Friday, July 29, 2011

Micro-Regional Patterns

After dropping more dosh than I'd care to admit to replace a stuck caliper, brake pads, and abraded rotors, I feel inspired to write about the culture of clothing as opposed to the acquisition of clothing.

I had a conversation with a few gentlemen the other day about when and where to wear seersucker.  In any Virginia circuit court in the spring and summer, seersucker is safe, even progressive.  In the Fairfax County courthouse, seersucker steps out with bowties every day when the weather's this hot.  But head a few miles east of the Arlington County courthouse's deliciously air-conditioned confines, and its iced-coffee-dispensing Starbucks, to the D.C. Superior Court, and seersucker just doesn't jive.  Poplin is the most frequent concession to oppressive heat there.

Anyone who lives at the Courthouse Metro stop in Arlington can tell you that the differences between that neighborhood and, say, Logan Circle are mostly cosmetic.  Arlington is the big city as much as D.C. is.  Yet their suit cultures are very different.

Why is this?  Hard to say.  Certainly, Virginia takes its Southern gentility seriously.  One component is what I like to call traditional dandyism--seersucker, bowties, straw boaters, braces, boots.  (No bolo ties; that only happens in Texas.)  On the other hand, DC's bar has a much higher proportion of African-American suit wearers, who tend to favor more constructed (that is, padded) shoulders, four-button jackets, and loosely tailored slacks in woolen summer hues, and they look just as smart.  Both bars are equally professional (as are those in Maryland, my other jurisdiction).  They simply choose to represent themselves differently. 

Knowing attorneys, this is a combination of feeling confident and audience awareness.  Most days at the courthouse, our audience is the judge.  Fairfax County Circuit Court's moderately paced environment is more suited to clothing that evokes a hot summer day, like "Inherit the Wind" or "To Kill a Mockingbird".  D.C.'s relatively staggering case burden demands a more efficient, though no less genteel, approach.  Every judge wants attorneys well-prepared and attentive, but perhaps different benches have different ideas of what a professional and pulled-together attorney looks like. 

This, in turn, derives from what professional attorneys have looked like in the past; judicial preference then creates a feedback loop that drives the way attorneys dress, which drives the way judges think they should look like, and now, we're full circle.

Do you see these kind of regional differences in your line of work?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Surgeon's Cuffs

Got me a British patch-pocket country suit on eBay for a good price.  Plenty of posts to come, but for now, surgeon's cuffs, a/k/a working sleeve buttonholes.  Called surgeon's cuffs because a surgeon could use them to unfasten his suit jacket sleeves and roll them up, probably to conduct surgery without bebloodying his suit.  Also used by foppish dandies: unbutton a button or two on your sleeve for instant sprezzatura.

One issue with buying suits secondhand--if they have surgeon's cuffs, be careful.  On a standard suit jacket, the buttons are just sewn onto the fabric.  Thus, your tailor can shorten your sleeve easily by cutting material from the sleevehole and moving the buttons up the sleeve toward your shoulder a bit.  Not so with surgeon's cuffs, or at least there's less room for error.  If you need to shorten the sleeves more than the amount of fabric past the lowest working buttonhole, your tailor will have to remove material from the armhole (where the sleeve meets the shoulder), and this is 1) expensive and/or 2) dangerous for the overall fit of the coat.

Oh my god, I just learned that "sprezzatura" is a coinage by none other than Baldassare Castiglione, author of The Book of the Courtier!  I totally read that book in my Chivalry, Honor, and Courtesy class back in college.  Apparently, this whole "style blogging" thing was meant to be, even back when my wardrobe comprised monocolor t-shirts, pleated khaki shorts, and retired running shoes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Q: Slip-Ons for an Interview?

A: No.

It's not just because I know you all think your black leather slip-ons look totally awesome regardless of what you wear them with, e.g., your Dad Jeans, your kilt, your red tie. It's not just because said foot-coverings look like modernist shoeboxes, like some sort of medieval torture instrument.

It's not just because I know you will wear those shoes with equally black ribbed socks which come up to your mid-shin when you pull them on and slide down to your ankles after 20 paces. It's not just because I know you'll cross your leg during the interview and expose pale legflesh to your helpless interviewer.  (Remember that commercial for the stain stick, where the guy is trying to talk to the interviewer, but the stain on his shirt keeps talking over him?  Your exposed shinbone is like that.)

It's not just because of any of these things. It's the principle, folks. Slip-ons are tassle-free loafers. Loafers are for loafing. Not for serious business.

I feel you.  I used to bend the rules.  Look at this photo, from the infancy of this blog:

My leg.  With a suit.  The colors are right, but the footwear is oh-so-wrong.

Look. I can't always be there with you, so you'll have to follow your gut to decide for yourself whether your interview or first date or court appearance or opera or campaign event or wedding is serious business. Whatever you decide, pitch those blocky leatherette monstrosities and get yourself a proper pair of cap-toes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Staying Cool On The Metro

Perfect timing for this topic, as Jos. A. Bank has a buy one, get two free sale today.

There are a few options when you need a summer suit.  Cotton, linen, poplin (a cotton-poly blend), seersucker, and summer wool.  JAB has several of each.  J. Crew also has some excellent, probably higher-quality and younger-person-fitting cotton suits as well, but I haven't gotten a chance to feel the fabric in the store.

Seersucker, a cotton fabric which derives its lumpy texture from the unique weaving process employed to make it, carries a certain Virginny panache in this part of the country, so wear it with confidence and simple colors.  Seersucker plus knit tie equals panache.  The narrow stripes also tend to mask sweat a bit.

Poplin is your basic summer fabric.  I understand you can wash-and-wear it since there aren't any fussy wool fibers to worry about.  That said, I wouldn't necessarily recommend washing and wearing.  Also, it feels heavier to me than the other fabrics, both in terms of mass and breathability.

Cotton and linen wrinkle, especially linen, but that is part of the charm.

Some day, I'll devote a post each to these lovely fabrics, but right now, I just don't have much expertise.  I don't follow my own advice like I should, but I don't have to, because I move from air-conditioned bubble to air-conditioned bubble all the livelong day!  I could wear bloody winter tweeds and still be comfy!  Ahh, the suburbs.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Casual: Engagement Party

A friend got engaged last night.  Hooray!  A surprise party was thrown at La Tasca.  Tapas!  He had the element of surprise and dressed for the occasion with a nubby, linenesque white button-down oxford with a skinny black tie, black slacks, black shoes, and hair which had been died green but had wizened into a sort of blondish.  His betrothed just thought it was a dinner date and wore an excellent cocktail dress.  (That is the extent of my ability to describe women's clothing in prose.)

For my part, I wore a pink cotton button-collar oxford, top two chest buttons undone and sleeves rolled, from (you guessed it) Paul Fredrick (clearance); a Polo Ralph Lauren belt (outlet); J. Crew outlet shorts; and white bucs from Johnston & Murphy (outlet).  It was a hot and humid night, so the lightweight materials were a sure bet. 

On a related note, I am beginning to suspect that these bucs are the ultimate summer dressy-casual shoe.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Keep It Simple: Gray And Red For Court

When you're going to court to argue about important things, simplicity is crucial.  Outlandish, or even unusual, clothing can distract from the more trenchant and incisive portions of your legal argument, of which there are, doubtless, many, along with subordinate clauses, interjections, and appositives, which are bad habits, especially for bloggers, who are, often, devilishly handsome, as bloggers go.  Here, a suit from Filene's by the now-defunct Hickey line from Hickey Freeman, tie bar (as usual) from JAB, shirt from Paul Fredrick, and tie from who-knows-where all complemented each other very close to the chest, so to speak, if you will, as it were.  Shoes were probably black cap-toes. 

If you take nothing else away from DD, take away the fact that all dress is performative, even if you don't intend for it to be.