While I continue to hold that shorts have no place in the city, reserved as they should be for weekends or summer vacation in the country or at the beach, I’m willing to concede that in hot climates, and if one’s profession involves much lounging about, they might be appropriate on days when the temperature climbs above 86 degrees (30C) or so——style be damned. However if one chooses to go naked below the knee (and it should never be an inch or so more above the knee), there are choices in short trousers that can be stylish, if not quite exactly elegant.
The temptation to cut off the legs of a pair of khakis or jeans should be avoided—-trousers designed to be full length will almost always look a little odd in the thigh with amputated legs, and jean cutoffs, while appropriate for women, lost their appeal on men somewhere in 1972. Cargo shorts are impossible; bad enough as long pants, they look ridiculous as shorts and if you have cargo, get a bag. The Bermuda short (which lands barely below the knee), looks terrific in Bermuda on a Bermudan, and is probably the closest to chic one can get while avoiding the AC/DC band member, or English schoolboy look, but slightly more modern takes on the Bermuda——a slimmer cut and a slightly lower waist—-achieve the look while being a little less stuffy. And inexpensive is worth striving for; this cotton pair is from Muji, the Japanese no-brand store, and costs less than $40. With a simple unstructured cotton jacket and a pair of loafers, you can almost get away with wearing them to dinner; with sneakers (for example these suede Mark McNairy Keds), you might want to stick to lunch.
It’s summer (on June 21, anyway), and it’s the season of bright sun and warm, or hot, days. Almost every men’s magazine or blog is extolling the virtues of a straw hat—-especially the Panama, which of course is woven in Ecuador—-and for good reason. A good hat will keep the sun’s rays out of one’s eyes and protect the skin of the face, and balding heads, from the ravages of our otherwise friendly star.
The Panama, which has gone in and out of fashion ever since the building of the Panama Canal (hence its name), seems more popular than ever, and there are now a myriad of styles that may well be woven in Ecuador but are nothing like what bosses wore with their linen suits at the turn of the last century. Not that there’s anything wrong with a straw hat of any kind—-not even those made in China, sometimes of paper and not straw—-but there’s something to be said about a real Panama; a hat that will outlast fashion trends and you might even be able to hand down to your progeny. Male or female.
Genuine Panamas, especially Montecristis, can cost a fortune, and depending on the hatmaker or milliner one might even spend in the thousands of dollars for a weave so fine that the hat feels like a superior cloth—-and yes, you can indeed roll those up. But there are fine Panamas at far more affordable cost, from venerable houses such as Borsalino, that can still last a lifetime and look as good as anything you might see on the Rue Faubourg or Madison Avenue. This one is classically shaped fedora, with a tan band (rather than the traditional black), and wearing it either brim up or brim down (in harsh sunlight) can be either a statement of fashion, or just pure whim. Hats are fashionable, yes, but they are functional too. And the function is to help keep a cool head and block the sun—-so if you’re blocking the sun, it’s good to remember that wearing sunglasses with a straw hat is still somewhat gauche, for the same reason, say, as wearing suspenders with a belt.
The seventies are considered the nadir in 20th Century men’s (and women’s) fashion—-and for good reason. Polyester suits, ridiculously wide lapels to go with tight pants that ballooned into elephant flares, busy prints and of course, home decor that matched one’s outfits. Today’s fashions may one day be viewed the same disdain we view the seventies’——ridiculously narrow lapels on jackets, trousers that sit below the waist and so on (will double monk strap shoes seem outdated in 30 years?), but in every bad style period there have also been some truly beautiful designs. The seventies——or for some the sixties (which probably actually began in 1966 and ended in 1972 or 1973)——produced great designs in men’s accessories, and I don’t mean the man-bag which thankfully never properly took off. I mean watches, that one piece of functional jewelry some of us fetishize, and others simply admire and like to look at to tell the time.
The seventies were, post-Moon landing and partly because of the space program, a time of technological advancement and all things ‘modern’ were good while all things old were, well, just old. The digital watch was coming——many thought here to stay, and quartz was just around the corner. The venerable Swiss watch makers were in a bit of a rut: classic designs were not as sought after, and fear of technology led to many a mistake in newer designs. Of course classic watches produced then, by the likes of Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin (or even Rolex and Omega, with their sports watches), were (and are) beautiful, but a few examples of more forward design are also to be appreciated today. IWC, or International Watch Company (a Swiss maker founded by an American) created this modern watch——a mechanical manual wind movement with a simple, easy to read face, but with an odd shaped case that screams ‘period’ but is somehow just as elegant today as some may have thought it then. This one dates from 1971, but the watch was produced until the mid-seventies and can be found in good condition for a fraction of what a new IWC retails for. Replace the band with a simple flat horsehide (shell cordovan) strap from Hodinkee, and you’re wearing something not only beautiful, but unique. (Love beads optional.)
The safari jacket has all but disappeared from mens’ wardrobes——even in places like Brooklyn, it seems, where anything vintage or vintage looking has appeal——perhaps because it’s almost too ‘normcore’ or perhaps because it reminds us too much of 70’s casual wear. Reason enough for its comeback, seems to me.
But despite its appeal to war correspondents as an almost obligatory uniform——think Dan Rather on the road——it’s hard to imagine quite how to wear it if one isn’t actually on a real safari. Brands have tried to bring it back; this one in gabardine is actually by Martin Margiela from a few years ago, deeply (and I mean deeply) discounted presumably because no one wanted to buy it, and even the uber-hip Japanese brand Engineered Garments made a safari jacket in seasons past. I’ve always liked them, and I’ve never been on safari or covered a war, mainly because they’re utilitarian (where else to put your eye, phone, iPad mini, notebook, etc.?) and few items of clothing work better for wearing over a t-shirt in the months when the weather is warm and chilly on the same day.
The key is to not try to dress a safari jacket up——the opposite of 1970’s GQ covers—-and to wear it with jeans and t-shirt, henley, or polo shirt. While a plain white t-shirt is always right, this striped panel rib cotton T by American Trench, spun and made in the U.S. and coming soon to their store, is just too damn perfect for a warm spring day. Perfect for pre- and post surfing, as is the jacket, an item I expect just might take off among the surf crowd before the hipsters follow suit….
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.
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….
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.
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.
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….
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.
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…
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.
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.
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’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.
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?
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)…
My Persian lamb scarf, actually made in Persia (or Iran for the geographically challenged) from Persian lambs by a tailor on Manouchehri Street in Tehran. Possibly the most elegant fur a man can wear, Persian lamb is also incredibly warm, although anything but a scarf or a collar on a coat might be a going too far , sartorially speaking. Expensive, yes, but if you find yourself in or anywhere east of Persia, say in the ‘stans, you can probably have one made for far less than the cost of a half-way decent cashmere scarf in Europe or the U.S. It’s not Prada, but designing your own is so much more fun.
Yes: look it up. Believe or not, from the land where neckties have all but been banished comes the Persian knot. Similar to the Windsor in appearance (but knotted differently), it’s a handsome, large triangle, and slightly misshapen. Perfect for wanna-be princes or just chic Americans, but not for Ayatollahs.
I’ve always thought that despite the indignity of airplane travel today, one should not dress for travel as if one just crawled out of bed on a lazy Sunday, or as if in preparation to go for a morning jog. A sports jacket for men, tweed or a blazer, looks good, and can do wonders if asking for an upgrade, checking overweight bags, or in eliciting a modicum of courtesy from security agents. Many people look for comfort, though, and are loath to wear anything that might wrinkle or be even slightly uncomfortable in the cramped quarters of tourist class. Enter Massif; a line of comfortable, stylish, and beautifully made clothes, by the makers of military wear for the Pentagon. Massif has launched a civilian line that is a perfect fit (pun intended) for travel, and the sports jacket pictured, in a wool fabric that feels like felt, is ideal: from the flattering and fashionable cut, which means it can be worn with a tie, to the hidden zipper pockets for stashing passports and cash, or gold coins when necessary. The secret though is in the anti-microbial wool fabric that also won’t wrinkle, and a flip-up collar that can buttoned against the chill, of the aircraft or of the destination. And we all know how airlines can alternate extreme air conditioning with extreme heat, to say nothing of the microbes that inhabit their fleets.
The airport these days is the only place your socks will be in full view of the public. Wear something nice– bold even– with your loafers. Edward Green shoes from the nineties; a twenty-year old Swaine Adeney & Brigg bridle leather carry on bag and a vintage briefcase. No wheeled luggage, please: looks goofy, and besides, can no one carry even a few pounds anymore?
There are myriad reasons to despise Rick Santorum and his views, and as many reasons to bemoan the sartorial preferences of all the presidential candidates, even Mr. Cool himself, President Obama. But wearing sweater vests, seemingly the mark of a square, a dweeb, or whatever, should not be a reason to poke fun at or demean one of the more extreme politicians of our age. Remember when cardigans, the Mr. Rogers look, were the object of scorn? Today, no hipster worth his Williamsburg digs is without one. Tie bars? Do Brooklynites even know you can wear a tie without a clip? Brogues? Bow Ties? Need I go on? The sweater vest can look square, professorial, or worse. But it can be a damn useful item of clothing, especially if worn under a suit or a jacket, when sweaters with sleeves can add unseemly bulk. This one, in a single ply cashmere is almost twenty years old (from an era when cashmere really came from the throat hairs of the Kashmir goat in the himalayas), woven in Scotland, came from Anderson & Sheppard. Yes, the Saville Row tailors with a famous and infamous client list, clothiers who’ve outfitted everyone stylish from Cary Grant and Fred Astaire to Prince Charles. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
I’m not particularly fond of leather jackets–unless they’re horsehide. Don’t worry: in the U.S. it’s illegal to slaughter a horse for its hide (or its flesh). The toughest and most water-resistant of leathers (one reason motorcycle cops wear it), it ages beautifully. Saddles are not made from it, though, perhaps because it would be just too perverse to put a horsehide on a horse’s hide. This one is from Lost Worlds in Queens, NY; about ten years old. The hat is from Lock & Co., in London, and the boiled wool vest is from Jomeh Bazaar in Tehran.