Walking sticks were first used for support and a bit of protection by men who couldn't afford swords. Later, they served the same function after swords were banned in cities. A century ago, no man of quality would leave his home without a cane.
The automobile began the cane's slide into obscurity, and, according to Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashions, canes had essentially disappeared on city streets in the United States by 1970. But they are still useful in the country.
There are three levels of cane formality: the country stick, the city stick and the dress cane. The standard city length is 36" but they are, or were, routinely made in one inch increments ranging from 34" to 38". When standing with your arms at your sides, a properly sized cane comes up to your wrist just above the palm.
Dress canes tend to be of rosewood, maple or ebony, and are frequently adorned with silver or ivory handles. They are beautiful things, and I've collected a couple in the hope that they will be useful in my old age (perhaps I'm overly optimistic to think that I'll still be attending formal affairs when I need a stick to get around).
City sticks tend to be polished lengths of wood such as ash, bamboo, rattan and Malacca with crooked handles. There is a version with a built-in flask that could be useful on cold days when a quick nip would be appreciated, like any day this week in New York.
In the country, canes may have rustic decoration, like the curly rams horn topped stick carried by the Prince of Wales in the illustration, and are often made of root wood such as blackthorn (Swaine Adeney offers a horn topped stick for £300). The shooting stick variant with a folding seat comes in handy at spectator sports where seats are scarce, like PGA events and polo matches. UniqueCanes.com offers a couple styles as well as a versions with built-in flasks.
Carrying a stick in the country is an aid in rough terrain and a knobbed end can help beat off the odd rabid dog or, in California, mountain lion. In the city, they are a nuisance to carry as few establishments offer a place to put them once you've arrived. And the protection afforded by three feet of wood is minimal in an age when any serious threat on a city street is probably carrying a Glock.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Walking sticks were first used for support and a bit of protection by men who couldn't afford swords. Later, they served the same function after swords were banned in cities. A century ago, no man of quality would leave his home without a cane.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
When society was organized into classes, people in the upper classes (like the father and son in the drawing to the left) learned about dress from their parents. In today's upwardly mobile meritocracy, that usually doesn't work because most men's parents don't know much about dress either. My mother, bless her, has at least a hundred pairs of shoes but never told me that steam removes wrinkles without dry cleaning (though it's definitely possible that she did while I wasn't listening).
Lacking parental guidance, most of us learned about clothes by observing our peers and seeing what was for sale in the stores. In our youngest days we were hardly aware of what we wore, donning what was given to us. That changed as soon as we got old enough to learn where the other kids clothes came from. Under intense peer pressure (young people are far more conservative than any other group), that probably became the same place we lobbied hard to get our stuff from. But, NBA logo gear can only take a man so far. For dressy occasions off the court, even the NBA elite wear suits.
After a first position is secured, the rules of dress become less relevent until a man moves into a job that requires contact with businessmen outside of his organization. Business casual is usually appropriate garb for young analysts and lawyers for a couple of years but after that the dress of executives and professionals around the world is the suit and necktie. The apprenticeship period, as it were, before a man is sent out into the world, is when he must learn to dress in wool rather than the cotton (and synthetics) that he has relied upon for so long. He has the luxury of acquiring a wardrobe before he needs to be deploying it every day. And he must.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
"This year I plan to fill in the biggest hole in my suit wardrobe... basic greys. I have nothing in a solid or semi solid grey and hope to find a couple in medium weights (10-12 ounces). I am thinking of a solid, a sharkskin and possibly an interesting herringbone. Do you have any suggestions?"
The gamut includes things like 12 ounce gray flannel, 10 ounce pick and pick (which I prefer over sharkskin personally) or birdseye and 10 ounce fresco for cool, temperate and warm temperatures respectively. One of my purchases this year will be a 14 ounce charcoal fresco (a quarter lined construction will perform like a mid weight).
For flannel and fresco cloth, Minnis is the best choice. Look at Lesser's 10 ounce book for the pick and pick.
"I really enjoyed your note on the number of shirts a man should have. I am wondering if you have seen a similar calculation for the number of ties to own?"
Saturday, February 24, 2007
"It is worthy of note that practically none of the leading golfers, amateurs or professionals, are ever untidily arrayed for battle. The golfer owes neatness of dress to his gallery. If he carries no gallery he owes it to his other club members. If there are no other club members around he owes it to himself. It will not help him in any physical way, but it will undoubtedly help a lot in terms of increased morale. And there are times when morale is badly needed following the entrance into a yawning bunker or the depressed feeling that comes after missing a two-foot putt.
And it is well enough that a badly dressed, or rather an untidily dressed golfer, even if he is pretty good, will always be taken for a duffer of purest ray serene by those who see him on the course. In this way, the apparel will often proclaim his score."
Friday, February 23, 2007
City suits have been predominately either dark blue or a dark shade of gray since Beau Brummel's time.
The old English saying "never wear brown in town" was a hard and fast rule in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In that conservative social milieu, gentlemen from the country travelling to London would change their brown shoes to black on entering the city and change back again on departure (In later years, the change occurred near the Chiswick roundabout). But apparently the rule didn't apply to suits in the United States. Esquire magazine was reporting on brown town suits in the United States from the 1930's onward.
Now there are men, and I know some of them, that wear brown chalk striped double breasteds. That would be pushing the envelope for me. As a country color brought to town, I like brown better when it is realized in country fabrics with city detailing. A brown cheviot two button with a double breasted vest, peak lapels and besom pockets is on my wish list. Nothing wrong with brown flannel, like our friend Wooster is wearing in the photo, either.
There definitely is a place for brown in town. Just remember, no white at night.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Men don't keep much jewelry any more. Wedding rings are about it for most. The cell phone has superceded the metal wristwatch. Few men wear cufflinks, fewer wear tie bars or tacks, and fewer still need dress sets for black tie.
That said, I'm a cufflink man, and cufflinks like the pictured gold knots require care so as not to lose their lustre. Jewelry (or, as the English spell it, jewellery) should be stored in the original box or separated in the lined compartment of a jewelry box so it is less likely to get scratched.
To maintain the original condition of any precious metal, polish it with a high quality non-abrasive cloth. Cloths specific to gold and to silver can be purchased at most jewelers. Take care not to be too forceful and damage the surface.
Silver and gold can also be cleaned in water by ultrasound. Inexpensive household ultrasonic cleaners consist of a metal-lined tank containing a removable plastic basket. Put the jewelry in the basket, add water and turn on the unit for a few minutes. Dry it afterwards with a soft cloth, not tissue or paper towels.
For travel, I wear one watch and pack my cuff links in individual lined velvet pouches in my checked luggage. Checked luggage is exposed to theft, but I think it's safer than placing my links in a bin and sending them through the metal detector in full view of a hundred strangers.
Of course, so few men wear jewelry any more that none of them might care.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
What does a man need when his wardrobe lacks everything? Not much, but it should all work together to form a foundation for anything life may bring you in the future. And the same basics are useful at any age.
Start with basic gear in ordinary colors that can be worn often without it being too obvious that the same clothes get a lot of use. Splurge on a few accent pieces that will add personality. Make them tasteful but infrequently seen accents, like a paisley pocket square, and eschew loud neckties.
For outerwear, the basics include a single breasted raincoat in tan with a zip-in lining and, if the climate calls for one, a three quarter length winter coat like the pictured navy duffel coat from Gloverall.
They may not be worn every day but don't ignore odd jackets as they are the intermediate step between casual and dressy during the day. Summer is served with a linen odd jacket and for cool weather think in terms of a single-breasted navy blazer. If another is required, the next should be a tweed. Any of these may be paired with chinos and cords and dress trousers acquired later but a pair of tropical weight and a pair of gray flannels make a good beginning. The jackets should be hanging next to a dark gray and a navy suit in mid-weight cloth for year-round wear because a man has to begin building his professional wardrobe before he needs it every day.
Button down Oxford cloth shirts can serve for both dress and casual occasions (preps may layer them with colored polos). Two white, three blue and a pastel like yellow or pink make a reasonable starting set. Add a straight collar version or two in broadcloth and consider investing in a gold collar pin to wear to your friends' weddings.
Other basics include a fistfull of neckties, several khaki and corduroy trousers, and navy and white polos. Basic shoes might include a pair of black oxfords, suede ankle boots with crepe soles, brown penny loafers, and a pair of boat shoes or sneakers (remember, shoes shouldn't be worn two days in a row so invest in more than one pair as well as shoe trees). For cooler weather, add a crewneck sweater.
Each man should tweak these suggestions to suit how he expects to live his life. The objective of any wardrobe is to provide what's needed for appropriate dress on any reasonably forseeable occasion, and a few wardrobe basics will accomplish just that.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
An argument against purchasing re-badged shoes was brought home to me last week when the strap on my old Peal buckle boots snapped.
You may know that Peal is a sadly defunct shoemaker whose name and lasts were acquired by Brooks Brothers when Peal stopped trading about forty years ago. The shoes are made by other makers and sold only in BroBroClo stores. The rub is that when they need re-making, you have to know who made them or you're out of luck. Brooks is no help as they seem principally intent on making customers believe they have their own factory busy sewing shoes somewhere in Northampton, and their shoes have only the Peal name on them.
One of the benefits of paying exorbitant sums for welted leather shoes is that they last practically forever as long as you don't do something awful to them. When they are sufficiently worn, you return them to the maker where they are re-soled, repaired and otherwise returned to as good as new condition for a price that's around half the cost of a new pair. And, if they are brown, they have the additional benefit of ten or twenty years of patina.
My boots had decades of patina but I tried tracking down the maker to no avail (I had another pair of old Peals re-made by C&J some years ago), and the cost of having them re-made by a third party is more than the cost of new boots. Fortunately, John Cusey of the Ask Andy About Clothes forum happened to call my attention to Leather Soul's Alden Cigar Shell Cordovans pictured to the left.
The advantage of cordovan for boots is that it's the least porous leather known, and that is a big plus in rain and snow. So I expect that these Aldens will provide more effective service than my old buckle boots. But, nice as they are, they wouldn't have been necessary had I originally bought boots that I could have had re-made.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
"I went looking for some non-iron dress shirts to take with me on business trips last weekend without any success Do high-quality shirts exist that don't need touching up to wear properly after several cramped hours in a suitcase?"
No-iron shirts are an abomination. Buy a folder from Eagle Creek and stack your folded shirts in it, then put the folder in your suitcase. They'll be fine.
Another From Jonathon
"I recently purchased several pairs of trousers with buttons sewn to the inside of the waist to accommodate braces. Could you recommend what to look for in a pair of quality braces?"
You need only know the name Albert Thurston. Thurston makes what are most likely the best braces in the world. Wear the barathea for summer (like the ones in the photo) and the boxcloth for winter.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
"For thousands of years human beings have communicated with one another first in the language of dress. Long before I am near enough to talk to you on the street, in a meeting, or at a party, you announce your sex, age, and class to me through what you are wearing—and very possibly give me important information (or misinformation) as to your occupation, origin, personality, opinions, tastes, sexual desires, and current mood. I may not be able to put what I observe into words, but I register the information unconsciously; and you simultaneously do the same for me. By the time we meet and converse we have already spoken to each other in an older and more universal tongue."
-Alison Lurie, The Language of Clothes, Random House (1981).
Friday, February 16, 2007
It usually happens sometime in a man's thirties. He makes partner, gets the big job or realizes that his business is a success. His closet has the basics and the question becomes he goes from here with his clothes?
If the man cares about clothes, by this time he's probably already having some of them made for himself. Certainly his shirts, because everyone should have their shirts made. Maybe a made to measure suit or two from a quality maker like Kiton or Oxxford. But now he's ready to try the best. And the best is artisan made clothing.
What I call artisan made clothing may be made partly by people operating machines, but it can only come from an individual artisan who fits the customer personally and then leads a team that does the important parts of the work by hand. That's because both hand work and personalized fit is critical in the finest clothing. The graceful curve of the sole on a hand made shoe cannot be duplicated by shoe-making machinery. The collar, shoulders, and armholes of a jacket must be sewn by hand or it won't move fluidly with the wearer.
Hand fitting by the individual artisan is just as important. A shoe may need a bit more room in the toe, or a jacket may not fit closely at the neck on the first or second try (unlike the perfect fit of Jimmy Stewart's coat in the Hitchcock film Rope). Vass shoes are made by hand, but they are not individually lasted and may not fit a particular pair of feet. Fitting is also where the best efforts of the factory-based suppliers can break down. A local fitter often lacks the skill level of the craftsman at the factory.
If a choice has to be made between tailored clothing and bespoke shoes, the benefits of tailored clothing are normally considerably higher. Unless a man has unique feet that require a custom fit, bespoke shoes can be a periodic luxury. Few men will be happy with ready to wear, on the other hand, after wearing their first bespoke suit or odd jacket.
A personal relationship with a couple of artisans requires a considerable investment unless a man lives near a city such as Paris, Naples, London, or New York. Some artisans travel, but not everywhere and usually only twice a year at best. So the customers have to travel themselves, unless they are willing to wait a year or more from order to delivery. That's given rise to a new type of traveller, who combines holidays with fittings.
At a certain stage of life, artisan made clothing becomes worth the trouble.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Closet space is a perpetual challenge if you care about clothes. I've often re-told the story of the closet of John Seabrook, whose hundreds of jackets hung on a conveyor system that ran from his bedroom through the ceiling and into an attic filled with his clothes.
Effective closet systems can significantly increase available storage space. A conventional 48 square foot walk-in closet with a shelf and a hanger bar provides, on average, 20 linear feet of hangar space. A closet system will usually double hanging space to 40 linear feet, and double the available shelf space as well.
According to Cher Ten Hoeve of Seattle's Closets Etc., closet design has its own made to measure vs. bespoke controversy. She reports that many closet companies save money but waste space by specifying shelves and drawers cut in standard widths (12", 24", 30", and 36").
"For example, men's shoes generally run 9"-10" wide per pair so a 24" shelf is a poor use of space," says Ten Hoeve. "By adding 3" of width per shelf and making it 27" wide, I can fit three pair of shoes side by side. It costs a little more but you get much more capacity, and that's what custom closets are all about," she said.
Open shelves are not the best solution for other kinds of storage either. Sized cubbyholes keep stacks of shirts and sweaters from wrinkling when the garment above or below them is removed. Glass doors reduce dust, and that is important for infrequently worn items.
When evaluating partners to customize a clothes storage space, look for the representative that inventories what you own and plan to acquire, and then proposes a solution that fits as well as a bespoke suit.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Fifty years ago, the hatmakers association told men that they needed a dozen hats in order to be well dressed (the same people believed a man needed twenty suits and two dozen pairs of shoes). That wardrobe included a high silk top hat, a folding opera hat, a black or midnight blue soft hat, a derby, a homburg, a snap brim, an off-the-face (whatever that was), a lightweight felt, a sports, a straw sailor, a panama and a semi-sport type. Annually, the Hat Style Council would present the man it annointed as the "best-hatted men of the year" one of each, though it strikes me that those were the men least likely to need them.
As hat wearing declined, the Hat Institute of America declared that men actually could get by with only five hats, or six if he needed a cap for the country. It's a sign of the state of the hat that neither the Hat Institute not the Hat Style Council still exist as a functioning institution.
Men wore hats when they spent much of the day outside. They provide shade and keep the head warm. The former function has been taken over by sunglasses, which are considerably more convenient to store when they're not needed. The requirement for warmth has been reduced by a combination of central heating and the automobile.
The hats we need today depend on when we wear them. If a man has but one dress hat for winter it should probably be a charcoal fedora that can serve to show respect outdoors at a burial. The fedora is a city hat that's compact enough to deal with the challenges of low automobile roofs. Men who drive convertibles with the tops open most of the time might well choose the more elegant homburg instead. Also known as an Anthony Eden, after the post-war prime minister of Britain who favored them, the homburg is the most formal hat after the topper.
May to September is straw hat season and neither fedora or homburg is appropriate in the Northern hemisphere during those months. Instead, the made in Ecuador panama is the prince of straw hats (it certainly takes a princely income to afford a hand woven superfine Monte Cristi). The round topped optima is the classic version, and it folds for travel.
The heart of my hat wardrobe is for more casual pursuits. Men still wear hats for practical reasons while playing at sports such as fishing and golf. James Lock & Co offers a selection of tweed caps that keep the sun and rain out in stylish fashion, and I confess to a liking for their straw boater for walking down the fairway in summer.
In the United States there are still a variety of suppliers for quality hats. I've had good service when I purchased linen caps from Hartford York, though I suggest that shoppers will want to be careful to avoid brands with the poor taste to place their name tag on the outside of the hat band. To re-purpose an old New Yorker cartoon, "If my parents had wanted me to wear my name on my hat they would have named me Borsalino."
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Choosing the day's necktie is an art, and like any other art coordinating a tie with a shirt and a jacket benefits from practice. Three elements to keep in mind are pattern, textures and colors.
Be careful to keep textures and weaves in harmony, that is, smooth with smooth and rough with rough. A satin tie is incompatible with a tweed suit but fine with twill. A tweed jacket marries well with cashmere, wool and gummed silk while linen neckties should be worn with a linen or cotton jacket.
Your tie's color should always contrast with your shirt and usually echo it. For example, the green shirt to the left is worn with a dark green and gold striped tie. One color contrasts with the shirt and the other accents it.
It's reliable but potentially dull to combine tones of the same basic color, such as a burgundy tie with a pink shirt or a navy tie with a light blue shirt. More harmonious effects occur when shirt and tie contain at least three colors, such as a light blue shirt worn with a gold necktie sporting navy figures. Pleasing results can be obtained by combining complementary hues, for example blue and orange or green and red, or by coordinating a primary color with a related secondary color such as red with brown.
The tie can also echo the shirt's colors while contrasting with its patterns. Entering the domain of the expert, still more interesting results are obtained by contrasting designs without repeating colors, such as a light blue shirt with orange stripes combined with a bottle green necktie with red dots.
Above all, remember that practice makes perfect. When you lay out your clothes, choose several shirts and ties and try them against your jacket before settling on your necktie for the day.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
In this film, Grant wears three piece suits with the jacket buttoned. I am not familiar with this look at all. I thought if one is wearing a vest, one would display it. Is this just an affectation of Grant's, or of the 1930s, when this film was made? Or am I incorrect, and it is appropriate to wear a three piece suit in this manner?"
Watching Cary Grant is a great way to learn. Jackets should normally be buttoned while you are standing so they don't flap about and display the lining. But don't make too much of this. No-one will pillory you for leaving a single breasted coat unbuttoned (double breasted is another matter). Grant's jacket is open many times on camera, even when he's not being chased by a crop duster.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
"Clothes have more effect upon us than we imagine. Our deportment depends upon our dress. Make a man get into seedy, worn-out rags, and he will skulk along with his head hanging down, like a man going out to fetch his own supper beer. But deck out the same article in gorgeous raiment and fine linen, and he will strut down the main thoroughfare, swinging his cane and looking at the girls as perky as a bantam cock."
-Jerome K. Jerome Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow 1886
Friday, February 9, 2007
Unlike casual coats that are intended to be removed indoors, suit jackets provide us with useful advantages in all but the warmest weather. They help maintain body temperature, provide a variety of pockets so it's not necessary to carry a purse, and the long line of the coat is a better look for the majority of men due to our genetic propensity to pack poundage around the waistline. Other than cost, which is not trivial, the principal negative I hear about jacket wearing is that many men don't want to wear the associated necktie.
Now I would have no argument with tie-less men, except that they usually approach the thing without enough thought. The deep vee of the single breasted jacket is designed to display a strip of silk. Left unfilled, the observer is left to gaze at a row of shirt buttons, and that's, frankly, unattractive.
When a man doesn't care to wear a tie with his jacket, a turtleneck or other sweater looks better than a dress shirt. But a still better alternative is a jacket that closes at the neck, perhaps similar to the ghillie collared version from the Hardy Amies studio that's pictured to the left.
There is plenty of precedence for this. The single breasted jacket originally closed at the neck and if they were present the necktie's predecessors were worn outside of the jacket. The ghillie collared Deeside or Tweedside coat that appeared in the 1860's was a morning coat with the tails removed. As worn by King Edward VII, there was space for a bow tie or the knot of a four in hand when the lapels were open. A modern version in thirteen ounce brown flannel would be just the thing.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
It was said that even when he was the King of Hollywood, Clark Gable would never make appointments for Saturday mornings because that was when he shined his shoes (the pair on the left is from one of Andy Warhol's time capsules). And, other than those of us who employ a valet, that's a habit we should emulate. Dress shoes should be polished roughly every second wearing, which means a man might have three to four pair to shine every week. With practice the job will take ten to fifteen minutes for each pair.
The tools for a weekly shine session are shine brushes and polishing cloths for black and brown, a toothbrush for cleaning around the sole, and polish and edge dressing in appropriate colors. Add a suede brush and a suede eraser for suede shoes. A pair of wall-mounted shoe butlers like the ones used in professional shine stands are useful for holding the shoes in an accessible position during polishing.
Many of these materials are available in kit form or individually from online sources like Joe's Shoe Service.
Caring for leather shoes is a multi-step process. First, remove any surface dirt. Clean the joint between the sole and the upper with a wet toothbrush. Then it's time for polish. My friends the shine professionals at San Francisco's A Shine & Co have shown me that the best shines are a combination of both cream and wax, starting with Meltonian cream and finishing with Lincoln wax. The cream softens and lubricates the leather. The wax comes to a higher shine. Avoid liquid polish as it will dry out the uppers and leave them vulnerable to cracking.
Remember that shoes tend to get darker as they age. Use a lighter color polish than the shoes to maintain the color. Use darker polish to add highlights, antiqueing the finish.
And for a how-to on polish technique, see Andy Gilchrist's excellent tutorial on Ask Andy About Clothes.
Clean suede shoes by brushing dust out of the joint where the sole meets the upper with a toothbrush and then apply edge dressing to the heel and soles. Remove marks with the suede eraser and finish with a light brushing to restore the nap.
Clean patent leather evening shoes after removing the silk bows from pumps and laces from dress oxfords. Scrub out the joint where the sole meets the upper with a toothbrush and apply edge dressing to the heel and soles. Then rub petroleum jelly on the uppers with a cloth, and leave the jelly on for a while so it soaks in. Finally, buff them lightly with a soft clean cloth. The jelly will not only keep them shiny but also prevent the uppers from cracking.
Saturday mornings are for shoes!
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
I get the feeling that one of the reasons we don't see as much black tie any longer in the United States is that many men will only wear it when they are certain others will be doing the same. The odd charity ball. The opening of the opera or the ballet. Perhaps New Year's Eve at the club. Few men wear it to dinner any longer, though that was its original purpose.
The custom of changing clothes for dinner began in the eighteenth century, when the sort of men that could afford special clothes for evening spent a great deal of the day on horseback. They needed to change to get rid of the smell, a rationale that has fortunately disappeared.
People stopped changing for dinner when they began spending their days at offices away from home. Theatres began accommodating mid-week customers in lounge suits instead of tails out of necessity. It simply wasn't practical to go home after work, change into evening clothes, grab a bite and still get to a theatre in time for the curtain during the week. Things have gone downhill from there.
Most of this problem is overcome by the simple expedient of carrying evening clothes to the office in a garment bag. My wife actually has it simpler than I because she tends to wear black clothes every day. To dress for dinner she only needs to change her shoes and her jewelry. But changing male clothes is hardly more onerous, requiring about fifteen minutes.
I like two types of dinner jackets: the more formal black single breasted peak lapel coat and vest in 10 oz. mohair and wool and the somewhat less formal double breasted jacket in midnight blue 13 oz. wool with black grosgrain trimmings. Both are complemented by either black patent oxfords with silk laces or black calf pumps with a silk bow. I wear pique front shirts with the peak lapels, pleated fronts with the DB and my ties are straight ended or butterflied in a variety of widths.
When overcome with the urge to add color to evening clothes, I allow that there are four accepted ways to do so. A red carnation is fine, as is a colored pocket square, and hose in a complementary color or with clocks or some other decoration in a color. A colored waistcoat probably defines the outer boundary of propriety. In my opinion, and I am joined in this by a large crowd of others, no-one should ever wear a colored bow, especially a white one.
Once dressed, we might still be faced with the trauma of venturing out without the company of peers (unless one happens to be in London's Mayfair or St. James's, where men in evening clothes remain a familiar sight). Ease the way by making a black tie date with a friend. My experience is that everyone has a grand time. Few others pay attention, and the ones that do are overwhelmingly in favor.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
Winston Churchill would have been surprised to learn about Dress for Success author John T. Malloy's attitude towards bow ties. He wrote, “If you wear a bow tie, you will never be taken seriously, and no one will trust you with important business.” But then I've never taken much of what Malloy wrote very seriously.
As you probably know, Churchill wore a navy bow with white dots daily and most people considered World War II to be fairly important business. Dial M for Murder's John Williams has the look down in the photo. The tie should be worn with either a sweater or a vest, to minimize the amount of empty shirt front below the bow (one of the reasons a vest is better than a cummerbund with a dinner jacket), or with a double breasted jacket for the same reason. The look makes a fine change of pace, particularly in warm weather and particularly with a seersucker suit. That may be why bow ties have remained somewhat more popular in the American South than in the rest of the United States.
Most people know that wearing a clip-on bow tie is a sin comparable to crossing one's legs and exposing bare calf above short socks. I've seen speculation that the bow tie is disappearing because most men know not to wear clip-ons but don't know how to tie the real thing. That may well explain the appearance of the four in hand tie at the Academy Awards among male star wanna-bes who have to dress themselves. But tieing a bow is not difficult to learn, requiring a minimum of manual dexterity and perhaps fifteen minutes in front of a mirror with Ben Silver's diagram.
Charvet in Paris makes some of the best bow ties in the world but they don't yet offer them on the web. For some obscure reason, we are fortunate to have several U.S. bow tie specialists with electronic shopping sites. R. Hanauer has made me several ties to order.
With Spring approaching, consider adding a bow tie to your repertoire. It's a fine look for a stylish man.
Sunday, February 4, 2007
"I have my eye on a beautiful Alpaca sweater but I have reservations about how long it will hold up. Any thoughts?"
Alpaca is a luxury fibre that's lighter, silkier, and warmer than wool. It's usually used in open weave garments that are a great choice for golf (like the impeccable fellow on the left) or any outdoor activity in weather that goes from warm to cool and back again. Take care to avoid snags and Alpaca sweaters will last as long as other knitwear. Among the best are the Lemmermayer links cardigans available at Florida's Maus & Hoffman.
Saturday, February 3, 2007
"I've always thought, myself, that apart from such unspeakable solecisms as wearing white socks with dark suits, the one dividing line between the men and the boys in the art of wearing clothes is the avoidance of the exposure of a length of calf between sock-top and trouser-bottom when seated. But I suppose equal time should be afforded to that other glamour-gap, provided by any amount of visible shirting between the bottom of the vest and the top of the trousers."
-Arnold Gingrich, Toys of a Lifetime (1966)
Friday, February 2, 2007
Legend has it that men dislike shopping for clothes but I don't agree with that. I think men are happy to do their own shopping once they learn how to do it efficiently so they can get on with life. They don't want to spend their Saturday afternoons shopping, and I don't blame them.
In my opinion, there's no reason for a man's clothes shopping to require much more than two hours a year unless he wants it to. As with most things, the key is get a proper foundation in place. Once that's done, buying a season's garb is principally a matter of picking up the phone or writing a couple of emails. Of course, there are worse things than a morning walking around the 7ème Arrondissement in Paris and browsing at Arnys.
Shopping is simplest when you don't have to think about where to shop. For example, for most of the first half of my life, I, like many American men, did essentially all my shopping at Brooks Brothers. The problem with that approach is that there are very few places that can serve as a single source any longer (including Brooks Brothers and the mens' sections of department stores with one or two possible exceptions in Manhattan). There may be a life-long U.S. partner among the stores in Esquire's list of the best men’s specialty stores if one is close by. But most men will have to use several providers.
Men's clothing providers tend to specialize in shoes, tailored clothing, shirts or haberdashery (some shirtmakers are also great haberdashers but more often the two are a separate category). Though specialists usually dabble in other categories, they tend to do a great job in only their primary area. That means each man may need a source for shoes, one for suits, a third for shirts and perhaps a fourth for everything else.
The benefit from having established providers comes when it's time to shop. Men who want to spend only the minimum necessary time need do little more than see their tailor (that's Rubinacci's location in London to the left) twice a year to confirm the fit of that season's clothes and select swatches for delivery in six months. Shoes and shirts can be ordered with emails specifying the styles and colors. A periodic visit to an online haberdashery source like Ben Silver or Kabbaz-Kelly will take care of any remaining needs.
Spring and Fall
Just as seasonal clothes arrive in the stores before the season begins, bespoke clothing must be made in advance of each season. For example, I order my clothing for cool weather each Spring and in the Fall I order warm weather gear. When the clothes are ready the season then is just around the corner.
Ready to wear items follow a similar pattern and you may even be able to shop last season's sales while you're taking care of the coming season's necessities.
The hard part is finding a set of relationships that satisfy. New bespoke and made to measure sources require a lot of trust, and it takes months before a man knows if his faith is going to be rewarded (as I've written elsewhere, the only time to have new clothes made is when you don't yet need them). Reputation helps, but personal recommendations are even more important when, as I've learned on more than one occasion, a great reputation sometimes lags behind a more ordinary reality.
Spend a year establishing relationships with a set of providers and there'll be no more reason to dislike shopping.