Suits You: An Interview with Menswear Clothier Craig Fox

Menswear clothier Craig Fox on fashion trends, spending your money wisely, how Obama has McCain beat, and more.

Wide lapels. Three-button suits. Ascots. Craig Fox has seen it all since he and fellow George Washington University classmate William Frank opened Wm. Fox & Co. in 1965. His Savile Row-style shop in downtown DC (1427 G St., NW; 202-783-2530; feels like a gentlemen’s club.

We asked Fox to share his observations about men’s fashion in Washington. An excerpt of this interview ran in the June issue; read on for a fuller transcript.

How do you feel about fashion trends?

I don’t touch fads. I don’t think most are top quality. Men who pay $1,200 for a suit want to wear it for a long time. I don’t think Washington is a town for fashionable Italian clothing.

What’s the one thing you’d like to see change in Washington’s fashion sense?

I’d like to see more businessmen in brown suits. Men here stick to dark gray or navy. No one has really worn brown since Ronald Reagan, who was a terrific dresser.

Who is a better dresser, John McCain or Barack Obama?

Obama. He wears clothes better. He looks more modern and is always wearing the right tie. McCain would benefit from a good tailor.

What is the latest trend in color?

In past seasons, men chose to accessorize navy suits with yellow or pink neckwear. What I’m seeing for summer is a lot of lime or mint green, which looks new against navy.

What does “black tie optional” mean to you?

I always like to wear a tux, even if it’s optional, because I don’t get to wear one often. But if you’re going to a formal event that doesn’t require a tux—a Saturday-night wedding for example—you can wear a blue suit, a white shirt, and a dressy tie with either a silver or light-blue small check or small glen-plaid pattern.

If you have limited funds, what is the best investment?

Let’s say you had $500. That wouldn’t buy you a good suit, but if you opted for a good shirt and tie, you’d make a decent suit look a lot better.

What distinguishes a $200 shirt?

The material is finer, either Italian cotton or sea island, a material known for its silky feel. The buttons are made from real shell, and the tail of the shirt is longer, so it stays tucked in. If there’s a pattern, the pattern will continue uninterrupted where there is a pocket or where the shoulder joins. This takes time and is the sign of an expensive shirt.

When do accessories like pocket squares and cuff links become overkill?

When they get too matchy. If you’re going to pick a paisley pocket square, don’t go with a paisley tie. Find one color and match that instead of trying to match the design.

Is there a look that screams “fashion victim”?

Very tight-fitting clothing. A lot of trendier suits have such a narrow silhouette; men look like they’ve poured themselves in.

Should men wear sandals?

Topsiders without socks is as far as I’ll go. Men just shouldn’t show their toes.

How often should you dryclean a suit?

People tend to dryclean more than necessary. Unless you spill food or have a really light colored suit that shows soil, you should only clean a suit once at the end of the season. In the meantime, you can keep a suit looking fresh by having it professionally pressed, using a good clothing brush, and hanging it out in the fresh air every once and a while.

How have you managed to survive the fickle gods of retail?

If you carry something that’s of good quality, it lasts. Men like that.

What keeps customers coming back?

I have about 100 really good customers who have been shopping here since the beginning. Some still wear clothing with my original label—from more than 20 years ago. Sometimes things last a bit too long.

Can you tell what a man does for a living just by what he’s wearing?

I can usually spot a lawyer. Lawyers are always in a dark suit, white shirt, and foulard print tie. There’s a sameness to the way they dress.

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