Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Messina tailor's worktable

This summer I visited one of the tailors I reviewed in my e-book on Sicilian tailors - Pippo Arrigo in Messina. Here are a few photos of his workspace and table:








Saturday, September 06, 2014

Old World textiles: Antico Setificio Fiorentino

The Privilege of Luxury - Short movie from Antico Setificio Fiorentino on Vimeo.


This is an informative albeit promotional video of Antico Setificio Fiorentino, Florence's last silk-making factory. It was established in 1786 and bought by the Stefano Ricci group in 2010. The factory specializes in silk and silk-linen damask, brocade and Ermisino taffeta woven on hand looms. Ermisino taffeta is perhaps its most well-known silk.

The video provides a glimpse of the 1,800 mechanical and 1,700 hand looms used in the factory. The equipment includes original 18th century looms - some of which are based on a Leonardo da Vinci design for a warping machine.

Production is 40-80 centimeters per worker per day. This is an astonishingly low rate compared to modern, high speed looms. In contrast, the fastest looms today (air jets and multiphase looms) can achieve weft insertion rates of 5,000 meters per minute. Simply put, this shows why very few products are handmade these days.

It also implies that if you appreciate such artisanship you'll have to be prepared to pay for such handmade luxury. The same applies here since ASF fabrics start at $435 per yard. As you might imagine, the factory's customers, such as Versailles and the Kremlin, tend to have deep pockets.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Scissormaking: Ernest Wright and Sons

The Putter from shaun bloodworth on Vimeo.




I enjoyed coming across this story on the state of the scissor making trade in England and a mini-revival of what appears to be the country's last remaining maker.

I'm learning how to cut and sew a men's shirt later this year and will put in a order for one of the tailoring shears.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Trimmings merchant: Bernstein & Banleys

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jonathan Bernstein of Bernstein & Banleys, one of the few remaining independent trimmings merchants left in the trade. I was interested in meeting for a simple reason. Although I had found a French source for silk facings used in dinner jackets and formalwear, I had not yet found a source for the old-fashioned silk trouser braid used in formal trousers.

I inquired with at least half a dozen trimmings and fabric merchants in NYC but to no avail. I did manage to locate a source for regular silk cord (Botani Trimmings). However, with no sign of the old fashioned trouser braid (see third braid from top in photo below), I feared it was no longer being made.



As it turns out, that fear was altogether premature. Jonathan confirmed that the English mill that used to make this quintessential trimming is no longer in business (and undoubtedly supplied much of Savile Row). But the good news is that after some investigation B&B identified an Italian mill who is able to produce an equivalent braid with similar specifications to the English-made variety.

You might be wondering why I'm putting so much stock in sourcing and understanding the provenance of a trimming a mere 5/8 inch in width? You might also point out that trouser braid is perhaps one percent of the bill of materials for a bespoke dinner jacket and trousers. My reason (or conceit) is fairly simple - modern men's formalwear was originally an English invention.



At least for me, it's heartening to see an active UK manufacture and trade around a dress code that is quintessentially English. Today, of course, quality textile and fabric merchants live in a multi-sourced commercial environment and work with a spectrum of Italian and English suppliers. But from the standpoint of "heritage aesthetics", I like the fact that B&B currently work with a factory in East Anglia for their silk facings. The factory is located in a town whose history with textile manufacture dates back to the Middle Ages.



But set aside the aesthetics of authenticity for a moment. Based on what I saw, I think B&B has the widest and most complete offering of formalwear trimmings in the market. Specifically, I'm speaking about their new silk facings and linings books which offers both traditional options (check out their viscose rayon or ermazine linings) and new trends such as digital print silk linings.



If you're a tailor or designer, I'd encourage you to inquire into B&B (no minimums) and they have a NY-based agent to facilitate orders.

Additional links
- James Grove & Sons buttons - B&B acquired the button inventory of James Grove

Friday, June 20, 2014

Mastered.com - the theory and practice of making things

I'm not terribly fond of the well-worn adage "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach". Indeed I think it is very wrong-headed in assuming the separation of theory from practice and privileging the latter in all instances. Perhaps I'm overlooking something but I've found the individual parts rarely exceed the sum of both.

This seems especially true in a discipline such as tailoring, where theory in concert with practice seems the better approach. Recently I was pleased to learn of the launch of Mastered, which embodies this approach. Mastered is a new online venture offering creative arts education focused on fashion and jewelry taught by highly experienced practitioners.



Moreover, I learned that the esteemed Savile Row tailor Andrew Ramroop will be offering a Mastered online course on making a coat. As far as I'm aware, this will be the first time Savile Row-specific content and training will be offered online.

Savile Row Trailer from Mastered on Vimeo.


Mr. Ramroop is also conducting a free live lesson on June 24th. Unfortunately, I'm not able to attend due to work but I look forward to seeing the archived version.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Is a $300 canvas tote bag a #firstworld luxury?

Well, yes. A $300 canvas tote bag is a #firstworld luxury and the ability to buy one is a nice option to have. On the other hand, it is perhaps the only ethical thing to do assuming you have the means to afford a $300 tote. Let me explain.

I happen to live in NYC which requires a carryall tote bag for everyday use and shopping. Most NYC dwellers, including myself, make do without a personal car which means that we shop more frequently and in smaller amounts. Unlike our suburban counterparts who can drive to a supermarket, Costco, Walmart, etc. and load up their cars or SUVs, we rely on bipedal motion and the homely tote bag to re-stock on essential items.

My old canvas tote was beginning to show its age and thus I was on the hunt for a decently made replacement. After some reflection, I decided this meant I needed to find a functional carryall that was assembled and manufactured in a country with robust health and safety regulations.  These days it is standard practice to manufacture in the lowest cost locations. Low cost often means lax standards regarding worker safety. You may have heard about the Bangladesh garment factory collapse in 2013 which killed more than 1,000 workers.

I realize there is no easy solution here. By buying a bag made in a low-cost overseas factory, you are, at least in the short term, actually helping a worker who is supporting her family and may otherwise be unemployed (or perhaps working under even worse conditions).

However, it strikes me that there are more defensible choices for a #firstworld consumer. If you can afford it, why not support minimum worker standards and purchase products made under those conditions? Or if you wish to genuinely improve the economic livelihood and self-sufficiency of Third World workers, look into co-operative products. Links to both options can be found below.



In the meantime, I was prepared to pay more for a new tote bag but though I didn't realize how much more I would have to pay. I ended up going for a canvas tote by Chapman Bags whose workshop is located in England (Cumbria to be more precise).



I also had some specific functional requirements which the Chapman bag provided that I couldn't find anywhere else. These were:
  • Water resistant interior for easy cleaning
  • Dual-purpose handles that can be carried by hand or slipped over the shoulder
  • Sufficient interior width and volume to store liter sized bottles
The bag I decided to buy was their tan fishing tote bag, which retails for 115 GBP (incl. 20% VAT). The fishing tote also has an optional, removable rubberized liner that is water resistant. Funnily enough, it's also on sale now at 25% off (85 GBP) although I bought mine at full price. Even #firstworld consumers can appreciate a sale.

Below are additional canvas/leather tote bag options I came across. And the last option, of course, is to make your own tote bag as a DIY project.

Monday, February 03, 2014

The decline and fall of hat wearing

The English historian Edward Gibbon attributed the decline and fall of the once ubiquitous Roman Empire to the gradual, enervating loss of martial dedication and civic discipline among its citizenry. In a way, the Romans did not keep up the appearances required of an enduring civilization. Put simply, the slipping of standards led to the sinking of an empire.

One could argue much the same about the rise and fall of another once ubiquitous phenomenon of Western civilization, namely, hat wearing. A number of speculative theories have been posited attempting to explain the decline of hat wearing ranging from the rise of automobiles to the social fissures created in the 1960s by the Vietnam War and the baby boomer generation. The author of Hatless Jackaddresses the popular notion that a young, dynamic and hatless JFK hammered in the final nail in the coffin of hat wearing. These are certainly plausible explanations but they all suffer from a severe lack of data, evidence and supporting material.

This article attempts to fill this evidentiary gap and may be the first application of "culturomics" (i.e. computational analysis of digitized texts) to menswear or fashion generally speaking. N-grams are sequences of text or speech, which, when combined with Google's digitization of millions of books between 1500 and 2008, provide a unique historical record over 500 years of human history across several different languages.

When the Google Ngram Viewer was released in 2010, the first n-gram analyses I generated were for my book, currently in progress, combining a practical guide and intellectual history of men's style (which I will likely split into two separate works).

I think the Ngram Viewer offers some very suggestive insights on the gradual but almost complete collapse of hat wearing. Analysis of n-grams are unlikely to establish causality in the scientific sense but it can help make sense of why something happened and the social and cultural context around the specific practice and concept behind the n-gram. In this case, I'm proposing to analyze the word "hat" as a means to explore, starting with the linguistic record, linkages to the social practice of hat wearing.

Hypothesis #1: Hat wearing can be correlated to specific historical periods.

I interpret the n-gram plot below to indicate three phases - bubble or boom years (1860-1900), a "golden age" (1900-1940) and a "golden decline" of hats (1940-1960). These correlate respectively to the Victorian-Edwardian era, World War I/Roaring Twenties and postwar US and Europe.



The question then becomes a matter of building a plausible theory of the social, cultural and economic drivers in each period which can explain why the word-stock of hats grew, peaked and declined in the three eras identified above.

Hypothesis #2: The decline of hat wearing may be correlated with the decline of the social concept and practice of being a gentleman.

At first blush, there doesn't appear to be any correlation between "hat" and "gentleman" in the n-gram plot below. But it is interesting to note the peaks and valleys in the usage of "gentleman" circa 1800-1820 and 1900-1920, suggesting again underlying linkages to historical events during those time periods. The fact that the word hat persists at a consistent rate over 200 years is also noteworthy, at least compared to the steady and absolute decline of gentleman in the digitized corpus.



Hypothesis #3: Events in popular culture reported by mass media can influence linguistic usage and the actual practice of hat wearing.

Below we see an interesting fluctuation in the frequency of texts mentioning Stetson hats. I surmise the peaks are generated by specific films, tv shows, celebrities or other events covered by media outlets during those time periods.



In order to make progress on this hypothesis, the n-gram analysis above needs to be augmented with actual hat production numbers.

Additional links
- Erez Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture
- Sleevehead on the rise and fall of hats - Stetson Whippet advertisement
- Sleevehead on musicians, rules, weather and God or 4 reasons to wear a hat


Copyright © 2014 by Juhn Maing. All rights reserved. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Accessory round-up

Happy new year, I recently received a few accessories which I thought I would share. They are a very elegant pair of Vass austerity brogue shoes, a bespoke Yellow Hook cashmere tie made in Brooklyn and an Equus leather belt crafted using highly durable English bridle leather and brass hardware.







In addition, I note that this month - January 2014 - marks the ninth (!) anniversary of this blog. It's been an enjoyable journey so far and I look forward to see how the next chapter unfolds.

Monday, December 09, 2013

English buttons - James Grove & Sons

After more than 150 years in business, James Grove & Sons closed for business in 2012. Below is a video describing their history as the largest manufacturer of horn and synthetic buttons in the UK. If it is still intact, I would love to spend a day looking through their button archives.



Sunday, December 01, 2013

Neapolitan tailoring revisited - Rubinacci

Five years is an eternity in modern fashion, especially women's fashion. Yet half a decade is but a diversionary song in the longer, still evolving epic (or is it myth?) of men's clothing.





It was roughly five years ago that Rubinacci and Neapolitan tailoring made its dramatic appearance on the internet and the world of #menswear changed forever.

Well, actually not. Hindsight tells us that Neapolitan tailoring is less revolutionary than it seemed. It's simply the other primal option in modern men's bespoke tailoring. The original option was of course Savile Row. But back in 2008 without the benefit of history what a novelty it seemed.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fabric quality: A call to visualize and quantify

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that fabric quality can be measured. The bad news is that a fully fledged quality testing protocol is simply beyond the means of the average end user. Ultimately, quality testing should be done in the textile industry starting upstream from the fiber supplier and the yarn manufacturer and going downstream to the retailer.

But all is not lost. If you are an end-user who is seriously interested in understanding textile quality, then chances are you'll need to unlearn what you have read online. Above all, you will have to make a fundamental sensory change from touch to vision. Unfortunately, conventional wisdom in #menswear seems to rely almost exclusively on touch (esp. hand feel) to assess fabric quality.

But think about this for a moment. If you could save only one of your five senses, which one would it be? I suspect most people would choose to keep their vision or hearing. Why is that? Because those two senses provide the greatest volume and quality of sensory data to your brain.

Put another way, there is an enormous signal (or information) gain going from touch to vision. You may think you can divine reams of useful data using your finger or hand as an instrument, but that is simply not the case. When used in isolation, one's sense of touch is more likely a slippery slope to confirmation bias.

Consider the list of key fabric characteristics you can measure with a finger in a precise way. It's not much except rough texture and surface feel. Compare that with what you can ascertain visually from a fabric sample - fiber identification, yarn identification, yarn type, yarn count, fabric count, fabric dimensions, color, texture, pattern, weave type, and more.

I would submit that the single best quality assessment that #menswear enthusiasts can perform is visual, not tactile. If you agree, then I'd also argue that the single most useful tool to assess fabric quality is something called a pick glass or linen tester. You can easily find this pocket-sized tool for a few dollars online or at a local photo equipment store.

Photo credit: Halcyon Yarns
Armed with a pick glass, you can visually confirm a mill's top-level claims about any given fabric. Not only can you directly measure critical characteristics of the fabric, but after assaying a number of fabrics from a mill you also can develop a feel for the quality of the mill itself and the consistency of its quality management process. The former is perhaps more immediately important when choosing a specific fabric, but the latter can be useful when deciding between two seemingly equivalent choices or choosing between mills.

In particular, the three tests below focus on yarn since it is the basic building block of apparel fabrics (apart from the constituent fibers, of course, which are more difficult to measure and assess).

Using your pick glass, you can:
  1. Confirm yarn construction (single v. ply), number of plies if applicable and whether the yarn is spun. These obviously should match up to the advertised yarn construction. If the mill claims the fabric is made of 2-ply yarn, then you can verify if that is the case and in which direction (both warp and fill, or just one direction). If strength and abrasion resistance is your sine qua non, then find a fabric with plied yarns in both directions.
  2. Measure and compare yarn count. Ends per inch (EPI) and picks per inch (PPI) should be generally close to each other. Most fabrics normally have a higher EPI than PPI (i.e. higher yarn count in the warp direction as opposed to the fill direction). If they're drastically different, that might indicate an anomaly or a defect.
  3. Calculate and compare fabric count or density. Computing yarns per inch (YPI) is useful if you are comparing two fabrics marketed in the same weight and weave. All other things being equal, the fabric with a higher YPI generally should be more expensive because it uses more yarns. Also, the higher the yarn count, the better drape and hand feel, generally speaking.
These two tests are more "advanced" simply because they require either additional knowledge or tools beyond a pick glass:
  1. Determine linear weight. Weight measurement is foundational and important but unfortunately beyond the reach of most enthusiasts as it requires a fabric scale, which tend to be electronic these days and fairly expensive. But if you have access to one (or can find a used, manual scale with a fabric sample cutter designed for it), then you can measure the actual v. claimed weight of the fabric. This is obviously useful if you are comparing two fabrics in the same marketed weight and weave.
  2. Verify weave. This requires more familiarity with types of weaves but it is helpful to verify the weave of a fabric and gauge that against its end use.
Let me go back to our sense of touch for a minute. I am not advocating that we abandon this extraordinarily visceral sense of ours but its principal use should be clear by now. It is well suited for the hand feel of fabrics, which is about aesthetics and skin comfort. To assess textile quality, you'll need to augment your hands with your eyes.

One final thing - all of the preceding presupposes some textile knowledge such as knowing how to use a pick glass, identifying ply yarns, and understanding the difference between EPI and PPI. Find a way to get up to speed on these basics (i.e. enroll in an introductory textiles class at a local university), and you will know how to perform the tests I describe above and why they matter.

Additional links
- Sleevehead posts on textile quality

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Ivy League style: Kamakura Shirts



Additional links
- Styleforum discussion on Kamakura
- Ivy Style on Kamakura

Monday, October 14, 2013

Vass Norweger shoes

Vass Norveger Peter last (color 6319)

Vass Norveger Peter last (color 6319)

Vass Norveger Peter last (color 6319)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The one travel shoe

I've been on the hunt for the ideal pair of travel shoes that can meet my particular needs - namely, I prefer to wear a single pair of shoes to carry me through a short business trip (usually 3-4 days or less) for either domestic or international travel. The reason for this 'one pair of shoes' philosophy is that I like to travel with just a carry-on shoulder bag and a laptop briefcase.

This puts special demands on that single pair of travel shoes including: being reasonably priced (i.e. repair cost in case of damage), comfortable, airport security-friendly (i.e. easily taken on or off), wet weather capable and versatile (i.e. able to be paired with suits, sports coats and casual clothes such as jeans).

Another requirement for me is absence of significant metallic components. For instance, many Alden shoes are built with a steel shank that tends to trigger the metal detector and an additional pat-down. I also would rather look at RTW or MTO shoes due to ease and cost of repair in case of damage during travel.

I have concluded that the two types of shoes that best suit my needs are monk straps and dress loafers outfitted with rubber soles (Dainite or equivalent), preferably finished in dark brown calfskin. Another option is the gusseted side elastic oxford (such as the Crockett & Jones Petersham and Edward Green Kibworth) but these are generally harder to find with fewer models to choose from.

For quite some time, the Allen Edmonds Thayer monkstrap (in burgundy) served me well but I have had to find a replacement after several years of useful service (the strap attached to the vamp gave out).

Crockett & Jones Monkton monkstrap

My new travel shoe is the Crockett & Jones Monkton monk strap in dark Cotswold grain and the elegant 348 last. I will also probably add the C&J Sydney dress loafer (again with Dainite rubber sole) to my travel shoe rotation since I believe my constant wear of the Thayers contributed to their somewhat early demise.

In terms of repairability, Crockett & Jones has very good retail coverage in the US, UK, continental Europe and Japan - five stores in London alone, three in Paris, one in Brussels and the major department stores in Tokyo. The NYC store offers factory refurbishing ($210 as of August 2013) which takes about 10-12 weeks.

Additional link
- Quality and affordability in men's shoes

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fabric quality: A test is not a test is not a test

In my previous posting, what I described was intended to convey a taste of what textile quality management professionals actually do. A key implication is that there is simply no way an end-user or consumer can hope to replicate what professionals do. The training, equipment and knowledge are all lacking.

Clearly, the term "testing" has different meanings to an end user, a tailor or a bona fide textile testing lab. A "pinch test" is widely used and accepted by tailors and some users as a quick and dirty test for quality. As Chicago tailor Despos notes, tailors can use this informal test to infer other properties of a cloth such as its ability to be tailored and constructed. In this qualified context, I tend to agree. An experienced tailor's assessment of a fabric, based on years of tacit and explicit knowledge making up garments, probably correlates pretty well with more objective tests of a fabric's quality.

Now, can we extend that logic to include the average #menswear enthusiast who typically has never sewn, constructed or finished a garment, let alone understand the construction of said fabric from fiber to yarn to cloth? I'm afraid not.

In the end, the gold standard for assessing quality and performance is a formal scientific test, not an informal, less scientific one. In fact, the irony is that the end user is probably in the worst position, from a knowledge and experience standpoint, to make informed assessments about fabric quality.

My advice to most enthusiasts is to play primarily in the aesthetic sandbox - namely, color, pattern, weave and hand feel. Of course, it's very helpful to understand the general properties of the major natural and synthetic yarns and optimize against your expected end use. But for most consumers, the process is as simple as selecting a fabric from the known mills that meets your aesthetic and functional needs, listen to your highly experienced tailor, have the fabric made up and then enjoy!

A more cynical reading of my advice would be the following - if you're an end user, it's a waste of time to compare relative quality of fabrics, particularly if you're choosing from a known universe of quality mills. Instead, the cynic would say to choose a fabric based on the aesthetics and end use but don't bother poking a finger, literally and figuratively, into parameters that you simply cannot measure properly.

However, since this will hardly satisfy some of my readers, I am planning to offer a few practical tips if you are serious about assessing quality in a common sensical way. Look out for a posting in the near future.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

#menswear, let me introduce you to textile science

When it comes to assessing fabrics, the world of #menswear has been hindered by a kind of "folk reasoning" which tends to oversimplify things in assessing quality. Let me give you a couple of examples I've observed. The first is an erroneous tendency to assess fabric quality and performance through a single variable such as hand feel. The other is the almost exclusive use of subjective opinion to assess quality and performance without any data (or very limited data).

The first tendency rests on the belief that one can discern fabric performance through hand feel or hand manipulation of fabric. A common "test" described on forums is grabbing or pinching part of the fabric and observing if wrinkling occurs. Another test I recall reading on a discussion forum thread also involved pinching a fabric and observing the ability of the pinched portion to maintain its stiffness. There are quite a few flaws in these "tests" although they are weakly related to legitimate tests for wrinkle recovery and drape.

Standardized industry tests do exist but the ones described above sadly do not qualify. If only it were that easy! In textiles, there are two governing industry bodies. The one most relevant for this discussion is ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials). More specifically, the standard performance spec for menswear is D3780-02 aka "Standard Performance Specification for Men's and Boys' Woven Dress Suit Fabrics and Woven Sportswear Jacket, Slack and Trouser Fabrics".

I would hypothesize that men's suitings and jacketing produced by most reputable mills would pass ASTM D3780-02 in the two most common tests of textile durability - breaking strength and abrasion strength. If true, there are clear implications for #menswear. For instance, stop speculating or fixating on whether Harrisons or Lesser 11oz worsted or Drapers or Halstead mohair is more durable. I think the likely answer is that both will probably meet or exceed established quality standards. I think the more nuanced question is which fabric best meets the aesthetic requirements of your end use.

I say this because most end-users are not properly equipped or trained to test for quality or performance. But they can assess the aesthetic qualities like hand feel. Of course, the danger is that #menswear aficionados extrapolate quality and performance characteristics from the aesthetic features of a fabric.

So who is qualified and incentivized to test for textile quality and performance? That would be the industry itself, specifically internal textile quality management groups at large vertically integrated textile manufacturers or third party testing labs commonly utilized for such purposes.

The textile industry has been steadily consolidating into fewer and larger producers, which has its pros and cons. One could argue smaller mills and weavers wouldn't be able to afford the costs of quality testing and management. Either way, the industry views a performance category like durability from a minimum threshold perspective - i.e. whether its fabrics can meet the ASTM performance spec in certain areas like breaking strength or abrasion strength - rather than from a comparative perspective (i.e. does my mohair perform better than my competitor's mohair?).

Yet #menswear enthusiasts love to argue whether English mill X produces more "durable" fabric than mill Y, often with no data on hand. Therein lies the dilemma. Even without real data, this doesn't stop enthusiasts from filling pages of discussions threads with speculation based on personal experiences and anecdotes.

At best, these end-users rely on a very loose application of what is known formally as "wear testing". While it has advantages, wear testing has a key weakness - lack of comparability of results. Since every wearer will treat and use the product differently, wear testing has low precision (i.e. poor reproducibility of results in a larger sample) despite high accuracy in the individual case.

What works better is materials testing or end-use performance testing as exemplified by ASTM D3780-02. It's better because it's based on data collected under more controlled conditions. So let me present some data based on five fabrics on which I conducted breaking strength and fabric weight tests to see (a) whether the ASTM minimum threshold for strength was met (b) the fabric weighed close to the advertised weight.

As I mentioned before, strength and abrasion are the two most common tests in durability testing. The testing involves a grab test in which a sample fabric strip is held on both ends and stretched until it fails (see demonstration video below). If I had enough time, I would have conducted the standard Martindale or Taber abrasion test on my samples. I also would have had run three sets of test strips. In other words, for each fabric, I would have cut three strips each in the warp and fill direction instead of just one warp and one fill test strip for each fabric.



The five fabrics tested were: Zegna 15 milmil 15 moss glenplaid wool jacketing (15 micron fibers), Drapers Super 150s gunclub jacketing, Scabal Vivaldi Four Seasons Super 120s 10oz glenplaid suiting, Minnis 2-ply fresco and a (likely Italian) dogtooth linen suiting or jacketing. Below is a photo of the sample test fabrics.

Breaking strength test samples

So how did these fabrics do? I've ordered the results based on their breaking strength. For worsted and cotton fabrics, the ASTM D3780-02 spec establishes a tensile requirement of 40 lbf for suits and trousers and 30 lbf for jackets. All the fabrics passed the breaking strength test for suits, trousers and jackets except for one fabric (Scabal for suit/trouser use):

Test results - maximum loads in warp and fill directions (lbf) and fabric weight (per linear yard)
  1. Minnis : 59.7 lbf, 80.5 lbf, 9.5 oz
  2. Drapers: 67.1 lbf, 60.3 lbf, 8.2 oz
  3. Zegna: 57.4 lbf, 55.2 lbf, 9.7 oz
  4. Linen: 56.1 lbf, 48.8 lbf, 7.8 oz
  5. Scabal: 61.0 lbf, 36.8 lbf, 7.5 oz
As an example, I've included a photo of the print out for the Minnis test results.

Minnis fresco breaking strength test results

The data reveals a few interesting things (although I would of course caution against excessive generalization based on one test sample from each fabric):
  • The tested fabrics, which are from well-known Italian and English mills, generally met or exceeded the breaking strength for the most common applications for these fabrics (suits, trousers, jackets).
  • The only possible exception is the Scabal which came in just under the 40 lbf minimum at 36.8lbf in the fill direction, which is also generally the weaker direction of most fabrics. As this is a single test strip on one section of a fabric length the result is not conclusive but intriguing and suggestive. More test samples would be needed to determine if this is indeed an issue. But among other things, the Scabal length I purchased from a local fabric shop could have been a variation from their final production run as I noticed the selvedge seemed a bit unusual.
  • A Super 150s fabric in the right weave, finish and yarn quality (i.e. Drapers) can easily exceed the ASTM strength test for suits, jackets and trousers, even as a lightweight fabric. So much for the anti-Supers bias that many (including formerly myself) adhere to.
  • The top performer was the Minnis 2-ply fresco which bested the breaking standard by 49% and 101% respectively in the warp and fill direction. Clearly, the 2-ply yarns (as well as twist) play a key role in enhancing fabric strength, although they appear to be used just in the fill direction. 
  • In terms of weight, the only advertised weights I have are for the Minnis and Scabal. The Minnis measured very close to its published weight of 280-310g. The Scabal fell a bit short of its advertised 10 oz, which, as described above, may or may not indicate a defect.
Now, in fairness to the #menswear enthusiasts, the breaking strength tests do show relative differences. However, in order to know whether those differences exist and/or matter, you would need to buy a $30,000 piece of testing equipment. I would suggest your money would be better spent on great tailors and equally great fabrics from the handful of menswear textile manufacturers left in the world. And I think we all know who they are.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Work in progress: Sicilian suits

Palmisciano Halstead birdseye 01

Palmisciano plaid 05

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion



I missed this exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design this summer but this walk through and commentary courtesy of A Suitable Wardrobe gives you a good idea of the scope and pieces in the exhibition. It goes without saying that one of the highlights is Fred Astaire's evening tails.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Barry Lyndon and the importance of wearing hats



Robert Everett-Green, a writer at The Globe and Mail, recently reached out to me regarding Stanley Kubrick's film Barry Lyndon based on the novel by William Thackeray. I haven't met many people who have actually seen this masterpiece, but Rotten Tomatoes has it right. As Everett-Green puts it well in a short piece, the film goes beyond being a mere historical drama that dresses its character in period costume to something that approaches sublime.

Everything comes together in this film in a marvelous way such that the story of a lonely individual, framed by his raw ambition and desire, reveals an even larger, more daunting web of aristocratic expectations, which itself is set against a backdrop of warring European monarchies (Seven Year's War).

Everett-Green quotes the English historian Richard Cobb, “Clothes called to clothes, cutting out words and greetings.” A wonderful and telling quote, referring to that set of unspoken cultural forces compelling men and women to dress alike while also driving them apart in the end.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Central European style: Budapest shoemakers

This summer I was in Budapest for work and of course took the opportunity to explore one of the pillars of Central European style - Budapest shoemakers. I visited three stores (Vass, Rosznyai, Buday) and saw the shop displays of Istvan Toth and Attila Shoes. They are all located within a 10 minute walking distance of each other on or near the primary shopping artery of Vaci utca in central Budapest.

Vass has two stores actually on Haris Koz, off of Vaci utca, a smaller one and a new one that opened up further down the street. Vass shoes start at 550 USD (125,000 HUF) and shipping to US is about 30 USD. If you wish to do made-to-order and customize certain aspects (like leather and sole), expect delivery to take about five weeks. I ended up ordering a brown calf MTO Norweger in the Peter last.

Rozsnyai is also on Haris Koz between the two Vass stores and was started by the father of the family. Ready-to-wear starts at about 400 EUR, 500 EUR for made-to-measure. Shipping outside of Hungary is available as well. I like their version of the classic Budapester model, which you can see on their website under the classic shoes section (Budapester 09). Their 2012 price list helpfully shows the base prices and upcharges for types of leather (including elephant, crocodile and cordovan). If I remember correctly, they also do made-to-measure belts.

Buday, also on Haris Koz, had the most contemporary looking designs in terms of boldness of color and welting. If you like experimenting with welting, you'll be happy to hear of their ability to make English and several styles of goiser welting.

I didn't have a chance to visit the Attila shop, but it looks like they offer RTW and MTO with seven different last options, five sole options, and an extensive leather selection (including eel and salmon!).


Additional links
- Styleforum Vass thread
- Styleforum thread on Vienna, Budapest and Warsaw
- De Pied en Cap thread on Istvan Toth
- Gentleman's Gazette post on Warsaw's craftsmen


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Burberry London Men's Collection SS14



A nice example of using bright, primary colors ... in a restrained way.

Suiting up: Thinking is required!



As far as I can tell, Boris Johnson is a fairly popular mayor of one of the world's largest cities. He was reelected to his post last year as mayor of London. He is seen here posing on Savile Row to celebrate the recent SS14 London Men's Collection and is interviewed for the occasion. Knowing his history, he starts by lavishing praise on London as having invented the modern suit.

Yet seconds later Johnson says "I don't give a monkey's what I look like" and asserts that the success of the suit is precisely the lack of thought needed to wear it well. Very quotable stuff but as you might guess I disagree. There is a difference between simply wearing a suit and wearing it well. If you wish to a wear a suit well, you have to put some thought into it.

A suit doesn't negate the thought process. Instead, a suit, especially a great, well-fitting suit, is quite thought-provoking.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Fabric roundup

Scabal tweed


Testa shirtings


Zegna windowpane summer jacketing


Taylor & Lodge jacketing with Drapers gabardine and Taylor & Lodge country twist

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Washington, DC bespoke - Field Tailors

I recently visited Will at Field Tailors in Washington, DC. It's been a few years since I last visited but they are doing well and have moved into more spacious accommodations up the road.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Pacific Northwest hats: Byrnie Utz




Monday, June 03, 2013

Science of performance socks



Performance apparel is one of the few bright spots in apparel manufacturing where the US is still at the forefront. This is a short video by performance sock manufacturer Dahlgren that gives a quick primer on the fiber characteristics that affect moisture management. The specific application here is socks but the science behind it is applicable to any apparel you might wear.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

12 tips for the black tie-challenged

As a general rule, I find men dressing better these days than even just a few years ago. Even so, very few of us wear tuxedos regularly. What prompted this particular post is an upcoming formal event celebrating a major milestone in my company's history. We're organizing a reception and dinner with our clients and have requested black tie for gentleman.

Below are a dozen tips intended to help anyone in a similar situation or who need to get up to speed with black tie. The meta-rule to rule them all is this - above all, do no harm in your interpretation of black tie. For formal occasions, rules are meant to be followed. In so doing, you might catch the eye of someone who appreciates the certain kind of elegance based on the elimination of the unessential. But mostly the pleasure is simply doing black tie right.

The other thing is this - wearing a dinner jacket well, fit for the occasion at hand, has got to be one of the fundamental rites of passage in being a man. Invest some time and do it well. The payoff is worth it. Besides, you'll have more than enough time in life to read Fuck Yeah Menswear, go all ironic and start parodying the rules.
  1. Wear a true, sized bow tie (matched to your neck size, i.e. 14.5, 15, 15.5), not one of those one-size-fits-all which has an extension adjuster. This is your neck. Find the right size for it. 
  2. Instead of patent leather shoes, wear highly polished black captoe oxfords. Perfectly acceptable and correct and functional in other contexts.
  3. Remember to show some cuff. If not, your jacket sleeve is too long and/or your shirt sleeve is too short.
  4. If you can, you really ought to wear a jacket with peaked silk lapels, preferably grosgrain though satin is fine.
  5. Learn how to fold, insert and wear a white linen pocket square in your breast pocket
  6. As a general rule, do not stray from black or white in your choice of color (with only a handful of exceptions - see #12).
  7. If you wish to wear a watch, wear a simple dress watch with a leather band not a sports watch or one that features complications.
  8. For most functions these days, better to wear a turn down, spread collar dress shirt as opposed to a wing collar shirt.
  9. Your shirt should not have buttons like a regular dress shirt. In other words, it should be able to take shirt studs.
  10. Unless you are Noel Coward or having a go-to-hell moment, please wear a dinner jacket and trousers made of natural fibers such as pure wool or a wool/mohair blend. Although polyester is a modern miracle fiber invented through human ingenuity, it shines best in rental tuxes worn at high school proms.
  11. To hold up your trousers, please avoid clip-on suspenders or, even worse, suspenders worn on belted trousers. Invest the extra time and money to wear trousers that take traditional suspenders with buttons, or alternatively trousers with sidetabs.
  12. Wear a boutonniere if you're part of the reason for the event (i.e. you are the groom in a wedding).

Related posts

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Hand & Lock

The intricate and painstaking handwork that goes into trimming out military dress uniforms and smoking jackets makes embroidery perhaps the most couture-like of any single aspect of menswear, current or historical. One of the leading suppliers of hand embroidery is Hand & Lock.

I'm tempted to say the following two videos go, well, hand in hand:



Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: Gentlemen of Style

I had the pleasure of reading Gentlemen of Style by Sven Raphael Schneider of the Gentleman's Gazette, which was published recently as a free e-book.

Some of you who feverishly mined the men's clothing discussion forums in the exciting, early days circa 2004 may remember one poster who went by the name of "etutee". He was the probably first to scan and post images of old Apparel Arts illustrations of the 1930s on AskAndy and London Lounge, accompanied by extensive, historically relevant commentary and exposition. Unfortunately, most of etutee's posts have disappeared from the forum archives.


If I remember correctly, etutee's posts were probably my first exposure to Apparel Arts. That led of course to a hunt for old copies of Apparel Arts on eBay, as well as recompilations of Apparel Arts such as Woody Hochswender's Men in Style and the related reference bible of men's clothing, Esquire's Encyclopedia of 20th Century Men's Fashions. The latter two can run easily into hundreds of dollars. A rather expensive hobby!

A much more affordable introduction to the world of Apparel Arts is Sven's e-book which contains rare images of 1930s Apparel Arts illustrations that define the Golden Age of modern menswear. The book is divided into three sections on suits, jackets and overcoats.

Like the etutee of internet yore, Sven adds his own interesting commentary to the illustrations. Sven is very sympathetic to the classical canon of Apparel Arts but also reflects a modern and up-to-date viewpoint. Instead of treating the illustrations as sacrosanct and untouchable relics, he suggests improvements on pattern and color combinations found in the illustrations. In particular, I like his color recommendations.

Keep in mind you'll have to go a well-stocked public library to find copies of Apparel Arts (or buy them). Given the scarcity of this magazine, you can't go wrong downloading this e-book sampler of Apparel Arts. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Trimmings for dinner jackets

I have successfully concluded my recent search for what English tailors call "corded silk" for facings or lapels of dinner jackets or tuxedos. This is the less common alternative to silk satin, which has a bit of a sheen and less elegant in my view. Corded silk has more pronounced cross-grain ribbing, which absorbs and disperses light, lending a matte look.

I became curious about sourcing this particular type of trimming after learning from my tailor in Los Angeles that his sources for such silk had dried up. The corded silk used for facings typically come in 18 or 24 inches, which are "bastard" or unusual widths, at least for silk trimmings and ribbons. Below is a photo of the facing used in my Kilgour dinner jacket.



After asking around, I finally found a source for corded silk in London and one in New York City. The stuff is actually woven in France (next time I'll have to ask the name of the French weaver) and is fairly expensive.

First, London. Last month I visited London and stopped by Savile Row to visit a particular tailor which sells fabrics by the length to customers. That tailor is Davies and Sons.


I chatted with Robert Bailey and learned that Davies sells the 18 inch variety which is made in France. One meter is typically needed for peak or notch lapels, 1.1 meter for a shawl collar. Price is 120 GBP per meter. Davies (as well as the other tailors like Kilgour) source this silk and other specialty wovens from their trimmings merchants.


The other source is B&J Fabrics in NYC's Garment District. The equivalent American term for corded silk is "silk faille back satin" which is a literal description of the two weaves found respectively on the face and technical side. The width is 45 inches and is priced at $180 per yard. The merchant carries this in two colors - black and cream.


Below is a photo comparing all three examples (from left to right, Kilgour, Davies and B&J Fabrics):


As you can perhaps see, both the Kilgour and Davies corded silk feature slightly wider ribbing compared to B&J's version.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A textile without qualities...

...is perhaps almost as impossible to find as "a man without qualities". I mentioned recently in a tweet that I've taken the step of enrolling in a textile quality management class. I'm doing so because quality is an oft-used but rather poorly understood word in the consumer world of menswear. Even among men's clothing aficionados, discussion of textile quality is based almost entirely on the impressionistic assay of fabrics. Sometimes it is based on years of experience in having bespoke garments made. However, experience in the end-use of fabrics, while helpful, is not sufficient.

For example, a common way among aficionados to ascertain fabric "quality" and "performance" is through the hand feel of fabrics. The hand of a fabric is simply one measure of aesthetics and comfort but many aficionados seem to believe that hand feel alone can be a good indicator for textile quality. Ask a textile professional if hand feel is a reliable and complete indicator of overall quality and performance and the diplomatic response would be a simple but decisive "no".

Italian wool blend testing sample


Back to the class I'm taking. Our term project involves testing 4 yards of a knitted (or woven) fabric through a battery of tests for durability (abrasion, pilling), strength, colorfastness, moisture management, shrinkage (dimensional stability), etc. My sample is a wool/polyester blend which I picked up at Mood Fabrics in NYC's Garment District.

The yield scale below measures the weight of a cloth based on a standard sample cut of the fabric:

Alfred Suter yield scale
Alfred Suter yield scale (probably c. 1960s)

Below is the sample cutter used to punch out a sample of my test fabric:

Test sample puncher
Sample cutter (likely pre-1950s)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Five shades of grey

Last week I visited Tip-Top Fabrics in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and learned that they recently received a shipment of Carlo Barbera worsted flannel…in five shades of grey. Weight is probably in the 13oz range. I picked up a suiting length of the darkest grey and a trouser length in a mid-grey. Tempted to go back and pick up another shade of grey before they run out.

I also picked up an end bolt of a navy cavalry twill by Halstead, probably in the 14oz range. Last but not least, I saw an excellent, crisp Drapers gaberdine in classic tan and beige that will make up nicely into a pair of trousers.



Saturday, March 02, 2013

New cloths: Carlo Barbera and William Halstead

William Halstead cashmere stripes
Halstead "cashmere stripes" trousering

Carlo Barbera wool-cashmere houndstooth
Carlo Barbera cashmere jacketing

Plaid suiting and houndstooth jacketing
Glenplaid wool suiting and Barbera jacketing

Monday, February 25, 2013

Update: Los Angeles tailor Enzo Caruso

Some more photos of Enzo Caruso's store, located in Santa Monica, which he has been gradually updating the last few months:

Enzo Caruso storefront
Storefront

Enzo Caruso window display
New organizing wall for swatch books

Enzo Caruso fabric shelving
Shelving and storage for cloth

Friday, January 18, 2013

The avant-gardes sartorially speaking...

[Photo by Douglas H. Jeffrey] 

The year is 1964 and the men, from left to right, are:  John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gambert Shirts

Gambert Shirts is located in downtown Newark, NJ on Washington Street.

Gambert Shirts

Gambert Shirts

Gambert Shirts

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

English soles, Hawaiian sidewalks

Happy new year! It was a busy Christmas day last week when I stopped by the new flagship Leather Soul shop in Honolulu. LS is quite possibly the most comprehensive, high end men's shoe store in the US.

Leather Soul window display

Leather Soul window display

Monday, December 24, 2012

Unpacking a Marinella bespoke tie

Marinella bespoke tie


Marinella bespoke tie


Marinella bespoke tie


Marinella bespoke tie

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ivy League exhibition



If you missed the Ivy League symposium back in November or the special tours with curator Patricia Mears and Richard Press, you can still virtually walk through the exhibition with them in the video tour. Definitely worth a visit before it closes in early January. The highlights for me were the raccoon coat and the vintage school blazers (for the technically minded, check out the front darts on the blazers).

Friday, December 07, 2012

Florsheim by Duckie Brown SS 2013

I recently attended a spring/summer 2013 preview of Florsheim by Duckie Brown, which are very affordably priced shoes.

Florsheim by Duckie Brown

I met Steve and Dan, the designers behind Duckie Brown, and they shared a bit of their journey in designing for this old mainstay American shoe brand. After being sold a few times, the company was reacquired several years ago by members of the original family that founded the company in 1892.

During their visits to the Florsheim headquarters north of Milwaukee, Steve and Dan naturally perused the company archives for design inspiration. During my visit, they pulled out and showed me a terrific vintage Florsheim 1941-42 shoe catalog that featured everything from boots to brogues. I would love to spend an afternoon in the Florsheim archives one of these days.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Noel Coward exhibition

Very few individuals are multi-generationally stylish. These are individuals who remain firmly on center stage over time and continue to maintain a stylistic influence across decades and continents.

Entertainer Noel Coward is one of those rare individuals who achieved this in the first half of the 20th century. I recently attended the Noel Coward exhibition in NYC this past summer and have included photos of some of the exhibits below.

Noel Coward dressing gown
Noel Coward dressing gown (bought from DeFree's, New York)
Douglas Hayward dinner jacket for Noel Coward
Coward's dark brown polyester dinner jacket (made by Douglas Hayward)
Douglas Hayward dinner jacket for Noel Coward
Shoulder line of Douglas Hayward dinner jacket
Noel Coward & Douglas Fairbanks Jr
Noel Coward (left, in DB suit) and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr
Cole Lesley
Cole Lesley, Coward's business manager, in morning dress