Friday, July 26, 2013

Link: Muffy Aldrich on Fall

This is a beautiful essay about how those of us who love fall really start to anticipate it when August hits, and we also begin to see small signs of its impending arrival. I've already noticed that the days are getting shorter. However, people like her who live in New England get to enjoy the crisp weather sooner than some others, like those of us who live in the midwest; it's usually at least mid-October before there's any chill here. Regardless, I share her August Anticipation.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Knowledge: The Coat Wardrobe

As I've probably written before, my favorite time of year is Christmas, followed closely by fall. We're definitely into the point of the summer where I'm sick of the hot weather, and am longing for fall. 

That's probably why I've been thinking about coats for the past few days. 

If a man is to have only one coat, it unquestionably should be the classic tan, double-breasted trench with a removable liner, which also makes it suitable for warmer wet days in late-spring and early-fall:


My last two have been from Burlington Coat Factory. My latest one is 11 years old, and about due for a replacement. I have my eye on this one from Jos. A. Bank, and I'll probably pull the trigger sometime this fall (as I recall, last Black Friday, they were $99; the typical real ["sale"] price is in the $200 range). 

The second coat should probably be a similar one, in a lighter weight, and with either no liner or the liner permanently removed. (Removing liners is a hassle, and this will allow you to have a second tan trench, designated solely for days when it's too warm for your winter one). For variety, it could be a singe-breasted, balmacaan style:


For my taste, this particular coat is a few inches too short; dress coats should always extend a few inches below the knee, to around mid-calf, both for the aesthetic reason that shorter coats look too boxy and top-heavy, and for the utilitarian reason that a longer coat keeps the legs warm and/or dry. 

To reiterate, the first raincoat (or winter coat with a waterproof, raincoat-style shell) in the wardrobe should be tan. Basically, the only other acceptable colors are navy and gray -- but only as a second or third coat. Anyone unfamiliar with John T. Molloy's research on black vs. tan raincoats should buy his book, Dress For Success, which can be found on Amazon for next to nothing. 

In addition to my winter coat from Burlington, I also have a lightweight, unlined tan no-name-brand trench, purchased at a thrift for $2.00 (yes, $2.00). 

I also have a similar-weight, unlined tan balmacaan from London Fog, acquired at a thrift for $10. 

And, just a couple of weeks ago, I scored another lightweight, unlined balmacaan from Austin Reed, in a medium-gray with a faint yellow windowpane plaid, also at a thrift for $10. 

I also have a heavyweight, lined navy trench with wool collar from Stafford (J.C. Penney, seems like better quality than their current offerings, I suspect vintage 1980s), bought at a thrift for $4.00. 

What can I say? I like clothes, and I like variety -- and, at those prices, how can I miss? 

Once you have a heavyweight tan trench and a lightweight tan trench or balmacaan, your next dress coat should be a wool-like (wool, camel hair, cashmere, combination, etc.) coat, ideally double-breasted (for style and extra warmth). 

The quintessential version is a tan polo coat, like this one from Polo Ralph Lauren (a Polo polo):

In my opinion, while this is beautiful, a navy or gray version is preferable first, both as variety from the tan trench and to have a coat for more somber occasions, when needed:

(This gorgeous version is also from Polo Ralph Lauren; unlike the tan version, it's 100% cashmere, and also features a ticket pocket.  I believe that this is the exact coat written about by Richard Merkin in Esquire Gentleman about 20 years ago.)

Of course, this advice can't always be followed perfectly by those shopping the second-hand market. I don't yet have a navy or gray version; my only one is also tan, from Polo University Club (an inferior Ralph Lauren brand from about 20 years ago, not as nice as the full Polo version above). I bought it on eBay 12 years ago for about $175, and it has served me well every winter since. 

To me, a dream coat wardrobe would be (in addition to the heavy tan trench and unlined tan trench or balmacaan) versions of this double-breasted style in tan, chocolate, navy, medium gray, charcoal gray, and olive green, plus two herringbone tweed balmacaans, one brown and one gray. 

I'll leave casual coats as a subject for another day. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Knowledge: Spectator Shoes

I recently scored a pair of like-new Allen-Edmonds Broadstreet brown and white spectator shoes on eBay for $68 shipped:

Spectators were originally darker calf and white (or colored, but lighter than the dark portions) suede, like saddle shoes. This provided a contrast not only of color, but of texture. 

Will Boehlke and Alan Flusser have both opined that all-calf spectators are worthless, shouldn't even exist, and should never be worn by anyone. 

The real, calf and suede version is definitely more attractive and visually interesting, and is preferable when it's available. 

However, it's likely to be out of the financial reach of most men. Allen-Edmonds is the least expensive quality shoe brand, and this all-calf version would've been north of $300 at full retail -- and for a shoe that's only in season about 3-4 months per year (either Easter-Labor Day or Memorial Day-Labor Day, depending on one's opinion), and even then is only an occasional shoe. (AE has a custom program for a $100 upcharge, and they might be able to make a suede and calf spectator for that.)

Also, I've seen vintage all-calf spectators on eBay from the 1920s, which is close to the shoe's origin of popularity. This reminds me of Flusser's contention that notch-lapel tuxedos were either invented or became widely used (probably the latter, but I can't remember off-hand) in the 1960s as a cost-cutting measure, because they were made by manufacturers using business suit patterns. However, people have produced scans of clothing catalogs of tuxedos from the 1895 era (about 10 years after the tuxedo was supposedly invented) showing notch-lapel versions for sale.

In my view, all-calf spectators are like notch-lapel tuxedos: less than ideal, and less stylish than other versions, but not deal-breakers. 

And even the all-calf versions will definitely put a spring in your step, and will garner plenty of double-takes -- usually followed by longer, admiring looks. So look into getting some for your summer wardrobe.

Link: David Mercer on Timeless Style has an essay from David Mercer, owner of Mercer & Sons shirt makers, about timeless style and clothing longevity.