Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Knowledge: Over-Matching vs. The Two-Color Rule

Mixing colors and patterns is the province of the sophisticated dresser; over-matching -- perhaps best exemplified by those horrible matching tie and pocket square sets -- is a sure sign of a man who doesn't know what he's doing, of someone who looks like he got dressed from a kit. 

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

Technical Difficulties

My apologies to everyone for the varying font sizes, and especially the uneven spacing, within posts. It's a glitch in Blogger's software that I have been unable to fix, despite numerous attempts. There are few online experiences more frustrating than WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) software not working properly, i.e. what you see is not what you get; the posts look fine in the editor, but are all messed up once they're published -- so I open the editor again and they still look fine, and any changes I attempt to make don't "take" once the posts are published again. Sigh.

Another Jackpot

My tailor is near one of the thrift stores I visited a couple of days ago; I stopped in on my way to give her a couple of shirts to move the cuff buttons in. 

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

Boater Hat

I also stopped in my local hat store while I was shopping yesterday; I'm lucky enough to live in one of probably the small number of cities left with a real hat store. 

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 . . . 


There are worse things to be addicted to than collecting ties, especially when they cost 95 cents each.

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

Knowledge: Button-Down vs. Button-Up Shirts

In today's t-shirt culture, I've frequently seen dress shirts without button-down collars erroneously referred to as "button-down shirts," presumably because they have a placket with buttons down the front, and one usually buttons them from top-to-bottom. 

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.

Happy Labor Day

Despite the only six-hour, Jerry Lewis-less Telethon this year, today is still Labor Day in the United States. That signals the unofficial end of summer here, so today is the final day for cotton or linen suits in summer colors (generally white, tan, light blue, light gray or seersucker; in my opinion, linen or poplin suits in darker colors are still permissible for as long as the weather is warm enough to warrant them), straw hats, white bucks, spectator shoes, cotton ties, and any of the other sartorial trappings of summer.

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

Knowledge: How Dress Shirt Cuffs Should Fit

It astounds me how many men I see with gaps between their wrists and their dress shirt cuffs that you could drive a truck through. Your cuffs should be snug, but not tight enough to be uncomfortable. You shouldn't even be able to insert one finger into your other arm's cuff once it's buttoned. If you find that too tight, I suppose it can be loose enough to insert one finger -- but never loose enough to insert two. Loose cuffs look sloppy; snug ones not only look neat, but also make your watch easier to see by preventing it from slipping under your cuff. (You could also wear your watch over your cuff, like some great dressers have done. But it looks affected, and if you're sure enough of your stylishness not to care, then you probably don't need the advice on this blog anyway.)

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.