Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Punctilios: French Cuff Layout, Part Deux

Continued from Part Une.  (Get it?  French cuffs, French numbers.  It's funny.)

This is the sleeve of a Paul Fredrick French-cuff shirt.  Note the placement of the cufflink.  (Note also how lucky I got to find cufflinks with enamel insets whose colors are the exact colors in this remarkable shirt which I bought for $20 on clearance and sight-unseen.)  The vertical line is more clean, as well:

In particular, the trailing edge of the cuff sits flat.

And that is perhaps more than you wanted to think about French cuffs.  Bon soir!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Punctilios: French Cuff Layout

Menswear sometimes seems designed to minimize the opportunity to accessorize.  The necktie is a pleasant exception, but because it is a visually dominant part of the business ensemble, we must take extraordinary care to ensure that it coordinates with the shirt and suit.  This constrains us somewhat.

This is one of many reasons that I advocate French cuffs.  They still need to pick up on a color in the rest of the outfit, but so long as the color works, we can experiment with the shape and proportion and pattern.

However, not all French cuffs are created equal.  This is the cuff on my Brooks Brothers shirt (I won a gift card at a D.C. Bar Association raffle!):

The hole for the cufflink is situated about 3/8" forward of the cuffs on my other shirts, which are dead-center on the cuff.  It seems like a harmless-enough flourish, but in practice, it pinches the front edge of the cuff more tightly.  In turn, this pinch causes more of a flare at the front edge of the cuff, visible below, and it is more likely to cause the rear edge to lift up, as visible above and below.

Finally, I prefer the back edge of the cuff to be rounded rather than square, as shown in the first picture--it's a cleaner look and cuts down on the edge-lift simply by making less material available to lift.

Obviously, I still wear the shirt--their Extra-Slim Fit is brilliant--but the devil's in the details.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Secret Weapons: Shop It to Me

I have only recently discovered Shop It to Me (hat tip to Nora over at I bought it, and I loved it).  Once you get signed up, you can select from about 500 retailers that you want to follow, as well as the types of clothes you want to return results for and the sizes that you wear.  Then, like magic, Shop It to Me polls all your selected retailers' sites for sales on the types of items you're looking for and returns one big page for you to peruse, with big photos.  You can narrow the results by type of clothing.

You can even filter by price.  The only limitation here is that the price range isn't infinitely customizable.  For example, you can set a max of $100 or $50, but nowhere in between, which is unfortunate because I would pay up to $60 for certain items, but no more.  Still, it's an incredibly useful resource to check once or twice a week.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Quick Fix: A Pocket Square

I've had trouble finding linen pocket squares in stores (I don't want to buy one, sight unseen, from the Internet).  Exasperated, I tried a plain, heavily ironed white hankie.  But it was way too much material.  So I cut it in half and refolded it with the ragged edge at the bottom, then tucked it into my jacket pocket.

Not perfect, but definitely sharp.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

And Now, for Something Completely Different

A collaboration with Nora Wallis over at I Bought It, and I Loved It.


LEE:  Nora!  I am glad you are here!  I was just thinking about the snowmelt and the coming of spring and the return of warm weather.  NOT BECAUSE I LIKE IT! but because, among other things, it means that woolen scarves can no longer be employed as accessories for men.  Soon, it will be too warm for anything but jeans and graphic-print T-shirts.  Is there any solution for this conundrum other than garish hats?

In return for your assistance, I will give you what every Cosmo has promised but failed to deliver: A Glimpse, Of Your Choosing, Into The Male Brain!

NORA:  I choose to glimpse at the Male Brain through the ears, with an otoscope.  And since the weather insists on remaining at temperatures that, back in Louisiana, would be considered the height of winter (ohgodpleasecanitbewarmalready?) you'd better prepare yourself, because the minute that cold metal hits your ear canal, it's going to send a shiver down your spine that can only be countered by...

                    Gender-Specific-Clothing Judo, Vol. 1!

I'd like to go on the record as being wary of graphic-print tees.  When they're good, they're great (why, what?) but I find that people rely too heavily on a graphic to be a stand-in for their personality.  I'm quite partial to un-cluttered expanses of fabric.

And fabric!  Now there's a topic I can talk about for hours.  I especially don't care what your t-shirt says if it's soft.  (At this point I'd like to make an exception for offensive or just plain stupid statements.  If you're wearing a t-shirt that could also be worn by a fourteen-year-old boy or the next Ted Bundy, it could be 12-gauge cashmere but I still won't want to be within a mile of you.)  This is an important thing to remember: soft fabric is one of the top-three things in the world.  Period.  The other two are Roger Daltrey's scream at 7:45 of "Won't Get Fooled Again" and perfectly-chilled Veuve Clicquot.

LEE:  Why Thank You, Nora, for plugging my blog on my own behalf!  That t-shirt is one of my most favorite of all time.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can always find offensive AND stupid shirts at shirtaday.com (except for one they did that said "Tebow Cried for Our Sins" and was offensive except that it didn't offend any demographic I am a member of because I hate Tim Tebow).  I hate Tim Tebow.

But I must take issue with your assertion about graphic tees (at least in part because they compose most of my casual wardrobe, but also because I am a Big Fan of them for dumb guys like me just trying to get by without looking garishly uncoordinated and without spending an arm and a leg).  What other palatable option is there?  For example, in my light-speed scannings of the menswear blogs and sites on The Internets, I have determined that those shirts worn by Venetian gondoliers and French beret-wearers (skinny black-and-white horizontal stripes) are going to be "stylish" this year.  WOULD YOU HAVE ME WEAR ONE OF THOSE? I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS.  Solid-color tees seem so stolid.

NORA:  I would disagree about solids.  I am actually quite partial to solid colors, both because they never go out of style and because they're much more likely to be flattering.  It's a universally-agreed-upon statement that monochromatic color selections are always a safe choice.  And, frankly, I don't want to take risks with casual clothes.  "Casual," per Merriam-Webster, can be defined as "feeling or showing little concern."  And I think that is an excellent description of my attitude towards casual wear.

Here I should interject that I don't mean "feeling or showing little concern" insofar as I walk around in the same clothes for three days, not having showered.  Rather, it means I don't want to put too much thought or effort into looking beautiful.  I want to look beautiful, effortlessly.  Which, hopefully, gives me that "effortlessly beautiful" look they talk about in magazines.

Which is why I love the solid-color tee.  I love James Perse tees; they cost, but believe me when I say they're worth it.  I own four short-sleeved JP tees (one white v-neck and crew-necks in white, red, and navy blue - how patriotic of me) and a much-beloved long-sleeved white v-neck.  And - lo and behold - they make a men's line as well!  JP t-shirts not only fit beautifully, but they also last forever and improve exponentially with age.

At this point I'd also like to make a plug for lightweight cashmere.  Cashmere is my one true love.  (When I was fourteen, it was Paul Walker, but as an adult, it's cashmere.)  Lightweight (2-ply) cashmere is a glorious thing to behold, and can be worn in nearly all seasons, DC's sweltering mid-summer notwithstanding.  A man in a well-fitting, classic t-shirt or a well-fitting, super-soft sweater?  Well, that's just wonderful.

LEE:  I like the point you're making, Nora, which is one that I often forget: Texture has as much "differentiating" character as color and pattern, so a gray, uniquely textured T-shirt can be as interesting as one that says "AFFLICTION" in giant letters all over it (and by interesting I mean, in the case of the latter, not interesting).  I grew up with 100% cotton, generic, boxy-cut T-shirts.  There are other options, such as the American Apparel henley.

However!  Your James Perse tees are too expensive for the kind of daily, multiple-shirts-in-the-rotation wear I foresee when Old Man Humidity and Brutal Heat visits us again.  What are we men to do?  The same thing we do every night, Pinky...cruise eBay and the Internet and stores like Filene's, and Think Outside The Box.  Closing thoughts?

NORA:  I think you're spot-on.  I don't know that I've ever purchased a James Perse t-shirt full price.  I have a variety of sources through which I comb to find JP goodness.  You mentioned eBay, and much like your love of Filene's, I have a soft spot for Loehmann's as a source of discounted niceties.  Additionally, I find lots of incredible deals for online shopping by searching retailmenot.com.  (A plug!  You should all stop what you're donig and go see what I mean.)  In closing, I suppose my advice to the stronger/hairier sex would be not to settle into any one go-to outfit, claiming that the fact that you changed your shirt makes the outfit different.  If, on Saturday night, you wear a graphic tee with jeans and Pumas, and on Sunday night you wear a different graphic tee with different jeans and Adidas, you're still wearing the same damn thing.  This is important to know.  ¿Y tu, seƱor?

LEE:  I must protest.  By your logic, when I wear two different suits with two different shirts and different pairs of shoes two days in a row, I am wearing the same outfit!  And that is not true!  But I appreciate the point you are making, i.e., that we should vary as much as possible our fabrics, colors, and pieces.

Re Loehmann's, I have been to the one in Friendship Heights, and while their female stock is awe-inspiring, their men's section is about the size of my old apartment.  Good stuff, though, at somewhat reasonable prices.

Looks like that’s all the time we have, folks.  We’ve learned a lot together—mainly, that graphic-print tees are probably not as individualistic as we had hoped, and that we should explore new fabrics and textures when it comes to covering our upper bodies.

So, in conclusion, Nora used to have a crush on Paul Walker, which is just unforgivable.  Keanu Reeves is a better actor than that dude.

NORA:  Pssshaw!  Paul Walker's abdominal muscles could act circles around Keanu.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lusting After: Brown Cap-Toes at Filene's

I don't know much about shoes, relatively speaking, but I know what I like when I see it, and I badly want these shoes.  They have been on the shelf for a month or two now, cruelly tempting me at $130.  I don't even know if the brand is any good.

What I like about these:
  • Classic style--this is a laced cap-toe with minimal ornamental stitching.  It's absolutely something I could wear to court.
  • Beautiful color--it's halfway between "caramel" and "brown", the two standard colors for men's brown dress shoes.
  • Exquisite leather--not too shiny, but not totally matte, with just a little bit of texture.
  • Slightly pointed toe--not dramatically, but enough to give the foot a little bit of shape, as opposed to a clunky, two-inch-wide round toe (as found on my current, highly serviceable black cap-toes).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Alas: Notes on Personal Growth

I recently had to take several suit jackets to my tailor because they had developed a roll between the shoulders.  His seamstress informed us that we would not be able to remove any more material to correct future rolls.  We puzzled over why so many had developed the same problem all at once, until the answer came to me.

You see, unfortunately, I had gotten back into upper-body weightlifting (for size, I admit, not strength).  Protein shakes, supersets, freeweights, all that good stuff, and it was working--working so well that my deltoids and trapezii(?) were starting to make the jackets' collars hang funny while simultaneously stretching them across a slightly broader expanse of back.  The result?  Shoulder rolls.

I lack funds to go up a jacket size in all my suits, but I am a glass-half-full sort most of the time, so I reminded myself that one of my New Year's resolutions was to run a 10k race, picked up some new running shoes yesterday, and have dedicated myself to that athletic pursuit.  In fact, I think I hear a break in the rain.  Be back in an hour or so.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In Praise Of: The Skinny Tie

Mad Men's popularity has given some older styles a temporary new lease on life.  In particular, the skinny tie has become appropriate for office-wear (though I would not wear one to court).  The Calvin Klein shown here, with a spread collar, came from Filene's Basement (shocker!) and set me back a worthwhile $20.

Take heed, though.  The skinny tie looks unbalanced--nigh on anemic--next to lapels of the width sold by most major, reasonably priced menswear shops (Jos. A. Bank, for example).  It looks more appropriate on a suit with narrower lapels, such as the one I showed the other day. And you must wear it with a full Windsor (shown here--look how tiny it is!).

Monday, March 8, 2010

I Am Confused By Your Footwear Choices

Dear Suit-Wearing Gentleman on the Metro:

Please forgive my forwardness in pulling out your headphones and violently throwing your copy of today's Express down the length of the train car, but I must ask you a question. 

Why are you wearing New Balance sneakers with your suit and carrying your dress shoes in a bag?

I am aware that women do this.  However, apart from a plethora of biological differences, you are different from women in yet another way: The dress shoes which you have--nay, get!--to wear to work are comfortable.  You do not have to wear three-inch heels which get caught in ventilation grates and escalator steps.  You get to wear hard-soled, fully enclosed shoes made out of a beautiful leather which, with a few wearings, readily conforms to your feet.  You have the privilege of getting to wear these masterpieces of a hundred years' worth of shoe-engineering technology.  Unless your dress shoes are too small, there should be no pinching.

I guess you change shoes in the men's room before going into your office, but what if you ran into your boss on the street?  A client?  A girl or boy you were fixing to call for a second date? 

I'm just saying.  Oh, and sorry about the newspaper--whoops, here's my stop!  Bye!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Secret Weapons: Instant Shoe Shine

The box you see here (about five inches long) contains a large sponge attached to the lid.  The sponge, which feels nearly dry to the touch, contains some sort of shoe-shine-like chemicals.  Look, I don't know exactly how it works, but it really, really works.  These things cost between $5 and $15 and are worth it at any price in that range.  You just sort of grab the lid and work the sponge over the surface of your leather shoes, belt, coat, boots, you name it.  In under a minute, shiny leather will have its shine renewed, and matte leather will take on a healthy, moist look. 

It also helps with small patches of that white residue that appears on leather that has gotten wet and subsequently dried without being moisturized.

When you don't have time for a shoe shine, this will definitely do the trick.

You can find these (brands vary) at Jos. A. Bank, department stores, Filene's, Johnston & Murphy...even CVS sometimes.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Color is Hard: Damn the Torpedos

Apologies for the image noise.  I will start using a proper camera one of these days.  The shirt you see here was on clearance at Paul Frederick for $20.  I will buy any shirt from PF once it hits $20, provided it does not have a contrast collar (i.e. a collar that is not the same pattern and/or color as the rest of the shirt).  It looked a lot less...difficult on the Internet.  When it arrived, I despaired until I thought of my light-gray Hickey suit.

Like a sleek, purple-and-pink jaguar, I stalked the tie racks at my local Filene's Basement. Three visits passed before I spotted the above tie for $20.  The indistinct detail within each square is a little flower made of silver thread.

I like this combination because:
  1. The suit gray goes with the tie silver and the shirt white.
  2. The tie squares are larger versions of the shirt squares but with the colors inverted.
  3. Really, the suit's neutral gray could pull off almost any color of shirt.
I was still apprehensive about wearing it to work, since the office isn't quite that colorful, but I figured, "To hell with it.  They won't fire me for this."  Sure enough, I got a lot of compliments on it.

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    Color Is Hard: Don't Mix Khaki and Black

    I grew up with the understanding that khaki went with just about everything.  As a young man unschooled in paying attention to these things, I accepted this as gospel truth.  Now, I've moderated my position a bit because... 

    Khaki does not go with black.

    I'm not quite sure what the problem is, but the combination of khaki slacks and black shoes and/or a black shirt just strikes my eye as dissonant.  Maybe it's the fact that khaki does not have any element of black in it (unlike black shoes' best friend, gray wool).  Maybe it's that black shoes suggest Serious Business, while khaki slacks suggest Business Casual.  I'm spinning my wheels trying to think of a situation (other than a dance club) in which I'd wear a black shirt.

    I'm not ready to call "Faux Pas" on this combination because so many guys do it.  But we do better for ourselves when we wear black shoes with pants with some black in them and brown shoes with pants with some brown in them.