Jacqueline Bouvier are interviewed for a LIFE Magazine story while on vacation at the Kennedy compound in June 1953 in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Getty Images.
Actor George Raft is shown walking from the Vendome Cafe in Hollywood, 1933. Getty Images.
Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. strikes a Napoleonic pose on the speakers platform at Wrigley Field, during a freedom meeting, with Dr. Martin Luther King (second from left). Getty Images.
Ivan Boesky taking two calls at once in his New York office, 1977. Getty Images.

Today, the House of Speyer, the great banking dynasty that was the third largest investment banking firm at its peak in the 1900s, is no more, and, tucked away in a shadowy passage in Cornhill, London, Simpson's Tavern, the historical chophouse that for centuries has hosted immaculately dressed city workers, who would gabble with one another and on occasion light up a Cohiba / Behike BHK 54 with a navy lacquer and gold lighter from S.T. Dupont, is in grave danger of also never opening its doors again. The crux of citing the demise of such city establishments is that all aspects of the hub change, and today replicating Otto Kahn’s aforementioned outfit would seem outrageous. To a certain extent this is true, but while acknowledging more relaxed dress codes in the city, the concept of presenting oneself shouldn’t be too dissimilar. In an attempt to restore some authentic life to the Square Mile this summer, there are plenty of cunning ways to dress that can provoke you to embrace more traditional outfits or smart casuals. 

With a population larger than New York, frenetically traipsing around London in the height of summer may involve using the muggy underground, emerging from Exit 1 of Bank Station, and seeing the Bank of Scotland building. However, the perspiration from your skin may leave you toiling in a saturated outfit, making you rather hesitant to stroll into the office and converse with colleagues. If suits are mandatory in your line of work, selecting the right fabric is imperative. Tailoring made of lightweight cotton, hopsack, Gabardine Fresco, and even linen blends, is going to be your go-to. Each year, there are always one or two Fresco suits designed by first-rate tailoring ateliers that catch your eye. Renowned for their seventies-influenced tailoring, the two single-breasted Fresco suits offered by Parisian brand Husbands are optimal models for the professions of finance and law, notably because the shades of navy and anthracite are foolproof in such vocational environments. 

Robertas photographed by Kalle Gustafsson with fashion direction Jo Grzeszczuk for Issue 53 of The Rake.
Jules Raynal photographed by Kalle Gustafsson with fashion direction by Jo Grzeszczuk for Issue 51 of The Rake.
Fashion direction by Jo Grzeszczuk for Issue 58 of The Rake.

Refrain from scuppering their allure, especially when chairing an important meeting, by sporting shoes from lowbrow makers, or inferior brown monk strap shoes and ankle-grazing trousers. Exalted by the haute monde of international business, a visit to George Cleverley in the Royal Arcade will more than satisfy your shoe expenditure. If you're looking for a shoe to match a formal business dress code, the black classic handcrafted Cap-Toe Oxford shoe from Gaziano Girling is a timeless choice. Even before the emergence of the working from home phenomenon, known as the Jacob-Rees Moggs discrepancy, the desirability of formal dress was shifting and comfortability was a major factor. Commuters had previously arrived to distinguished city law firms, such as Reed Smith LLP in Broadgate Tower, in trainers and on arrival slipped on a pair of black penny loafers from a reputable shoe company such as Crockett & Jones. However, in the present era, particularly with the improvement in sneaker design, some managers no longer reach for their penny loafers stored in a Chelsea leather tote from Ettinger, since a limited number of sneakers have gained acceptance among these law firms. The truth is many of the sneakers that are worn should not pass muster for this trend, but there is one pair on the market that should be the exemplar of what is accepted, and that’s the handmade blue marino French suede wholecut sneaker from Stefano Bemer.

Jules Raynal photographed by Kalle Gustafsson with fashion direction by Jo Grzeszczuk for Issue 51 of The Rake.
Photographed by Kalle Gustafsson with fashion direction by Jo Grzeszczuk for Issue 57 of The Rake.
Photographed by Kalle Gustafsson with fashion direction by Jo Grzeszczuk for Issue 56 of The Rake.

On the whole, the lead-up to Summer Solstice, which lands on Thursday, June 20, is a pleasant period to dress. This is why, on days when the company workforce is required to attend the office, they tend to be near full capacity. It transcends the footfall into Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in the week, the famed drinking haunt at 145 Fleet St., where Charles Dickens was a regular client, and today its cross-section of society occupying its timber-beamed rooms is a wonderful sight. Tabloid journalists, typically dressed in tieless shirts, would often request a sharpener during lunch, but even when venturing outside of the office, sober-coloured shirts are advisable, and at Emma Willis on Jermyn Street, you have an extensive choice in superior Swiss and Italian cottons. On the same street, Royal Warrant shirtmakers Turnbull & Asser have a peerless collection of Alumo cotton shirts, a delicate fabric that is renowned for its light weighted properties. And based in Hong Kong, Magnus & Novus are revered for their Alumo cotton shirts. However, even in literary circles not long ago, you would witness more flamboyant yet sophisticated costumes, and AA Gill is a prime example. Anderson & Sheppard, the classic British tailors renowned for their English drape suits and distinctive aesthetic, had AA Gill as an endearing client. In addition to AA Gill's fine taste, he did convey a touch of exuberance with his vast collection of bowties and cravats. But like university students, there are many firms now, particularly in tech, that dress with a laissez-faire approach. If this is your outlook on formality, a hand-finished piquet long-sleeve polo shirt from G. Inglese, worn with a pair of straight-cut jeans from The Rake’s own collections, would be a safe outfit.

Photographed by Kalle Gustafsson with fashion direction by Jo Grzeszczuk for Issue 57 of The Rake.
Mark Vanderloo photographed by Diego Merino with Fashion Direction by Grace Gilfeather.
Robertas photographed by Kim Lang with fashion direction by Amelia Hudson for Issue 72 of The Rake.

Undoubtedly, a UK summer wouldn't be complete without the arrival of a heatwave, but what happens if your firm maintains a jacket-wearing policy, whatever the climate? This is when the timeless blue blazer rescues us from nearly any eventuality. If you're faced with scorching temperatures and a distorted view of the vast windows of city skyscrapers, consider opting for an unstructured summer linen blazer from the Neapolitan family brand, Rubinacci. If your business allows casual footwear, consider adding the off-white wholecut sneaker from Stefano Bemer, which will prove to be a versatile addition to your shoe collection. Thus, the past and present can truly coexist in a dynamic and fascinating way.