An American in Brussels

My first brush with Brussels came as I was trying to leave Lille, of all places, and travel to Verdun to tour the battlefields. In that roundabout, Gallic sort of way- which I should have predicted- the French railroad decided the best way for me to travel between these two French cities was to route me through Belgium, with instructions to change trains at Brussels.

I don’t know why- lack of imagination, I would presume- but the good citizens of Brussels decided that apparently every station in the town needed to have the word “Brussels” in the name. I come from a country where even having a train station is a notable enough accomplishment, so being presented with, suddenly, five distinct stations to get off at was a bit much. The stations themselves didn’t do much to help either. Each one of them had a large, imposing aura that seemed to say to me “This is the clearly the biggest station in the city! Obviously this is your stop, alight here.” As I was trying to figure out if Bruxelles-Chapelle might be farther away from the city centre than Bruxelles-Midi, and that really I should’ve gotten off already, the train pulled into Bruxelles-Centrale and I decided to take my chances.

But despite such an inauspicious introduction to Belgium’s capital, I’ve been back since, to much greater success.

Brussels is known for being host to a number of wonderful things – pommes frites (French fries or chips, to the uninitiated) and beer jump to mind – but it is also host to that seemingly all-encompassing institution of bureaucracy: the EU. Of course, any sartorial take on bureaucracy just has to involve a gray flannel suit. Despite its potential for bland anonymity, a gray flannel suit can be pulled off with panache and style.

I’d suggest a fairly straightforward single-breasted three-piece suit. I like my waistcoats with lapels, the jacket as a 3-roll-2, and the trousers pleated and cuffed (turn-ups, for my British readers). To finish it off, I’d choose a crisp white shirt with French cuffs. Personally, I always enjoy my cufflinks to be double-sided, but that’s obviously a personal styling. Footwear: Black oxfords. Finally, a silk tie that’s one stripe away from being a Grenadier Guards regimental.

Humming a certain song from “Muswell Hillbillies” [points if you can guess which one], I moved on from the concrete blocks of the EU. Institutions of modernity aside, Brussels has proved to me to be a wonderful city, with surprisingly airy boulevards and the medieval Îlot Sacré, which I happily explored. Playing to that side of the city, I’d wear a much lighter suit, both in colour and weight.

For this, I’d suggest a 4X1 double-breasted suit made up in a mid-blue/gray fresco and cut to be just level with the fork of the trousers, no lower. The trousers themselves are, as always is my preference, pleated and cuffed. I’d suggest a light blue shirt, a textured tonal tie, and perhaps a pair of dark brown shoes.

Now, I always give three pieces for each city, but this third take is something I’d wear anywhere, Brussels aside. I’ve recently been wearing a gun-club check jacket, in a 3-roll-2 configuration. Given the weather, I’ve been pairing it with mid-gray flannels and a pair of loafers. However, it’s versatile enough that there is no shortage of options on how to wear it. In fact, you may see this pop up again in another city, a sort of sartorial Where’s Waldo? (Editor’s note: Yes, that is the American name of Where’s Wally?).

Bruxelles-Centrale turned out to be the right station, by the way. A success I celebrated by promptly switching onto the wrong train out of the city. NWW/DC/MM

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