There’s No Such Thing as Dress Jeans

Let’s get this out of the way right now.  Dress jeans don’t exist. Stop using this term.  They don’t exist in real life, except here, but that’s not the life you want.  Trust me on this one.

About 10 years ago, when the NBA elevated its dress code to eliminate jeans, shouts of resistance erupted everywhere, from the players as well as the public.  Eventually, the NBA capitulated and allowed the term “business casual” (quotations theirs) which included dress jeans.

“I’ve never heard the term (dress jeans) and it’s a little scary to me,” wrote Jim Moore of GQ.  “A jean is a jean.  I think that’s a crazy, nebulous term.”

Back in the late 90s, after the grunge look of my high school years faded away like so many Miller’s Outpost stores, I remember buying my first pair of non-stonewashed jeans from JCrew.

As a San Diego transplant living in New York, I abandoned my shorts, Docs, and thrift store flannels and adopted the New England “khakis with everything” look, along with the iconic roll-neck sweater with un-hemmed edges and raglan sleeves.  It was fresh, clean, presentable.  Things were starting to get dressier.

Shortly thereafter, dark denim debuted on the scene, and ads promoting “dressing up your denim” were plastered all over New York.  Mostly with v-neck sweaters and t-shirts.  Were men ready to start dressing up again? Oh yes, and with enthusiasm that would rival Gettysburg reenactments, with tweed vests to match.

Fast-forward twenty years, and the term “dress jeans” is universal.  But its meaning remains unclear.  What are dress jeans?  Are they simply new, unwashed, and untreated denim?  Do you iron them?  Dry-clean them for colorfast-ness?

“DRESS JEANS” DO NOT EXIST. DENIM IS A RUGGED CLOTH.

Specifically, it’s an abrasion-resistant twill that was designed to be workwear – and that’s still it’s most comfortable use. That said, jeans will never go away, at least not in the near future, and it’s fine to embrace that. Will jeans ever be “dressy?”  No, they won’t.

But you can “dress them up.” There’s a difference. Here’s how.

Key to avoiding the dreaded “trying too hard” look is accepting that jeans are casual; you can only dress them up so much. Therefore, ties with jeans are out. Don’t argue. Would you wear a tiara with jeans? Of course not.  Ditch the tie; it’s reserved for formal occasions. In its place, consider the roll-neck, turtleneck, or open collar button-down shirt. Just no orphaned suit jacket, please – remember that these are jeans, not trousers.

Try a cardigan, or if you prefer a jacket, try the Harrington, trucker, bomber, moto, corduroy, or tweed sportcoat.  Jeans are great, and they’re a wonderful, versatile part of a man’s wardrobe. But know when enough is enough. Say it with me: dress jeans do not exist.

If you’re feeling stumped on how to dress up your denim without looking ridiculous, here are a few classic examples (along with a few of my own):

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Sunday Styles: Museum Visit

outfit-grid-7

If you’re looking for casual style that’s perfect for a weekend museum visit, still sharp and forward-looking enough for a business meeting, look no further than Styleforum favorite Stephan Schneider. This basketweave jacket pairs beautifully with relaxed trousers and loafers to keep your feet as comfortable as the rest of you.

 

1. Stephan Schneider “Thinner” jacket from Suspension Point

2. Native Youth “Meteor” Trouser from Need Supply Co.

3. Solovier Pantome Slipper from Other-Shop

4. Wings + Horns Henley from Uncle Otis

5. Linjer Portfolio

 

Styleforum endorses: Grenadine ties

If there is anything that Styleforum community – an opinionated and sometimes grumpy group – agrees on, it is that grenadine ties are excellent.  If you look in the Styleforum WAYWT or WAYWN (“What are you wearing today/now”), you’ll see ties made of grenadine, a open, nearly gauzy woven fabric that used to be worn as (black) lace in France,   in many of our members’ outfits, often in muted colors.

Grenadine ties certainly work with traditional business suits, they also work really well with more “fashion” oriented suits.  In any grenadine tie, whether it’s a “large” or “small” weave,  there are lustrous yarns and a three dimensional, textured, surface.  This combination ensures that all but the cheapest grenadines will look rich.

In the Classic menswear section of the forum, subdued ties with small, repeating patterns, are considered integral to the wardrobe.  This is in part because many of the discussions are geared not just towards classic menswear, but more specifically, towards business attire.  In the Streetwear&Denim section, suits are seen as a starting point for a fashionable outfit.  In the relatively few outfits posted that include ties, feature minimalist, solid colored ones.

Vanda Styleforum burgundy bourette grenadine ties

Vanda x Styleforum burgundy bourette grenadine tie to benefit The Ronald McDonald House of Spokane

Grenadine ties, because of their highly textured weave, do not require a pattern for them to be suitable for business ready outfits which makes the grenadine time one of those rare moments when the classic agrees with the modern.   Sean Connery’s James Bond regularly wore grenadine ties as well.  In our “Menswear Advice” forum for all of those pesky questions you are not sure where to ask, the answer “wear a burgundy or navy grenadine tie” is nearly always going to be an adequate answer.

This is one of the reasons that when we decided to the first Styleforum tie in the good part of a decade, earlier this year, we went with a burgundy with navy grenadine tie with Vanda (the majority of the profits of this tie went to support the Ronald McDonald House of Spokane.)

Here are a few of the forum’s other favorites:

Vanda Silk and Cashmere Grenadine tie: because you don’t get much more luxurious for fall.

Vanda navy silk and cashmere grenadine ties

Vanda navy silk and cashmere grenadine tie

 

Drake’s “Petrol” grenadine tie: Drake’s has been a perennial favorite with menswear enthusiasts both on Styleforum and beyond, for years, now.  $155 via MrPorter

 Drakes Kingsman Petrol Silk Grenadine tie

Drakes Kingsman Petrol Silk Grenadine tie

Chipp neckwear Wine grenadine tie – because a grenadine tie can also be had on a budget.  $55

Chipp wine grenadine tie

Chipp wine grenadine tie

How to Pair White Pants and a Jacket

Since we all know it’s just fine to wear white after Labor Day, let’s take a moment to discuss how to pair white pants and a jacket. White is an excellent choice for late summer and early fall, and is a solid staple for both daytime and casual evening looks, particularly when white trousers are paired with a jacket.

It’s a forgiving base for any combination, and if you can keep them clean they’ll be as versatile as your favorite grey trousers without any business connotations. I myself favor a no-break or even slightly cropped (not highwater) trouser hem, particularly for a lightweight pant. White or off-white trousers in heavier fabrics such as flannels (yes, you can wear white into winter) take well to a range of autumnal colors, so you can keep wearing them through the winter – just avoid slushy days.

For casual summer looks, it’s easiest to pair a lightweight or unstructured jacket, as a relaxed shape adds to the breeziness. However, that doesn’t mean that strong tailoring looks out of place with white – on the contrary, a sharp jacket – particularly a double-breasted jacket – can work equally well.

Keep in mind that a white shirt likely won’t be the best choice when wearing white pants and a jacket. I favor blues and greens, as these colors don’t immediately connote golf courses the way brighter colors – such as a pink – might.  In particular, I find that a washed chambray – or even a midnight navy for an evening outfit – looks good with a wide range of jacket connotations and offers enough versatility that you don’t look as though you’re permanently stuck at a barbecue.

There are a few pitfalls to watch out for. First is to make sure you’re not wearing skin-tight pants, which is less of an issue with trousers than it is with jeans or chinos. White leggings aren’t flattering on anyone. Second, if you’re wearing linen or other lightweight trousers, do an underwear check – some fabrics tend towards translucency. And third, keep them clean. While colored trousers – and white jeans – can take some abuse and look no worse (or even better!) for it, white trousers tend to take on all the charm of a used napkin when they get dirty.

Otherwise, think of white as a blank canvas and trust your own tastes – and be sure to share your results on Styleforum’s What Are You Wearing Today thread.

If you’re in search of a starting place for your white-trousered looks, here are two suggestions to give you a push:


how to pair white pants and a jacket

1. Jacket: Ring Jacket from The Armoury

2. Shirt: G. Inglese from No Man Walks Alone

3. Pants: Luigi Borrelli from Shop the Finest

4. Shoes: Dundee boots from Allen Edmonds

5. Square: Monsieur Fox from Exquisite Trimmings

6. Belt: Walnut leather from Proper Cloth


 

how to pair white pants and a jacket

 

1. Jacket: DB Jacket by Epaulet

2. Shirt: White linen by Proper Cloth

3. Tie: Sky blue grenadine by Kent Wang

4. Pants: Off-white “Jort” by SuitSupply

5. Belt: Black leather by Miler Menswear

6. Shoes: Carls Santos swan-neck oxford from A Fine Pair of Shoes

7. Square: Rubinacci from Skoaktiebolaget


The Charcoal Suit is Still a Wardrobe Essential

“The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit”, released in 1956, follows the life of veteran Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) in post war America as he attempts to make it in the corporate world while dealing with a variety of personal issues.  It touches, as most great films do, on many themes – among them PTSD and the conflict between family and corporate life.  In the movie, the ubiquitous grey flannel suit of the post WWII workplace serves as a symbol of the demands of the corporate workplace.  A man becomes subsumed by his corporate role when he puts on his corporate suit.  The movie, like the book it was based on (published just a year earlier), was hailed by an audience standing on the precipice between postwar America and Rock and Roll.  Sixty years hence, while the word “suit” still carries with it many negative connotations associated with corporate drudgery, most workplaces no longer demand a suit for every day wear, and a suit has become for many a special event item.  A suit is, for many, a contemporary form of regalia.  A man who puts on a gray suit is more likely to stand out than to recede into the background – the suit says “This guy is about to do something special”.

charcoal suit styleforum wardrobe essential

Styleforum member “Pingson” does the dark grey suit justice.

A few years ago, a Styleforum member named “@Manton,” started a thread called “If you don’t own the following items, you are not well dressed”.  It’s a good list, if any one is building a classic business wardrobe.  We saw arguments about what belonged and did not belong in the list.  The dark grey (or charcoal) suit was, and is, one of the very few items that remains inarguably necessary in a man’s wardrobe.  If your job is one of the rare ones that requires that you put on a suit and tie every day, charcoal suits are a staple.  It says that you are a sober man, a serious man, which is usually the effect you want to affect in those rare professions where suits are still the norm.  If you are not a habitual suit wearing man, if you only need a suit once every so often, the dark grey suit in classic proportions is the suit you need if you are a guest at a wedding, a mourner at a funeral, or a victim at a job interview.

This is not a tutorial on what to look for in a suit, nor an infographic on how to wear one, but here are a few points to start you off:

  • The suit should “cut” your body into approximately two equal parts. The jacket should cover your bottom, but not go much below that.
  • Always make sure that the suit fits across the shoulders. Most other things can be adjusted.  This is a hard facet to alter.
  • In the same vein, make sure that the angle of the arm matches that of your “natural” stance.

And more about styling your suit:

  • A “normal” lapel width is less likely to date your look than a very narrow or very wide lapel. A “normal” lapel width ranges between 3” and 3.5” at the widest point, with the exact width depending on the style as well as the size of the suit.
  • There are three common button configurations for suit jackets: a two button jacket, a three button jacket, and a “two-roll-three” jacket – a three button jacket that is designed so that the top button is on the roll of the lapel, and not to be used for any reason.
  • If you are at a loss on what to wear with a charcoal suit, go with a plain white shirt with a semi-spread collar, a burgundy or navy grenadine tie (or a knit tie for more casual occasions, or a wool tie for winter), and a plain white pocket square.

I’d argue that a white oxford cloth shirt and a few solid or small pattern ties are other “should have” basics, and we’ll discuss those in the future. For now, if you’re starting out on a business-appropriate sartorial journey, or looking to pare down your wardrobe, keep in mind that a dark grey suit is an eternally appropriate choice in clothing. It’s worth having one in your closet, and making sure that it fits you properly – you’ll certainly find continued use for it.

Pitti Uomo: A Buyer’s Perspective

Mr. Kuhle goes to Firenze.

 

At this point you guys have probably read a hundred Pitti Uomo recaps. But I figured that I’m chime in with somewhat a different perspective: what it’s like to visit as a buyer, and a first-time Pitti attendant at that.

It’s huge.

Good lord. I’ve been to plenty of trade shows in my time, but never on this scale. Pitti Uomo is held in Florence’s Fortezza da Basso, a sprawling fortress complex that dates back to 1534. Without stopping, it would probably take at least 40 minutes just to walk the perimeter of the show. I’ve been to men’s shows before in NYC, Vegas, Germany, and Spain, but this one dwarfs them all.

The old main drag at Pitti.

You need to stay focused.

Trade shows are all about meeting people and putting names to faces. Most of my time is taken up with appointments for brands I already carry–for example, an Alden buy might take 2 hours, Southwick might take 90 minutes, etc. If you’re investing the time and money to fly to Italy, then you really need to make that investment worth it. That means getting there at the opening bell, keeping things tight and focused, and really trying to balance time spent in meetings with time spent looking for new brands and product. Pitti was the most difficult time-management in buying that I’ve ever dealt with.

The hardest items to buy, focuswise? Ties. Buying ties and scarves is hard as hell. There’s hundreds of fabrics and hundreds of designs in several colors apiece. Best to grab a strong-ass coffee and some water to stay well hydrated for those tie appointments.

Add a fresh bunch of Italian paisley... Scarf swatches.

Buying and attending are different experiences.

Before I went to Pitti, I had a cool idea. I would bring along my 1950s Leica M3 and shoot dazzling photos. Oh yeah; I got the lens cleaned and adjusted beforehand. I would make an entire photo gallery of 35mm pics of the “Pitti scene.” I’d have dozens of photographs of incredibly dapper Japanese guys and an overview of all my rounds there.

Wrong.

I had two and a half days at the show. The first day I spent 9 straight hours in the basement of one building, just moving from vendor to vendor. I didn’t get outside until dark and didn’t shoot a single photo with the Leica. Believe me, I was pretty envious of the #menswear Tumblr crew and the many pictures of them hanging out in the main square. When you’re buying at Pitti, you never really have time to appreciate all of the peacockery and happenings going on there. You obsessively look at product and slam a panini for lunch. Not that I’m complaining. An entire day of looking at shoes and sportcoats is a pretty damn good day for me. But buyers never really get to shoot street style photos and ogle the Brunello Cucinelli booth (unless you carry his line in your store).

Check ch-check check check check it out. Shirt swatches.

Pitti is a great resource for manufacturing.

There’s nothing better than talking with people who make things. There’s no BS, no showroom hustling, and no guy-who-just-got-the-account-6-days-ago-and-knows-jack-shit-about-what-he’s-selling. Meeting with manufacturers is a joy for me and it’s one of the best parts of my job. And Pitti is absolutely filled with small-scale manufacturers. I’m talking incredible artisan companies that you’d never find outside of Europe. There’s a robust domestic market in Europe in general and Italy in particular, so Pitti is dotted with small firms that just serve local shops and designers. You’d never know about them unless you go there, and you won’t find them there unless you really put the work into it. But I found a bunch of great stuff, and hopefully all of these contacts will bear some serious fruit come fall 2012.

Mike and team Carmina.

Knit samples.

Florence is pretty ace.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Florence a few times before, and it’s a gorgeous city. In terms of trade show cities, it’s pretty close to the top of the heap. I love Cirque du Soleil shows and dinner buffets as much as the next man (editor’s note: Mike’s opinion on Cirque du Soleil is his own and does not reflect ours), but Florence has it all over Las Vegas. And the Fortezza da Basso will put a serious hurting on the Jacob Javits Center. It’s an inspiring place to visit, and touring the excellent menswear shops in the city will definitely put you in the right frame of mind. Of course, I don’t even have to mention how great the food, wine, and coffee is. It’s a small city, so you’ll run into friends and contacts easily. Overall, I had a wonderful time, and I’d whole-heartedly recommend Pitti Uomo to any other menswear buyers interested in expanding their assortment with some really unique collections and pieces.

The Arno.

Photos courtesy Mike Kuhle.

Should I Use Sole Guards? Nick V. Weighs In

The debate—whether it’s advisable to add sole guards to your shoes—has been raised many times on the forum. I wanted to share my insight on the topic from years of experience. There are several angles to consider.

Carmina boots with sole guards and sunken metal toe plate.

First, many people refer to sole guards as “Topys.” Topy is a brand that makes sole guards and has done a great job marketing their name, attaching it to a product until it became the accepted generic. In the same way, people refer to galoshes as Totes. Galoshes are a product. Totes is a brand name. Many brands, patterns, thicknesses, and colors of sole guard are available on the market today.

Next, shoe manufacturers are very protective of whats become a secondary market for them. That is, the ability to re-sole their own brand. This helps them in three ways: sales, customer loyalty, and profits. I have heard salespeople are instructed to advise against sole guards. They are trained to explain that it prevents the sole from breathing.

Clearly, rubber soled offerings are becoming more popular on the high-grades these days. On a Goodyear-welted shoe, the construction on a rubber soled shoe vs. leather is largely the same. The only difference is, on a leather-soled shoe, the sole is stitched to the welt. With a shoe finished with a factory rubber sole, a midsole is stitched to the welt, and the rubber sole is cemented to the mid-sole. The cork footbed is made of the same mixture of rubber cement and cork. Both elements are flexible, but barely breathable.

So, if the claim is made that a thin sole guard prevents a leather soled shoe from breathing, why are they offering rubber soled high-grades?

Some also claim that sole guards make the shoe less flexible. In 35 years, I never heard one complaint from a customer regarding inflexibility of shoes with sole guards. So, I can’t give this argument any merit.

Some might say sole guards throw the shoe off balance. Most sole guards are slightly thicker than a credit card. The leather sole needs to be roughed before applying the sole guard, likewise the under-skin of the sole guard. The net difference of a shoe with a sole guard vs. one without is very close to the thickness of a credit card. So, you can test it yourself. Before you decide on sole guards, put on your new shoes, with one, step on a credit card (under the ball of your foot), the other on the bare floor. If you feel an uncomfortable significance in the balance, opt out on the sole guards.

I have also heard concerns that when a sole guard is being applied its necessary to sand down the new sole, potentially damaging the sole stitching. My comments are based on using a reputable cobbler. Yes, there are butchers; but I’m talking skilled cobblers here. Most high-grades are stitched with in a channeled sole—that means the stitching lies below the surface of the sole. No cobbler worth his salt will hit the stitching while prepping for sole guards. Further, Goodyear-welted shoes are stitched with a lock-stitch. That means each stitch is independent of itself. Even if one or two stitches are accidentally nipped (very unlikely) the stitching won’t unravel.

Now, to the pros of sole guards. Aside from traction and waterproof, the biggest benefit of using sole guards is their value.  A thin sole guard will generally twice outlast a leather sole, in many cases, more. Say, for example, a leather sole lasts you a year and it costs $100 to replace; in two years you will have spent $200. Replacing a sole guard costs $30 to $40. Plus, with a sole guard replacement, you can get your shoes back in a day or so.

I have also heard comments like “If you are spending hundreds of dollars for a high-grade shoe with a leather sole why would you want to cover it with rubber?” As an example, we recently added guards to two pairs of J.M. Weston 180s in croc. Two different customers, both wanted sole guards, for shoes that retail at over $3500 per pair. For those that just like the feel of walking on leather, I have no debate for you. For everyone else, there are other things to consider.

J.M. Weston 180 in croc.

Lastly, a word of caution… the purpose of sole guards is to prevent leather from wearing out, they are waterproof, nonskid, and can present value over time. If your existing shoes have soles that feel spongy or are severely worn, DO NOT put sole guards on them. Even if your cobbler tries to talk you into it. They are intended to be preventive maintenance, not a cure for damage.