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?
The East Coast of the U.S. has been pummeled yet again, with snow and subzero temperatures (while Denver was basking in sixty degree weather). No point in being stylish in a blizzard——just stay indoors, maybe even in your jammies. Or, get in your truck (and you’ll need a truck) and drive south. Far south. You could have a stylish truck, though, and hope that it starts.
Back next week with a new collaboration.
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.
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….
No, these are not vintage photographs, but a street setup for the upcoming season of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. I always envied Nucky Thomson for his Rolls Royce (and his wardrobe) in the series, but seeing all these Model Ts parked on a street I normally associate with ugly, even garish new models, or lumbering SUVs, reminds one of a certain elegance in the uniformly black car that “everyone could afford” when Henry Ford introduced it.
From the wooden spokes on the wheels to the gray pinstripe wool upholstery (I wonder how that might look in a modern car), today everything about the automobile screams style, even though in the twenties it was a style icon only in that it was the first mass produced car. One of the characters from the show—the most stylish on television (sorry, Mad Men, you’re the runner up)—stepping out of the car, wearing a custom creation by Martin Greenfield of Brooklyn, would complete the picture. We’ll have to wait for the episode to air, to see that.
I’ve received a lot of mail concerning my Persian shoes, and Glenn O’Brien, GQ’s Style Guy, has been a long time admirer, in person and in print. I wore a green pair (self-dyed) on Bill Maher’s Real Time back in 2009, in support of the Green Movement’s Persian Spring, which, needless to say, raised a few eyebrows (all the way up to their turbans) in Tehran.
But they are a wonderfully stylish alternative to sneakers or espadrilles—cotton uppers and cotton (and leather) soles, that are virtually indestructible. Sadly, the art of making them is being lost—you can’t find any self-respecting Persian actually wearing them, not unless they’re working rural folk—and when I wear them in Iran I receive rather bemused looks from passersby. You can’t buy them in the U.S. (or anywhere else except Iran, for that matter), mainly because of sanctions, but if you know someone traveling to Iran (perhaps a journalist or someone on a tour?) ask them to pick up a pair for you in the Bazaars—you won’t regret it. Or, write to your Congressman or MP and demand that they lift sanctions on giveh—the Persian word for the shoes—because, after all, the shoes are made by artisans in the provinces of Iran where nuclear is just another word for nothing left to lose.
There 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.
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.
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.
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…
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.