Monday, May 31, 2010

Consistency and uniformity: Military dress in men's style

Since today is Memorial Day in the US, let's talk about military dress. In these photos, you'll see hints of some of the key dimensions of men's clothing - color, cloth, multiple levels of formality (not just one!) and the peaceful coexistence of utility and ornamentation (e.g. regarding accessories).

Field jacket

Why is all of this relevant to men's clothing? Because military dress is probably one of the two or three most important historical sources and influences on men's clothing. I'll leave it to my informed readers to infer the others.

Additional links
- AskAndy thread on military uniforms, with a useful post on 20th century service and dress uniforms
- AskAndy thread on military tailors in the US, UK and Italy

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reader inquiry: Evaluating and choosing a tailor

I often receive emails asking for my opinion on two or more tailors and to compare them. Recently I was asked to compare an East Coast tailor to the Savile Row tailors in London.

Each tailor or tailoring house has its own style and no two tailors are quite the "same" in that department. This is why I always think it's better to talk with the tailor or head cutter to get a better sense of what he'll make for you as well as see a jacket or suit in progress.

Here's a little tip. When you visit a tailor you're interested in, wear a well-fitting jacket that you're very familiar with and ask the tailor what he would do differently. Ask him to be specific (chest, shoulder, jacket length) and engage him in a conversation. This is what I did in my visit with Giacomo Trabalza.

You must exercise some caution here and frame the initial question and conversation effectively. If you are interested in having the tailor make something very similar to the jacket you are wearing, then the question should be about establishing similarities not differences. In other words, the question should be "What do you like about this jacket?" and going from there.

Otherwise, focus on the differences and see if the tailor in question is able to address those that you are interested in.

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on selecting a Savile Row tailor

Monday, May 24, 2010

Men's style: The dilemma of dressing thoughtfully

In her new book, The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasures of Shopping, and Why Clothes Matter, Linda Grant writes that “Clothes are not everything, but you cannot have depths without surfaces."

No depth without surface. This may be true, especially in the inherent flux and seasonality of women's fashion. But for men the opposite holds an even deeper truth. In other words, you cannot have surface without depth, at least in the long haul. If you are a young guy, it's fine to experiment left and right with trendy brands and diverse looks. But as with every journey, the compass eventually needs to point somewhere and that directionality requires a certain depth. This depth and direction, in the end, is generated by you, assembled over time and through experience.

When the time comes, your sense of style should strike a comfortable balance between consistency and experimentation. Some may favor consistency, others experimentation. Either way, the result should be fresh and appealing yet somehow consistent. But not rigid. Just as life changes, your sense of style may evolve once, twice or more. Your sense of style should be steady - until it is time to change.

Contra Hamlet, the readiness to change is not all, but it does matter a good deal. More on this aspect later.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Vancouver tailors: Succession and retirement

A couple of years ago I wrote about "mutually assured succession" within the tailoring trade. In Vancouver, a couple of tailors have made the news recently regarding the issue of succession. One is Chinese, the other Italian.

Modernize Tailors consists of two 85 year old brothers, Jack and Bill Wong, who are the subject of a CBC documentary called "Tailor Made". The sartorially minded men in Vancouver should be quite happy if the Wong brothers continue to make jackets like the ones shown below.

The brothers' attempt at a succession plan resulted in a trial apprenticeship of J.J. Lee, who covers fashion at the Vancouver Sun.

In contrast, Renzo Montagliani, originally from Genoa, is closing up his shop after half a century in the trade. He's had a good life in being a tailor but it appears it's too late to find a successor.

Additional links
- Vancouver Sun article on Montagliani
- Vancouver Courier article on Montagliani

Friday, May 21, 2010

Shoemaking at Edward Green

Learn about key steps in the shoemaking process at Northampton-based Edward Green such as clicking, skivving and finishing.

You'll notice the finisher in the clip is a fellow named Cliff Roberts, who has gone solo and offers made to order shoes (as well as shoes made on a custom last).

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on the bespoke fitting process
- The Lodger's May shoe of the month - Arpley weekend slip-on

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shoe sundries: Crockett & Jones & Foster in NYC

The new C&J store in midtown Manhattan has been open for about a month now and I recently had a chat with Kevin Hill, the manager of the store.

C&J is one of just five or so English shoe factories left in Northampton. The company produces about 2,500 pairs of shoes a week for some of the most well-known retail brands in the business (e.g. Brooks Brothers). They pulled out of their former retail premises at shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser in NYC and Beverly Hills and have decided to go direct to the consumer. It's a delicate but perennial issue in distribution - do you have others sell product for you or do you sell directly? These days the answer in luxury retail seems to be both.

Quick facts: Made to order (MTO) shoes ranges from $1100 to $1200. MTO allows personalized choices off a standard last - so the leather, sole and other details are configurable. The higher number in the price range reflects MTOs done in the handgrade line. Recrafting is available for $220 to $230. Again the higher price is for recrafting of handgrades.

Kevin also mentioned that there are plans for Dimitri Gomez, bespoke shoemaker / bottier based in the Paris outpost of C&J, to visit later this year.

Yesterday Foster & Son were in NYC tending to repeat orders and new customers. I had a nice chat with Richard and Emma. They're doing well and have an enviable backlog of orders to fill. Richard Torregrossa, author of Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style, also made an appearance late in the day.

Additional links
- Link to Dimitri Gomez website
- London Lounge thread on Dimitri Gomez
- Racked coverage of C&J opening

Friday, May 14, 2010

Allen-Edmonds catalogs of the past

It appears the team at Allen-Edmonds has scanned and posted their old Allen-Edmonds catalogs from the 1950s and 1960s through the present day. Whether it's public service or ingenious marketing, it's a great resource.

I came across more than a few models and lasts that ought to be resurrected. The 1957 catalog shows a pair of full brogues (Tweed and Alladin) with closed and open lacing on the Norse and Bancroft lasts.

Allen Edmonds 1957 catalog - Tweed & Alladin

Below is a page from the 1958 catalog. Note the McAllister full brogue model (below left) which features a pronounced notch or bevel at the widest points of the sole. I've seen examples with an exaggerated notch that is perhaps too aggressive, but this one is a little more toned down.

Allen Edmonds 1958 catalog - McAllister & Stanwix

The Stanwix is a Norwegian apron derby on the Kent last.

As this AskAndy thread shows, AE management is apparently listening to suggestions by customers to bring back certain models and lasts. A smart move I think.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Fitted casual outerwear: O'Connells, J. Press, Odin, Memes

I think it's safe to say that every fellow should have a fitted, zipped cotton (or Harrington) jacket. My search for the right one started several years ago. First stop: O'Connells, an excellent American trad or Ivy style retailer based in Buffalo. I bought a natural G9 Baracuta jacket which comes with a distinctive red and green Fraser tartan lining. This iconic British garment was created in the 1930s and popularized by Elvis Presley and Steve McQueen in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Baracutas are unusual for casualwear because they are sold in exact men's sizes (i.e. 38, 40, etc) - a distinct advantage in my opinion. However, I did find their sleeves on the classic model a bit blousy (though that is intentional and original to the design).

A couple of years later, my next stop led me to J. Press. I purchased a J. Press navy blue cotton zipped jacket (similar to a Baracuta) but with different detailing and slightly more fitted. For example, the Baracuta has simple elastic sleeve cuffs while the J. Press jacket has cloth straps with D-ring fasteners to cinch in the sleeves and the hem. However, I was in between the standard sizes (S, M, L) so the fit was not quite right (too long in the sleeve, too short in the length). I should note that J. Press currently sells British-made Baracutas though the model I bought was made in the USA.

This past weekend led me to Odin and Memes, two men's retailers in the East Village. At the former, I bought two Engineered Garments: a WG navy poplin jacket and a light chambray conductor shirt-jacket.

At Memes, I purchased a Wings + Horns hooded chambray zip jacket. This was manufactured in Canada. Not quite a traditional Harrington jacket but a well-fitting variation nonetheless. All of these jackets fit me very well off the rack.

I think I've seen the future of men's RTW or part of it anyway. And it's Japanese in sensibility (Engineered Garments is led by a Japanese designer). Or more accurately, it's a fusion of Japanese design sensibility (traditional designs made up-to-date) and American traditions, while incorporating innovative fabrics and flexible and "authentic" manufacturing (made in USA or Canada).

The mash-up I would like to see most? J. Press interpreted by Wings + Horns. Similar to the Brooks Brothers' Black Fleece collaboration with Thom Browne but more oriented to the casualwear spectrum (workwear, streetwear, country clothes).

Store locations
- O'Connells, 3420 Main St, Buffalo, NY
- J. Press, 380 Madison, NYC
- Odin, 328 E 11th (b/w 1st and 2nd) plus other locations in NYC
- Memes, 3 Great Jones (b/w Lafayette and Broadway), NYC

Additional links
- Styleforum thread on slim fit v. classic G9 Baracuta jackets

Friday, May 07, 2010

Ardalanish Tweeds

When I was searching for the right overcoating fabric for my Ulster style overcoat last year, I looked at fabrics from Drapers, Harrisons and other established mills. I ended up going with a steel blue herringbone from Drapers. But I also looked at the more rustic tweeds made by Ardalanish, an organic farm and weaving mill located on the Isle of Mull, off Scotland's western coast.

Apart from the more rugged hand, these tweeds stand out with their distinctive natural dyes and colors such as Russian/silver twill and silver moorit. Ardalanish organic tweeds are made to Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS).

Some photos of their tweeds made up by Swedish women's designer Anja Hynynen:

Bolero jacket

"Hedgehog" jacket

You can see a selection of their tweeds, shawls, scarves and other accessories in their online catalogue. I still have their sample swatch book I ordered last year and have in mind one of their silvery tweeds for a future coat idea (more "country" than "town").

P.S. See my Twitter feed on the right for a limited time offer through May 10 on their tweeds.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Bespoke in Santa Barbara: Michael Anderson

Tailor Michael Anderson originally got his start in West Hollywood opening a store called Clacton & Frinton in 1980. According to this Santa Barbara Independent article, Anderson trained with a Savile Row cutter and now operates a retail and custom storefront in Santa Barbara called Takapuna.

I have not had a chance to visit and chat with Anderson. But judging from the photos in the article, the lines and silhouette of his suits remind me of Kilgour, Huntsman or Richard Anderson. He describes his style as "Hollywood's version of an English gentleman."

As the article describes, Anderson uses block patterns and modifies them for individual clients. In particular, he offers a "James Bond" style suit, which presumably echoes the trim fitting suits made by Anthony Sinclair for Sean Connery in the early 1960s.

Santa Barbara readers are welcome to post their experiences with Anderson.