The Virtues of Wardrobe Maintenance

I recently wrote a rather lengthy article for my blog focusing on my belief that when times aren’t so good, people tend to go for the classics. When every cent counts, a wardrobe based on longevity and timeless style often wins out over flash and of-the-moment fashion.

Focusing on the classics, like a well cut single-breasted grey suit, is a smart investment that will last for years and fit the bill for most any business situation.

But investing in classic suits, solid dress shirts, dressy chinos and quality footwear is only half the battle. The other half is properly looking after your pricey investments. Keeping your clothes in great shape takes a little work but that effort will keep everything in runway shape for a long time.

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 keep their appeal while still developing the character that makes you want to 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 up you clothing and invest in sturdy wood hangers. Using a solid and well sized hanger (suit hangers for suits, slimmer hangers for shirts) will add years to your clothing and help protect your garments from snags, wrinkles and stains. When you get home after a long day at work, change right away and either hang up your work clothes or toss them in the laundry/dry cleaning bin. Make a point to keep you closet in order too, so no crowding. Garments need room to breathe and space to air out. In most cases, wrinkles will work themselves out in between wearings. An impromptu steaming can help too – just hang your day’s outfit next to the shower.

Most suits and sport coats only need to be dry-cleaned once a year. Delicate fabrics and linens may need more attention, but on the whole brushing your garments with a clothing brush will remove most dust and dirt. Spot cleaning can address 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 in for a pressing only. It will look refreshed without being unnecessarily exposed to damaging dry cleaning chemicals.

Though some people insist on dry cleaning their dress shirts, I prefer to launder them at home. When it comes to home laundering, cold water is usually best but always look for the care tag first. Iron on a slightly cooler setting and lay off the starch. If you are still compelled to use it, starch only those areas that can get a little unruly, like the cuffs, collars and plackets. 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 wrinkles without the need for extra chemicals.

Nowhere else does the concept of “investment clothing” hold forth than with footwear. A good pair of quality business shoes can easily cost several hundred dollars. Custom shoes quickly reach into the thousands. Though a sharp hit up front, good shoes will always being in style and when properly cared for, can last a lifetime. Though they may seem an extravagance, custom shoes will also help keep your feet healthy, so it behooves you to keep them in top notch shape.

In addition to protecting your dress shoes’ leather by keeping them polished, make sure to always use shoe trees. There are many variations, but the best are full-sized and made from untreated cedar. The shoe tree will absorb moisture and help maintain your shoe’s shape. Fancy varnished trees are fine too – the kind with heavy brass knobs or pull rings – in fact I’m looking for some myself.

Be careful to not overuse your good shoes. Don’t wear the same pair day after day; they need to rest and dry out. At the end of the day, give your shoes a quick brush down, insert the 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. Once the leather has air dried, insert your shoes trees and give them a good polish and waxing to recondition the leather.

I don’t view this as work; quite the opposite in fact. To me, looking after my clothes is a pleasure and since I put real thought into my wardrobe, taking care of it all is a happy ritual.

GANT Rediscovered

When last in New York, I took some time to stroll along Fifth Avenue and wound up stopping at the GANT flagship store. While this may not sound like an overly significant event, for me it was an eye-opening experience.

While an unfair characterization, my gut reaction to the GANT brand has long been something to the effect of, “GANT….don’t they make bland weekend wear I usually find on the discount rack?” At some level, I knew this was unmerited because one of my all time favorite story board catalogs is actually from GANT. It reads like a memoir from Marrakesh – complete with inserted typewritten journal pages. The clothes looked great and the overall feel was very updated and creative.

Still, this was at odds with what I actually knew of GANT – at least (as I came to discover) its American incarnation. Much like IZOD downgrading the storied history of Lacoste, the GANT of my youth was embodied in generic looking windbreakers and uninspiring rugby-like shirts. As a brand, it was completely forgettable.

Then, several years ago, Tom, a friend of mine moved to D.C. from Europe and asked where he could find GANT clothes in the states. I thought about it and told him that I honestly had no idea. Why, I asked, would such a smart dresser seek out the very definition of bland sportswear? Tom pointed out that half of what he had on was, in fact, GANT. I was stunned. I learned that in Europe, GANT was another brand altogether – more Ralph Lauren than Ralph Kramden.

Founded in my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, by Bernard Gant, his small shirt making business went on to become a cornerstone in the WASP fashion ethos. Gant manufactured shirts for the likes of Brooks Brothers and fellow New Haven institution, J. Press. In 1949, the family launched their own brand and GANT was born. Focused on the emerging desire for dressy casual clothes, they introduced such innovations as the button down sports shirt to the market. The combination of exacting quality and innovative takes on traditional American styles eventually drove GANT to national prominence.

After the Gant family sold the company in 1967, a series of corporate owners diluted the brand’s WASPy message and it eventually receded to the state of averageness I knew.

In the 1980s a Swedish company acquired the rights to license the brand everywhere except the United States. They infused GANT’s historically traditional East Coast American appeal with a clean and tailored European twist. GANT’s European arm eventually eclipsed the American one; the Swedes had essentially out-Americaned the Americans.

This situation explains why, when my European friend Tom and I were talking about GANT, we were in fact talking about two different worlds.

After finally acquiring the U.S. brand, the now international GANT entered its original home market in 2001. No longer dowdy and generic, America was reintroduced to one of its classic brands. The combination of European design sensibilities and American heritage was a domestic hit and GANT has prospered and grown since.

While the American presence is mostly limited to clothing and some timepieces, GANT’s European portfolio also includes house wares and linens. Bernard Gant’s shirt making business has now grown into a global lifestyle brand. Why it has taken me song to catch on to GANT’s global presence is a mystery, but I suppose some prejudices are hard to shake.

Once in the Fifth Avenue store though, I found myself transported to an urban preppy-ish library cum boarding school space. There was a distinct personality to the store and to the clothes: fresh but traditional, young but classically grown up. American, yet somehow European too. I even felt a little Hackett being channeled in some of the sport coats. It was a wonderful and wholly unexpected experience. That’s what I get for not paying enough attention to such a worthy company.

So, if you find yourself looking for a new and different take on New England Americana, check out GANT. At testament to their new domestic prowess, Scott Schuman (The Sartorialist) recently shot a series based on GANT outfits. The models, amateurs all, got to put together their own GANT looks. Not surprisingly, everyone looked great. Now, that’s pretty cool.

Trouser Issues: Cuffs & Rolls

A reader recently posed the following question to me:

I’d like to ask your opinion on something — do rolled-up/cuffed pants make legs look longer, or shorter? I’m 5′ 7″ and started rolling up the bottom of my jeans/pants to look like a cuff, but was told it made my legs look shorter. (All the pants are pretty slim cut.) On the other hand, I’ve heard people say rolling up pants, sometimes even to the point where you can see skin/sock between pants and shoe, makes legs look longer.

I found this to be both an interesting and timely question.  I’ve been seeing more rolled pants out on the street, some done well and others less so.  When it looks good, this style can convey a classic and casual ease.  Rolled khakis, paired with loafers, a washed oxford cloth button down, repp tie and blue blazer is about as Americana as you can get.  Substitute cuffed khakis and the look is more dressed up but looses none of its inherent appeal.

Rolled jeans are a different story, principally because cuffing jeans is just wrong.  I’ve never seen it and hope I never do.  Jeans traditionally have a simple narrow hem and rolling them can create a nice casual effect.  You can quite easily evoke a 1950’s James Dean vibe or a seaside clam digging feel.

When it come to the effect on height, in most cases rolled-up pants can have the same visual impact as cuffed pants.  Cuffed pants have a more defined bottom than un-cuffed and therefore give the trousers a clearer visual start/stop line. On shorter men this can sometimes create the impression of shorter legs, especially with a wide leg or heavy break that leaves the pant leg puddling around one’s ankle.

The same can be said of rolled pants, especially when the pants are already too long.  Once rolled up they look like little life preservers tied around the wearers’ feet.  However, in both cases – cuffs or roll-ups – when the pants are trimmer and the length properly chosen, the look can be nicely neutral regardless of one’s height.

On taller men, the same problem of puddling can hold true, though the impact is less severe.  It is also easier for tall men to accentuate their height by tailoring their pants with no break or even having them cut slightly too short.  As my reader correctly points out the exposure of a little sock or ankle implies height via the leg being longer than the pants.  This is a very tricky thing to pull off though, and can come across as an affectation

The same holds for rolled pants, but whether short or tall, make sure that the roll is only one or two folds deep at the most.  Unless you are specifically trying to capture that walking-along-the-beach-at-the-Cape look, you want the roll to be neat and hold its shape.  Personally, I try and avoid it looking too manicured and perfect; if I really want a cuff, I should go see a tailor.

OTC Recommends: Smart Turnout

Every now and then I come across a company that is truly unique and catches my eye.  It could be the products or marketing approach.  Sometimes it’s their buzz factor or ability to hit the market with the right thing at the right time.  In the case of Smart Turnout, it started with a watch band.

Page 195 of the 2007 Esquire Big Black Book showed a picture of a sharp looking Fortis chronograph on a red and blue ribbon watch strap.  The strap was unlike any other I had seen.  It was a standard looking preppy nylon strap but the band itself was constructed like a NATO watch strap with a decidedly military feel to it.  The combination of watch and strap was perfectly ironic:  gin and tonic meets Top Gun.  According to the copy, the strap was manufactured by Smart Turnout, an English company.  I was intrigued.

I tracked down that strap at J. Press and when paired with my Tutima chronograph gave me the same look.  I wanted to learn more about Smart Turnout and did a little digging.  At about the same time, Smart Turnout found me.  It seems in doing a web search they ran across an OTC article in which I referenced their company.

In the ensuing exchanges, I wound up learning that Smart Turnout makes a lot more than just watch straps.

The idea for the company came when Philip Turner was nearing the end of his 10 year period in the Scots Guards.  Philip was participating in a horse race at Sandown Park in 1992, and had a sweater knitted for the occasion in his regimental colors.

It drew many compliments back at the regiment and gave rise to the idea of developing more clothes in club colors and Smart Turnout was conceived.   The company has grown into one which is dedicated to producing a variety of unique products, all fashioned in the colors of the British and U.S. military, schools, and British and American Universities.

Smart Turnout sells a wide range of goods, including ties, cufflinks, cummerbunds, belts and braces, scarves and socks.  Starting this season, you can pick up smart webbing belts in the colors of the British Royal Marines and the Black Watch.  They are even getting into the sleepwear business with dressing gowns and pajamas in regimental colors.

As a relatively small company, Smart Turnout is looking to expand its reach and broaden its market.  In addition to a full service website, its American operation consists of haberdasheries like the aforementioned J. Press stocking a limited selection of items.  Personally I want more; I’d like to walk into a Smart Turnout store in, say, Boston.  I think that the brand could carry a nice little brick-and-mortar outlet in Bean Town.

I am especially fond of my Smart Turnout Yale cufflinks; the kind with the chain.  When I opened the small blue leather box, I was impressed with their quality and construction.  The detail alone in the school’s seal is quite remarkable.  In addition to acquiring a couple of additional watch straps, I also have an Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders regimental tie which is pretty sharp too.

If you are looking for that old school, old money look, this is the place to start.  In many ways it’s a preppy version of the candy store. I don’t often write this extensively about specific brands, but Smart Turnout has really caught my attention because of both the depth and breadth of its offerings.  It’s created a real niche for itself and I have not found anything quite like it.

Bedside Reading: The Official Filthy Rich Handbook

It would appear that I’ve finally made it to the big leagues of blogdom.  Workman Publishing recently contacted me to ask that I review The Official Filthy Rich Handbook, by Christopher Tennet. This pretender to The Official Preppy Handbook throne has been making the reviewer’s rounds and I have secretly hoped to be among the chosen few to peer critically though this (satirical?) homage to the world of the super-rich and super-vain.

For starters, it’s hilarious and very well written.  It looks like a handbook and looks quite at home next to my dog eared copy of The Official Preppy Handbook.  One of the enduring charms of the OPH is the fine line it treads between satire and real-world guide.  If you so chose, you could very well live your life according to the TOPH.  The same can be said of The Official Filthy Rich Handbook – assuming you have several hundred million dollars.  Make that a billion.

The book is romp through the many aspects of living the life of the super rich; from where to live to the nuances of owning your own Boeing 767.  Where to vacation (Ibiza and Formentera), how many polo ponies should you own (at least eight), and which hangers on are most important to have in your retinue (therapist and life coach top that list.  The insightful commentary is clever and witty as it is biting.

While not a realistic guide, per se – if you can afford to do half of what’s discussed inside the last thing I suspect you’d be doing is reading this book – it offers a wonderful primer on living well and what, exactly, constitutes “well.”  To wit, the chapter “Buying a Better You” covers the ridiculous, a clip-and-save Non Disclosure Agreement for your staff; and the truly interesting, which once Blue Chip luxury names are now too pedestrian (think Burberry and Tiffany & Co.).

A la Preppy Handbook, there is a tongue-in-cheek schematic of the typical billionaire closet on which one might wish to model their own.  From the rack of Kiton “K-50” custom suits which start at about $50,000 each, to the custom stingray John Lobb lace ups, it is a tour de force in over the top branding.  Caring for one’s clothing is also touched upon: drop everything on the floor.  The domestic help will eventually pick it up and put it where it needs to be..

The sections on heirs and child-rearing are a hoot and it is here that the book is closest to its Official Preppy Handbook muse.  Updating readers on the proper prep schools and which colleges are acceptable back-ups for your less than brilliant offspring.

All in all, The Filthy Rich Handbook is a worthy and guffaw-inducing successor to that paragon of parody, The Official Preppy Handbook.  Buy up some extras and give them to your household staff for Christmas.