The One Off Piece

Personal style has everything to do with what you, the individual, seeks to project through your clothing. It has little (nothing, hopefully) to do with what’s ‘on trend’, what fashion magazines dictate, what a blogger’s epiphanies of the moment may be, and damn sure not what the guy with 100,000 Instagram followers has on. Rather, it’s reflection on your own experiences, travels, and received knowledge. That’s why it is even more crucial to put a personal stamp that defies the arbitrary mandates of #menswear, many of which I’ve blabbed on about here.

One of my favorites pieces is a green paisley scarf that belonged to my grandmother. There’s no fabricated tale about her handing me the scarf over in ritualistic fashion. Rather, I found it in a drawer and just kinda took it. It is a splendid combination, resplendent in deep, huntery green, royal blue and a muted yellow than teeters on gold. I took it, believing one day I’d be ready (have the balls) to wear it proudly.

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Jacket by Hardy Amies, shirt by Kamakura, tie and trousers by Brioni,Land of the Hummingbirds pin by By Elias, umbrella by Kent Wang, O’Hare tote by Want LES

That day came rather unassumingly. I pulled it out of a drawer and tied it around my neck and strutted out of my apartment. And, as any self-absorbed twenty-something, I predicted a rainfall of stares, mockery and false benevolence reminiscent of the emperor’s walk about town in his new suit. None of the imagined reactions occurred, of course. I’ve been wearing it ever since.

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Jacket by Hardy Amies, shirt by Brioni, tie by Isaia, pocket square by Hermes, glasses by Warby Parker

I don’t know the back story about it. I never saw her wear it. But it was a hers, and that’s personal enough. Of course it helps that it is simply a beautiful scarf. One that doesn’t necessarily go with what I’m wearing, but that’s the essence of personal style. A sort of middle finger to the rather arcane guidelines many men fuss too much over.

 

Photos by Bevin Elias

The Perfectly Autumnal Pairing, Brown and Blue

With cool weather making its official return, the opportunities for men who enjoy dressing are limitless. Layers upon layers of textures and richer hues than ones afforded to us during summer months are now a necessary armor against the elements. As a backdrop to the plums and eggplants, rusts and burnt oranges that no doubt line the closet of the well dressed, deep browns and greyish blues provide a quiet balance.

Brown Fedora by Selentino, Harris Tweed jacket by Bloomingdale's, Cashmere trousers by Brioni, Chukkas by Barney's, Umbrella by Kent Wang

Brown Fedora by Selentino, Harris Tweed jacket by Bloomingdale’s, Cashmere trousers by Brioni, Chukkas by Barney’s, Umbrella by Kent Wang

As we wade slowly into the not yet frozen pool of autumnal shades, I’m reminded how often nature unwittingly dictates our selections. The previously mentioned neutrals of brown and blue and grey play off the sky and its less sunny tendencies during the next several months. Additionally, browns, deep reds, and oranges are reminiscent of the bare trees and their newly fallen leaves, which will hopefully be raked by children more enthusiastic than I was.

Shirt by AM Bespoke, Pocket square by Ikire Jones

Shirt by AM Bespoke, Pocket square by Ikire Jones

These shades, specifically, play well off of each other with many shades of fall. Together, though muted, there lies a quiet elegance in the slightly less formal appeal of it.

Buying a Hat

Despite a trend towards mixing high and low articles of clothing, there is something to be said about harmony and consistency in place of trendy. This is especially true as we properly usher in Autumn 2014. Soon enough, it will be cool enough for topcoats and hats. While the importance of keeping one’s head covered is not debatable, the choices are. Flatcaps, knit hats, driving hats and fedoras are all options utilized by the savvy and just plain freezing. Fashion magazines, who must introduce something new to the readers, dictate that knit hats, for instance, dress down a more formal overcoat. If it comes down to formality versus casual, put me on the formal side, every time. No knit hat, no flatcap, no baseball cap with your overcoat. A proper gentleman’s hat to top off the look is in order to achieve adequate harmony.

Hat by Selentino

Hat by Selentino, glasses by Tom Ford

My own hunt truly began years before I’d have to brave frosty elements. Growing up watching the screen stars of the 1950s, the elegance of the fedora atop an immaculately attired Spencer Tracy in Adam’s Rib stayed with me. Although hats are not the dominant accessory they were 60 years ago, they’re just as dashing today, even more so due to the countless inappropriate and just plain tacky head coverings seen on men with otherwise appropriate outerwear.

I had read about JJ Hat Center, a New York institution for over a century, years before I moved here. As I’d recently decided on purchasing a hat, I headed to their Fifth Avenue shop.

Chatting with staff at JJ Hat Center

Chatting with staff at JJ Hat Center with a hat that ended up back on the wall. Shirt by Kamakura, tie by Brioni, pocket square by Ikire Jones. Photo by Bevin Elias

The staff, all enormously knowledgable and passionate, educated me about finding the right brim (sides of the hat)  width for my face, the correct crown (the top of the hat) for the shape of my head and the best shade for a first purchase.

My new hat being steamed

My new hat being steamed

Blue, brown and grey were the suggestions, which are in line with the rest of menswear articles of clothing, as the most versatile. After trying on several in shades ranging from camel to charcoal, I settled on a deep brown fedora by Selentino. This will top off both my blueish/grey double breasted overcoat and my grey herringbone topcoat for the upcoming winter very nicely.

Hat by Selentino, Jacket by Loro Piana, scar by Etro, trousers by Brioni, monk strap shoes by Howard Yount, bag by Want Les Essentiels da la Vie

Hat by Selentino, Jacket by Loro Piana, scarf by Etro, trousers by Brioni, monk strap shoes by Howard Yount, canvas bag by Want Les Essentiels de la Vie, socks by Paul Stuart

- As per the staff, before buying one, consider your own wardrobe. What will you likely be wearing this with? Does your wardrobe lean towards a casual or formal?

- Although there are a plethora of hatsellers online, it’s best to visit a shop to try them on if you’re a first time buyer or new to a manufacturer.

- While shades of deep, bottle green or burgundy may be eye catching, they’re also less versatile. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. Stay (somewhat) grounded.

All Photos by Stephen Obisanya unless otherwise noted

Exotic Skins

Upon acquiring the basic #menswear shoes; the brown cap-toe, the tassel loafer, a man is afforded the opportunity to incorporate the non-workhorse shoes in his rotation. Those just mentioned essentials make up the bulk of a well dressed man’s wardrobe. In plain calf or suede, shoes in a fairly conservative cut are appropriate for most business and evening occasions. Following a good selection of versatile shoes, a man can throw an unexpected twist into the mix. A shoe that turns a few heads is in order. Like this crocodile cap-toe oxford.

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Enter the shoe made of exotic skin: alligator, crocodile, or lizard among many others. When found, or made to order, on a fairly classic last, this shoe can add a subtle sheen to an otherwise understated suit or pair of trousers. In muted colors like black, brown and burgundy, the exotic shoe also adds just enough textural appeal without being too showy. It also suggests the wearers affinity for all things finely crafted, as exotic skins don’t come cheap.

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Now, it’s not for the faint-minded man. Should you wish to remain anonymous, a shoe made of an exotic skin isn’t for you. The shoe, be it a cap-toe, monk strap of loafer, will garner attention. But, that’s probably the point.

Photos by Bevin Elias

Winding Down the Days of Summer

Summer is winding down. For the purists, one more week of frivolity remains. That is, if wearing white is as daring as you’ve gotten this summer (pity).

The sartorial outpouring of wanton socklessness, three(!) undone shirt buttons, and unlined jackets are nearing their official end. That’s no cause for panic, but rather a call for a glorious final lap.

Suit by Brioni, shirt by Kamakura, tie by Valentino, shoes by Alden

Suit by Brioni, shirt by Kamakura, tie by Valentino, shoes by Alden

While no true style gestapo will bang on your, blindfold you, and demand receipt of all things white linen, there is a practical argument with seldom-acknowledged rules of summer style. With highs dipping into the mid-70s and the necessity for scarves just around the corner, the lightheartedness associated with easy, flowing clothing is diminished. Besides, what fun is there in wearing the same clothing all year round? A change in texture and weight for the emerging seasons add much needed variety. That’s not to say any  summer clothing should be locked in a chest by September 2. Rather, the time to shift is coming.

For now, enjoy these waning days. How often can a person wear a red linen/silk suit? Pull out all the summers stops for these last few precious weeks.

Jacket by Piatelli, trousers by Brioni, shirt by Kamakura, pocket square by Ikire Jones

Jacket by Piatelli, trousers by Brioni, shirt by Kamakura, pocket square by Ikire Jones

Yes, embrace the last throes of summer before it’s goes away.

Trousers by Brioni, shoes by Meermin

Trousers by Brioni, shoes by Meermin

Reader Question: Take the MTM plunge?

“I shopped at Armani for the first time the other day and absolutely loved it. Their clothes are amazing, but the service I received from my seller and even the store manager was unlike anything I’ve ever received before. I noticed you don’t talk about them much and you speak very highly of custom fitting. I’m in the market for a navy blue suit. In your opinion should I skip Armani and go the bespoke route?”

Francisco A.

It’s true that I don’t speak much of Armani. I have little personal experience with the brand. In general, I’d rather shy away from any brand which I’ve not bought or worn. But, if you’re pleased with the product, no need to immediately disown it.

That aside, I would encourage all to explore made-to-measure and bespoke options. Especially considering the price of designer suits. Beyond that, a bespoke suit requires a bit more research. It will be worth the initial investment, more than a designer option. The fit will be the biggest advantage. A fitter will take into account a slouch, a longer arm, a lower shoulder, a short torso when measuring. In a bespoke suit, the fit will aim to minimize any physical shortcomings, real or imagined, on the part of the wearer. A suit off the rack can only hide so much, and even the best alterations tailors can only make so many miracles happen.

Firstly, you must consider your budget.

Are you willing to save, to worry about the credit card bill next month, or to survive on pancake mix and water? If not, and you’re ballin’ out of control, proceed to the next section.

Off the rack guarantees us a product that fits well enough, with little to no wait time, its biggest advantage over bespoke. Bespoke may cost more but, if the garment is a suitable cut for the frame, you can see yourself wearing in five years time, then it’s money well spent.

Know that a good off the rack suit from a company like Suit Supply will run $400-700. Here, you’ll typically get a suit cut to  standard frame. That works if you are, more or less average build.

A made-to-measure suit from a mid-priced department store or clothier may hover at $1-2K. Here, you’ll get a suit to your specifications, based on preexisting brand models. The shop’s tailors will give you a suit to try on and tweak the measurements.

A true bespoke suit will run upwards of $4K. Here, you’ll have full control of every detail. The pattern is made from the dozens of measurements that are taken from your body. You will return for a few more fittings before the final product is complete.

Consider the options, because they’re all costly in one form or another.

Secondly, consider your primary motive for the suit.

What are you day-today duties? Will the suit be a two-day a week workhorse suit for the office or a special occasion, go-to navy suit? Navy is the most versatile option, so that’s off the list. Consider this when selecting a fabric, cut, lapel shape and the countless other options. A one button-peak lapel navy suit is decidedly more formal, and less versatile, that a notch lapel with two buttons. Know for what purpose you intend to wear this suit.

Thirdly, Research!

Look up reviews on local tailors, as well as examples of past work. A simple Google search should pull up decent results. This isn’t an area you want to simply choose a flashy, social-media savvy clothier. This is key, since a decent suit off the rack, that’s been altered well will look better than a shoddily produced made-to-measure suit. I can’t stress the importance of research. Going along with researching tailors, research the stylistic aesthetics that appeal to you. Do Often, what’s on the racks is a designer’ interpretation of what you should wear. When the onus on your, make sure you educate yourself on what’s best for you. That’s not always what you’ll currently find in department stores. Jackets with little construction may be popular but, less flattering on your frame. The same goes from lower trousers, plain front trousers.

 

 

The ‘Just’ Factor

A bad, appallingly bad precedent bordering on dangerous is set when just (an irritating adverb), continually creeps up as the primary excuse for employing minimum standards in dress. A common rationale I have often heard is: “the event or location isn’t important enough to warrant effort.” While this can apply to nearly any endeavor with which we choose to assign minimum effort, it is most troubling especially when you consider the enormous advantage of the opposite: that first appearance and its initial impact. We owe it to ourselves to present our best self as much, and as often, as we possibly can. I can’t emphasize that enough.  Because at some point appearance will make the difference, it is better to be prepared.

I don’t need official corroboration when I say appearance matters. It helps that countless studies conclude similarly. So I can say emphatically it is to your advantage to present your best self. There should never be a just moment. That’s not merely hyperbole, it’s better to give a damn than not. That excuse sinks us into complacency. Stop the convenient lie that more and more locations, and social circles lack the ambiance important enough for you to put forth minimum effort.

Where and when does the just end? I’m only meeting so and so…I’m just running to the store…I’m not trying to impress anyone. This is a dangerously slippery slope into the zone of the slovenly, self absorbed, Seinfeldian legend, George Constanza. Where, eventually, you may unconsciously adhere to a similar nonchalance in more than one aspect of life. The same sloppy appearance trickles into work, and social situations, none being important enough due to that  ill conceived rationalization.

Maturing, hopefully, is synonymous with learning and lessons being learned followed (or preceded) by many “ah ha” moments. One of my “ah ha” moments came unexpectedly and it was quite influential.

Following a long-needed haircut and a new tie, the executive editor at the newspaper where I worked, commented,  ‘now, you look the part’. A promotion followed shortly after. Now I can’t say that because I wore a nice tie and got I got a promotion. But it brought the right attention and I took note. Realization followed by action, that is what “ah ha” moments are supposed to do.

I’m reminded of a quote that’s attributed to the abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher, “Clothes and manners do not make the man; but, when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.”

It is not at all overwhelming or off putting as one may imagine. Make minor but important adjustments. All it takes it shifting one piece. Putting forth that extra bit of effort. The sandals are easier, but the loafers are more polished, if even for a weekend brunch. If we keep the notion of first impressions in the forefront, we’re better off.  To reach the next career level, public figures from politicians to rappers have undergone the requisite change, and for the better. In the world of upward mobility, there’s absolutely no room for the just factor.

In a contemporary society, image our first weapon. For any genuine shift in mindset, the just factor must be eliminated, in favor of a more advantageous option; straightening up.

 

 

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