The Allure of Sterling Silver Accessories

Gold may be having its heyday in the markets right now, but silver still holds an unmistakable sway over man. The English are renowned for their penchant of silver collecting and companies like Tiffany have built their reputations on it. Silver, sterling silver in particular – which is nice parts silver to one part copper – has a personality and warmth that is difficult to deny.

The scratches and nicks which over time come to define silver objects tell their own story; the patina softens and takes on a unique personality. This trait makes sterling silver an excellent material for special and cherished items. Unlike gold which can seem ostentatious and showy, silver is approachable and more relaxed, perfect for the treasured accessories in your life.

Because I like to travel light whenever possible, a money clip or pen knife is about all I want in my pants pocket. Such personal objects should never be disposable; they are with us each day and become talismans that grow in value beyond currency. Rather than shove spare cash into your pocket or toss any old pen into your bag, why not consider investing in one or two elegant little treasures that have meaning?

For those loose bills, opt for a sterling money clip; add a monogram and make it an heirloom. Yard-O-Lead makes some wonderful sterling silver pens that will stand out from the conference table crowd – the Viceroy is a favorite model of mine.

Sterling cufflinks are an obvious option. Silver knots or classic monogrammed ovals are always in style. Another wonderful use of sterling is the classic monogrammed engine turned belt buckle. Paired with an alligator strap, there is nothing quite as elegant.  For smokers, or merely those wish to be prepared for a chivalrous flourish, a silver Dunhill lighter is indispensible.

Other individualistic options include the silver tie bar, once an obligatory sartorial tool and now enjoying a resurgence of sorts. And, as long as you don’t let it look like a building superintendent’s, a simple silver key chain makes a functional utensil a little more stylish.

A silver card case can be quite sharp and I’ve seen a few people use vintage cigarette cases to hold their business or calling cards. Match the case to your own personality and tastes – either very elaborate or simple in design.

Silver, I know, is not everyone’s cup of tea. To my mind, there are silver people and there are gold people. Usually, it’s fairly easy to figure out who is who; for example, I am a silver person. Apart from a general love of sterling, when it comes to personal accessories, I naturally lean toward silver and stainless steel.

Most of my watches are stainless steel and my wedding band is platinum. Through frameless, the small amount of metal on my glasses is silver colored. I just prefer silver more than gold – the one exception being my signet ring. Bearing my family’s crest, it is my one regular gold accessory.

It’s not like I’d turn down some gold cufflinks or a vintage gold Seamaster, but as a general rule, I find it too showy and formal for my taste. I have inherited a number of lovely gold items – cufflinks and notably a wonderful pocketknife that once belonged to my great grandfather. They are special to me because of their personal connection, but when I look to my current wish list, sterling silver is still where my heart’s at.

Notes From Las Vegas

I like Las Vegas, not enough to live there but enough to look forward to the five-hour flight from D.C. It’s a remarkable city that draws designers, retailers, craftsmen and brands from around the world. On my most recent business trip to Vegas I was able to carve out a little spare time to explore Sin City’s more acceptable vice: shopping.

While gambling – or gaming in the industry’s parlance – is the mother’s milk of Las Vegas, the city’s retail offerings rival most of the world’s A-list venues. Think of a brand and it more than likely has a presence in Vegas. And not only that, the city’s retail footprints are often large and glitzy. Like everything else in Las Vegas, bigger is better and flash always wins over subtlety.

As a consumer-dedicated destination city, you will see cheek by jowl companies that you did not even know had a store and familiar mass market luxury names – Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Cartier and Rolex to name only a tiny fraction. Some firms use their Vegas presence to create a new version of themselves, capitalizing on the town’s penchant for bigger and glitzier. I found an excellent expression of this philosophy in the Forum Shops at Caesars.

The Tourneau Time Dome is the venerable New York company’s Las Vegas Outlet. It’s Tourneau’s largest store; 35 custom-built brand shops-within-a-shop are spread across two-stories. From Swiss Army to Rolex to Breguet, more than 8,000 timepieces from 100 watchmakers are on display. Unsurprisingly, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the 17,500-square-foot space is the world’s largest watch store. If you are a watch person, you must visit this temple to luxury timekeeping.

And while you might expect to more fashion forward retailers in this other city that never sleeps, in the Forum Shops I encountered one of the nicest Brooks Brothers stores I’ve seen in quite a while. Large, well stocked and with a pleasant and knowledgeable sales staff, I’d go back in a minute.

Since I also have a thing for good pens and leather goods, I checked out the Mont Blanc store. I’ve never been too keen on their watches – I’m often like that with companies that aren’t really in the watch business; they are a pen company that moved into watches. I spent some time chatting with John Castiglione about the company’s plans to produce its own watch movements. With ETA close to ending its sales to non-Swatch Group watchmakers, Mont Blanc is taking the vertical integration approach and bringing everything in-house. Thanks to Mr. Castiglione, I have a better appreciation of Mont Blanc’s dedication to its watches. Maybe I do like the Timewalker after all.

Over at Belagio, Hermes is regular stop for me. It’s not the largest store, but it always has a wonderful selection of the company’s exceptionally crafted goods. The store also overlooks the Casino’s famous fountains. When I go out in Las Vegas, I always make a point of dressing up a bit. The place is choc a block with flip-flop wearing tourists; instead, I try to be the stylish traveler. There’s a big difference. Think “Ocean’s 11” – either version, though the newer one is to me the epitome of casually elegant modern style. As you wander through the swanky shopping arcades, aspire to be someone worth looking at. And in a place like Las Vegas, making the extra effort is extra fun.

If you really want to feel like a real high roller head over to the Wynn and check out Wynn Penske, one of the few factory authorized Ferrari & Maserati dealerships in the country. Once you’ve picked out your new set of wheels, visit the sumptuous Brioni boutique for some new custom duds. Then make a point to stop by Graff Jewelers and pick up a little 25 caret something for the girl in your life.

The Colors of Summer

When it comes to summer dressing, most men like the idea of adding a little shot of color to their ensemble.  At the same time there is normally trepidation when it comes to modulating that extra splash of liveliness.  When does a little become too much?  How can I show some personality without looking like a caricature?

I am reminded of a fellow I saw on the street last year on a steamy summer day.  He was wearing the loudest pants I’d ever seen.  They looked remarkably like sofa cushions from a 1950s Florida vacation house; bright orange with giant palm fronds and parrots printed all over them.  These pants actually hurt my eyes.  But the guy wearing them looked cool as a cucumber; relaxed and suave in sockless loafers and a crisp white oxford.

Though most of us would run the other way when presented with such an outfit, it worked on this gentleman because it fit his particular personality.  For the rest of us, spicing up the warm weather wardrobe will likely include less extravagant exercises in color.  Though we still need to dress professionally for the work week– or at least wear long pants – there is still room for personal style in manageable increments.

As a general rule, please do not make the mistake of thinking that dressing for summer weather means wearing togs better suited to the beach or a weekend cookout.  Always assume that someone important will need to see you during the day and dress accordingly.  How then do you “responsibly” add that bit of personal color?  A favorite option of mine is to use accessories as a way to tone down the formality of office attire while still offering the world a little flash of style.

Ribbon watch straps a great option, especially for the summer.  You’ll be amazed at how a preppy grosgrain or NATO strap can change the whole feel of your favorite wrist watch.  Additionally, these straps give your timepiece a breezy, vintage feel.  People will think that your dad wore it back when he was studying archaeology at Yale.

Smart Turnout makes some of the best ribbon straps; from British military unit colors to England’s venerable colleges – even American Ivy’s – you can find something that fits your personal style.  They are easy to swap around, so keep a drawer full and match your watch your watch to your mood.  If needed, invest in the little tool that allows you to remove the pins which hold most watch bands in place – it makes life easier.

Belts are another simple way to add color to your look while falling well within the bounds of great practical style.  Tucker Blair needlepoint belts are a unique and thoroughly preppy way to add some fun and color to your summer wardrobe.  Though a new company, Tucker Blair’s signature needlepoint belts are a classic in a New Englandy sort of way.  They are an instant classic as well; each one is a little work of art and an instant heirloom.  They truly are unique and speak to both New England clambakes and Low Country boils.

Ribbon belts are a popular and less expensive way to give your style a little punch.  Great companies like J. Crew, J. Press, and Gap offer stripes, critters, solids and plaid versions that make choosing one an easy exercise in personal messaging.

Another summer staple of the past that’s getting a new shot of life is patchwork madras.  In the states at least, it seemed like back in the day everyone’s father had a shirt like this.  Each year it was debuted at the family Memorial Day picnic and was kept busy all summer long.

Each washing left the cloth a little softer and a little more faded – the sign of true madras.  Cape Madras, founded in 2004, has resurrected the real thing and built a unique company that is both dyed in the wool American and dyed in Madras, Indian. While the Cape Madras collection is designed by the creative team in the US, the company weaves all its own fabric designs in rural villages in India.

Unlike the traditional muted colors one associated with madras, they use colors not usually seen in traditional madras like bright pinks, greens and oranges.  With offerings of shirts, shorts, jackets, pants, you can find a classic summery look for any occasion.

To add an extra layer of individuality, choose a signature, something that people will associate with you alone.  A relative of mine wears round tortoise shell glasses. Since I can remember he has always worn them and by now anything else just wouldn’t look right.  Since he is particularly Ivy League in his style of dress, the glasses give him a living Ralph Lauren ad persona.  It’s just right on him.  So, what’s your summer signature of personal style?

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.

J. Press: As Classic as You Can Get

This is a true story: Back when he was running for president in 1980, George H.W. Bush (that’s George senior) was giving a speech at his alma mater, Yale University, and being heckled by some students. Someone yelled out that Bush was just another out of touch “Brooks Brothers Republican.” The president, apparently offended by that particular remark, promptly opened his suit coat to reveal its J. Press label.

I’ve always liked that story because it shows the deep dedication that some cultures naturally create. J. Press has that kind of culture. It is the quintessential New England prep-Yale Man-old money-Ivy League brand that the J. Crews and Ralph Laurens of the world want you to think they are. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those brands, I’m a fan of both. But J. Press is special because that’s where it all started. It’s the real deal.

Though not as well known commercially as Brooks Brothers – there are four brick and mortar J. Press stores to Brooks’ nearly 200 – J. Press is as classically preppy as you can get. In fact it quite literally invented the look. From the 1930s through the’50s, Press helped to cement the image of American preppy in the minds of college students everywhere. Known as the “Yale” or “Ivy League” look, it came to define the stylish New England intellectual or at least moneyed, layer of society that was the ruling class of the time. A hybrid of English prep school uniform and traditional American wear, the preppy look is timeless.

Founded in 1902 by Jacobi Press, in my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, his namesake company has always adhered to a traditional some would say conservative, design philosophy. Much of their clothing is still American made. Mr. Press would probably feel right at home were he to walk into one of his stores today. In fact, the store has never moved location.

Sartorial innovations like the sack suit and natural shoulder were invented here. The trademark three-button suit coat with the rolled lapel that visually converts it to a two-button is also a Press innovation. The sack suit itself, given global branding by Jack Kennedy as the American suit, is also credited to J. Press.

Another of their signatures is the lack of pleated trousers. All Press suits have flat front pants and always have; it’s the kind of consistency and tradition that make the company such an icon among its customers, generation after generation. Where Brooks Brothers’ shirts are famously voluminous, Press shirts are more trim and discreet. Their shirts also have, should you choose the option, a distinctive flapped pocket.

But don’t mistake that tradition and adherence to New England stylistic values for old fashion stodginess. Though smaller compared to Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart or Joseph A. Bank, J. Press is a global player and major style influencer on the Trad front. To see just how popular and relevant J. Press is to the fashion world – at least for the true preppy market – you need to go a little ways past New Haven, all the way to Japan.

J. Press is huge in Japan. In 1974, the Press family sold the rights to license J. Press in Japan; becoming the first American brand to be licensed in Japan. To many a Japanese professional, the sartorial standard by which business and traditional dress is measured is J. Press. In fact, the company is today a wholly owned subsidiary of Onward Kashiyama Co., Ltd. Onward Kashiyama realized almost immediately that to preserve J. Press’ Ivy League cachet, it needed to stay out of the way. And that they have done.

J. Press has maintained its preppy core values and remains the truest expression of traditional New England Style. What else would you expect?