Monday, December 24, 2012

Nail Polish For Men. Hmpf.

A while back a friend of mine e-mailed me and alerted me to the existence of Alpha Nail. This is nail polish that's designed specifically for men, whatever the hell that means. Apparently it's officially a thing for guys now, and he asked me to respond in the form of a blog post.

I'll admit that I absolutely hate their marketing technique. The vibe of the website is the same you get from Axe Body Spray and Maxim magazine, which is to say that consuming their product means you're a bad ass who wins fights, parties "like a rock star," gets laid 365 days a year by 365 different women (except for Leap Year, of course), and sees himself as an alpha male who has no reason to give a damn about what anyone thinks of him because he's so, you know, alpha.

This kind of advertising turns me off because I feel like it appeals to stereotypes of straight guys as being macho and sex-obsessed. I will never buy these products or recommend them to anyone as a result of this, but there's an interesting gender-role question going on here that should be addressed.

Nail polish is traditionally a woman's thing, and Alpha Nail knows this; they go so far as to mention that their applicators aren't "dainty" like the ones used by women. While the idea of a guy wearing nail polish seems ridiculous, they make a decent case for it by mentioning that some UFC fighters wear it, and I am certainly not going to call a UFC fighter out on wearing nail polish. In fact, I'm not going to call out a UFC fighter on much of anything because I value my physical well-being. Also, Dave Navarro wears nail polish, and he happens to be one my favorite guitar players ever. Seriously, listen to the solo in "Been Caught Stealing" by Jane's Addiction and tell me that it isn't amazing. It starts right at the two-minute mark.

My gut reaction is, "This is maybe the most ridiculous, tacky, Jersey Shore-inspired abomination ever," but why do I feel that way? There's an interesting theme in gender role reversals: when women do masculine things, it's acceptable and sometimes even sexy. The classic example is a woman in an over-sized white dress shirt, loosely knotted necktie, and little else. Hot, right? But when a man enters the realm of the feminine -especially with anything related to cosmetics and grooming- we view it negatively as effete and/or see it as a symptom of the gay gene.

So women acting like men is fine, but men acting like women isn't? We've come a long way in terms of gender equality, but this is a more subliminal case of femininity being viewed as less desirable than masculinity. Homosexuality, while rightfully gaining more and more mainstream acceptance, is often perceived as worse than being a woman. To prove my point, compare how often we see lesbian sex scenes in movies and TV versus how often we see gay men having sex. I can think of the movie Milk and HBO's The Wire, but that's it. It's sad, but it's still too taboo for mainstream consumption.

Parodoxically, Alpha Nail is breaking down gender barriers ("Guys can wear nail polish too!") while simultaneously reinforcing them ("We don't make you use those dainty little women's nail polish applicators so that way you maintain your alpha male badassery!"). And while I hate to admit it, they've forced me to do some introspection on how I really feel about those gender roles, and it seems that I need further enlightenment. Thankfully, self-improvement isn't impossible.

Some advice: at the very least, don't wear this stuff to an average job interview.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

I Seem To Have A Troll


I guess it was bound to happen at some point; I've been putting myself out on the Interwebs for a long time now, and I finally got trolled in the comments for Primarily Colorful. I won't reprint the three-comment-long exchange here because this person posted comments that were incredibly racist towards black people, but you can click on the link above if you'd like to see it. Most notably, this commenter, who actually gave his name in a rare act of Internet bravery (is "Anonymous" Anglo-Saxon in origin? Perhaps Latin-based? Help me out here, etymologists.), used the word "schwartze," the German word for "black" that was absorbed into Yiddish as a derogatory term for black people.

Though I shouldn't have gotten pissed off over someone who is such a gaping asshole that he/she spends his/her time spewing abuse anonymously on the Internet, this upset me greatly for a couple of reasons.

First, I find racism abhorrent. This is not to say that I fancy myself colorblind; I, like everyone else in the world whether or not they'd like to admit it, see skin color and notice it. Like everyone who is not a complete jackass, I try to heed Dr. Martin Luther King and judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. My parents taught me that "there's good and bad in everyone." I get exceptionally angry when hearing about racism and once bit a co-worker's head off years ago after this person referred to a difficult customer as a "black bitch." So when I saw a racist comment on my blog (after I was politely told to commit suicide for using the word "jawn"), I got angry.

Second, this commenter used some Yiddish terminology that I described above. I don't know if this person is Jewish, knows I'm Jewish, or inferred that I was Jewish because I used the word "oy," but the word "schwartze" as it's used in Yiddish is incredibly embarrassing to me. As a Jew, I strongly believe that Jews who succumb to racism -towards anyone, not just blacks- need to re-read our people's history and think about all the times we've been discriminated against, literally to the point of near-extermination. If after that you still can't see the role-reversal, you are pathetically ignorant.

In response to this, I am now managing any comments on my blog. I don't care of someone disagrees with me (see the shitstorm that happened two years ago), but I do care about my little slice of the Internet being a civil forum for discussion and refuse to let it be a place where any anonymous dickhole can spew racism and get away with it. Let's keep it classy, and thanks to anyone who's commented in a positive and/or constructive way since I started writing.

Shoe Basics

I got a reader question the other day, which I edited slightly for clarity:

"How do you go about choosing shoes? I've realized I don't really have much taste in shoes but am well aware as to how important they are in completing an outfit. Any tips in terms of what's good, what's not and how to choose stuff out? My usual move is to just bring a lady friend to come shopping with me and pick stuff out, but I figure I might as well pick your brain and see what you have to say.
And another thing, I live in a city and am constantly walking. As such, my shoes get dirtied and scuffed up fairly quickly. As a result, I don't really like to spend much money on my shoes (a.k.a less than $100). ENLIGHTEN ME, please."

This is a great question, and you're right when you say that shoes are very important in completing an outfit. I'll assume you're talking about dress or dress-casual shoes, meaning ones with a leather sole and heel, or some combination of leather and rubber. I need to start it off by gently nudging you away from the practice of buying cheap shoes because you're a city dweller and they get beaten up. I live in a big, walkable city too and am very familiar with the havoc that walking on pavement can wreak on your footwear. The way you deal with this is not to buy cheap shoes and wear them into the ground, but rather to spend more money on nicer ones and actively take care of them. Doing so will make them last longer and therefore be cheaper in the long run. Another way to make shoes last longer is to own a few pairs and not wear the same ones two days in a row. Less wear means longer wear.

"Actively take care of them" means to polish them regularly (once every two weeks or so if they're your only pair), keep cedar shoe trees in them when they're not on your feet (this will wick away moisture and keep the uppers looking and feeling nice), and get them re-soled/re-heeled as often as necessary. It's much better to spend $60 or $70 every year or two to get new soles on an amazing pair of comfortable shoes as opposed to spend $100 on new shoes that have to be broken in all over again. Additionally, better made shoes (which will inevitably be more expensive) are better for your feet, meaning that they're better for your legs, meaning that they're better for your back.

Just for a point of reference, we're talking about "good" dress shoes when we get up to the $200 range, but that's at full retail price for many Cole Haans, Kenneth Coles, and brands offering similar quality. These brands also have outlet stores and nearly incessant promos in stores and online, so you can generally avoid paying full price and get something that's closer to what you're comfortable spending. No matter how you slice it, save up for the good stuff and your feet will thank you for it.

With that out of the way, what makes for a "good" shoe? If we're talking about dress shoes, then you need something with a leather sole and heel. The heel and sole can have some rubber on them for traction if you like, but make sure that the rubber isn't visible when looking at the shoe from the side:

I prefer shoes with a tapered (not pointy) toe, as I feel they elongate my short frame and just look a bit more elegant. Tall thin men, on the other hand, can wear rounded-toe shoes to great effect because they obviously don't need any help looking taller. Avoid fully square-toed shoes like the plague.

For a short list of shoes I think every guy should own, check out this previous post. Obviously keep your wardrobe in mind when selecting your first few pairs, and pick out shoes that go with most of the items you already own. Maximum utility is key here.

Finally, if we're talking about sneakers, I see no reason to spend a lot of money. I know there's a whole sneaker-collecting culture out there in which folks will spend hundreds of dollars on limited-edition Nikes or Jordans, and I never understood it. In fact, if any readers are sneaker-heads, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the collectible sneaker thing. Regardless, I say that if you wear sneakers with, say, cool jeans and a fitted track jacket, make sure that they're slim, streamlined ones. Athletic sneakers are good for athletics and that's it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Again, I'm An Internet Sensation

Today I was featured in's Philly section with my suggestions for last-minute gift-shopping. Check it out:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Primarily Colorful

Oh, the good intentions I had. Had I not come down with a cold that turned me into a useless, sniffling idiot, I would have posted this entry last week. Can't win 'em all, I guess.

Anyway, it dawned on me after wearing it for a couple of hours that my outfit was based on only neutrals (grey, brown, and white) and primary colors (red and blue). I felt like a million bucks in it, so I figured I'd do some attention-seeking on the Internet under the guise of giving sartorial advice.

To be fair, it's a bit of both. But like any decent peacock, I do love to show off. Thanks for humoring me.

This picture is crap, but it at least serves to capture the simplicity of the color scheme. For starters, the jacket is one of my made-to-measure jawns from work. The color isn't depicted accurately here, so trust me when I tell you that it's actually a shade of blue -"cadet" blue, according to the fabric swatch- a bit lighter than navy. It's gorgeous and functions well as a blue odd jacket too, which you'll see later.

The shirt is a simple blue check on a white background, and the tie is one of my most patriotic: a red, white and blue repp stripe. The pocket square (scored for all of $8 at a Nordstrom Rack) is a light blue with playful white polka dots.

In addition to the smooth pattern mixing (note the large scale/small scale tie/shirt combo, grounded by the solid jacket), this combination is harmonious because of the color story. There's a different blue in each piece, and throwing red in there means that we're now working with primary colors, which generally play nicely together. If the background of the pocket square had been yellow instead of blue, I'd have gotten all three colors in one ensemble and hopefully have won a prize.

Never one to sleep on his hosiery game, I figured I'd get a little seasonal with some fairisle socks. While they provide a stark contrast with the light grey pants and brown monkstraps surrounding them, they work with the outfit because the red with blue accents tie back directly to, well, the tie. And there's grey in there, kind of. Right?

I always feel mega-awkward taking iPhone pictures of myself in a mirror, and it translates to the blank look on my face (which is actually just me trying to not look stupid). For completeness, though, I wanted to give you an idea of how the whole ensemble worked together. I finished it off with the beautiful vintage tie bar my girlfriend bought me and the one pair of suspenders I own (light tan with dark tan leather button holders), but the point is that a simple color scheme with well-fitting clothes is a winner every time.

Also, stripes+checks+dots+fairisle= I mixed four patterns. This isn't Fred Astaire skill we're talking about here, but I'd like to get there one day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Just Stay Home

WARNING: The following blog entry contains strong language. I'm sorry, but I'm really, really angry.

This is Thanksgiving week, and I was finally forced to pay attention to the news that some retailers (Target, Sears, Toys 'R' Us, Wal-Mart, and Gap, Inc. to name a few) will actually be opening on Thanksgiving Day.

Think about that statement for a second.

I'll cut right to the chase here: as someone who worked for over ten years in a traditional retail setting, I think this is an unconscionable violation of retail employees' right to a day with their families and an example of the profit motive run completely rampant. It's bad enough that so many companies engage in "Midnight Madness" (the practice of opening at midnight on Black Friday with the intent of capitalizing on huge amounts of shoppers opening their wallets for holiday sales) which forces store employees to be pre-occupied all of Thanksgiving Day with having to WORK AT MIDNIGHT so Joe and Jane Doe can get that 70" flat-screen plasma Internet television with a built-in coffeemaker at 65% off or else their shitty kids won't love them anymore. Now these companies (and the consumers who support them, loud and clear, by spending their money at that time) expect their employees to show up to work on a national holiday? Jesus Christ.

How did we find ourselves in this sad state of affairs? To me, it seems like a factor of two things: greedy companies (who are apparently creating the demand for these hours, according to the article referenced above) and a consumer base that's apparently more concerned with a great deal than they are with taking even one fucking day to slow down and relax, let alone allowing their fellow citizens who work in retail to have the same opportunity.

Apparently these companies' investors are concerned with profits. To them I simply say the following: take your profits and shove them right up your collective ass. The employees who you pay crap to efficiently run your stores have friends and families too, and they deserve at least one full day to enjoy some time with them, never mind a day to just relax.

With regard to any consumer who patronizes a business that is open for any length of time on Thanksgiving Day, please know that your actions will be deplorable.  Is your family so awful, so profoundly dysfunctional that you can't spend more than a few hours with them before you need to ditch them for a sale on the newest Xbox for your pimply teenage son who should be reading a book -any book- anyway? Sit the fuck down, eat some god damn turkey, and then continue sitting the fuck down until the end of the day. Napping is also acceptable.

Think about what you're doing and the effect that your decision to shop on Thanksgiving has on other peoples' lives. Retailers, especially large ones, will follow the money trail. If you give them no trail they'll have nothing to follow, so please remember that it's up to you to decide whether this horrendous practice will continue.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Little Obnoxious

It was 45 degrees and sunny when I left the house this morning, and I couldn't have been happier. Besides not showing up to work a sweaty mess, I finally get to wear the closest thing to "go-to-hell" pants that I own: brown with big green windowpanes.

Sometimes it's okay to be a little obnoxious.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Too Long For Facebook

A Facebook friend of mine posted this link from NPR to my wall and asked "Comments?"

Careful what you wish for. The information in the link is not entirely accurate; what follows, on the other hand, is accurate. Allow me to geek out.

The resurgence of tailored menswear has brought confusion. Many off-the-rack retailers advertise clothing with “bespoke details” and the word “custom” has been confused with “made-to-measure” to the point where both have nearly been rendered meaningless. To eliminate the confusion on the matter, here's the difference among the terms "ready-to-wear (RTW)," "made-to-measure (MTM)," and "bespoke."

Before we get into these differences, we need to know how canvas works. Nearly every suit jacket has some kind of canvas between the fabric and the lining of the jacket. Higher-end jackets, regardless of whether they're RTW, MTM, or bespoke, will have natural canvas (usually a woven horsehair/linen blend) that's tacked to the fabric and acts as a free-floating third layer. It breaks in over time, lasts longer, and molds to your body shape. Cheaper jackets (most RTW and some MTM's) use a fused canvas, which is a synthetic reproduction of natural canvas that is glued (fused) to the fabric. It's faster and less expensive, thus keeping costs down. To say that the lining and fabric are fused together as the graphic does is inaccurate. It's also worth noting that full-canvased RTW suits with expensive materials exist, which the graphic linked to above ignores.

We also need to know what a "pattern" is. When a suit is made, something called a “pattern” is drawn. This isn't a pattern like pinstripes or checks, but rather the shape of each individual panel of the suit. This is drawn with pencil onto paper and cut out into the aforementioned panels. These paper panels are then placed onto the fabric that will be used for the suit and their outlines traced with tailor's chalk, at which point they are cut and sewn together into a wearable garment called a suit.

In short, any suit (RTW, MTM, or full custom) can theoretically be constructed using whatever method the manufacturer or customer chooses. 

RTW suits are all made from block patterns (tailorspeak for a stock size), assembled en masse in a factory, shipped to stores and sold as finished garments. These are generally cheaper because of their mass-produced nature and generally employ a fused construction but may also be half-canvassed (described correctly in the graphic) or fully canvassed. 

If a suit is classified as MTM, that means that a client's measurements have been taken and his suit will be cut from a pre-existing block pattern that is altered to fit those measurements. The operative term here is pre-existing, which is to emphasize that in a made-to-measure scenario, a pattern is not drawn from scratch for an individual customer. There is generally more machine work involved in made-to-measure garments and a limited amount of hand work; as a result they tend to be less expensive than their bespoke counterparts and therefore serve as a good introductory customized garment for a lot of men. These too may be fused, but are generally half- or fully canvassed.

Bespoke” or “custom” garments, on the other hand, are a different story. In this situation, the client's measurements are taken and then a pattern is drawn for him from scratch. These garments traditionally involve no less than three fittings and involve 60+ hours of work. This is the more traditional way of constructing a custom suit, as made-to-measure is a more modern, technologically driven construction method. Custom garments tend to be made mostly by hand, which increases the turnaround time, quality, and expense. If you ever see a garment advertised as “custom” or “bespoke” and it costs less than $2000 at full retail price, chances are a less-than-scrupulous retailer isn't being totally honest with you. I have never heard of a wool bespoke suit being anything but full canvas.

My tailor summed it up very nicely when he said, “Made-to-measure is like customizing a track house that is being built in a new development with the guidance of a real estate agent or the land developer. Bespoke is having a custom house built on your own land with the help of an architect and contractor.” 

Price is always influenced by two factors: construction and fabric. You can put an expensive fabric on a cheaply made RTW suit or put a cheap fabric on a full-canvas custom suit and spend $2000 either way, more than the graphic indicates. To say price is determined solely by a suit's status as RTW, MTM, or custom is an oversimplification.

NPR doesn't get into this, but it's important to understand that while different construction/fabric combinations command different prices, the more relevant aspect for a suit-wearer is value, which varies from person to person. Do you work in construction and wear a suit 3 times a year? You're better off going with a fused suit, as that rate of wear will allow it to last you an incredibly long time. Do you wear a suit five days a week to your white-collar job? If so, think about it in terms of cost-per-wear. Better-constructed suits will last longer with heavier wear, meaning that the while the up-front investment is higher, it will actually save you money in the long run. 

As always, different strokes for different folks.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hidden Treasure

I know this is a crap photo, but since I've been talking about ties and pocket squares, I figured this little combo was relevant. The colors sync up nicely here; there's orange in both pieces, but the hanky has hints of purple and blue in the plaid, though it's tough to see in this picture. Orange and purple is one of my favorite color combinations, and I can't believe it's taken me this long to mix these two items, given that I've had both in my closet for at least two years. It was like finding hidden treasure.

Next up: ruffly pirate shirts.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Tie/Handkerchief Dilemma

We're living in well-dressed times. More than any time in the past decade, men have lately been taking more pride in their appearance and the image it projects. While it's important to have some natural ability in matters of attire, it's equally (if not more) important to learn the rules of clothing to as to manipulate them and, eventually, tastefully break them. The first concept where men can generally use some guidance is coordinating a tie and pocket square.

First and foremost, note usage of the word “coordinate” as opposed to “match.” To match your tie to your handkerchief is poor form for a couple of reasons. For starters, it draws the viewer's eye horizontally across your chest and takes attention away from your face, which does you no favors at all.

Secondly, it lacks sophistication. Certain things make sense to be sold in pairs: shoes, socks, cufflinks, the Olsen twins on the black market. Ties and pocket squares, on the other hand, should be sold separately. Anyone selling them in matching sets is a clothier of dubious distinction and is not to be trusted, much less supported with your business.

Successful coordination between ties and hankies isn't all that difficult if you think of both in terms of color and pattern. For example, let's say you're wearing a red/blue striped tie like I am in the picture above. If you'd like to coordinate the stripes, wear a handkerchief with blue/white stripes or a plaid, as the straight lines of the plaid sync up nicely with those of the striped tie. If you'd like to focus on color, you can do solid red, solid blue, blue with red dots, red with blue paisley, etc. As you get a bit more advanced, you can start playing with complementary colors: that same red/blue tie can take a purple pocket square, for example, because blue and red make purple. For more insight on this, all you have to do is remember your primary (red, blue, and yellow) and secondary colors (orange, purple, and green). Most of these colors will play nicely with the others, depending on shade.

As a guideline, remember that a white pocket square goes with anything and is to be worn exclusively with semi-formal and formal wear. Finally, keep in mind the Rule of Two, oft-stated as “one for blowin', one for showin'.” The idea here is that a gentleman has two handkerchiefs at all times: one for show in his breast pocket, and one in his back pocket should he or someone else need it to clean up a spill, wipe away sweat, and even plug up a nosebleed. Perfect for the pugnacious gentleman, eh?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Style Profile: Paul F. Tompkins

Last Friday night I had the pleasure of going on a double date with my girlfriend and a couple of friends of hers to see Paul F. Tompkins at Plays and Players Theater in Center City. A brief review:

1. The man does high-brow humor incredibly well. Not only did I laugh my ass off throughout most of his show, his usage of the word perfunctory forced me to look it up on (decidedly not in a perfunctory way), so I learned something too. Bonus!

2. Mr. Tompkins can dress. Like, really well. Take a look:

I lifted this picture from his Facebook page; hopefully my admitting this and the fact that I make no money whatsoever from this (obscure) blog (with a whopping 46 followers) will contribute to his not filing a lawsuit against me for using his likeness. 

Anyway, he's pictured above in the same jacket and bow tie he wore when I saw him, and I'm 90% sure the pants are the same. This look is excellent because not only is it completely dandy -confident, colorful, and perfectly tailored- but it's also a great image projection for both his personality and his profession as an entertainer. He's clearly having fun with how he dresses, but the cut and proportion of his clothing are so exact that it screams, "I am smart professional who's good at what he does." His hair and mustache, while unfortunately reminiscent of Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy, hearken back to burlesque days when taken in context with his outfit. Here's a breakdown of what's going on here:

1. The Jacket: This is clearly the center piece of the outfit. It's a great shade of medium blue with a bold chalk stripe and is a relatively unconventional 4x2 double-breasted model (meaning it has four outside buttons, two of which are functional). I can't know for sure, but I'll bet that it's custom, judging from the color of the buttons and the contrast-colored stitching on the front-most sleeve button. It was properly done with peaked lapels and side vents, and trust me when I say that the fit was, to quote Marisa Tomei's character from My Cousin Vinny, "dead-on-balls accurate."

2. The Bow Tie: Perfectly proportioned insofar as it wasn't wider than his face, and the color coordinated beautifully with the jacket. Also, he was wearing a friggin' bow tie! How awesome is that?

3. The Shirt: I remember him wearing a white barrel-cuff shirt at the show, but he's pictured here in a French cuff number. You can tell it's custom from the monogram on the left cuff, and while I can appreciate a monogram, I have to say that putting them on a visible part of your clothing strikes me as pompous. I don't think Mr. Tompkins is a pompous individual, so since he's obviously reading this (right?), I humbly suggest taking a cue from Fred Astaire in the future and placing his monogram on the left front of his shirt where it'll be covered by his jacket. It also has a certain old-school charm that I'm a fan of.

4. The Pants: Whereas the jacket is bold and attention-grabbing, the pants Mr. Tompkins opts for here are the perfect counterpoint in their simple grey solidity. Matching the trousers here could work, but it could also turn into costume-y overkill very easily. He made a great choice to tone it down here.

5. The Mini-Boutonniere: I love this for two reasons: men don't wear boutonnieres often enough, and it makes up for his lack of handkerchief. Well-played.

Though they're not visible in the picture, he was wearing brown dress loafers and red socks (matches the boutonniere!) at the show. This guy was killing it sartorially AND comedically; to that end, I leave you with this:

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tough Guys Wear Pink, Pt. II

Though the heat and humidity at this point in the summer make me yearn for fall, I never want to give up wearing bright colors with the change of season. I always think color is just more interesting to look at as opposed to wearing just neutrals like black, grey, or cream, but I mostly enjoy the challenge of pairing colors that complement each other well. I was so pleased with the combination you see below that I took thirty seconds out of my day to post it on Facebook, so you know it's a huge deal:

The shirt is a custom one from my new job and the tie is at least seven years old, bought at Banana Republic when I worked there. Pink and blue is a can't-miss combo, especially if your facial complexion has a pinkish hue to it. Many pasty white men like myself have this complexion. If you have blue eyes, all the better. The lesson here is that when you mimic the background colors in your skin or your hair and eye color, you do yourself a huge favor in terms of elevating your countenance from "nice" to "awesome." I didn't make this discovery myself; many a menswear author like Alan Flusser have written about the subject already, so know that I'm regurgitating information here. But keep in mind that it's very useful information.

Please don't hesitate to ape this combo; it's not like I was the first guy to ever do it, and I certainly won't be the last. If you do, pairing it with dark jeans, grey slacks, or navy blue pants is a home run. 

Style vs. Fashion

I'd like to start this entry off with a brief quiz:

Please select how you prefer to hear yourself described:

a. As a stylish guy.
b. As a fashionable guy.

Ah, the age-old question of fashion versus style. The difference is akin to that between a square and a rectangle. While every square is a rectangle but not every rectangle is a square, all stylish men are fashionable but not all fashionable men are stylish.

Fashionability is wearing whatever the people at GQ decide is cool for any given season. For the past few years, this has meant super slim skinny jeans, tiny suits with narrow lapels, one-inch-wide ties, breakless pants that sit low on the waist, or whatever else the Sartorialist seems to enjoy photographing. A lot of what we're going to see for Fall 2012 in men's suiting is the double-breasted suit, but with the bottom two buttons missing. Like many fashion trends, it's an interesting idea on paper but is silly upon execution.

To be fashionable is to be strictly of the moment. To be strictly of the moment is to not be timeless.

Stylish men, on the other hand, understand that looking good is not so much about wearing the latest trends but rather about understanding your body type and complexion and how those relate to the silhouettes and colors that work for you specifically. It's also about the geometrical relationship amongst the garments themselves. They may flex some trendier items into their wardrobes, but only if those items work within the aforementioned parameters. Armed with confidence because they're playing to their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses, they acquire true style not just in their clothing, but in all aspects of their lives, right down to the way they stand. Well-fitting clothes will make you stand up straighter, I swear.

Stylish men are comfortable in their own skin and their clothes are a an extension of that skin.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Made in China

Despite the typical partisan harumphing that politicians in Washington consistently subject us to because they're incapable of acting like adults, they've amazingly managed to unite behind an issue that's clearly more important than health care, Afghanistan, the War on Drugs, or job creation: the fact that the uniforms for the U.S. Olympic team -made by Ralph Lauren- are manufactured in China. You can see the collection here.

I agree that to have our team's uniforms made overseas when there are plenty of American factories that could have done the work is in poor taste. It's particularly insensitive considering our countries' unemployment rate. And while I never, ever thought I'd hear myself say this, I actually agree with House Speaker John Boehner (apparently not pronounced "boner") when he stated in this article from the (don't ask) Christian Science Monitor, "You'd think they'd know better." He hit the nail on the head in both tone and word choice. Senator Harry Reid, on the other hand, gets his likely foreign-made panties all in a bunch when he complains, "I am so upset. I think the Olympic Committee should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be embarrassed. I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again."

Really, Harry? Jesus Christ. I'm sorry the bad man hurt your feelings, but wipe the snot from your nose and be reasonable.

First, let's think about this from the perspective of supporting American businesses. I don't have access to the closets of the individual members of Congress, so I don't know if they exclusively purchase clothing that whose materials and construction are one hundred percent American. If they don't, however, comments like Reid's would start sounding real hypocritical real quick.

Second, I'm willing to bet that had the clothes been made in Italy, England or France -anywhere but China, really- there would have been much less of an uproar, if any at all. Jim Nelson, GQ's Editor-in-Chief, once put it succinctly that China is our econo-political "frenemy." They own tons of our debt and are known to commit human rights abuses against their workers, but the fact remains that we do business with them because paying Chinese workers dirt means American companies get their goods much cheaper than they would otherwise, and those savings are passed on to the consumer. The same goods (clothing, in this case) made in the U.S., England, Italy, or Germany -countries that have much better labor laws than China and many other Southeast Asian countries- would be much more expensive due to labor costs, and far fewer of us would be able to buy them. 

Ralph Lauren is no exception. The men's double-breasted blazer that's part of his 2012 Olympics collection retails at $795. The details listed with the coat mention nothing of the actual fabric quality (all we know is that it's Italian wool, no Super number assigned to it, no mention of what mill it came from) and don't utter a peep about the its construction. There's nothing special about any substantial detail of this jacket. While $795 might seem like a lot for a blazer, that's with Chinese labor. At American labor rates, the final retail price would be much higher. 

I'm not trying to make a judgement call here. I think it's terrible that a lot of Chinese factory workers work 12-hour shifts 6 days a week for like $7 a day. It's equally terrible that so many American factory jobs have become too expensive to keep in this country (in business owners' and board member's eyes), robbing too many people of employment opportunities. But I'm still complicit in the system, as is anyone who still buys things from countries towards which they feel ill will. Before we make Ralph Lauren our scapegoat, maybe all of us could take some time to think about our own buying habits and how they influence the global economy. 

I get why Congress is upset; Ralph Lauren should have at least had the good sense to manufacture his 2012 Olympics line in the States, but you lie in the bed you make. The U.S. does business with China and we look the other way when they commit human rights abuses because it's cheaper than taking our business elsewhere. A company like Ralph Lauren has been taking advantage of cheap labor for years, and while it would have been much more appropriate to manufacture this line domestically, what did Congress expect? For a business to increase its expenditures in a crappy economy when it didn't need to? Spare me the naivete and the selectively jingoistic election-year outrage while you're at it. Until our representatives and senators start exclusively wearing American-made garments, their time would be much better spent actually working on solving the country's problems. Legislate, legislators. Don't grandstand.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Mason-Dixon Line

I received this in my inbox a few days ago, clearly from a Zoo With Roy reader:

"I am a regular reader of your bolg, Dress Like A Man. I was hoping that you could address an issue close to my, um, heart. How should a sweaty man dress for summer heat? Do you think that as we in large Northeastern cities see temperatures that increasingly imitate the American south, we will or should adopt southern styles of dress? What does that mean or look like? How can we sweaty men dress for hot, humid weather with elegance and charm?"

Summer is the bane of every sweaty man's existence. I myself am a sweaty man, and ten straight days of 90+ degree heat is torture. I get to work looking like a drowned rat and it takes me another fifteen minutes to cool down.

Historically, Southerners have been more accustomed to this kind of heat, and I think it makes perfect sense to adopt some styles of their dress now that climate change is taking up shop. Southern guys have a flair for color, and cotton suits look fantastic in the summer. In fact, two cotton styles that stood the test of time -seersucker and madras- are actually Indian in origin. Well-to-do Brits would wear these styles in warm-weather colonies, and they naturally took off well in the American South.

Seersucker, madras, and louder colors work well up North for more casual outings and have become quite popular, but you'll be laughed out of the office at most workplaces if you were to dress like Andre 3000, as amazing as he looks:

While I strongly advocate wearing seersucker and madras from a style-centric point of view, there are alternatives. Nothing is going to actually keep you cool on a super hot day (that's what air conditioning is for), there are some steps to take that will minimize the heat you feel. Here are some tips:

1. Buy a Cotton Suit   

If you need to dress up when it's hot as hell outside, try a cotton suit. Again, while seersucker and madras generally won't fly up in the Mid-Atlantic for business, a solid like this will. The light tan color you see here is one of many color options generally available. You can generally find them in other colors such as navy, grey, tan, and black. You can also get extra mileage out of the individual pieces by pairing the jacket with jeans or wearing just the pants with a shirt for a more casual look.

2. Wear Light(er)weight Wool Fabrics

Wool is not just for cold months. It's a breathable fabric that can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture, meaning it's very difficult to soil no matter how sweaty you are (cotton, by comparison, can absorb up to about 15% of its weight in moisture). Fabric weight is measured in ounces per linear yard of fabric; most "year-round" suits weigh in at 10-11 ounces. Lightweight wools are often 8-9 ounces, so think about investing in a summer suit if you don't have one. Regardless of weight, look for suits that have minimal lining for summer wear. This will improve air circulation, increasing your level of comfort.

3. Ditch the Socks

Well, don't ditch them so much as buy different ones. A lot of retailers now sell "loafer socks," which are essentially the same things as women's peds you can get at a drug store but have been re-branded so as to protect our precious, fragile masculinity. I've been wearing them for years and my guy friends have been giving me shit about since day one, but you know what? I am more comfortable in the heat with these than you jokers wearing regular socks, and my shoes don't smell rotten like you other jokers going completely sockless. They also facilitate looking awesome when and if you decide to roll your pants up a bit. Grow a pair and buy a pair. 

4. Roll Your Pants Up A Bit

You'd be surprised how much more comfortable you feel with uncovered ankles. And yeah, I know rolling the bottoms of your pants up supposedly this hipster thing that's actually a renaissance of a fad from the late 80's-early 90's, but to hell with that. The man in the picture above is Gene Kelly, his pants are rolled up, and he was born in 1912. So whatever. 

5. Handkerchiefs Are Functional

A white cotton or linen square is the sweaty man's best friend in the heat. Aside from providing an elegant finishing touch to a suit jacket, it actually functions as a handkerchief. Throw one in your back pocket and wipe the sweat off your brow occasionally. A man with sweat dripping off his face looks neither elegant nor charming.

The most important thing to remember when attempting to dress with "elegance and charm" is to put thought into what you wear and truly care about your appearance and the image you project to the world. This concept applies year-round on both sides of the Mason-Dixon, whether you're wearing a t-shirt and shorts or a 3-piece suit and tie. Coordinate your colors, make sure your clothes fit properly, and always show a sense of sartorial decorum. Those around you will appreciate the effort and you'll feel better about yourself.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Clothes On A Plane

Jeans and a sweater at the airport. I'm not asking for much here.

While browsing the Huffington Post today, I read an interesting story about a woman who was nearly prevented from boarding a Southwest Airlines flight because her clothing was "inappropriate" due to the cleavage she was showing. Follow this link to read the full story, but to summarize, it also touched on the subject of a different woman who was prevented from catching her connecting flight because she was wearing a (hilarious and poignant) t-shirt that said "If I wanted the government in my womb, I'd f*ck a senator." It also mentioned Green Day's frontman Billie Joe Armstrong being kicked off a Southwest flight for wearing pants that hung too low and a man dressed in women's lingerie who, amazingly, was allowed to fly on US Airways without incident. Apparently different airlines have different dress code policies, and the article poses the question of whether or not there should be a standardized dress code on flights.

I'm iffy on the idea of a flight dress code, or at least on the idea of airlines expanding on something that's already codified. Many airlines have common sense rules: everyone wants to be safe and comfortable, so please keep the safety and comfort of your fellow passengers in mind. It's vague, but that's a good thing because what's offensive to one person is perfectly fine with another. You can't please everyone. I, for one, am perfectly fine with the t-shirt mentioned above because I like its message. Additionally, if I did find it offensive, it's very easy for me to NOT LOOK AT IT because I have an iPod, a book, a magazine, or a life that's got more important things going on than to take issue with someone's t-shirt. I take issue, however, with someone getting on a flight wearing just his/her underwear. Both are grabs for attention, but the latter is past the point of being reasonable. It's called "underwear" for a reason. It goes under your clothing, it does not suffice as clothing itself unless you're in the comfort of your own home.

These common sense rules should extend to looking minimally decent, and not just because you're flying. You're going out in public, which should be reason enough. A few years ago, an older cousin of mine related a story of flying as a young girl. Apparently, flying used to be an event unto itself. Passengers dressed up and treated it as a luxury experience worthy of some sartorial reverence and decorum. I thought this was hilarious, given that many passengers nowadays treat going to the airport as an excuse to dress like a slob. I'll be the first to admit that getting through an airport nowadays is a royal pain in the ass -you have to take your shoes off, you might get frisked, and the geniuses in line say helpful things like, "This line is ridiculous. They should open another one"-but not showering and throwing on a velour sweatsuit? Come on. I don't think that we should be forced to wear suits when flying, but we should all be held to a certain aesthetic standard of not looking slovenly. We're all adults here. Dress the part.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reader Question

This ended up on my Facebook page a while ago:

"So, I know you don't write about women's fashion, but here's a topic to consider: Why it might be considered trashy to wear a fur coat to the zoo."

Gladly. While I don't disagree with using the word "trashy" in this instance, I think a more descriptive word is "uncouth." Wearing fur has been politically incorrect for years now, and with good reason: it represents the most conspicuous of consumption, is unnecessary due to the ubiquity of other materials that are both luxurious and warm (you may have heard of wool, for example) and the undue suffering to the animals slaughtered to make it. I certainly don't claim to be a saint when it comes to consuming animal products; I wear calfskin shoes and eat so much meat that my girlfriend needs to periodically check up on my fruit and vegetable consumption, but meat and leather substitutes are either difficult to come by or taste like crap. It's a lose lose for me. Faux fur is all over the place. 

Wearing a fur coat to the zoo is uncouth because it shows a blatant insensitivity to the essentially imprisoned animals who obviously can't help their own plight (though it's important to mention that they're treated incredibly well). It's the sartorial equivalent of Kobe Bryant playing in a basketball game at the Special Olympics. Or showing off your Rolex to the guy next to you at a homeless shelter who lost his job and can't get back on his feet. In either situation, we would rightfully harumph.

To be constructive, wear jeans, a sweater, and a wool coat to the zoo when it's cold out. While animals can't throw paint on you if you wear fur, they can certainly urinate on your if you get too close. And you'd deserve it, too. 

A Growing Impatience

Back in April, I left my job as a retail manager and started working for a men's custom clothier/image consulting company. This is pretty much the best job ever, for two reasons:

1. I get paid to talk about tailored clothing all day long, and
2. I get some custom clothing out of the deal.

My two suits (one an incredibly light grey, the other a blue thats a bit lighter than navy) were ordered back when I started and just got in last week for their second fitting. They're currently at the tailor getting finished and I'm absolutely pumped (and becoming increasingly impatient) to get the finished products and start rocking them. Hard.

You'll get some action shots when they arrive, but for now, check the name label:

Yeah, it's like that. I refuse to use my actual first and last name on any future name labels, as that's just too damned easy. This means that I'll eventually need some help coming up with irreverent ideas. Feel free to chime in, but know that I've already decided to use "Mr. President" and "The Hebrew Haberdasher."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

B Is For Badass Brits in Bow Ties

A short while back a reader left the following comment on Tie It Up, Pt. II:

"Hey there. So, you've done a couple of posts now about ties, but what about the bow tie? How do we make that work without looking like Orville Reddenbacher or our grandfather at prom? I'd really like to rock it (and I do), but my propensity for tweed, elbow patches, and other remnants of a bygone age isn't helping. So, bow tie challenge?"

First, thanks for reading. I'll admit that bow ties are pretty difficult for most men to pull off in the real world, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't try. The last time I wore a bow tie was when I had to work on Christmas Eve; I figured that if I had to work while everyone else and their mother was out shopping and enjoying the holiday season, you could bet your ass that I was going to be a little festive (and perhaps just a bit obnoxious) and rock a plaid wool bow tie.

That's the thing with bow ties: they're uncommon and can therefore be perceived as affected, silly, or obnoxious, as I mentioned above. The keys to pulling one off are twofold:

1. Know your proportions: Bow ties come in various sizes and styles. Larger-framed men can do better with larger-scale bow ties, whereas smaller-framed men (like a certain author of a certain blog you happen to be currently reading) do better with smaller-scale bow ties.

2. There are a few different types of bow ties:

The diamond:

The butterfly:

And my personal favorite, the batwing:

Try each one out and learn what you like and what looks good on you. A little experimentation goes a long way.

3. Tie that shit yourself: Would you ever wear a clip-on necktie? No. So why would you ever wear a clip-on bow tie? I dressed up as Pee-Wee Herman for Halloween back in 2009 and insisted on tying the bright red bow tie myself, and it took me about 90 minutes to learn by watching this video on YouTube. Note what the nice man says about finding your neck size.

The most important aspect of tying a bow tie yourself is the imperfect look it'll create; it's not supposed to be perfectly symmetrical, and if anyone tells you otherwise, refer them to the most badass Briton in their country's history:

That, sir, is how you wear a bow tie. Emulate this man and you are untouchable.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tie It Up, Pt. II

After downloading the "How To Tie a Tie" app on my phone, I've recently become enamored with learning as many tie knots as possible. This is taking a hell of a long time; I've been a half-Windsor guy since about 2004, and old habits die hard. As a result of a lot of practice and maybe divine intervention, I had a breakthrough this morning and managed to tie a decent four-in-hand knot. Check it out:

If you look at the upper left side of the knot (your left, not mine), you'll see that it sits a bit higher than the right. This asymmetry is the hallmark of the classic four-in-hand; it's supposed to elicit a casual feel, a devil-may-care attitude that says, "Yeah, I put a tie on today and didn't even have to pay all that much attention to how I did it (although I paid way too much attention to how I did it)." It's very unlike my favored half-Windsor, which should be perfectly triangular and thicker. It's also more of a pain in the ass to tie, so I might be doing this four-in-hand thing for a while.

Also, look at the dimple in that thing. I was patting myself on the back for that all day.

For a great instructional video on ho to tie one of these bad boys, click here. Just remember that you'll likely have to play around with the initial length differential depending on your height (and how much of that height is in your torso as opposed to your legs), so don't get discouraged when you miss it the fifty or so times.      

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tangled Up In Brown

Just a couple of nights ago, I had both the pleasure and the privilege of being invited to two friends' rehearsal dinner before their wedding. This was a particularly thoughtful gesture; my girlfriend is a bridesmaid while I'll just be reprising my role as drunken reveler on the big day. They went above and beyond the rules of wedding etiquette by inviting me, and I'm incredibly grateful for the gesture. Being the skinny fat man that I am, I will never refuse a delicious dinner, especially on someone else's dime. 


In the days leading up to the dinner, however, I wondered: what the hell am I going to wear? I wear jeans 90% of the time (my work dress code pretty much requires it), so I was excited at the thought of actually dressing up a bit. I brought up some pretty bold sartorial choices to my girlfriend, and she had the good sense to remind me that it was still a casual dinner and to maybe not do everything in my power to draw attention to myself. 

She was right, and that's probably the only time she'll every get that in writing. It wasn't a dinner in my honor, so while it behooved me to dress well, being too rakish would have been a distasteful choice. Best to allow the attention to be directed where it belonged: to the bride and groom. Many people turn to black when they'd like to look nice without standing out, but I don't like black at all. In fact, I own no black clothing whatsoever. I did have a smart pair of dark brown dress pants though, so I decided on the following get-up, based on earth tones. Please pardon the poor photo quality; I'm not a good photographer and have never claimed to be:

I figured chocolate brown shoes would be too, well, chocolatey with chocolate brown pants, so I went with my new tan penny loafers:

In a rare turn of events, I decided to wear socks that weren't terribly bold in color (note the fine pinstripes in the pants):

The shirt is a beautiful but subdued multi-colored check, and the sport coat is the one I got back in November 2010 that I've worn nearly every single day that's been under 55 degrees. It was awesome with these pants:

All in all, I think it was a successful attempt at being sartorially respectful but still tasteful. Sometimes a little restraint goes a long way.

But only a little.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hitting The Links

One of the perks of having an awesome girlfriend is that sometimes she buys you awesome things. I've made it clear from day one that I have a penchant for anything clothing related, and she knocked it out of the park with the cufflinks you see here:

These are totally sweet cufflinks. They're a completely neutral brushed silver, and they're handsome as all hell. What's even more impressive is that she found them on Etsy, meaning that she supported a local artisan and found something cool and a bit unusual, not something from the Donald Trump Collection at Macy's.

Good job, babe. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

KISS Is Not Just A Terrible Band

Let there be no confusion on the issue: I am a whore for pattern mixing. Not to give myself too much of a pat on the back, but I think this is a behavior exhibited and enjoyed by most advanced dressers. Managing to combine a gingham shirt with a paisley tie and a polka dot pocket square is a skill that takes a lot of time and practice to cultivate. Given that I've spent more time cultivating this skill than balancing my checkbook or learning to cook something that isn't Velveeta macaroni and cheese, I'm usually very happy to show it off.

There are times, however, when the concept of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is called for. My girlfriend's workplace had a small open house a few days ago, and I figured that a little discretion was called for when meeting her boss and co-workers. Since I take "discretion" to mean "take it easy on the lavender socks and blue handkerchief with pink medallions," I opted for something a bit more sober and stuck to solids: a white dress shirt, navy blue tie, and grey merino wool cardigan. Dark, slim jeans and chocolate brown dress loafers rounded everything out, though I couldn't help myself with some argyle socks. Whatever. Sue me.

Wearing so many neutral solids at once had the additional benefit of reminding me that no matter what else, fit is king. Period. A simple but impeccably-fitted outfit will always look better than an ornate one that doesn't conform to the body properly. Never stray from that concept.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Learn Your Alterations: Lower A Collar

As I've said approximately 23,864,910 times before, very few articles of clothing will ever fit anyone perfectly off-the-rack. The shopping trip I went on with my girlfriend and a friend of ours last weekend further proved that. While clothes shopping is one of my favorite ways to pass the time, it can be frustrating for me due to the relative unavailability of off-the-rack clothes in a size that approximates my own. My girlfriend, on the other hand, fits into most clothes with no problems, and I'm not at all bitter or jealous of her in that respect.

Nope. Neither bitter nor jealous. Not one bit.

Anyway, we were at a thrift store where I can sometimes find cool things in my size; this place has blessed me with two pairs of impeccably fitting Levi's (one of which needed no alterations!), a white dress shirt with pink stripes (which needed plenty of alterations), and a few other things. 

While the pair of pants I was hoping would work ended up squeezing my thighs and giving me a case of moose knuckle like you wouldn't believe, I came across this beautiful jacket that didn't fit me, but could very well fit a buddy of mine (buddy and jacket are pictured here): 

It's a gorgeous Prince of Wales check in a black/grey with blue overlay, made from English wool, and has a substantial weight and luxurious hand that led me to believe it was worth much more that the $14 I paid for it. To hell with the fact that it couldn't fit me in a million years, I needed to buy it for someone so it would have a good home. It fits the gent above pretty well, but there's too much material across the shoulders, better demonstrated in this photo:

See all that extra material I'm pinching together there? That's referred to as a "roll" in your collar, and if left unattended, it can cause damage to the garment over the long term and misshape it.

The fix? Take it to a competent tailor and have him/her lower the collar. It's a pretty common alteration, and it'll do wonders for the look of your jacket. Don't pass up a great deal just because something doesn't fit you perfectly right off the bat.