Monday, April 5, 2010

Ties, Part II

As mentioned in the previous post, a tie and a collar should have about the same width for optimal effect. But what about the tie knot? Care should be taken here, as well. There are a number of ways to tie a knot, and I'll talk about the 3 most common here: The full Windsor, the half Windsor, and the four-in-hand. Each has it's place, and a few are more versatile than others.
full Windsor, half Windsor, four-in-hand

Full Windsor: Very symmetrical and the largest of the 3, it forms a wide triangle and is best suited for wearing with wider collars. Somewhat erroneously named for the Duke of Windsor, who liked to sport a large knot and so had extra-thick ties commissioned, which he tied with a four-in-hand knot, not a windsor. People who tried to emulate his big knot using normal sized ties originated the knot.
Pros: It tends to stay in place quite well and has a more formal appearance, making it the choice of many professionals.
Cons: Usually too symmetrical, making your look have an overly-studied appearance, like you spent an hour in front of the mirror. It looks best with wider collars, so it's versatility is limited. James Bond said in From Russia With Love that a Windsor was the mark of a traitor. The jury is still out on that.

Half Windsor: Also symmetrical but not as large as the Windsor.
Pros: Gives a neat appearance while not being as large as the Windsor, so it's more versatile. Can be worn with a wider variety of collars.
Cons: The symmetry issue, again.

Four-in-hand: The most common knot and maybe the easiest to tie. Its asymmetry, narrowness, and smaller size set it apart from the Windsors.
Pros: Gives variety to the otherwise symmetrical appearance of shirt collars and suit jacket lapels. With a tie that has good thickness, it produces a knot that is neither too large nor too small. Looks great with ties of all widths, and should be the only choice for narrower ties. It's typically the knot used with a more contemporary look.
Cons: If your tie has good thickness, the knot has great versatility. With thin (not narrow--thin) ties it makes a small knot. So the four-in-hand may be too small for wider collars if the tie isn't adequate.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Primer on Ties, part 1

Width. There are extremes on either side of the spectrum: The lobster bib sized 4.5 incher on one end, and the pencil-thin trendy tie on the other. I like to practice moderation when selecting a tie. Too wide and it's outdated and out of style. It also adds a visual element of width/girth that you probably don't want. The ultra-narrow ties are trendy and will likely cause "what was I thinking?" types of sentiments in the not-too-distant future. Better to stick to the safe zone of about 2.5 inches to 3.5 inches. An inch may not sound like much of a difference. It is. 2.5 inches wide is too narrow for some conservative types, but is a nice, contemporary look. 3.0 is a great middle ground: it looks contemporary without coming off as trendy. 3.5 is a classic choice for guys who want a bit wider tie without looking like it's been in their closet since 1997.

Remember: your suit lapels should be around the same width as your tie, and your shirt collar should follow the same rules as well. For consistency in your look, narrow tie>>narrow lapels>>narrow shirt collar, and the same for wider ties, lapels, and shirt collars.

A great tie has a good shape. After the tie is knotted, the tie gradually gets to it's maximum width. Skinny at the top and wide at the bottom is not good--while there should be some difference between the width of the tie up by the collar and the width at the bottom of the tie, it's not a drastic change.

Next up in part 2: How to pick your knot.

Some good examples of width: Note how the width of the tie matches the shirt collar. When knotted, these will look consistent, regardless of the spread of the collar.

A few bad examples: When knotted, these ties will be too narrow compared to the shirt collar. The smaller knot yielded by the narrower tie will look oddly small next to these long collars.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Helpful Tip for Trousers

It's frustrating to go to the closet and find your trousers in a heap on the floor after they've fallen off the hanger, as they are prone to do. Or worse, when you're traveling and and they've slipped off and are amassed at the bottom of the garment bag. Wrinkled trousers don't make a great impression, needless to say. At least at home they have a chance to de-wrinkle after they've been rehung. Best to keep them on their hanger where they belong. You either need to upgrade your hanger, or try this useful tip, courtesy of Esquire:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Suit Fabric Overview

For those of us that enjoy dressing in a nice suit, it may be helpful to have a little education into the background and definitions surrounding the fabric of what we love to wear.

Wearing suits began at roughly the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, at the end of the eighteenth century. At that time the British Isles dominated the world in the production of wool. Wool comes from sheep. The first step is called "carding," where the wool is scraped together into long strands. There are two basic types of wool: woollen and worsted.
- WOOLEN: This type of wood is coarse and heavy. Carding is all that is done to refine the wool. The result is used for sweaters, tweek, flannel, and meltons.
- WORSTED: After its been carded it is combed to make the fibers more parallel with fewer exposed ends, resulting in smoother strands. These strands are then tightly twisted to make very long, fine strands.

This raises the issue of the term "Super" as in "Super 120's." The first usage of this term came from the Ermenegildo Zegna factory in the northern Italy village of Trivero. The introduced the term "Super 80's" denoting that their wool was 18 micron's in diameter. The number refers to the diameter of the wool, not the thread count. The higher the number advertised, the finer the wool, although it is a marketing term, not an actual measurement.

Regardless of the Super count, there are 3 types of worsted wool that are typically used in suits.
- Merino: It's a type of sheep. Wool from merino sheep create the softest, most expensive wool for suits.
- Cashmere: This is an even finer hair, from Himalayan goats.
- Angora: From Angora goats, in Turkey

Wool is dyed before it is woven, thus the phrase "dyed in the wool." This results in a more consistent and permanent dye (as opposed to dying the wool after it's been woven into fabric. Patterns are then created from weaving wool yarns of different colors and textures.
- Hopsack: a course, loose weave
- Flannel: a loose term for any fabric with a smooth, napped surface
- Twill: a weave that makes a diagonal line
- Gabardine: made from a tight twill weave
- Houndstooth: a twill variation, made of jagged, broken checks
- Herringbone: made by alternating the direction of two twill patterns to make a 'V' pattern
- Glenplaid: a pattern of small checks alternating with large squares
- Windowpane: large, plain, open square pattern
- Pinstripe: solid wool with a fine stripe of a contrasting color
- Chalk stripe: Like a pinstripe, but with a less sharply defined line that may be faintly blurred or indistinct.

Wool suits are here to stay. Hopefully this little taste of wool education will help you better understand and appreciate the suits you enjoy so much.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit

I know we are usually pretty serious on this blog, but I can't resist. A recent episode of How I Met Your Mother included a musical number entitled, "Nothing Suits Me Like A Suit." For those of you that don't watch this show, there is a character on the show that wears a suit all of the time. It's a major part of the character, and a recurring topic in the show. It's quite funny if you love suits like I do. This particular episode was hilarious. Enjoy the video.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Suit for Every Shape

A man looks his best when he's wearing a suit. A suit minimizes flaws and maximizes strengths. It makes you look better than anything else you could put on, if you know how to pick a suit that is right for your body shape. The wrong suit will do the opposite of what it's supposed to, and it's not just about the cut. Patterns and colors matter as well. Here is a guide on body shape to help you look your best.

The Square
The jacket should be long enough to cover your rear, but only just. Too long and your legs will be unfairly shortened. Get a 2 button with side flaps, pinstripes or solids are okay, make sure the lapels aren't too wide. Avoid anything horizontal--cuffs, wide square patterns in your suit or shirt, and horizontally striped ties. Go fitted anyplace you can--in the shoulders, the jacket waist, and the pants.

The Inverted V

If your largest area is your midsection, go for a 1 or 2 button jacket to elongate your torso. Pinstripes are also helpful. To offset your shape, opt for stronger shoulders and a wider lapel. V neck sweaters can be flattering. Dark solid colors for your suit are best. Like the square shapes, you should avoid horizontal lines. And baggy pants don't solve anything. The extra folds only break up the vertical lines your trying to create, so make them comfortable but as fitted as possible.

Tall and Skinny
You can wear a 3 button or a 2 button jacket, preferably with the buttons set a bit higher up on the 2 button. Brighter/bolder colors in the tie and shirt will draw attention to your upper body and help create breadth, as do square and plaid patterns. Solids are good, stripes only make you look taller and skinnier. Just because your skinny doesn't mean you need extra padding or extra cloth. Keep it fitted so it doesn't look like it's hanging off of you. Your pants should be pleatless. Cuffs are optional.

The Athletic V

If you're muscular, your suit should be fitted (notice the recurring theme? A suit with a nice silhouette is flattering, and doesn't have to be restrictive) but make sure biceps aren't detectable. A 2 button suit with narrower lapels goes with your body shape nicely. You can wear pinstripes, solids, and, depending on how wide you are, square and plaid patterns.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Removing Shoe Polish

I recently made the mistake of using a darker shade of brown than I intended on a medium brown pair of oxfords. I failed to follow my own advice to use neutral polish on light to medium brown shoes. Luckily it didn't make a huge difference, but it got me thinking about how to remove unwanted polish. If you're using a shoe polish like Kiwi or similar, chances are it's more of a colored wax than a stain or paint, which means it can be removed, at least to some degree. So if you've used the wrong shade or you've got too much build up--which inhibits the shoe from breathing as it should--you can get it back to where you want it to be. A few options to try:

1. Use hot water and wipe off the polish.
2. Use shoe cleaner to remove the polish. Apply a small amount of cleaner at a time and work it into the leather. Buff the cleaner (and the excess polish build up along with it) completely off.

Now you're ready to apply new polish. Shine your shoes regularly, but use a light coating. If you're too heavy handed you'll shorten the life of your shoes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's In A Suit? Contrasting different sources.

These days you can purchase a suit almost anywhere, including Wal-Mart. But not all suits are created equal. Below you can compare the different sources of suits, their features, benefits, and prices.

(Click to view larger)

I believe that the best value is in the third column. Here you get most of all of the benefits of a true bespoke suit at a fraction of the cost. If you're willing to shop around you can probably find a retailer with costs at or near those of upscale off-the-rack stores.

Friday, January 1, 2010

10 Style Tips for the New Year

1. Be sure 1/2 inch of your shirt cuff is visible when wearing a suit and your arms are hanging freely at your sides.

2. All your suits should have double vents (2 side vents) or a single vent in the middle. Reserve no-vent suits for waiters, weddings, and Miami Vice reunions.

3. Remember this: pant pleats are dead. All your pants should be flat front. If you must have a pleat, consider having inward-facing pleats. They tend to balloon less.

4. Try wearing brown shoes with grey suits. The darker the suit, the lighter the shade of brown. This rule applies to navy suits as well. In general, wear black shoes only with black suits.

5. Never button the bottom button on your single-breasted suits. Ever. By now you should only have 2-button or 3-button suits in your closet. Leave the bottom unbuttoned. If you are wearing a double-breasted suit, button all functioning buttons. For all suits - if you are standing, the suit should be buttoned. If sitting, unbuttoned. No exceptions.

6. The width of your jacket lapel should be similar to the width of your necktie. Remember, moderate to narrow ties are the current fashion.

7. Your pants should only have a single break at the shoe. No folds upon folds. The leaner the trouser cut, the less break you should have. But never more than a single break. Cuff or no-cuff? Either is acceptable.

8. Try a
vest. They are versatile and hip. They add several new options to your wardrobe. And they are currently fashionable, even with jeans. Tip: always leave the bottom button of your vest undone.

9. Get a
fitted dress shirt. Trust me - It's flattering. You'll know why men love them as soon as you get your own.

10. Buy a new suit in 2010. Expand your suit collection and push your personal style a little.