The secret to getting more than a few wearings out of expensive and delicate socks like the cashmere and silk argyles in the photo (they were courtesy of Kabbaz Kelly - profligate though I might be $80 socks are too dear for my wardrobe) is cold water, and plenty of it. For heat is the killer of expensive hose, whether wool, cashmere, silk or cotton.
Even after a man has been playing in the mud, socks come perfectly clean washed in cold water on the delicates cycle. That is still more true if they are washed in Persil Universal Powder, a laundry detergent that is optimized for cold water (find it at Amazon).
Once the washer has finished its job, do not use the dryer. Always hang socks to dry. A rack located directly under the laundry room fan is ideal as the moving air under the fan dries them quickly and without the stiffness that occurs for some reason when they are hung in still air (the fan should be turned on if that was not obvious).
And that is the best way to wash socks.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
I wish I had written Michael Drake's very elegant description of summer clothing: "fawn colored linen suits with blue chambray shirts, raw silk neckwear, and woven straw hats." For natural, khaki, and light to mid blue is the ideal color base for summer's tailored clothing. Oh, throw in light gray if you must, but that is a concession to the city for men who are not able to be at the seashore for one reason or another.
Combine that tailored clothing with a Montecristi Optimo hat like the one in the photo, and in your neckties add secondary colors like dark red, pink, and grass green to the palette.
For it is time to think about these things. Spring must surely be around the corner.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
The search for a small messenger style bag drew several excellent reader suggestions (what appears to be the perfect camera bag is on the way from a Billingham's reseller) that provided grist for the mill. So, armed with a plethora of anachronistic phrases, a friend and I set out in the rain to visit San Francisco's Glaser Designs.
Glaser Designs is a leather goods maker that specializes in bespoke carry-on bags and briefcases. And just a few minutes into a tour of their facility, it was obvious why the bespoke shoemakers of my acquaintance send their luggage offerings out to be made by a specialist. Leather is virtually the only thing the two crafts have in common, and even there the types of leather used are different. In the photo, Myron Glaser is explaining how he colors the two or three hides that go into a typical bag.
Kari Glaser is the firm's designer, and after some discussion she offered to make a prototype of a small bag that would combine the features of the two bags in the photo. More masculine than the handbag on the left, the prototype will be designed to hold assorted oddments including a cell phone, wallet, music player, reading glasses, and pens.
One of the more impressive aspects of Glaser Designs' work is that their products have more than just a pretty face. Each interior is designed to perform its mission efficiently. For example, as seen in the photo, accessory holders are attached to heavy duty velcro, so items can be added or removed as the situation warrants.
What I have been calling a small messenger bag may prove to be something else altogether but the prototype will be completed in about a month. And we will check in during the process to see how it is coming along.
The game is afoot.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
I no longer have it but there is a photo of the late Gianni Agnelli wearing a mohair and wool dinner jacket that illustrates the best use of the hair of the Angora goat in men's clothing. Agnelli's clothes catch the light in a way that wool does not, but precisely as evening wear should. And though there is no evidence in the photo, his dinner jacket undoubtedly wore cool, for that is another characteristic of the silky yarn in the photo, a not inconsiderable advantage in over-heated ballrooms.
Mohair has been used in the West since the 16th century, when Charles V first brought angora goats to Europe. The delicacy of the species made mohair relatively rare as well as expensive and five hundred years later it is still a luxury fiber, like cashmere and silk, and considerably more expensive than most wool.
It is more expensive because, young or old, those delicate goats must receive a great deal of attention in between their semi-annual shearings. The finer hair from younger animals is particularly prized for clothing, with kid mohair commanding a premium over the stuff from adult goats.
In suiting cloth, mohair shares an important characteristic with linen. That is, it absorbs and releases moisture, moving perspiration away from the skin, which makes it more comfortable than wool in hot weather. It also resists wrinkles better than wool, though when mohair does wrinkle the cloth must be ironed or steamed as the wrinkles will not fall out on their own.
Of the mohair that is in current production, Smith and Co (Woollens) has a couple mohair blends in its formal wear book that represent what may be the best use of the stuff. Of course, it is also used successfully in daywear, particularly in blends of 40% mohair or even less where its sheen is minimized by the wool. Indeed, Scabal's high twist mohair and wool blend has little sheen and wears exactly like a fresco, which is both good and bad since all-wool frescos cost considerably less per meter.
But, as I wrote in the beginning, the silky sheen of mohair is at its best in the evening.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Horizontal stripes play a very limited role in men's clothing. True, they are sometimes found on knit ties, polos, rugby jerseys and prison uniforms but the only other place that comes to mind is a man's dress shirt body, a rare species indeed. Horizontally striped shirts are a style little seen since the 1980's, when Alan Flusser put Michael Douglas in them for the movie Wall Street.
Since horizontally striped shirts (which we will call HSS for brevity going forward) are so rare, the challenge is whether a man can wear them with the proper amount of nonchalance, so they do not call undue attention to themselves and, by association, the wearer. For they are great looking when worn correctly. And here we owe a debt of gratitude to Ed Tutee of Style Forum and The London Lounge whose photo demonstrating the proper way to wear horizontal stripes graces this essay.
To begin with, the HSS is quieter when less of it is visible and that means it is better under jackets with smaller chest openings, such as vested suits or double breasteds. The shirt body itself should continue the low key theme, with narrower stripes in relatively dull colors preferred over brighter and wider versions. A conventionally striped collar like the one in the photo calls less attention to the shirt than a white contrast collar. Finally, solid colored neckties in low intensity colors complete a picture of discretion that is a worthwhile change of pace.
And that is how to wear the HSS. Put one in your wardrobe.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Hong Kong's W. W. Chan delivered a summer odd jacket this week and though it is not warm enough to wear in our winter weather it needed a workout. The first step was steam (Chan ships its jackets in medium FedEx boxes, presumeably to save on shipping, but the price is that they arrive heavily creased). A lot of steam got most of the creases out but the careful observer will notice that what were hidden creases on the sleeves could still use attention.
Despite the effort required of the customer, Chan is great value, particularly for tropical weight clothing that is not expected to last as long as the heavier stuff.
Back to the jacket, it is a quarter lined (hence the patch side pockets, which are essentially required for quarter lined jackets) 3 roll 2 tropical weight in a blend of 75% linen and 25% silk. The silk gives it some sheen, which is good as the jacket is meant for late day wear. That is to say, early evening cocktails and meals under the late setting sun. Here it is paired with leather and suede slip-on shoes, light gray fresco trousers, a white linen shirt, white linen pocket square and a navy silk knit necktie with red dots.
There is a lot of white in the weave of the jacket so a white square and white shirt blend the combination nicely in my opinion. The navy necktie provides a focal point.
As soon as the photos were taken it was time for more seasonally appropriate corduroy trousers, a flannelette shirt and a camelhair sweater.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
The reader responses to my grumbling about pockets the other day reminded me about bags. As it happened I looked around unnsuccessfully online and in several luggage shops for a small leather messenger bag last summer. I need something much smaller than a gym bag but was unable to find one from a source I trust.
One comment called out the Click mini-messenger from Timbuk2, which would suit the bill if it was offered in something other than ballistic nylon. Not that I have anything against ballistic nylon, mind you. After all, my camera bag is nylon (finding a padded leather camera bag is another challenge) but I only use it for storage. It looks terrible next to a suit.
This time a renewed search may have been successful. San Francisco's own Glaser Designs offers a small made to order leather shoulder bag (in the photo) that looks as though it will fit the bill if it comes with a long enough shoulder strap so as not to look like a woman's purse. Not that I have anything against women either.
The next step will be a visit to the Glaser Designs studio to see a bag in person.
P.S. Check out ASW at the bottom of the page in today's The Ten best... Fashion Bloggers in The Observer Magazine.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
George Glasgow Jr. of G.J.Cleverley sent along these photos of elastic sided black and white spectators with the classic Cleverley square toe and faux lacing.
About $2800 ex VAT (2,100 GPB with VAT) including shoe trees. But not for the faint of heart.
P.S. Readers in the UK may see ASW in the "top ten fashion blogs" list in the Guardian's Sunday Observer Magazine tomorrow.
Friday, February 19, 2010
When a reader sent me several photos of his daughter's recent wedding to a young U.S. Air Force officer, I was struck by how rare it is to see military dress uniforms these days. The royal households of Europe were once filled with officers in formal dress. Today, the military is virtually a separate society and for most of us interaction is rare.
The male members of the wedding party in the photo are wearing the Air Force Mess Dress Uniform which is for formal or semi-formal occasions such as graduations, award ceremonies and weddings. The uniform consists of a short mess jacket and mess dress trousers in dark blue. With a blue satin tie and cummerbund, the uniform is the equivalent of civilian black tie. A white bow-tie and waistcoat turn it into the equivalent of white tie.
Congratulations to the bride and groom.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
I use six working pockets between jackets and trousers. It has always been that way. There are two on the trousers and, excluding the breast pocket for my square, four or five on the jacket. It is a practice that has served me well - I never lose items like my keys. They are always in my right-hand trouser pocket.
But today we are grumbling about pockets and how change is not necessarily for the better. You see, I have begun exercising first thing in the morning at a new-to-me facility about six blocks away from my home and it has seemed silly to wear a jacket and trousers to get over there. So I began dressing in sweat pants and a sweat shirt, and that is when it all fell apart. There are two front pockets in my sweat pants but instead of the customary four jacket pockets I have been trying to make things work with just one interior pocket on a casual coat, and two hand warmers on that coat's sides.
As you probably already suspect dear reader, last week my perfect no loss track record came to an end. A pair of much loved tortoise shell reading glasses and their case, normally secured in my left hand jacket pocket, fell out of one of the hand warmer pockets and has not been seen since. Thus began my grumbling.
Then yesterday I put my heart rate monitor in one of the trouser pockets where I also keep a money clip. When the heart monitor strap came out of the pocket so apparently did the money clip, joyously for whoever found it but less so for me. And my grumbling increased to a new level.
So, live and learn. It is now shirt jacket and chinos with the customary six pockets on the way to and from the gym and I remove them to work out in the shorts and tee that I wear underneath. And my inventory of coats with only one useable pocket is headed for the resale shop. It is just too disruptive losing things.
Let my grumbling be a lesson for you.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Admittedly, young preppies may wear theirs with jeans and a sweater but for most men the Chesterfield outercoat is the most formal coat they will ever own. If indeed they own one, for the black velvet collar is becoming rarer and rarer.
Dating back to the Victorian era, the Chesterfield is typically a three button fly fronted single breasted (though the 6x2 DB is perfectly acceptable) in navy or charcoal plain or herringbone wool. It may or may not have a black velvet collar and can sport either notch or peak lapels (like those on Roger Moore's coat in the photo from the film Live and Let Die) with peak preferred if the coat is to be worn with black tie. Since it began life as a very long coat, and though shorter versions are seen from time to time, a Chesterfield should ideally fall a couple inches below the wearer's knee. Finally, its sack coat-like lack of waist suppression makes it a great candidate for made to measure construction rather than bespoke tailoring, at a savings of perhaps 40%.
I call the Chesterfield an outercoat because it can be made as either an overcoat or a topcoat, depending on its intended use. An overcoat will typically have 21-22 ounce cloth (650 grams) and a topcoat only 18 (540 grams). The heavier weight may be worn on colder days but the topcoat is better suited to temperatures ranging from freezing to cool.
When it is not layered over jeans and a sweater, the Chesterfield seems most at home under a dark homburg hat. Gray suede or yellow chamois gloves are the smartest choice in my opinion, and the velvet collar is at its best accompanying a scarf in silk paisley during the day. The white scarf with fringed ends makes a good partner at night so long as it is removed when the coat is checked.
Ready to wear Chesterfields are, very generally, priced from $1,000 to $2,000 (£800-1,000) if they can be found. Made to measure versions offer considerably more design flexibility and run $2,000-$2500 (£1,300) while bespoke coats tend to be about $3200 (£2,000).
My own preferred Chesterfield specification is the single breasted in charcoal herringbone, with black velvet collar and peak lapels. Spot that coat on the street and I may well be the man wearing it. But I will most likely not be wearing jeans.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The much lower cost of cotton has replaced it in price-sensitive applications but the most important fabric other than wool for men's tailored clothing is undoubtedly linen, particularly Irish linen.
Linen is best known as a warm weather cloth. It is highly absorbent and dries quickly so that it removes perspiration from the skin, which keeps it cooler to the touch than other fabrics. That made it ideal for undergarments like shirts which were once made almost exclusively out of linen, and that is of course the reason they are still referred to generically as linens.
The source of linen is the cultivated flax plant, named Linum usitatissimum. It was most likely the first plant fiber used for making textiles - according to the Irish Linen Center Museuem, linen cloth has been found that dates to 8,000 BC.
The very best linen is generally considered to come from Ireland, where the stuff has been produced in volume for more than 3,000 years. As recently as 1921 some 40% of Northern Ireland's registered working population was dependant on the linen industry, so there is an extraordinary amount of accumulated linen expertise in that country. But flax requires a great deal of attention to grow and the thread is difficult to weave making the cloth more expensive than most and this has led to a significant decline in its production.
Today linen is produced in relatively small quantities with most of it going for apparel. Its relative stiffness makes it ideal for matte pocket squares and it is also used for loosely woven knitwear as well as suitings.
In tailored clothing applications, linen is recognized for its creasing and rumpling. Lightweight linen tends to crease, and the heavier stuff (14 ounce/420 gram cloth) rumples which looks considerably better after an hour or two. Very particular men have been known to change linen suits at mid-day, something that is rather hard to do in an office. But the cream linen suit, like the one that belonged to the late Duke of Windsor in the photo, still has an allure that is duplicated by few other garments.
Monday, February 15, 2010
One way to pull together a look for the day is to coordinate secondary colors. For example, the tan suit and purple necktie in the photo do not relate to each other, nor does the light blue shirt or the predominantly navy pocket square. That creates the proper look of nonchalance, but there is more coordination present than may meet the eye.
Specifically, the purple Cappelli necktie has small orange and green figures in it. The orange in the tie repeats the orange overcheck in the suit, and the square repeats both the green and orange in the midst of its navy. The result is, in my opinion, harmonious without being obvious about it.
And that is the result of coordinating secondary colors.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Most men have heard of seven-fold neckties, that expensive construction where the tie is made entirely from a square yard of silk folded seven times to give it its body. The problem of course with seven-folds is that they tend to twist during wear, and they wrinkle easily.
The standard four-in-hand necktie is a three-fold, where about half a yard of silk (called the envelope) is folded over a (usually) wool interlining. Less silk means a significantly lower price.
Depending on the weight of the silk and the quality of the interlining used in the construction, the performance of the three-fold necktie during wear varies quite a bit from maker to maker, The best makers, such as Charvet and Michael Drake, use heavier silk to improve the wear characteristics of their ties. Those same makers generally make or, at a minimum, finish their ties by hand, improving the quality of the necktie and also increasing its cost.
High end ties must be finished by hand because of they are made with a longitudinal thread called the slip stitch. The "play" provided by a slip stitch allows a tie the flexibility it needs to retain its shape over time, and so remain wearable for more years than its width is likely to remain fashionable.
The best version of the slip-stitched necktie in the opinion of most high-end tiemakers is what is known as a lined six-fold, where the seven-fold's square yard of silk is folded over a wool interlining. The weight of the resulting tie means a lined six-fold tends to drape significantly better than either of its brethren, and wrinkle less.
A Suitable Wardrobe's Online Haberdashery offers high-quality three-fold ties from Michael Drake as well as lined six-folds from E&G Cappelli of Naples. In between the price points for these is a new selection of hand finished lined six-folds from England that drape beautifully. The gray wool and silk striped tie in the center of the photo is one example, and it has quickly become the tie I reach for most often. $150 per necktie.
Friday, February 12, 2010
It is personal taste rather than the product of some argument about correctness but I really like shirt jackets for knocking around. There's a little less weight on my shoulders and I stand out a bit less at the grocery store, but I still have pockets and a covered waist. The pockets are a big advantage over a cardigan sweater.
Shirt jackets are comprised principally of straight seams and are usually made cost-effectively at a shirtmaker rather than a tiaior. The version in the photo was sewn by MyTailor from unlined 14 ounce/420 gram Scabal linen. It is worn with a DJA royal oxford cloth shirt, a Cravate Royale ascot, twill trousers and G&G monkstraps that have been darkened with black polish over time.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
I set out to write a piece on dressing a wedding party today only to discover that I wrote one in 2007. That one seems to be still valid so, sadly, there is no apparent need to repeat myself.
This relates to the Cloud Club illustration as the gentleman in the center is wearing a stroller, semi-formal day wear that should be the choice of the groom and the wedding party whenever the bride will be wearing a long white dress to her afternoon wedding. Unlike a morning coat, which might never be worn again if the groom is not in the habit of attending diplomatic functions or addressing the Supreme Court of the United States, the stroller is actually somewhat practical. Away from the wedding or similar settings it can be worn dressed down as a black odd jacket. I wore one for decades with gray flannel trousers when I was too reticent to don stripes, literally wearing the thing out. It also provides additional opportunities to use those wedding ties.
Speaking of neckties, the Manchester Guardian did a very nice video on tiemaking the Michael Drake way the other day. They won't let it be embedded here but it's worth a click-through even though Michael is wearing a shirt with a breast pocket and, as one viewer wrote in the comments, " I would never take sartorial advice from a man with a breast pocket on his shirt." It is apparently a tough crowd there in Manchester.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
It has been cold recently and that is always a good time to think about cashmere, that stuff that makes the costliest knitwear. Cashmere of course is the insulation shed each spring by goats forced by their herdsmen to live on the high, dry and very cold plateaus of China's Gobi Desert. It takes a goat three to four years of uncomfortable life to shed enough cashmere for a single sweater.
Cashmere comes in a variety of qualities, and longer fibers and tighter weaves are better. The short and least expensive lengths tend to break and pill. Loose weaves, which save the knitter money by reducing the amount of cashmere in the garment, tend to be made from shorter fibers. The combination is how $100 cashmere knitwear finds its way to certain retailers who shall remain nameless. And then there is ply.
Sweaters can range from single ply (very thin) to sixteen-ply (very very plush). The ply is the number of threads twisted together to make the yarn, and even numbers are good. That is because yarn is spun under torque and even numbers of ply twist in the opposite direction from each other, minimizing any tendency for bias in the weave. A properly maintained high quality four ply sweater should last for generations.
Finally, the whiter the cashmere the more expensive the raw material. Dying harms the feel, so finished products in colors that are close to the undyed colors of the hair (mid-grey, cafe au lait and cream) will have the best hand.
Add all this up and look for tightly knit four ply natural and mid-gray colored crew necks to wear without a jacket (more plys will be warmer, but also considerably more expensive). Cable knits add a little texture.
Two ply versions are better for wear under jackets, where warmth comes from layering rather than ply. Here, sleeveless is better, in the form of waistcoats, vee necks, or, if they can be found, crews.
As in most things, the quality of cashmere relates to the quality of the producer. The names of the 16 members of the Scottish Cashmere Club such as William Lockie and Murray Allen, as well as Loro Piana and Colombo Cashmere of Italy, are a guide.
And that is a bit about cashmere.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Consider the sweater jacket when a conventional odd jacket would be too much. Lounging about on the weekend, for example.
Dark peach Inis Meáin linen sweater jacket, in-need-of-pressing green thin wale corduroy trousers and Edward Green monkstrap shoes. The shirt was sewn by MyTailor from Simonnot-Godard's voile shirting that is not voile at all but a poplin with some substance to it.
Monday, February 8, 2010
I had not been happy with fabric merchant Holland & Sherry's offerings this past year or two. It all seemed to me too light, and too fragile. Perhaps that is why I appreciate the company's Target Elite bunch 1037 for Spring/Summer 2010. Too new to even be on the web site yet (the photo is actually that of the Victory Lightweight bunch from the same release which is one reason that the numbers in the picture do not relate to anything in this post), Summer Target is nine ounces/280 grams in weight, and though it has a nice hand at Super 130, they didn't take the Super thing too far.
Target Elite is among the company's thickest bunches with something for just about everyone. There are a nice gray pick and pick, several nailheads, and all the stripes a man could want along with the usual assortment of things that could only be intended for ladies couture.
One never knows if a particular tailor will pass the savings along or keep them but there is a promotional discount of 25% off list on the new H&S cloth through February 28. That ends a bit too soon for the travelling tailor visits but enterprising men may still find a way to reap some savings this Spring.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
Thought it might be timely to call attention to two models of Gaziano & Girling shoes that will be in stock at the ASW store in the not too distant future.
The ASW City Shoe will be a new run of the semi-formal oxford ASW introduced two years ago. It was no surprise that roughly half of the shoes made at that time were delivered to diplomatic addresses in the U.S. and Europe as the City Shoe is highly compatible with semi-formal and formal day wear. It also looks great with a blazer and gray flannels.
Near the opposite end of the formality spectrum is the Suitable Slip-on, which we also pioneered that year. In fox suede, it looks stylish with casual suits and odd jackets and is a great shoe for air travel.
Each model is $1,100 for a pair, including metal toe taps and lasted mahogany shoe trees (there is no tax or shipping charged for deliveries in the United States). A small deposit holds a pair and most customers will experience just a fraction of the wait time required for conventional made to order shoes. Interested parties should email.
Friday, February 5, 2010
It may seem odd to call a lounge suit informal evening dress when much of the world defines informal as jeans, but that is all the language leaves us. After all, black tie is considered semi-formal, and the lounge suit is certainly less formal than the dinner jacket.
Still, Friday seems like the right day to bandy about what to wear to the opera, the symphony or the theater in a city. And that is ideally a suit or a double breasted blazer in a not-too-dark shade of navy blue, like the one the late Aristotle Onassis is wearing to take his wife on the town in the photograph. That is of course because that shade of blue under artificial light looks blacker than black.
Like dinner jacketings, the cloth of this suit or blazer should be a solid or semi-solid like Mr. Onassis' herringbone. Stripes and patterns should be reserved for day wear, though there is no reason that an evening-approprate suit cannot be worn during the day from time to time. At night, it should be combined with a white shirt and a necktie with sheen that evokes a dinner jacket's satin lapels. A black or dark blue satin four in hand works nicely. A conservative bow tie that recalls more formal clothing is equally fitting.
No part of this ensemble should ideally be worn during the day of the event, for once upon a time men always changed for dinner and dressy evenings are an opportunity to pay homage to that practice with unwrinkled clothing. This is a state of affairs that is not always practical during the work week, but anyone should be able to change his shirt and necktie.
I do include the blazer in this category of dress, particularly as the formality of the occasion decreases. The theater, for example, or the baccarat or backgammon table. Perhaps a club, though appropriate dress for clubbing is so completely dependent on the particular club and locale as to be immune to my generalizations.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Some of the world's finest ready to wear shoes are tucked away in London's Royal Arcade. Constructed on on standard lasts to near bespoke quality, George Cleverley's Anthony Cleverley line is a hard to find offering of the very best English shoes without the usual five or six month wait.
Though Anthony Cleverley models can be made to order in a variety of colors and skins, new ready to wear offerings for 2010 include a version of the Forte casual (in the photos) in a brown pebble grain, a tassel casual in brown buckskin, and an elastic sided slipon in dark brown calf.
Current pricing for the range is 950 GBP or approximately $1,295 ex VAT inclusive of lasted shoe trees. And they are available for immediate gratification.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Few elements in a man's daily dress are as interesting as the sight of a richly patinated pair of highly polished brown shoes, like the 45 year old brogued casuals from W. S. Foster & Son in the photograph.
Shoes should be polished because the gleam of the leather complements the silk of the necktie as the two light-reflecting elements of the day's clothes. That polish also lets us manage the amount of patination over time. A wax or cream that is slightly lighter than the shoe will keep the color relatively constant over the years, and that can be exactly what we want for summer shoes. For the rest of the shoe wardrobe, a darker shade of polish will darken the shoe, adding to the antiqued look.
That variegated finish does not come with black. It is the province of the brown shoe, and should usually be encouraged