Judge Not?

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas

Grazing social media I’m repeatedly implored to reserve judgement on the Trump administration and Trump himself until some point in the future where presumably he’s accomplished enough to establish some sort of track record. Today it seems the Pope has lent his voice to this strategy as well. I cannot sufficiently express how goofy this is.

Just imagine applying this Wait And See technique to any other part of your life.

“This lasagna visibly has zip ties in it” Maybe it will be delicious!

“That bear looks hungry and is awfully close” Maybe it’s a man in bear suit her to deliver your lottery winnings!

With our limited mammalian gifts we move through the world essentially trying to predict the future through any means at our disposal. We choose our lunch, plan investments, and pick a route to work all doing our best to insure that we’ve made the wisest and most fruitful decision possible. This behavior is hardwired into us and our brains become repositories of example, instinct, and heuristic to serve us moment to moment as life unfolds.

Even if we weren’t talking about Donald Trump and his attendant human failings (and they could exhaust the Star Wars dawn scroll) we can fairly easily predict what kind of actions a person is going to take. People either express or obscure their motives, but they’re seldom so murky that we can’t, with modest research, assess intent. After all – people are generally rational actors and we need only gauge their rationality and identify their interests before we can draw a reasonable map to their future.

With Trump, however, we’re not talking about a subtle poker tell, after all, we’re talking about skin flaps in a suit shouting themselves hoarse on a podium with as precise a vocabulary as they can muster that they will dismantle a good portion of civilization and look so amazing doing it.

What does it take to really convince yourself that you have insufficient information at your disposal to prejudge Trump and what he might do? In the few years that he’s moved into the political domain, he’s been consistent in at least one way – that attention MUST be paid to him. In congratulating others, for example, it is only to highlight what a superb congratulator he is (did you know people say no one congratulates like him?). He’s made a cottage industry of expressing his identity in the crudest and least subtle methods available.

The fact is that we may well know his mind more completely than any political figure in the history of our country. We know this because he’s utterly incapable of the self control needed to erect any artifice beyond his bare id. We may have a wealth of Jefferson’s personal writings, but Jefferson was a towering intellect and could shroud his thoughts as they developed with a glamour of circumspection that may fall well short of total divulgence. In contrast, Trump writes and speaks (and may well think) at a 6th to 8th grade level and with each moment of exposure continues the same tawdry narrative that we’ve seen since his emergence in the 80s. We needn’t scratch our heads as to his core convictions. They have a lobby on 5th Avenue.

So while we can more than adequately claim to know who he is, we can’t really claim to know what he’ll do and this drives home the most chilling point as it relates to the Wait And See argument: we either know sufficiently (if not precisely) what the newly elected president will do or we have no idea what the newly elected president will do. Now just let the latter alternative sink in.

Previously we dealt with questions of how much a political actor could accomplish. This was the framework in which we operated. From the party platform, to the stump speeches to the hours of newsreel surrogacy, we were drawn a map and the only question was how far they’d be able to travel along the road before being thwarted or waylaid. With Trump we’re witnessing a journey through the interior of a likely syphilitic mind where thousands of flimsy anchors will be tossed out and retracted with little purchase in an attempt connect to a material reality that continues to move apace. We’re basically hiding under a blanket in the back seat of a car and the driver is playing chicken with nothing to lose. Ties to Russia, debt, failure, blackmail, and the variety of other facets of this man are all separate topics to the real kernel of selfish desperation at the core of his character and we need to stop thinking that, in the specious words of a noted creationist, a wind will sweep through a junk yard and assemble a 747.

Luxire

 

I couldn’t have predicted that with a near total collapse of interest in clothing since having a daughter that the next thing I’d yap about on the internet would be custom shirts. But dammit I like the whole Luxire experience.

 

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I’ve never gone in for custom clothing principally because I’m head-strong about what I like and I can’t imagine even a fairly anonymous custom tailor abdicating all editorial control over my britches. And it takes so damned long. And the expense always registered as a risk. And I put off haircuts for 3 weeks longer than I should because I don’t like sitting in the barber’s chair making conversation, so how could I possibly brook the babbling of a tailor?

Luxire feels less like custom and more like a sartorial buffet. I needn’t interact with anyone, I can choose to compile my garment any way I see fit, and the prices are low.

What finally got me over the hump – and I’m sure Luxire understands the potency of this option – was the “test shirt” for a mere $35. This was Macy’s pricing on the ability to sample a custom product and see if it lived up to my standards.

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Well it exceeded them. The fit and finish was superb, the measurements exact, and frankly their test shirt makes a lovely addition to my wardrobe. I simply took my favorite fitting shirt and transcribed the measurements. The only error was my own, in making the cuffs about .75″ too large.

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If you follow Luxire’s exploits on forums and social media you’ll see that they’ve reverse engineered some of the more famous details of other garments, including the Mercer collar. I admit that there’s something unsavory about this sort of copying, but I don’t think it’s hard to justify a collar roll as somewhat generic. In a sense Mercer stands out only in so far as other makers have abandoned their posts on many of these classic details.

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My plan at this point is to continue mapping out a purchase plan. I’ve already ordered my second shirt and am eagerly awaiting its shipment. It’s a pale blue end-on-end with a spread collar. Very basic. The first few shirts will be. But then I plan on some sillier stuff. I’m going for a broad sky blue butcher stripe linen pop-over with a neon orange monogram.

Anyways, it may be a while before I launch into some of their other offerings, but I can’t help but to be curious about some custom trousers or jackets.

To be continued.

TE

 

Been a while…

I haven’t attempted to tap out a long-form blog post for some time. Life’s busy, I’ve mostly retired from forums, and occasionally re-blogging a picture of a farm house or tweed jacket on Tumblr seems to convey my intentions out into the world sufficiently.

But in reality there’s been a lot going on.

I’ve gotten divorced and am getting remarried. I’ve had a daughter. I’ve learned to build furniture. I’ve moved from one part of New England to another.

There’s got to be something to talk about, no?

On Perfection

As is sometimes the case, my attempt to formulate a response to a post in a forum leads me to expand my thoughts. Since I hate reading multi-paragraph forum posts I figure it’s only polite to pen such essays elsewhere and point to them.

So the topic is perfection as it relates to the wardrobe. Spend enough time on forums for men’s dress and you’ll ultimately run up against questions of perfection as you seek to take on new clothes or dispose of old ones. The parameters developed in pursuit of the perfect fit seem to tighten like a noose as options disappear and entire brands, shops, and styles are culled from the running.

Back on the mothership someone’s wondering at the modes of shoulder construction and a few of us have offered our interpretation of our own perfect shoulders. The forum being genre specific the advice will likely trend in the same direction. A soft natural shoulder that’s defined American tailoring for decades. But even within that definition is enough debate to keep these discussions at a low boil year after year.

But rather than retry the J.Press case I thought I’d say a few words on what I’ve found in the clearing where the path ends.

Clothing is one of the few pursuits I consciously began. Unlike music, industrial design, architecture and other interests that were sort of always there, I decided that my clothes were awful and didn’t fit and most importantly didn’t project who I wanted to be. As a child of the baby boomers that brought about casual fridays I had no real role model in dressing and over 12 years of private school engenders more of a hatred of formal clothing than appreciation. So I was mostly t-shirt and jeans and bad ones at that.

What I assumed was that I would zero in on a style and develop a singular strategy around it. This started out as crisp black & grey suits with bright shirts and fat ties. That seemed to project a creative type of power that someone in design should have. And while the clothes fit alright and garnered some compliments, I was struck early on by a client who whose clothing was unremarkable in a way that blared like neon. It was my first real notice of the TNSIL style that I’d end up pursuing. The clothing looked comfortable and expensive. Every time I saw the client he was wearing something different, but always looked the same. His personality was one that was so modest that it almost contrasted with the facts as I knew them: he was moderately powerful and influential, fairly wealthy, and extremely intelligent. The clothing expressed perfectly the identity of someone engaged in real power rather than consumed by the appearance of perceived power.

I’m not using power in a Wall Street Movie or Cobra Commander sense. Maybe there’s a better word. But you know what I’m talking about.

There’s a John Mulaney joke that Donald Trump is what a Hobo thinks a rich guy should be. That’s how I see a lot of men’s formal dress. The TNSIL style never telegraphs that to me. It says “your tie can be as pink as you want, your knot can be a triple windsor, your shoes can shine like chrome and point like knives, but I run things sonny.”

So that’s where it started. But it would be years until things finally came together. It’s easy to pick a destination, but mapping out the path can be frustrating. There are very few professional salespeople left who have any idea what they’re doing so if you don’t have a personal role model you can forget flesh and blood humans as guides. You’re basically left with looking at other people and trying to figure out what they’re doing that you’re not. I have no idea what people did before the internet. Maybe they just sat in parks and gawked. Maybe the internet destroyed the livelihood of the professional salesperson.

The real battle lines are those of fit and construction. Since the great singularity of commoditization is nearly at hand I can only imagine that many of us have tread the same path. Mall stores are the first and often most familiar for suburban middle class guys. Brands are initially more important than fit because you can learn them in a few page flips in a magazine. So we work the malls. We find an Off 5th or Last Call and snatch up all of the designer goods that come close to fitting. There are a lot of french cuffs and strange belts. We look absurd.

Then we realize that brands are for douche bags and start to key it down a little. We find things online and maybe drive into the city. We find Barney’s CoOp. We find Thomas Pink. We feel slightly more elegant. Still nothing fits. Still we look absurd.

We’re probably already lurking on a fashion forum. Never posting pictures. Our questions, when we pluck up the courage to ask them, are as stupid as we look. We’re fierce and proud for no good reason.

But as we advance we start to acquire a little wisdom and humor. We can chuckle at the sordid enterprise. We can crack a wry smile as we explain to our spouse that “yes, I’m photographing myself for men on the internet.”

Around this time we’re confronted with fit and construction. They never mattered before. They couldn’t. It’s advanced theology. It’s the debate on transubstantiation to the WWJD bracelet. But we’re here. At the wall. Solemnly.

And so we have to define for ourselves what perfection is. Little Merkins all, we have to draw a line – to the quarter-inch – of where we stand on fit. Of what we will and won’t accept in the construction and origin of our clothes.

What I’ve found is that probabilities collapse as perfection approaches. I’m left with access to only a few styles by a few brands. I don’t know the measurements of these garments and unless a company goes bust or I have too many second helpings I’ll never have to again. I can just keep going to what are now suppliers and adding more into the mix. That’s not to say that there aren’t more options out there, but the hunt is over for this time and physique.

What I’m saying is that perfection is both highly personal and absolutely final. It’s why I’ve never been able to occupy the same headspace as thrifters. Though I appreciate the exercise and the frugality, you have to open up your tolerance to an unbearable degree. To have jackets in your closet whose sleeve length can vary by an inch? Some collars that gape and some that bubble? I don’t understand it.

TE

Belting Out The Hits

Shirts were my first love. I had over a dozen dress shirts in my closet before giving into the necessity of a second pair of pants. Whether shoes or ties came next it’s difficult to remember. Pants took a while. I can’t say why. Tailored goods, likely stemming from a scarcity in capital, were late, too. Though they probably still came before pants. Of course much of what I snagged in those early days wouldn’t stand up to my more seasoned sartorial palate, but the intent was there to do great work in the field of men’s dress.

So what was the last item of sartorial errata to beg my scholarship? It was one quite literally at the center of my wardrobe. Long after I’d come to understand the sacred proportions of a spread collar, the proper roll of a lapel, and the art of the trouser break, I was holding the whole affair together with what may as well have been mover’s straps.

Now this is not to say that I mastered every last nuance of every last article of clothing and accessory, but I had studied the various phyla of each item and had established some understanding of what made a good thing and a bad thing and what was a good thing for me and what wasn’t. So while the verdicts may remain in deliberation, ample evidence had at least been submitted in discovery.

The belt had always seemed neutral somehow. As though there was no ground it could gain or forfeit. I had simple brown leather straps with matte silver buckles, mostly rectangularish. I think I may even have had a ribbon belt. Maybe. But it just didn’t seem to matter. To this day I’m surprised by the pedestrian offerings at even the most hallowed menswear bastions, and this sort of weak tea may have been partially responsible for my early beliefs that belts were simply not fussed over.

All of that changed with this belt here. I can’t recall the precise genesis of the desire to own one of these “types” of belts. I don’t think that I had a fully formed understanding of the engine turned buckle and croc strap, though I may have seen the configuration and admired it. But I grabbed this from J.Crew and immediately things started to change.

The first major realization that struck me was that all of my belts, and most belts in general, were too thick. Like wristwatches, belts seem to have gained more muscular hardware and grown their straps to match. Looking back to images from Old Hollywood and Apparel Arts type prints there appears a lithe elegance in items like belts.

The 1″ belt became the absolute standard and I’ve yet to waver from it, though I’ve found myself considering a 3/4″ Tory job.

Even back then I knew that the strap that this buckle came with wasn’t nearly elegant enough. A quick Ask Jeeves (I assume that was the dominant search engine in 2007 or so) query and I found Beltmaster. $15 for a faux croc strap and I was off to the races.

Unlike some, my wardrobe doesn’t vary much from day to day. I work so much at a job I’ve held for so long that I always sort of look the same. My jackets are all soft and sack-like, my pants are generally jeans or worn-in chinos, and my shirts are poorly cared for dress shirts or OCBDs. So the belt often sets the tone more than any other items.

Another workhorse has been the woven belt. This is probably not the model I would have chosen, but after seeing it and grabbing it from Club Monaco I’ve had no reason to replace it or add any other woven belt. Likely never will. In fact, given this belt’s infamy on Tumblr I don’t think I could bear to part with it.

Descending in order of dressiness, the surcingle belt is awfully useful. For whatever reason I have yet to pick it up in the most celebrated color way: Navy w/ Red Stripe. All things in time…

There’s a lot of attention paid to the novelty buckle and while I wouldn’t turn down an oyster shell or crab claw, I wouldn’t really go our of my way to grab one either. They’re generally too distracting. I have one novelty belt, a silver horse-bit job from Ralph Lauren and it doesn’t get much wear. Usually I let it peak out from something. Otherwise it seems garish.

A minor digression on form as we head toward the conclusion. It’s generally said that you should use the middle hole of the belt for correct sizing. I don’t do this. Maybe it’s my challenging shape or the wiring starting to go, but I prefer a longer belt. It started when I got the woven deal from a few photos up. It was a 38″ waist (I’m a 33/34 depending on sammich intake levels) and usually wear a 34″ or 36″ belt. Initially I put it aside to take to my cobbler who’s done some great leatherwork to shorten, but I ended up wearing it a few times and found that I liked the extra belt and how it sort of flopped over. It gave it a little bit of character and since it was such a thin belt it didn’t seem burdensomely phallic.

So when I contacted Narragansett Leathers to check another key belt off my list I ordered a little extra length so that the bridle leather could soften and flop over like the woven. It’s already started with only 6 months or so of wear. I can’t wait for this belt to start to look like my Filson handles.

So as I’ll close the essay with a few more pictures riffing on the croc strap and buckle scenario. I eventually stepped up to the real deal sterling silver engine turned model:

But what has garnered much more attention since its web debut is the Sid Mashburn plain brass buckle. While I won’t be getting my initials etched into it, I’m certainly leaving my mark on it.

 Until next time.

Wider Days Ahead

The internet has been warning us for some time.

About a week ago this image popped up on my Tumblr feed. I don’t usually take notice of press photography from retail stores, but the chinos in the picture caught my attention. Having sustained an incredible homogeneity on the matter of fit for almost ten years, it appears that we may be seeing either a pendulum swing in another direction, or at least a blossom of variety in the landscape of #menswear.

Of course there are those who don’t partake in trends, such as the skinny khaki, but this is a boon for them, too. The wider leg, higher rise, and other attendant details of a classic pair of chinos had become so scarce that, like the sack coat, there were scarcely a handful of options and even fewer worth the spend. Now there’s at least one popular retailer offering a pretty good product at an average price-point.

The Rugby University Slim chino has been a favorite of mine for some time. With only 3-4 exceptions they account for the totality of my chino collection. The fit is flattering, the material is nicely textured and has a sturdy hand, and the hardware is a cut above (I can’t tolerate the plastic buttons that are the same color as the chino material). So for about 6-7 years (since I started actively dressing up) I’ve worn mostly slimmer fits. In fact, the overall attention to my silhouette has been the fundamental driver in getting my wardrobe put together. Here are some pictures of the University Slim in the type of outfit I wear most days:

Generally I’ve found the pants comfortable and have liked the way they fit and look. However, there have always been a few details that I’d change if possible. While the slim leg is flattering in certain ways, it can’t maintain a good leg line. Whenever I see photos of men in slim pants (chinos especially) that are not in some way popped or crumpled at the knee my assumption is that they have yet to sit or kneel in any way that day. Only standing perfectly erect can you avoid the inevitable knee pops clearly visible in the top two photos. Now they don’t bother me, and the few deep-brain itches I’ve suffered over the years have been fleeting and easily alleviated. After all, I like the way they taper and fall on the shoe and cope with my challenging physique.

So while I can’t foresee a wholesale move from slim to generous, I’m interested to put a few pair in the wardrobe. I had a pair of Bill’s M2 a few years back and despite liking the quality I just couldn’t figure out how to integrate them except for the occasional sweater day (they compliment a Shaggy Dog with aplomb). But as I’ve spent more time and money on the way I dress I’ve also become more of an enthusiast of clothing in general and have become more comfortable with the idea of outliers in the wardrobe even if they only come out a few times a year.

So when the purveyor of my current chino of choice decided to bring out an historically (mostly) accurate pair of wide leg chinos I figured they were worth a try. When I first saw pictures it appeared that they’d widened up the leg, but what I couldn’t have foreseen were the few additional details that Rugby added. The first thing that I noticed was the fabric and hardware. I have yet to be able to find a concise way of describing what I like in a good khaki material, but it’s something to do with a rough sturdy feel, a coloring that has character and will wear nicely, and a drape that’s unique to khakis (simultaneously soft and stiff?).

It’s also a button-fly, which I have a soft spot for. Someone else can speak to the historical significance or lack thereof. The buttons, as usual, are a higher quality than similar priced chinos. You can also see in the above picture that they have an excess of material and look much friendlier to tailoring than any other sub-$100 chinos I’ve seen. In fact, most, including Land’s End, are just stitched together in a rear seam. A nice detail, but not one that will immediately jump out to most buyers.

The fit remains compelling, but I’m keeping the tags on them for another few days.

Of course a wide leg isn’t unique. There are plenty of options from Dockers to Bill’s that feature a wide leg, but what makes these fundamentally different (to my knowledge at least) is that they’re a mainstream chino with a very high rise. In the first picture in the above series the waist band is running right across my navel and the leg drapes from there. Most of the wider leg chinos, including L.L.Bean, J.Crew, & Lands End are all lower rise, if not as low as their slimmer counterparts.

So the jury is still out on these pants and a leg this wide in general. I think it’s safe to say, however, that once some branch of the Ralph Lauren empire begins to push an agenda it will see fairly wide adoption in short order.

Any which way but right

As the internet continues to animate to the exploration of the full polyverse of clothing and fashion, brands seem to respond schizophrenically to the new stimulus. The result has been new brands, forged in the crucible of #menswear, with deep focus and passion as well as established brands going to absolute pieces as though they never knew how to make a buck to begin with.

Brooks Brothers is aping Ralph Lauren’s Rugby line, J.Press is collaborating itself into tizzy, and L.L.Bean has taken itself out for a walk. For all the time, money, and effort lavished on the innovation of these and other storied brands, the one thing that seems never to have been considered was simply to make their clothes better. It shows a fundamental misreading of exactly what’s been going on with all these enthusiasts and their bloggodollars.

Taking a few cases, we look at a brand like L.L.Bean which seems to have a legacy as sterling as any in American history. Their greatest hits almost completely define the categories in which they compete. Their duck boots are unrivaled in outdoor footwear. Barn coats, camp mocs, flannel shirts, chamois cloth shirts… the list goes on and on. So you’d think that L.L.Bean would see that they were sitting directly in the path of a resurgence in rugged and practical American clothing and simply run around the shop polishing things up before swinging the doors wide to accept the deluge.

You’d be wrong.

The changes to the main line merchandise have thus far continued on the depressing course of reductions in quality, outsourcing, and the relentless application of the wrinkle-free chemical scourge. They are now the hemisphere’s premier purveyor of large square Chinese plastic shirts. From Maine. Instead of addressing what can only be interpreted as the systematic gutting of their core product line, they leapt into left field with their Signature line which squandered the lion’s share of its promise almost immediately when it was discovered that not only were the clothes less than inspirational, but they were priced at a laughable premium over L.L.Bean’s traditional offerings and made almost entirely overseas.

One has to wonder if there were dissenting voices that thought that the best way to capitalize on the back-to-landers was not to curate a kabuki theater of shrunken corduroy separates,  but to systematically raise the levels of quality, tweak the fit, and reassess the sourcing of their core offerings so that when someone who’d never owned a chamois cloth shirt or a Norwegian sweater finally made their way to an L.L.Bean to experience one in the flesh they didn’t wander right back out wondering what the hell the big deal was.

As for Brooks Brothers, they’re creeping around malls and internet tubes with an “ask me about my relevant offerings” t-shirt on. They’re snugging up their fits, painting repp stripes on the insides of Wayfarers, and making shirts for the types of people who run on Dunkin’.

Many of us have already resigned ourselves to prospect that their US made oxford shirts will one day vanish quietly like a convalescing ancestor or, more disturbingly, fall victim to some sinister innovation (as they have in the past when the collar construction was altered or the slim-fit “extrafied”).

But what’s compelled me to pull the tarp off this blog and actually write something wasn’t Brooks or Bean or even Land’s End, but J.Press who seemed small enough to avoid the sort of shameful pulling of faces demanded necessitated by larger companies. When speaking to the internet this morning I was disturbed to find that #menswear darlings Shimon & Ariel Ovadia are designing a collaboration with Press for next spring.

It’s certainly possible that these brands are more successful than I think, but I think that the argument could be made that the cost of rehabilitating the core brand is generally a better prospect than trying to spawn a sub-brand or suck the blood of someone whose career is ascendant and brand is in focus. Why bother trying to stand on the shoulders of giants if you’re already a giant?

I remember first conquering my intimidation and going into Brooks Brothers to buy some shirts and pants for work. I got the shirts monogrammed like Sam Seaborn’s from the West Wing because it just felt like this is where serious people go to buy clothes. Getting that giant rectangular receipt dropped into the dark blue bag made me feel like I’d been somewhere and spending more than twice what I’d ever spent on similar type clothing felt like the smartest money I’d ever parted with.

Now going into Brooks Brothers hardly feels special. You have to wade through so many giant patches and logos that it feels more like a factory outlet than a gentleman’s club. They even use rolls of receipt paper now. I’m not old enough to have clocked several decades with the brand, but if in the 10+ years I’ve been shopping there registers such a decline, I can only imagine the involuntary head shaking and face-palming that must grip longer standing clientele when they see what’s happened.

Bean could have saved the whole expense of developing the signature line and figured out how to dial the clock back 20 years or so to better materials, less chemical innovation, and local sourcing. I know more people who splurge on Filson gear and have it tailored than would buy Signature on sale.

The point that these companies have missed is that these new designers, companies, and brands are trading on their own authentic visions of what their industry should look like. They haven’t learned the art of growing margins or gotten big enough to have their equity extracted by speculators. They still have to put in the hours, and more importantly still want to. There’s something in truly great clothing brands (and brands in general I suppose) that makes you feel like you can trust them because there’s somebody at the helm that would rather shut the damn thing down than put out a poor product. There’s a Ralph or a Sid or a Thom whose pride would be personally injured if something slipped out the door with their name sewn onto it that didn’t impress the bejesus out of whoever was lucky enough to buy it. No amount of brand science can recapture that once it bolts. You can smell the lack of given shits on Brooks Brothers shirt stacks at Nordstrom or inside a sport coat with alpha sizing.

I want a store like the Brooks Brothers I went into when I was still in college. I want to buy serious clothing from serious places. I want to buy practical clothing from practical places. I just want a thing. Not an inspiration of a reinterpretation of a derivation of a thing.