Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Review: American Living Dress Shirts

Ralph Lauren has licensed his name to a line of merchandise at J.C. Penney called "American Living."

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.)

Knowledge: Polishing Spectator Shoes

Today I emailed one of my favorite style bloggers, explaining that I'm about to buy my first pair of spectators, and asking for advice on how to polish them.

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.

Quote: Comfort

The pervasiveness of slob wear under the excuse of "comfort" is one of my pet peeves, and one that I'm likely to write about fairly often.

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.

Sources: Amazon for Spectator Shoes

Summer is the season for the elegant, classic spectator shoe.

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.

Happy Belated Memorial Day

For us clothes nuts, Memorial Day -- the unofficial beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere -- means it's time to break out our straw hats, spectator shoes and white bucks, madras, seersucker suits, and lighter-colored cotton and linen suits -- assuming we haven't already, such as at Easter or whenever the weather permits (maybe we'll discuss the legitimacy of the Memorial Day rule another time).

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.