Camel hair is extremely warm, just a little rough, and has been used in clothing for centuries—at least in countries where camels roam. Its rough texture (as compared to the best cashmere, that is) can be softened before it is woven into fabric, but I digress. It’s not only the camel’s hair that is so important to many; it’s also the color. A versatile beige tone that complements everything—every other color or combination of colors—it is suited to outerwear, and occasionally the odd jacket or two.
My preference, like many before me, is the camel hair overcoat; a classic that need not necessarily be woven from a camel’s hair (although the authentic is always best), and that is a smart alternative to somber topcoats worn by men during the day, especially in climes where despite the freezing temperatures, the sun shines as bright as on a summer’s day. And I prefer the classic camel hair coat—in this case by Brooks Brothers, who in this age of ‘heritage’ hip, are probably best equipped of any retailer to mine their archives for styles from a forgotten era; forgotten, that is, unless you are a fan of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. With a suit and tie, and a nice pair of brogues, you can channel your Prohibition era obsession (Speakeasies in Brooklyn?) and with jeans or khakis and a sweater or turtleneck, a New England WASP, but however you wear it, it will always be simply a mark of good taste.
Made in Italy of a thick but soft—and extremely warm—Loro Piana camel hair fabric (for ‘Made in USA’ fanatics: if the fabric is from Italy, might as well make the coat there, right?), the Brooks Brothers coat, essentially the same coat both Al Capone and J. Edgar Hoover might have worn, has a place in every man’s closet, and at a price that any wannabe bootlegger can justify. Brooks Brothers may be your grandfather’s store, but hey, your grandfather is hip.
As someone who only wears belts with sports clothes, i.e. jeans or khakis, I take the common belt rather seriously. And as someone who is fond of premium leather, hand crafted goods, and unique items of clothing, it’s always important to discover that great piece that will remain in one’s closet for decades. Belts that are not worn with suits should be made of a thick, durable leather—English bridle leather or horsehide—and have buckles that will stand out but not be too fanciful.
Marcus Wiley of Wiley Brothers Belts, based in Virginia, makes beautiful belts and buckles—the buckles are locally cast while the leather comes from England—and the understated yet substantial belt is unique enough to stand out from the standard variety one might pick up at a street stall or, if crazy enough, for a fortune at a boutique. Plus, the bridle leather will age to a wonderful patina, and unless used for extracurricular activities I won’t mention here, will also last long enough to hand down to your son. Or daughter.
The Wiley belt pairs perfectly with jeans, but also with khakis and a Harris Tweed jacket (this one is J. Crew). The scarf, in case you’re wondering, is what Iranians call a “longue’—used for washing cars, or as a wrap when going to traditional gymnasiums or to a public bath. It costs about a buck.
Life in the 21st Century seems to mean, sartorially at least, wearing jeans on just about every occasion—dressed down, or even up, with a jacket and tie (please, not with a tuxedo). A whole culture has spread around denim, from the obsessive Japanese who’ve imported century-old looms to recreate what workwear in America once meant, to websites devoted to that perfect (and, of course, selvedge) pair. Levis has their wonderful “made in USA” vintage line, carefully reproducing jeans from another era, and almost every designer and every mall store sells a particular jean, generally modeled on the traditional five pocket pant that we’ve come to know and love.
Once in a while, a tailor or designer will flirt with denim differently. One such person is Craig Robinson, who makes beautiful bespoke suits and clothing in his atelier in Brooklyn (and on 5th Avenue in Manhattan), and whose take on jeans is more Grapes of Wrath than Rebel Without a Cause. (After all, the original Levis 19th Century jeans were not the five pocket “cowboy” cut we now take for granted.) Cut like a traditional pair of trousers, with fabric from the renowned Cone Mills (and yes, selvedge), his jeans fit more like a vintage pair of khakis—high waisted, pockets on the side—and are finished on the inside. Custom made by hand, these jeans stand out in a crowd, even in Brooklyn, and are as flattering as any pair of well-made trousers. They can be worn as workwear (as he does himself), or with a tweed jacket and knit tie. Just don’t wash them too often, unless you want them to look like your dad’s, or actually, your granddad’s jeans.
While the insides can be outfitted with a never ending assortment of padded dividers and pouches to protect that valuable Hasselblad or DSLR and lenses, the great thing about the bags is that they can also be used naked—with no protective measures installed whatsoever—and thus eminently useful for photographers whose only tool is their smartphone in their pocket. The smallest bag—called a Hadley—is great for a laptop, iPad, or a book or two (if one still reads print), plus chargers, glasses, and whatever life forces one to carry around. It can be worn as a messenger bag or carried as a briefcase, and the quick-release leather straps can be replaced at will (these have, recently, for quick release, convenient as it is, means quick-wearing-out).
The larger bags, while perfect for professional cameramen on the move, are also perfect carryon bags—flattened and stuffed into overhead bins, or maxed out with a week’s worth of clothes and toiletries. The bigger bags also have an inventive strap design—one that keeps the strap from twisting—and this one of Ken’s (which he actually uses for cameras) also fits nicely on the back of a bicycle, making for an elegant, if rather luxurious, bike bag. Ken got his bag at Fotocare New York.
Fall and winter bring forth heavier wool cloth, and wool is perfectly suited to woven patterns. Many men are wary of bold-patterned suits, jackets, or pants (but not scarves it seems), but patterned, especially checkered items of clothing, are particularly stylish if worn judiciously.
The Black Watch tartan, named for the Scottish regiment, is almost ubiquitous these days, and it’s easy to see why. The subtlety of the check and the dark colors mean that one doesn’t have to be too daring to pull off wearing the plaid—whether as an overcoat, raincoat, or sports jacket, and of course shirt, which seems to be common enough these days. I prefer the patten in a jacket—this is one is a few years old, by Woolrich Woolen Mills in a boiled wool, and is more of a sporting jacket than a traditional blazer…
The Glen Plaid, or the Prince of Wales check, originally the Glen Urquhart tartan, is perhaps more daring, which makes it more interesting as a suit (and indeed why that icon of style, the Duke of Windsor née the P of W, favored the pattern). As a double breasted suit, it is striking, but to me, more of a day outfit than evening. Who says you can’t dress up for coffee?
When autumn rolls around, apart from one’s relishing the idea of being able to wear more than the bare minimum to be legally clothed, boots are inevitably a welcome addition to one’s choices of footwear. While there are many different kinds to be considered—and in Brooklyn or Japan it seems the more rugged the boot the better—it sometimes makes sense to have a pair that can function as boot but also can be smart enough to wear with a suit, almost obscuring the fact that it is a boot. (The work boot is wonderful with jeans or khakis, but I’ve never subscribed to the Timberlands- or Red Wings-with-a-suit-look, and no, sorry, it’s not really ironic.)
Alden, among other makers, makes elegant Cordovan (horsehide) boots along the same line as their dress shoes: the leather ages beautifully, and the boot can be dressed up or down. With jeans, whether walking, or riding a bike or a motorcycle in colder months, the ankle protection is a comfort, and with a suit (the boots properly polished, of course), a pair looks as good as a pair of brogues. This pair is about twenty years old, and is leather soled, which is in keeping with the dressier look. But I like a little rubber for snow and sleet days, so a local cobbler attached a Vibram sole—twelve years ago—which doesn’t add too much bulk but makes the boots practical in all circumstances. And if I ever want to revert to the leather sole, at least it’s brand new….
I’m not fond of the suit vest worn jacket-less, or the waistcoat-on-its-own look, popularized, it seems, by Brooklyn bartenders to match their impressive beards and mustaches. But while bartenders have worn a waistcoat and tie for generations (and wore impressive mustaches in the early 20th Century), it’s not a flattering look if one is not mixing drinks—and was even less flattering in the hippie days when it seemed a suit vest and flared jeans, along with the requisite shoulder length hair, was de rigueur.
I’m also not fond of the puffy vest—seemingly a trend impossible to erase—which does little to keep a pedestrian warm and is useful only if one is engaged in hard labor—construction workers come to mind. But there is, however, a place for a vest on slightly cooler days, or layered under a topcoat on even colder ones, something woolen and not styled as a waistcoat might be. This one is a Persian peasant’s vest—camelhair with a cotton lining—that is worn in colder weather by farm workers who need their arms free to do work. Similar vests can be seen, and bought, throughout South Asia, in case that visa for Iran hasn’t come through yet….
Early autumn is the time to contemplate cooler weather accessories, and practical but elegant gloves—often ignored and thought of as nothing but functional—are really as important as that favorite scarf or hat you’re dragging out of the closet. Especially in these bike-sharing and riding days in big cities.
While a good pair of peccary gloves—expensive as they might be— complete a winter outfit, for more energetic activity, let’s say, a pair of driving gloves are equally important staples of the fall and winter closet. Not the traditional driving gloves, mind you—the ones with holes at the knuckles—which if you wear them doing anything but driving a Ferrari or Aston make one look rather foolish, but a pair that resemble regular gloves but end at the wrist.
Whether riding a bicycle or motorcycle, driving a car or even just walking down the street, these gloves—crocheted on the outside of the hand and with a soft leather palm (and fingers)— allow one to still check the timepiece on one’s wrist, get a good grip on handlebars, and, of course, easily whip them off to check that damn message on one’s phone. Designed by Bradley Price, who also designs some fine timepieces in his Brooklyn workshop, Autodromo, wearing them means there’s no danger in looking anything but stylish.
A generation or two ago, men were unburdened by stuff they needed to carry around all day, even if they weren’t going to and from work. The briefcase fulfilled that obligation (although I never understood why men who had no intention of working through the evening; rather, were going to have a couple of martinis and pass out on the couch, bothered to lug papers to and from the office every day), but otherwise a wallet and keys were all a man needed. Unless, of course, he smoked, but a lighter and a pack of Camels fit nicely in any pocket.
Today, we have smartphones, the chargers or extra batteries that one inevitably needs for them, a laptop or tablet on occasion—even for a visit to the coffee shop, it seems—plus the wallet, keys, and perhaps an e-cigarette or two, if not the real kind. Whether for work or play, it’s probably not a great idea to through a laptop into a bag or briefcase completely unprotected, but many of the cases—neoprene, plastic, and even leather—are either too ugly, fancy, or impractical. I’ve always like the simple sleeve—it makes the laptop appear less hi-tech—and is no different from carrying what we used to call document cases. Alone, it’s easy to carry under one arm, and in a bag, offers enough protection from the inevitable drops or stray kicks under the table. There are plenty of sleeves to choose from, but this one from The Leather Shop is beautifully made (in the U.S.), is not as expensive as some high-end designer cases, and is understated enough to match the simple elegance of Apple products. Think hi-tech meets low-tech, but in a good way.
The Leather Shop also makes some impressive bags, and the yellow leather tote, useful for carrying a man’s stuff plus a few groceries, or at least the baguette that won’t fit in your briefcase (hey, you’re either looking out for the environment, or you live in Portand), is particularly stylish. It might be preferable to be able to walk the streets unburdened, but we all need something to carry all our stuff (apologies to George Carlin), at least sometimes.
Style and fashion magazines and blogs often feature clothes, shoes or accessories that may be wonderful, beautiful, well-made or even bespoke, but will also a command a price that for most is unaffordable. (I guess that’s why the word “aspirational” is used in capitalist societies, to defend the conspicuous consumption of the rich.)
Of course in a parallel universe there exist knockoffs, or fakes, or, I suppose, the factories in China, which supply the clothes, good and bad, that most Americans wear, either by choice or necessity. Leaving aside the question of whether one should buy clothes made in horrific conditions by workers who may be one-step up the socio-economic ladder from slaves, for if one has the luxury (and money) to boycott any company that manufactures that way in the Third or Developing World, perhaps one should (but then say goodbye to that smartphone and your laptop), it is still possible to be stylish on a limited budget.
This ensemble—worn to a runway show during NY Fashion Week, no less—cost less than $100. The jacket and shirt are both cotton, by Uniqlo, bought on sale, and together they cost $40. The jeans are grey Levis 501s from a few years ago, again, bought on sale for $30 (Levis 501s can almost always be found on sale somewhere, but sorry, these are not “Made in the USA”), and while not selvage or selvedge, does that really matter all the time, if you don’t live in Brooklyn, that is? The belt is vintage, $10 from eBay, and the shoes are Persian peasant shoes, which used to cost around $15 but are more expensive now, if you know how to get around sanctions to get them into the US. (And not wearing socks, a good option in the summer especially if you wear cotton shoes, knocks a few bucks off the total price.) One accessory, a pen in the breast pocket, unfortunately costs more than the entire outfit, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with the ballpoint that a restaurant emblazons with its name, just waiting for you to take home after signing the check.
We’re fans of vintage watches here at HoM, not for any obsessive collector reason, but simply because like many other objects from the past (think cars, furniture, etc.) there is beauty and style, in many of them that exists to a lesser degree today. Price is also a factor: for far less than what a new watch from the same brand costs at a retail store (not counting highly collectible and rare pieces that are sold at auction), one can often find vintage watches that not only express a more individual style, but work as well, or in the age of smartphones as well as watch needs to work, as a modern timepiece. And a watch is still, in my view, one of the few items of jewelry a man can and should wear all the time, even if its function is questionable.
Rolex is a storied brand, better known for its functional watches of the second half of the 20th Century (many of which, such as early Explorers or Submariners) command far higher prices used (or at auction) than new, but some of the smartest watches Rolex made were the Bubblebacks—simple, elegant, and remarkably accurate, even seventy years on. They’ve increased in price from just a few years ago when one could pick one up for a thousand dollars or less (unrestored), but are still affordable, especially the steel models, such as Ken’s. This one, from the late 40s, is unrestored—the patina on the dial shows its age and gives it character—and the crack in the crystal (easily resolved by a replacement for fifty dollars or so) can perhaps represent the inherent imperfection in analog timekeeping. Paired with a horsehide leather strap, naturally aged, it is quite simply, elegant.
The common raincoat is an item of wear that has virtually disappeared from American wardrobes, despite the resurgence of such storied brands as Mackintosh (seems that Scottish name, spelled in different ways, always signifies a certain quality—stereos, computers, etc.— doesn’t it?), and the best efforts of designers such as Thom Browne. Most city dwelling men prefer to grab a disposable umbrella during a storm, or in an era of jeans and t-shirts, make a dash across the street, water drops be damned.
There’s a strong case to be made for the raincoat, though, and Burberry and Aquascutum, to name just two British brands (based in a county where rain and a temperate climate make them indispensable) still make fine ones, from the classic trench (although not everyone can look as cool as Bogie in Casablanca) to the simple single-breasted raglan-sleeved version moody 60′s French movie stars wore on screen. The raincoat, especially with a removable wool lining, can be a good substitute for an overcoat on most winter days and in most climes (ok, maybe not in Siberia or in North Dakota), and has the advantage of versatility that a heavy wool coat lacks—a dripping wet cashmere coat is not a pretty sight, nor often an odiferous one. In fact, I think a good raincoat should hang in every man’s closet, and should see as much use as any other item of outerwear, unless one lives in Palm Springs.
In recent years style-conscious Americans have tended to buy British raincoats, if they’ve bothered to at all, and the days of American-designed and made raincoats—the kind to wear over a suit, not a jogging outfit—seemed to be over. Enter a couple of enterprising and extremely stylish Philadelphians, who have created a raincoat that rivals the best European makers’. Appropriately named American Trench, they started their company on Kickstarter, and today are purveyors of the most elegant and practical raincoats on the market. The removable hood on their coat is a touch that I, for one, am grateful for—it might obviate the need for those flimsy disposable umbrellas that fill our city’s trashcans after a heavy downpour. Excepting on the coldest of winter days, an American trench might just be the only coat I need….
Menswear designers come in all sizes and colors, and from varying backgrounds, but rarely do we come across a young man—and I mean young—who has a great sense of style and the drive to create a business from nothing. Meet the appropriately named Justis Pitt-Goodson, who started making bow ties by hand in his mom’s living room before he was sixteen (he’s seventeen now), and has expanded into neckties and even shirts, although not only the typical t-shirts one might expect from a high school senior (or much older men who should know better).
Always a sharp dresser who refused to go with the teenage fads of his day, Justis makes beautiful bow ties—adjustable with buttons no less—that wouldn’t be out of place at Bergdorf’s or Barneys. Right now he sells them at his BrownMill Clothing Co. store on Etsy, and will soon on his own e-commerce site, but apart from applauding a young man for his drive (he taught himself how to sew) and creativity, one should also applaud him for his fashion, no style, sense, and his confidence in not following the trends that his peers do.
One imagines a bright future for him as a designer and even retailer—after all, Ralph Lauren started out peddling ties—but in the meantime you can own a Justis original for less than the cost of a couple of drinks. With two brothers in the NFL this year (Jets and Cowboys), you also may well see a better dressed football player or two, post-game, that is.
No, these are not vintage photographs, but a street setup for the upcoming season of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. I always envied Nucky Thomson for his Rolls Royce (and his wardrobe) in the series, but seeing all these Model Ts parked on a street I normally associate with ugly, even garish new models, or lumbering SUVs, reminds one of a certain elegance in the uniformly black car that “everyone could afford” when Henry Ford introduced it.
From the wooden spokes on the wheels to the gray pinstripe wool upholstery (I wonder how that might look in a modern car), today everything about the automobile screams style, even though in the twenties it was a style icon only in that it was the first mass produced car. One of the characters from the show—the most stylish on television (sorry, Mad Men, you’re the runner up)—stepping out of the car, wearing a custom creation by Martin Greenfield of Brooklyn, would complete the picture. We’ll have to wait for the episode to air, to see that.
In the age of laptops, iPads, Siri and smartphones, who would have thought that the common notebook would be such an object of desire? Moleskine, the reinvented Italian company that boasts Hemingway as a one-time client, revived the blank notebook through a brilliant marketing campaign, although with their success it appears that Italy can now no longer actually produce enough of their product. China, it seems, has endless production capabilities.
For those who want their notebooks (even if they never actually write in them) to stand out from the crowd, there are hundreds of brands that make beautiful ones—from Field Notes, the good ol’ American company, to Smythson, the British outfit whose leather books are objects of envy.
Muji, the Japanese “no brand name” brand that makes wonderful objects one never knew one needed, has a terrific stationery line, attested to by the crowds in their stores trying out the latest mechanical pencil or colorful pen. Their new “Passport” notebook, however, is truly a standout. Made in Japan, where paper connoisseurship reaches ridiculous heights, it is exactly the size (and even color) of American and European passports (and most other countries’, too). With enough pages to last a vacation or business trip, or to just fill just weekly musings, it is nonetheless thin enough, and flexible enough, to cram into any pocket. Conveniently, for those who like to brandish some leather, it also fits into any passport case. Even with a real passport facing it.
It feels far more substantial than the $1.75 cost, and is elegantly simple; yet not so precious that you’ll wince when tearing out a page. Buy them by the dozen, and you’ll never run out of things to say. Or write.
August is vacation time in Europe, and many in the U.S. also take advantage of slow work weeks, the hot weather, and their kids’ free time to hit the road. These days of easy air travel (well, easy except for overbooked flights, monstrous lines at security, and inevitable multi-hour delays) means fewer people actually hit any road at all, except for the highway to and from an airport, of course.
In days past, the family vacation in a station wagon, or perhaps even in an RV or with a trailer, was de rigueur for many middle class Americans (and some Europeans too), and the ne plus ultra of campers and trailers was the Airstream.
An icon of early and mid-20th Century style, they exist today; often refurbished with the latest technology and furnishings. Objects of beauty, they can be seen in the occasional driveway, on a highway or a beach, but in large numbers at the Burning Man festival, where they have competed, aesthetically, with their owners’ looks and outfits. Or naked bodies, in too many instances.
Men once carried all sorts of objects to deal with the exigencies of life (and now we seem to think all necessities are covered by our smartphones). Men (and women, too) needed to be able to light a fire—and not just to light a cheroot—or to peel a fruit on the go,so pocket knives and matches were essential accessories for almost every gentleman. Today one also doesn’t have to be a smoker to need fire: perhaps one needs to light a candle, a incense stick, or even the charcoal for the backyard barbecue.
Smokers carry lighters; objects of style and beauty, unquestionably, especially if they are vintage Dunhill, Asprey, or Dupont, but not everyone can afford those storied brands. Enter the common matchbook; everyone has a few lying about the house. Functional and predictable, yes, but hardly stylish, not even if it’s emblazoned with one’s initials. A vesta, however, provides the perfect cover for the pedestrian object, no pun intended. Once ubiquitous but now available for a song at flea markets and eBay, a sterling matchbook cover is, to me, almost the perfect fire accessory. It looks and feels substantial, takes up no space in one’s pocket, and is an elegant table accessory to boot. Plus, refills are usually free, at least in the US, and courtesy of restaurants and cafes worldwide.
The small pocket knife—as opposed to the Swiss Army multitasking ones—is a wonderful accessory to carry (except on planes, of course). Whether to cut a loose thread, open a box, peel an orange bought at a fruit stand, or to whittle a piece of wood instead of staring at one’s phone, a knife is as useful today as it was 100 years ago. Laguiole, the French maker, makes beautiful ones—this one is the tiny version (with a 2 inch blade)—that will barely be felt in the pocket. Just don’t use it as a toothpick.
There’s no question that having a tailor make your clothes for you is the closest to sartorial nirvana, but of course most of us can’t afford bespoke suits, shirts, or bespoke anything, for that matter. That said, it is infinitely better to have one tailored suit than half a dozen off-the-rack ones that will be out of style in a year or so—my father’s generation often made do with a couple of nice suits that lasted almost a lifetime. A bespoke suit, apart from the fit and finish, allows one to express an individual style; and if not extreme in cut, will always be stylish if not entirely fashion-forward. (I still often receive compliments on my twenty-year old suits that could hardly be said to be fashionable.)
Linen is alternately praised and condemned as an ultimate summer fabric for me; praised for its breathability and comfort but condemned for its wrinkles and sometimes stiff character. But nothing looks or feels better on a hot summer day than a cream colored linen outfit—wrinkles be damned.
It’s difficult to pull of cream jackets or suits in any other fabric (winter whites notwithstanding, and then only for trousers), for a tropical weight worsted wool suit might look fine in a khaki tone but tends to look strange in cream or eggshell. The choice, if one is inclined to go with cream, is either linen or cotton. Cotton has its advantages, sure, but somehow the deeper creases and wrinkles linen develop (within minutes, at that) give the wearer that air of a devil-may-care attitude, and a well-tailored and proportioned suit will always look good, no matter how wrinkled. The wrinkles can, of course, be steamed out at the end of the day, or the suit can simply be hung outside a hot shower…
This jacket is bespoke, part of an old suit that looks good with jeans, too. Some may argue for it to be blazer it should have patch pockets and a center vent, but I say who cares? I’ve worn it as a suit to summer weddings, and I like the contrast between the formal cut of the jacket with beat up jeans. Wrinkles? You bet. It’s even been in the washing machine a couple of times, and wrinkles have steamed right out.
Linen is wonderful during these hot months, but I avoid the fabric in a shirt. Miami Vice was good, but only for the eighties.
The American flag has been—by everyone from Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger to Phat Farm and numerous others—co-opted as a style icon of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. (Perhaps no one did so better than Mick Jagger in his Altamont era.) Jasper Johns even painted it (more than once): perhaps its most beautiful rendering.
The flag—along with the Union Jack, which among world flags is perhaps the only other style icon—does lend itself to design, and the stars and stripes also send a message: not just that America is a superpower and carries weight (and burden), but also that it is a concept; flawed certainly, and not always living up to its ideals. That concept, a nation “out of many”, still holds appeal the world over, however, and the flag, in various forms and interpretations, continues to be emblazoned on chests everywhere from Tehran to Timbuktu, although not always to stylish effect.
Happy Birthday, America. May you have hundreds more, but may you also live up to your ideals, one day.
I’ve received a lot of mail concerning my Persian shoes, and Glenn O’Brien, GQ’s Style Guy, has been a long time admirer, in person and in print. I wore a green pair (self-dyed) on Bill Maher’s Real Time back in 2009, in support of the Green Movement’s Persian Spring, which, needless to say, raised a few eyebrows (all the way up to their turbans) in Tehran.
But they are a wonderfully stylish alternative to sneakers or espadrilles—cotton uppers and cotton (and leather) soles, that are virtually indestructible. Sadly, the art of making them is being lost—you can’t find any self-respecting Persian actually wearing them, not unless they’re working rural folk—and when I wear them in Iran I receive rather bemused looks from passersby. You can’t buy them in the U.S. (or anywhere else except Iran, for that matter), mainly because of sanctions, but if you know someone traveling to Iran (perhaps a journalist or someone on a tour?) ask them to pick up a pair for you in the Bazaars—you won’t regret it. Or, write to your Congressman or MP and demand that they lift sanctions on giveh—the Persian word for the shoes—because, after all, the shoes are made by artisans in the provinces of Iran where nuclear is just another word for nothing left to lose.
There’s something about motorcycles that appeals to men (and many women); perhaps it’s that man-and-his-horse thing that goes back centuries, if not millennia. After all, riding a bike is the closest thing to riding a horse, in rems of transportation, right down to the saddle sores.
A bike is also the last form of motorized transportation that can be truly bespoke, unlike automobiles, which started out that way until a certain Mr. Ford decided that what we really needed were off-the-rack vehicles. For those who can afford it, a bespoke suit, bespoke shirts, even bespoke shoes are the ultimate luxury. For those who can afford it and who still retain some rebel DNA, a bespoke bike is the not just the ultimate luxury, but the ultimate work of art, too.
There are a good number of motorcycle builders in the US and in Europe—people who do everything from modifying an existing bike (such as a Harley), to ground-up builds to a customer’s taste (and even size). One such man is Walt Siegl, whose bikes are painfully beautiful; painful as in you-don’t-want-to-ride-them-in-case-they-get-dirty painful. He works with vintage Ducati and Harley engines, and builds bikes around a completely rebuilt, every-part-new engine.
He manufactures the equivalent of “made to measure”, too (as well as true bespoke, which knows no bounds): a “standard” racer of his own design, pictured (at Achilles Heel), that is customizable. If I had one made, I might just want it for the living room. Or if I had a bar, inside, as sculpture. And, of course, to remind me and my patrons to not drink and drive.
Father’s Day should be a private celebration of dad, not another consumer-oriented holiday (though not technically a holiday since, like Mother’s Day, it’s always on a Sunday anyway). That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t buy one’s father a gift—if you’ve made it and want to get your dad that Rolex he always wanted but never got around to buying, mainly because he was saving up to put you through school or get you started in a business, then go ahead and put it on his wrist on Sunday. Better yet, find a vintage one from the year you were born, and have it engraved. It could even say, “You could have had this, but you chose to have me.” A little crass, perhaps: you’ll know better what to say.
But most of us can’t buy our fathers Rolexes or Benzes, or even that house he always wanted—so we make do with brunch and maybe a tie or shirt he’ll probably never wear. It’s the thought that counts, yes, so how about some real thought? Like a letter to father—handwritten with a fountain pen—or if you fancy yourself a bard, a poem? It doesn’t matter if what you say isn’t particularly literary, or if it won’t appear one day in the “Collected Letters Of So-And-So”; your dad knows you, and will understand you, mangled grammar and syntax and all. It’s a present that has no value at all expect to him, can’t be returned, re-gifted, or sold at a yard sale, but it will probably stay with him until his last days.
It’s probably all I’d want from a son or a daughter, unless, of course, other than if they’d shop our General Store. (Or, if they could afford, and find, a mint condition 1957 Facel Vega FV4.)
The Henley shirt is deservedly a classic, and has made quite the comeback in recent years, especially among aficionados of “heritage” style. There are now thousands of styles to choose from, at every price point, but few might know that the shirt’s name (and popularity) originated when it was worn as a part of a uniform by rowers. At Henley-on-Thames, naturally.
Although as an athletic shirt it performs admirably (or as admirably as the athlete wearing it), it is a stylish alternative to the plain t-shirt, and is, in a way, a little nicer under a sports jacket. Or under a windbreaker, this one an old custom Birdwell Beach Britches. This shirt is an HoM original—an exclusive limited edition collaboration with Yogamat Clothing—and is inspired by 1920s styles worn by Olympic athletes. Made of thick, organic cotton, right here in the U.S. by (paid) workers, the quality is unsurpassable—a shirt that will last almost a lifetime. Longer sleeves allow a cozier fit for the cold months, indoors and outdoors, while the ribbed sleeve also allows it to be rolled up to whatever length one prefers in the warmer months. Unusual for modern Henleys, this shirt has placket concealing the buttons, completing a vintage look that also looks modern in a sea of retro and vintage inspired clothing. A small breast pocket can fit a folded currency bill, a key, a matchbook, or a receipt or note paper. It is purposefully small, a nod to a time when small was plenty big enough…
Available now, in the General Store.
It’s been some time since George Costanza (of Seinfeld) struggled with an overstuffed wallet, causing him back pain, and men these days have gravitated to thinner wallets or better yet, a simple card case to carry the necessities of capitalist life: credit and debit cards, ID, business cards, and perhaps a folded up bill or two.
While there are many different styles out there—and luxurious ones abound—we felt a simple one piece, envelope style case would fit the bill (or vice versa, no pun intended). This one is handmade of highest quality bridle leather—yes, what’s used in expensive bridles and saddles, and what used to be used in bespoke English luggage—and will last a lifetime; aging beautifully and developing a unique patina, much like photograph on the drivers’ license that might be carried inside.
With no stitching to come apart, and thick enough to withstand the rigors of life in our pockets and bags yet supple enough (and will get more supple over time) to not create a bulge wherever it lives, the card case, unlike some other minimalist styles, gives one the flexibility to also carry cash, receipts, a toothpick if that’s your wont, and even a condom or two. Or three or more, when you’re feeling lucky. (I mean women, too, who have as much need for card cases as men, to say nothing of condoms.) A limited edition collaboration with Apogee Handmade, the case will be available for a short time in our General Store.
Other than wearing something like a shocking pink neon blazer, wearing a Madras jacket might be as attention grabbing as possible (camouflage used to be like that before it went mainstream). But loud as it may be, it is extremely comfortable, cool in the summer, and in an unconstructed jacket such as this one (vintage Ralph Lauren) fits like an old shirt.
Don Draper might wear one with a pair of gray slacks and a solid tie—you can certainly replicate that look, but I like the jacket with khakis, or in this case, with tropical weight wool trousers for a clean look that contrasts nicely with the haphazard design of the coat. White bucks are a good choice for footwear, but mine were destroyed a few years back. So suede Keds (by Mark McNairy) do the trick, and perhaps better for shifting gears on this monster of a motorcycle—a BMW GS, the SUV of motorcycles (albeit without the requisite carbon footprint)—that is a dream for navigating the potholes of the city. It will remain a dream, however, as I make do with my trusty, but slowly rusting, Vespa….
Madras, the golf course favorite of many an American male, is an exceedingly comfortable summer fabric—originating in Chennai (once called Madras), India. As loud as an item of clothing can be, and befitting the American reputation for our occasional loudness, it is nonetheless appropriately stylish, especially when worn with a certain nonchalance.
It works especially well paired with a t-shirt and snug denim jacket (vintage 1960s US-made Lee, in this case), and Kenyatas sneakers, which although I’m generally opposed to wearing for non-athletic endeavors, I’m willing to make exception for on occasion. Especially if they’re made not in an Asian factory but in Kenya, as these are. When was the last time you wore an Indian fabric (by Brooks Brothers, no less) with African shoes? Anti-colonialists rejoice: clothing from three continents, all encompassing former colonies.
As for other items of Madras clothing—such as jackets—yes; I do have an opinion…
Loafers seem to go in and out of fashion on a regular basis, which is a good thing if you keep your shoes for longer than a season or two, since the return of loafer style is usually right around the corner. We’ve turned that corner this year, and although the chunky shoe is still very much “in”—and brogues and cap toes aren’t going away anytime soon—my preference is for a leaner silhouette for loafing.
This 15 year old pair is by Edward Green, and the shoe reflects the more English or European style of loafer, which is narrower, longer, and with a higher vamp. Works equally well with or without socks (I prefer sock-less in the Spring and Summer), and with casual wear or a slim suit. Heavier loafers, like the Alden Cordovan model or Bass Weejun (Penny loafers) are staples in many a shoe closet, including mine, but there’s something a little more distinctive about a pair that is utterly unlike the thick-soled shoes we see on the streets of New York, London, Tokyo and, of course, Brooklyn.
The polo shirt is a summer staple in most men’s (and women’s) closets, and there are literally thousands of styles, colors, and fabrics out there. The legendary Lacoste crocodile and the ubiquitous polo pony adorn many a chest, but so does the Fred Perry wreath these days, and you can even sport a marijuana leaf on your favorite shirt, if that’s your style (you rebel, you). And of course you can go logo-less at virtually every price point; some of the least expensive shirts are sometimes the most understated.
While the piqué polo shirt, with its banded collar and sleeves, works perfectly on the tennis court (as Rene Lacoste discovered way back in the late 1920s), and is perhaps the ideal shirt to wear (and most elegant) while balancing atop a galloping pony with a mallet in hand, the soft cotton version, with a soft collar, is somehow more elegant when wearing a suit or blazer. Strictly speaking not really a polo; rather, just a more casual short sleeve shirt a step or three above a t-shirt, it’s less common in the right fabric and fit (please, no oversized synthetic blends seen on many golf courses or the occasional dad, with his sleeves hanging by the elbows), but Save Khaki, a small NY based outfit makes what I think may be the perfect version; something that Cary Grant might have worn in To Catch a Thief. Available in thin or wide stripes (in their store, but not on their website; although available at other sites such as Steven Alan’s), it’s a reasonably priced, made in America item that to me is the perfect warm weather shirt—whether with jeans or khakis, or with a trousers and a blazer.
With the imminent release of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, we’re bound to see a revival of certain 1920′s styles—in fact,Brooks Brothers has already unveiled their “Gatsby” collection of clothes and accessories inspired by their role as outfitters to the film. And spectator, or correspondent shoes, are, as expected, in that collection.
They can be difficult to pull off wearing without the look seemingly contrived, but spectator shoes are nonetheless beautiful. They can be part of a full-on vintage 20s look, just like Leonardo will appear, or one can just wear them with jeans–in this case, Peal & Co. for yes, you guessed it, Brooks Brothers shoes, albeit circa 1995, not 2013. And paired with Levis Vintage Clothing 1955 501s, at Cubana Social, Williamsburg, where no look is ever contrived. 1925, 1955, 1995, 2013….and the look goes on…
Seersucker, the summer fabric once associated with the genteel American South (or, sometimes less-than-gentle Southern Governors and Senators), the New England establishment, and preppies the world over, is now de rigueur for fashion conscious men everywhere. Fortuitously so, as it is probably the most comfortable and lightest of cotton fabrics, that happens to look terrific in a jacket or as a suit.
The word ‘seersucker’ comes from (and is the anglicized version of) the Persian expression sheer-o-sheekar, or ‘milk and sugar’, and originated in Mughal India, where Persian was the lingua franca. While suiting was traditionally cream with blue stripes, these days one can find the stripe in an array of pastel colors—I particularly like pink and green. This jacket though, an old Italian one, unconstructed and unlined with a dove gray stripe, came from Bergdorf Goodman and has been through the wash enough times that it has begun to fray at the cuffs, just as I like it. And being unconstructed, the roll-over third button can actually be buttoned, which looks especially good when worn with tie.
Speaking of ties—and as a fan of knits—I like bright colors for spring and summer, and I’m told electric blue is the color of the moment. Good news, I suppose, since I happen to usually pull this one out when the clocks Spring Forward. Oh, and for those who argue that seersucker, along with white, mustn’t be worn before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, I say if the temperature hits 80 degrees in April, as it often does in our age of climate change, go for it.
There are thousands of options when it comes to bikes—everything from cheap Chinese-made, and yet quite stylish, rides, to vintage bikes, and to bespoke hand-made cruisers or racing models. I think a bicycle should be practical, elegant, and not cost as much as a car—not unless you’re riding one to win the Tour de France—and there are many choices of manufacturer building beautiful bikes here in the U.S. Budnitz is one such outfit: their bikes are simple, technologically advanced, and as beautiful as a bicycle can be. From the belt drive (which obviates the need for clips to keep oil off one’s trousers, in this case part of a rather nice linen blend J.Crew Ludlow suit) to the disc brakes, pedals that really grip regular shoes, and the light frame, this model, No. 3 Honey Edition, attracted my eye also for its classic styling, reminiscent of racers from a distant past. And the large, whitewall tires are particularly welcome on the uneven and perpetually pot-holed streets of NY.
Unlike the US auto industry, American bicycle manufacturers aren’t striving to build “the Cadillac” of bikes: they’re building the Bentleys, Aston Martins, and yes, the Packards of two-wheeled, human-powered transportation.
Spring is a time to think about and sometimes even wear straw hats—genuine Panamas (always made in Equador, not Panama), wannabe Panamas, and other models. This one, photographed by Ken in Costa Rica, isn’t the né plus ultra of Panamas—which can cost thousands—but is a genuine one, and yes, does roll up nicely to go into one’s carry on.
The collection of hats displayed in Cartagena, and spotted by the peripatetic Ken, makes one yearn for the warm, sunny days that will make wearing one a necessity, or simply a pleasure.
Actually, the only ‘sandal scandal’ is wearing a pair with socks. Otherwise, except for leather flip flops, I’m a big fan of sandals, especially on summer weekends, and especially away from the sidewalks of a gritty city (with or without a linen suit). And in the gritty city of New York, there’s Barbara Shaum’s shop, in the East Village, where you can have a pair custom made.
Bespoke sandals may seem an extravagance, and perhaps they are, but when you can have a pair made exactly as you want them—with a perfect fit, no less—at the price of one the better designers’ models, why not? Barbara is a NY fixture, written about everywhere for her long career (over 50 years) making sandals, belts, or some other leather item you fancy, and her craftsmanship is as good as it gets. Yes, there are shops in Florence where you can have a nice pair made for you, and in parts of Africa bespoke is the only option (and a good one, at that), but if you’re in NY on hot day, I defy you to walk into Barbara’s shop on E. 4th Street and not walk out with an order.
Shelter magazines are full of examples of beautiful bathrooms, and I’ll admit I have a soft spot for big tubs set in the middle of a room. A living room, in this case, although it is very much part of the bathroom in a converted tenement building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. A friend took over the whole apartment house, small by any standards, and lives on the top two floors. His idea for his bathroom—there’s a standalone shower, too—makes one want to take a soak while admiring the view of Manhattan, something he has, sadly, yet to encourage.
Red Wing boots have rightfully enjoyed a renaissance for a number of years now—among aficionados of “heritage” American brands in the US and abroad, but also as stylish footwear for the winter months.
Their new made in Maine chukkas (part of Red Wing’s Heritage Brand), however, while maintaining the quality and durability of a pair of Red Wing boots, are appropriate year round—with or without socks. Lighter than boots and with a soft sole, they work with khakis or jeans, and this pair, the “Sage Mohave”, is a particularly nice color.
You don’t need a vintage red Ford truck to complement the look, but it doesn’t hurt, especially if the truck isn’t as pristine as the chukkas are at first.
I’m a fan of denim shirts, as long as one doesn’t wear them with denim. Good with a suit and tie, I think, but it’s not easy finding an elegant non-Western shirt—perhaps someone will make an off-the-rack one, one day.
This one (by American Apparel) is great—no button down collar, which I don’t think is right for a thick material like this—and a collar bar works nicely with it. It’s not exactly denim, but close enough for comfort (literally). With a solid wool tie—customized here by myself with three different Sharpies—and a tweed suit (with very baggy trousers) that reminds me of my geography teacher in English boarding school, it’s a departure, but not so far, from Downton Abbey.
Very few modern automobiles, as good and even as beautiful as many are, can quite convey style the way cars from another era did. American cars, from the earliest models to the bloated ships of the sixties, were almost always style statements; no matter for the size of wallet they were designed for.
Buick, the solidly middle class automobile (often called the “Doctors’ car” at a time when physicians weren’t millionaires and most made house calls) was no exception. The “Eight”, produced from the thirties to the early fifties, was an exceptionally beautiful model, down to its emblem, and coming across one on a New York street—this one an early forties model—is an unexpected visual treat.
There are many quality brands of jeans (and a new one every day, it seems). Although I admire makers who are cutting and sewing denim the traditional way in the US and Japan, I tend to stick to Levi’s 501s. I prefer the Vintage line, 1955s, and these cinch-back 1933 501s. Except I like to cut off the cinch.