Gent of the Month
I have two approaches that guide my wardrobe: British countryside in winter, southern Italian in summer.
Widely appreciated as Canada's leading voice in classic men's style, Pedro Mendes needs little introduction amongst menswear enthusiasts. As the creative director behind The Hogtown Rake and author of 10 Garments Every Man Should Own, Pedro has inspired countless gentlemen by providing practical guidance and insights into the world of fine craftsmanship, culture and style - and it's our pleasure to welcome him as April's Gent of the Month.
Tell us about when you first got into classic menswear
I’ve been attracted to classic menswear since I was a teenager in the 80s, whether it was fedoras, ties or Ivy League staples like crewneck sweaters and tassel loafers. But without guidance from family or friends, my wardrobe was a dog’s breakfast of low quality knock offs and imitations. How I wish someone had introduced me to the books of G. Bruce Boyer back then. Instead, I messed around with various styles into my 30s. Then, with the birth of my son, I decided to make a serious effort to start dressing like a grown up. Thankfully, this was the late 2000s, so there was plenty of inspiration and education on the web.
I remember spending many hours reading and re-reading Will Boehlke’s blog “A Suitable Wardrobe” and digging into Bruce’s book Elegance. At that point, I went rather hard into vintage: three piece suits, too many accessories, traditional British tailoring. There was a process of about five years where I tried various combinations of colours, patterns, fits and accessories only to learn, for myself, a lesson Will and Bruce wrote about all the time: simplify. Fewer accessories, fewer bells and whistles. Another important lesson that took me a few years to learn was to concentrate on the quality of construction and fit instead of design. Early on, I was drawn to certain fabric colours or patterns without considering the garment itself, how it was made and the silhouette it created. And finally, the most important act of simplification for me was honing in on fewer but better items. I would rather have a small closet with a few high quality items, than a couple of closets bulging with mediocre garments.
2. How would you describe your personal style?
I have two approaches that guide my wardrobe: British countryside in winter, southern Italian in summer. I’m thankful that my home town, Toronto, experiences a range of weather: blustering autumns, freezing winters, wet springs and hot, humid summers. It means I can invest in quality tweeds, flannels and heavy boots, as well as light-weight linens, open weave cottons and unstructured loafers. And, as I mentioned, I have simplified my wardrobe to classic basics, in terms of garments and colours. Nothing flashy, nothing bold (as least not to my eye). Sport jackets and flannel trousers, shawl collar cardigans and button-down oxfords in winter. Safari jackets and linen trousers, panama hats and Belgian loafers in summer. Winter is grey, brown, burgundy and dark green. Summer is cream, taupe, light blue and amber brown. And my inspiration is simple: my British country wear is essentially and unabashedly a copy of my friend Bruce Boyer. On the other hand, my summer wear is inspired by my trips to Italy in the last decade. The lesson I learned there is how to be casual and well ventilated while still striving for elegance. Which means garments of lightweight fabrics made with ease.
3. Who and/or what has had the greatest impact on your sartorial style?
No one has had a greater impact on how I think about, write about and wear clothing than G. Bruce Boyer. His mantra of comfortable elegance, of dressing in a way that is understated and a little bit rumpled, has given me the freedom to find my own way instead of trying to replicate a look from 1930s menswear illustrations or Cary Grant movies. At first, when I started building a classic wardrobe, I was attracted to the stiff, formal look of old Savile Row, but then Bruce showed me that elegance doesn’t have to be so structured and formal. Instead of constantly failing to have a pristine outfit, I felt free to embrace drapey jackets, wrinkled linen and well worn shoes. I’m also inspired by his combination of elements from Ivy League, British tailoring and Italian culture. A combination that brings in the sportyness of Ivy, the precision of Savile Row and the panache of Italy. 4. What do your clothes do for you?
It’s funny, but the pandemic has shown me that “classic men’s style” is not an element of my wardrobe: it is my wardrobe. I don’t own sweatpants. I have one pair of jeans I wear rarely. I was given a hoodie from my company but I save it for yard work. Even when I’m not going out, I wear tailored trousers and an ironed shirt. Because that is what I own and what I love to wear. The opportunity to wear well made, good quality clothes every day, clothes that make me feel better and look better, builds a base of joy and confidence into every day. I still have my ups and downs, of course, along with the bouts of extreme anxiety many of us are experiencing, but my wardrobe is at least an element in my life that is beautiful and positive.
I recently commissioned a sport jacket (featured here on the right) from Toronto’s Induere that I’ve worn once or twice a week, all winter. It is soft, unstructured and feels like a comfy sweater. I carefully selected the Fox Brothers fabric to harmonise with most of my shirts and trousers, so I can wear it with almost anything. Most important is the fit: there’s ease and comfort in the chest and shoulders, so I can be working at my desk, relaxing with a book or practicing guitar without constraint.
6. Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently along your journey into classic men's style?
When commissioning your first piece of custom wear (which can be a suit, a jacket, a shirt or a pair of shoes) focus on fit and versatility, not design options. Even though you can do anything with a custom garment - wild colours or flashy finishing - the custom process should actually be about fit. Worry more about achieving an exceptional fit than how it looks. In fact, I highly recommend going for an understated style. It is a shame - as I have learned - to invest so much time and money only to end up with a garment that is too bold to wear on a regular basis. It may seem boring, but a finely tailored, well fitting blue, brown or grey jacket will be worn and enjoyed far more often, with far more items, than that tan thing hanging forever more in my closet.
7. Tell us about a story you’d like to share with our community related to your experience in classic menswear
When I was 18, I spent the summer with family in Portugal. Each day, my cousins would pick me up at my grandparents’ house in Lisbon to tour around the city. Which I always did in tshirt and shorts. And each time they picked me up, they would snicker or smile at each other. Finally, after a week of this, I confronted them and demanded to know what was so funny. “Grown men don’t wear shorts in the city,” they said. “You look like a little kid.” And from that day forward, I have only worn shorts at the beach or in the backyard. Even when I travel to Havana, I pack mostly trousers. Some people might think this is outdated and uncomfortable. But not only do I find trousers more elegant than shorts, they are also a better option in the heat. As many people around the world who live in hot climates can attest, skin that is covered in airly, lightweight fabrics does better than exposed skin.
8. Anything else you’d like us to know about you?
How about: “You’ve written a book about building a sustainable wardrobe, 10 Garments Every Man Should Own. Is classic menswear automatically more sustainable?”
The answer here is both yes and no. As I mention in the book, someone could easily fill their closets with low quality suits and trousers. The look itself doesn’t mean sustainability. But if you decide to invest in quality, well made garments, then classic styles - that won’t look too dated in a decade or two - seem like the best options. Not to mention that classic menswear tends to give you the opportunity to work with high quality makers. But again, the onus is on you: to find and support craftspeople who are paid fairly and work responsibly.