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Accessorizing Your Way Out
One of the most common mistakes men make when trying to dress well is believing that all their outfit needs is something to make it “pop.” I imagine what happens is this: a man looks at himself in the morning, doesn’t like what he sees, and thinks what could make him look better is a more “original” tie. The new tie unfortunately doesn’t do anything, so he puts some knick-knack into his jacket’s lapel hole. That again doesn’t solve anything, so he swaps out his leather watchband for NATO strap. Still unsatisfied, he puts on a bracelet, a scarf, a funkier belt, an unusual hat, and then stuffs a smoking pipe into his jacket’s breast pocket for final effect. At that point, he runs out of accessories, so he leaves to face the day.
The problem with this is that it ignores why the ensemble was unsatisfying in the first place. Nine times out of ten, it’s because his clothes don’t fit well, and they won’t fit any better just because there are a dozen accessories layered over them. Maybe they’ll distract the viewer from the ill-fitting clothes, but not to any positive effect.
If your clothes fit well, you can dress quite simply. Matt Damon, who played the main character in The Talented Mr. Ripley, demonstrates this in the photo above. The original French version of that film, Purple Noon, also had men in very simple outfits, but still looking quite sharp. With a pair of trousers, shoes, socks, and just a basic shirt – so long as the fit is impeccable – you will look good.
This is not to say that unusual accessories can’t sometimes add character. Indeed, they can. But it’s a mistake to look at photos online or in magazines and think that what makes any particular man look good is a bracelet or some piece of bauble. On the contrary, those are just icings on the cake (the rake?). At the foundation, these men look good because their clothes fit well, and unless yours do too, there is no accessory that will change that fact. In other words, you can’t accessorize your way out of a bad fit.
Which is why, if you’re just starting to build a wardrobe, you should focus on the best fitting basics you can. A perfectly fitting navy sport coat will be better than five in the closet that are slightly off. That navy jacket can be worn multiple times a week without anyone noticing, and the resulting outfits can be made to look different by relying on a very minimal neckwear collection. Similarly, a pair of chinos, jeans, and two grey wool trousers can be relied upon multiple times a week, but they must fit excellently. Spending as much as you can on just three to five pairs of pants will be smarter than having fifteen that are too slim or baggy for your build. Fit is the first requirement; stylistic details and accessories come after.
wool silk boucle
Proper Garment Care
Buying high quality garments, with the assumption that they’re built to last, only means something if you know how to take proper care of your clothes. Stuffing them into overcrowded closets or sending them off to bad dry cleaners will shorten their life considerably. Fortunately, taking care of your clothes doesn’t require much work. You can accomplish it with just a few minutes a day.
For suits and sport coats, dry cleaning twice a year should be sufficient for anything that’s only worn once or twice a week. Sending it in more often than that will shorten the life and ruin the look of a jacket. That’s because most dry cleaners use harsh chemicals and give hard pressings. You can, of course, use a high-quality cleaner that doesn’t employ such methods, but those will cost you more money.
For every day care, brush the dirt out with a soft bristled garment brush. This will prevent them from getting deep into the fabric, where friction can damage the fibers. It’ll also knock out any food bits that may attract moths. You can buy garment brushes from Kent, though sometimes slightly imperfect ones can be had for a bit cheaper on eBay. For something truly nice, Linkson Jack has some brushes backed with oxhorn.
To begin brushing, wipe down any large, unfinished wooden table, and lay your garment down on the surface. A polished table may be too slippery, so if you only have one of those, put your garment on a blanket or strip of felt so it won’t slide about. If this doesn’t work, you can also brush your garment while it’s on a hanger (though I find it’s harder to really bring some pressure to bear on the brush this way). While brushing, use short flicks of the wrist and always brush in the same direction. Never, ever scrub. You can first brush against the nap to remove any dirt, and then down the nap for a smooth finish. Some people even recommend dampening the brush with some water first for a bit of a freshening up, though I’ve never found the need to do this.
For wrinkles, you can let your jackets hang for a day or two. Heavy wools and linens should naturally relax over time. If you still need to sharpen them up, try using a garment steamer, but be careful to stay away from the seams and don’t go too wild with the device. Otherwise, you can ruin the stitching and take out the shape. Afterwards, hang your jacket on a hanger with flared shoulders. The Hanger Project makes the nicest ones I know of. The width and curvature of their shoulders most closely imitate a man’s natural shoulders, which is what you want. If you can’t afford them, however, Wooden Hanger USA sells some very nice options starting at $7.
If your jackets are finely constructed, you may also want to send them in for a hand press once a year or so. This will help restore their shape, which is often what gives a suit its flattering silhouette. Note, a hand press is different from a machine press. Most places will offer the second, even if they advertise it as the first. Machine presses take shape out; hand presses put shape in. If you can’t find someone in your area who can give you this service, you can send your jackets to Rave Fabricare.
For trousers, I recommend a similar treatment. Wools and linens go to the dry cleaner, though perhaps a bit more frequently than jackets need to since they tend to get dirty quicker. Still, we’re only talking about three or four times a year. You can brush out most of the dirt each day with a garment brush. Casual cotton chinos can be machine washed, though I also send my nicer, dressier cotton trousers to the dry cleaner. That includes dress chinos, moleskins, and corduroys.
For sweaters, some cotton sweatshirts can be machine washed, but most sweaters will be better served by an at-home hand wash. This is a rather simple process, and Jesse covered the how-to two years ago in this post.
For shirts, pre-treat any stained collars and cuffs with Octagon Bar Soap. Soak your shirt in some water, rub the soap in, and scrub with a fingernail brush. Repeat until you see the dirt rings start fading. Then roll up your wet, soapy shirt and leave it overnight in a plastic bag so that it remains moist. The next day, just launder as usual. Alex Kabbaz, one of America’s best custom shirt makers, recommends Tide’s Unscented Original. I use Ecover, and mix in some Oxiclean if my shirts are extra dirty (as per Jesse’s recommendation). To protect the mother of pearl buttons, I sometimes button my shirts and turn them inside out.
For machine washes, you should always try to use the cold water, gentle cycle, but if you really need to treat stains, hot water for whites and warm water for light colors is often acceptable. Dark colors, however, should always be washed with cold water. After the wash, I strongly recommend hang drying. Machine dryers can take the humidity out of your fabrics, leaving them dull and brittle, which will eventually give them a premature worn-out appearance.
As always, make sure you always consult your garment’s care label for more instructions. They’ll usually at least tell you the bare minimum you have to adhere to.
(Photo from The Trad)
Real People: Colorful Dressing
As part of an ongoing series, Put This On will be featuring real men with great style.
I first noticed Ingemar from Sweden when he posted a photo of himself wearing a pair of headphones from UrbanEars that were covered in Harris Tweed fabric, which I thought was a rather unique use of the material.
But once I checked out his Pinterest page, I really enjoyed his sense of style that injected color into his wardrobe of tweeds and heavier wools. His use of layering with colorful waistcoats and v-necks to provide contrast to his jackets reoccurs many times and I think it’s a great technique. Framing the complimentary color with the jacket provides a pleasing visual counterbalance.
Sometimes, I find color distracting, but Ingemar does a fantastic job of bringing a cheerfulness to his outfits with it that doesn’t overreach.
Swag So Cold
Cold weather dressing done right.
At my office Christmas Party - 2012.
Suit and Shirt by Sisley.
Pocket Square by Drake’s London.
Time Piece by Techno Marine.
Timothy Quinn. In Haberdash.
More style work. Shout out to Ford models.
Suit and Overcoat by LBM 1911
Shirt by Gitman Bros.
Tie and Pocket Square by Altea.
Scarf by Drake’s.
Ivy League Style in 25 Items Or Less
There’s a lovely new book called Ivy Style based on the Ivy Style exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I’ve been reading it, and besides the glorious illustrations and vintage advertisements featured throughout, one of the things that struck me was G. Bruce Boyer’s description of a college wardrobe in the Ivy era. What’s remarkable about it is that with some very modest tweaks (white bucks aren’t exactly standard issue these days), it could fly for most young men even today, fifty years later.
Six shirts, three white and three blue, and two or three pair of khakis would do the job. In cooler weather, a Shetland crewneck sweater in any color was added. A pair of brown penny loafers and white tennis sneakers (possibly a pair of white or tan buckskin oxfords) constituted the acceptable range of footwear. For outerwear, a cotton gabardine balmacaan raincoat (always tan), and a stout duffel coat (in tan or navy) were all that were needed, although many men also had a cotton gab golf jacket, also in tan… everyone had a tweed sports jacket (Harris or Shetland) and/or a navy single-breasted blazer for semi-dress, and a gray flannel suit for dress. Summer semi-formality was assured with a seersucker or tan poplin suit, some had madras sports jackets, for the more formal occasions a dark gray or navy tropical worsted suit. A half-dozen ties (regimentals, foulards or dots), and the necessary compliment of underwear, socks, pajamas and handkerchiefs filled out the basics.
That’s a pretty solid capsule wardrobe. Sadly, no crazy boating blazers, beer suits or raccoon coats.
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