Saturday, October 31, 2009

Style vs. Fashion

"Fashion fades, only style remains the same."  - Coco Chanel

"Fashion can be bought.  Style one must possess."  - Edna Woolman Chase

"Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."  - Gore Vidal

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."  - Oscar Wilde

"Fashion is made to become unfashionable."  - Coco Chanel

"Fashions are the only induced epidemics, proving that epidemics can be induced by tradesmen."  - George Bernard Shaw

"Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new."  - Henry David Thoreau

Don't confuse fashion with style.  You can be quite fashionable, yet completely lacking in style.  You may be considered fashionable by blindly following the latest trends promoted by retailers, designers, magazines and television.  This is true even if that trend is ugly (who ever thought Uggs were sexy?), the fit does not flatter your body shape, or the color of the season fails to suit your complexion. 

Style is about individual expression rather than conformity with the masses.  A stylish person wears timeless clothing that flatters their body shape, complexion and personality.  But style goes deeper than just the clothing on your back.  It includes intangible elements of individual personality:  confidence, grace, intelligence, humor.  That mix of attributes combined with personalized choices about external expression results in an individual's style.

I'll leave you with one last quote from the American Unitarian clergyman, writer and philosopher William Henry Channing:
To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, never hurry; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common -- this is my symphony.
 Now that's style.

Friday, October 30, 2009

In Support of the Pocket Square

The arrival of a package from Will at A Suitable Wardrobe containing the pictured fall pocket handkerchief spurred me to express my support for this much ignored accessory.  After a survey of his readers last summer, Simon at Permanent Style revealed that seventy-four percent of the men polled did not regularly wear a pocket handkerchief.  Keep in mind that the men who were surveyed are the regular readers of a blog on men's style.

Have you ever wondered why each of your tailored jackets has an empty, lonely chest pocket?  The purpose of that pocket is to display a harmonizing square of fabric.  Alan Flusser, in Dressing the Man, wrote that "[w]ithout some form of pocket rigging, an outside breast pocket appears superfluous, and the outfit incomplete."

There are a number of issues to consider in the selection and display of a pocket square.  These include the mixture of textures, the type of fold, whether to wear one without a tie, and with what other article of clothing the handkerchief should coordinate.  I suspect that many men shy away from the display of a pocket square because of insecurity over these issues and a concern about committing a faux pas and looking silly.  In future posts I intend to discuss these issues with the hope of allaying concerns and emboldening more men to elevate their attire through the display of a pocket handkerchief.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Italian Shaving Cream

Shaving is one of the more mundane of a man's daily chores.  Over the years I have tried a number of different shaving products.  I used an electric razor for a while, but found that it did not provide a very close shave and tended to roughen my epidermis.  I have tried numerous gels and foams from the grocery store aisle.  They all seem somewhat lacking.  I went through a phase where I used a bristle hair brush and bar soap, mostly because I thought it was cool.  The coolness wore off quickly when I discovered the method was time consuming and messy.  A few years ago I received as a gift a shaving kit from The Art of Shaving.  The kit consisted of a jar of pre-shave oil and a tub of cream.  It provided a great shave, but I found the two-step process to be a pain and the price of the products to be inflated.

Recently I found shaving Nirvana in the form of Italian shaving cream with Eucalyptus oil and Menthol.  The Eucalyptus oil provides a slick coating that really helps prevent razor burn.  The Menthol adds a fresh minty aroma.  I first discovered this shaving cream at Bath & Body Works branded under the name of C.O. Bigelow.  After becoming hooked on the product it disappeared from my local Bath & Body Works; however, I was still able to order it from them online.  Concerned that it might be discontinued, I did a little research.  I noticed on the C.O. Bigelow box that the shaving cream is "made exclusively by Proraso for C.O. Bigelow."  I discovered that Proraso markets what appears to be a similar shaving cream.  That made me wonder if it is the same product marketed in different packaging.

Last week I placed an order from Amazon for tubes of both the C.O. Bigelow and Proraso shaving creams so that I could do a side-by-side comparison.  Upon receiving the shipment, I was happy to see that the Proraso box indicates that it has been made in Florence since 1926 (so hopefully it will not be discontinued any time soon).

Both shaving creams are packaged in 5.2 oz toothpaste-style tubes.  An examination of the contents of each tube reveals shaving creams that are indistinguishable to me in look, feel or aroma.  For what it's worth, an examination of the boxes reveals that the Proraso contains three ingredients not found in the C.O. Bigelow: amyl cinnamal, eugenol (clove oil), and geraniol.  Both tubes were reasonably priced; the C.O. Bigelow was ten dollars and the Proraso eleven.

For a wonderful close shave I would heartily recommend either of these Italian shave creams.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bill Cosby's Sweater

A color blind co-worker came to work one day wearing an awful multi-colored sweater.  In passing I said, "Man, did you beat up Bill Cosby and steal his sweater??"  He tells me that I was not the only one who commented that day on the sweater.

A couple of days later I found a gift bag on my desk.  It contained an awful multi-colored sweater and a box of Jell-O instant pudding.  Being a good sport, my co-worker had left as a joke the ugly sweater along with a Cosby reference.  The funniest part of the joke was unintended on his part.  The sweater in the bag was not the same sweater he was wearing on the day I made the comment.  Apparently he had at least two equally horrific sweaters and was unable to distinguish between the two.  He assures me that the other offender was properly discarded by a significant other.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sometimes, Always, Never

If you are on your feet, your suit or odd jacket should be buttoned.  If you are wearing a three-button jacket, remember this mantra:  sometimes, always, never.  Sometimes fasten the top button.  Always fasten the middle button.  Never fasten the bottom button.  Sometimes, always, never.

Jackets are tailored to accentuate the narrowness of a man's waist and then flare out at the bottom to his broader hips.  The middle button, set at the natural waist, holds the jacket closed at this narrowest point.  Fastening the bottom button works against the tailoring and ruins the lines of the aforementioned flare.  The fastening of the top button is stylistically optional.  It can be argued that leaving the top button undone helps visually balance the unfastened bottom button.  And some three-button suits are designed so that the lapels roll to the middle button; the top buttons on these jackets should be left unfastened.

The rule for two-button jackets is similar.  One should always button the top button and leave the bottom unfastened.  Of course, there is always an exception to the rule.  JFK was known to wear two-button paddock-style jackets.  The buttons on a paddock-style jacket are set higher than normal, and are both meant to be fastened.  Nevertheless, the aforementioned advice applies to the vast majority of two-button jackets.

Say it with me one last time:  sometimes, always, never.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Gray Flannel with Green Socks

The standard advice is that your socks should match your trousers.  This practice creates an uninterrupted visual line from your waist to your shoes, thereby giving the impression of a longer leg.  However, there is nothing wrong with wearing more interesting socks.  Many British gentlemen wear sober clothing with bright socks.  I discusssed in a previous post about how the interplay among shoes, socks and trousers can be a source of gratification for the wearer; colorful socks may add to this combination.

The photograph above illustrates my point.  Today I am wearing gray flannel pants, musk green Marcoliani socks and Alden brown suede monk strap shoes.  You can see how well the green coordinates with the gray.  The texture of the brown suede also balances nicely with the heavy flannel of the trousers.  Above the waist I have on a navy camel hair blazer, a blue Oxford cloth button-down shirt, a blue micro-check pocket square, and a paisley tie in fall colors of rust, green, navy, tan and brown.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stormy Kromer

My favorite hunting hat is the classic cap from Stormy Kromer.  I find it to be much more stylish than a logo-emblazoned baseball cap.  The label on the inside of the cap tells its history:

George "Stormy" Kromer was a semi-pro ballplayer and railroad engineer who always lost his hat to the gusts that blew through his locomotive.  So he asked his wife, Ida, to put needle and thread to one of his old baseball caps.  The "Kromer" they created in 1903 is now legendary for its comfort, warmth, durability ... and grip when the wind blows.

The original cap is constructed with six panels of hand-stictched wool attached to the brim.  The cap also includes a band that can be pulled down to protect one's ears.  The cap is now available in a multitude of colors, and a variety of fabrics that have extended the line beyond the original wool.  These include waxed cotton, 10-mile cloth, and a pretty snazzy-looking corduroy.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Marcoliani Socks from Kabbaz Kelly

I received a package in the mail yesterday from Kabbaz Kelly.  I was frankly shocked to discover its arrival because I had placed my order only two days earlier.  The package contained six pair of Marcoliani over-the-calf Merino wool socks (Kabbaz Kelly gives a discount on the purchase of six or more pair).

This was my first experience with Kabbaz Kelly.  I was thouroughly impressed.  Not only was the delivery time quicker than expected, but the packaging was also attractive.  The socks, bound with a burgundy ribbon, were packaged in a ziplock bag with a cedar ball.  The ziplock bag was then encased in gold tissue paper.  A complimentary tape measure was included in the box.  None of those little touches were necessary, but it added to the experience.  Kudos to Kabbaz Kelly.

I have not had the opportunity to wear a pair of the socks.  I will share my impressions of them in a future post.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Up Your Game

From My Cousin Vinny (1992):

Vinny Gambini:  What about these pants I got on?  You think they're okay?

Mona Lisa Vito:  Imagine you're a deer.  You're prancing along.  You get thirsty.  You spot a little brook.  You put your little deer lips down to the cool, clear water.  BAM!  A f&&kin' bullet rips off part of your head.  Your brains are lying on the ground in little bloody pieces.  Now I ask ya, would you give a f&&k what kind of pants the son-of-a-bitch who shot you was wearing?
I mentioned in my very first post that I enjoy hunting and would include in this blog some discussion of classic hunting and outdoor attire.  I give thoughtful consideration to the clothing that I purchase and wear.  This contemplation extends to the clothing that I wear when I engage in outdoor pursuits.  It would be easy to just throw on some WalMart camo when I go hunting, but I prefer to dress more stylishly even if I'm going to be sitting alone in a tree.  Some may find this practice unusual.  I respectfully disagree.

Consider that some of the most commonly worn items of men's apparrel have their roots in sporting endeavors.  The ubiquitous polo shirt was originally designed and worn on the tennis courts by French tennis champion Rene Lacoste.  The classic Brooks Brothers button-down collar was inspired by English polo players who buttoned down their collar wings to keep them from flapping during play.  The bi-swing, or action back, detail that is found on some odd jackets originally provided extra freedom of movement for shooters and golfers.

Classic men's style owes much of its heritage to the sportsman.  Consider that heritage the next time you dress to play.  Dress well and up your game.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An Oxymoron

There is no such thing as a short-sleeved dress shirt.  Let me repeat:  there is no such thing as a short-sleeved dress shirt.

In a previous post I quoted Alan Flusser in the context of the interplay between the suit jacket, shirt collar and tie.  There are other areas in men's clothing where similar interesing elemental interactions are more visible, and thereby potentially more gratifying, to the wearer himself.  One is the interplay between a man's trousers, shoes and socks.  Another is the combination of the jacket sleeve, a half inch of shirt cuff, and cufflinks or a nice watch.  Of course the latter is not possible if your shirt sleeve is hacked off at the bicep.

I suppose the justification for the short sleeves, especially here in the South, is that it is more comfortable in the heat and humidity.  But to follow that reasoning to its logical conclusion, one should take his favorite summer suit to his tailor and ask him to lop off about eighteen inches from the bottom of each trouser leg and cuff them at the knees.  Angus Young may be able to pull off that look on stage, but I question its feasibility for the office.

The more suitable (no pun intended) alternative is to wear a proper dress shirt made from a summer-weight breathable fabric like voile.  (For more information on fabrics for shirts, read A Discourse on Shirtings by Alexander S. Kabbaz.)  You will remain perfectly comfortable in the summer heat, and you will not risk being mistaken for the Flight Dynamics Officer at Mission Control.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Proper Length of a Tie

Standard wisdom dictates that the tip of your tie should hit at the center of the beltline on your trousers.  Any longer and you risk looking like Steve Urkel.  Any shorter and you could be mistaken for one of the Three Stooges.

Ready to wear ties tend to be fifty-five to sixty inches in length.  For the average male most ready to wear ties are the appropriate length to conform to the stated convention.

If you are either very short or very tall, or if you wear high-waisted trousers, then you may need to invest in bespoke ties in order to obtain the proper length.  If you are in need of such services, Sam Hober is a much-praised purveyor of bespoke ties.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Dimple

I'm am often surprised to notice otherwise well-dressed men who display sloppily-knotted ties.  It appears that they must tie a quick knot, cinch it up roughly and settle for the resulting mess.

Look at these photographs of the current and former leaders of the free world.

These photographs illustrate the sloppy knots that I despise.  In fairness to President Obama, in most of the photographs I have seen of him he has an impeccably knotted tie.  But you would think if you were getting your photo taken for the cover of the Rolling Stone that you could straighten your tie in the mirror.

I am a proponent of the dimple. Notice the photograph from Robert Talbott. See the symmetrical concave cavity below the knot? See how it adds shadow and dimension to the tie? This is the dimple.

To form a dimple in your tie, first tie a loose knot.  Then place your index finger in the center of the tie below the knot.  Using your thumb and middle finger pinch the fabric around your index finger to form the cavity.  Continue to pinch the fabric firmly, but gently, while you tighten the knot with your other hand.  Pay attention to the symmetry of the dimple and avoid any errant folds in the fabric.  You may have to start over several times before you make it look right.  You will find that ties have a memory and will dimple much easier after the first few wearings.

Alan Flusser in Dressing the Man wrote that the "triangular sector formed below the chin by the 'V' opening of a buttoned suit jacket constitutes the cynosure of a man's tailored costume."  The knot of your tie falls squarely in the center of this sector.  Avoid the sloppy knot.  Embrace the dimple.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shell Cordovan Jump Boots

I recently pre-ordered a pair of Alden shell cordovan boots offered exclusively by Leather Soul in Hawaii.  The boots are modeled after WWII U.S. Army parachutist jump boots.  Because of their somewhat casual styling, I think they will go great with dark jeans or grey flannels on cold, rainy days.

This is the first time I have dealt with Leather Soul so I am unable at this point to recommend or comment on their service.  The boots are not due until March so I will wait until then to comment.

I do own several pair of Alden shoes and would recommend them highly.  The Alden Shoe Company was founded in 1884 in Middleborough, Massachusetts.  Their shoes are constructed with Goodyear welts that provide a strong attach point for repeated replacement of the sole.  With proper care their shoes may last a lifetime.  Their construction also provides superior comfort for a dress shoe; in a pair of Alden shoes I spend all day on my feet in a courtroom without discomfort. 

Alden's shell cordovan shoes are constructed from genuine Horween shell cordovan.  Shell cordovan is leather made from the fibrous flat muscle beneath the hide on the rump of a horse.  Each horse provides two shells, or circular sheets of leather.  A labor-intensive six month tanning process produces a smooth, pliable and extremely durable leather that is used almost exclusively in the manufacture of shoes.  Because of this handiwork, shell cordovan comes at a premium; however, in my humble opinion, it is worth the investment.

Introduction and Mission Statement

It seems appropriate for my first post to contain a short introduction of myself, and an explantion of what I envision to be the purpose of this blog.  I am a small-town Southern lawyer on the downhill slide to forty.  Given my profession, I have the opportunity and privelege to dress more formally than most Americans; even amongst my professionally-dressed co-workers I am known as a bit of a dandy.  Recently I have sworn off Shrimp & Grits and other Southern gastronomic delights, gotten my lazy carcass off the couch and dropped enough weight that my wardrobe is beyond salvage.  At the moment I am in an awkward in-between stage.  The clothes in my current wardrobe are too large, but I have yet to reach my target weight so I am not ready to start building a replacement wardrobe.  However, in the coming months I will be emptying my closet and starting from scratch.  Hence this new blog.  My intention is to bring you, the reader, along on this journey.  Along the way I will focus mainly on classic men's style (not fashion).  I enjoy hunting so there may also be some discussion of classic outdoor clothing.  I will also sprinkle in some Southern flavor in the form of food, drink and language.  I hope you will join me as I start this process.

A Southern Gentleman