Archives for October 2007

How Should Men of Style Dress for Halloween

Halloween is fast approaching and invitations to soirees are being pushed through many a door. It’s a festival that gives rise to an excuse for parties and celebrations, and many choose to enjoy the occasion by dressing up. Halloween themed parties concentrate on the spooky side of the festival; the references to literature and cinematic horror, the folklore and mysticism. I have attended few Halloween functions in recent years, but it made me wonder recently, how I would dress should I be invited to a costume party on the 31st of this month.

It is a party, and yes, dressing up is fun and is not meant to be taken too seriously. I would like to share with you why I believe despite the casual nature of such occasions, why and how I would devote time and thought to my appearance.

Choosing a character

Naturally, one of the main factors in your appearance is in deciding who you will attempt to impersonate. For the man interested in style, there will be restrictions. Firstly, as a style fan, I would not consider characters such as Frankenstein’s monster or the mummy of Imhotep. There is something lacking in their bearing and their garb for stylish men to take interest; something about the bolt and the bandages just does not seem to sit well with the well-dressed man.

Dracula is altogether a different proposition; the elegant Romanian aristocrat, wearing black from head to foot, is a wonderful, if not shamefully predictable choice, for the modish man of the metropolis. A truly stylish choice could be the Headless Horseman from Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It would be extremely difficult to walk with a covered head, but his costume would have been a late 18th century military one; very dashing.

A contemporary character to impersonate for the man of style might be Gomez Addams from the Addams Family. The dapper gentleman from the comedy series was frequently seen wearing a cravat, a velvet smoking jacket, or perhaps a natty striped suit, and had his dark hair slicked back. There was a feint air of the Count about him, but he was less of an animal than Dracula, and due to the comedic milieu of the Addams family, is probably easier to impersonate with a sardonic smile.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is perhaps a challenge because of the difficulty of presenting the duality. However, wearing a top-hat, an Inverness cape and a white shirt, white bow tie and white silk scarf, with some test tubes in the top pocket, some bright green make-up around the mouth to represent spillages of the potion, and perhaps some novelty red contact lenses may give your distinguished doctor the hint of a beast within.

Costume and make-up

A man of style should be interested in presenting the best possible version of his character; a little red make-up around the mouth and a black suit will not do. Study photographs of cinematic representations of the characters. Dracula never wore simple black tie. If any jacket is worn it has to be a long jacket. If you can manage it a tail-coat would be perfect. If not, wearing a cape or a black coat over one’s shoulders is the best thing.

Make special purchases if you wish, but it’s good to try and use as many things from your own wardrobe as possible. A scarf could double as a sash that could be worn from shoulder to hip, and a frilly-cuff shirt is unnecessary if you have a shirt that requires cuff-links – just leave them undone and voila, you have an 18th century look. The more period your look, the more genuine it seems and so adding a few vintage accessories, such as a lapel-pin, or an old medal will improve the outfit.

Caring For Your Clothes

Investing in a well-tailored and high quality wardrobe can be an exciting and rewarding experience. It can also make a big difference in your outlook on life and on yourself. Keeping that investment in great shape takes a little work but that effort will keep your clothes in runway shape for a long time.

While it does take some effort on your part, you’ll probably become one of those people that others point to and say, “wow, how does he always look so good?” Part of my interest in wardrobe maintenance is probably genetic. I’m a New Englander and our obsession with using stuff until it literally falls apart in your hands is well-documented.

New Englanders virtually invented the idea of “old money” and popularized the idea of cherishing clothes and heirlooms that, while showing wear and tear, still have a certain timeless appeal. Though the natural aging of fabric and leather and wearing down of cuffs and elbows are normal, it should be held off as long as possible.  Doing so allows your possessions to develop character and will help keep them around for years to come.

Here are a few basics that will help your cherished clothes last longer while still looking great.

Hang it up: Make an effort to keep your clothes clean and well-maintained. An easy and basic part of this something called the hanger; just use it. When you get home after a long day at work, change right away and hang up your clothes. Use wood hangers, untreated cedar are a good choice. Don’t crowd your closet. Garments need to breath and should have space to air out. Most wrinkles will work themselves out in between wearings.

More brushing, less dry cleaning:
Most suits and sport coats only need to be dry cleaned about once a year. Delicate fabrics and linens may need more attention, but on the whole regularly brushing your garments with a clothing brush will remove most dust and dirt. Spot cleaning can address many minor stains and help avoid unnecessary trips to the cleaners. If your suit is looking a little too lived in, go ahead and take it there, but only for a press. That will freshen it up without the damage of dry cleaning chemicals.

Shoe trees:  In addition to protecting your dress shoes’ leather by keeping them polished, make sure to always use shoe trees. There are many models, but the best are full-sized and made from untreated cedar. The shoe tree will absorb moisture and help maintain your shoe’s shape. Varnished trees are fine as well, in fact I’m always on the lookout for the kind you’re likely to find in Ralph Lauren’s closet.

Don’t wear the same pair of shoes day after day; they need to rest and dry out. At the end of the day, give your shoes a quick brush down, insert trees, and give them a few days off.  Should you get stuck in a rainstorm or have to tramp through snow, do not try to dry out your shoes quickly; it can permanently damage your fine footwear. Stuff them with newspaper, set them in a room temperature place and leave them alone. Change the paper if it gets damp but don’t rush the process. Also, make sure to brush off road salts or dirt immediately.

Launder with care:
When it comes to laundering your shirts at home, cold water is usually better. Iron on slightly cooler settings and lay off the starch. If you need to use it, starch only the cuffs, collars, and plackets; those areas that can get a little unruly. If you regularly send your shirts off to the cleaners, pass on the starch there as well. Commercial presses do a fine job of working out the wrinkles with extra chemicals.

Style Decade: The 1980s

The 1980s, the decade in which I came into this world, seems to be the decade everybody loves to hate. The music, most people will claim, was not music at all. The politicians were selfish, sleazy and corrupt, or so cynics say. Everything from the boxy, horrible cars to the vulgar greed culture is largely maligned as being representative of a decade of waste and ugliness that we should best learn from, and then try to forget.

It is also common wisdom that the 1980s were ten years of a style vacuum. Someone I know mentioned earlier on in the year; ‘Why is 1980s clothing suddenly fashionable? It was bad enough the first time round.’ When I was pondering this statement recently it got me to thinking about the oft forgotten benefits and high points of 1980s fashions.

For women it was an era in which outfits turned masculine. No one will forget the shoulder padded jackets, the trouser suits and the shorter hair styles; the Vogue covers presented less feminine women and it was certainly an era of male-inspired female empowerment. Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister was the figurehead for a generation of women who, in politics, work and even fashion seemed to live by the maxim: “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

The diverting change in women’s fashion was all too noticeable, and it is to that revolution that the 1980s owes its reputation in fashion. For men it was a little different. If the 1960s and 1970s represented a change in style from formal to informal, the 1980s represented a return to traditional styles.

Formality wasn’t the only thing that the 1980s encouraged, but also, a cultivated sobriety of dress. Whereas the previous decade had been about contemporary cuts of suit, with flared trousers and oversized lapels, the 1980s tailoring saw a return to classic shapes and straight leg trousers. After the gluttonous fat tie of the 1970s, the 1980s tie slimmed down drastically, and patterns were more subtle and classic; gone were the psychedelic kippers and in came slim stripes, polka dots and Hermes patterns.

Shirts no longer had absurdly large collars and the cutaway collar, one of the most formal, became popular again. Jeans, recently indigo and flared, returned to the straight and slim-fits in stone washes. If it weren’t for the difference in hair styles, it would be difficult to tell between a gent from 1985 and a gent from 2005; classicism is ageless.

There was the odd peculiarity in more casual dress; jumpers seemed to be oversized, and it was popular for one’s shirt to be baggy. However, the style of the film American Psycho, filmed in 2000, shows how in 1985 men were wearing clothing in a style which today would be considered Square Mile chic. White collared cornflower-blue shirts, Hermes ties and pinstripe suits; only the 1980s technology gave away the period.

If you want to relive that classic 1980s formality, look out for bold stripe shirts, narrow ties and braces. Conveniently, all this is available nearly everywhere. Now who would have thought that 80s materialism would eventually inspire recycling?

Shopping Vintage Clothing

I love using eBay. It’s such a wonderful world that has been opened up; the virtual portal into the salable leftovers of other peoples lives. Antiques, used picture frames, old toys and jewellery; the internet’s largest Aladdin’s cave is one of my favourite places to go for interesting and unique things.

It also reminds me of the ability of one person to see value in something that another has ceased to recognise as valuable. Vintage clothing for example is an area of second hand goods that is represented by a perfect economy of buyer and seller; used goods are sold by someone who views cash as a fair exchange. And the best thing about it? Nothing is thrown away and something is recycled.

There are limits to this Utopian market. Firstly, I would not advise the purchase of second-hand underwear. As ridiculous as the advice seems, it is illustrative of the sheer amount of unnecessary second-hand rubbish that people offer for sale.

Secondly, I would not advise the pursuit of assembling entirely vintage outfits. It can be costly and impractical to do this as it could take months of searching for appropriate pieces. I would advise, from a style point of view, to search the vintage market for pieces one cannot find in the ready-to-wear section of the high street. Vintage is, for example, a great alternative to expensive designer accessories and luxury goods. Standout accessory items like sunglasses and belts, especially if the belts are made using materials that are now contraband in manufacture, can be fantastic buys.

There are certain items, like vintage shoes, which I cannot advocate nor condemn; you should approach them on a case by case basis and always ask yourself what you expect from what you are buying.

Items available in vintage clothing shops are not junk. They are assessed for their wearability. I am interested in vintage ties and I rarely come across imperfect ties; they are simply worn with age, or are a little faded. This only adds to their character and charm.

Not every piece of vintage clothing is worth the money and the apparent ‘bargain’ of purchasing second-hand can be illusory when, in a week or so, the item begins to show the negative side of aging. However, if something is old and it’s still around, if it’s looked after properly, it’s likely to be around for some time yet. Compare what you find in your local vintage store or on eBay to what you can buy new in the shop; strict price comparisons are a little unfair, but it is well to know what is out there that competes with the second-hand product you are interested in.

Here is a short list of some of the best bargains to look for in vintage clothing.

1. Vintage suit

Suits that are made now for high-street shoppers are made cheaply and quickly and materials are not what they were. You can sometimes pick up a premium quality suit, in very good condition, from such illustrious outfitters as Gieves & Hawkes and Acquascutum for under £150. When you consider the workmanship, material and cut, the issue of whether to buy is a no-brainer. Even if the measure is a little out, it’s a suit worthy of a little tailoring.

2. Ties

I wear vintage ties all the time. On an auction website or in a vintage shop, they can cost as little as £4 or £5 and yet, the quality of the silk is always very high. I buy vintage because the high street has a shortage of ties of a narrower width in stripes and classic patterns. An old tie also has the stylish advantage of individualism; I never see anyone wearing anything like my tie.

3. Male jewellery

I’m not referring to unhygienic metal piercings. Cuff links, tie-pins, tie-clips and rings are the bejewelled accessories to which I allude. Vintage versions of these things are just, generally speaking, so much more elegant and stylish than cheap high-street options which are in some cases, when it comes to football tie-pins, novelty cuff links and tacky sovereign rings, genuinely depressing.

Finding a Shoe Shine in D.C.

Getting one’s shoes shined used to be a regular occurrence for most men. Back in the day of formal workplaces, suits, ties, and business shoes were the daily costume of every working man, from CEO to junior accountant. After decades of erosion, the very foundation of men’s business dress was on the verge of collapse until reason and style began to slowly regain a foothold in the boardroom. As dressing well makes a comeback so, thank goodness, does the shoe shine stand.

Getting your shine on is not only a welcome, albeit brief, respite in a busy day; it is a practical investment in preserving the longevity of your footwear.

Leather shoes are vulnerable creations. Water, salt, dirt, grime, and daily wear all conspire to soak, dry out, and eat away your shoes’ natural defenses. By giving your shoes what they need – a soapy cleaning, polish or crème, and wax – your shoes will pay you back in a glossy shine noticed by women with taste and men with an eye for detail.

Some places where the suit, or at least dressing to some standard of formality never died, the shoeshine remains a pattern of daily life. Washington, D.C., is one of those places. Shoes shine stands can be found in many hotels, restaurants, clubs, and those ubiquitous franchised operations that haunt airports everywhere. There are two shoe shines stands however, that stand out from the crowd. One is the savior of Amtrak commuters and the other buffs the shoes of power.

One of the best shines in D.C. can be found in the center of Union Station’s Amtrak train gates. The three elevated seats overlook the rear concourse, roped off in a small square close enough to the gates for travelers to keep an eye on the Acela Express. These guys do such a good job that a number of commuters from New York tell me that they wait until they get to Union Station for a shine! That says something; as Nicholas Antongiavanni points out in the current issue of Classic Style Magazine, there are dozens of excellent stand throughout New York.

Not too far away, in the basement of the Russell Senate office building is the Senate Hair Care. In so many ways this place is a throwback to the classic barber-shop –cum-clubhouse of the 1950’s. With the witty and talented staff working on the heads of senators, house members, Supreme Court justices, and everyday folks, there is almost always someone interesting wandering in or out of the place. The shoe shine stand is tucked up against the hallway which leads to the men and women who sculpt our fearless leaders’ coifs. While the shine itself is very good, the real the treat is to see who is waiting for a cut or a quick buff of their Brooks Brother’s tasseled loafers. The best part of all is that it’s open to the public; anyone is welcome. If you want to get a haircut, just make sure to call for an appointment as it can get pretty busy in there.