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.