The quest for the perfect white t-shirt——either as undershirt or to be worn on its own—-doesn’t end with a season, not even in the midst of a polar vortex. And that quest can be frustrating in these days of cheap offshore-manufactured goods (to say nothing of the guilt associated with purchasing a garment made by slaves, some of whom may even be dead from a horrific factory fire), and of “heritage” and therefore wildly expensive US-made brands (not actually made, though, by Americans). The days of picking up a 3-pack of perfect T’s from Penney’s or Sears (or even the local clothing store) are over, and while some have tried to bring back the perfect basic T, results are, at best, mixed.
Enter a new kid on the block——the L.A. block, that is——who makes what may be the perfect T at the perfectly reasonable price. Reminiscent of the T-shirts of the fifties and sixties, it is close-fitting, has the right shaped collar (neither too high nor too wide), is made of soft, lightweight white cotton, and like your Levis, shrinks-to-fit (you). Affordable enough to stock a handful in your closet and flattering enough to wear sans shirt, the Dyer & Jenkins white t-shirt (the company is named after a general store in the Clint Eastwood movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales”) may mean the quest is over.
It’s only a month into winter in this year of the polar vortex, and we (in the midwest and east coast of the U.S., plus many other places on the planet) can’t live indoors all the time, or venture out only in boots and polar gear. Not for another two months, anyway. Occasionally, we’ll want to put on dress shoes despite the snow, ice and subzero temperatures. Leather soled shoes are fine, as long as you slip in a pair of felt liners to prevent frozen toes——these are alpaca felt from Purely Alpaca, made in the U.S. and very affordable, to say nothing of very comfortable——and if the shoes are made from shell cordovan, like these happen to be, snow, salt and grime will just wipe right off. Wearing a pair of thick wool socks, such as this colorful Nordic pair from Anonymous Ism of Japan, is also probably good policy.
Jeans are not ordinarily recommended when the thermometer dips well below freezing and refuses to budge——unless you’re comfortable with a decent pair of long johns (and who isn’t?). There are plenty of choices out there, including ridiculously warm 100% wool ones, but I prefer a thick cotton against the skin, and these 70/30 cotton/wool ones from Norse Projects do the trick. Plus you have to remember that the pants do come off at some point, perhaps in front of someone, so why not make those long johns an object of envy rather than derision? And what did our moms say about nice, clean underwear when going out, in case we ended up in an accident and the hospital?
Last week’s polar vortex (a phrase now forever in the American vocabulary) taught us athing or two about dressing for the cold. The real cold. The first thing it taught us was that there is actually no way to dress for the subzero, even subarctic cold. The second thing it taught us was that if we do have to venture outside——as our ancestors must’ve done regularly and survived—-is that we need to layer much more than fashion dictates. There are ways, however, to still be stylish on the brutally cold days and remain somewhat warm. For a few minutes, anyway.
Wool is terrifically warm, and washed wool even warmer. Washing sweaters makes them thicker, but also shrinks them, so a thick washed wool sweater——this one by the Swedish company Our Legacy, and the Swedes know cold——is a great way to keep the upper body warm without resorting to a puffy vest, which only makes one look, well, puffy (save the puff for outerwear or skiing, if at all). In the next Polar Vortex——and another one is sure to come——I break my rule about tucking any sweater thicker than single ply cashmere into the pants. It keeps the waist terrifically warm, and if your pants aren’t too tight or low-waisted, can be a retro-nerd look that isn’t as unflattering as it sounds.
A parka is essential for any day below 20 degrees, preferably a military quality one (this one an old made in the USA one by Spiewak), and thick wool, not denim, pants. A fluorescent wool watch cap, although not essential, could help to identify one if one is lost, delirious from the cold, or if you just want to draw attention to yourself on a day when no one is actually looking up from the sidewalk.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…..
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.
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.
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.
Handkerchief tied around the neck is as old a style as wearing clothes themselves–and used to be about practicality. This is Dastmal Yazdi, handkerchiefs from the central Iranian city of Yazd, in either cotton or silk. Warm in the winter, to absorb perspiration or wipe your brow in the summer. A vintage Lee denim jacket and a Saville Row suit might be an odd combination, all the more so with an Iranian scarf, but who cares?