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.
As more and more cities create bike lanes, provide bicycle parking, and discourage the use of four-wheeled transportation, the utilitarian bicycle has become, if not a necessity, a valuable possession few city-dwellers are willing to live without. And as with everything else in public life, style is as much about what you ride as it is about what you wear, or how you carry yourself.
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.
Fashion Week in NY (or Paris, or Milan) can make for a curious sight for the accidental tourist—hordes of men and women congregating at various locations across the city, looking as though they’ve just stepped off the runways themselves—and unless one is in the business oneself, appears to be an exhibition of vainglory. Shows can be fun, though, whether for pure amusement (and sometimes mockery), or to witness a particular designer’s rather special sense of style. Mark McNairy’s show, dubbed “The Eagle Has Landed”, was in the latter category, with his perfectly but casually dressed four-year-old son in the front row paying reasonably close attention to his father’s interpretation of American style…
On a slushy and rainy NY day, and realizing your shoes need a quick polish before sitting in the front row of a runway show, a finger always helps. I know colored laces are all the rage these days, but somehow pink works nicely with a pair of traditional brogues and a conservative suit…
And always point at the man in the gray flannel suit, she thinks, but not with your fingers.
I’ve been known to express (in writing, no less) my dismay at the lost art of travel, and my distaste of, or even allergy to, wheeled luggage; to say nothing of my horror at the display of atrocious style in today’s airports, train stations, and ocean-going liners. Luggage is as important to me as any sartorial choice in travel— as with dress, one does want it to be as convenient and comfortable to use as possible— and, yes, I do understand that wheels make carting suitcases around airports, now that porters are nowhere to be found, rather easier. But to me nothing seems less elegant than pulling or pushing a suitcase, unless you’re over 70, and besides, just how heavy can a suitcase be? Will the little physical exertion required to carry a suitcase twenty yards or so really kill you?
I would love to have Goyard make me a custom wardrobe suitcase or trunk, one with little drawers and hangers so that I’d never have to unpack on trip, but alas I can neither afford it nor would such a case be practical for travel today, unless one is traveling with a valet and a footman on one’s own plane or yacht. I settle for suitcases I’ve had for years— an ancient Globetrotter (before the re-branding that brought re-pricing) that has needed little care over the years except a change of locks; a Tanner Krolle bridle leather suitcase that works as good as new, except for the deep gashes and scratches that come from handing over your luggage to airlines to care for, and a bridle leather carry-on that has endured far more abuse, including being checked in on occasion, than a leather case deserves. Since I dislike shoulder straps (I’m not a schoolboy) as much as I dislike wheels, a vintage 40′s briefcase, that happens to fit inside the carry-on, is my preferred vessel for a laptop, notebook, and books. I may get a little more exercise than I want to when traveling, but I say it’s worth the effort…
A vintage belt buckle from the 30s in sterling silver–found at a flea market. They can still be found, on eBay too, and are terribly elegant. I had this one plated in rose gold some 15 years ago–the leather belt was bought separately in 1992. And, yes, I think Bills makes the best Khakis…
Narrow ties are great, with the right outfit of course. They look silly with double breasted suits, and sillier if you are styling a 70′s sport coat from your dad’s closet. There have always been narrow ties, even at the height of 70s excess, and I have a couple I’ve kept for years. (The advantage in keeping old ties is that one day they will be truly unique, an you will never appear in the same (or similar) tie as someone else at a party, or at work.) Ties allow us to express individuality, although I tend to draw the line at ties that scream “look at me!”
So stripes in unusual colors, plain solids, woven patterns, and yes, the occasional Hermes tie, should happily coexist in any closet. Choosing a tie from a lesser-known maker, or from a designer that doesn’t produce a pattern by the millions, is preferable as far as I’m concerned since I like my tie to have few brothers roaming the planet, or to be an only child if at all possible. A Matsuda tie from the eighties is one of my favorites, but I get also complimented on my Michele Savoia tie that I believe to be one of a kind. And if a favorite tie is simply too wide to be ever worn under any circumstances (say, if it exceeds 3.5 inches), Tie Crafters in NY will size it down professionally to whatever width you like, breathing new life into your closet for less than the cost of couple of beers.
Eyeglasses, or at least well-made and stylish ones, are extremely expensive these days. Plenty of designers offer good styles, but I prefer to get my glasses on eBay. They can be American or French made; vintage new old stock, and although buying a pair like this can be hit or miss once you receive them and try them on, they’re inexpensive enough to make it worthwhile. Virtually any style is available, but I particularly like American Optical…and fifties French frames.
I’m a big fan of hats, all kinds of hats (except baseball caps), and rue the day, in my childhood, when American men decided leaving the house bare-headed was appropriate and proper etiquette for a gentleman. For those of us who live in parts of the planet that have four seasons, though, one of which can be brutally cold (at least for now, until all the polar caps melt), a fedora or newsboy hat, as elegant as they can be, don’t quite cut it in those months when warmth is the primary consideration, especially ’round the ears.
Watch caps, or beanies, then, are a favored if not essential accessory, but whether in cashmere, wool, cotton or synthetics, they can be boring and uninspiring. In recent years various designers have offered colorful caps, and the striped French fisherman classics are seemingly all the rage in New York these days, but Danish designers Norse Projects offer an incredibly soft merino wool cap that is thick, warmer than cashmere, and somehow sort of après ski elegant, no? For the ski itself, naturally, they offer virtually the same cap, but with a pom-pon (or pompon or pom pom or pom-pom, as you prefer). Wear it if you dare.
Surf wear—and surf & skate shops—are all the rage, it seems, and unless one embodies that lifestyle, wearing some of the surf inspired items can seem, well, a bit forced. But everyone needs a good sweatshirt, and good t-shirts, and M.Nii, an old Hawaiian surf wear company that started out making board shorts, makes the best.
The soft but thick, long-wearing fabric, the classic cut, and most importantly, the understated designs, make these sweatshirts and t-shirts versatile enough to wear with almost anything, almost anywhere. I particularly like their indigo blue sweatshirts—the wide single stripe adds a collegiate touch that gives personality to what might be beautifully made, but otherwise ordinary looking. And there’s nothing ordinary about the shirts that M.Nii make, right here in the U.S.A
(Surf boards photo taken at Pilgrim, Brooklyn, NY.)
Yes; necessity is the mother of invention, or in the case of Cubans, the mother of utilization. But good style is sometimes making the best of what you can have, just like the lovingly maintained, rebuilt, or re-engineered vintage cars Cuba is famous for. In a Havana apartment, belt and trousers belonging to a gentleman, aged to perfection just like the cigars he still smokes…..
I don’t really believe in phone cases, not even the minimalist “condom” ones. You change your phone almost as often as you change your underwear, so what’s the big deal if it has a couple of scratches on it? Okay, so the resale value is lowered if it’s not pristine; fair enough. (And the clumsier among us might want to avoid the repairs that the inevitable five foot drops result in.)
One reason I do like cases, however, particularly for smartphones, is that if they completely enclose the instrument, one is less likely to constantly glance at it over dinner, annoying one’s companions at best and being seen as a complete boor, at worst. Let’s face it, phones are now an addiction not unlike tobacco, and something can help us kick the annoying habit, all the better. (Nikita Kruschev, legend has it, had Soviet engineers design a cigarette case that would eject one cigarette per hour, and no more. Of course, legend also has it, he kept a spare pack in the other pocket and chain smoked away.)
So, a nice leather pouch, one that completely encloses an iPhone, might help one cut down on obsessive checking of Twitter feeds, and has the added benefit of making the phone look, well, not like a phone and more like a wallet. (Or a cigar case, enclosing the other habit one might want to be weaned off.) Sitting on the table, it will look better, and will definitely make you think twice about extracting the phone while someone is telling you an amusing anecdote…this one is by Apogee Handmade; one piece of natural leather that will age, and acquire a patina, more beautifully than any of us will.
Tie clips are fashionable these dandified days, perhaps because of the influence of period shows like Mad Men, which have contributed greatly to elevating the sartorial awareness of American men. It’s a handy thing, the tie clip; it attaches one’s tie to one’s shirt, preventing it from flapping around, and makes for a neater appearance while also affording one an opportunity to show some flair and flash some jewelry other than a watch, cufflinks, or a ring. Many men are seemingly confused about the proper placement of a clip— some wear it far too high, which renders it less than satisfactory as a clip but also looks silly. Unless you’re Lebron James, who wears it so high in his Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year photo that it replaces the actual knot of the tie (an idea no one seems to have come up with before, and which I will not attempt until an NBA team recruits me).
The clip should be worn right around where you’d button your jacket (and should never be worn with a double breasted suit)— it can be seen, but should not be heard. There are all kinds of clips available, from very inexpensive to ridiculously priced, but I like to keep it simple— a vintage Tiffany & Co. in this case, found years ago at a flea market, in gold and silver. Heavy enough to hold the tie and feel substantial (and increase in value with the price of gold), but discreet enough, too. Although probably not for LeBron.
Brooklyn, and particularly Williamsburg, is gentrifying at a pace that rivals any other NY neighborhood. With the gentrification, and the now oft-maligned and sometimes deservedly mocked hipster scene, always comes shopping. Joining other small boutiques specializing in the authentic American look of yesteryear, new bespoke suit makers, artisanal chocolate makers and overly obsessive coffee grinders, H.W. Carter & Sons has just set up shop, conveniently only a block away from a subway line that will get you from a fully gentrified downtown Manhattan to Brooklyn in less than ten minutes.
Soon to become a Japanese visitor’s mecca, Carter, an old New England brand, specializes in work wear, but the shop carries other brands too, mostly made in the USA goods, and is a warranted destination for young men in terrifically well groomed mustaches (and beards), but also for regular folk who want the occasional high quality casual wear gear, or even a tie or a jacket, not made by slaves half way across the world. Oh, and they still make and sell work aprons, for those of you who like to make your own things.
An old solid wrench, bought for a couple of dollars at a flea market, is useful as a wrench for an entire lifetime, but also as a paperweight (if you still have any paper). A vintage folding Stanley ruler, also costing only a few dollars, does a lifetime job, if you still have anything physical to measure; and an elegant old ivory bookmark works perfectly, if you still have any books to read. A bridle leather box, this one an early Bill Amberg, is the way to store notes and letters. If you still have friends who send you any, that is.
I’ve always worn khakis, at least since college, that is, when I’d get them from an Army Surplus store near campus that at time still carried real US Army surplus apparel. They were cheaper than any other item of clothing I could buy, were extremely comfortable, and although unfashionable then (in the waning years of hippie culture and well before preppy style), they looked good and, I thought, provided contrast to the sea of flared jeans on everyone under 22. Later, as the supply of well-made army khakis inexplicably dried up, I turned to Bills Khakis, made in Pennsylvania by yes, Bill, who bemoaned the paucity of options when it came to khakis, but unlike me, did something about it by starting a company to make essentially the same pants he had worn in college. Pants that properly sit on the waist, not the hips, and are true to their military origins.
I still love khakis, despite the dreadful tendency towards Casual Friday uniformity—think Steve McQueen and not your sartorially challenged boss—but the soft cotton fabric can be a little chilly in the winter, especially if, like McQueen, you’re prone to hopping on a motorcycle for a spin around town. Enter flannel-lined khakis, and Bills has that covered, too. Years ago I had a pair of his khakis lined in red flannel that survived a cycle spill and a few brutal Northeast winters, but now his are lined in plaids, a nice touch of personality to show off, at the cuff that is.
Socks, like a tie or pocket square, can express one’s individuality no matter the clothes one’s wearing—bespoke suits (believe me, you’re not the only one), or selvedge jeans (again, you and a million other men). Fred Astaire, with his impeccably tailored suits and what can only be described as perfect style, can be seen in classic films wearing bright blue or red socks with an otherwise conservative outfit. Today there are many choices for colorful or patterned socks, but sometimes the old standbys work just fine (or actually better).
Original Rockford red-heeled socks, in continuous production in the US for decades and known as the “sock monkey” socks, now come in a rather nice pink, as well as light blue, and although they work perfectly with jeans, I also wear them with less casual outfits. You can’t, after all, see the heels until you take your shoes off, but they do make a good conversation piece at homes where shoe removal at the door is obligatory. And when they wear a bit thin, yes, you can actually still make an original sock monkey from them, which just might amuse—for a moment at least—a kid being raised on iPads and electronic games.
Sometimes you’re walking on the sidewalk and something catches your eye—something particularly stylish (or sometimes particularly hideous). Bicycles are as plentiful as rats in The Big Apple, although fortuitously, these days, one sees bicycles a little more often than those much-maligned creatures (unless one is trekking along subway tracks, of course). There are beautiful bikes, ugly bikes, custom bikes and vintage bikes in various states of disrepair, but this one, a vintage bike not quite restored to perfection, but with the obligatory and now ubiquitous Brooks saddle and an American saddle bag, was just perfect. The gentleman (or lady) who rode and parked this has to be particularly stylish, I imagine.
For some reason Black Tie invitations today seem to mean that one can wear anything approximating black, or anything approximating a tie. (The tie means bow tie, by the way, not a black necktie.) It’s a shame, really, and the parade of celebrities wearing atrociously ugly versions of tuxedos at award ceremonies serves to only encourage men to take liberties with their dress that they shouldn’t. Of course certain liberties can show a sense of style, even whimsy, without offending the sensibilities of the style police.
My father’s tux, which I’ve inherited, is an early 1970′s Aquascutum, but the style is as fresh today as it was forty years ago (well, my father was pretty conservative in his dress, which meant his suits could outlast most trends). A single button peak lapel jacket and straight leg, no pleats trousers, is pretty straightforward, except the fabric has a black-on-black paisley pattern, almost invisible until either light shines on it, or you get really close. The paisley is a classically Persian design—and my father was happy to advertise his heritage, however subtly. And yes, it comes with a cummerbund, which just happens to be the Persian word for belt.
Yeah, traditional Mexican shoes. Here, updated stylishly by Industry of All Nations— about as elegant a loafer you can buy, for a fraction of the price of Italian or French shoes, and just as well-made. A wool blend upper, a rubber sole for trekking the canyons of the city. Plus, lined in that wool felt, which means you can wear with or without socks. The plaids work with jeans or a suit, the solid is a staple…or heck, maybe get both for less than a Benjamin.
There is a trend these days, it appears, to accessorize one’s keys. A large number of fancy and not so fancy keychains, key holders, and key fobs are on the market, providing men with one more accessory item to show off their style (or wealth) with. Although some have argued that the popularity of key chains or holders is due to men’s lack of jewelry options, I’d suggest that finding a good way to deal with the inevitable jumble of keys we must carry has always been a struggle; well before men cast their envious eyes at the female species’ plentiful options for jewelry or accessories.
I have always carried my keys on a chain, in this case an antique watch chain (to which I added a clasp to attach to a belt loop), but a nice, and small, leather holder prevents them from jangling in the pocket or scratching that nice phone screen that could be sharing its space. This simple and inexpensive holder, from the folks at Studio Gorm, comes in a thick, natural leather, which ages beautifully to a dark brown, and will last longer than the apartment whose keys it holds.
Cufflinks usually are, other than a watch, the only jewelry a man wears. Silk knots, or in this case reversible to silk bars, are simple, elegant, and very inexpensive.
Perhaps I’m a contrarian, but the bigger wristwatches get the smaller I want mine to be. I understand why one needs a chunky, oversized watch when diving, or maybe when piloting a helicopter, but I don’t understand the point of wearing a clock on one’s wrist. Might as well go all the way, like Flavor Flav, and wear it around the neck— at least that’s original.
I like vintage watches, both for how they look and because they’re often very affordable (I of course like and appreciate the holy trinity of watchmakers; Patek Phillipe, Vacheron Constantin, and Audemars Piguet, but few of us, including me, can afford their wares.) It seems in the past watchmakers made watches to fit on wrist, not to encompass it, and there’s something elegant about an understated watch on a man’s wrist, one that requires the lady seating next to you at the bar to ask you what time it is, rather than merely glance at the monstrosity you’re flashing, which might just tell her it’s time to leave.
The Gruen Curvex, from the forties, is a classic design and can be picked up at any good vintage watch shop, or even on eBay from a reputable dealer for less than the cost of a good leather strap. (I like Cordovan leather straps from Horween— the last supplier of tanned horsehide in the U.S.) The 1940′s Omega military watch, a good size but not overpoweringly so, was purchased at a shop overseas, also for less than the strap cost, and needed a crown (found on eBay) and a minor adjustment— years later it still runs better than most new watches. Then again, if you really need that kind of accuracy, you always have your phone.
In the (often faux) retro-crazed first decades of the 21st Century (Mad Men/Banana Republic?), it’s refreshing to look back at true vintage style from the previous century; style we sometimes seem desperate to emulate (Williamsburg, anyone?) Joe Browar (right) and pal strolling down a street in the early fifties look as cool as it gets, and they seem to know it. The haircuts–pomade obligatory–were weekly affairs for a buck or two, the sunglasses were perhaps Raybans or American Opticals, but Joe’s t-shirt is perfection. So is the way he’s wearing it. His high-waisted, deeply pleated pants are definitely not fashionable by today’s exaggerated 1960′s standards, but if you saw this man walking toward you tomorrow, even without the requisite tattoos, would you not think he might be the most stylish person on the street? The pinkie ring only completes the look (hey, Bogie wore one)…