Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cufflink Varietals

Cufflinks, those most indispensable men's accessories, come in several major varieties.  I offer a primer and some suggestions.  N.B. My naming conventions are my own and are not likely to be understood by anyone who doesn't read this post.

The Clasp: The Clasp has a little widget on the back that pivots freely; the image above shows the link in its fastened position.  If the rotating pin is perpendicular to the "public face" of the cufflink, you can easily line up all four holes of the French cuff and push the pin through, then rotate it to the shown configuration.  The public face should point away from your body when your hands are at your sides.
The Good: The Clasp is very secure and is far and away the most common type of cufflink available at most retailers, from Filene's to Brooks Brothers.  It also tends to be less expensive than other types.
The Bad: People sometimes see the inside of your wrist, and that means they see a homely cylinder of inexpensive metal.

The Two-Face: The Two-Face has two public faces, usually identical.  The faces are held together either by a solid bar, as shown, by a chain, or by a snapping mechanism.  Generally, to get a Two-Face on, it's easiest to push the public face through the French-cuff hole from the side, one hole at a time.  If your hand can fit through your French cuff when it's fastened, it's even easier to fasten the cuff while your shirt's still on the hanger and then shove your hand through.
The Good: The Two-Face is far more elegant than The Clasp--your inner wrist is just as handsome as the outer.
The Bad: The Clasp is extraordinarily hard to find in most retail stores.  Recently, Jos. A. Bank has started to offer simple Two-Faces for a reasonable price.  I got the pair shown during one of their "50% off everything" sales.  Quite a good deal.  The Clasp is also hard to put on when you're in a hurry.

The Monkey's Fist: The Fist (treated more extensively here) is a Two-Face made out of cloth with a knot of string on either end.  The versions I've seen are held together by two strands of stretchy fabric.  This means you can easily put the link in place while the shirt is still hanging (which means you can use both hands to maneuver it) and then stretch out the cuff opening when you're ready to put the shirt on.
The Good: Inexpensively had at Brooks Brothers.  Comes in a huge variety of colors.  Easy to put on.
The Bad: Somewhat less formal than a metal link, but depending upon whom you're meeting, that can be an excellent thing.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pop Psychology: Photo-Recycling/Holiday Edition

The other day, I wrote that a pocketknife can set the tone for an outfit.  A commenter wondered what I was smoking, and I thought I would elaborate.

1. Perhaps you're doing Christmas with the in-laws and everyone's slightly dressy and you will be called upon to open obstreperous packaging.  An elegant pocketknife that coordinates with everything else is a lovely touch.

2. More importantly, who cares if nobody sees it?  Maybe I'm fetishizing Stuff here, but a gorgeous piece like this, or the more functional one with my grandfather's initials on it, makes me feel more confident just knowing I have it on me.  Not because I expect to have to use it, but because it's pregnant with emotional meaning and memory.

Until I started to receive thoughtful, unique gifts like this one, I didn't understand why dads dutifully wore the ties and sweaters that their kids got them for Christmas.  I don't have kids, myself, but I understand now.  We encode happy memories onto physical objects associated with those memories.  Wearing the sweater or carrying the knife reminds us of those memories, reminds us of Good Times, reminds us of why we work the livelong day.

As a result, our attitude that day changes--we are happier, so we carry ourselves better, so we feel more confident, so we are more confident.  Thus: the pocketknife sets the tone.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Color Is Hard: Swiss Army Tie

This bow tie goes with bloody everything.  Here, my Brooks Brothers blue check with gray herringbone suit.  The madras contains a lot of the classic menswear colors--white, blue, gray, navy--without having any one color dominate.  This means the tie will work with almost any conceivable suit/shirt pairing in my closet and kill with several.

I feel like I've written this post before, but I'm so in love with this bow tie that half the new pictures in my Picasa queue (where I store the Dapper District photos) are pictures of it.  I will try to keep my topics varied.

You can get your very own from Ellie at The Cordial Churchman, which gets my hearty recommendation.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Color Is Hard: Photo-Recycling and Comment-Answering Edition

Anonymous said [responding to this post]... 
Didnt you break a rule here?....3 patterns?  I guess you are in that "special" category of people who can break rules because they know what they are doing.


1) Anyone can break the "rules."  I don't know if there are any "rules" that I 100% endorse in all situations (front necktie blade should be longer than the back one? don't walk around naked in public?). Regardless, I'm familiar with the 3-pattern "rule" but haven't deliberately incorporated it.  Like every other style rule I've read, it's a guideline to warn you against something that frequently doesn't work.  As I understand it, the concern with mixing a plaid shirt, a polka-dot tie, and a herringbone jacket is that the collar space will look garish or busy.  That's certainly possible.  It's also possible with combinations of solid colors.  Personally, I think the image above looks sharp.  Here's why:

a. The stripes in the suit and the necktie are the same color--blue and gold.  They are the same type of pattern and the same color, but on vastly different scales.  This makes them distant cousins, so that they complement each other without looking matchy.

b. The colors all fit.  Light blue, white, navy, and gold; and gray in the suit.  The gray is basically a canvas here--everything works with it.  So while the patterns might be slightly busy (I don't think so), the color unity tones down the busy.

2) I guess writing two or three posts a week on a blog about menswear for over a year (just noticed that I missed my one-year anniversary by 11 days!) means I can't say that I never claimed to know what I'm doing.  But I will say this: I don't have magic powers or think I'm any smarter than anyone else when it comes to this stuff.  I used to dress like a slob.  Now, I don't.  I think about color and pattern and fit and silhouette a lot.  I DO NOT think I'm special.  I think I have some information that is worth sharing that I've learned through years of reading blogs, books, and magazine articles and from spending time in the mirror trying out ideas and from making some mistakes.  I try to distill it for you.  If I come across as thinking I'm "in that 'special' category of people," whatever the category, maybe that's the fault of my writing style.  Sometimes, I wax poetic about clothes.  No apologies.

Anyway, that's enough talking about myself instead of clothes.  Anon, thanks for reading and commenting.  Hope you keep coming back.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Sharp Collar

Speaking of the suit I wrote about last week, the collar on this Brooks Brothers shirt, paired with a fat four-in-hand, comes damned close to the "British" look I try to wrest from my collars--plenty of space on either side of the knot, strong vertical lines leading to the face, a slightly convex shape with respect to the chest.

I call it the British look because I see it on Charles Tyrwhitt and particularly Thomas Pink but not conventional American retailers like Brooks Brothers or Paul Fredrick.  I only wish that the bottom edge of the knot was about even with the bottom corners of the collar.  This is why I favor the spread collar; this collar is somewhere between a spread and a point collar.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Color Is Hard: Eye-Eye Coordination

It's so easy to throw on a scarf as you're running out the door when you know it's 24 bleeping degrees outside.  It's just as easy to forget that your scarf needs to coordinate with the rest of what you're wearing.  So, don't forget, or else you'll end up in the courthouse parking lot with a brutally long walk to the courthouse door, sans scarf, like I did this morning after noticing the above image reflected in my car window.

Jacket: Calvin Klein, Filene's.  Tie: Countess Mara, Filene's.  Scarf: [I don't remember, something generic, but it's nice, warm, fluffy material], Filene's.  Shirt: Extra Slim Fit with French cuffs (for example) from Brooks Brothers.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Punctilios: Pants-Pockets Poofs

You are looking down my right hip at the slacks of my (I think) second-favorite suit, made by Hickey Freeman's now-defunct Hickey label, which stressed a more modern cut.  I got it at Filene's for 70% off list price. 

Anyway, my point is, my tailor says my hips are too big for my waist (not sure how to take that, Darryl!), so as a result, the hip pockets flare visibly.  I'm not happy about this, but there's nothing more to be done.  But don't despair too much on my behalf; the photos of pants on, say, Calvin Klein's retail website often display the flare, so it's clearly either (1) a problem facing more than one person out there and enough to boggle even the most skilled model-fitter, or (2) normal. 

I suppose the line between the two is not so clear, and that's encouraging.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

If You Pay a Man Enough

Let's suppose for a moment that UGG had paid Tom Brady barges of cash, not to endorse their boots, but to, say, endorse the punching of kittens.  Would that affect your conclusion that there was nothing manly about punching kittens?  Would you decide that punching kittens was actually a stylish thing to do, despite the mountains and foothills and escarpments and mesas of evidence to the contrary?

The standard UGG boot, considered alone, is a floppy, puffy, "but it's so comfortable" middle finger jabbed in the eye of the proposition that we ought to get a little bloody bit dressed up to go out in public to see people.  Why do we let girls get away with it?  It's complicated.  The short answer is that many of them are better at navigating the "My feet are dressed casually, yet I am still demonstrating that I have a modicum of respect for you" line, by dressing up other parts of their outfit, than many men are.  Another answer is, "Sometimes, they pair them with a cute skirt and leggings."  The point is, Tom Brady can do it because nobody cares about the clothes he's wearing unless they're a combination of Nylon, lycra, jock strap, and pads, and it's Sunday.

You and I, gentle reader?  We are held to a higher standard, every day of the week, and for that, I am thankful.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Accessories: A Pocket Knife

Bone-handled, a gift from a fine gentleman whose wedding I groomsmanned.  (At this point, I'm a pro.  Proud to say that none of my grooms have succeeded in their attempts to flee the wedding five minutes before it began.  Watching all that pro wrestling finally paid off.)  Absolutely gorgeous.  I keep it on my office desk.  It has a great heft to it. 

Back in the Boy Scouts, a good pocketknife was de rigeur on one's person at all times.  Nowadays, with my constant comings and goings at various courthouses, I tend not to carry one, just to make sure that I don't accidentally take it through a security checkpoint and get it permanently confiscated by an alphabet-soup agency.

But men have precious few opportunities to express themselves in casual dress, and the right pocketknife can set the tone.  Maybe I should add "stow your knife" to "straighten your necktie" and "mute your phone" to my entering-the-courthouse mental macro.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

He Might Prefer Myrrh to Silver and Gold

I had always heard that silver and gold don't mix well, but I really wanted a pair of gold cufflinks for this brown suit.  Unfortunately, all I could find were these Joseph Abbouds, which are nice enough but have a burnished silver border.  They just look funny, even with colors that should've worked in theory.  I suppose a big stainless steel watch isn't helping the color balance, but I swear they looked funny even before I put on the watch.

Stainless steel always goes.  Gold sometimes goes.  They don't usually go together.*  (Corollary*: Neither do black-and-brown oxfords.)

*All propositions and corollaries subject to The Menswear Caveat, which is that rules may be broken if you know what you're doing.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

We All Make Mistakes Once in a While

My camera can't seem to do justice to just how pink these socks are.  I wore them with my crazy checked purple-and-pinkish shirt, and it just didn't go.  (Of course, I didn't realize this until I got to the office, at which point it proceeded to bother me for the rest of the day.)  I think maybe the pinks in question were just too different despite both being sort of pink.

So it turns out there are outer limits to my dandyism.  I guess that's good to know--means I'm less likely to end up wearing combinations that everyone but me thinks are crazy.  By age 70 or so, I hope to have overcome this stricture.

[Title alludes to "Hawaii", by Mew, on their latest album, "No more stories Are told today I'm sorry They washed away No more stories The world is grey I'm tired Let's wash away."  This isn't a music blog, but some things are too good not to share.]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tuck Style: Wisdom from the Comments

Reprinted, here in its entirety, with my imprimatur, is a comment from Mr. Timothy Chen Allen on how to prevent a bunch of folds in the back of your dress shirts.  The elegantly simple solution comes, not surprisingly, from our armed forces.  I have experimented with both styles and have a slight preference for the Marine Corps Style.

I went to the Naval Academy, and was commissioned into the Marine Corps in 1986. We learned two different styles of tucks in the Navy and the Marine Corps. Both keep you from having bunched up material in the back.

In both cases you start with the shirt tails tucked into your trousers, which are not all the way closed up.

1) Navy Style: Grab the sides of your shirt at the seams. Put a thumb into the material *behind* the seam, an make a fold on either side of your body going towards your spine. Keeping this fold tight, you grab your trouser waistband with your pinkie and ring fingers and pull up our pants. Keep the waistband tight so you won't lose the tuck, and work your hands around until you can button your trousers.

2) Marine Corps Style: Much the same, but the folds start farther back and go towards the front-- in other words, the reverse of Navy style. They're further back so you don't have the folds swimming around in front.

If you want to really get hard core, both Navy and Marine Corps officers used "Shirt Stays"-- elestic bands that attached the shirt tails to the tops of the socks so everything stayed drum tight. OOHRAH!

Disclaimer: This is what I was taught. In reality, there was a right way, a wrong way, and a Navy way to do everything.
 Hats off to you, Mr. Allen.  Thank you for the tip, and thank you for your service.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Q&A: Permanent Creases

Anonymous asks:

Do you get "permanent creases" put in your suit pants, if not how do you keep your pants creased as steaming them doesn't seem to take care of this? 

I know that Jos. A. Bank offers permanent creases when you buy the suit, but my salesmen never offer it to me.  I do not know why this is so.  I do not ask for the permanent crease.  However, I find that the crease stays noticeable for months after it comes back from the dry cleaners.  I guess I've never focused on it.  So, good question, Anonymous!

You should be able to get the crease back on your own if you don't want to drop $3 at the cleaners.  Put your iron on the high-steam setting, lay the pants leg out on your ironing board exactly as you want it--there are no do-overs on this, unfortunately--put a handkerchief down over the area to be pressed, get the steam going, and press down like you're ironing, but only for a second.  If you overdo it, the crease will be too deep and will look funny.  Think of yourself as a benevolent small-town sheriff: Mete out your steamy justice only where needed and in the smallest amount necessary.

There are also pants pressers, but dang, they're expensive, and it's one more appliance to have to find a place for.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Getting Your Game Face On

When you need to spend an hour or two working from home, it's hard to stay focused.  So many distractions--I could take out the trash, for example, or fold laundry, or play Fallout 3: New Vegas for my fortieth hour, or eat cookie dough out of the freezer.

So when I got home, I swapped my suit (as I did before) for this shirt and a bow tie--this one having come in the post from Ellie at The Cordial Churchman, with selection guidance, on demand, from friend Erin.  I find that dressing up a bit for the home office hones my attention.

What's that you say?  That little bit of fabric in the center of the bow looks like seersucker, whereas the rest looks like madras?

Hell yeah, it does, because this bad boy is reversible.  I'm in love.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Emergency Preparedness, by Accident

My shirt developed an inexplicable blotchy yellow stain on the sleeve at the office the other day--maybe food, maybe highlighter, who knows.  Anyway, I wanted to get it to my dry cleaners before the stain set up.  But--what would I do?  Walk in there in my undershirt?

You see, I'm of the opinion that undershirts are like underwear: if someone is seeing yours, and it's not Sexy Time, it's usually a bad thing.  I know there are many opinions on this subject.  I will make concessions for guys with unruly chest hair who want to wear a button-down shirt without a tie and leave the top button open--but only because the alternative is looking like Disco Stu, and only because apparently hirsute friend Matt persuaded me not to take a more extreme position (such as mandatory chest-waxing).

Anyway, this beloved green-and-tan rugby sweater (J. Crew outlet) was in the car, waiting to be returned to the apartment, so I was able to put it on for my trip to the dry cleaners.  I like the look.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Frost on the grass outside my office window this morning.  Buy yourself a nice winter coat.  You deserve it.  Pea coats and toggle coats seem to be popular this year.  Look for a lean silhouette, and don't be afraid to get it tailored.  A good coat will last you years and years.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Punctilios: Formal Cufflinks

I wore these yesterday with the gray herringbone suit and no tie.  (Those aren't diamonds around the edges, just texture on the chrome.)  Black, square, and diamondesque nearly screams "black tie!" but they weren't sold as a set with shirt studs, so I feel relatively safe deploying them in businesswear settings.

As I've indicated before, my jury is still out on whether it's Generally Okay to wear cufflinks without a tie.  It's definitely not going to work if you're not wearing a suit.  (I know, because I've seen it done with an extremely nice pair of pants and an even-nicer shirt, and it still looked...trying-too-hard.  Can someone give me a German agglutinative translation of "trying-too-hard"?)  But I love the black-on-gray-near-white contrast here.  Looks very sharp with a gold, textured tie.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Speaking of Bow Ties

The evening of the day when I wore the bow tie in the previous post, I had tickets for the Belle & Sebastian show at DAR Constitution Hall.  I've been a huge fan since my freshman year of college--a stretch of time which I'm starting to have to measure in geologic eras.  (Oh, my, what a horrible website redesign!) 

Anyway, I loved the bow tie so much that I came home, swapped my suit pants for a pair of jeans, traded my suit jacket for a white cotton buttondown from the Gap, and stuck a blue checked pocket square in the shirt pocket.  Suitably festive for such an historical occasion, I think.  Wish I had a navy blazer.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Necessity Is the Mother of...Bow Ties

The necktie I prefer to wear with this suit and shirt went missing the other morning.  My tie rack is a bit light at the moment, for several reasons, and none of the ties went.  This one was too hot; this one was too cold.  Time was running out, as I had to be in Fairfax County Circuit Court that morning (though only a scheduling conference, nothing Serious).

Again, it will come as a surprise to none of you (particularly regular readers) that I was at the Seven Corners Syms the other day.  In addition to those pink socks, I bought a nice necktie in gold with two shades of blue and a touch of white.  Versatile, I figured.

I think it was a good investment.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Timely Guest Column: Pattern, Baseball, and the Presumption of Innocence

My dad lives and practices law in Dallas, Texas and is no mean clotheshorse himself.  (Some things--including, as you will see, writing style--are obviously hereditary.)  He provides the following dispatch from the American League playoffs and, in so doing, seamlessly weaves contrast and constitutional law while reminding us that Dallas and D.C. are not so far apart.


The Washington Senators—lately the Texas Rangers—won game 5 in an American League playoff series a few nights ago.  Nolan Ryan wept.  All the Rangers have to do now is beat the Yankees several times, and the nee Senators will be, for the first time ever, in the World Series of North America. 
It was an important game, as baseball goes, but not a very exciting one.  Inspired by the spectacle, however, my mind went to teamwork.  Then, of course, to shirts and ties.
I am asked, stripes with checks, solids with solids, foulards with paisley?  Which tie befits which outfit with which shirt?  This is among the first important decisions we make each day. I answer thusly: teamwork.
Does the tie complement the shirt?  Does the shirt provide a proper context for the tie?  Do they work together, blending to a whole greater than their parts?  Conversely, is there a tension, an inappropriate one, one that might kill a double play?
Nowhere in this test is there anything about stripes and checks.  Stripes versus checks is not the point.  Try this.  Assume, as I do, that every shirt-tie possibility in your closet is innocent until proven guilty.  You’ll be surprised at what you learn.  Of course this assumption is wrong most of the time.  It’s still worth making.
Do the colors, the textures, the patterns or the plains combine to enhance what each, the shirt and the tie, has to offer?  Or do they distract, destruct, or despoil a fine sport coat?  Does each shine in its setting, or should it take one for the team, and spend the day in the closet?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Color Is Hard: Pink

In a turn of events that will surprise perhaps none of you, I was at the Syms Clothing at Seven Corners over the weekend.  Now, you may know that I only wear over-the-calf socks anymore (mid-calf socks slide down my shins in minutes).  Syms doesn't often have OTC socks, but this time, they did, and they had some that  $12.  $12 is more than I like to pay for a pair of socks (my go-to is Paul Fredrick), but did I mention the fact that this particular pair was pink?

In fact, they're even more pink than the picture shows.  (Poor sensor couldn't make heads or tails out of the color.)  They still feel a bit loose around the ankles, but that's to be expected on the first wearing.  We'll see how they hold up.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Necessaries: Pocket Swatches

I keep a small collection of usefully colored pocket squares in my closet.  Most are a lightweight satin that doesn't hold its shape especially well, but that's only an impediment if you are trying for a large, sumptuous tuck that reaches way up from your jacket pocket. 

I got each of these at Filene's for about $10.  Look for squares with a bit of heft or texture to them so that they keep their folded shape a little bit better.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Little Pleasures: Sockless Chucks

A late-discovered life pleasure: wearing Chuck Taylors without socks.  I've always thought that gym socks looked too much like underwear, so I tend to wear the shortest ankle socks I can find, but no socks is better still.  The canvas breathes surprisingly well and airs out quickly, and if they take on an odor, you can just throw them in the washing machine.

The pair shown are perhaps eight months old and starting to break in nicely.  My only regret is that the stripes around the sole are red and blue--just blue would make these absolutely perfect for wear with jeans no matter what kind of shirt accompanied them.  As it is, the red can sometimes intrude if the shirt is more muted or in a different family.

And a green shirt makes it look like you're ready for Christmas.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

People's District Interviews a 90-Year-Old Shoe Shiner

Link.  Brilliant stuff.  There are artisans everywhere.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tuck Style

If you have a glance at my previous post, you'll note that there are no wrinkles or fluffs or any other derangements at my waist.  That's because I tuck, then run my hands horizontally outward from my navel, pulling excess material to the back, above my butt.  Some day, when I win the lottery, I'll get my shirts made-to-measure, and I won't have to do this anymore.  Meanwhile, I'd rather have a very bunched back which few people see than a moderately rumpled front which everyone sees.

At any rate, it's another detail to keep in mind when you're dressing yourself.  But especially if you'll be wearing a jacket, what do you have to lose?

Now, go to bed.  We have work in the morning.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another Casual Tool: Chambray Work Shirts

A similar style to the military shirts discussed the other day.  Chambray is a much softer material--texture-wise, it feels like something out of that Paul Newman movie where he's in a prison camp in the desert somewhere.  (Will history be so kind to Nutraloaf as it was to gulags?  Time will tell.)  This one is also from the Gap and has some questionable details, like farfalle-style stitching on the wrist, so I usually roll the sleeves up.

Here, observant readers will note, I added a purple handkerchief to the breast pocket for a dash of color.  Gray shirt, blue jeans, black belt is a bit monochromatic.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Another Casual Tool: Military Shirts

When I was last in Dallas, for a friend's wedding, I had some time to kill and went to the Gap.

If you live in D.C., you know that the Gap's clearance section has approximately two sizes: XL and XL. There's also S, which I think is just a species of XL, given how impossible it is.  Presumably, we are all svelte, lithe, lean people up here.

The Dallas Gap clearance section?  Mediums only.  Add a "buy one get one" sale, and I got two of these shirts (this one is olive green; the other is khaki) for $8.  They go well with shorts, with jeans, and with pants.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Punctilios: Starch

I finally found a satisfactory dry cleaners near my new office.  (As I've related before, my previous dry cleaners was...not optimal.)  I was impressed that they even had a website, much less one that was well organized.  Sure enough, not only do they charge a reasonable rate on shirts, but they listen to me when I say, "No starch."

I am going to go ahead and Endorse not getting starch in your shirts when you take them to the cleaners.  The massive, fancy industrial presses that they use get very hot and very firm, and they don't miss.  Starch is an unnecessary additive to that process.  I'm also given to understand that it increases the life of your shirt.  Further, I don't like the extremely bright sheen that it gives to my white shirts.

Many disagree; I know, for example, that my dad does.  He likes a stiffer shirt.  But then, he lives in a city where he has to compete with such profligate users of starch as (presumably) this gentleman when he goes to Billy Bob's Texas.

If any of you work for Google: Please sound off in the comments why there are so many pictures of the Jonas Brothers when I do a Google Images search for "cowboy starched shirt".

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Color Is Hard: Patterns Are Not Too Simple Either

Sometimes, a bit of daring (and the passive voice) is called for.  Continuing with my herringbone fixation, here is a navy herringbone suit with dark blue herringbone socks, the pattern perhaps twice the size of the pants'.  Just enough visual contrast to keep from looking matchy.  (If your patterns are too close to each other conceptually, in size, shape, direction, color, etc, it just looks funny, as if the Mona Lisa had a small third eye on her neck.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Punctilios: The Monkey's Fist

No, not Monkey Kung Fu (obviously written by a practitioner), nor Monkeybone, the Brendan Fraser flick, nor The Monkey's Paw, the W. W. Jacobs short story we read in high school.  The Monkey's Fist.  It's an old sailor's knot repurposed by clotheshorses as a casual fastener for French cuffs.  To wit:

Those shown came with the Brooks Brothers shirt, but I'm fixing to buy a set of many different colors.  Why?  Well, as you may know, my wardrobe evolved over the past several years in an ecosystem of daily suit-and-tie wear, with French cuffs optional.  Like "black tie optional", I interpreted "French cuffs optional" as "French cuffs?  Hell, yeah!"  The new job is somewhat more casual, on average, with a lot of variability.  Meanwhile, I have approximately 0 business casual items, so almost all my dress shirts are French cuffed, but metal studs seem too formal on a day with no tie.

Enter the Monkey...Fist.

Monday, August 30, 2010

On Dressing Up, Part 2: In Which I Relate An Embarrassing Event

I go on a lot here about dressing up just to go to the grocery store.  It's clear from the Ballston Harris Teeter that I'm shouting into the wind.  But just as important as dressing up is not judging too harshly those who don't.

I moved this weekend to my own one-bedroom! my own! in Falls Church.  As a result, all of my cotton shorts were dirty and/or missing in action (much like my blog posts; apologies for that).  Last night, I just needed a gallon of milk for breakfast today, but all I had to wear was athletic shorts and a white undershirt.  I felt naked as I beelined from the front sliding doors to the milk--which the Teet had strategically placed in the opposite corner of the store.  I was rehearsing my "So good to see you!  Sorry I look so ratty!" the whole time. 

I made it without being spotted.  But if another random men's style blogger had seen me, I'm sure he would've snorted.  I guess the bottom line is that maybe a given person at the grocery store who's wearing workout clothes might conceivably have a middling-to-decent excuse, and since you just never know, you should give strangers the benefit of the doubt.

Gosh.  Those words were hard to type.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

On Dressing Up

From a reader's letter to Put This On, an excellent men's style blog.  Throw out or donate your ratty clothes so you won't be tempted to wear them in those Saturday moments of weakness.  You Just Never Know.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Put It Into Practice: First Unofficial Day of Work

My first day at the new job was this Monday, but I went in last Friday to get familiar with a file for a hearing Monday afternoon.  I wasn't going to wear a suit--I was still on vacation!--but an idea planted, germinated, and flowered in the space of thirty minutes:

Lean-cut Paper Denim & Cloth jeans, from Filene's, now several years old; Jos. A. Bank wrinkle-free button-down, semi-spread collar with barrel cuffs; Jos. A. Bank suede blazer; midnight-blue pocket square, from Filene's;

brown loafers; no socks.

If the color balance seems unusually off, even for me, it's because of this "huey" thing that Pantone makes to make your monitor reflect true color.  Apparently, true color is a sort of sickly green tint.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Come on, D.C., score a goal--it's really ****ing simple

Put the ball into the net, and we'll go ****ing mental."

Went to my first DC United game (against FC Dallas, of my hometown; I remember the Dallas Burn) with two fine gentlemen on Saturday.  We sat with La Barra Brava (roughly, The Brave Cadre of Fans) down at field-level in a section with broken seats, most likely from the fans jumping on them while chanting obscenity at the opposing team and/or DC United.  Represented were at least two apparent sexes, a panoply of genders, a cornucopia of ethnicities, a contingent of the shirtless, and Batman playing a snare drum.  Altogether quite a rousing experience.

I picked up this DC United scarf from the club shop.  The scarf has red, white, and black to it, which means it'll go well with a gray overcoat or a charcoal suit when winter rolls around.  Practical and team-spirited.  I wrapped it around my fist whenever I gave in to the urge to violently strike the seatback in front of me, like when DC United gave up a third goal in second-half injury time.

Also, unlike a jersey, a scarf won't tempt you to wear it to a party and then dominate your entire outfit to the point that people can't even remember whether you were wearing pants or had a face.  Rule of Thumb: If you are going to wear a sports jersey somewhere, that somewhere needs to be a sporting event, or viewing thereof.  On other occasions, if you must, how about a nice baseball cap instead, which you remove when you go indoors, like a gentleperson?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Poll: How Much Do You Spend on a Dress Shirt?

Gentle Reader,

I endeavor to be responsive and to serve my readership.  I have particular ideas about how much certain items of clothing should cost, but that may be a function of my budget, not yours.  I want Dapper District to serve you, not me.  With that in mind, consider this an informal poll (informal because I can't figure out how to set up a poll in Blogger).  Please leave a comment stating, on average, what you pay for a dress shirt and where you usually buy it.  This will help me to calibrate many aspects of the site.

My entry: Paul Frederick, $20-30.

Thank you!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Most Useful Of

Now that Dapper District is well past its 100th post, I'm creating this permanent thread to keep track of the most useful (in my mind) posts--guides, how-tos, etc.  If you have any articles you'd recommend for this list, sound off in the comments.

Doing laundry
Staying cool
How to iron a shirt
Maximizing value at Jos. A. Bank
How to get a suit tailored
Necktie length
Sport shirts
Shirt cuff length
Getting your measurements taken
For the man who only needs one suit

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Good News, Everyone!

Yours truly will be creating a weekly men's style column for local magazine The Washingtonian's web site.  Their camera and video resources should allow me to do some interesting how-tos and explorations of contrast which are just too difficult with an underpowered point-and-shoot.  I will also have the chance to write some longer columns about Subjects Of Interest.  I'll be sure to post a link here whenever one of the columns goes live.  They should start up around the end of August/early September.

Meanwhile, I will shoot for two standard-length posts here every week instead of three.  (A man only has so much time in a week.)

Thank you all for your ongoing support, comments, and insights.  I hope you'll follow me at the Washingtonian as well.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Protips: Doing Laundry

I do believe I've figured out laundry.  It's definitely my favorite chore, right up until the whole "folding it" part, which I loathe.  Until the folding, you just fire and forget.  In this regard, laundry is almost 100% identical to the AIM-54 Phoenix long-range anti-aircraft missile.

My advice: everything goes into the wash together.  No need to separate whites from colors.  Exceptions: extremely dirty clothes, or clothes with colorful stains, or clothes that have never been washed before (all at risk to bleed color).  Use the longest cold-water cycle. 

Then put the dryer on the lowest possible heat setting on the "automatic" dry cycle (usually marked with an asterisk * ).  Fold while the clothes are still warm.

BONUS PROTIP: If you hang up a t-shirt right after it comes out of the dryer, it will come out adequately wrinkle-free so as to make people suspect that you iron your t-shirts.

Friday, July 30, 2010

J. Crew Sale

Nora calls my attention to J. Crew, which has an extra 30% off its sale items right now.  J. Crew makes excellent business-casual and casual wardrobe essentials.  Perhaps consider some 7"-inseam Go to Hell shorts.  Or these swim trunks, which I own and love.

Okay, granted, "Go to Hell" usually means some crazy-loud madras pattern.  But I also use it to mean showing off my pasty-white thighs.  I'll get a tan once summer rolls around.

Wait, is it really August in two days?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Punctilios: Abstain

Discovered a stain on the back leg of these shorts.  Added some Spray-n-Wash and threw them in the hamper.  Scary thought: no idea how long the obvious stain had been there.  I try to give advice that is reasonable and not over-the-top obsessive, but I think it's wise to check any light-colored pants, shorts, or shirts for stains before you put them on.

Yet another reason to iron your own shirts--gives you ready opportunity to check every surface for stains.

Love the texture of this fabric.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Color Is Hard: Navy and Light Blue

I saw a guy wearing a navy suit with a blue* shirt the other day, and it looked pretty good, so I thought I'd give it a shot.  This was the result.  Apologies for the flash washout.  The dark half of the ovals on the tie picks up the slacks and jacket, the light half picks up the shirt, and the little white dots (yeah, they're white, I know, color balance issues) pick up the shirt's white background.

Overall impression?  It looks good.  Almost too good.  Not quite enough contrast for my taste.  Maybe I love white dress shirts too much.  Color is hard.


*When it comes to men's shirtings, "blue" usually means that kind of light gray/sky blue that is the classic Polo button-down color.  As opposed to French blue.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Quick Fix: Crooked Cuffs

Often, my right-hand French cuff will look like this after I fasten it--the below-link portion is straight, and the above-link portion flares toward my body.  This doesn't happen on brand-new shirts because the two pieces of fabric composing the cuff are the same length.  But after many washings (or one, at my dry cleaners), the unfinished side seems to shrink a bit faster than the finished side.  This may be because the fabric is thinner.

Anyway!  The solution is simple.  Stick your other hand's index finger into the cuff (from left to right, from this picture's perspective), between your wrist and the cufflink, as far as it will go.  Do you feel that bump of fabric?  That's the culprit.  Now pinch the outer cuff face with your thumb, apply some pressure with your index finger, and move the lump about 180 degrees around your wrist.  The move will get lose some of the bump naturally, and the remainder won't be so obvious halfway around the world, so to speak.  The cuff ends should now line up nicely.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Punctilios: Besom Pockets

Behold, an illustrative diagram.  On the left, you see a flap pocket, standard issue on men's suits these days.  But wait--what is that?--there on the right?--is it a bird? a plane?--no, it's a besom pocket, rarer still than Superman.

Flap pockets are a newer design than besom pockets.  The Fourth Earl/King/Gurkha of Whateverceistershire in the Northumberland popularized the flap pocket by sheer force of will.  (True story; the names have been changed to protect my ignorance.)  You still see besom pockets in formal settings, such as tuxedos.

Good news!  Many men's suits can be turned into besom-pocket suits for a slightly different but still very refined look.  Just lift the flap and remove the stitches keeping the pocket closed.  A pocket knife or seam ripper will do nicely.  Then tuck in the flap.  If the pocket's lower, previously hidden edge is finished, voila! besom pocket.

N.B. Several dry cleanings may have left an imprint on your jacket:

If so, take it back (or take a hand-steamer to it) and see if you can knock out the rectangular border left behind.  If not, pull the pocket flap back out and voila! flap pocket, still very respectable.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mythbusters: Necktie Blade Length Issue

Brooks Brothers offers a great guide to tying necktie knots.  Great except in one regard: for every knot, no matter the size, the reader is instructed to ensure that the rear blade (the narrower of the two strands of necktie hanging from the knot) is the same length as the front blade--the one that everybody sees.

This is categorically bad advice.  The only time you should worry about the rear blade is when you make sure that it is not longer than the visible front blade.

I honestly have no idea why they say "blades should be the same length on every single knot".  If you follow that advice with a Full Windsor, you will look like this rather than this.  Occasionally, the blades will be the same length when I wear a four-in-hand, as they did for me the other day

but that is neither here nor there.  Men's chests are different lengths, whereas most neckties have very similar lengths.  Just worry about whether the front blade reaches your belt, and you'll be fine.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Vacation: Rental Tuxedos

I'm in Frisco, Texas (near Dallas) today and tomorrow for my friend's wedding at Fairytale Manor (can't find the place's actual homepage).  As a member of the wedding party, I will be issued a rented tuxedo for matching purposes.  This is standard practice designed to keep the groomsmen looking as consistent as possible for photograph and at-the-altar views.

There might have been a day when this wasn't necessary--when every gentleman could be expected to own a single-button black tuxedo with grosgrain, peak lapels--but it's gotten to where such a tux is impossible to find at any menswear store.  (Jos. A. Bank, for example, sticks with notch-lapel tux jackets.)  Nevermind the monstrosities one finds at a high-school prom anywhere in the country.

And why would a gentleman own a tux these days, anyway?  I've been to about seven weddings; only one required a tux of its male guests, and I was in middle school at the time.  Other than weddings, there are so few opportunities to wear the damned thing.  I lamented this the other night with my girlfriend's parents.

When do YOU wear a tux?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Necessaries: Nice Shorts

The test results are in: Men's legs are just not all that appealing.  However, it's bloody hot and humid in D.C. these days, and we have to do something on the weekends.  Jeans are not an option, so the question becomes: How do we maximize our shorts-wearing?  A few rules, proposed by yours truly:

1.  No pleats.
2.  No cargo pockets.
3.  Narrower leg openings.
4.  A color other than khaki.
5.  For god's sake, buy them in the correct size for your body.

These are a half-cotton/half-linen pair I got in a big sale at Banana Republic.  $20 or so, if memory serves.  They have some gray and some white in them, but they look more blue when paired with a blue shirt.  In other words, very versatile.  I like to wear them with my Chuck Taylors.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Peace Of Mind

A glorious sight: my closet, with all my shirts ironed and most of my suits ready for wearing.  (Two are still at the tailor.)  The color balance of my photos is off as usual, but those two shirts on the far right are white.  That thing on the very very far right is my tie rack.  (I have about 12 ties right now.)

So many possible combinations.  For example, the purple shirt and the blue one to its left go equally well with the gray suit second from the left.  The French blue shirt and the tan one go equally well with the gray suit on the far right because it has a blue pinstripe as well as a tan one.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Coping With Buyer's Remorse, Method 1

When I got this new green suit from Jos. A. Bank back from the tailor, I realized that it has gigantic (albeit graceful) lapels.  My solution?  A fat knot on a wide gold necktie and a white pocket square.  The little bit of extra goings-on helped break up the rather starkly large lines you can see here.

I'll get a picture of the ensemble the next time I wear it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sale Worth Watching: JAB 25% Off Clearance Price

Here for suits.  $223 for a Jos. A. Bank Signature suit is a most excellent price--$40 cheaper than you'd pay in Buy One Get Two Free, and you only have to buy one to get the savings.

Necessaries: A Suit Brush

This handy tool is called a suit brush.  It has a lint remover on one side (bottom, here) and soft bristles on the other.  When you take your suit (or, really, any lint-prone item of clothing) off at the end of the day and hang it up, give it a good brushing to get rid of dust and little bits of whatever clinged (clang?) to your garment during the day.

I think I gave $12 for this at Amazon.  Here's one.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Little Flair: From The Belt Buckle Files

There are many good reasons to have a Western-style belt with interchangeable buckles.  This--a four-inch-wide silver-and-gold buckle with your initial in it--is one of the main ones.

Friday, June 25, 2010

What I've Learned: Staying Cool

Yep, it's hot and humid.  However, fortunate reader, I have spent several suit-wearing summers in D.C., and I have a few ideas.

1.  Did I already tell you to replace your polyester dress shirts with real cotton ones?  No?  Oh, wait, I did, and I gave you a coupon code to get them for $20 each at Paul Fredrick (first-time buyers only).  Polyester is heavier and hotter than cotton.
2.  An undershirt.  It's a thin extra layer to carry around, sure, but there's a decent chance it'll keep your dress shirt from getting damp.  Also saves your dress shirts from deodorant stains, if you use a deodorant with aluminum in it. 
3.  Moisture-wicking underwear.  Yeah.  Moisture-wicking undershirts, too.
4.  Do not leave the office unless the sun is at an angle where it casts some shade on one or more sides of the street.  Do not leave this shade unless absolutely necessary and then only for as short a time as possible.  For example, stand in the shade while waiting for a walk signal.
5.  Face the breeze when you are not moving.
6.  Do not leave the office for more than one errand at a time, if you can help it.
7.  Use a bank teller instead of an ATM.  (Free air conditioning!)

What?  You were expecting some sort of miracle?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Herringbone Suit

Well, two, actually (another one in navy, which I'm wearing today), and a green suit with no pattern. 

This here is a gray herringbone from Jos. A. Bank, in the very nice Signature series, picked up during the last "buy one, get two free" sale they had.  (What?  I needed more suits!  Needed, I tell you!)  A herringbone pattern, as you can see, consists of bands of parallel lines at 90-degree angles to each other.  For whatever reason, I've been on a herringbone kick lately.  I like it because it has more texture than a suit with no finish, and it's dressier than a houndstooth pattern (that funky asymmetrical tessellation that you see writ large in women's fashion these days).

Once this one comes back from the tailor, I'll pair it with a white shirt and whatever the hell tie I want to.  (Seriously, it's a very versatile color.)  But I'll probably stick with a solid-color tie with little to no pattern to contrast the suit's pattern.  Maybe add a pocket square for a Mad Men feel.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Ultimate Retcon

High-fashion Star Wars.  Yes.  Yes.  A thousand times, yes.

Clearly, Boba Fett was financing more than a Corvette with his earnings ("Fett's Vette" on the left).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Punctilios: Maintain The Effort

This study, conducted by a British retailer, found that people spend dramatically less time dressing and grooming for work as the week progresses.

Gentlemen, society does not expect tremendously much of us in terms of prep time.

Shower - 10 minutes
Shave - 10 minutes
Brush your teeth - 2 minutes
Other ablutions - 8 minutes (I'm being generous here)
Put on a suit - 15 minutes from naked to dapper

We don't have to put on makeup, spend more than a minute or two on our hair, put on pantyhose, etc. Realistically, you're talking about 45 minutes alarm-to-door if you don't eat breakfast.

I keep harping on the idea that the way you present yourself is a highly communicative act whether you intend it to be.  I harp because it's true.  Even if you're hung over, come in Friday morning in a pressed shirt and pert collar with a clean shave and a little cologne.  People notice even if they don't realize they notice, and you'll feel better, too.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Wear Your Jacket Outside

Gents, I know it's getting unbearably hot out there in the wilds of the District of Columbia.  Now's as good a time as any to encourage you--strongly encourage you--not to take your jackets off when you stroll the streets.

A suit is a suit.  It's built, designed, and cut to be worn as a suit.  Suit pants don't fit the same as trousers, and they tend to be made out of suiting material rather than pants material.  Suit pants without their jacket just look funny.

Another thing that just looks funny is wearing slacks, a tie, and a button-down with no jacket.  It looks like your job requires you to wear a tie and you do so begrudgingly.  It makes you look like a perfunctory wearer of clothing, like you're just going through the motions.  Dress it up with a sportcoat.

Wearing a jacket and tie outside in the best as well as worst weather sends the message that you care about the way you present yourself because you have something of which you are proud enough to present--here, your personality, wit, and work ethic.

You may safely claim that I am showing you the steep and thorny way to heaven; after all, I pay to park downtown so that I do not have to sweat through my clothes on the Metro in the summer.  For what it's worth, I make an exception for the Metro platform and cars on these nasty-humid days when the air just sits on you like an unwelcome demon of hate and bile and suffering.  But once you disembark, or at least get aboveground, put your jacket back on.

Anyway, it could be worse.  You could have to wear three-inch heels to work.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Casual: Boat Shoes

I bought these for $20 or so from the Gap several years ago.  They held up okay, but I never really liked them, and I was always looking for an excuse to Goodwill them.  So when I signed up for D.C.'s Servathon and was assigned to help paint a health clinic at a D.C. civic center, I eagerly wore them, hoping they would get soaked in paint and thus be ruined.

Well, tenacious bastards that they are, they managed not to get any paint on them except, as you can see, a sort of artistic splash on the left shoe only, and in exactly the same color as the beige rubber sole.  I like the new asymmetrical, slapdash look.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Protips: Ironing a Dress Shirt

Today, we speak of an exciting thing: ironing.  Above, a prosaic image taken Sunday morning. 

Tips! (for cotton* shirts)
  1. Use the "Cotton" heat setting.
  2. Use the maximum amount of steam.
  3. Use the squared-off end of the ironing board whenever possible to reduce the amount of fabric-shifting you have to do.
  4. Iron in this order: cuffs; sleeves; collar; shoulders; chest panels; back panel.
  5. Pull the shirt's to-be-ironed surface taut before ironing.
  6. Slow and steady--I get the best results if I move the iron no more quickly than three inches per second.
  7. Use water (either from a spray bottle or your iron, if it has that feature) on unwanted giant wrinkles before you iron them out.
(*If you have any polyester dress shirts, donate them to Goodwill and buy some Paul Fredrick ones with the $20 coupon.  Current code: TZMSAM. Who takes care of you? Dapper District does.)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In Praise Of: The Suede Blazer

A few years ago, I picked up this tan suede blazer on clearance at Jos. A. Bank for something like $75.  As you can see here, it finds some common ground for a dark green polo shirt and a pair of standard blue jeans.  It's a relatively unstructured jacket (meaning it doesn't have heavy padding in the shoulders or a substantial lining), which makes it casual-appropriate but still sporty-looking.

By the way, that's one of the interchangeable belt buckles to go with my cowboy belt.  No idea where I got it.  It's a very nice brass material.  I named the buffalo "Dale".  We've had some adventures, haven't we, Dale?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Punctilios: Pick-Stitching

Look closely at the lapel of my latest Signature suit from Jos. A. Bank.  Not too closely.  See those dimples about 4mm from the edge, with about 3mm between them?  It's matched thread, and it runs the length of the lapel, and it's called pick-stitching.  Pick-stitching is only necessary on suits that are canvased (i.e., the padding between the fabric is actual canvas, which is more expensive than using fusible material, which does not require thread to hold the suit's faces together).

Fortunately for those of us on a budget, aesthetic, non-functional pick-stitching can be had on good-quality suits as well as top-quality suits.  The distinction isn't well known, so a crap suit with pick-stitching isn't worth the false economy.  But if you find a good-quality suit you like that aspires to real pick-stitching, so much the better.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Speaking of Boots

Picked me up some new boots when I was down in Austin a few weekends ago.  I'd been wanting a black pair for the better part of two years.

They're Justins, and after just one day of wear, the soles are already starting to scuff pleasantly:

I wasn't crazy about the white stitching detail at first, but I like how it pops with the white in a pair of faded jeans.  The boots worked as well with a gray chambray shirt as they did with a gray-blue t-shirt with black accents.  Now, to get a gray suit with a full enough break that I don't look like I'm waiting for a flood.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Some days, a man's just gotta wear boots.

These are Luccheses, from the 1883 collection, purchased four years ago at the now-defunct Western Warehouse on Central Expressway at about Walnut Hill in Dallas, Texas.  Thanks, Pater.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Necessaries: A Geek's Umbrella

(nicked from this page. Look how young Harrison Ford is!)

A month or so ago, I recommended that one always have handy a good umbrella.  A lovely site called ThinkGeek offers an excellent way to do this while also flying one's geek flag: the Blade Runner Umbrella.  Mine finally arrived (they were sold out for a painfully long time), and it rests in the corner of my office, waiting for a time when it gets dark before 9:00pm.

Or until that damned volcano's ash cloud covers D.C.