Sunday, December 25, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Friday, November 4, 2011
The problem is that, for whatever reason, shawl cardigans are fairly hard to find -- and, when they turn up, they're usually only available in gray, and tan if you're lucky (not that there's anything wrong with gray or tan; they're just not what I'm looking for). Go figure.
Also, even gray ones are either too expensive (usually $300 and up -- and usually way up, to $1,000 or more).
Worse, if you find one that's cheaper, it usually looks cheap -- and is often made of cotton and looks more like a sweatshirt. (It's not that there's inherently anything wrong with a cotton sweater either, but the inexpensive, cotton shawls I've seen have almost always been cheap-looking.)
I've searched eBay often during November and December in previous years and have come up dry.
Ditto department stores and thrift stores.
Being early November, the bug bit me again tonight.
And, after searching all over the Net, I finally found one, from Ben Silver:
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Thursday, October 6, 2011
I strongly suspect this mangling was the result of the previous owners keeping the ties permanently tied, where they just loosened the tie enough to remove it from their necks, then stored the ties still knotted.
That's why you should never, ever do that; over time, it will permanently ruin your ties.
But, you may ask, what's the difference -- if the wrinkles are in the knot anyway, who's going to see them?
The difference is that the same tie may need to be tied differently with different clothes. With trousers of different rises, the same tie may need to be wrapped once instead of twice (or vice-versa), or it may need to be started higher or lower on the chest. And a wide, spread collar may require a Half- or Full-Windsor knot, instead of a four-in-hand, to adequately fill in the gap between the collar.
And, even leaving all of that aside, any man who cares about his clothes should not want to ruin his ties just for the sake of not ruining them, even if he really is ruining them in a way that only he can see.
Some experts even advise untying your tie by reversing the steps of knotting it, instead of just pulling the small blade through the knot's hole, so the knot automatically falls apart. It certainly doesn't hurt to do that, but it's probably going too far in the other direction, to the point of being too careful; I've never once done that, and I can't recall ever having a problem with the wrinkles from the knot disappearing on their own by the next day. But it's still best to pull the small blade through the knot and to untie your tie as gently as possible.
Your ties should only be tied when you're wearing them; always store them untied.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Maybe the best example of this is an overcoat and felt hat. They should never be the same shade, and ideally shouldn't be the same color. A charcoal coat and hat looks way too matchy; a charcoal coat and medium gray hat looks okay, but is kind of bland. A sophisticated dresser would pair his charcoal coat with a hat of dark brown or navy or midnight blue.
The reverse of this is the two-color rule. Generally, an outfit should have no more than two primary colors, which are the background colors of a suit, shirt and tie (colors in the patterns of such items are accent colors). Also, understand that white doesn't count as a color; it is, by definition, the absence of color.
This rule-of-thumb stems from the fact that the human eye tends to see three or more colors on an item as too "busy" and ugly, while one color usually looks too bland.
(Incidentally, this rule applies to everything, not just clothes.)
Imagine a charcoal suit with a white shirt and a solid charcoal tie. Way too drab. A solid tie in navy or burgundy would look much better.
Now imagine a charcoal suit with a light blue shirt and a burgundy tie. That would tend to look ugly because it contains three colors; it's like the eye has too much to process. It'd be better to change the tie to navy or the shirt to white.
One other element to consider is contrast; it's especially important if you choose to wear one color.
Imagine a solid navy suit with a light blue shirt and a solid navy tie. Drab.
Now imagine the same suit with a white shirt and a navy tie with white pin dots -- this is one of the most elegant combinations possible, even though it's only one color. The difference is the addition of white; while not a color, it adds contrast, especially against dark colors.
This illustrates the point that dressing is an art, not a science; there are always exceptions to rules-of-thumb.
It also illustrates why blending colors and patterns takes sophistication; you have to know when wearing one color -- or three different colors -- works and when it doesn't.
Consider too that the ground of your pocket square counts as one of the two colors, unless it's white. For example, a one-color outfit could be punched up with a burgundy pocket square (in solid or a pattern).
And a really sophisticated dresser might wear burgundy socks with it, adding visual interest where there previously was none.
Also, socks don't count as one of the two colors, because they're only visible when one is seated.
Shoes don't count either; for whatever reason, navy or gray shoes have never connoted much taste, so they'll always be a third color, except when one is wearing a brown suit.
A sophisticated dresser skillfully straddles the line between over-matching and wearing too many background colors at once.
Friday, September 9, 2011
So today, I went back to pick them up, and stopped in the thrift again, mainly because I was hoping the chair I bought the other day was part of a set, and the others hadn't been put out yet the last time I was in.
No such luck. But, amazingly, I found seven more ties that weren't there two days ago, all for 95 cents each:
1. Burgundy with navy paisley by Ferrell Reed, 100% silk.
2. Burgundy foulard by Giovanni Carvello, 100% silk.
3. Navy foulard by John Henry, 100% silk.
4. Burgundy with navy and gold foulard by Mallory & Church, 100% silk.
5. Burgundy foulard by Van Huesen, 100% silk.
6. Burgundy with teal repp stripes by J.L. Roberts & Company, 100% silk.
7. Red with white and navy repp stripes by Rooster, 100% silk.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
I went in to get my first look at the new felts, but it turns out I was too early.
And that brings me to what I did find among all of the straws that were still out: a couple of boaters in my size for about $45 (I forget exactly). I've always wanted one, but they're usually about $100-125 in that store or online; I've never been able to justify dropping that kind of cash for a hat that I would probably rarely wear. But at $45, it was pretty darned tempting. Stay tuned . . .
Today's haul, from two different thrift stores of the same chain:
1. Navy tie with small gold and burgundy paisley pattern by Ferrell Reed for Mr. Guy, 100% silk.
2. Red foulard by Damon, 100% silk.
3. Navy foulard by Rooster, 100% silk.
4. Rust solid by Macy's Men's Store, untagged but feels like a silk-poly blend.
5. Bottle green with purple and gold stripes by Robert Talbott, 100% silk.
6. Burgundy paisley by Stafford (J.C. Penney), 100% silk.
7. Red paisley by Johnny Carson, 100% silk.
8. Chocolate brown club tie with small duck motif by Robert Talbott, 50-50 silk-wool blend.
9. Bottle green club tie with small stagecoach motif from a local haberdasher, silk-poly blend.
10. Rose foulard with navy and tan from Lands' End, 100% silk.
11. Red paisley by Class Club, 100% silk.
12. Bottle green with repeating diagonal pattern of three white ribbon stripes and gold shields, 100% silk.
13. Tan club tie with small duck motif, unbranded, silk-poly blend.
14. Chocolate brown repp tie with white and gold ribbon stripes from Countess Mara, 100% silk.
15. Burgundy club tie with small duck and horn motif by Renleigh, silk-poly blend.
16. Pink club tie with a small sailboat motif from a local haberdasher, 100% silk.
Total cost for this haul @ 95 cents each: approximately $16, with tax.
I also picked up a lightweight navy topcoat from London Fog for $13.48. It's in basically mint condition and fits me like a glove. It was just a little dusty; after a trip through the washer and dryer (despite the dry clean only tag), it's as good as new.
Finally, I also bought a chair at the same store. Most furniture in thrift stores is junk, but this was one of the rare gems. It's brown, probably vinyl but looks like leather, with nailhead trim and wooden legs on wheels with brass casters. It's in like-new condition except for some very minor wear on the finish of the wooden legs. I wiped it down with some kitchen counter top cleanser when I got it home (which revealed some dirt I couldn't see on the chair, but could on the cloth), and it's good as new. I wish there had been two or even four of them, especially since it cost $8.48.
The grand total was about $40. Not bad for a chair, a coat, and 16 ties.
Again, I realize that a post like this would be far better with pics, but I hate taking them. Maybe I'll get over that someday -- but don't hold your breath.
Monday, September 5, 2011
But those aren't necessarily button-down shirts; as you probably surmised from the previous paragraph,"button-down" shirts are shirts with buttons on the ends of the collars. They supposedly originated around the turn of the 20th century with English polo players, who devised the style to keep the collars of their shirts from blowing up into their faces while they were playing. Brooks Brothers quickly imported the style to the United States, where it quickly became a classic.
Shirts with a separated front that encloses entirely with buttons (as opposed to a pull-over, which may or may not also have buttons near the top) are button-up shirts.
Even so, the term is less than ideal, because not all button-up shirts are dress shirts.
I prefer the following, more precise terminology:
Dress shirt (should need no explanation, but the men I see wearing dark shirts with ties indicate that I'm wrong; see my post on dress shirt colors, and maybe we'll discuss dress shirts at length someday)
Sport shirt (a casual shirt never to be worn with suits or blazers, and generally not even with very casual odd jackets; these shirts often have two chest pockets with button flaps, and are usually in a bold pattern like plaid; they're also often in a non-dress shirt finish, like flannel)
Button-down dress or sport shirt (a shirt with buttons that fasten the tips of the collar points to the body of the shirt; with dress shirts, this style is the most casual)
Understand the difference between a button-down shirt and a button-up shirt, then try to strike the vague "button-up" term from your vocabulary.
But clotheshorses should never fear this holiday, and most of us look forward to it in anticipation: now comes the two seasons for flannel, tweed, corduroy, moleskin, oxford cloth button-downs, wool ties, sweaters, scarves, felt hats, sumptuous overcoats, and all of the other luxuries of dressing for cool and cold weather.
Welcome to fall.
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Dress shirt sleeves come in two types of sizes: exact, i.e. 33, and combined, i.e. 32/33. Combined sizes allow manufacturers to save money, and these are generally done with cheaper shirts. Combined sleeves have two buttons on the cuff, rather than just one on the end. I actually prefer combined sleeves because I have small wrists, and the inside button makes my cuff snug without my having to take a new, exact size shirt to my tailor to have the buttons moved in. But then I also tend to wear a 35 sleeve. Even so, for those who wear the lower measurement of a combined size, I fail to see how an extra inch distributed across the entire length of a sleeve is any great concern.
What especially astounds me is how many men I see with sloppy cuffs with two buttons visible -- which announces to the world that you wear cheaper shirts, looks especially sloppy because of the extra visible button, and means that you didn't even have to take the shirt to a tailor to make it fit (or move the button yourself, if you know how to do that); the extra buttons to make their cuffs fit properly are already there, and they're not even using them! For the life of me, I cannot fathom what is going through a man's head to wear sloppy cuffs -- especially when he sees that he already has another button to make them snug, yet he chooses the outside button.
This is exactly what you should never do:
Unless you have big wrists, use the inside button if it's there; if it's not, spend the couple of bucks to have the buttons moved in -- or move them yourself. And, if you do have big wrists, have the inside buttons removed -- and save them, in case you need them for replacements. Wear snug cuffs.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Thrift stores have for years been the main source for my tie addiction.
I added nine ties to my collection of probably 300+ over the past week, all from thrift stores:
1. Burgundy with white pin dots from Lands' End, 100% silk, $1.00
2. Rust-colored club tie with a small, repeating motif of three people jogging, no brand label, silk/poly blend that looks and feels like silk, $1.00
3. Plaid wool tie from Rooster, 50 cents
4. Navy foulard tie from Pride of England, 100% silk, $1.00
5. Plaid wool tie from Accents for Men, 75 cents
6. Red foulard tie from Robert Talbott Carmel, 75 cents
7. Brown, tan and light blue block stripe repp, 100% silk, no brand label (but looks like a typical Countess Mara, but without the logo), $1.00
8. Navy club tie with small olive green dogs from Lands' End, 100% silk, $1.00
9. Rose-colored foulard tie from Stafford (J.C. Penney), 100% silk, $1.00
Total cost for the whole haul: $8.00, or less than $1.00 per tie.
I also bought a green and white pocket square, probably polyester but feels like silk, for $1.00.
I may just give Giuseppe a run for his money yet.
You always have to sort through some junk in thrift stores. But, in my experience, finding clean, stylish (classic colors and patterns in 3-4" widths that never go out of style) ties in such places is pretty easy.
Also, I realize that this post would be 1,000 times better with pictures. Unfortunately, I despise taking them, and I don't expect that to change anytime soon.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
The ties are probably the nicest, most conservative ties one can buy new in a store for $15-20. (Penney's follows a business model where pretty much everything is on sale all of the time, and the sale prices are the real retail prices.)
I purchased a pink American Living dress shirt with a white spread collar and white French cuffs probably a year ago, at a real sale price of about $16. (Retailers with a business model like Penney's do have real sales at times, especially when they need to clear out discontinued merchandise. This shirt "retailed" for about $45; the real, perpetual "sale" price was about $25.)
I found the tails a little short, but I was satisfied with it besides that, especially for what I paid.
Last week, I came across another American Living shirt on clearance for $16 and decided to take the plunge again.
Recalling my problem with the previous shirt, I tried this one on after getting it home, before washing it. The tails on this one were even worse; the indent on the sides literally came about an inch past my waistband, and I'm about average height.
So I took it back the next day (and exchanged it for some cotton handkerchiefs). To their credit, they gladly offered a refund or exchange with no questions asked.
At this point, I have to assume that all American Living dress shirts suffer from tails that are dramatically too short. It's too bad, because they seem otherwise to be pretty good for their usual "sale" price of about $25. So, while they look nice folded up on a display, I'll be passing on them at any price, and I suggest you do the same.
(Penney's house brand of dress shirts, Stafford, are probably the best value in retail for anyone on a limited budget, given their usual $15-20 price. I'll review them another time.)
He advised polishing only the colored portions, taking care not to even get close to the lighter (usually white) portions.
I didn't ask for elaboration, so what follows are my thoughts.
That makes sense, because generally, the two portions of a shoe that need polishing most are the sole edges and the toe box; the edges are what get dirtiest, and the toe box is where most scuffs occur. Since the edges usually run up against some of the lighter portions, you could take extra care to use a neutral edge dressing or shoe cream for those.
It's probably best to leave the lighter (usually white) portions alone unless they become noticeably dirty or scuffed. Then, if they're calf, you could carefully use a white polish only on the scuffed portions, taking care to avoid the edges of those sections where they meet the darker portions. If they're suede, you could probably carefully apply a little of the contents of a buck bag, which is a bag of white powder used to clean white bucks. If they're mesh, you could try cleaning them with a clean cloth, dampened with water.
For this post, I came across an excellent quote from a reader of another style blog, a quote that sums up today's whole said situation perfectly:
"We have replaced beauty with comfort in our perception of what is good."
I couldn't have said it better myself.
I've never owned a pair, but I've always wanted to. I think I may pull the trigger this year.
This pair of Florsheims, called the Marlton, is available from Amazon in either brown-and-white, black-and-white, or two-tone brown. The brown and white will definitely be my first pair of the three choices.
It's true that Florsheim isn't what it used to be.
And purists will note that the Marlton is all-leather, whereas with classic spectators, the lighter-colored (usually white) areas are supposed to be either reverse-calf (suede) or cotton mesh.
But the only pure spectators on the market that I'm aware of cost a fortune (such as around $1,000 for Edward Greens), and even better-made all-leather pairs (such as from Allen-Edmonds) are north of $300.
From what I've read, the Marlton is sewn, not glued. So, for a shoe that's only in season for three months per year -- and even then won't be worn often, I expect it to be more than serviceable for many years.
I'll report back if I buy them.
But, while there may be some controversy over whether summer clothes can be worn before Memorial Day, there's certainly no doubt they can be worn after. So wear 'em if you got 'em.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
If you buy something from Joseph A. Bank, you'll get on their mailing list and they'll probably send you generous coupons occasionally. I bought something on their site on Black Friday; since then, I've received two coupons in the snail mail: one for $20 off a purchase of $20 or more, and another for $30 off $30 or more. It's amazing that the minimum purchase isn't higher, because obviously a coupon with a minimum purchase of the same amount of the coupon is literally giving away free merchandise.
The only catch is they're only good in the retail stores; surely they're hoping you'll buy a lot more once you go into the store, but on neither occasion was I pressured in the least to buy anything extra.
I used the $20 coupon to buy two $15 books, so they cost me $10, plus tax.
My $30 coupon was about to expire last week, so I went in, intent on buying these cuff-links I had seen on the website. They retail for $42.50. However, like much of Bank's merchandise, they frequently go on sale, at least online.
Ideally, cuff-links should be finished on both sides; the one-sided, T-bar style links typically sold in department stores should be avoided if possible.
These double lover's knot links at Bank are one of the few sets of double links I've seen for modest, T-bar-range prices.
I bought the silver set. My verdict is that they're not that good because the bar is too long to close the links snugly.
Also, the knots on each link are slightly different sizes. That's a minor quibble because it's unlikely anyone would notice from seeing them worn, but it means you have to look to make sure that the larger knot is facing the outside when you put them on, because that's where it should be in case anyone should notice. Besides, you know they're different sizes, so that should be enough for you to want to place them correctly. But, again, it's a minor quibble.
The bar is the real problem, and it's too bad, because if it were half or maybe even one-third as long as it is, these would be excellent links -- and, if the knots were also the same size, these would be basically perfect, especially for the price. They're worth keeping for what I paid, which with my $30 coupon was $12.50, plus tax. But, if I had paid full price out-of-pocket, I'd probably exchange them for something else in the store.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Block stripes can also have more than two colors: The simplest ribbon stripe is one with a repeating pattern of single stripes of one color, with navy and red (this time, since there's a background color, either red stripes on navy or vice-versa) again being probably the most classic: Ribbon stripes can also be in different colors: Ribbon stripes also come in many other variations, including -- but not limited to -- double stripes of the same color; different-colored stripes of varying widths; or widely-spaced stripes, where the background color is more prominent: In my opinion, the only rep tie that's inappropriate (for anything, other than looking like an idiot) is what I'd call the Amjack Stripe (we'll discuss the Amjack look another day). This stripe is unfortunately popular today, and is typical of the kind of ugly ties usually seen in department stores now. The Dr. Wilson character on House is fond of this style: I guess it's hard to articulate exactly what's wrong with a tie like this. But it's not a traditional tie style (which go back more than 100 years); the colors are usually "off" somehow, as with this one, or in combinations that don't go well together; and the number and size of the stripes are almost dizzying and make the tie look too "busy." Avoid ties like this at all costs.
Moving on, stripes don't always have to be diagonal, of course. Other than rep ties, one may find ties with either horizontal or vertical stripes. Horizontals are fine, although they're unusual enough that they may attract attention to you. I've rarely seen a vertically-striped tie. I don't know that I'd wear one, and anyone who does better be a man who's really into clothes because such a tie would require some very sophisticated pattern mixing.
Rep ties are the foundation of a classic tie wardrobe, and any man would do well to add as many of them as possible to his collection.
All photos courtesy of The Tie Bar.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
According to the site, it was started by two attorneys who grew tired of paying $50+ department store prices for ties.
They carry a dizzying array of four-in-hand ties not only in silk, but in wool for winter and cotton for summer. I especially like their woven silk pin dot ties, which is arguably the most elegant possible tie pattern. Bow ties are available too, and you can -- and should -- change the pre-tied, strap-on style to the real, self-tie style with one mouse click, and for no extra charge. All of their ties are only $15.
They also have an impressive collection of pocket squares in either silk or cotton, including white cotton squares with colored borders. All of their squares are only $8.
Large assortments of cuff-links for $20 per pair, as well as tie bars for $15 each, are also available. (Collar bars are also available, but they're the forbidden clip-on kind, so you should ignore them.)
Shipping is a flat $5.99, no matter how many items you order at once.
I've purchased from them and found the products and service excellent, especially for their prices.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
There are two reasons behind this rule:
1. Mid-calf socks function poorly because they don't stay up.
2. They also lack style because, when you sit down and cross your legs, some skin may be visible between the top of your socks and the bottoms of your trouser legs. This is one of the cardinal sins of style, like wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, clip-on suspenders, or suspenders and a belt together. You just don't do it.
Mid-calf dress socks are near the top of my list of Things That Shouldn't Exist. And you would do well to forget that they do. I'll never understand their widespread availability (and presumably popularity), especially since higher-end dress socks, like from Polo Ralph Lauren, that are produced in both mid-calf and over-the-calf lengths usually retail for the same price. So apparently the additional material and labor costs are so miniscule that they don't even warrant a higher price -- and, when they do, it's minimal.
But, if both are available, what's the problem?
The problem is that they're not available for more modest prices, especially not in as wide a selection as mid-calf socks.
As an example, Target carries mid-calf dress socks in a dizzying array of colors and patterns, such as argyles and horizontal stripes, for only about $2.50 per pair. But, last I looked, they don't carry OTC socks at all.
Kohl's is similar, except they carry OTC socks -- but only one brand (Gold Toe) and only in solid black, brown or navy, and for about $21 for a three-pack -- 2-3 times the price per pair of a mid-calf pair, which are available in a wide assortment of colors and patterns.
As far as I know, if you want OTC socks with patterns or in off-colors, you're basically limited to top-quality socks, which means spending around $25-30 per pair.
For a more modest budget, you're likely going to be stuck with solid black, brown, navy and gray if you're lucky. Kohl's and J.C. Penney sell Gold Toe socks in the former three colors for around $21 for a three-pack, and Penney's has frequent sales. Jos. A. Bank sells them for $18 per pair, but they're available in more colors, including tan and gray. Socks seem to be one of the few items at Bank that really sell for the listed price most of the time. But, if you get on their mailing list, they occasionally have them on sale for around $4 a pair.
Even if they're more expensive, and even if they limit you to bland choices, only wear over-the-calf dress socks.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
In my first post last week, I mentioned that I had lots of ideas for posts because I had the idea for this blog for a long time, so I expected to post more than one entry on most days, indefinitely.
Now, just six days into my new blog, I realize that my prediction is unlikely to materialize, at least consistently. This is fun, and I still have plenty of ideas to convey. But it's also a lot more work than I expected, especially since I'm an incurable perfectionist. More than anything, these posts are more time-consuming than I anticipated; I didn't watch the clock that closely, but I think my post on shoes yesterday took about an hour.
I still plan to post at least one entry per day on most days, and some days there will probably be more, but that may turn out to be the exception, rather than the rule.
Thanks for visiting.
Friday, April 8, 2011
I'm going to try to convey in one post everything I've learned laboriously over many years about dress shoes.
I specify "everyday" to exclude formal shoes for black or white tie, which comes up rarely for most men, and which we'll discuss in a future post. We'll also exclude seasonal shoes, like two-toned spectators, which I also plan to discuss soon.
Also, I define "dress shoes" as shoes with leather soles, which you may think of as "hard shoes." Shoes with rubber soles, no matter how they may otherwise mimic real dress shoe styles, are not dress shoes, but casual shoes. Rubber soles shouldn't be worn with suits, blazers or odd jackets unless necessary for safety, which generally arises from medical conditions or rain, snow or especially ice.
Dress shoes are always made of leather soles and leather uppers, but there are a couple of distinctions to make.
Calf is the most widely used leather.
Shell cordovan comes from the rump of the horse; it's usually around twice as expensive as calf because it's much more durable and waterproof. Shell seems to be polarizing: you either love it or hate it. Those who love it say it molds to the foot in a way unapproachable by calf, as well as being waterproof and virtually indestructible. Those who hate it say it's too hot, too stiff, and not worth the nearly 100% premium. Either way, it doesn't take a shine like calf. I've never owned a pair, so I don't have an opinion. Blogger Maxminimus is one of the lovers; he has several pair and has written about them often.
The third type is suede, also called reverse calf. It's more casual than calf or shell, but has generally been appropriate with city suits since the Duke of Windsor began wearing it with his early in the 20th century. I wouldn't wear suede to the most formal events, like funerals or job interviews. Other than that, use your judgment.
There are basically three proper dress shoe colors: black, brown/tan, and dark reddish brown, the name of which -- such as, but not limited to, cordovan, burgundy or oxblood -- varies by manufacturer. I'll refer to them as oxblood, to avoid confusion between cordovan the color and shell cordovan the material. Lighter tan shoes, which I include with brown since it's just a lighter shade, are generally for spring and summer. Black, brown and oxblood are year-round colors. Black is the most formal, followed by oxblood, then brown/tan, which becomes more formal the darker the shade. More sophisticated dressers generally choose brown or oxblood over black for daytime wear, although obviously this varies according to one's taste and especially to the occasion.
There are two basic types of dress shoe:
1. Lace-ups, called oxfords
2. Slip-ons, called loafers
Generally, loafers are too casual for suits, but are perfect with blazers, odd jackets or sweaters. The one exception is that I've always liked penny loafers with summer cotton poplin suits, which themselves are also casual.
Oxfords are divided into two basic types:
1. Balmorals, which have closed lacing and are more formal
2. Bluchers (sometimes also called derbies), which have open lacing
Generally, bluchers are too casual for suits.
Let's discuss oxfords first, starting with balmorals.
The little holes that typically adorn oxfords are called broguing. The less broguing, the more formal the shoe. Logically, that should make plain-toed shoes the most formal. But, for whatever reason, plain-toe balmorals never evolved with the others and are considered mutts. (Plain-toe bluchers, however, are fine for non-suit wear.)
The most formal dress shoe, then, is the cap-toe, which features no broguing, but just a horizontal row of stitching across the toe. This shoe in black is appropriate for any suit, and is the best choice for more formal occasions, like weddings, funerals, and job interviews.
Brogues fall into three categories of descending formality: quarter-brogues, half-brogues, and full-brogues.
Quarter-brogues are similar to cap-toes; the main difference is the horizontal stitching across the toe cap is adorned with broguing. There may also be broguing adorning other seams on the shoe. This shoe is technically incorrect for the most formal occasions, but is otherwise perfect with any suit for everyday use.
Half-brogues are similar to quarters, except they have broguing on the toe box, similar to that on full-brogues, but they retain the straight, horizontal broguing on the toe cap, as opposed to the full-brogue's pointed, "wing-tip" design. Depending on the manufacturer and model , they may have extra broguing on other seams that the quarter-brogue may not.
As I alluded, full-brogues are what are usually called "wing-tips." These are typically thought of as the quintessential business shoe, which is ironic since they're the least formal dress balmoral design, and originated for country wear. That has gone by the wayside, of course, and they're fine for any everyday business use. However, their more substantial look tends to couple better with more substantial suitings that are closer to their country origins, such as flannel and tweed.
The main different style that tends to be unique to bluchers is the full-brogue "long-wing," so named because the broguing on the side is one long piece that extends from front to back. Long-wings also have thick, double soles. Some find them inelegant for that reason, while aficionados lovingly refer to them for the same reason as "gunboats."
This shoe, especially in brown as pictured, is one of my favorite more casual shoes; I especially love it in the fall with flannels and a tweed odd jacket. It's virtually synonymous in my mind with Thanksgiving Day. I also chose this and the balmoral full-brogue in similar colors so you can see how subtle the difference can look between open and closed lacing.
There are three basic types of loafers:
Not a lot else needs to be said about loafers. They're generally too casual for suits, but are perfect with blazers, odd jackets, or sweaters. In my opinion, more casual jackets, like a safari jacket or the classic Polo Ralph Lauren cotton windbreaker or G9 Barracuda jacket, are too casual for leather-soled loafers, and are into rubber-soled blucher territory.
Incidentally, all of these loafer styles are also available in suede, such as the Alden suede tassel loafer after which I've lusted for more than 15 years (and which now retails for north of $400):
Brands & sources
Generally, the starting retail price point for quality shoes is around $225 for loafers (which use less material and labor than oxfords) and $300 for oxfords. Price is generally an indicator of quality with shoes, but not always; I'm sure there are cheaply-made shoes that sell in this range or above due to the cache of a designer name, although I don't know which brands those might be off-hand. Better shoes tend to be made from higher-quality materials and with higher-quality workmanship, the main difference of which is that the soles are sewn, rather than glued, onto the uppers. That makes them more durable and able to be re-soled, which the manufacturer will usually do for about 1/3 the price of a new pair, which includes recrafting the upper and replacing the footbed.
The basic quality cut-off in terms of brands is Allen-Edmonds and Alden at the bottom. Most who own both seem to feel that Alden is superior, and it is the more expensive of the two. However, Allen-Edmonds has much wider distribution, so it's much more likely to be found at a significant discount. I don't own any Alden shoes, but I have several pair of Allen-Edmonds, all of which I've purchased new on eBay for around $80 per pair. New Allen-Edmonds are on eBay constantly for 50% or more off of retail. Due to their narrower distribution, I've almost never seen a new pair of Aldens on eBay, in my size or otherwise. I've found AE to be an excellent value, especially at around $80 per pair, which is about 75% off from retail.
The consensus seems to be that formerly excellent American brands, like Johnston & Murphy and Florsheim, are not what they used to be and are no longer worth the retail price. However, they may be worthwhile at significant discount, or even at full retail for occasional shoes (I have my eye on some Florsheim spectators now, which I plan to write about soon).
Higher-quality brands include Crockett & Jones (typically around $700 per pair at retail) and Edward Green (around $1,000). Will Boehlke has EG shoes that are more than 20 years old that still look smashing and have only been recrafted (around $250) once at most.
So you should generally buy the best-quality shoes you can afford. They're usually cheaper than cheap shoes in the long-run (I've had $50-ish glued shoes literally rip apart in less than a year), and good shoes tend to look better, and get more comfortable, with age. As G. Bruce Boyer has observed, good shoes look good even when they're old, while cheap shoes look cheap even when they're new.
Care & maintenance
You should always keep cedar shoe trees in your shoes when they're not being worn; they stop the shoes from developing creases on the uppers, as well as stopping the soles from curling up at the toes and preventing odors. I usually buy mine at Bed, Bath & Beyond; if you get on their mailing list, they'll constantly send you 20% off coupons, which drop the price of a pair of trees to around $10.
If you can possibly avoid it, never wear the same pair two days in a row as this greatly accelerates their deterioration; shoes need at least a day of rest between wearings. This is also a practical argument for accumulating a more extensive shoe wardrobe, as greater rotation massively extends the life of each pair.
Leather needs to be fed not just for shine, but to avoid irreparable cracks. Shoes should generally be polished after every second wearing. There are few tasks I hate more than polishing shoes, but it must be done.
With proper care, good shoes will last indefinitely.
We'll discuss the ideal shoe wardrobe another day.
All images are courtesy of Allen-Edmonds, except for the suede tassels, which again are from Alden.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
In this case, polo refers not to the Ralph Lauren brand, but to a style of shirt that was actually invented for tennis by player Rene Lacoste around 1926. Polo players adopted the style in the early 1930s; for whatever reason, it quickly became known -- even among tennis players -- as a polo shirt. The style was adopted by golfers over the next generation too. So, while it's most popularly called a polo, it's also often referred to as a golf or tennis shirt. Ralph Lauren named his new company "Polo" when he started it around 1967, and introduced his popular and excellent (and expensive) version of the polo shirt about five years later. I guess his is a Polo polo.
I've sworn by Ralph's version for years, always buying them at places like Name Brand Clothing, Stein Mart, T.J. Maxx or Polo outlets for $20-30, as opposed to the $65+ they go for at retail. The main difference I found between Polo polos and cheaper ones is the collar and placket, which looks neater because it stands up on its own, even unbuttoned, while cheaper ones fall open and look sloppier.
But the past few years it's been harder and harder to find them at discounters, so I started looking for other options.
Target Merona Ultimate Polo
So I tried Target's Merona polo for the first time last year. I wound up buying about 10 of them in different colors. They're logoless, which is a plus to many purists, and 100% cotton. They retail for $13, and frequently go on sale for $10. They're excellent for that price, and I plan to buy a few more this year.
J.C. Penney St. John's Bay Polo
I wanted a burgundy and a dark green polo, and Target didn't make them. But J.C. Penney does under their St. John's Bay brand, so I tried them too. They're also logoless, 100% cotton, and $13, frequently on sale for $10. They're also quite good for the money, although a little snugger in the same size as Target's. In my opinion, Target's is better for more casual wear as it's a little looser, while Penney's slightly snugger fit is better to tuck in and wear with an odd jacket or blazer.
(Incidentally, Target has introduced an olive green for this year; the one I bought from Penney's was more of a bottle green.)
If you're looking for new polo shirts for the coming warm weather, try J.C. Penney and especially Target. They're on par with Polo polos, especially given that they cost less than 1/3 as much even when Polo is deeply discounted, and I haven't noticed the sloppy placket problem with either. You can put the money you save toward something else in your closet, something where the difference in price means more than a marginal difference in quality.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Spotting a Reluctant Dresser is easy; they're everywhere nowadays. Take a look at this picture of the young politician from my previous post about proper dress shirt colors; he's as perfect a specimen as you could want.
A Reluctant Dresser wears:
1. Deadly dull dark single-breasted suit, usually black (which is inappropriate for daytime wear) and either solid or with an almost imperceptible pattern.
2. Dark "dress" shirt in completely inappropriate color like black, red, purple, dark green or dark blue.
3. Jacket sleeves too long to show any shirt cuff with arms at sides, and often long enough to reach his knuckles.
4. No pocket square.
(We can't see his feet, but I'd bet $100 he has the other signs of a Reluctant Dresser.)
5. Pants two or three inches too long, puddling around his shoes. Not cuffed unless the factory inseam already came that way.
6. Cheap, glued, leather-soled, duck-billed black "dress" shoes, often slip-on (which are too casual for a suit.)
7. Mid-calf (too short) dress socks, which you'll see if he sits down and crosses his legs.
Bonus: Reluctant Dressers don't always do this, but the really clueless ones button the bottom button of their jackets, like this guy has. That is never, ever supposed to be done, and that should be such common knowledge that is shouldn't need to be said.
To show how far we've fallen in a couple of generations, this reminds me of when my friend's cousin posted a link on my friend's Facebook wall to her new photo album from Easter or something. I clicked through and glanced at it out of curiosity. Her husband had his bottom button open on his suit jacket, as he should. Some girl he knew posted a comment on one of the pictures, asking him why he left that button open. He responded: "I think you're supposed to."
A. How can she not know that and even have to ask, despite being a woman -- I believe women leave theirs open too?
B. How can he not know for sure, where he says he "thinks" he's supposed to?
It's like neither of them have ever seen a man in a suit before.
For those of you who are fans of Howard Stern, another example is Ronnie the Limo Driver. He wears dark, shiny "dress" shirts, but more importantly, he always wears a dark, plain, single-breasted suit. He's admitted to being a Reluctant Dresser; Howard makes him wear a suit to work because he's their security guy, and he'd rather dress like a slob/overgrown 10-year-old, like everyone else on the staff.
Aside from the dark, shiny "dress" shirts, it's not that there's anything wrong with dark, single-breasted suits or black shoes on any given day; it's that Reluctant Dressers always look dull, and always look the same from one day to the next. A person who loves clothes wants to have fun with them; what fun is it to always look the same? More sophisticated dressers wear suits of varying cuts. They mix lighter blue and gray suits in with the darks, and they mix brown, tan and olive green suits in with the blues and the grays, as well as white or seersucker suits in the summer. They mix bolder patterned suits with the plainer ones. They always wear pocket squares. They wear brown shoes, as well as patterned or off-colored socks, at times. They blend patterns, textures and colors between their suits, shirts, ties, socks and pocket squares. They have fun.
You have fun too. Strive not to look like a Reluctant Dresser.
I see this sort of thing all the time, and for the life of me, I cannot understand where so many younger men have gotten the idea that "dress" shirts are supposed to be in colors like red, black, or navy blue.
In classic dressing, your dress shirt should basically always be lighter than your suit (I'll make an exception for white or off-white summer suits, where it's impossible for the shirt to be lighter, and a white shirt would probably look too dull). Yes, red is lighter than black, but red isn't a dress shirt color. Period.
Solid white shirts are the classiest and are always right. This sensibility comes from the 19th century, when shirts were expensive both to buy and to launder, so only the wealthy could afford enough white shirts to wear a clean one everyday and to wash them frequently. White shirts should always be worn to important events like weddings, funerals and job interviews. I would probably always wear one for a political campaign too, because it's basically a months-long job interview.
Some more sophisticated dressers argue that solid white shirts generally shouldn't be worn as everyday (non special occasion) attire because they look too stark in the sunlight. It's a worthwhile point to consider; leave it to your personal taste and to the wishes of your employer.
Colored dress shirts should always be very pale. This also comes from the 19th century, when the technology to dye shirts in a pale, even shade was far more expensive than to dye it in a darker, harsher shade, which also hid uneven dying better. Like with white shirts, the laundry issue was also a factor, as only the wealthy could afford to have lighter shirts that had to be washed frequently.
The most correct color after solid white is solid light blue. Ecru (basically an eggshell, off-white with a slight beige tint) is fine too, as is very light gray (basically the same as ecru: an off-white with a slight gray tint). Pale pink or pale yellow are good too, especially in the summer. That's basically the list of acceptable dress shirt colors.
Stripes are fine, but are less formal than solids. The narrower the stripe, the more formal the shirt. For colors, the most formal are on a white ground, with the most formal stripes being navy or burgundy; a lighter blue or red is also fine, just less formal, as are brown, gray, yellow, or pink stripes. Other acceptable background colors, all less formal than white, are the same as for solid shirts.
Dress shirts should also have a flat, matte finish; the hideous ones in dark colors are almost invariably also shiny. This is another holdover from the 19th century, when only expensive shirts were matte, while cheap ones were always shiny.
It's true that it's no longer the 19th century, but it doesn't matter; even though the technology has evolved to where pale, matte shirts are often cheaper than dark, shiny ones (which just goes to show how poor the taste is of those who choose the latter), the lower-class associations of dark, shiny shirts remain in the public's subconscious.
Real dress shirts are pale.
Monday, April 4, 2011
By contrast, suspenders (sometimes called braces) maintain the suit's line and are more comfortable to wear: they require no readjustment during the day, don't constrict the waist, and promote air circulation through the trousers.
Clip-on and elastic suspenders should both be avoided, both because they lack style and because they function poorly: elastic suspenders don't really "suspend" the trousers; clip-on suspenders damage the trouser fabric into which they bite for their grip, and tend to come loose during wear, especially as they age and the clips lose their tension.
Instead, suspenders should be attached by leather tabs to buttons sewn on the waistband of your trousers. The buttons can be sewn to either the inside or the outside of your pants; while the outside is more traditional and probably slightly more comfortable, I find it to look a little "sloppy;" I prefer the buttons on the inside, which makes a crisp, horizontal line between suspender tab and trouser waist.
There are several firms that make quality suspenders, but far and away the best are England's Albert Thurston, which are superior for two reasons:
1. They're sized, which puts the metal adjusters near the bottom, where they belong, instead of near the shoulders.
2. The leather tabs are available in white.
Suspenders with white tabs, as designer Alan Flusser has noted, are one of the sartorial bona fides that identify you as a sophisticated dresser.
Perhaps more importantly, they reduce the number of required suspenders in your wardrobe by 50%, because white tabs can be worn with any color shoe, while black or brown tabs should match the shoe, like a belt.
Or, to look at it another way, a wardrobe of white-tabbed suspenders allows you to have twice as many for the same amount of money, because you only need one of each pair, instead of two.
Some of Thurston's suspenders come with white tabs as the default. But, for those that don't, they'll happily make the change for no extra charge. They'll do the same for brass adjusters to nickel, or vice-versa.
Thurstons are generally available your choice of two materials: boxcloth or barathea.
Boxcloth is a felt-like material and is the more traditional choice.
I'm not crazy about it because, unlike what we think of today as braces with extra material looped behind the front, between the bottom and the metal adjusters, boxcloth suspenders have on each side just the single strip of material that's visible from the front. That means that the excess material, instead of being concealed in a loop in the back, just dangles below the adjusters, which looks "sloppy" to me.
The only alternative is cutting away the excess (and boxcloth is designed to be cut by the consumer without fraying), but then you limit how much they can be adjusted with trousers of slightly different lengths or rises, as well as risking cutting the suspenders too short and ruining them.
The other material is barathea, which is a roughly 50-50 blend of nylon and cotton. This is what I always choose, and it's what Michael Douglas is pictured wearing at the top of this post, from the first Wall Street movie in 1987. Barathea models are also sized, but are adjustable the more typical way, looped from behind and with a sharp, horizontal line between the material and the leather tabs.
But you might try one of each and see which you like better. Will Boehlke, for example, wears both; according to him, boxcloth is a little more comfortable as it's thicker and has a little more "cushion," while barathea is a little cooler to wear. So he wears boxcloth in the fall and winter, and barathea in the spring and summer.
Your first color should undoubtedly be either red or burgundy, because either will go with absolutely anything.
And, even if you can afford more at once, you should probably just buy one at first to make sure you chose the right size. I'm sure they'll let you exchange them, but why mess with the hassle of exchanging more than one pair?
You could also make do with one, but what fun is that? Besides, each pair will last longer if you get enough for a good rotation. In my opinion, a pretty complete collection would be solids in: red; burgundy; navy; a lighter blue; dark gray; light gray; brown; tan or yellow; Kelly green; olive or bottle green; and pink. This is 11 pair for daily wear. I would also add two formal pair, one in black and one in white. After that, the sky's the limit, like with any collection. Thurston makes plenty of braces in patterns like stripes and dots. A thorough collection is probably 20-25 pair, and an assortment that large is likely to last the rest of your life with fairly even rotation.
Prices are around $70 U.S. per pair, which includes shipping from England.
The trick is to find real ones that pin through the collar, much like a safety pin.
Chain department stores usually only carry the clip-on variety. These function poorly as they have a tendency to become crooked -- or even completely unattached from one of the collars -- during the course of the day. And they belong, as blogger ADG explained so well, in a style category with clip-on ties and clip-on suspenders: to be avoided at all costs.
The barbell style is also okay, but it's less ideal because it's impossible, unlike with the safety pin style, to choose a spot higher or lower on the collar to accommodate a certain tie's knot; and because they require shirts with pre-sewn eyelets, which limits such a shirt's usefulness because you have no choice but to wear a collar pin every time you wear that shirt.
For the longest time, I wanted a real one, but had no idea where to find one. I'll be forever indebted to Will Boehlke for referring his readers to Dallas company Broderick, which sells a huge variety of safety pin and barbell style collar bars.
I bought a gold-tone one from them I believe for $7, with another $7 for shipping.
At the time, they didn't have a silver-tone one for a similar price, so I found one on eBay for $9, including shipping.
At the time I'm posting this, Broderick now has both silver- and gold-tone pins for $7, and the additional shipping is probably miniscule.
The Andover Shop also has them for around $15, presumably excluding tax and shipping.
The aforementioned clip-on variety in a typical department store is usually around $10, so this is one of those rare times when it costs little or no extra to get a superior version.
As you'll see when you visit Broderick, the prices for pins vary widely, from $7 for plated ones to $171 for 14K gold ones. In my opinion, collar pins are something that you should buy as cheaply as possible, because probably no one who sees it will ever know the difference, and the $150-plus you save will buy a lot of other things. I've worn my two sub-$10 pins considerably, and have had no problem with them.
Incidentally, if you're worried, the holes the pin makes in your collar will usually close with laundering; by the time the damage becomes irreparable, the shirt will be suffering other irreparable damage from years of general wear-and-tear.
So try pinning your collar sometime. Just make sure you use a real one.
If you're curious about the title, I just like the way it sounds and reads, and no one else seems to be using it. I thought of it myself as far as I know, but it's possible that it seeped into my subconscious from somewhere that I can no longer remember. A Google search for the phrase didn't really turn up anything. I suppose taste is inherently subjective. But, at the same time, it doesn't occur in a vacuum; it's influenced by tradition, as well as current norms and the attire of one's peers (which in today's sloppily casual world is usually no longer a good barometer, but that's another subject for another time). In short, I guess the title means everyone who cares about clothes should aspire to never wear anything ugly or inappropriate for the situation, to have unimpeachable taste. (If someone does accuse you of either, you'll have to decide whether their taste or yours has proven to be impeachable.)
I'll try to post at least one new entry per day, but there are likely to be numerous posts per day indefinitely; I already have lots of ideas to convey, and I have no desire at this point to ration them. I may eventually regret that decision if I start running out of ideas for new posts, but I'll cope with that if and when it happens.
We all have tasks that we regard as especially tedious for some psychological reason, even though they're not especially difficult. Unfortunately for me and anyone reading this, one of mine is taking pictures. So, while I find the photos on others' blogs to usually be the most enjoyable parts of their posts, my blog is unlikely to have pictures of my own, at least for the time being. But I plan to accentuate most posts with pictures; they will tend to either be illustrations such as the classic Fellowes-drawn ones from Apparel Arts c. 1930s, or photos from others' blogs or from Google (properly attributed whenever possible).
This will probably evolve over time, but my plan as of now is to organize my posts into the following categories, which will preface the title of each post:
1. Knowledge: These posts will tend to express views that aren't entirely opinions, but are backed up by facts or logical rationales, and which hold a general consensus among both historic and contemporary stylish men. That explanation may beg the question of why such posts are necessary, but a look at how most men dress today answers it: the knowledge, for whatever reason, is being lost.
2. Opinion: These posts will be about my subjective, arbitrary opinions.
3. Sources: These will be links to sites where merchandise can be purchased. I'll also mention whether I've ever bought anything from the given vendor, and review them if I have. If I received anything free from them in exchange for a review, I'll disclose that too.
4. Links: These will be links to non-merchandise sites, like other blogs.
Also, I tend to approach projects where I'm uncertain of who my audience is with the assumption that they know little, so I'll be presenting a lot of basic information at times. But hopefully all of my posts will be valuable and entertaining to everyone who sees them, regardless of whether they know less or more than I do.
Thanks for visiting! Let's have fun and see what we can learn from each other!