Monday, July 21, 2014

Boning



Shoes used to be polished with blacking (all shoes before the 1940's were black) applied with a stick and then rubbed with a deer bone to polish and smooth the scratches in the leather. It was a near-forgotten technique that still has value, with the caveat that it should only be used on cordovan and thicker leather like that used for hunting and riding boots. Regular calf will not stand up to it.

About three years ago, ASW produced this video on polishing cordovan using a deer bone. The 240,000 views it has received had a great deal to do with the wide availability of deer bones today but we realized only recently that we had never posted it. And so here it is.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fashion


The F-word is anathema to most menswear devotees. It’s antithetical to our treasured notion of well-curated tailored clothing being impervious to fickle fancy or engineered obsolescence. The entire menswear renaissance is indeed predicated on contempt of fashion as a feminine fixation, embracing instead a sensibly masculine sense of “permanent style” embodied by the golden era of silver screen menswear.

Timelessness, however, wasn’t originally the point. On the contrary, Apparel Arts, Esquire, and other 1930s menswear ur-texts sold themselves with up-to-the-minute reports on what toffs and swells were wearing that season in London, Princeton, Palm Beach, and Saratoga. What saved these publications from being merely obsequious rag gossip, what elevated them into a canon, were writers and editors thoroughly grounded in sartorial history and received taste, with an intimate understanding of clothing’s materials and techniques. They ennobled dressing by treating the subject with a gravitas befitting its premier beau monde practitioners.

In all their paunched and balding glory, those trendsetting society playboys and industry titans were at least real individuals, rather than models in advertising campaigns. They (or perhaps their valets) dressed themselves in clothing selected from their own wardrobes, made according to their own taste, by their own tailors. The looks they embraced were fresh an modern, in keeping with a zeitgeist which -- in the midst of global depression and with The Great War a very raw memory -- couldn’t help but be forward-looking: countrified city clothes, ideal for growing ranks of suburban commuters; comfortable sportswear, aspirationally enjoyed by all on novel “weekends”; exotic resort wear, for remote destinations now at least theoretically accessible by air. It was a look simultaneously elite and democratic: elegance for all. Little wonder it endures.

Fashion, in its pure and ideal form, is no more or less than a sartorial reflection of its times, and as such is nothing to be ashamed or contemptuous of. It has, of course, become something quite different over recent decades, as the “fashion industry” has supplanted the clothing trade. The latter is what sponsored Apparel Arts, with advertisements offering dense summaries of any given product’s exquisitely tasteful details, or touting the latest wonder technology which gave it superior comfort and fit. The fashion industry, on the other hand, has mainly been in the business of manufacturing novelty, image, and yearning -- as fleeting and insubstantial as the fragrances which gird its bottom line, and for which actual clothing has been only a token.

Fortunately, with each passing year, the fashion industry is calling fewer and fewer tunes. Where not too long ago GQ and Esquire were the only ready reference for millions of aspirational dressers, they now seem hopelessly behind the curve, hawking sartorial one-night stands to men who are finding a true love for real tailoring. When was the last (or first) time anyone reading A Suitable Wardrobe bought a Dolce & Gabbana suit? The arbiters of men’s style today aren’t fashion editors and designers, but the countless bloggers, Instagrammers, and other digital denizens bringing their consumer-grade lenses to bear on the man on the street having fun with his classic clobber.

With fashion’s focus once again where it belongs -- the actual clothing worn by real men in the real world (or for that matter at Pitti Uomo) -- let it go where it may.
Text and photo by Andrew Yamato

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Hat Killers and Mr. Kennedy


It has been said that John F. Kennedy killed the once ubiquitous hat by failing to wear one at his inauguration as President, but Neil Steinberg's book Hatless Jack pretty much killed that one off years ago. The auto did have a lot to do with it but, whatever the reason, hatless men needed a way to shield their eyes from the sun. Sunglasses have become as common as fedoras used to be, which makes them the true hat killers.

Perhaps a residual of hat-wearing, suited men were slow to adopt sunglasses, reserving them for sporting activities. Adoption was however speeded by that same JFK who, otherwise "correctly" dressed as he was, wore them frequently. Fifty years later, the sun and sunglasses go together like gin and tonic.

Like most other products, sunglasses fall into three broad categories. There are inexpensive unbranded acetate styles, whose limitations are that they use the cheapest possible lenses and despite my use of 'styles' to describe them earlier in this sentence rarely have any. At the other end of the spectrum, there are bespoke glasses made from horn and other exotic materials even including real tortoise if you diligently seek out one of the remaining European stocks and smuggle your new acquisition back into the States (bespoke eyewear must be fitted in person, something that is more difficult than finding a tailor for those of us living outside of New York, London or Paris). In between those extremes is the domain of branded sunglasses from literally hundreds of makers such as Ray Ban, Persol and ASW's own Francois Pinton and Lafont Reedition.

Even a great pair of sunglasses can never replace the look of a fine Optimo Panama in my opinion but the countervailing argument is that they are LOT easier to carry on an airplane or set down in a restaurant (public hat racks if you can find them are the reason my hatbands say "Stolen from Will Boehlke"). One the plus side, they reduce some of the formality of tailored clothing and there are times a la Mr. Kennedy in the photo when that is exactly what we want.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Brown Is For (Dairy) Farmer


Nearly eight years have passed since I wrote about dressing for business in the suburbs, where neither pinstripes nor tweed suits are quite right. In that time my office wardrobe, which once comprised city suits exclusively, has evolved to fit my own suburban circumstances. Petaluma, where the ASW warehouse is located, was once an egg and dairy town serving San Francisco and has evolved into a bedroom community with a few corporate headquarters.

When circumstances call for tailored clothing for business in a place like Petaluma, the question as alway is what to wear without looking like a parody of a corporate attorney up from the City. I don't find most odd jackets appropriate for the task. To me, the conservative Kiton style cloth patterns that try to look like less formal suits are neither fish nor fowl. That leaves suits, but what kind?

As I wrote in that original post, the suits I favor for the suburbs are the city's Friday suits, like gabardines and glen checks in colors like tan, mid gray or even, gasp, brown. Brown flannel, brown cotton, or a gray/brown nailhead like the one in the photo. The kinds of things you wouldn't wear in London and shouldn't wear to a board meeting anywhere. Pair them with a knit necktie for a further bit of informality.

Brown is for (dairy) farmer.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On The Monogram


A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. In what’s known as classic menswear, those of us who have acquired our pittance arrive at a position of extreme judgmentalness on the monogram: its presence on most items stands for pretense and mediocrity, because the wearer clearly does not know enough to feel the same way. My guess is that this position springs from the anti-logo, anti-advertisement current, almost a sort of snobbery, of recent years, as well as from the ease with which so many things can now be monogrammed, which undermines the implication that something with your initials in it was specially designed or made for you. I subscribed to this viewpoint for years, until I recently noticed a colleague’s shirt monogram in a tone-on-tone (white-on-white, to be precise) in a pleasant fancy italic font and found myself thinking it actually looked rather nice. Growing old, perhaps, I realize life is too short to use the presence of a monogram as a way to judge someone, even if the monogram was on his shirt cuff. Shoot, I’m doing it again.

Like my menswear brethren, I used to believe that monogramming needed to be discreet and actually useful. On most articles of clothing, monogramming serves no purpose. The legend is that monogramming (on shirts, in any case) came about to prevent shirts from being lost at the laundry. Today, however, no laundry would look at what’s stitched on the outside of your shirt to keep track of it, instead resorting to in-house methods like stapled tags, ironed on bar codes or (brace yourselves) a boldly scrawled Sharpie marker. And quite quickly, monograms became billboards for the wearer and later for the designer: old shirt makers sometimes show examples of the complicated ciphers and fanciful scribbles they could embroider for the wearer (done by hand, the cost could be more than that of the shirt itself). Their charts always include, to the fascination of us commoners, the complicated sets of coronets and such that various noble titles have rights to use, as well as the more gauche affectations of those who can afford (literally or figuratively) not to care what others think: the monogram of the King of Morocco, which appears to be his signature in Arabic; an EKG for what must be a dandified cardiologist somewhere; and so on.

While the most discreet shirt monogramming position is said to be the chest or slightly below it (because a jacket would cover it), obviously it would be more discreet still (and easier for the laundry as well, if they still referred to monograms) to have the monogram inside the shirt itself, where no one could see it while the shirt was being worn. Still, the classic monogramming location became the classic position for designer logos. Réné Lacoste’s crocodile, which he supposedly designed and wore on his own clothes, may have been the crossover point, as the Lacoste croc ended up on clothing sold to others for whom it wouldn’t have had his original personal significance (by legend, the crocodile had to do either with his luggage or his big nose).

Lisa Birnbach reminded us, if we needed reminding, that in their exuberant solipsism Preps monogram everything, from cushions to LL Bean backpacks. Outside that now artificial world, even the most prescriptive of us could accept monograms on plain silver or gold cufflinks and guilloche silver belt buckles (signet rings can only be worn by people who do not need to be told they can wear signet rings). And Anglophiles thrill to think of the monograms on the fronts of expensive evening slippers, generally embroidered to order from places like Tricker’s or Edward Green; the ones sold at Ralph Lauren of course already have “” on them. While still at Gucci, Tom Ford put a twist on the monogram I wish I could say I liked more, designing evening slippers with the initials “suc” embroidered on the right foot and “kme” on the left. Thinking back, he must have been one of those kids who entered naughty words for his name when he got the high score on an arcade game. And we should spare a thought for a last nostalgic frivolity courtesy of Alan Flusser 30 years ago, extolling cashmere socks from the old Beale & Inman that could be knitted to order with one’s initials in little diamonds on the leg. I was struck a few years ago to see that the Richard James Bespoke shop on Clifford Street in Savile Row was offering them again – my guess is that Corgi made and makes them.

I saw a bit of utility in having initials on one item, having Swaine Adeney engrave my initials on the collar of my travel umbrella. Looking back I should have had them engrave “Stolen from Réginald-Jérôme de Mans” instead. Nonetheless, I’ve frustrated would-be larcenists with some low-tech LoJack, unscrewing the handle when I drop my umbrella off at a check (no one wants an umbrella without a handle).

Pictured to my bemusement is the monogram in the cuff of my Camps de Luca suit, something they appear to include as a matter of course for their customers (like the teardrop inner pocket and other details). Fortunately, it remains covered when worn. As I’ve written earlier, complicated visible details like these are no indication of actual quality of an item, but with Camps de Luca it’s an example of the over-the-top finishing that accompanies the exquisite inner work and construction of their suits. Imitators like Djay have copied external details like these, with no guarantee of the same level of competence in their cutting, fitting and construction, the difficult stuff. The initials are not my own. The suit was a vintage find by my friend Paul-Lux, who kopped it and gave it to me, so that in true bloggerblagger fashion I too have not paid retail for my Camps de Luca suit. While its initials match those of the late Paris resident Porfirio Rubirosa, the crotch of the trousers is far too small to have accommodated his… repute The suit fits me pretty well. It’s how you use it, after all. Those who know don’t show.

Words and photo by Réginald-Jérôme de Mans