New Year’s Resolutions

Another year is drawing to a close. Many people will use the start of the new year as the impetus to resolve to improve their life in some meaningful way. Some common New Year’s resolutions include getting fit or losing weight, improving a career, getting out of debt, being more organized and helping others. I would suggest that all of these worthy goals can have some relevance to men’s style.

This time of year many people resolve to lose weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. Currently about one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Holiday parties inevitably contribute to the problem. It’s easy to pack on a few holiday pounds by washing down high-fat finger foods with your favorite cocktail. Gaining weight can really wreak havoc with tailored clothing. Waistbands sag under bloated bellies and jacket buttons strain with effort. And it’s no secret that clothes look better on a fit body. Resolving to get in shape is a worthy goal that will improve your style.

Some people resolve to get a better job or seek a promotion. It may be cliché, but if this is your desire then you should dress for success. Let people know that you mean business. Remember that you are marketing yourself and the packaging is important. This is especially important today because of the stiff competition in these troubled economic times.

Speaking of the economy, some people resolve to improve their finances or get out of debt. When it comes to clothing, obviously well-made classic items have better value than trendy fashionable attire. Constantly updating your wardrobe at the whim of the latest trend can be incredibly expensive. Instead, invest in items of lasting style and quality; your pocketbook will thank you.

If you winnow out your wardrobe, it is possible to get more organized and help other people. Resolve to weed out the clothes that you never wear. Then box them up and donate them to charity.

Good luck with whatever you resolve to do in 2011. Happy New Year!

A Little R & R

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This time of year is a puzzling one for dressing. One moment you’re loafing about the house, relaxing the waistband after a festive dinner with the family, and the next you’re heading out to a holiday party, franticly trying to get those damned trousers to button again. While the later has been written about ad nauseam (by myself amongst others), its the former I want to focus on here. How to dress casually, but elegantly is, I think, the true test of style – and not just at the holidays.

A gentleman typically looks his best in black tie. It’s slimming, makes one look taller, creates symmetry of the figure, and especially in our ultra-casual modernity, it adds an heir of distinction to even the plainest of men. I won’t disparage the art of great black tie, believe me, but I will say that for the style-initiates that haunt places like Men’s Flair, it’s not tough to look great. In fact, it’s hard not to.

Now when dressing casually, there are quite a few things to be considered. First off, you should not only feel comfortable, but look comfortable – just like Mr. Astaire above. Cloths should be softer and jackets and trousers cut ever-so-slightly less close. Generally the colors and patterns that dominate country dressing take over for the sobriety of city garb, even if the holiday dinner is spent around a table on the 40th floor of a metropolitan apartment building.

The trick, in my experience, is to find a balance between ease and effort. Living on a college campus, I don’t spend as much time “dressed up” as I would like, but I get a lot of opportunities for smart casual. Walking to class in pinstriped worsted cut like a razor would just make me look foolish, but I do typically find myself in some mixture of tailoring and more causal attire. The key is keeping things pulled together, even if the elements are each relaxed on their own. Their is a tendency to decide you’re having a “casual day” and to just throw things together haphazardly, but this only looks sloppy, not casual.

I personally have my own peccadilloes as well when it comes to dressing down. There is a particular pair of trousers I own that are old flannels handed down to me by my father, but they are a size too big for me. Maybe a size and a half. But, I often pull them on when running to get a bagel in the morning, or, when I lazily slide out of bed lacking the time to dress properly, they end up doing more than helping me satisfy my early-morning hunger. They look quite terrible, especially from behind, but I’m human and it happens.

More advantageously, because I spend most of my time dressed fairly casually, I have a decent array of corduroy trousers, worn-in chinos, and variably shaded grey flannels, along with quite a few “soft-washed” tattersall shirts to see me through most days. I resist the urge to go for the pyjama-like pants and instead dress with deliberate choices. And, unless I’m deluding myself, I think I look alright doing so.

So when you’re relaxing by the fire, or running errands at the weekend, ditch the suit and pull of something soft and casual. Sounds funny coming from me, but trust me, I’m sure you’ll look dashing.

Interview: Adrian Herring Of Herring Shoes

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Funny what results from a bet over a dish of fried seaweed; it certainly was in Adrian Herring’s case.

Adrian is the man behind Herring Shoes, an online retailer selling some of Northamptonshire’s best known shoemaking brands, including Trickers, Church’s, Cheaney and Loake. In doing so he’s acquired some interesting customers, from Leonardo Dicaprio and business guru Theo Paphitis to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Bath Rugby Team.

What makes this retailer different from the others out there is that they also produce their own shoes, made by those same excellent manufacturers. Offering excellent value and coming in three ranges: Premier, Classic and Graduate, they’re a cut above what’s commonly available on the market.

I decided it was high time I found out a little more about Herring Shoes; so a few weeks ago I gave Adrian Herring a call.

Oh, and the seaweed? I’ll explain that as well.

Today Herring supplies shoes to customers all over the world, but success wasn’t always on the cards for young Adrian.

With typical honesty Adrian confessed to being a bit of a “misfit” in his early years. Describing himself as “a wheeler dealer” he walked out of his private school with the high aim of selling juke boxes. As one might expect Adrian’s father was less than pleased at this prospect and set about convincing a reluctant Adrian to come work for him in the family shoe shop.

Despite this change of tack Adrian had no intention of dedicating his life to shoes. But fate was to lend a hand. One day the Loake sales rep visited the shop armed with a pair of shoes in “beautiful Burgundy leather”. Adrian instantly spotted these, but his father, convinced they wouldn’t sell, said “no”. He eventually acquiesced, with the parting shot: “that’s your shoe”.  It became a best seller and six months later Adrian was doing all firms buying.

Something I was keen to find out was why they started designing their own shoes.

Talking to Adrian it’s clear this is the bit of the business for which he has most passion. My favourites amongst the Herring range are the imaginative multiple textured and two tone shoes, for which Adrian has a particular flair and interest.

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Oddly, it all started around the table in a Chinese restaurant with a wager over a dish of deep fried seaweed, or rather as Adrian thought fried cabbage. His father bet 25 pairs of any shoe Adrian cared to design that it was indeed seaweed. Adrian won his bet and designed a burgundy toe cap with black grain, which they named Seaweed.

What marks Herring’s own shoes out in my view is their exceptional quality and value, whichever range you opt for.

This side of things started when Adrian realised an opportunity to buy the excess leather from shoemaker Loake. At that time the company made shoes for the likes of Harrods and other high end stores. But they always had excess leather left over, which they were naturally keen to sell. For Adrian it was an opportunity to buy higher quality leather cheaply and with it produce shoes of a better grade for a lower price. Today creating their own shoes also allows Adrian to control both the price and the quality. For example, the lining in their shoes is leather and not cotton, as it is with some brands. Likewise, they use leather insoles where many companies use Texon, a substance similar to cardboard. Adrian helpfully explained how you test whether your shoes have leather insoles or Texon; “lick your finger and touch the insole of your shoe where the ball of the foot rests. If it leaves a dark mark then the sole has absorbed the moisture and it’s leather”.  Most of the leather for their own brand shoes comes from Europe, but they’re starting to source oak bark leather from Devon. He also has some interesting projects in the pipeline; most notably a collaboration with Cheaney to produce a spectator incorporating genuine Harris Tweed. We can also look forward to a range of luggage complete with broguing to complement their Premier collection.

We discussed Adrian’s father quite a bit during the course of our chat, a man for whom he obviously has the greatest respect; “I always maintained the things learned from father”, he told me.  But his father never went easy on him. It was on his insistence that Adrian was sent off to the Barker factory, where he learned to make shoes under the late William Barker. In fact he still owns the shoes he made then, and learned everything from clicking to cutting.

It was also through working with his father that Adrian learned about customer service. The internet doesn’t allow much in the way of customer interaction or personal service, but wherever possible Adrian tries to apply those same personal touches learned in the family shop, even going do far as to handle customer queries himself. But it’s the little things that make great customer service. This isn’t something advertised on the website, but when you buy a pair of Herring shoes  each one is polished by hand, boxed in dustcovers and supplied with shoe horn and a tin of polish to properly care for them.  All these things are indicative of the passion which Adrian has for what he does and how he does it.

I thoroughly enjoyed my chat with Adrian, of which these are the edited highlights. I was left with the definite impression that here was a stand up guy, and a real character with a genuine love for the business he’s in.

Sartorial Stereotypes: Pocket Squares

The Silk Paisley Puff

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The Silk Paisley Puff man, happily divorced but unhappily retired, still purposefully stalks the corridors of the investment management company he founded more than 33 years ago and for which he accepted, and now regrets, a glittering golden parachute and a token non-executive chairmanship. He divides his time between a Belgravia flat and a ‘small’, Elizabethan manor house in Oxfordshire, where James I allegedly kept a mistress, at which he pretends to enjoy his role as local squire by sponsoring village fetes and throwing a summer music and fireworks extravaganza. He stares glumly at the longcase clock in his dark hall, drumming his fingers on the refectory table on which his Blackberry (‘No new messages’), fully charged, rests quietly. He indulges in reflective self-ridicule; a hard-won life in the country, dressed in tweed, Tattersall check shirts, knitted ties and a silk paisley puff pocket square scream to him not of success but of failure – a failure to live up to their once lustrous allure.

The White Linen TV Fold

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The White Linen TV Fold man is new to pocket squares. It is only a few months since he began to carefully insert a folded Thomas Pink square into the pocket of his Reiss suits. Silently thankful to his girlfriend for conniving him into ‘cosy evenings in’ watching Mad Men, he never admits that Don Draper was the inspiration for his substantially smarter look (indeed, his entire persona). Instead, he airily and unconvincingly proffers that he just ‘fancied a change.’ A ‘senior consultant’ at a nebulous public affairs agency, he is very conscious of his discreet ‘fold’, though it is barely visible, and he is often found in the office toilets refolding it before client meetings.  An unhappy mishap with a colleague inspired him to sew a linen fold into the top pocket of each of his suits, which proved to be an initial success, until an attractive client services assistant he’d been playfully flirting with at a company away day yanked so violently at the square that the linen ripped like a paper napkin.

The Colour Co-ordinated Peak

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The Colour Co-ordinated Peak man, a Diet-Coking, go-getting, self-taught (and self-described) ‘management guru’ strides through the offices of his various companies shouting hellos at the bemused minions cowering in their desk booths. Ever since the purchase of his start-up by a FTSE listed corporate, he has assumed the role of an energetic paternalistic mentor; a post-David Brent caricature of ‘inspirational leadership.’ He rejects the term ‘employees’ for his staff preferring to refer to them as ‘key colleagues’ and he wanders around pumping his fists and high-fiving in dark suits, white shirts and precisely tonal-matched ties and pocket squares – the latter of which is worn in the mountain-peak style. A collector of nauseating management idioms rather than possessions, he often wears the same combination two days in a row but “…never”, he states proudly, “do I get them mixed up.”

The Misplaced Neckscarf

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The Misplaced Neckscarf man, so named because the sheer volume of his pocket squares merit no other description, doesn’t do anything by halves although he is, ironically, a product of two different worlds. An early NY-LON Transatlantic childhood, his life was a mixture of ‘arty parties’ thrown by his doting but ineffective English mother, for Warhol and his troupe, at which he was usually left to his own devices, playing soldiers in the shag-pile carpet. Occasional visits to his stockbroking father in London, an Anglophile Bostonian who valued the quiet repose of English country life, introduced him to the world of tailored English eccentrics. An exuberant pocket square is his signature (thin squares, he claims, make him ‘physically sick’) which he wears with blue blazers, white Charvet shirts, Levi jeans and burgundy penny loafers while showing his chi-chi clients around an immaculately white art gallery in Lower Manhattan.

How To Get A Dimple

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Do you dimple?

The dimple just under the tie knot is one of those little details which obsesses sartorialists. Much argued about in the online forums and discussed in literature, it has its advocates and its detractors – the Duke of Windsor being one.

Men siding with the late Duke would argue that it looks contrived and smacks of trying too hard. They might also argue that in fact a soft rounded dimple-less knot is harder to achieve – although I’ve never found it be so.

Personally, I’m firmly in the dimple camp. For me the dimple adds an element of imperfection to the knot and adds shape to the tie. I also think the drape of the tie is better.

You may have your own means of achieving a dimple but this is mine. Done now as a matter of course, I do it without thinking about it. As such there is no need for faffing and tweaking.

Firstly, tie your tie as you normally would. I’m tying a four-in-hand for simplicities sake. (Pictures left to right)

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Up to the point where you pull the blade through back through the knot.

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At this point insert your finger into the loop and pull the blade through the knot and over your finger. I’m sure Thomas Fink would at this stage provide a clever mathematical formula to explain the physics behind this. But essentially inserting your finger and pulling the blade over it tightens the base of the knot while giving you enough material to feed through, thereby producing the dimple. What’s more, this method ensures the dimple remains throughout the day. And in comparison to other methods I’ve tried, it stops the knot having to be too tight, which isn’t terribly good for the silk.

It creates a dimple every time on just about any tie – Erring on the side of caution I say ‘just about any tie’.