Archives for 2007

Wearing Cargo Pants For a Grown Up Look

I recently had to accept a difficult truth about myself; I’m a grown up. Not that I am one of those late thirty-something guys who actually think they are still 22. You know the ones – always talking about college and how great it was, best time of their life, king of the party, etc. They don’t want to get on with life and eventually start looking a little sad. I’m not saying that life shouldn’t be fun, and for the record I had some great college years, but that was a while ago and my current life is pretty darn good too.

No, my reality check came in the form of a pair of cargo pants. I saw them on the sale rack at J. Crew and instinctively reached in. They were very cool; kind of beat up and baggy with big leg pockets and a vintage military feel. I took them to the dressing room, tried them on and that was when it happened.

They looked wrong on me. Not that the pants were wrong, they were great; fit very well actually. No, they just didn’t work on me. A month ago maybe, but not now. They were meant for someone younger, hipper; someone who is in college and doesn’t have to dress for an office. They were made for that guy and I had just realized that he was not me. Nope, apparently I’m an adult.

As it turns out, I already had the solution at home. Several years ago, my wife gave me a pair of L.L. Bean cargo pants for Christmas. At the time I didn’t fully appreciate them, they were a little too grown up looking. No ties at the ankles like military pants, the leg pockets were functional but trim and they looked more like khakis than adventure wear. Now I wear them regularly; how times change.

This prompted me to sit down and think about what makes a good pair of grown up cargo pants. This is no small issue. If there is any one article of clothing that screams youth, it is the cargo pant. Inherently casual, designers are increasingly filling them with extraneous pockets, ties and other doodads.

It may take a little effort, but more refined versions are out there to discover. If you are going for a more grown up look, maybe even for a casual work outfit, avoid overly military inspired designs. There is really no good way to dress these up. Look for more of a safari style; these tend to be leaner, more function than flashy. Keep the leg pockets on the smaller side and avoid ankle ties.

Your pants should have a more polished appearance and work well with a range of tops from summer polo shirts to fall sweaters. Some designers like Ralph Lauren make dress versions of cargo pants in nice flannels, Loro Piana corduroy, and even Harris Tweed.

As I happily discovered, there is life after you outgrow your baggy, laid back and often dirty university wardrobe. Being an adult does not relegate you to the life of the man in the grey flannel suit. Rather, it opens up new options to reinterpret your youthful wardrobe through a different set of eyes.

3 Versatile Man Bags

It is with much pride and happiness that I feel I am finally able to announce that the debate on man bags (also known affectionately as a “murse”) has concluded and their acceptability is no longer of contention.  It is almost impossible to walk down the street in New York without seeing at least one man carrying some sort of version of the man bag, now a necessity for all of modern living’s impedimenta.

With the legitimacy of the man bag now firmly acknowledged by almost all, men are beginning to look beyond the traditional messenger bag for both more practical and stylish options. Here are some different styles to keep an eye out for when making your next purchase.

Andrew Marc (on sale: $319)

Don’t let the title of “weekender” bag here fool you. Most likely, it would be much too small for even the most Spartan of packers, likely unable to fit more than a day’s change of clothing, let alone the other things necessary for a weekend excursion. Instead, this bag from Andrew Marc, as well as others, has been proliferating all throughout New York as the bag form of choice for the modern gentleman. Because of its unmistakably masculine appearance, it is not easily confused for a women’s bag. At the same time, it is still both sophisticated and attractive and is thus a great option for a daily bag around town. I prefer bags like this because the pockets and compartments that are normally lacking on messenger bags aid you in being better organized, which saves you all the trouble of digging around through your stuff until you find your vibrating cell phone at the absolute bottom of everything. 

Dolce and Gabbana ($520)

The problem I have with most messenger bags is that the plain canvas bags are so ubiquitous that they become a turn-off. This incarnation from Dolce and Gabbana is exciting in its contrast to other banal messenger bags available from retailers like Manhattan Portage. The distressed leather flap and “antique” brass hardware make it stand out as a refined bag, well adept for expressing your individuality.

Gucci ($1,436)

The shape of this bag, from Gucci reminds me vaguely of a traditional doctor’s bag. In reality, I would classify it as a briefcase-hybrid since if it were not for the bag’s expanding shape at the bottom, it would essentially be a soft briefcase. The bag’s roomy interior and larger size allow for it to be easily converted to carrying files to and from the office. At the same time, the bag is casual enough for even weekend use, making any outfit more sophisticated. It is also possibly the most perfect manifestation of what a piece of carry-on luggage should be in terms of proportion and style.

Guide to Clothes Sales Shopping

Along with champagne, Auld Lang Syne, countdowns and resolutions, there is one year-end tradition that is known and loved: the sales. Yes, try as they might to make people purchase throughout the year through multi million-pound marketing and try as they might to make fashion more affordable for everyone, the fact is that the populous loves cut price goods. It’s a matter of self-satisfaction. It’s rather like cheating the system in a legitimate way and people are prepared to put up with extraordinary queues, imperfect goods, incredible rudeness, frustration and no end of temporary misery to hold their purchase high when they are warmly ensconced in their own homes once more, like a trophy kill from the day’s battle.

There is certainly much to recommend sales. However, price reductions have a marked effect on even self-professed ‘rational’ purchasers; they can make them buy things they never even wanted. When the price to pay is so little, and the possible use to gain is so great, you might think buying six or seven things, which you had no notion of considering an hour beforehand, harmless. You might be looking forward to a hefty Christmas bonus. Generous relatives might have lavished cash on you for a secure New Year. However, even those with money to burn can waste resources on unwanted items. Here is some field advice when entering the sales battleground.

Know what you want

It’s very important to set yourself targets when sale shopping. As with all target-setting, it’s wise to be realistic; don’t expect to find exquisite suits for £50. Imagine the worst case scenario vis-à-vis price and you are likely to be pleasantly surprised. Secondly, be open to alternatives. You’re likely to be very disappointed if you set out to find a few coveted items only to find the sizes are inappropriate or they have simply sold out, so if you’re looking for, as an example, skinny grey denim, do some research. Pencil in visiting several contending shops for the item, and you’re more likely to strike it lucky.

Don’t wait too long

Reductions: we get them, but then we want more. It’s a very risky game waiting until the latter half of the sale period, hoping the jacket we’ve seen will be reduced further and will still be available in our size. I’ve learned my lesson on this score. In the end, just to save a measly £20, I missed out on a wonderful blazer, with a very individual pattern, that I could have bought at a, retrospectively, very reasonable discount. If it’s smart and classic, and your size is common, do not wait; you are likely to be disappointed.

What to buy/not to buy

I could fill an entire wardrobe with items I have rarely worn because their appeal did not last beyond a couple of months. Very ‘trendy’ items, with little substance, are generally a waste of money in the sale period. The best items to choose are the standards; two-button jackets, classically shaped denim, ties, shirts and underwear. Suits are also great purchases come sale time, and it’s sad when I see wonderfully cut suits densely piled onto creaking racks in unpopular and uncared for retailers.
A suit that cost £500+ new, if it fits well enough (it can always be altered a little), if it’s reduced by up to 50%, is an absolute steal and yet I see masses of the things come late January, still there, dusty, being offered at a price cut of 75%. A suit, properly made, will never go out of fashion and buy a good enough model and it should last you a good number of years.

Another good purchase is footwear. Well-made shoes are costly, and most specialised shoe shops will not offer reductions at any other time of year than mid-summer and January. Expect reductions to remain fairly rigid, but comparatively generous; spending £175 on £250 shoes is money very well spent.

Avoid budgeting

Though prima facie, this looks like terrible advice, what I actually mean is, do not set out to spend all the money you have set aside for the sales. If there is some dosh left over, and you haven’t found something else you really want, avoid wasting it on an irrelevance. It’s far better to save it, and add it to next month’s clothing or grooming budget and buy something you really need instead.

Preppy Style v. Classic Style

Today I want to broach an interesting subject – at least interesting to me. Some while back I ran across the following question: what is the difference between preppy style and classic style?

At first I thought, “Well, that’s pretty easy…” Then I tried to talk it out and realized that actually the line is finer than at first glance. While classic style and preppy style both have the same general source – traditional New England “Ivy League” influences – the primary difference can be best described as attitude.

Where classic style is polished, neat, even orderly, preppy style is coastline casual. The preppy ethos, best inscribed in the 1980 classic “The Official Preppy Handbook,” is refined irreverence. Preppys essentially seek to bring down the formality of their real or imagined prep school sartorial codes while keeping them intact.

They do things like layer an iconic blue blazer – the very symbol of proper decorum – under the proletariat functionality of a foul weather slicker. Why? Because they like to sail of course; and if you’re one of them you’ll understand the irony. Then you’ll also discover you have the same alma mater and go have a G&T at the club.

That, in its essence is the core of the preppy persona: democratized privilege. Let others know you are special, a little blue blooded, but don’t be tacky about it.

On a personal note, this is where I think so many people go wrong with the style today. With the abundance of corduroy, tartans, tweed and waxed canvas, most folks just seem to lose their head. Top to bottom “prepped out” looks silly. As with most fashions, trying too hard makes you look sad, not cool.

Well, if that’s my version of preppy than you might think my idea of classic style is less about Martha’s Vineyard and more like lounging Harry’s Bar (the one in Venice, not the one in Paris). Not quite, let’s try Gramercy Tavern; classy and polished but not too snooty.

I make the distinction because when we talk about dressing classically, it is easy to drift into a discussion on formality. While the two are compatible to me they are mutually exclusive: a bespoke suit is certainly classic, but you needn’t wear a bespoke suit to dress classically.

Classic style also does not hold itself to a particular psychological place like preppy’s clubby-old-school-cum-windswept-sports world. Classic style is more of an approach to dressing.

When I think of classic style I immediately envision men like Hugh Grant, George Clooney and the all-time Mr. Classic, Gary Cooper (apologies to J. Hackett). These gentlemen are great examples of defining a sense of individuality within the context of classic dress.

Clean lines and traditional bones define the classic outfit. Other keystones include excellent fit, earth tones and complementary color palettes, trim rather than loose silhouettes, and a certain degree of simplicity. No ties with sailboats scattered all over and maybe a charcoal turtleneck instead of lumpy fisherman’s sweater.

While the two styles share common roots, there are differences. Understanding those differences will give you a better handle on getting dressed in the morning.

Classic looks will make you feel urbane and polished; ready for a martini at the bar or a drive to the country in your vintage Bugatti. Preppy will have you out in the bay in a 48 foot Hinckley, hauling in the lines and admiring the new tear in your khakis – just what you wanted.

The Joy of Mixing

One thing I cannot, quite literally, stomach is mixing my food. Munching on a spicy chicken wing after a chocolate sponge pudding makes the tummy turn. I can’t abide boiling hot drinks on a summer’s day, heavy reds with fish or any other contradictory companionship as far as foodstuffs is concerned. I like order with comestibles; steak with béarnaise sauce, fish and chips, bacon and eggs.

However, my taste for order and being bound by accepted principles does not extend to clothing. It’s true that I like tradition, and I applaud perfectly sympathetic combinations, but I have a curious appreciation for mixing clothing styles. It’s tricky making such a statement as a reader may very well believe I am an admirer of extremism in this regard; hard-hats and steel-toe boots with crisp pinstripes and wot-not. This sort of experiment just leaves me cold.

What I do like, and find pleasure in seeing, is the clever, and often unintentional, mixture of clothing of different eras. Imagine if you will a gentleman dressed in a 1930s double breasted suit with a 1960s multicolour Missoni jumper and scarf. The staid suit may belong with a cream flannel shirt and knitted tie, but it’s perfectly happy with the psychedelic knitwear. It’s like an energetic remix of a big-band number or another of those twists on the martini: the original is irreplaceable but open to experimentation.

Not all experimentation works. And throwing ‘conservative’ and ‘wacky’ together doesn’t always produce the ‘accidental-genius’ effect. However, I think it’s brave to try as the look, when refined, can be marvellous. The reason for this? The glorious pleasure of the unexpected. People expect bow-ties with tweed, waistcoats and punch-caps not with skinny denim, track jackets and boots. Some may be offended by the mixture; however, combining traditional and contemporary keeps the classics looking fresh and ever appealing.

One of the key things to concentrate on when mixing is balance. As with the Missoni jumper, choosing a classic fabric for the suit rather than an unusual one will set the knitwear off wonderfully. Likewise with footwear, be cautious. Boots have to be artfully worn with smart suits to not appear ridiculous, so it is better choosing retro plimsolls and classic tennis shoes. A further piece of advice on balance is not to overdo it. One or two ‘clashes’ are sufficient.

Another good tip is to mix clothes of contrasting formality. An old grey flannel two-button jacket is a great companion to a classic white shirt, but for spring and summer, switch this to a slim-fit polo shirt for a great contrast. Likewise, when the cold wind blows in winter, smart scarves look swell with your pinstripes there’s no doubt, however, throwing in a long, untidy woven scarf keeps your look youthful and playful. Silk scarves can be used with more casual outfits such as plimsolls and denim. The Kaiser Chiefs are famous for this look; the dishevelled-but-rather- aristocratic-looking rocker.

In my opinion, it’s all fair game and you’re far better off mixing things up and reinventing your own style. If you feel timid, comfort yourself with the thought that thousands upon thousands of boring and unfortunate people buy and wear what they’re told to, when they’re told to. Live autonomously and make jazz of your wardrobe.