Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jos. A. Bank Buy 1 Suit, Get 2 Free Sale

I probably won't alert on all of these sales because they happen relatively frequently, but through Saturday, Jos. A. Bank is  giving away two free suits (same or lesser value) for each one you purchase.  This is a 66% discount (if you need three suits), which is close to as good of a deal as you can get from them.  You can order online, but I'd recommend going to a convenient brick-and-mortar (if there is one) and paying the same price there because you'll make a long-term pal out of your salesperson, who can then clue you in on the occasional unadvertised hot deal.  You also know exactly what color fabric you are getting, and, if it's your first suit in a while, you can make sure the shoulders fit.

Happy hunting.

Faux Pas: The Jacket's Bottom Button

Just don't button it.  Ever.

There is an exception for JFK:

How can you, too, qualify for this exception?
1. Be the rakish scion of one of the last American aristocratic families.
2. Get elected President so that you can hang out with guys like Wernher von Braun.
3. Get all your suits custom-made by some outrageously expensive bespoke house so that your two jacket buttons are placed higher than normal. I mean, look at it--his bottom jacket button is practically on his navel.  You won't find that at Dillard's.

Note how the closed bottom button works on JFK and not on WvB.  Case closed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

In Praise Of: The Spread Collar With the Full Windsor

The Full Windsor (a/k/a the Windsor or Double Windsor) is the most fulsome and congruent of the major necktie knots.  It is also my favorite tie knot for a spread collar (like the one in the photo).  The spread collar's expanse calls for a knot with some impact, and the Windsor is the best tool for the job unless your tie is cut wide or made of a thick material.  The Windsor's thickness and heft keep the collar standing at attention throughout even a long day.

Unfortunately, many inexpensive satin ties are simply too thin, even in a full Windsor, to ever carry a spread collar.  These ties are generally not worth keeping anyway.

I do not recommend the Full Windsor with a straight collar (example here) because the Windsor is not an especially long knot (compared to the four-in-hand tied with a thick tie).  Generally, the Windsor will end a half-inch or more above the points of such a collar, leading to a somewhat cluttered and unbalanced look.  However, if your tie is unusually thick and luxurious, and you can get a long, thick dimple (as pictured in the link), the knot assemblage may be just substantial enough to carry the day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Color Is Hard: My New Favorite Hat

One benefit to visiting Filene's Basement more than once a week is that their good hats tend to turn over within about 48 hours.  Don't blink, or you'll miss it.  (The more outlandish hats, on the other hand, never get bought.)  I picked up this gentlehat for $16 in my size, which is very rare given that I wear an L/XL and most hats that the Farragut North Filene's sees are sized M/L or S/M. 

It's a very fine houndstooth pattern that only reveals itself up close.  The crosshatching you see is actually black and brown thread woven over a sort of cream-colored background with that burnt-umber stripe smattered throughout.  It just so happened that the suit I was wearing that day was brown with overlapping pinstripes colored white and rust with a hint of black thread:

Matchy-matchy hats look odd because the fabric will never be exactly the same texture or color as what you're wearing, but this hat contains the same colors as the suit without having them in the same proportion or arrangement.  They just "go" together.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Secret Weapons: A Great D.C. Shoe Shine

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I hesitate to share this with you since he's busy enough as it is, but the shoe shine fellow at the Johnston & Murphy on Connecticut near Farragut North charges just $10 for a thorough shine plus edge dressing. Even accounting for tip, this is a steal.

He took my four-year-old cap-toes and made them look almost brand new. Talk about extending a shoe's useful life.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Shirt Cuff Length

Yeah...that's just about perfect.  Remember, one goal of men's business and formal dress is to have no exposed skin apart from the hands, upper neck, and face.  This includes:

- no wrists, even when you reach out to shake someone's hand
- no shins or calves, even when you cross your leg
- no throat

Why is this a goal?  I have no idea.  But in the mid- to late 1800s, it would have been unthinkable to greet visitors when you were undressed--that is, wearing only slacks, a dress shirt, a waistcoat, and a necktie.

Office holiday party this afternoon.  Wearing my favorite suit (slim-cut gray Hickey from Filene's), white Paul Fredrick pinpoint Oxford shirt with barrel cuffs (because I'm evidently playing guitar to accompany Christmas carols and French cuffs get in the way of both hands), a deep maroon/burgundy Calvin Klein slim tie in a full Windsor that is nevertheless tiny, OTC gray socks with an argyle pattern, and my shined-up black cap-toes.  Feeling like a million bucks.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NYT Picks Up the Trend Toward Dapper

An interesting article here. Thesis: the resurgence of dressing well among young men is a reaction to the Boomer generation's "casual Friday" culture.  Most generation-gap stories are, out of necessity, a bit contrived, but there are some great quotations about why to dress up.

For me, creativity and attention to detail in dress is a way of standing out, of drawing attention.  That is a selfish concern.  But I also hope it suggests to everyone--my friends, my coworkers, passers-by on the street--that I think that they are worth the time and effort spent acquiring, selecting, and arranging the clothes I am wearing.  Dressing up is, in that regard, a way of communicating respect toward others. 

I hope it encourages civility in the community as as it does in me.  When I put on a suit and tie a fat Windsor, I feel the liberating weight of tradition, of my ancestors, of my profession, and of a gentleman's obligations.

A Brief Guide: The Sport Shirt

Perry Ellis is having a 50% off everything sale today only.  That means serviceable sport shirts for $35 each.  We will use this as a didactic opportunity.

The line between sport shirt and dress shirt is not always easy to draw, but look for the following sport-shirt hallmarks:

1. It feels baggy.

2. Its size tag says "Medium" rather than "15.5-34" (your neck and sleeve measurements).

3. When you button the top button and tie your tie, the collar looks weird.  Sport (Dress  ed.) shirts are designed to be worn open-necked.  (Cravat opportunity?  Perhaps!  Post photos to the comments if you ever pull it off.)

4. The pattern is loud.

5. There are more than two colors, and they are not from the same family.

6. It does not have collar stays.

7. The fabric feels...more coarse and thicker than your dress shirts.  (I know tautological advice is not helpful, but you will develop a feel for it with some experience.)

Sport shirts with a little blue in them are great because our denim culture means you'll often be wearing the shirt with jeans.  Grab a blazer or jacket that complements the other colors, and you're set.

Some sport shirts may work as dress shirts if they fit you very well, don't look weird with a tie, and have collar stays.  Something like this, if it met those criteria.  Note the gray stripes.  You probably could wear this shirt with a light gray suit, provided you find the perfect tie--one that picks up all or most of the stripes' colors without introducing any outre new ones (for example, red).

Sighted in the wild: loose-fit jeans; something close to this shirt, untucked, with cuff links; chocolate corduroy blazer; brown loafers.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Little Flair: New Cufflinks

I'm a huge fan of Filene's Basement for cufflinks, where dozens of styles can be had for $20 or less.  But as a Dallas boy living in Washington, D.C., sometimes I feel like representing my fair home state, "flying the flag," as it were.  So, when I saw these

at Jos. A. Bank for several times what I'm used to paying for cufflinks, I knew what I had to do: wait for one of JAB's handful-of-times-per-year 50% Off Everything Except Shoes sales.  They had such a sale yesterday, and I snatched the cufflinks up.  (They had two pair in stock earlier this week; somebody else must've had the same thought I did.)  The white color is mother-of-pearl.

I think I'll wear them with my navy pinstripe suit when it comes back from the tailor.  The blues aren't identical, but these won't be an everyday set of cufflinks, either, so a little dissonance won't hurt me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Brief Guide: How to Get Your Measurements Taken

1. Go to any men's clothing store that sells suits: Jos. A. Bank, Men's Wearhouse, J. Press, Brooks Brothers, the suit section of any department store...
2. Act interested in buying something.  A salesperson will approach you within 2.4 seconds.  (They mostly work on commission.)
3. Tell them it's been a while since you've had your measurements taken--could they do your neck, sleeve, waist, and jacket size?
4. Write down the measurements.  Thank your salesperson and indicate that you're going to see if you can find something that strikes your fancy.  This should get him/her to quit hovering.

You can rely on the neck and sleeve measurements.  Relying on the waist measurement is also probably safe, though they tend to give you a spare inch.

As for the jacket measurements: subtract one increment, then go find a jacket in that size (e.g. salesman says 42, find a 41 jacket).  Notice how well it fits, drapes, and flatters your silhouette.  Now, try a jacket in the size the salesman told you.  Especially if you went to the Wearhouse or JAB, it should fit like a tent.  Try the suits one increment in both directions just to see which fit you prefer.  There is some room for taste in these things.  And remember, if the shoulders are perfect but, say, the waist is baggy, some of that can be solved with cheap alterations.  Getting shoulders altered, on the other hand, is expensive.

N.B. If you are at J. Press, the jacket that is an increment smaller will also fit like a tent.  This is because J. Press sells what are called "sack suits", a staple of a style called "American Trad" or "Trad", which is complex enough a topic for another post some day.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Secret Weapons: The War on Stains, Part 2

This is the Tide to Go stick.  Note the way it is shaped like a pen.  In fact, if you remove the cap, there is an applicator shaped like a chisel.  Note how inexpensive it looks.  The thing costs about $4 and contains many, many uses.  Note the composition of my avant garde photograph: the electric color of the stick in the corner of the photograph, juxtaposed against a white background which looks a bit green under fluorescent light.  The message is clear: no stain can stand against Tide to Go.

If you ever eat lunch at your desk, or wearing any clothes at all, particularly a tie, you simply must have one of these handy.  (If you routinely eat lunch wearing no clothes at all, you may have more serious problems than stains.)  If you use it on a fresh stain, 9 times out of 10, you will get the stain completely out within a minute or so. 

An incomplete list of things Tide to Go has removed from my clothes:
- Red ink from a white shirt
- Blue ink from a white shirt
- Highlighter from a white shirt
- Seriously, a lot of ink from a lot of shirts
- Coffee
- Dr. Pepper
- Barbecue sauce (!)
- Ketchup
- Red wine (not at the office)
- Blood (from a rare steak)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Brief Guide: The Man Who Only Needs One Suit

For a budget-minded look which will never go out of style and will never be a distraction.  In tabulated form.  Total outlay: about $350 before tax, shipping, and tailoring.  Effective lifetime if you take good care of it: Four years or more.


Retailer: Jos. A. Bank
Minimum Price: $550 list ("Executive" or better)
Discount: At least 60% off list
Color: Gray
Pattern: One-color pinstripe
Lapel: Notch
Jacket buttons: Two
Vent: Center or sides
Pants pleats: Two
Cuffed pants: Yes
Break: Full
For Example: This in CHAR STR or this in GREY W/BLUE STR

$20 with coupon

Retailer: Paul Fredrick
Color: White
Cuff: Barrel
Collar: Straight
Fabric: Pinpoint Oxford
For Example: This in regular or trim (if you wear an M or smaller in t-shirts) fit


Retailer: Filene's
Widest Point: No more than 3 1/2"
Base Color: Red
Pattern: Diagonal stripes less than 1/2" wide

For example: This
You'll have to use your judgment on this one.  Wear the suit and shirt to the store when you go.  If you're not feeling adventurous, the sales staff can help you.


Retailer: Filene's, DSW, any department store...
Color: Black
Style: Cap-toe lace-up
Material: Leather with a sheen (but not patent leather like tuxedo shoes)
Sole: Leather
Looks like: This but a bit shinier.  Ask for a "banker's shoe" in black.


Match it to your shoes as closely as possible.  Silver or gold buckle, your choice.  1" wide.


Over-the-calf, gray darker than your suit, any pattern.  Like this.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Secret Weapons: Paul Fredrick Introductory Offer

I've already linked to Paul Fredrick a couple of times, and expect me to do so frequently.  Every single one of my currently-in-service dress shirts, except for a Jos. A. Bank non-iron that I save for emergencies, is from PF.  I don't ordinarily buy from them except for the clearance section.  The two shirts in The War on Stains, Part 1 were not clearance but were on sale for 20% off.

However, PF is absolutely clutch if you are in need of some serviceable, quality dress shirts and have never shopped PF before because of this coupon code, which changes from time to time but reliably can be found in The Atlantic or Esquire:

(expires 12/31/09)

Plug it in, and you can get up to four of their white "Pinpoint Oxford1" shirts in either French cuff or barrel cuff2, in any number of collar styles, and in regular fit or trim fit for $20 each.  This is such a tremendous deal that it makes me want to use the "blink" tag. 

I recommend that at least one be a straight3 collar and another be a Windsor4 collar with French cuffs so that you can know how good it feels to wear such a shirt but also decide whether you prefer straight or spread collars.  The other two (and I insist that you order four--you only get to use the deal on one transaction) are up to you.  PF has many collar options that you can't get at, say, Jos. A. Bank.

1. A type of cotton weave.  It is durable, a little bit sporty, and slightly coarse but more than nice enough to wear with a suit.  Think the material that a typical Polo button-down shirt is made from.  The next step up is a finer weave called "broadcloth."
2. The typical dress-shirt cuff--not folded over itself; one or two buttons.  No freestanding hardware required in order to keep it closed.
3. Also called a "point" collar.
4. Also called a "spread" collar.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Color Is Hard: Socks

The conventional wisdom for sock color is that it should transition from your pants' color to your shoes' color.  Thus, a light gray suit with black shoes should sport dark gray socks.  You can't go wrong with that rule of thumb, but what if you're feeling a little playful?

The leg you see is that of one of my favorite suits, which is kind of...mocha color.  It's hard to describe.  It has a tight alternating pinstripe in light blue and a sort of goldenrod.  I got the suit as part of my Jos. A. Bank Orphan Adoption Program, in which I wait like a vulture for an interesting suit to go on sale at the absolute end of its shelf life and then get it for about an 85% discount off list price.  (Never pay more than 40% of the list price on a suit at JAB--but that's a topic for another post.)

I ordered these over-the-calf argyle-pattern socks on sale (~$7 per pair) from Paul Fredrick hoping that they would match the suit.  It's hard to tell true color from looking at a promo picture on the Internet.  Indeed, alas, the socks' brown proved too light!  But after a few minutes' fretting, I noticed that their lighter color was almost identical to the goldenrod pinstripe, and their darker color was a nice transition from mocha to my favorite slip-ons' brown.  I like the overall effect.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Welcome to Dapper District

Now that I've developed an acceptable posting rhythm, and begun to pass the URL around, welcome. A Mission Statement:

I want to share ideas about combining different collars, ties, wools, shirts, cuffs, socks, jeans, buttons, slacks, lapels, cottons, pocket squares, shoes.  I want to share what I've learned about maximizing garments' useful lives.  I want to share knowledge about the fundamentals of business and casual dress.

Don't let the title fool you.  Most of my suppliers aren't strictly local.  Washington, D.C. is the inspiration but not the only audience.  While many of us wear a suit and tie to work, most of us aren't especially inventive about it.  That can, and should, change.

I will offer unobtrusive footnotes to define clothing jargon for those just beginning their sartorial1 odyssey.

Upcoming highlights:
Brief Guide: The Man Who Only Needs One Suit
Faux Pas: The Tiny Tie Knot
In Praise Of: The Spread Collar with Full Windsor

1. of, or pertaining to, clothing, especially tailored clothing.

Secret Weapons: The War on Stains, Part 1

This is what my shirt collar looks like now.  I should have taken before-and-after pictures for this entry, but I didn't really think the "after" picture would look any different from the "before."

There were these mystery stains on the face of the collars on my two favorite blue dress shirts.  Stains on the part of the collar touching my neck made sense--all that nasty skin oil day in and day out.  But there were these white deposits on a part of the collar that never touched my neck.

I went to my dry cleaners and asked them to work on it, what with their strange, powerful, loud steam-cleaning implements.  They were not optimistic, and their not-optimism proved founded.  (N.B. My dry cleaners are comically bad at times, but they're very sweet and extremely convenient.)  Rather than Goodwill the shirts after far too few wearings, I thought I would try the Spray-n-Wash stain stick which I keep in the laundry closet.  I put a generous helping on the collars, threw the shirts in the wash, and Hey Presto! see above.  The stains are gone.

$0.10 worth of a $5 laundry product available at the grocery store rescued $80 in shirtings from certain loss.  And thus did it earn the honor of being designated a Secret Weapon.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Faux Pas: The Gauntlet Button

I love everything about French cuffs (except their tendency to get filthy and in the way of typing).  I also like barrel cuffs, but not as much.  However, with either, pay attention to the button placket on the sleeve, known as the "gauntlet".  Some dress shirts do not have a gauntlet button.  A shirt with no gauntlet button, or worn with the gauntlet button undone, has only two possible outcomes:

1. The shirt is so well-constructed out of such splendid material, and so well-tailored to your body, that the gauntlet stays closed gently but resolutely around your arm, as though it were a woman unaccustomed to feeling anything so intense as the newfound love she feels for you.
2. You bought the shirt off the rack, and when the cuffs slide up your arm (toward the shoulder) during everyday wear, the gauntlet opens like a split melon, revealing a ghastly glimpse of pale, hairless under-forearm.

Avoid shirts with no gauntlet button.  And always button your gauntlet button unless you are absolutely confident in the quality and fit of your shirt.  Even then, check it from time to time to make sure your confidence is well-placed.  Aspire to own shirts of the sort found in hypothetical No. 1 above.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bonus Commentary: Mad Men, Part 1

[In lieu of a post yesterday.  Please forgive my intransigence.]

"Mad Men" is an excellent television show.  You should watch it for any number of reasons:

1. It's a beautiful period piece with astonishing attention to detail.
2. Don Draper has a lot to teach us.
3. Style.

Roger Sterling, on the left, favors a look that would be out of place almost anywhere in America today: three-piece suits (okay, pushing it, but still within the realm) with a tie bar (okay, you can't pull this off at your office) and a club collar (I hope you're going to Ozio).  But on his slender frame, it works exceptionally well.

Don Draper, on the other hand, favors two-piece suits with three-button jackets.  No problem so far.  But combine (1) the small neck-space created by the three-button jacket, (2) the skinny tie, and (3) his broad chest, and something just looks...disproportionate.  His ties need to be bigger.  His suit jackets need a little bit more room.  Granted, I think this is a deliberate choice on the costume designer's part--a central element of the plot is the fact that Don's background is dramatically different from most of his coworkers, even more so than they suspect. 

Skinny ties are doable and should be done.  But give them a little room to breathe, in a two-button suit, and check the look in the mirror to make sure the proportions work.  This is why, when I go tie-shopping, I always wear the suit, and often the shirt, that I plan to combine.  (Also helps for picking the perfect set of colors.)

Secret Weapons: GQ

A subscription to GQ magazine costs about $10 per year.  What do you get for your money?  The occasional interesting piece of prose, product recommendations, dozens of articles about How James Bond Does Things, that sort of thing, right?  But remember how annoying it is when there are 100 pages of ads before the table of contents?  Those ads are worth the $1 per month in and of themselves. 

I page through the entire magazine, bookmarking interesting ensembles as I go.  Granted, most of them are really too preppy for my tastes.  But sometimes, I see something interesting.  Last month, I saw:

1. a suit ad where the four-in-hand was just a little askew
2. thousands and thousands of shawl-collar sweaters

Now, after some experimenting, I'm in love with the four-in-hand again (at least with thick, woven ties), and I picked up a shawl-collar rugby-stripe sweater at the J. Crew outlet ($35!), and people love it.

You also get about 10 cologne samples without having to go to Macy's and risk temptation near the watch counter.  Repeat after me: the salesgirl works on commission.  She does not think you are cute. 

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Necessaries: Collar Stays

Collar stays--those little plastic pointers that come in a baggie zip-tied to your dress shirt's third button--are mandatory unless you are wearing a collar that secures itself (chiefly a button-down collar or a tab collar).  They force your collar to fit the way it's supposed to, they properly frame your tie knot if you're wearing one, and they provide a bit of structured elegance to an open collar.

I bend mine a bit (as though they were an arc of a circle about 18" in diameter) to give my spread collars a little bit more of the British look.  This also works well on point collars, but only if you're not wearing a tie.  If you're wearing a tie with a point collar, stick with unbent stays.

Keep a couple pair in your desk at the office in case you forget to put them in at home.  And be sure to remove them before you take the shirt to the cleaners.

You can pick up a bunch for cheap over at Jos. A. Bank.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Secret Weapons: Filene's Basement

Odds are, you don't know how good you have it for inexpensive fashion in D.C. because you've never been to one of our many Filene's Basements.  Friendship Heights, Farragut North, and Metro Center all boast a Filene's.  Why do I love Filene's?  Let me begin to count the ways:

Paper, Denim & Cloth jeans, $50 or less (list ~$170)
Hickey Freeman suits, $450 (list $1,200)
Massive selection of ties, $20 (!)
Massive selection of cufflinks, $15-20 (!)

Filene's gets a lot of stock turnover in certain categories, but one visit per week should be adequate.  I look forward to mine.

A few complaints:

1.  The ties are not organized by color, so you can't walk in (like you can at, say, Jos. A. Bank) and find the cluster of ties with the color you're looking for.  Then again, you pay $20 instead of $60 for the tie.  Filene's comparative virtue is obvious to me.

2.  They don't carry inch-increment sleeve sizes in men's dress shirts, so if you're a straight 34 like myself, you can only get a too-short 32-33 or a billowing 34-35.

I almost never leave without a new tie or a pair of cufflinks.  Stop by on your lunch break or the next time the significant other wants to go to Friendship Heights.  You won't regret it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Faux Pas: Sewer's Thread and the Odd Jacket

Saw it on the street today, on the south side of M Street NW crossing 20th: guy in a rather sharp sportcoat1 with a single vent, in a kind of large houndstooth pattern.  The vent2 was held shut by off-color manufacturer's twine designed to make the jacket hang well on the rack.  This was visible from a hundred feet away.

Go home tonight and check all of your suit jackets, odd jackets3, and overcoats--anything with a vent--and make sure the twine is gone.

1. Just like a suit jacket, but without matching pants.
2. Any break in the jacket's bottom hem over the butt area. Single vent splits the middle of the butt, while a double-vented jacket has two vents, one on the outer edge of each buttock.
3. Term of art for "sportcoat".