Archives for August 2008

Men’s Ex – In a League of Its Own

Before a recent trip to visit a friend, while waiting for my flight to board, I decided to pick up the latest issue of GQ magazine, my first in almost five years, and was appalled by what I read. Apparently, a lad named Shia LaBeouf in an interview confessed that he used to crap in his pants until he was 12 years old. Did I just read this? Really? In GQ? As I continued to read on the plane, it became apparent that GQ had deteriorated into a fashion equivalent of MTV: a fashion magazine without the fashion. Page after page of sponsor driven drivel on topics I could care less about, and more importantly, with almost no pictorials.

Thirty thousand feet up in the air, I began to panic. I wanted to be taken back to that happy place when I was a little kid staring at my coloring books. I wanted to see pictures! It was also then that I inadvertently discovered how much I have longed for a magazine that spoke to my inner child and showed me nothing but pictorials of clothing and allowed me to decide whether I liked the fit of the jacket or the combination of a tie and a shirt. Fortunately, with the help of my fellow pundits at Style Forum, that magazine exists and I found it! Let me introduce you to Men’s Ex.

This Japanese magazine with the motto “Nice Look Nice Life!” is one of a handful Asian fashion magazines slowly gaining popularity in the United States. Yet, what makes Men’s Ex different from the likes of Zino, Leon, and Uomo, is its emphasis is on high end Italian clothing with immaculate emphasis on detail. Roughly ninety percent of this two hundred page magazine consists of photos of clothes, with brands like Ermenegildo Zegna, Brunello Cucinelli, Cesare Attolini, and Kiton featured in almost every issue.  The other roughly ten percent is dedicated to cars, food and men’s lifestyle.

Men’s Ex is presented in a rather simple format. The magazine is divided into multi-page sections on suits, jackets, shirts, ties, shoes, bags, watches, combinations thereof, and other accessories, just to name a few. Often, there is a side by side comparison of brands. For example, in the March 2008 issue, there is a side by side comparison of Boglioli and Rafaelo Caruso suits, Isaia and Belvest suits, and Kiton and Cesare Attolini suits. In addition, in every issue, there is a section that deals with picking the right color combination to accompany shirts, ties, and suits.

Every time I get my hands on a new issue of Men’s Ex, I spend hours browsing through it. Months later, I keep coming back for more. Simply put, there is nothing quite like Men’s Ex on the domestic market and my inability to speak Japanese is not a handicap because the brand names are in English. Moreover, the fact that the magazine is in Japanese works to my advantage, as it makes me pay closer attention to detail. In addition, since Men’s Ex is oriented toward the Asian market, there are brands that American consumers are not familiar with, like Mark Bladog shoes, Albertelli shirts, or Stefanomano bags, just to name a few. Hence, reading Men’s Ex is also educational, leading to further discovery of new, interesting brands.

My only slight complaint about Men’s Ex is how difficult it is to get a copy in Florida. If you live in a metropolitan city with a large Asian population, many Asian convenience stores will carry Men’s Ex, but be prepared to pay as little as $8 or as much as $20 per issue. Some of these vendors may even offer you a yearly subscription that will set you back as much as $200. For the rest of us, places like eBay or friends in big cities are the only way to get our hands on this spectacular magazine. Once you do, however, you will understand what the fuss is all about, and will never again go back to rubbish being touted as a fashion magazine.

A Dreamed-up Tie Tuck

As has often been lamented on this site, ties don’t perform the role they once did. Waistcoats are worn less, jackets are largely taken off when working, and even when jackets are worn they are frequently left unbuttoned. As a result, the tie has lost its place as a pert little dash of silk at the top of an outfit. Without the constraint of waistcoat or jacket, it flops, it twists and it waves.

There are a few posited solutions. You could wear your jacket more or bloody-well do it up; but I am unlikely to change people’s habits here. You could tuck it into the shirt; but this, while perhaps fashionable, is too much a quirk for most. You could switch to bow ties, which I know many do, particularly in jobs where they are often unable to wear a jacket. At least a bow tie remains consistently spruce and taut.

Most obviously, you could wear a tie clip. This can look stylish if done well, though apparently it should always be worn at an angle, rather than parallel to the floor (I can see why this might be more flattering – a horizontal rarely benefits an outfit, unless it is a handkerchief). Tie clips, however, often seem to be strangling a tie. Yes, the top half is now pert, but the bottom half is contorted and – if you listen very closely – emits a small choking sound.

A local tailor around here solves this problem, I have noticed, by wearing a vertical tie pin that enters the tie and then emerges again two inches lower, fastened with a small silver ball. This certainly spreads the area of pressure, reducing contortion, but it does also mean piercing the tie, twice. It’s not something I am eager to try without greater knowledge as to how one avoids damage to the tie.

So, having dismissed all other options, we come to a little something I dreamed up yesterday. Here’s how it works. Tie your tie as normal, then take the rear blade and loop it underneath one of the buttons on your shirt (the third one seems to work well for me) so it emerges from the shirt again on the other side of the button. Then tuck the rear blade into the loop of silk normally attached to the front blade.

The rear blade will be in its normal position, tucked into this silk loop and thus attached to the front blade. But is also anchored to the shirt a little further down, reducing flap, twist and wave.

Having experimented with a few ties, the effectiveness of this technique seems to vary considerably with the height of the silk loop on the front blade. Whatever its position, though, pick a shirt button that is as close to the loop as possible.

Have fun.

Don’t Let the Poor Gal Down

In the last article, the first of this wife/partner ‘double bill’, I issued warning to men vulnerable to the whims of their other halves, particularly where clothing is concerned. In this latter half, the warnings and advice to be issued concern not the actions of the women and their misguided attempts to mould a chap into their ‘beau ideal’. In this piece, the finger is pointed firmly at men who I would consider, for want of a better word, unsporting. I have attended many a social function, some good, many dreadful, where it is pleasing to see that roughly half, or just over half if one is lucky, have made a jolly decent effort with the attire. Not all the efforts have the complete effect – some are considerably more successful than others but I always applaud the work and thought put in. The sad thing is I am mostly applauding the gals on these occasions for the chaps, as affable and pleasant as they are, rarely get up to the same standard as their female companions.

This knocks me rather because I feel particularly sorry for the lady; as although, next to her rather slovenly and lazily attired man she certainly looks fabulous, when she takes him to the floor she looks less like the princess taking a turn with the prince and more like the charitable dowager sharing a nostalgic dance with the dustman. Not that there is anything wrong with such a two-step, but that for the lady, it seems unfortunate that her gentleman could not make the least effort.

The crux of the issue for some women is; does a handsome but roughly attired man on my arm make me look better or worse? The unfortunate reality is, if you are seriously considering such a conundrum, you are entering the strange and dangerous netherworld of insecurity, in which lurk characters such as Victoria Beckham. Having said that, there is nothing to indicate that in the two pictures, where there can be seen some of the most dreadful co-ordination there has ever been, that Mrs Beckham is necessarily the fat (or not so fat as the case may be) controller of the Beckhams ‘double wardrobe.’ For as long as it has been written that the Beckhams are a well-dressed couple that take pleasure in organised co-ordination, Mr Beckham and his wife have often blazed into social functions wearing the strangest companion ensembles I have ever seen.

In the two pictures represented, Mrs Beckham is by far the better dressed, and indeed more formally dressed of the two; Mr Beckham looks completely out of sync. It is rather curious but in these pictures, the couple appear to be living different lives. One upstaging the other with finesse outfits and expensive accessories, Mr Beckham looks like a very attentive minder, not the married equal of his wife. Whether this has something to do with a breakdown in communication or a pea-brained idea of Mrs Beckham’s that she should always be, conspicuously, the better dressed of the two the lack of synergy is all too apparent.

By comparison Orlando Bloom, pictured at the Royal Randwick Racecourse in Sydney, is, albeit a little funereal, appropriately dressed for his companion. Clearly, though it looks awfully simple, some cooperative thought and conversation has gone into their outfits for the occasion. That in itself is pleasing and, importantly, it makes the couple look accomplished and compatible. Similarly Brad Pitt, who was not always the ‘dapper chapper’, as I remember photographs of Mr Pitt when he was the companion of other women, dressed in truly dreadful and thoughtless ensembles with the overall effect of a Big Issue salesman, albeit a striking one. Now, frequently on the arm of the mother of his children, Pitt rarely lets the ‘team’ down; he has matured into a safe but elegant style and provides for the striking companion on his arm the ‘prince’ and not the charming-but-eventually-inappropriate ‘dustman.’

Socks Show Whether You Care

I always liked the saying “If you want to know if a man is well-dressed, look down.” But while this refers to footwear, and it can tell you a lot about how well-dressed a man is, I prefer to consider his socks.

A man’s shoes tell you about how much money he spends, perhaps about his taste and certainly about how well he looks after his clothes. A man with well-turned, well-polished brown brogues under his blue suit demonstrates a certain interest and investment in what he wears.

But socks tell you something different. Socks tell you immediately whether someone can be bothered. In the City, most suits are dark. Most men wear black shoes. So if they wear black socks every day, they will look smart, professional and have to spend absolutely no time in the morning thinking about their socks.

If, on the other hand, a City man decides to wear socks that match his suit, he will need at least three colours – grey, blue and black (yes, a depressing number of City workers still wear black suits). He will be more stylish and his legs will look longer. But he will need enough of each colour to make sure he doesn’t run out, and a certain time will be needed tin the morning to select the right pair. Travelling will take a little more thought as well.

It’s not a big expense, but wearing socks that match your trousers shows you care. Someone boasted to me recently that he always wears a belt that matches his shoes. I asked him what colour his shoes were. He had three black pairs and one brown. And admitted he usually wore brown at the weekend. Not much of an effort to match his belt to them, then.

Socks, on the other hand, take a little effort. Particularly if you get into the world of pattern, and have some stripes, spots etc. Then you have to consider the pattern on your trousers as well (roughly the same guidelines as ties – create contrast in the scale of the pattern). It all takes a little more time.

Colours of course, are another big jump up. Dark red and dark green are often recommended for grey suits. I’ve always liked purples and pinks with navy. And bright red or yellow seem to fit best with tan shoes, in my opinion.

But this is just one of the factors. As soon as you go for colour, the whole outfit has to be borne in mind. Is matching the sock to the tie a little too affected? Is it better if one is patterned? As with a handkerchief, you probably want something that harmonises without matching, but you are likely to have fewer options with socks than handkerchiefs.

Unusual colours are a quantum leap from grey, blue and black. But look out for the man who can be bothered to match his socks to his trousers. It is the best and quickest sign of someone who cares.

The Khaki Suit

I recently acquired a khaki suit. I’ve always wanted one and, being originally from New England, saw it as a happy inevitability. When warm weather hits, khaki suits – often in cotton poplin or chino – are to Connecticut what seersucker is to South Carolina. Crisp, cool style that, as the day wears on, evolves into a slightly rumpled personal signature. Perfect.

This new suit is not cotton however; it’s a lovely Ralph Lauren extra fine worsted wool job. I wasn’t expecting to get a wool suit – certainly not in the midst of a particularly sweltering summer here in the nation’s capital. I had wanted to get a nice traditional lightweight summer suit, but as things turned out it was an opportunity I could not pass up. It’s a lovely suit and one that will get a lot of wear. So, I am still on the hunt for a good warm weather version in cotton.

The khaki colored summer suit can get sidelined by its flashier, more formal brethren, but it’s an important part of a well rounded wardrobe. Sometimes constructed of a cotton blend to better fend off the wrinkles, this style of suit is a nice in-between option for the steamy days of summer. It’s light and comfortable and can be worn with casual panache.

In fact khaki suits are wonderfully versatile articles of clothing. They can easily pull double duty when required; paired with a French cuffed dress shirt, Hermes tie and handmade shoes or polo shirt, ribbon belt and docksiders. Either way, the khaki suit provides a formal backdrop that accommodates your needs. It is neither formally stiff nor scruffy and inappropriate.

And while it has been interpreted the world over, the true cotton khaki summer suit is undeniably American preppy at its core. Think about it – this suit is the ultimate pair of khakis taken to the extreme. To be sure, most designer’s takes on the khaki suit do not attempt to duplicate old money New England; I’ve seen HRH the Prince of Wales sporting a lovely double breasted version and no one would mistake him for a Bloody Mary toting beachcomber. Still, for the rest of us, it is a nice way to inject a little stylish fun into our wardrobes.

There are some potential pitfalls to this outfit, the most common of which is easy enough to see on the street. Put simply, if you are not careful the khaki suit can quickly take on a sweltering and bedraggled appearance. When it comes to cotton suits, there is fine line between having rumpled personality and being sloppily disheveled. In D.C. the latter is a common sight – overstuffed knapsack dragging down one shoulder, a sweaty shirt billowing out from under an un-pressed jacket and pants hemmed too long dragging on the pavement. Appalling but unfortunately not unusual.

So extra care of your cotton khaki suit, it will make a world of difference. That means treating it like any other suit; have it properly tailored and regularly cleaned. You’ll be glad it’s in the rotation.