Welcome to the Styleforum Happy Hour!
We report on menswear trends and industry going-ons, and opine on any number of related topics, about which we may know a lot, or sometimes, only a little. Not unlike your irl happy hour, but edited to be more informative and entertaining.
Tailored menswear is a loaded category if you ask me. It seems to carry rather a lot of baggage whether it’s discussed in forums, on YouTube or on blogs. You find the usual “how-to” talks that attempt to educate men who have never had any role model teach them about tailored clothing. Seemingly implied in this didactic education about classic menswear is the conception that, while wearing these clothes, you ought to act like a gentleman. Go to YouTube.com and scroll through the Gentleman’s Gazette, Sartorial Talks or any number of excellent video blogs and you’ll end up seeing multiple episodes detailing how and what it means to be a gentleman, including what kind of table manners you should use, how to address royalty (as if any of us will ever need that), et cetera.
So long as you were not raised in a markedly different social context from your peers you would already be equipped with an understanding of the customs and etiquette of whichever milieu you happen to be a part. Few men are skyrocketing from obscurity into polite society through daring or fortune; the numbers don’t requisite this many videos on manners and gentlemanly conduct. But–of course–wearing a style of clothing so steeped in tradition will help change some aspects of your lifestyle. If you want to get the big promotion or desire to be taken more seriously at work, a nice suit might be a small part of how to achieve it… possibly.
But lusting for success or the good life is only a fraction of the story reemphasizing gentlemanly behavior. The renaissance of tailored menswear in the last two decades speaks to several important realities of our world. That is, the re-definition of manhood in the wake of the Civil Rights movement and the emergence of feminism and the reclamation of a sense of masculine tradition by men after the 1990s.
When I was a boy in the middle 1990s, I remember feeling a strong sense that being a man in our time was undergoing a fundamental reconsideration. As a result of the strong sense of pluralism and tolerance that emerged after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, which included the maturation of feminism as a social force, and following the yuppie-power decade of the 1980s, the 90s emerged as a moment in which a new male identity was being created. The 90s man was kinder, gentler, more in touch with his feelings, and particularly sensitive to the needs of women. As early as 1991 the Chicago Tribune was touting the 90s man as someone who “[sees] himself as more in tune with women’s needs; more mindful of leisure time; more willing to do chores around the house; and, when a father, more willing to be involved with the children.” Boys like me were growing up in a world where old masculine norms were being torn down and where men were expected to embrace gender equality with open arms.
This isn’t an anti-woman piece. I believe that emphasizing gender equality is not only the right thing to do in our age; it has also personally benefited me as my spouse has taken advantage of new opportunities to let her talents shine, which has brought us both increased prosperity. Hopefully, this note will serve as sufficient disclaimer.
But yet, something peculiar was happening around me in the 90s. My sense is that, in an effort to increase gender equality, the roles and abilities of girls were being emphasized at the expense of boys, and not in insignificant ways. The same forces that were at work constructing exciting new ways of looking at how men and women interact were simultaneously attempting to de-construct old notions of manhood. Who were these forces? Feminists, sure. But even non-feminists were taking gender equality and running with it, re-interpreting it in their own way. Television shows like Party of Five and Dawson’s Creek, not exactly militant in their feminism, embodied the weepy male persona of that era. They seemed to say “Listen up, boys. You don’t always need to win. Spend some time exploring your feelings instead and don’t be so competitive!” At the same time, girls were being told they could do anything.
Out of this world the boys of my era, now men, seemed to emerge from the 20th century lost. Unsure of what their manhood was or what it should be in the 21st century. The traditional markings of masculinity seemed ripe for scorn. “Wear a suit? Why? I’m not some Republican or something.” Remember Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties? He was so out of place and so scorned for his absurdly exaggerated and distasteful “masculinity.” Even the daily act of shaving was so maligned that men tried to nearly eliminate it altogether with electric razors and plastic disposable junk that would see a 5 o’clock shadow emerge after lunch. For these contraptions, we have an earlier generation to “thank.” Then again, why should we shave at all? Nothing goes with a video game themed t-shirt and cargo shorts better than a scruffy beard.
These new masculine behaviors couldn’t last forever. We know instinctively that there is value in the manliness our grandfathers knew. The men raised to empower women while letting themselves disappear can only take their deference so far. Therefore it may serve as no surprise that the revival of all things masculine began during the mid 2000s. Men, locked away from the mysterious secrets of manhood and in the midst of a long war, yearned to be connected to a society that valued them; this continues to this day. Nothing expresses this sentiment in clearer terms than the 2015 film The Intern, starring Robert De Niro. The film’s secondary male characters are sloppy man-children stumbling through a woman’s world masking their lack of self-worth with video games and an “I don’t care” attitude about their appearance. That is, until De Niro’s character Ben shows up like a phantom from another time. He dresses well, carries himself with confidence, and both embraces his masculinity and is respectful toward women.
But that search for masculinity has not gone uncontested. If #TheFutureIsFemale the implication is that it is not male. Thus, men still engross themselves in various visions of manhood, searching for a lost world among the yellowed pages of the past. It’s partly an imagined past. The way we envision this past certainly says more about us today than it says about history. And because it’s partly an imagined past there will always be a sense of disconnect. You simply can’t have a real connection to something that never existed.
That yearning for an imagined past is, I think, largely what motivates the guides and discussions on how to be a gentleman. The bespoke clothes, the handcrafted leather goods, the 20 year old whiskey, all speaks to the vacuum created with the destruction of the old masculinity. But here’s the rub; you can’t learn to be a gentleman from the old masculinity. No one can. You can learn manners and etiquette and all the trappings of the upper-middle class but so far as the old-guard is concerned–by old-guard I mean the kind of man your great-grandfather would have tipped his hat to, the kind of man whose family tree probably began, for all intents, with the Mayflower Compact–you are either born a gentleman or you aren’t. Like in the appearance of a Jay Gatsby, the privileged men of power, the ones who really can afford the good cigars and the custom cars, would know you didn’t belong before you knew it yourself. You’re wearing a pink suit. And so we re-imagine the past yet again, creating a world in which the title of gentleman can be acquired through training. A world in which being a gentleman is democratic. The implications of imagining a masculine past among wood paneled halls and crystal chandeliers rather than in the coal mines or steel factories is meaningful in itself, but should serve as an exploration for another time.
What is so wrong with this vision of gentlemanliness anyway? Are not manners good? If we re-imagine the gentleman as one who is respected and respects others, isn’t that something to aspire to regardless of the historical problems? If this means that it is good to be good to others then yes. Putting duty before the self, being charitable and kind, being unafraid to love and be loved, all those things are the things that make life in this moment something to be cherished. But you don’t need an education to do that. You don’t need a video blog or a how-to guide to tell you how to be a good person. Such media couldn’t accomplish the task even if you did require it. Become a gentleman in five minutes on YouTube? Not likely. My wife has a term for it. She calls it “putting on airs,” a rather common phrase in the Northeast U.S.
If you too are frustrated by all the emphasis on table manners and the proper way to introduce your spouse to the Contessa of Asti, take heart. More than trying to embody the gentleman of the past, embody the goodness that you can achieve. You won’t always succeed. Sometimes you will make a self conscious decision to ignore your own goodness. But it’s still there. Waiting to be paid some attention. Perhaps this is the masculinity that got thrown out with the old-guard’s bath water. Perhaps by de-constructing the things we honestly see as harmful about the world of our ancestors, we, purposefully or not, de-constructed the good with it. That is, the compulsion to be genuine and thoughtful. To be referential, not to the self, but to the greater society. To be strong enough to feel but to be moderate in your expression of those feelings. We can collect all the pretty things we like. All the mahogany furniture, the leather bound books, and the bespoke clothing, the manners. None of it makes you a gentleman. Sometimes I lose sight of this, too. I get caught up in wanting the good things in life. But the good life only comes when you live a life that is good. Otherwise they are only the trappings of an illusory world.
You are already a man. You have been your whole life. And just like you don’t need admonishments to be weepy or sensitive, you don’t need anyone to tell you how to act among your peers. Just make sure you’ve got a sufficient collar roll.
A few weeks ago I got a turtleneck for cheap from Banana Republic. It proudly states “Made with Italian Yarn,” which is hilarious, because it’s 20% nylon (do Italians make the best nylon?). However, that didn’t bother me because it was inexpensive, it fit well, and it was exactly what I was looking for.
We’ve all got a certain budget we’re working within when buying clothes. Some folks have a larger budget than others, of course, but everybody has to make decisions about what they will drop a ton of money on versus what they’re okay buying for less. For me, I’m always thinking about opportunity cost. While I’d have preferred, say, an Eidos turtleneck for its superior construction and material, the cost (nearly 10x) simply wasn’t worth it to me. Now I’m planning ahead to know what spring purchases I will use that extra money for.
While I don’t have a flowchart or anything, here are some questions to ask yourself in order to maximize the use of your dollars when building your wardrobe.
First, have a working list of what the ideal wardrobe for you would look like. It should mostly be the “must-have” items that you’d wear regularly, but it’s also okay to have stuff that delights you. This list can help you keep track of progress made toward attaining a good working wardrobe, and also keep you from making costly mistakes. I wrote more extensively on this concept in my article How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe and Making Smart Menswear Purchases.
With that in mind, then, here are questions to ask yourself:
- What is your lifestyle? The utility of any given item is defined by your lifestyle, meaning what you have to wear day to day will play a huge role in what makes sense to invest in. This can go both ways, actually—for instance, if you need to wear a white dress shirt every single day to work, it can make sense to buy a bunch at low cost when you’re first starting out, knowing that the regular wear and tear will take its toll on them. But as you increase your rotation, adding in nicer, better designed, better made shirts as your budget allows makes sense because of your needs.
- How do you like to dress? What is your style? Most of us have clothes we reach for time and again when we are dressing to impress. It makes much more sense to spend extra on stuff you know you’ll wear a lot (and in particular that which will be seen a lot), than it does for things you’ll primarily be wearing to bed.
- What kind of design are you looking for? Designers typically continuously tweak, evolve and update their line to stay fresh. That can be good if you’re someone who’s already got a good working wardrobe and are now just buying clothes because you like them—you can be open to being surprised by something interesting. But sometimes that’s not good because you just want a stylish basic to fill a need in your wardrobe. I was excited to find that Banana Republic turtleneck because it met several specific criteria I had that I couldn’t find anywhere else within my general price range—thin enough to layer but with visual surface texture and a ribbed neck.
- How long do you honestly think you’ll wear it? Is it a “forever” piece or something you know is a just a phase you’re going through?
- Is it outside your comfort zone a little bit? Maybe you’ve been inspired by someone’s sweet fit on Insta, but aren’t quite sure if it’ll work for you—finding it for cheap somewhere is a good way to dip your toe in to see if it’s “you.”
- Is there a dramatic quality increase from the budget options to the expensive options?
With the buying and selling forum, eBay, etc., it’s possible to get high-quality stuff for much lower prices—if you’ve got the patience and time. But especially when you’re starting out and you need to build a wardrobe fairly quickly, asking yourself these questions can help you decide what to save up for and what’s okay to buy for less.
Below are some products (including that turtleneck) that I personally own or would buy that run the gamut from expensive to not so much.
Banana Republic turtleneck.
Barbour Ashby: I’ve been inspired by cool dudes like Jake Grantham rocking the Barbour over tailoring, and there is really no substitute for the original. This, to me, was worth spending more on for the authentic original.
Navy/Gold repp stripe tie, PoloRL: Navy/gold bar-stripe repp ties aren’t hard to find, but I liked the specific color of gold Polo used.
Brooks Brothers light blue OCBD: OCBDs are a staple for some guys, and while Kamakura, Proper Cloth, O’Connell’s, Ratio, Mercer & Sons and millions of others make good ones, the shape and complete lack of lining of the collar from Brooks Brothers—in addition to the consistency of availability and generous return policy—make this a good choice. I prefer this lighter blue color, but they offer tons of other options. Just make sure to stack discounts (you can browse the Official Sales Thread to find the newer ones).
Eidos Navy donegal blazer.
Eidos large glen plaid suit: There is no substitute for Eidos as designed by Antonio Ciongoli for me—the swooping arc lapels, the Neapolitan details, the killer fabrics, not to mention a near-perfect fit on me. When you find a winner, you stick with it as long as you can.
Before moving to the US a few years ago, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what Italian style really was. I’ve lived all my life surrounded by people with different tastes in fashion, but I never fully realized the impact of Italian culture in the choice of our garments.
This is valid for womenswear as much as for menswear; I still get baffled when people stop me to tell me that they like my outfit or they ask my opinion on something in a store. When I go shopping with my husband and I start chatting with employees and customers, many ask me: “How can I dress to look like I’m Italian?”
Usually at that point I puff my chest and put on a big smile, and I start listing all the points that I have observed as key to “Italian Style”. Here they are. Take notes.
This is a golden rule for Italians, in menswear as well as in every aspect of life: abandon stiff constructions and extra thick padded shoulders and embrace softer, looser fabrics that move with your body.
You can read this as a philosophy of life: clothes are our shell, and we want to feel comfortable in them in order to have a positive attitude towards life. Freedom of movement is the first step towards expressing yourself at the fullest. Neapolitan tailoring was born to provide an alternative to stiff English tailoring that didn’t quite suit the Italian spirit (and didn’t allow for nearly enough gesticulation).
2. DRESS DOWN YOUR FORMAL WEAR
It might sound strange, but while it is extremely difficult to dress up casual clothes, it is quite easy to dress down formal ones – and the results can be quite stunning.
In Italy, nobody wants to look too formal. There is a cultural element in this assumption as well: Italians believe that people should not take themselves too seriously, and dressing up in a homogenous way will not make anyone look any more interesting to the society.
This leads me to the next point: yes, it is possible to look elegant without wearing only formal clothes.
How? Easy: you dress down your formal clothes. As long as your clothes fit you well, you can play around with them. That’s why it’s important to invest in casualwear just as much as in formal garments: a few, nice pieces to pair with your more formal clothes will be your best allies in creating a classic (and unique) style that can be worn on any occasion. It’s not a secret that Italians love their turtlenecks – and thank God the trend has been picking up in the menswear community – but there are endless possibilities to dress down your favorite jackets and pants: polo shirts, button-downs, chinos, colorful scarves, etc.
Even easier: wear your best suit and lose the tie. Unbutton the first two buttons of the shirt and vai con Dio.
@AlessandroSquarzi is a master in stepping up his style by playing around with casual and even workwear pieces.
3. EXPERIMENT WITH COLOR
“The purest and most thoughtful minds are those which love colour the most,” wrote John Ruskin in 1853. Of course, he was referring to colors in painting: he was trying to defend Turner’s scandalous skies, which inflamed the walls of the art galleries in London, where cloudy greys and muddy browns were the dominant colors.
Italians are not afraid of colors. In fact, we never were. Think of the vibrant landscapes of the Macchiaioli, who were Ruskin’s contemporaries, and apply that sensibility to menswear.
You’ll see every color of the rainbow walking in any boutique in Italy – whether it is just a little touch, like the stitching, or a vibrant garment that many Americans would label as a “statement” piece.
Combining color is an art – Ruskin knew that well. The wrong hue could throw the balance off and turn poetry into disaster.
Educate your eyes to appreciate colors that go beyond blue and brown, and you’ll experience the same type of sensuous pleasure a painting by Turner provides: harmony, and a tingling of the soul that will be an inspiration for the people around you.
4. LOSE THE BIRKENSTOCKS
If you see someone wearing Birkenstocks in Italy, you can be certain it is a German or American tourist. There is a sort of social stigma on Birkenstocks (and on other, similar-looking footwear) as Italians simply cannot accept them as real shoes. They might secretly wear them around the house, while gardening, but there is no way an Italian would ever show in up in public wearing a pair of Birkenstocks.
As a general rule, try not to choose comfort over style. Pick your clothes carefully, so that they are both comfortable and stylish, and keep those sweatpants in the gym bag.
If you’re looking for casual and summer footwear, I recommend espadrilles; specifically, I like these by Zabattigli, which are hand-woven in Capri. The rope keeps the soles of your feet aerated and fresh, and the sleek style is way sexier than those bulky, Teutonic, panzer-looking shoes.
5. DON’T DRESS WELL ONLY ON OCCASIONS
In Italy, people dress well because they like to. Period.
This is something that is very eradicated in me, and that people don’t understand in America. My husband still gets confused when I wear makeup and a nice dress to go buy groceries.
“Why do you dress up like that? We’re going to Ralph’s.”
“Because I like it,” I reply every time, as I spray my most expensive cologne extensively on my neck.
There is a crucial distinction between being well-dressed and being overdressed. Obviously, I would look ridiculous wearing a cocktail dress in a grocery store; but a nice dress, why not? The same goes for men: nobody is saying you should wear your top hat to go to the movies, but a nice blazer and a few, carefully picked accessories will make you stand out for your elegance without looking out of place.
To everyone worrying about what people will think of your choice of clothes, I say: if you are the only one well-dressed person in the room, you shouldn’t be the one feeling embarrassed. Rather, all the others should be the ones feeling shabby and looking up to you.
Occasions shouldn’t make the man. We are better than the sum of social boundaries we are submitted to, and clothes are a way to let our personality spark any time of the day, any day of our lives. Why waste an opportunity to do so, and let trivial actions get in the way?
You might have figured at this point that the Italian Style is much more about attitude than it is about clothes. I’ve read many articles on the Internet that teach you how to “dress like an Italian,” and I think they all missed the point.
There are really no rules when it comes to expressing yourself, and even an extravagant flair can be turned into a jaw-dropping detail that will step up your game. This is the secret of the Italian Style: as long as you like what you wear, and you’re confident enough to pull it off, you’ll be fine.
SCENE: Florence, Italy; famous menswear boutique.
Alan’s head is buried inside a jacket, where he’s scrutinizing the lining and trying to decipher the inner tag.
Apparently, the tag inside a man’s garment is the key to reveal whether a piece is worth the price or not. Just from looking at that 3-inch piece of fabric, you may be able to identify the maker of the item, and therefore judge the quality of a piece of clothing. Burberry, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren: these names don’t mean anything to a man that is into classic menswear, because he knows that behind them there’s someone else maneuvering the making process. And the first step of a purchase is identifying that maker.
I look around and I notice that two sales assistants are staring at my husband, debating whether they should offer him help or kindly ask that he removes his nose from inside the armhole of the jacket. After confabulating for a bit, one of them starts walking toward us. Alan doesn’t notice, as he’s now concentrating on pinching the jacket to understand if it’s fused.
“Good morning, may I help you?”
He speaks in English, probably figuring we are not Italian, judging by Alan’s English-looking suit and shoes. And, y’know – the beahvior.
The thing is that I am very Italian. Born and raised in the Piedmont region, and only recently relocated in California. I offer the man my brightest smile and I explain to him in Italian that my husband and I are looking for a light sport coat.
Meanwhile, Alan emerges from the inside of the jacket and gives the sale assistant a dazed look, his glasses crooked on his nose.
“We are fine, thank you,” he says. “I’m just having a look around.”
I keep smiling and nod encouragingly, hoping that the man will leave us alone. However, I know that this is not going to happen. Italian clerks are trained to be a pain in the customers’ ass, and there is no way he’ll let us “have a look around” without making sure we are receiving proper assistance.
Alan is back at pinching the jacket, this time with less conviction, clearly upset that someone is watching his moves.
The salesman frowns and turns to me. “What is he doing, may I ask?” he asks me in Italian.
I keep smiling but I freeze.
What is he doing? He’s inspecting the sport coat to make sure that there is no trace of fusing and that the maker is reputable. In order to do so, he has to decipher the code on the tag, check Styleforum on his mobile device, and then track back to the history of the fabric employed in the realization of the garment, to make sure that the latest production was not spoiled.
I can’t tell him that. The fact he’s a salesman and he’s probably used to weirdest requests from his customers doesn’t justify the mental asylum situation.
His eyebrows rise so high that I’m afraid they’re going to merge with the spare hairline on his forehead. My mind is desperately trying to find an excuse for the fact that Alan is now running his finger under the collar of the jacket, as if it were a bra he wanted to strip off a woman.
C’mon Ari. Think.
“Ahem. He is…a fabric trader.”
I don’t even know what I’ve just said, and I immediately regret it.
The clerk stares at me for a few seconds.
“A fabric trader?”
“Yes! My husband trades fabric for some of the biggest names in fashion. He buys only the finest on the market, for his clients as well as for himself. We are here in Florence to study the history of brocade, and its rise during the Renaissance.”
I still don’t know what I’m saying, but I feel suddenly thankful that I read the biography of Lucrezia Borgia in college.
“You probably know that brocade is the reason Italian silk fabrics became the finest choice in all Europe in the 15th century, as the demand for intricate designs forced the production to get better.”
I can tell from his vacuous eyes that he is not impressed, so I decide to make up an even more unlikely scenario in order to give my husband the time to decide whether the jacket is worth the splurge or not.
“We are considering working with some Italians mills in order to bring brocade back into favor. In fact, we are attending Pitti this summer to discuss the chance to create a whole collection of suits and tuxedos made of Italian brocades.”
Finally, his eyes brighten up and I silently rejoice. Ah! You didn’t expect that, did you, Mr. Grumpy Clerk?
He looks at me with new respect, as though I’m the wife a fabric trader deserves.
“That is so very interesting, Madame,” he says with genuine admiration, his pupils glistening.
“Uh-uh,” I mutter, “Big names. Kiton and stuff.”
Okay, I need to stop now. I don’t even know why I’m putting myself in this unpleasant situation only to allow my husband to indulge in his crazy operations.
My husband, the fabric trader. The thought is so ridiculous that I have to pretend to receive a funny text on my iPhone to justify my grin. However, the whole story starts making a lot of sense in my mind and I can’t help myself: I have to keep going.
I lean towards the man as I lower my voice to a whisper: “I just got a text from Armando at Kiton. They want to meet us at the Boboli gardens tonight to see some samples of brocade they just got from Venice,” I say, bringing my hand to cover the mouth.
“Perhaps I shouldn’t reveal too much. A few competitors are already trying to make contact with the brands we are in touch with and we suspect some insiders leaked the idea.”
The poor man’s eyes widen as he reassures me that my secret is safe with him. He gives me one more admired glance before apologizing and pacing away.
I turn to Alan and I notice with horror that he’s trying to bite the buttons of the sport coat, probably to make sure that it’s real horn. He hasn’t heard a word of my nonsensical dialogue with the salesman.
“What the hell are you doing? Can you please try on the jacket and make your decision?”
“Knock it off. I’m almost done inspecting. Then, I’ll try it on.”
I let out a big sigh, but I stiffen when I notice the clerk walking back towards us, with an old man at his side.
“Ciao!” I squeak, trying to hide my husband to their sight, as his mouth is still perilously close to the buttons of the sport coat.
“Madame, this is Ernesto Valanza, the owner of the shop.”
“Pleased to meet you, Ernesto”, I mumble while casually checking Instagram on my phone, as I always do when I am bored out of my mind. I wonder how long it’s going to take Alan to decide on the jacket.
“Mr. Valanza comes from one of the most respected families in Como; one of a very long tradition of yarn-making.”
“Right? That sounds interesting,” I jabber while taking in a picture of Kylie Jenner at Coachella. Perhaps I should dye my hair turquoise.
“He’d like to ask you and your husband a few questions on your project.”
“Uh? Sure…” I say as I put away my phone.
Wait, what? An alarm bell starts ringing in my head. Yarn-making? Como?
I look at Alan, who’s finally trying on the jacket and inspecting the length in front of the mirror.
“I understand you can’t reveal much of the project, but would you mind telling me the maker you’re in contact with? We are truly a big family of fabric makers in Como; I’m sure I am familiar with them.”
Fuck. Now what? I can’t confess that I have no contacts in Como, that I knew about brocade only because it was in Bloomingdale’s last shopping issue, and that I’m in Florence with my husband, watching as he goes on a shopping spree.
Thankfully, Alan approaches us wearing the sport coat.
“Hey, do you guys have a tape measurer? I’m not sure about the length of the jacket. It may be a few millimeters too short as it doesn’t seem to divide my body in half.”
The two men exchange a look that clearly says that my husband has a mental issue.
“I’ll fetch one for you, sir”, says the first clerk I spoke to.
“I think it’s time to go,” I say firmly, indicating the door with a gesture of the head like only an Italian can do.
“Honey, don’t be ridiculous, I’m almost done here. What do you think? Is it too heavy for California?”
“It’s perfect, amore. I love it. Now let’s get the hell out of here because I’m going to cry if you don’t feed me gelato within the next five minutes.”
“Alright, then. I just wanted to make sure that the length in centimeters is less than or equal to my average jacket length. I wouldn’t want to have to tailor the length.”
The sale assistant stares at me intensely and I know exactly what he’s thinking: If this man is as picky at choosing women as he is at choosing clothes, you must be a saint.
“Listen to me,” I whisper to Alan’s ear, “I’ve been in this shop with you for more than 40 minutes. The jacket is fine, and you know it. If you really hate it, you can list it online once we get back and you’ll probably make more than what you spent considering it’s a bargain.”
“Well, aren’t you cranky today? Alright, I’ll take it. Gentleman, could you please check me out?”
“Oh, sure. Come this way. Your wife was just telling us about your work here in Florence.”
Oh no. Please not again. I can’t deal with this.
“My job in Florence? Yeah, that’s like the ideal job, right? Shopping and everything,” mutters Alan reaching for his wallet.
“Ah-ah! Yes, I guess that us insiders can call it shopping after all, eh?” says the man winking at Alan.
“Thank you very much for your help. I’ll certainly visit your store again before leaving.” Alan shakes Mr. Valanza’s hand and I have a spasm of horror when I see that he is handing him his business card.
“Would you please give me a call if you get any more Caruso suits within the next 10 days?”
Mr. Valanza studies the business card for a few seconds, and then he stares at me for a time that seemed forever.
“Sure…Mr. Alan Jones, attorney.”
I squeeze my husband’s arm and I waltz towards the exit, encouraging myself with the thoughts of a big gelato.
Meet Gerry Nelson, a Styleforum member who routinely posts in both the Classic Menswear and Streetwear and Denim subfora. Gerry has a great eye for color, texture and fit, and in this week’s member focus he tells us about how he honed in on a style that’s versatile, eye-catching, and always well put-together.
My journey began half a lifetime ago in England. Up until then, I didn’t have much of an interest in menswear. Hanging out with a group of people who were into designer clothing got me interested in clothing by Giorgio Armani. This, in turn, gave me a love of interesting textures and soft tailoring…I then proceeded to gain a bunch of weight and consequently lost interest in menswear over the next two decades until I decided to get things back on track.
After getting back in shape around 2011- 2012, the first thing I did was to start looking out for resources on how to dress better which led me to StyleForum and Put This On. The latter has a wonderful list of items for an essential wardrobe. It was fantastic – there it was, all laid out for me in a list and all I had to do was to acquire the pieces, one by one. Of course, things are never that straightforward, but more on that later…
From Styleforum I got a love for English men’s shoes, combined with an itch to polish them to a high shine. The members were helpful but what really got me going was when a good friend of mine, Christian Kimber, sat me down and showed me how it was done. Of my most memorable moments was when I finally got it! I figured out that:
- Most men pay more attention to the clothes than the shoes
- If the clothes fit well, you didn’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money
- A nice, well-polished pair of shoes stands out for all the right reasons
So that’s where I started.
I, of course, took it further and decided I needed a mixture of styles to cover any occasion from tramping in the woods to a black tie dinner! So, I ended up with black, brown and burgundy oxfords, derbies, monkstraps, boots and loafers in shell, calf and suede. Most of these were bought second-hand, and naturally, mistakes were made along the way. Fortunately, I was able to resell the pairs that did not fit properly and ended up with a collection that I am extremely happy with (but there will always be another pair out there to tempt me!).
Similarly, with suits, I got the standards – a navy and a mid-grey single-breasted suit and then branched out into a lighter blue, a charcoal, a grey flannel, brown linen, a green Donegal tweed and finally, a dinner suit.
Regrets? I had a few – I bought a Chester Barrie suit off eBay because of the name and because it was made in Savile Row. I thought it was awesome but didn’t realise how out of date it looked – always ask yourself if you would buy something if there was no label. I’ve bought trousers based on the waist measurement and found that they fit more like skinny jeans or were way too baggy – pay attention to ALL the measurements. Think about where any potential purchases would fit in your wardrobe before you buy something. In some cases, I didn’t and things either had to be sold or donated (yes, I’m looking at YOU, seven-fold teal satin tie!).
I prefer textures to patterns and that’s how my Classic Menswear style developed.
There came a point, however, where I felt that I had a handle on the more formal side of things but had no idea how to dress outside of that. I wanted a style that incorporated classical elements but was something I would wear while going out on weekends, i.e. not a jacket and tie. This search eventually took me to Japanese workwear and the love of the looser, flowing fit. I still love textures and indigo-dyed sashiko and boro fabric have got my attention these days. I’m as likely to be at work in an untucked button-down collar shirt, fatigue pants and work jacket as I am in a suit, tie and pocket square. One of the great things about where I work is that there is no specific dress code.
I’ve built up a great wardrobe over time and it’s time once more to sift through and get rid of the pieces that no longer fit in with what I wear these days. It’s a good exercise when you feel you’ve accumulated too many clothes. There is no such thing as the perfect wardrobe but the best wardrobe for now is one that is constantly edited – with additions and removals – which keeps it exciting.
A great thing about Melbourne is that we get all four seasons and the weather doesn’t necessarily stick to a schedule – I’ve worn lightweight tweed on cold spring days and linen on warm autumn days. The colder weather also affords me the opportunity to layer my clothing and that opens up a lot of options in terms of colours, textures and accessories like scarves (cotton, wool-silk, lambswool and cashmere) and gloves (cashmere, calf leather and peccary). I often wake up excited about the sartorial possibilities the day promises.
It’s been a long process of experimentation that is still going on. Along the way, I’ve been influenced by many different people and made some great friends. The one thing they all have in common is that they primarily wear clothes that I would be very comfortable wearing, so it’s very easy to draw inspiration. Some of the people and brands I get my inspiration from:
For casualwear, I draw a lot of inspiration from Engineered Garments, Blue Blue Japan and Kapital for their workwear-inspired pieces, indigo dye and sashiko – what is there not to love?
Find your inspiration and I wish you all the very best on your journey. If you want to talk more about menswear and the journey, I would love to hear from you!
This season, many of the the big-name retailers – the ailing J.Crew and limping Ralph Lauren foremost amongst them, but also big department stores like Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and the larger online specialty stores like SSENSE – held off on price slashing seasonal sales until very close to Christmas, playing a high stakes game of chicken with consumers in a bid to preserve their margins (and according to WWD.com, mostly losing).
This led to a pent-up demand for sales items when the sales finally started – and this post Christmas shopping season felt much more like pre-Great Recession sales than the “start-in-October” free-for-all that we’d gotten used to seeing.
I’ve seen the effect of this in the Styleforum microcosm. Yes, someone is always going to gripe that sales are not deep enough, but both the traffic through our “Official Sales Thread” and the tone of the comments in that thread have been more positive than I remember from the same time last year. Spending as much time as I do on the forum, I’m inevitably influenced by the the virtual mood around me.
There are more things that I want this year than I’ve wanted for a bit now. Unfortunately, I can’t get them all. So, I’m presenting my humble list to you, in hope that either you’ll 1) send me something, or, failing that, 2) that I’ll live vicariously through one. Yeah, if you do get something off this list, whether for me or for yourself, please tell me in the comments.
Nearly all of the below are chosen with travel in mind – the traveling circus that is the fashion trade shows starts in January with Pitti Uomo and closes, over a month later, in Las Vegas.
1. Engineered Garments reversible Brookline jacket in navy stripe, ($288, www.theloit.com)
I normally regard any piece that is described as “versatile” with great suspicion, because “versatile” is often synonymous with “boring”. Mix that with a gimmick like “reversible,” and my spidey-sense is at red alert. The Engineered Garments Brookline jacket is an exception. I got y first Brookline years ago, at a traditional brick-and-mortar on final sale. It’s one of the less talked about of Daiki Suzuki’s perennial designs, perhaps because it’s sometimes hard to translate the appeal of a piece to a computer screen, so I’m going to post two pictures of it. One side sports larger, dark buttons on a striped suiting fabric; the reverse side is made from sportswear’s traditional quilted nylon and features a snap button closure.
2. Battenwear warmup pants ($161, www.mrporter.com)
Mr. Porter held out, as it usually does, until actual Boxing Day. I’ve been on a bit of a Battenwear tear recently – loving the 80s hiker vibe that a lot of pieces have, right down to the Battenwear logo – and the pieces, while they have a retro sportswear feel, can fit into a variety of styles, whether you want to be an urban commando or a woodsy hiker. And it doesn’t hurt that these pants are cut in warm and fuzzy Polartec 200, which will make them freat for winter travel, something I dread as the trade show season looms.
3. Guidi Chelsea boots ($726 USD, www.ssense.com)
I’ve been a big fan of Guidi’s unconstructed, vat-dyed footwear for about three years running. A few years ago, the dollar was much weaker against the Euro, and you could expect a pair of Guidi boots to run you about $1000. For the iconic “986” model with a zipper in the back of the boot, in basic black, you were going to pay a pretty penny, or you were going to the secondary market, or you were going to order from a European retailer – always a crapshoot, given the variable sizing of Guidi footwear due to the vat dyeing process. If you have the money, at $726, these boots are a strong buy.
(I’ve heard that the Guidi tannery will not sell third parties leather in the colors that they use for their own products, so if you want Guidi colors, you are going to have to buy Guidi)
4. Faliero Sarti scarf, ($168, www.farfetch.com)
I like wearing a scarf. Apart from the variety of practical reasons you’d want a scarf in winter, they are very close to being an actual security blanket. Every Faliero Sarti scarf I’ve handled has been uniformly luxurious feeling and expensive; the product, I assume, of decades of textile manufacturing. I typically don’t wear the “huge ass scarf” style that can double as a tablecloth and has been the norm in fashion circles for a while now, but I can see the appeal. At 50% off, I’m willing to give it a shot.
Farfetch is not a retailer, but more like an agent or a fulfillment and shipment solution for small, often niche, boutiques. Each piece is sent to Farfetch, where pictures are taken for the site, to maintain consistency, and then sent back to the retailer. So, the sales are non-uniform, and the prices can vary for the same piece between sizes, or even sometimes be listed twice, at two different prices. That you can comparison shop on the same online “shop” is a little odd, but it does make things interesting, if nothing else.
5. Mark Cross vintage Duffel bag – ($1199 ($1079 with discount right now), www.barneys.com)
I like leather products. I really like leather bags. This bag I’ve admired more than just a few times. It is elegant and structured, with sharp lines meeting rounded shapes. I imagine it getting admiring looks while I wait for the flight from Amsterdam to Florence. Then I will walk on the plane, pass business class, and to the end of the coach seats where I will grunt and stuff it into the remaining space in the overhead compartment.
Wow, sales season really came in like Miley Cyrus this year. At this point in my life, I have a pretty short list of clothing I want, and a lot of it doesn’t go on sale that often. That said, this Black Friday has kind of thrown me for a loop, and I’ve managed to grab some pieces I wasn’t expecting to see (I’m not complaining. Your tastes may certainly differ, but here are a few pieces I think are worth capitalizing on this year. Don’t forget to look at our list of all the Black Friday Sales worth your time to see sales codes for the below webshops.
- Kapital Century Denim at Blue Button ShopBlue Button came in YUGE this year. I almost feel bad. They’ve got 30% off of all stock with code THANK30, which means you can pick up a pair of Kapital’s incredible Century Denim for 265 USD shipped, which is about the same as it would cost you to proxy the same pair from Kapital in Japan. If you’ve ever wanted a pair, I’m not sure I can remember seeing a better deal.
- Viberg Boots at Blue Button Shop
Did I mention that Blue Button came up big time? When’s the last time you saw Viberg Boots for 30% off? That puts several models just under 500$ shipped with code THANK30, which is nuts, even if the models on offer are pretty basic. Jump on this, people.
- Comme des Garçons Parfum at Notre ShopAgain, 30% off what is (in my opinion) a great fragrance that doesn’t often see discounts. CDG’s incense series is a fantastic blend of natural and synthetic aromas; meant to invoke human spirituality in a way that is both immediately recognizable and undeniably otherworldly. My favorite is Ouarzazate, but Kyoto is great as well – heck, at 67$ a bottle after the coupon code, you might as well buy all four.
- Sashiko Shop Coat from Blue Blue Japan at No Man Walks Alone
How could I make a list of any kind without at least one indigo-dyed item? This shop coat from Blue Blue Japan was a stand out piece from this fall’s collection, and the sashiko fabric with natural indigo dye makes for an incredible color and texture. Did I mention that No Man has it for 371$, which is a must-buy price? No Man’s entire sales list is slightly bonkers, but these pieces are beautiful and unique, which will go a long way this winter – and well into springtime.
- Marimekko “Nimikko Mikko” bathrobeHailing from the land of the Moomins, Marimekko has long offered pop-inspired prints to households that skew towards the nouveau Scandinavian. I have a soft spot for the loud stuff, but these simpler bathrobes are equally fun. Do as Marimekko suggests and wear yours after a long, relaxing sauna.