Tuesday, May 31, 2011
The beginning of summer brings warm weather everywhere it seems but here in Northern California, where after a few weeks of sunshine our temperatures decline to about 55 degrees (12 C) and remain there for a month or more. The weather brings out the Breanish, the 10/11 ounce (300/330 gram) tweed jacket that is comfortable in the fog.
The Breanish is hardly a hard-wearing weave, being only a 2x1 instead of the usual 2x2 (reducing the thread by a quarter is how the light weight is achieved) but it is just the thing six or eight times a year. And, in keeping with its neither fish nor fowl makeup, it is worn in the photo with summer's shantung necktie and fall's madder silk pocket square.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
The art of shaving, which is the ceremony of shaving itself and not The Art of Shaving shaving specialists, is the subject of today's ASW video shot at that same specialist's San Francisco barber spa. Shaving art is in my opinion the wet shave, the multi-stepped process that few men will spend the time on daily but every man should treat himself to periodically (I shave with an electric six days a week but lather myself on Saturdays).
The Art of Shaving's royal shave ceremony is more time consuming than the wet shaving ritual known to most men, incorporating as it does a post shave mask and a hydrating toner that turns the experience into something spa-like, but the explanation of the wet shave itself will be useful to any man who faces himself in the mirror each morning, razor in hand.
Thank you to master barber Joe Roberts and the rest of The Art of Shaving staff in San Francisco.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Socks for summer should be different in three ways. They should be lighter in weight of course as the weather is warm. And since they have more moisture to contend with than do socks for cold weather they should be made entirely from natural fibers to deal with that challenge. After all, nylon does not absorb water. Finally, when they are not shockingly bright, summer colors are generally lighter in shade than those of winter, and socks should be the same. Cary Grant for example wore light gray socks with his blue-gray suit. Other worthy summer combinations include natural with tan trousers, lavender with navy and teal with gray.
For all natural over the calf summer socks, consider the Not So Basic Cotton Socks in four sizes and a range of seasonal colors on the ASW store. A vertical rib makes the wearer’s ankles look slimmer as well as helping the socks cling to the foot for the best possible fit.
My Not So Basic Cottons are made in Italy using advanced knitting technology so they stay up without the addition of nylon or cutting off circulation around the calves, and there is a made to measure option for men over 6’2” in height who find regular over the calf hose too short.
I hope to see you on the store in the Hosiery section.
Friday, May 27, 2011
It was just a week ago that I wrote that I needed (wanted?) another felt hat. I was thinking about a creamy silver colored wide brimmed model that had graced the late Duke of Windsor's closet. That did not last long. First, several men more knowledgeable than I told me that the hat I was admiring from a top view appeared to be a silverbelly colored Stetson Open Road. Well, I turned my nose up at that as soon as I saw a photo of an Open Road taken from the side. It is a Western hat and I am not a Western kind of guy. And then about the same time that realization arrived so did a small firestorm about silverbelly.
It turns out you see that silverbelly is not only the light silverish color I admired but also the undyed belly fur of the beaver. The skin, not the color, is the rarest of the rare - so rare that two hatmakers of my acquaintance told me that their supplier told them that the stuff has not existed for 150 years, and Stetson's claim to offer hats made from it was mere marketing hype. Of course, Graham at Optimo Hats in Chicago also claims to offer the felt for his very finest Optimo 1000 hats and he is a pretty credible guy. But hey, I wouldn't know silverbelly if the beaver bit me. I just want the color.
That decided, consideration of the shape remained. And since I knew I wanted a planter's hat in straw, and dimly recalled a photo of Sir Winston Churchill wearing a felt version on holiday on Aristotle Onassis' yacht or somewhere similar, I thought to request a felt planter's (the shape of the hat in the photo but in the aforementioned silverbelly rather than blue) with a bound edge for myself. Of course, it is not a fedora and so not something made every day, but we are closer to the end game now. I will keep you informed.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Steve McQueen in the original version of The Thomas Crown Affair looks pretty darned good in the black and white photo. But try him again in color.
Blue sunglasses, blue shirt, blue tie and, perhaps worst of all, blue gloves tire the eye. Plain dark sunglass lenses, an ecru shirt and brown gloves would have made for a more interesting ensemble.
Do not over-coordinate.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Young boys wore short pants once upon a time, and their transition to trousers was a coming of age that left little inclination to ever go back. Those memories are gone now of course, and we see shorts-wearing men in the oddest of places.
Shorts have their place in hot weather and that place is around the house and on the beach - essentially the same places that a man can properly wear espadrilles. Hiking and other athletic pursuits are also appropriate venues, with golf being neither fish nor fowl (there are still courses where men dress well to play, and shorts are less appropriate there). The well dressed man is trousered otherwise. 'Nuff said.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Summer is upon us in a week, which gives American men (and Europeans travelling to America or the Caribbean) an excuse to wear their white or other pale colored summer evening jackets on appropriate occasions. Those occasions are of course semi-formal outdoor events or indoor venues where the guests are able to spend time out of doors (a minute or two is all that is necessary really). And that gives us reason to discuss appropriate dress, complementing yesterday's post.
Now assuming that a man already owns a dinner suit in a not terribly heavy weight, then he can wear those trousers and only needs an appropriately colored jacket to participate in summer's rites. Not that a jacket is absolutely necessary, for black or midnight blue evening clothes are always appropriate, but a change of pace is a pleasureable thing. And though summer is warm, the nights are often cool, so mid-weight cloth is in my experience perfectly reasonable unless one lives in a place like Scottsdale where it may be 110 degrees (45 C) at 10 PM and then my advice is to wear the black and remain indoors. Better yet, go somewhere else for the season. But I digress.
According to the late George Frazier in Esquire, A. J. Drexel Biddle, who Frazier considered one of a handful of the best dressed men in America in the middle of the twentieth century despite a prediliction for, in my opinion, disproportionately small necktie knots, wore "single breasted white gabardine" coats on his semi-formal summer evenings. White or cream gabardine is my own choice in a 13 ounce/400 gram weight (the stuff also comes in 9 ounce/270 grams if you must) that drapes well and is comfortable in either air conditioning or sea breezes for the tight weave does not trap air next to the skin and warm it up. Other jacketing options include linen of course, though it rumples, silk, and worsteds but I like knowing that I have both feet planted firmly in an elegant past.
Now the cummerbund, originally a sash, was invented for warmer weather occasions when a waistcoat might be too much to bear, and civilized readers will take care to cover their waists despite the poor example set by Hollywood's badly dressed leading men in recent years. Remember, the missing cummerbund is not a statement of fashion so much as an oversight when the dinner jacket makers loan their clothing for an awards appearance to a celebrity whose own wardrobe contains none of the appropriate accessories. But again I digress. Usually black, the cummerbund may be colored though personally I prefer to limit colored accessories to my socks and pocket square. Burgundy is always a good choice, as are dark blue, dark green or purple. Opera pumps and a black banded boater hat are options.
Now some readers may be asking themselves where they might wear such a costume, which means that a) they are too old to be attending a prom and b) their country club no longer has jacket-required dinner dances. To that I say, buy your wife a new dress and take her to dinner under the stars at least once this season. And dress yourself for a summer's evening.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Lighter colored summer dinner jackets, seen at venues like Nashville's Richland Country Club, became popular in the United States because they are complementary to the ladies' summer evening dresses. And when something other than black or midnight blue is worn, the single breasted white shawl collar version on Dr. Keith Churchwell remains entrenched as the most popular choice. Color touches, such as dark green or midnight blue bow ties with matching cummerbund and hose, are not uncommon, but color in the jackets themselves has more historic precedence. A favorite deviation from the norm of white is André Churchwell's light blue.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Nicholas Atgemis, bon vivant founder of Le Noeud Papillon, the Australian tie house, knows a thing or two about necktie silks. His bow ties are exceptionally rich stuff woven in Como, the Italian lakeside town that is one of the remaining European centers of silk production. I asked him to talk to us about how he turns his ideas into reality, which he was kind enough to do in this ten minute podcast. Click on the player to listen to it.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
In Customs for delivery next week are a supply of shoe care kits by La Cordonnerie Anglaise and Simonnot-Godard’s long-awaited chambray shirting that has been backordered for six months. Neither will last long.
Friday, May 20, 2011
There being little else to complain about on my shoe shelves, 2012 will be the year for slip-on Norwegians, or at least it will if the shoes I ordered this month are delivered when they ought to be. I set out to replace a pair of Edward Green monks that remain too large despite several remakings that accomplished nothing noticeable, and a pair of G&G's with contrast colored aprons that I have just never cared for (interested parties will find them in rarely worn condition for sale at a great price at A Shine & Co at One Embarcadero in San Francisco).
One of the replacements will be a pair of Cleverley's de Rede Norwegians in brown pigskin and the other the W. S. Foster Norwegians to the right in the photo, but colored like the variegated mid-brown of their butterfly slipons to the left (I did consider the butterflys, but Foster's Emma Lakin agreed that the butterfly straps can chafe the top of the wearer's foot so that ruled them out). Neither is what one might think of as an adventurous choice however they will be just the thing to wear with cotton, linen, and even tweed in the Northern California town that is my workplace these days. And though I would not take them to London they do make perfect airplane shoes for a trip to Italy.
A year for Norwegians, indeed.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Unless it is a first visit, one should always visit a tailor or shoemaker wearing a comission that they made recently. This is not only polite, it enables them to check the fit. In the photo, chocolate brown W. S. Foster slip-ons are paired with a navy blue suit with a faint light blue check and a pair of strikingly striped cotton socks from the ASW store.
Now whenever a man wears something so bold as the socks in the photo, the remainder of his dress should be fairly conservative and so above the waist were a Pacific blue candy striped shirt with a cutaway collar, silver and blue block stripe repp necktie (also from the store), white linen pocket square and an optimo panama hat.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
The way I dress, light rain calls for a hat, and the straws currently in my closet are hardly the material for those conditions. Lightweight felt would do the trick though, preferably in natural beaver to complement the season, and so off went my inquiry to Stephen Tempkin of Leon Drexler. Stephen did a wonderful job with the lord's hat he made for me earlier this year and that has me wondering whether he can do it again.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
This particular story began on a weekend on the Pacific coast last year, when Myron Glaser of Glaser Designs and I walked past some weathered picnic tables and noticed the complexity that time and the sea air had given the wood. Myron makes leather bags of course, and one of his particular areas of expertise is in the finish, which he obtains by hard work and a proprietary process. He thinks aloud that he might be able to do something very similar, we take photos of the tops and I think nothing more about it.
Fast forward twelve months, when I decide that the very nice shoulder bag that Glaser made for me last year needs a handle so I can carry my iPad when I wear a suit without a strap wearing on my jacket's shoulder. The process appears easy enough on the surface. The shoulder strap is on D rings on the bag, and, or so I think, it needs only different hardware to become detachable so I could replace it with the handle that Myron might be kind enough to make me. Guess again. After considerable discussion I am informed that the hardware I am asking for has been tried and found wanting as it might wear out in as little as ten years, and so Glaser must make a new, slightly larger, bag that will have both handle and strap.
Now this seems like the very definition of overkill, however I am eventually worn down and agree that a small bag of the style in the photo would do the trick, if it can carry Myron's new picnic table finish, which is not on the bag in the photo. That is going to be a lot of work for a handle, but watch this space.
Monday, May 16, 2011
As I have written every year, May 15 is the traditional beginning of straw hat season, which means put the felts away and get out the straws. Weather is the primary justification for hat-wearing these days, for those to whom justification is necessary, and the need for protection from the sun must be widely understood or we would be spared the seasonal sea of baseball caps. So armed, where I usually limit my felt-wearing to sunny days of driving with an open top or times when the weather forecast has some likelihood of drizzle, in straw hat season I do not hesitate.
Two styles of panama hat are traditionally handsome and those are the optimo and the planter's hat with its curled brim. To them I add the Milan (pronounced Mylen) braid, and the straw boater with a black ribbon. Wear the boater and the panamas with casual clothing, or wear the panamas and the Milan with suits, like Peter O'Toole in The Last Emperor, and odd jackets. Finally, somewhat counter intuitively, the boater is also the best choice to wear with a summer dinner jacket.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Identifying appropriate cloth for spring odd jackets is a difficult chore. A man wants something lighter than the lightest tweed, meaning 12 ounces/360 grams or less, and the worsted tweed weaves are too faux for my taste. There is linen of course, and blue or tan jackets in fresco, Finmeresco and the usual high twist subjects, but there is a limit to the number of those one can entertain and it is reached fairly quickly. And so one thumbs through Glenroyal, Moonbeam and the other books of lighter weight cloth looking for something to replace a certain venerable city worsted, without success. That time is here again.
Now the old books remind us that gaberdine odd jackets used to be popular for the season, and my 12 ounce/360 gram tan gaberdine suit, like the one in the illustration, is certainly perfect for this time of year. Further, a gray would be a nice choice for a city jacket, like the coat worn by the older man so long as it is not paired with that not terribly complementary necktie. But just try and find one. All the shades that are available are either too dark in color for an odd jacket, or too lightweight. There is a very nice pale gray in the Scabal gaberdine book but naturally they have made it as a Super 150s so they can crank the price to near cashmere levels and in a 9 ounce/270 gram weight so it will be too cool-wearing for our sunny sixty degree (16C) San Francisco summers. The hunt continues.
Friday, May 13, 2011
The shoes men acquire are very different around the world, even when they come from the same maker. I asked George Glasgow Jr. of London's George Cleverley, arguably the most global of the bespoke makers with a large Asian clientele, about the regional differences his firm sees and he told me that customers are asking for a more diverse variety of shoes than ever before. Black calf, for example, was 70% of the English market just ten years ago and now it is only about half. And though black oxfords are still fairly common in New York, they are are rarely ordered in the rest of the United States, where brown slipons predominate. Finally, as might be expected, in Beverly Hills the orders are more exotic than they are in the rest of America.
If England and America are becoming less conservative, Korea on the other hand is still classical. Cleverley's customers in that country buy black calf oxfords almost exclusively. A lot of black is worn in Japan as well but since there it is customary for men to remove their shoes each time they enter a residence or a restaurant, 60% of the bespoke shoe orders are either a casual slip-on or elastic sided shoes with imitation lacing like George Glasgow Sr.'s favorite pair in the photo. In addition, Japanese men are increasingly fonder of exotic skins and unusual colors than are men in other parts of the world.
These regional differences of course are consistent with the increased individuality that is available to the wearer of classic men's clothing today. As the formerly strict rules of what was appropriate for each social situation have faded away, men who take care with their dress are able to experiment with it more than they were a generation ago. And they are doing just that.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
He claimed in his autobiography to have much less, but according to Patrick Grant of Norton & Sons the late Duke of Windsor's wardrobe was fairly large at the time of his death:
-55 lounge suits
-15 evening suits
-3 formal day suits
-more than 100 pairs of shoes
Now far be it from me to say that any contemporary man has too much or too little but once he exceeds twenty or so suits, a dinner jacket or two and a pair of shoes for each jacket his wardrobe may properly be classified as adequate to any likely occasion. Not that he is likely to win any awards at that level - the founder of Revlon died with more than two hundred navy blue suits after all - but any more and he has entered the territory of the clothing hobbyist whether he cares to admit it or not.
Personally, I was glad to see that the Duke had more than he let on about. It gave me license to think about shoes again.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Monday, May 9, 2011
Sunday, May 8, 2011
One key to packing light for business travel is to wear a suit for the flight out, assuming that suits are required dress for the trip. Two suits will suffice for up to an entire week if they are rotated every other day, and if one of them is worn only one other need be packed.
The best travel suits of course are those that resist wrinkling. There are two excellent choices for that task that I know of, the less common of them being mohair when such can be found (and not the 70% wool lightweight stuff either). Dormeuil's Tonik for example may have some sheen but it wears like iron. The same is true of the 15-16 ounce (435-465 gram) version of Minnis' Fresco. Both cloths wear cooler than their weight might suggest and are comfortable nine months of the year (for summer travel simply substitute lighter weight fresco, Finmeresco or another high twist cloth).
Wear the travel suit with a pair of dress slipon shoes and pack a second pair that should ideally also be slipons so that either pair will ease the process of passing through airport security. Add a dress shirt for each day plus one for an extra change, a couple of knit neckties and the usual accessories. Everything should fit in a hard sided carryon about the same size as the one in the illustration.
And that is my version of packing light for business.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Say hello to the casual necktie, a slimmer but still perfectly appropriate silk knit with a horizontal pinstripe and a triangular bottom for extra style. Knitted and hand sewn in Italy exclusively for the ASW store, it adds a casual touch to summer’s olive, tan, light gray and light blue suits and odd jackets.
Try wearing one with a gold safety pin instead of a tie clip.
Friday, May 6, 2011
There are still cool days even at the end of the season, and André Churchwell has not yet put away his rope striped double breasted. Pin stripes are the default for worsteds, but the more prominent pattern has better proportions for the taller man.
The strength of the stripe is complemented by Dr. Churchwell's choice of muted accessories: white shirt, light gray necktie, patterned silk pocket square and black cap toed oxfords.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
If there is a time of year when the much maligned (in this space) Super 1xx wools come into their own, it begins in May. Supers tend to be made in what used to be thought of as tropical weights because lighter cloth uses less raw material and the customer can always buy a topcoat if he gets cold, which makes them the second best choice for warm weather business suits (the best of course are those high twist wools like Minnis fresco and Smith's Finmeresco that breathe but then I have written about them many times before and they are not available in ready to wear). So while too many retailers offer only warm weather clothing year-round, it does have a place and that is now.
The advantages of seven to nine ounce Super 120s and finer cloth are that it is light-weight, tends to wrinkle less than cotton or linen, and comes without the sheen of mohair that is not every man's cup of daywear tea. And of course it is available, which few of the high twists are on the ready to wear racks. That combination of qualities says to me that men contemplating leaving ready to wear clothing behind in favor of having their things made as I believe they should, ought probably to begin by commisioning some cold weather clothing. For if there is one time of year when the suits on the racks at the better department stores come into their own, this is it.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
The best handkerchiefs that a man can carry, or wear in his breast pocket, are Irish linen, meaning the cloth was woven in Ireland where there is more than a thousand years of linen weaving expertise.
Now, linen is a fabric made with some difficulty from the fiber of the flax plant and almost every article made in linen is also made in cotton less expensively. If it were it merely a question of price, no-one would carry or wear linen handkerchiefs however the advantages of linen are that it is stronger than cotton, smoother, and absorbs water rapidly. That means it tends to hold its shape in a jacket pocket, and is better for blowing, or for mopping up a spill.
The best size for a man's linen handkerchief is about 17" on a side. They are made as large as 19 and even 20 inches but the larger sizes tend to be bulky in a jacket pocket.
The design of the handkerchief may be plain or, for some additional cost, patterned but for use in a jacket pocket its most important characteristic is the design of the edges. There are two common finishes. The hemstitched variety in the top photograph are finished by machine.
Hand rolled edges, like the ones in the second photo, require significantly more time to sew and can cost up to twice as much as their hemstitched relations. They also look better on display.
A man may need half a dozen or more handkerchiefs for hygienic purposes but two or three should suffice for display. And as with the rest of his clothing, they should be the best he can afford.
Monday, May 2, 2011
It warmed to the low 80s (27 C) this past weekend, which is al fresco lunching weather. That brought out the first checked shirt of summer, a linen thing that was delivered last November just in time to lie unworn on a shelf for six months.
Accompanied by a cashmere and cotton suit, knit necktie, dotted silk square, and chestnut Edward Green Buckinghams with a suede apron.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
"I dislike men whose socks are so short that when they cross their legs they expose flesh. I dislike men who do not wear white shirts at night." Alexis von Rosenberg, 3rd Baron de Redé
A full-time aesthete, the late Baron de Redé was undoubtedly harder to please than most of us but his two dislikes may be taken on faith. A man should not so much as own a pair short socks for other than athletic pursuits, and should limit himself to white shirts after six o'clock.
The white shirt of course is a carry-over from the black and white of evening dress and tells others that not only is the wearer a cultured man who pays homage to tradition, he is also an experienced dresser who understands that white makes a good frame for the face under artificial light.
The wearing of white after six is hardly difficult. Many lifestyles no longer allow time for a complete change of clothes before dinner, but every briefcase accommodates a change of shirt.
Wear a white shirt at night.