Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Vest

Adding a vest to a suit makes for a great look. The vest, also called a waistcoat, has always been a part of good menswear, and even though it may be a bit more popular now than it has in recent years, I still very seldom see a three piece suit. It's a shame because it's not only complimentary to a suit, but it looks great without the jacket. In fact, I recently had our tailors make me a trouser/vest combo and didn't have the jacket made. While I'll be adding the third piece sometime soon, I've enjoyed wearing the trousers and vest during the summer when a jacket can be too much because of the heat. A lot of guys find themselves removing their jacket throughout the day for better mobility at the desk or to avoid getting too warm. Unfortunately they lose the flattering lines a suit jacket provides. The shirt balloons and the tie flails about, and what used to be neat and tidy becomes sloppy. The vest restores the flattering vertical lines and the V shape on the torso, and it keeps the shirt and tie tucked and trim. Next time you get a suit (or preferably, have one made) consider adding a vest. You'll add functionality and style, and it's a great alternative if you're not wearing the jacket full time.

The vest should fit well for optimal effect, and the best fitting vests are always the made-to-measure variety. A vest should be snug through the midsection and chest, so off-the-rack vests frequently don't fit correctly as, like jackets, they're made to accommodate a wide variety of people but not necessarily fit them well.

A lot of guys may not feel entirely comfortable in a vest without the jacket. The back on many vests today are a silky material that some may not want exposed because it's shiny and looks a bit fancy. Traditionally the vest back was made of the same material (wool) as the front. That's largely been done away with because it's assumed the vest back will seldom be seen, and it's cheaper to use less wool. It's still possible to get a vest with self material on the back if you go custom. I prefer mine to be made with the same material all around. If you're getting a vest made by a tailor, take advantage of this option and get it the same all around. It's a mark of a custom-made vest.

A vest should ideally be one to three inches higher than the top button of the suit, but not much more than that. Generally speaking, a three button suit goes well with a five button vest. A two button suit does well with a vest with three or four buttons. The point is that because a two button suit has a deeper V than a three button suit, the vest should follow suit (no pun intended) and correspondingly be a bit lower.

The vest can be single or double breasted (yes, double breasted works with single breasted suits). It can have lapels or no lapels. If you plan to regularly wear the vest sans jacket, lapels are a good option since they add a bit of what's lost by being jacket-less. The length should be such that shirt material isn't exposed in front or in back. I've realized through personal experience that a vest should be requested to be a bit longer if you wear your pants on your hips instead of around your waist like I do. I have a vest that's a bit short in back as a result and it's a hassle making sure no shirt peeks out the back.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Spot Cleaning

I recently got some grease of some kind on my suit trousers. I'm not even sure how it happened, but it was right on the upper knee of a pair of light grey trousers, so it stood out like a sore thumb. Instead of running to the dry cleaner, I tried a little DIY cleaning to see if I could beat the stain myself. In this case, I don't necessarily have anything against taking it to the dry cleaner, if they can spot clean it there probably won't be much harm done. I've written about alternatives to dry cleaning in the past because it's overused by a lot of guys to the detriment of their suits. There are several products that are gentle and yet effective for spot cleaning, and you avoid the chemicals that may not be necessary. For this spot, since it was grease or oil, I used a drop of dish soap on a clean sponge and dabbed the area. The degreasing action of the soap cut right through the stain, and my pants were as good as new. Saved me a trip to the dry cleaner, as well as some money, and it took literally 3 minutes to fix.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to Shine Your Shoes

There are certain things a gentleman should know how to do, and shining your shoes is one of them. After years of experience shining my own shoes, I've come to enjoy it and take pride in it. I've never felt comfortable trusting it to an airport or street shiner. I'm sure they do a fine job, but I've always taken responsibility for my shoe care. It's not a complicated or difficult process, and can be quite satisfying. It's important for shoe maintenance as it polishes, waterproofs and restores the leather. It also keeps them looking nice and clean. Follow these steps for a nice shine:

1. Get your area ready. Shoe polish stains, so make sure you're working someplace where you've laid down some newspaper or something to cover anything you don't want to possibly damage. You should also change your clothes if it's something you'd not like to see stained, just in case. Also, I wear latex gloves so I don't stain my fingers.

2. Get your shine kit ready. I've pieced mine together over time, you can also buy a kit with most or all of what you need included. You'll want to make sure you've got the polish to match the color of your shoes, something to apply the polish (a small round brush works, I often use a cotton round), a horsehair brush, and a soft cloth to buff. You may find other implements effective as well. Make sure you use good quality polish. Use a clear or neutral polish for light colored shoes, and take care not to use the wrong brown on brown leather.

3. Clean the shoes with a cloth to remove any dirt and grime.

4. Apply the polish with your brush (dauber)/cotton round/rag. Apply it uniformly. Leave the shoetrees in and tuck in the laces. You can use a bit of water (several drops at a time) to help it go on evenly and with a bit of moisture. I've used this method in the past when I really want a high shine. Use a circular motion. Don't over-apply as this takes the polish longer to dry and doesn't help anyway.

5. Allow the polish to dry. Should take around 10 minutes.

6. Buff the shoes with a horsehair brush using a fast, sweeping motion.

7. Bring out the shine with a soft cloth, rubbing the leather lightly and quickly.

You're done! The leather should feel a bit slick and smooth, and definitely not tacky.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Shoe Care

Shoes are a huge part of your look, and you want to be sure to care for them properly. But first, a word about picking a good pair. A great suit can be defamed quickly by bad shoes. I've written before about color and shape choices. Those considerations aside, and speaking in general terms, you want to invest in your shoes. Cheap ones not only look cheap, they don't last. Why not spend what's necessary to get a good looking and good quality pair? You'll look a lot better (enough justification by itself), and overall they'll probably end up being less costly because you're not paying to replace them like you would with a cheap pair. Price isn't the only indication of quality, but on the whole, you have to pay more for good quality shoes. It's worth it. It pays dividends on the style side and in the service they'll render. Watch for sale prices and specials at places that have good shoes and you can get the best of both worlds.

Shoe care is essential to making sure they look good and give you the performance and longevity they're capable of providing. Here are a few tips:

  • When putting your shoes on, use a shoe horn, especially if you have a bit of difficultly maneuvering your foot into the shoe completely. This will save the heal from wear and from losing it's shape.
  • After a day of use, give them a breather. Your dogs need a day or two of recovery. This will allow them to air out completely before you put them back on. You should have at least 2 pairs to rotate if you're wearing them every day.
  • Clean, condition, and polish them often. More on this next time...
  • Use shoe cream as needed to cover scratches, to moisturize, and to renew color. With brown leathers, you should pick a cream that is slightly lighter than the shade of the leather. It can be helpful if you can find a cream that is made by the company that made your shoes. Allow it to dry, then buff using a horsehair brush.
  • Use cedar shoe trees. They absorb the moisture left in the shoe when you take them off, and without them your shoes will lose shape.
  • When traveling, use shoe bags or wrap them in a soft cloth so they don't get scratched.
  • Use rubber oversoles to protect your shoes in bad weather, especially with leather soled shoes. Wet leather wears out much more quickly than dry leather, so keep 'em dry.
  • For bigger problems in the sole or elsewhere, take them to a shoe repair shop. Once your soles have worn out, you should be able to resole them relatively inexpensively. If you've cared for the leather and with the addition of new soles, your shoes will give you years more service.