Sunday, January 31, 2010

Odd Vests

An odd vest (called a waistcoat by the British) may add an additional layer of warmth and interest to a gentleman's attire.  By adding some protection to an exposed shirtfront, an odd vest will extend the usefulness of a lightweight tailored jacket during cooler weather.  Wearing an odd vest will also allow one the flexibility to remove one's jacket at the office, yet remain looking natty.

Probably the most useful odd vests for wear with worsted suits are ones in solid cream, light-blue and light-gray linen.  For country wear a tattersall vest would be appropriate paired with tweed and flannel.  Tattersall is a checked pattern that originated with horse blankets used at Tattersall's horse market in London in the 18th Century.


Odd vests may come in single or double-breasted versions, and with or without lapels.  Double-breasted waistcoats are considered more formal.  When it comes to the details of an odd vest, common wisdom dictates, as expressed by Alan Flusser in Dressing the Man, that "the louder its hue, the quieter its style should be."  Therefore, a tattersall check would be most appropriate in a single-breasted vest.

When wearing a single-breasted vest, one should always leave the bottom button undone.  It is said that this practice developed from imitators of portly King Edward VII whose tailors were unable to keep up with his rapidly expanding waistline.

Today's low-rise pants pose a problem when it comes to wearing odd vests.  One may note from the illustrations that the vest should cover the waistband of the trousers; there should be no visible belt buckle.  Such is a sartorial sin on par with exposed skin at the ankles.  The bulk of a buckle under the vest is also problematic.  The solution is to wear higher-rise trousers with braces.  A side benefit to this practice is that it creates the illusion of a longer leg line.

During these cold winter months, inject a little interest into those navy and charcoal suits.  Wear an odd vest.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Reader Question: Rock Concert Attire

I dress fairly conservatively.  With that being said, I am planning to attend a rock concert soon and do not wish to look like a fish out of water.  By the same token, I don't want to wear the classic "band t-shirt" or any other type of clothing that is normally associated with fans.  How can I keep my style and look "cool" at the same time?

The typical rock concert uniform includes jeans, a black concert tee and black boots or Converse All-Stars.  To keep from looking out of place I would use that uniform as a starting place but make it more stylish by elevating each element.  Consider dark jeans or trim flat-front charcoal pants.  Instead of a concert tee, consider a black button-down shirt or a thin black merino-wool sweater.  Instead of sneakers, consider a pair of black dress ankle boots.  You could top it off with a black leather jacket; a dark blue or purple velvet jacket would be even better.

A rock concert provides you an opportunity to wear accessories that you might otherwise avoid.  I have a black leather belt with a chunky eagle's-head buckle that I got off eBay that I only wear to concerts.  A friend of mine has a wild pair of Mark Nason shoes similar to the boots pictured above that he wears to concerts.  When it comes to accessorizing, be guided by your own sense of style.

I would caution you to avoid wearing any item of apparel that is prone to stain or that you consider to be a favorite.  At a rock concert you are very likely to encounter beer, sweat, vomit, blood and urine.  You will not enjoy yourself if you are worried the whole time about the drunk next to you spilling his beer on your suede jacket.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Book Review: Sharp Suits

I spent a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon flipping through Sharp Suits, wherein the author, Eric Musgrave, examines the history and evolution of the modern suit and the men who inspired that evolution, from King Edward VII to Elvis, the King of Rock.

I especially appreciated the sentiment expressed by Prince Albert in one quotation from the book:

The appearance, deportment and dress of a gentleman consist perhaps more in the absence of certain offences against good taste, and in careful avoidance of vulgarities and exaggerations of any kind, however generally they may be the fashion of the day, than in the adherence to any rules which can be exactly laid down ...  In dress, with scrupulous attention to neatness and good taste, he will never give in to the unfortunately loose and slang style which predominates at the present day.  He will borrow nothing from the fashion of the groom or the gamekeeper, and whilst avoiding the frivolity and foolish vanity of dandyism, will take care that his clothes are of the best quality, well-made, and suitable to his rank and position.

In my opinion, the plentiful photographs are the best attribute of Sharp Suits.  Unfortunately, many of those photographs are of men on the runway or on the musical stage who are wearing the trendy dress that Prince Albert warns against.  I wish there were more photographs of men wearing traditional conservative suits.  Nevertheless, the book provides enough such photographs to make it worthy of perusal for sartorial inspiration.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Alden Tassel Loafers

This week I picked up a new pair of Alden tassel loafers on clearance at David Lindsey Clothier.  The shoes should pair well with charcoal trousers and an odd jacket.  Although I have seen some men do it, I do not intend to wear these tassel loafers with a suit; loafers are for loafing.

When you get a new pair of dress shoes I would recommend a light protective polish before you wear them the first time.  Use cedar shoe trees between wearings to maintain the shape of the shoe, help prevent cracking and creasing, and absorb moisture from the lining.  By the same token, rotate your shoes and do not wear the same pair on successive days.  If you follow this advice a pair of high quality shoes such as these may last for decades.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tom James Update

I met with my representative from Tom James today to take delivery of my new gray pants.  Unfortunately I did not have much opportunity to inspect them because they did not fit properly.  The waist, rise and inseam were fine, but they were so tight through my thighs that the pockets stuck out like Dumbo's ears.  Their plan is to let out the seat by an inch (I'm not sure why this was necessary since they were supposedly tailored to my measurements) and then ship the pants to me next week.  I will provide a full review when I have the pants in hand.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ASW Online Haberdashery

Will at A Suitable Wardrobe has opened his much anticipated online store.  He currently offers a very nice selection of belts and bracers, neckware and pocket squares.  He indicates on his blog that he will be continually adding new accessories including cufflinks, knitware, hats and polos.  It looks like he will be offering a number of high-quality items that are otherwise unavailable online.  Check it out.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Tie Bar

On the recommendation of a friend I recently placed an order with The Tie Bar for a royal blue tie with white pindots, a twill burgundy bow tie with satin stripes of navy and white, and a burgundy ascot with white fleur de lis. The Tie Bar, started in 2004 by two Chicago attorneys, sells handmade silk ties online for only fifteen dollars each (the ascot was thirty).  I am frankly surprised at the quality you get for the money.  These ties are as nice as much more expensive ties that I own.  They are definitely nicer than the budget-priced ties you may find in a department store.  If you are in need of a new tie, check out The Tie Bar.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Reader Questions

Should I mix stripes in the same outfit?

It is perfectly acceptable to mix patterns.  In a tailored wardrobe you may introduce pattern in the suit, shirt, tie or pocket square.  While it is possible (and quite challenging) to successfully display pattern in all four articles at once, I would recommend that style novices choose solids in at least two of the four.

When mixing patterns of the same design you should vary the size of the pattern.  As an example, compare the narrow stripes of Cary Grant's shirt with the wide block stripes of his tie.  Similarly, one could pair a window-pane suit and a tie with small checks.  On the other hand, to harmonize two contrasting patterns (i.e., a striped suit worn with a check dress shirt) the two patterns should be kept close in size.

You have used the term bespoke in several of your recent posts.  What does bespoke mean?

Bespoke is a British term, used historically in relation to tailored clothing, that means custom-made, or made to individual order.  The word derives from the verb bespeak that means to ask for in advance.  Bespoke clothing is traditionally cut from a unique pattern made from an individual's measurements and specifications.  In contrast, ready-to-wear or off-the-rack clothing is mass produced in standardized sizes.  Obviously bespoke clothing will fit an individual much better because it is made to his precise measurements.  Having clothing custom-made also provides the individual the opportunity to bespeak the fabrics or details that he may desire.  As you might imagine, this customization comes at a premium.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bespoke Polo Shirts

I recently discovered a great place to order bespoke polo shirts at a reasonable price.  The Tailor Store offers custom pique cotton polo shirts starting at $29.00 (some options, like monogramming, are a few dollars extra).  Using an online interface you are able to build a polo shirt to your specifications.  Each change you make is reflected in a graphical representation of your shirt.  The options include mens and womens shirts, twenty colors of fabric, normal or slim fit, long or short sleeve, button style, contrasting button hole thread or contrasting fabrics, and monograms.  You also provide fourteen different measurements for a perfect fit.

I recently ordered two polo shirts from the Tailor Store; one was a normal fit and one was slim fit.  Both shirts fit great, but I prefer the slim fit.  The slim fit shirt hugs my body without being skin tight.  The normal fit shirt is a little looser; however, it fits much better than any off-the-rack shirt I have ever owned.  I am very pleased with both shirts, especially considering what I got for the money. 

My only complaint would be the length of shipping time.  I received an email in early December notifying me that the shirts had been shipped.  After two weeks had passed without the shirts arriving I emailed customer support.  The response indicated that a delay in customs (the shirts were shipped from Sweden), and a delay during the holidays, were to be expected.  They could not provide a tracking number so there was no way to monitor the location of the package.  They advised to let them know if I had not received the package by mid-January.  I do not know what recourse they would have offered at that point because the shirts arrived after another week.

I will soon be ordering additional polo shirts in spring colors.  I would heartily recommend these custom polos over ones from a department store.  For about the same money you will get shirts that actually fit.  Any delay is a small price to pay.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dapper Elderly Gentlemen

I returned yesterday from a week-long Caribbean cruise on the Holland America Line.  The vast majority of passengers were quite elderly.  During the week I had the opportunity to observe a number of quite stylish older gentlemen.  Maybe it's because they were raised in an era of high style.  Or maybe it's because they have had decades to refine their own personal style.  But it seems that some elderly men exhibit a stylishness not seen in younger generations.

I do not mean to suggest that with age automatically comes style.  I saw plenty of ill-fitting tuxedos with too-long sleeves and pant legs puddling on the tops of shoes.  But two men stood out to me as being particularly stylish. 

The first I noticed was wearing a black beret and smoking a cigar on the rear deck.  The look was very Pablo Picasso.  We chatted for a while and I learned that he was a retired Italian grocer from upstate New York who enjoyed competition dancing.

The second gentleman I encountered had a slick bald head and an impressive silvery-gray waxed handlebar moustache.  Throughout the cruise he paid grandfatherly attention to my young son.  At one point he produced a gold dollar coin from his pocket and presented it to my son for his piggy bank.  I had the impression that he maintained a supply of those special coins for just such an occassion.

Respect your elders.  They have much to teach us about being true gentlemen.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Bespoke Belt

While shopping the post-Christmas sales last Saturday I bought a new pair of jeans in a size smaller than I had previously been wearing.  I decided that I also needed a new casual belt because my current ones were too long.  You can tell that a belt fits properly if you are buckling on the center hole.  If you are using a hole towards the middle of the belt then there is a bunch of excess leather wrapping around your hip.  You end up looking like a twelve-year-old kid wearing his dad's belt.  If you're on the last hole then it looks like you enjoyed too many Christmas parties and packed on about fifteen pounds. 

There is no real feasible way to lengthen a belt, but it is possible (at some expense) to shorten a belt.  I have had one of my alligator dress belts shortened.  A leather craftsman basically removes the excess length from the buckle end and reattaches the buckle.  If I recall correctly, that service cost me about thirty-five dollars.  If your belt is too long and not worth shortening, or if your belt is too short, then it's time to go shopping.

When buying an off-the-rack belt you should typically look for one that is a size larger than the waist of your pants.  For example, if you wear a size 34 pant then a size 36 belt will probably fit.  The belt must be a size bigger because it's worn over the pants; the fabric of the trouser adds additional bulk that must be taken into consideration.

While shopping on Saturday I had in mind that I wanted a tan casual belt with edge stitching and a silver buckle.  I did not think that was an unreasonable item to locate.  After checking at Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, J-Crew, Gap, Abercrombie and Fitch, Dillards, Belk, Macy's, and JCPenney I started having some doubts.  Department store Made in China belts are absolutely cheap and awful, and at those stores I couldn't even find a poor quality one that matched my mental image.  I came close at Smith & James in Greenville.  They had a nice seventy-dollar British tan Bills Khakis belt, but in the end I decided it was a little too orange for my taste.

When I arrived home empty-handed I decided to search online for a purveyor of bespoke belts.  I was delighted to discover Leather Goods Connection.  They offer a number of leather accessories including bespoke leather belts.  You get to choose from a multitude of options including length, width, color, buckle style, and edge treatment.  With all the options available, there are over 614,400 different belts that can be made.  On Saturday evening I ordered the pictured British tan harness leather belt with wheat-colored edge stitching and a silver buckle.  I was stunned when this lovely belt arrived in the mail yesterday.  I am amazed to have ordered a bespoke belt the day after Christmas and have it arrive before New Years.  More importantly, the belt is exactly what I wanted.  It was beautifully handmade, in America.  It fits perfectly because it was made to my specifications.  And it was only fifty-one dollars.

The next time you need a belt, forget about those cheap and limited department store choices.  Consider going bespoke.  You won't regret it.