Personally, I think a single breasted blazer is a better style for the heat but men who prioritize stylishness over comfort should consider the 4x1 double breasted blazer for summer.
A 4x1, or 4 by 1 if you will, is a double breasted jacket with four buttons on the front that are cut so that the coat buttons on the lower rank below the waist. This gives it a longer line and exposes a little more shirt front so it will wear a bit cooler, which our man on the rail in the illustration must find a blessing as it's apparently so hot that he's had to shed his neck cloth.
Now blazer-appropriate occasions in the dog days of August are blessedly few except by the sea, which is perfect as this style is both nautical and just enough of a dandy's choice to be out of place in church. I doubt if it can be found off the rack and a man who had it made would probably agree that an open weave cloth in marine blue would be best. It should have patch pockets of course, and as little lining as the tailor responsible for it will tolerate.
Wear it with an open collared shirt if there's no other choice but it will look better with a tee shirt in either white cotton or silver silk. A neck cloth is optional.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
We found a theme in tan, white and black this week and we're sticking with it for another day. Hence this portrait of the late Prince Serge Obolensky, publicist, socialite and, during World War II, America's oldest paratrooper at age 53.
Now the Prince was painted in the spring or fall instead of summer. He's got a coat over his shoulder and that cardigan would be intolerable in the heat. The cooler season's the reason why his jacket can be brown instead of tan, but there's not much real change to the understated palette which would look great in horse country in a couple of months. And that's the point.
Men in the United States today have a difficult time finding role models for good dress. In an era when Vanity Fair's International Best Dressed List has become a who's in the media contest, we cannot depend on the movie studios to provide us with paragons of taste. But a reliable way to develop one's eye is to study paintings and photos of people who could afford to dress well a generation ago. Throw out the obvious outliers as too flamboyant or too conservative and the exemplars that remain will be a far better style guide than the red carpet of any televised awards show.
One thing that becomes obvious after such a study is that, despite my personal penchant for unusual socks, well dressed men do not strive to attract attention. Their clothes are consistent in style, fit well and are conservative in color. Like tan, white and black, to stick with a theme.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Watching the film A Good Woman the other day reminded me that I like the summer look of a tan jacket and white shirt accompanied by a necktie with a black ground. So here's a version suitable for whiling away an hour at a bar with a couple of friends.
The jacket and shirt are linen, and the necktie's white dots work with the shirt to reduce the intensity of the black. During the week this is a good combination with tan suits and tan shoes and it's equally effective during off hours with cream trousers, which was how I wore it.
Away from the office, try mixing the clothes with a gin cocktail as a change of pace from gin martinis. That's two shots of gin and two dashes of bitters stirred with ice and strained into a cocktail glass with a twist of lemon peel. For me, the Occidental Cigar Club might be just the place for one this evening.
Monday, July 28, 2008
So writes Oscar Wilde in A Good Woman or rather Lady Windermere's Fan, his 1893 play, which this 2004 production was based upon. I missed it the first time around but was glad I came across it on Netflix. The story is set in the 1930's on Italy's Amalfi coast and costume designer John Bloomfield did a wonderful job with the clothes.
Tom Wilkinson's character gets the most benefit from Bloomfield. He's dressed in a minimalist palette of tan, white and black morning and night, illustrating how unnecessary color is to a well dressed man.
Technically this isn't a new film but nonetheless I think it's the best on-camera wardrobe I've seen this year.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Few illustrations from Apparel Arts cause me to scratch my head and wonder what the illustrator was thinking, but this 1934 drawing is one of them. Each of the elements is fine on its own, especially the Optimo panama, but the spacing of the secondary stripes in the trousers conflicts with the jacket pattern.
Replace the faux Norfolk jacket with one that matches the trousers and the ensemble would probably warrant an extra base hit if not an outright home run.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
In addition to being the behind-the-scenes maker of many of America's better brands of ready to wear tailored clothing, Martin Greenfield Clothiers has what I've always thought of as a small made to measure operation (I've never been there and I think of it as small but for all I know Martin's made to measure business could employ half of urban New York) that's been making trousers and other clothing for me for decades. Martin himself is a rare man and it's been a privelige to know him a little bit.
Friday, July 25, 2008
After a couple weeks of overcast skies the sun shone today and we tried our hand at photography. We failed several times to get a suit, shirt, necktie and pocket square photo that didn't wash out, but we did get a snapshot below the waist. Here are dark brown quarter brogues, lilac socks with white polka dots and the trousers to a navy mohair suit. The flash, of course, lightens everything and the shoe on the floor is closer to the true color.
Mohair and wool mixtures make excellent suitings for San Francisco, and for temperate coastal cities generally. Air moves easily through the cloth, so quarter lined 10 ounce fabric doesn't start a man sweating in the sunshine. And the combination of the mohair with the bit of extra weight keeps the suit looking crisper than its tropical worsted relations.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
People don't talk much about the seasonality of shoes, but once warm weather arrives it's time to move boots and dark colored brogues into storage and replace them on the shelves with shoes that are lighter in weight and color. Summer shoes wear cooler and complement lighter clothing, so at least some of those black, dark brown and oxblood choices should be replaced with chestnut, light tan and white, and at least one pair of oxfords switched out in favor of unlined slip-ons.
A man with the budget and storage space to expand upon the basic shoe wardrobe of seven or eight pair can constructively look at adding four or five warm weather shoes such as these:
- light tan punch cap oxford
- tan quarter brogues
- unlined light brown slip-on casuals
- spectator oxfords
- white bucks
Of course, someone with plenty of opportunity to wear linen suits in the park is going to want to have more than one pair of spectator shoes. One of them should certainly be a combination of leather and white buck, but the second pair is when a man's imagination can take flight. I like Edward Green's Prestwick in the photo, a slip-on that combines chestnut leather and off-white twill.
I think it's reasonable to have as many warm weather shoes in a wardrobe as there are cold weather versions, though year-round models should always be in the majority.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The time to buy clothes of course is when they're not needed, because by the time they're needed it's too late. At least, it's too late in the sense that a man's only choice will be to buy off the rack clothes that probably won't fit very well (an off the rack shirt is a terrible thing on me, perhaps exceeded only by shoes that raise blisters).
Consider the lead times required to have clothing made:
- Shirts, two to three months if there's already a perfected pattern and twice as long if there isn't
- Tailored clothing, two to twelve months depending on how often customer and tailor are in the same city
- Shoes, about five months for made to order shoes and five to twelve months for bespoke shoes
So when is the best time to buy clothes? Probably when a man looks in his closet and thinks to himself that he has everything he needs. That's a leading indicator that some form of calamity is about to befall his wardrobe and he'd better order something.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
"The care that a shirt needs to set off a fine pair of cuff links is not so easy to achieve nowadays. The fine laundries that looked after gentlemen's outfits (like the one near Place de la Madeleine in Paris that was still offering such services just ten years ago) have disappeared for want of custom. Although there's little room for such refinement in today's lifestyles, many men who consider their style of dress as "conventional" would look a lot less dull with a pair of fine cuff links at the wrist to relieve the monotony of their shirts, however finely made."
-Karl Lagerfeld in his Foreword to Cuff Links by Bertrand Pizzin and Jean-Noel Liaut
The Faberge evening wear cuff links in the photo were sold at Charterhouse Auctions last winter.
Monday, July 21, 2008
I sent a pair of shoes back for new soles the other day, and it struck me that shoe repair is one task that is blessedly infrequent in my life. A lot of that is due to high quality soles.
At the high end of the shoe business is the lightweight, extremely hard wearing, water-repellent and breathable oak bark sole. Perhaps the world's premier source for oak bark leather is the Joh. Rendenbach Jr Tannery which has been producing oak bark sole leather since 1871.
Rendenbach soles start as leather hides that spend nine to twelve months buried in oak lined pits while tanning agents from barks and fruits fuse with the protein structure of the skin, an odorous process that uses no energy and, unlike many 19th century indusrial processes, is completely biodegradeable.
Oak, spruce and mimosa bark as well as valonea fruit provide the active ingredients in the tanning procss. Oak bark possesses a pure tannin-content of 8-10%. Mimosa bark is 30-35% tannin, and spruce is used for its high sugar content. The valonea tree has fruit whose spines have a tannin-content of 30-35% and possess similar tanning properties to oak bark.
Thanks in large part to that sole food diet, the useful life of a high quality sole like Rendenbach's is several times that of lesser soles.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
If the necktie is disappearing and the bow tie rarely seen, what does that say about the ascot, a still more obscure form of neckwear? The ascot, or more accurately the day cravate as that's the form we are concerning ourselves with today, is a broad silk scarf with a pleated neckband and two wide flaps of equal width that normally come to a point at the ends. Worn under an open shirt collar, ascots were popular early in the twentieth century as an elegant form of casual dress and, when worn by a man who is both stylish and at ease with himself, it remains an effective way to dress up an odd jacket. That's "cuffthis," an Ask Andy About Clothes forum member modeling one of his in the photo. It's tied in a simple knot:
Since the media sterotype of the addled aristocrat usually shows him dressed in a blazer and an ascot, the modern ascot wearer must above all avoid pretentiousness. That means he should wear patterned silk that just peeks from under the shirt collar, preferably with a tweed or similar jacket instead of a blazer and never under any circumstance on public transportation. Unlike other neckties, the ascot is tied before a man puts on his shirt and calls for an opaque shirting fabric so that the silk is only visible above the open collar. Warning flags should fly as soon as a second shirt button is left open and if a third is left undone the wearer deserves any humiliation that may be aimed in his direction.
Say a prayer for the ascot.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
I don't know how important it is in the grand scheme of things but one thing Alan Flusser wrote in one of his books has really stuck with me, and that's that the metal adjusters on a man's braces should be near his waist rather than his shoulders so they don't reflect light into people's eyes.
Well I was dressing to come into the city the other day and pulled out a pair of brown Trafalgar braces to discover that the adjuster is at my shoulders, where all Trafalgars sit on me because they don't come in sizes. That triggered a purge. Turns out that I still had three pair of similarly unsized summer braces in my closet and they are in the bag for the resale shop now. Navy with red dots, marooon, and the aforementioned brown, all purchased long ago before I discovered braces that fit.
I have enough braces generally, so I needed to acquire only one replacement pair, the pictured Natal brown barathea I am going to wear these in town, undoubtedly with brown shoes. Unlike the shoes, they won't be visible except in glimpses. And they won't reflect in anyone's eyes because they are mediums.
So that will hopefully be that.
Friday, July 18, 2008
The photograph captures Seersucker Thursday in the United States Senate in 2007, a June tradition begun in 1996 by then-Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi who always wore white bucks with his suit.
In 2004, California Senator Dianne Feinstein decided that women should be better represented and sent seersucker suits to the female Senators who didn't already have one. Eleven ladies appeared in the 2004 photo, which looks to be eight more than went to the trouble last year.
Lott retired in December, and Seersucker Thursday apparently fell off the calendar in 2008.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I cannot understand how the astonishing number of people I see wearing denim on summer weekends avoid heat stroke. The man on the left in the illustration does a good job of illustrating how to deal with the season.
Start as he does, with a linen short sleeved shirt, preferably one with cuffs on the sleeves and two pockets on the chest, and self-belted shorts made from cotton or linen. Consider tieing a cotton bandanna around the neck but don't worry about it either way. Slip into a pair of espadrilles, with or without ankle ties, and head for the bar for a cold drink like the French 75. Pour a jigger of gin into a flute, add half a glass of sparkling wine or champagne, lemon juice and simple syrup to taste, and top off with more sparkling wine. Add a straw hat before going out into the glare.
On cooler days or slightly more formal occasions, substitute linen trousers for the shorts. And that sums up summer casual. Don't forget the drink.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Despite the matching shirt and necktie combinations that were popular for a while, a well-dressed man avoids monochromatic looks. Any composition that's too similar in color cannot accomplish what should be the objective of all dressing, which is to lead the observer's eye to the face.
The best looks vary the tones of jacket, shirt and necktie, with the dress shirt normally providing the lightest tones. One classic combination is a dark jacket, light shirt and intermediate toned necktie like the ensemble in the photo from cloth merchant Holland & Sherry. Another is the dark necktie, light shirt and intermediate toned jacket.
Flatter yourself by mixing dark and light.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I'm thinking about the cooler days that lie ahead this Fall, and on weekends an odd jacket isn't always the best choice for running errands. But some form of coat is necessary if only for the pockets.
That's the kind of occasion when a shirt jacket comes in handy. The one in the photo is of unlined 14 ounce Minnis flannel so it's warm enough and will even take a little rain. The four pockets take care of the eyeglasses, sunglasses, cell phone and cigar paraphenalia that don't fit in my trousers. And my budget appreciates that shirt jackets can be made to measure for a fraction of the cost of a canvassed jacket.
Of course, made to measure jackets are also supposed to fit. I was trying it on in the photo, which is why I'm wearing a spot effect flannel over houndstooth trousers in the first place. This one is going back to the tailor for adjustment as it arrived with the sleeves an inch and a half too long, but it will be ready for service by the time the weather turns.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Among the most popular of summer hats in the 1930s was the jippa jappa (pronounced yippa yappa) straw. Originally from the Caribbean, it has the great advantage of a coarse weave which makes it relatively inexpensive and thus completely different from 99% of the items in a man's wardrobe. Here, Esquire magazine shows it with a variety of summer accessories and a suit with a three button jacket that has the top two buttoned.
The jippa jappa is more relevent than ever today as a sunny day substitute for the ubiquitous baseball cap. A straw fedora, which is what it is, will cost just a bit more and look infinitely more sophisticated.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
What is a Tautz lapel?
The Tautz lapel, or rather the Tautz collar, worn by author Gay Talese in the photo, is a jacket collar with a notch that is parallel to the ground. It was a specialty of the Savile Row tailoring firm of E. Tautz & Sons, long since absorbed into Norton & Sons. In its heyday, Tautz made for some of the world's best dressed men.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
I see too many men putting too many odd jackets into their wardrobes these days. At a certain age that's to be expected. An undergraduate generally has reason to maintain twice as many odd jackets as suits in his wardrobe. The dress on most campuses is appropriately oriented towards tweed jackets with casual trousers and a man has relatively few occasions that require a suit during those years.
After his school days are over, times change. Most men do not graduate immediately into five day a week suit-wearing occupations, but, assuming they plan professional careers, they have just a couple of years to prepare for those days. The first years after school should see an expansion of the suit side of their closets until there are at least twice as many suits as odd jackets.
Now it's understandably difficult to change one's thinking overnight from colorful tweeds to drab worsteds, but there's opportunity in every challenge. The most neglected part of the wardrobes I see are 'Friday' suits that are a bit too casual for every day office wear, like the one musician Charlie Watts is wearing in the photo. That's the opportunity. Consider accumulating a couple mid-blue, tan, glen checked, linen or tweed suits that could be worn to the office when there's nothing formal on the calendar. Not only do they look good during the week, their relative rarity makes them a stand-out choice on weekends and holidays.
Wear them instead of odd jackets.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
A man has to think ahead about his clothes. It's mid-July, so the end of straw hat season is but two months away. Time, thinks I, to get an autumnal hat into the queue. And it's a good thing that I did, since the lead time at my hatmaker, VS Custom Crafted Hats, has deservedly extended from four weeks to ten since last year. At that rate another few months will find him booked solid until his retirement.
The hat in question is called a cavalier, a lightweight felt that Apparel Arts considered suitable for town and semi-sports wear when there was such a magazine. Art, the hatmaking proprietor of VS, apparently hasn't crafted one before so it'll be interesting to see his interpretation. Mine will be brown, and made from the same lightweight beaver felt as the porkpie he made for me at this time a year ago. And since a man's hat shouldn't relate too closely to the rest of the clothes he's wearing in order to preserve that difficult to achieve "I didn't try too hard" look, I should probably wear it when I'm wearing oxblood or black shoes. But I do like a bit of a match and more likely it'll come out when I'm wearing brown.
It'll be my cavalier approach to fall.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
The eye soon stops noticing a steady diet of blue, cream and white shirtings. Offer it alternatives in the form of secondary colors, such as these Thomas Mason shirtings of orange, green and lavender stripes. Try pairing orange with a tan suit, green with gray and lavender with navy. Add a conservative necktie that picks up either the color of the stripe or of the suit itself, and a pocket square that's only loosely related to any of them.
A collection of patterned shirts in colors other than blue gives a man the opportunity to quietly differentiate his dress compared to what's usually seen in the United States. There are exceptions, but retailers in this country tend to offer a wide variety of neckties and a smaller selection of shirts in order to reduce their inventory requirements at the expense of variety in their customers wardrobes.
Choose secondary colors.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
The current set of security restrictions on hand luggage show no signs of going away and, for those of us who must fly commercial, the problem of finding attractive but checked baggage capable luggage isn't going away either.
Now granted, one can purchase perfectly acceptable ballistic nylon luggage from companies like Tumi. The only problem with Tumi is that they've been so successful that after some flights every bag on the carousel is black ballistic nylon, and there are men who like to show a bit more originality if only to improve the liklihood of arriving home with their own clothes.
Fortunately, tucked into a storefront in London's Burlington Arcade is a company called Globe-Trotter Luggage. Globe-Trotter has been making wood framed cases with a proprietary resin product called Vulcan Fibre since the nineteenth century. They're used by well-dressed men like Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, but it's visibility that we're primarily looking for today. And indeed, Globe-Trotter cases are available in just about any imaginable color.
In addition to standing out on the carousel, Globe-Trotter cases are dent resistant and easy to clean. Airport dirt wipes off with a damp cloth. Just try that with leather luggage.
I also appreciate how comparing Globe-Trotter to Vuitton makes the prices seem relatively affordable. They're not of course. A three or four piece set will set a man back five figures in depreciated dollars at Nieman Marcus, which carries the line in the United States. The price is another reason they won't be too common on baggage carousels. And that's the point.
Monday, July 7, 2008
For a place that's a bit of a sartorial desert, the San Francisco Bay area has a surprising number of boutique menswear suppliers. And men who come down on the boxer side of the boxers vs briefs argument may wish to consider Birds, a husband and wife team in Sausalito that strives to make the world's best boxer shorts.
Birds come in two hand sewn models made of a 2 ply 160-thread count Sea Island Cotton that gets softer as it's washed. The Custom Fit (the model in the illustration) is a reproduction of a custom-made boxer from decades ago, in even sizes 32 to 40. The Classic Fit is an elastic-waist slip-on boxer with a two-button tab-front closure that's sized S, M, L and XL. Either is available in white or blue cotton and both are closed with mother of pearl buttons. My only complaint is a bird logo on the front of each pair that should be moved to the inside waistband if it must be present at all.
At $76 a pair, Birds are a bit more than Zimmerli knitted briefs but then a man's choice of underwear is a religious issue and money should play no more than a secondary role in his decision.
Posted by Will at 8:00 AM
Sunday, July 6, 2008
When a white shirt collar and cuffs come to mind, they most often accompany a blue shirt body. That's not, however, the best use of a white collar.
In the photo, musician Charlie Watts wears white collar and cuffs with an aggressively striped shirt body. The plain collar is the reason the shirt pattern works in this context, as it often is with dark and strongly patterned shirts. With a self collar, that shirt would mate with solid suitings and not much else.
The next time you're considering a large tape stripe, a large check or an unusually dark shirt fabric, have it made with a white collar and cuffs. The shirt will be wearable in many more combinations than the same shirt with a self collar.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
A female acquaintence of mine suggested that men need to pay more attention to their nails, hence this post which may be the first one that's made me a bit uncomfortable writing it.
I mean, I agree that nails should be given their due every week or two so as to keep the whites of the nails between one and two millimeters in length but men don't talk about these things. So just clip to shorten and then file to smooth. Cuticles carefully trimmed. And complete the treatment with a moisturizing hand cream that is never purchased in person lest one be mistaken for an oenophile or something and forced to seek asylum in another country.
You see, it used to be that a man got his nails trimmed twice a month while he had his hair cut. No more. That was before the advent of hair stylists, unisex hair salons, and the relocation of the manicurists into stand-alone stores staffed by ladies from southeast Asia. So now, a manicure requires a separate trip to some exotic spa aimed at metrosexuals. It's safer to attempt it at home.
Nail maintenance requires manicure scissors, clippers, a file, a brush, and the aforementioned hand cream. This basic equipment can be purchased separately, or in a manicure set like the The Art of Shaving's offering in the photo that someone who doesn't know you very well gives you as a gift. Some men also buy nail buffers to add a shine to their nails, but you shouldn't.
Friday, July 4, 2008
If you've been busy, it's time to order tickets for August's 2008 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the world’s premier celebration of the gasoline powered automobile and one of the few occasions when a California tuxedo (cotton drill trousers and a blazer) is reasonably appropriate.
And while we're on the subject, it was announced that HRH Prince Charles has converted his 38 year old Aston Martin to run on biofuel that he has made from wine obtained from a vineyard close to his Highgrove estate. Some wag estimated that he gets four to five bottles to the mile.
Cigar bargain of the month is the La Aroma de Cuba Cetro, a 6 1/2" long, 44 ring gauge lonsdale from Honduras that is supposed to retail for $102.50 for a box of 25. Find it online from a number of suppliers for less than $80.00, which is about as inexpensive as Cigar Aficionado's 90 rated smokes ever get and leaves more money for gas.
And Michael Drake of Drakes London writes that his software people are working to modify their shopping site so that it doesn't collect value added tax on sales to customers outside the EU. The change should reduce prices by nearly 20% to those customers. That's almost a half tank of premium with each new necktie.
The photograph is Copyright © 2007 by Molly Roberts. Used by permission of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. All rights reserved.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Emily Post once wrote that a gentleman's white buck shoes "must be whitened and polished like a prize bull terrier at a bench show," advice I take to heart. And when after several years my probably irreplaceable white bucks got a bit dirty, I took them to my trusty shine stand for a good cleaning. That started a small odyssey that wasted much of an afternoon.
You see, the shampoo left my shoes a bit, well, tan instead of snowy white and the usually reliable folks at the stand had no idea what to do about it. So, thinking that I'd read somewhere that the way to whiten buckskin is to dust it with white chalk, I set out to pick some up. Try finding the stuff. I started with talcum, which essentially is not available in this country unless it's mixed with fragrance. And that was not the point.
After searching for a while I finally stumbled upon a reference to something called a buck bag. Made by a company called Fiebing's, it claimed to be a porous bag of powder that would do the job. A Google search turned up a couple of sources and, wonder of wonders, the price was only $2.69. I immediately added some to my shopping cart and started to check out only to find that my source had a $50 minimum. For a penny's worth of chalk and some burlap.
And so it was that, after seriously considering entering the buck bag resale business in order to get rid of a couple dozen extra bags, I eventually found the item in stock at Robert's Shoe Store in Minneapolis for the now reasonable sounding price of $6 each. Plus tax. And $5 shipping.
I got a couple because the product looks like something that was discontinued in 1933 and who knows how long it would take to find it the next time. Reasonable men will stock up immediately.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
I can't lay my finger on why but I just like Ghurka shorts. I suppose it's that they are not too refined. I wear shorts for golf and the occasional walk on the beach and I like feeling as though I'll deserve a gin and tonic when I'm finished doing my bit for the Empire.
Given that, I was disappointed when Bill's Khakis told me last year that their supplier wasn't going to make them any longer (which I took as a roundabout way of saying that they weren't going to order them from the supplier any longer). I bought what I could find online, but was resigned to the end.
Fortunately, that problem was pushed further into the future by J. L. Powell's introduction of its pleated Ghurka shorts. I like Powell's version even better than Bill's because they're linen instead of cotton drill. High waisted and self-belted for $139 in wheat or green. You'll need to supply your own gin and tonics.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
A series of wild fires have kept our Bay Area skies overcast, washing out photos left and right. That said, I'm wearing the brightest suit that I own and the colors are fairly true if a bit oversaturated.
Mustard linen suit, a very old light blue end on end shirt, navy silk pocket square with yellow dots and a light brown silk necktie with navy stripes. Not correct for an urban office but just right for an afternoon walk to the shoe shine stand.