September 30, 2011

Reader Question: Stretching Leather

Hi JJ,

I have a leather jacket that I’ve had for a while and it got wet a few weeks back. I googled what to do and am pretty sure I did everything right, but when I tried it on it was too tight. Any suggestions?


Hi Nick,

This is a common problem because even if you do everything right, sometimes the leather will still shrink depending on how it was treated during production. Don’t worry though, because with a little time, you can get that jacket back in shape. Start wearing it around the house for a few hours a day and eventually your movement and body heat will stretch the leather back out to where it is comfortable for you.

Hope this helps and thanks for reading!

PS – Sorry for the delay in new posts, crazy schedules have delayed shooting on a bunch of posts, but I am going to knock a bunch out this weekend and resume my normal frequency. Thanks for sticking with me.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

September 23, 2011

Investing In Your Wardrobe

I wanted to write this piece now because over the last few months I have heard a lot of talk about cutting costs on clothing and shoppers being less willing to spend money on what have been deemed ‘fancy’ clothes. If you come away from this post with one thing, I want it to be that if you invest in quality, far from being a drain on your wallet it will actually pay off in the long run. This is true of many things, not only clothing, and it is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received.

When you buy a car, would you rather spend $1000 on a 1997 Chevy Cavalier that will probably break down in a year or $6K for a 2008 Honda Civic that will likely last a decade? This is how I think that people should approach clothing purchases. Look at a quality piece as an investment rather than next year’s thrift store donation, and you’ll end up recouping that initial cost in the years of happy wear without needing a replacement. You will also feel better wearing your investment piece because of the higher level of craftsmanship and quality of materials, which translates to more confidence. I strongly believe that confidence is key to having good style—if you don’t think you look good, no one else will.

While it is certainly true that there are clothing lines that charge a premium for little more than their name, the opposite is also true. With few exceptions, when it comes to quality, less is definitely less. Low prices are usually indicative of articles of clothing that are of lower quality, mass-produced, and made of inferior materials. Stores such as JCPenney and Kohl’s primarily stock the kind of clothing that sacrifices style as well as fit and fabric (two of the most important things to consider when buying clothes) for a low price. Check the synthetic-filled labels if you don’t believe me.

On the other hand, brands like H&M and Zara are usually very on trend when it comes to fashion and fit, and their prices are extremely affordable. The problem with these is all about quality. If you’ve ever had something from these stores fall apart after only the 10th wash, you know exactly what I mean. Don’t get me wrong, I find items like this to serve a certain purpose – what I term ‘disposable fashion’ – because they allow me to experiment with new styles and trends without making a long-term commitment to something that I may not wear ever again. They have their place in your wardrobe, but it should be a very specific one.

So why spend $300 on a pair of shoes or $150 for a pair of jeans? In the long term, over the life of your clothing, you will not only be more comfortable but also save money.

Here is an example. Years ago, I bought a pair of shoes, classic cap toe lace-ups, for $70 from Macy’s. Wearing them 2-3 times a week, it was about 8 months before they wore out. Also, since they were lower grade leather, they never really broke in, so that was 8 long months of discomfort. Handmade shoes from companies such as Allen Edmonds or Alden are known to last well over a decade (with proper care, of course). I have another pair of shoes that cost about $250, but have lasted me 9 years and are still going strong. 9 years of the $70 shoe would have cost me over $600, not to mention the unquantifiable amount of pain in my feet.

While there are always exceptions and production errors (one of the worst suits I ever bought was by Burberry), generally companies that have a longstanding tradition of quality and craftsmanship are worth the extra money. A $2,000 blazer made by Ermenegildo Zegna, a family-owned company who has been in the textile business for over 100 years, is going to be made of a better fabric, with more thoughtful details, and wear better than a $250 one from the Gap-owned Banana Republic. Now I am not suggesting that everyone go out and drop two grand on a blazer, clearly everyone has a different budget and varying needs, but it is important to figure out what you want from a piece and spend accordingly. If this means saving up for an extra month, just remember that you’ll praise your forethought when you don’t have to re-buy that piece next year. Everything is relative (a Banana Republic jacket will be leaps and bounds better than a Joe by Joseph Abboud piece from JCPenney) so it’s all about finding the best piece for your situation.

Before making a purchase, analyze your budget, the intended type and frequency of use, what aspects of fit and fabric are most important to you and then make an informed decision and buy what is right for you. Just remember to consider investing in your wardrobe as you would invest in a car, a computer, or a mattress. In the long run it will pay off.

Stay stylish,

September 17, 2011

Care and Maintenance: Leather

Leather can be a little tricky to take care of but if you invest a little time, your leather goods can last you a long time. I am specifically covering straight leather in this post but I will get to suede and shearling later in the series.

I am starting with shoes since they usually take the most wear and thus, need the most attention. Keeping your shoes polished and conditioned will go a long way towards extending their life. How often you do this depends a little on how often you wear them, but you should polish or condition all of your shoes at least once a month.

Clearly, if you haven’t worn a pair since they were last polished you don’t need to do it again. A quick conditioning will refresh the shine and keep the leather from cracking.

You should give your shoes some time to rest, so if you can try not to wear the same pair more often than every 2-3 days. This will also greatly extend the life of your shoe.

Extra Tip : When you are not wearing them, try using cedar shoe trees. This will not only help your shoes keep their shape, but also absorb any excess moisture.

A sampling of my leather care products.
Top row (L-R): UGG Water & Stain Repellent; UGG Cleaner & Conditioner;
Angelus sealant for smooth leather; Kiwi Leather Lotion.
Middle: Travel kit by Joseph Abboud for Nordstrom; Similar kit opened up by Bloomingdales.
Bottom: Horsehair applicator brush; Kiwi shoe polish; Shine cloth; Horsehair shine brush.
Other leather goods such as bags and wallets can usually get away with a little less attention. While you certainly could polish you wallet, I can’t think of a reason why you would want to.

Again, it depends on how frequently you use an item but monthly or bi-monthly conditioning should generally be sufficient. I use Kiwi, but stop into your local cobbler and ask them for a recommendation if you are unsure of what product to use.

When it comes to waterproofing your leather, keep in mind that there is no such thing as 100% waterproofing.  That said, waterproofing products will help keep the water from soaking in and potentially ruining your item. There are a myriad of different products, each with their own pros and cons, so your decision should be based on how you use your leather item.

Extra Tip II : If a leather item gets wet, do not under any circumstances put it near heat to dry it out. Let it dry at room temperature and then give it some extra conditioning paying particular attention to the areas that got wet.

If you have any specific leather care questions, let me know. What tips do you have for taking care of your leather?

Stay stylish,
- JJ

September 13, 2011

Style Feature: The Brogued Shoe

Shoes are an oft-overlooked part of a man's wardrobe. A boring pair of shoes can undo all of your carefully considered sartorial choices. Brogueing is a decoration characterized by perforations and is a nice way to bring a little excitement into your footwear.

1. Full-Brogue

These wingtips are one of my favorite pairs of shoes. The softer leather pushes them a bit more toward the casual side, but I have dressed them up when I want to put some more fun into a suit.

Extra Tip : To get the most out of your dress shoes, get them rubbered or put taps on. This will extend the life of the sole and is a fraction of the cost of a new pair.

Shoes by Ted Baker; Shirt by Nautica; Denim by AllSaints Spitalfields;
Socks by Psycho Bunny; Sunglasses by Prada.

2. Quarter-Brogue

These balmorals are dressy enough for a formal affair, but the hint of brogueing gives that fun kick of added style.

Extra Tip : The closed-lacing is what distinguishes these from the more casual blucher (also called derby) style of shoe.

Extra Tip II : Generally speaking the more brogueing a shoe has, the more casual it is.

Extra Tip III : Many high-quality, handcrafted shoes, Allen Edmonds and Alden for example, offer restoration services to get your well-worn shoes looking like new again. This is great not only for the pair you’ve had for years, but for the diamond-in-the rough thrift shop find.

Shoes by Allen Edmonds; Suit by PS by Paul Smith; Shirt by Charles Tyrwhitt;
Tie by Robert Godley; Belt by Lacoste; Tie bar by Kenneth Cole New York;
Pocket square by Burberry; Socks by Cole Haan; Eyeglasses by Dolce & Gabbana.

3. Wingtip Boot

These boots are straight-up casual. The treatment given to the leather gives them a broken-in look. It also means I don’t feel bad beating them up from daily wear in the city.

Extra Tip : This look could almost have been called Head-to-Toe: John Varvatos. While I don't generally recommend wearing only a single designer, there are some instances where it works. I'll cover this in a future series.

Boots by AllSaints Spitalfields; Shirt by Converse John Varvatos;
Corduroy pants by Converse John Varvatos; Vest by Black Hearts Brigade;
Scarf by Express; Sunglasses by Prada.

Hopefully this post gives you a little taste of the variety and range that a brogued shoe can offer to your wardrobe. Coming up soon is part 2 in my Care and Maintenance series on leather.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

September 7, 2011

Fashion's Night Out 2011

As you probably know, Fashion’s Night Out (cleverly re-branded this year as FNO) is upon us again. Though it seems that a lot of retailers have scaled things back a bit this year, there are still lots of great things to do all over the city.

Unfortunately, I am working an event and won’t make it to many places but here are some of the picks I made when I thought I had the night free. You will also notice the trend of GWPs and free stuff (designers love giving away totes).

1. Alexander McQueen
Register on their FNO website for an invitation, then head to the 14th St store to pick up a key (while supplies last) for a chance to win an Alexander McQueen Folk Tote. Also on sale, the limited edition crystal skull keychain.

2. AllSaints Spitalfields
Their Broadway location is offering a 20% discount to shoppers (and a live set by The Pierces).

3. Ovadia & Sons Launch
From 6-8pm Ovadia & Sons will be launching their line at Bloomingdales' 59th St location. If you haven’t heard of them, you probably will soon. I can already tell that this shop is going to be a black hole for my bank account.

Both the flagship on Fifth and the Rugger store on Prince will have appearances by Michael Bastian and Christian Bastin. With a $250 purchase you get a pair of GANT Rugger sunglasses and a tote bag signed by Michael Bastian.

5. Kenneth Cole 
Visit the stores on Lexington, Fifth, or in Grand Central and check in on Foursquare to get a free t-shirt. The best place to go is the SoHo location where Kenneth Cole himself will be hanging out. KC knows how to throw a FNO party, so if the last two years are any indication, you will want to get there early.

6. Marc Jacobs
Head down to the Bleeker or Mercer Street stores for the Marc Jacobs carnival where they will have limited edition carnival tote bags. Also, champagne cans because who doesn’t love champagne out of a can?

7. Odin New York
Plinko. Need I say more? With prizes from some awesome brands like Shipley & Halmos, Bespoken, and Burkman Bros, channel your inner Bob Barker and head on down.

8. Ted Baker London
Check out the Little W 12th St location for free drinks and a special treat for stopping by. Also, limited edition tote bag with any purchase.

What are your plans for FNO 2011? I’ll be at Lord & Taylor on 5th Ave for most of the night so if you are in the area, come up to the 10th floor and say hi.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

September 4, 2011

Reader Question: Sweater Care

Hey JJ

I have this sweater that I bought at a thrift store and I’m not sure how to clean it. I am pretty sure it is cotton because it doesn’t feel like wool, but since it doesn’t have a tag inside I’m not sure. How should I wash it?



Hey Chris,

Great question! This has happened to me quite a bit (I love thrift and vintage shopping). It is tough to tell from the picture you sent, but my guess is that you are right and it is cotton. Either way, your best option would be to hand wash it.

Fill your bathtub with cold water and place the sweater flat at the bottom. You are going to want to use dish detergent rather than normal laundry detergent because it helps absorb oil in the natural fibers.  Then you are going to want to agitate it gently in the water, without stretching or twisting the fibers. If you stretch out the knit in the sweater it will misshape and overstretch and you certainly would not want that.

After agitating the water for about 5 minutes, let it sit for about 10-15 minutes, after which you’ll wash it out (also delicately) until no soap remains. I would then suggest draining the tub, placing a clean towel down (you’ll want a towel that is a light color or a close color match to the sweater you are washing so that you don’t get any bleed-through between the two), and setting the sweater on it. You do not want to hang the sweater to dry or the weight of the wet fibers will cause the weave to stretch out. Reshape the sweater as you lay it down, to make sure that it dries in the correct shape, and wait. You’ll have a nice clean sweater when it dries.

Thanks for reading and keep the questions coming!

Stay stylish,
- JJ

September 1, 2011

The Art of Fit Pt 2: Casual Shirting

One of the most important things to remember when buying clothes is that fit is everything. It doesn’t matter if you spend $5 or $500 on a shirt, if it fits poorly, you will not be making the best impression that you could.

In this post, I will cover the basics on proper fit for the casual sport shirt, so you can look your best and feel confident doing it in this style staple.

There are three basic components to fit on a casual woven shirt: shoulders, sleeves, and body. Since we are talking about sport shirts, the fit at the collar is less important since the top button is often left unbuttoned when wearing a shirt casually.

While a good tailor can adjust the sleeves and body of a shirt with relative ease, altering the shoulders amounts to major reconstruction. So, it is important to pick a shirt that fits well in the shoulders above all things.

Generally speaking, the sleeve of your shirt should hit right around the wrist bone. As I mentioned, a good tailor can shorten that length, but can rarely add any, so always err on the side of a longer sleeve. Many off-the-rack shirts tend to run long in the sleeve for this reason.

Lastly, the body should have some tailoring to it. Your body type will play a large part in determining how much tailoring, but you don’t want something that is billowy or overly boxy. You also don’t want something that is too tight—stick to a fit that follows your shape, but still floats slightly away from the body.

Shirt by Vince; Denim by PPD; Sneakers by
Paul Smith Jeans; Grey undershirt by
Emporio Armani; Sunglasses by Prada.
Being 5’11”, 175 lbs with somewhat of an athletic build, I am lucky enough to be almost universally an off-the-rack Medium. However, as every brand uses a different fit model, sometimes I wear a Small (such as in Nautica). Other times, labels will have different fits within their lines (like Marc Jacobs or Allsaints Spitalfields) and I wear a Medium, Large, or sometimes even XL. The important thing is to find a piece that fits your body, don’t get hung up on having to go up or down a size.

Shop around until you find the labels that fit you best and never be afraid to try things on.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next post in the Art of Fit series on Dress Shirts.

Stay stylish,