February 29, 2012

The Art of Fit Pt 5 – Trouser Alterations

Following up on Pt 4 in the series, I wanted to demystify the process of altering pants a little bit. Many men simply buy their clothes off the rack without a thought about tailoring them for the best fit. While not everyone will have the skills and knowledge to do their own alterations, my hope is that I can show the ease with which it can be done. Often times a simple alteration is the difference between wearing your clothes and your clothes wearing you.

I will focus on a particular pair of John Varvatos pants that I thrifted for about $40. The price was right, since they likely retailed for over $400, and the material and construction is really great. The main problems were that the legline was about 4” too wide and the previous owner had turned the hem under and taken it up by 4”.

Some readers may be horrified by the thought that I am about to destroy a really expensive pair of pants. My take on it is that if I buy a piece of clothing, I want to be able to wear it. If something doesn’t quite fit but I am able to alter it to what I want, then I am going to do it. I think that clothes are made to be worn and enjoyed and that is exactly what I intend to do.

The first step was to let out the hem. Next, the pants were turned inside out and the leg pinned to the desired line. Since so much material needed to be removed, they needed to be taken in at both the inseam and outseam to maintain a clean look.

Once one leg was pinned, the other could be done on a table with the assistance of a hem gauge (essentially a tailor’s slide rule) to match up the legs exactly.

Once pinned, it is time to get to stitching. A straight stitch along your pin line will do the trick. After the straight stitch is done, you have a few options to prevent the edges from unraveling. If you have a serger, it will simultaneously cut off the excess fabric and stitch the edge. This is usually the most polished and professional but also the most time consuming.

Another option is to cut the excess off and use a zig zag stitch on the edges. This is a standard option on most sewing machines and while it will get the job done, it is definitely not the most secure.

I chose to use pinking shears, which are scissors with a sawtooth blade that cuts in a zig zag pattern. While they don’t completely prevent fraying, they limit the amount that the fabric can fray thus preventing it from unraveling.

After the leg was taken in to where I wanted, it was time to move on to the hem. Taking up a hem is pretty straightforward, simply turn the cuff under, pin to your desired length, and stitch by hand. You definitely need a second person to do the pinning for this, because if you bend or do not stand straight, it will alter the way the pants break. Also make sure to wear the style of shoe that you will want to wear with the pants, because different shoes will affect how the pants fall.

On trousers, a hem will require a blind stitch, which needs to be done by hand to prevent a stitch line from being seen on the outside. You could use a special blind hem foot on a sewing machine, however you’ll still see every few stitches on the outside (or “right side”) of the fabric which is why I always recommend having this done by hand. On chinos, a double straight stitch is often used, while denim usually features a chainstitch (which requires a special, usually vintage, machine).

When it was all done and pressed, I ended up with a great new pair of slim, wool trousers. You can see them featured here in my recent post on wool trousers.

What experiences do you have with alterations?

Stay stylish,
- JJ

February 25, 2012

Favorite Finds: Mock Neck Cardigan

This edition of Favorite Finds features two things that I am a huge fan of all wrapped up in one great piece – Cardigans and Psycho Bunny.

This sweater is described on Pyscho Bunny’s website as a ‘Jardigan’ which is a term that I had never heard before. I definitely see where the name came from, as this is a hefty cardigan and even though the knit is a finer gauge, it is surprisingly thick and heavy. As a result, it could easily be worn in place of a jacket on a cool fall or spring day.

There is nothing particularly unexpected about the design, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t see a need to reinvent the cardigan and that is not really what Psycho Bunny is about. What they do incredibly well is make high quality pieces that are infused with some fun.

I tried on a Medium and it fit perfectly. I was only wearing a thin woven, but I don’t think I would need to layer anything more underneath. The ribbed cuffs, collar, and waist allow for a snug fit with room for movement and while some mock necks can feel restrictive, this one was anything but.

It is made from 100% merino wool, but unlike the Varsity Wool that I previously featured, it is incredibly smooth and soft. I find the combination of button and zip closures in the front to be a really nice feature.

The details are simple and understated, such as the engraved buttons and sturdy, smooth double zipper. Many people may overlook the zipper, but I have worked with so many zippers that are flimsy, poor quality, or just frustrating to actually zip up. It also comes with extra buttons in case you lose one, which not all cardigans do, so that is a nice bonus.

Interestingly enough, my only problem with this sweater is the lack of branding (something that is normally a good thing, but let me explain). Psycho Bunny has two primary logos that they work with – the Anglo American Flag and the Psycho Bunny - but neither of them appear anywhere on the outside of the piece.

One of the many reasons that I love Psycho Bunny is the logos, because they are fun, colorful, quirky, and add a bit of whimsy into otherwise traditional pieces. The logos can be found on nearly every other piece that they make, so to not have one on this was just a bit of a disappointment, but not a dealbreaker.

What really sets this piece apart for me is the quality construction, impeccable fit, and attention to detail. While $295 may seem a bit steep for some, I think this ‘jardigan’ is definitely worth its price tag.

What are some of your favorite finds so far this season?

Stay stylish,

February 21, 2012

Style Feature: The Wool Pant

Even though spring is coming and stores have moved on to swim and tees, the weather has not quite caught up yet. Dressing seasonally is important not only for staying stylish, but also for staying comfortable. This post will cover four different kinds of wool pants that can take you from fall all the way through winter.

1. Herringbone

These trousers are one of my favorites because they are so versatile. The slim leg maintains a profile that can easily be dressed up or down while the herringbone gives a little classic touch. I also added brace buttons for when I’m feeling in a vintage mood.

While a herringbone pattern can certainly work in a lighter material, to me it seems best suited to fall/winter, so I like to wear it in a heavier fiber to anchor the garment in the season. A thicker wool combined with a lined leg (this pair is only half-lined) will keep you warm on the coldest of days.

Extra Tip : A slim leg will help elongate your body giving the appearance of a taller, trimmer physique. That said, very tall or heavier men should generally favor something a little fuller to balance out their height or weight.

Trousers by Fink Clothing; Shirt by AllSaints Spitalfields;
Down vest by Uniqlo; Shoes by Ted Baker; Scarf by Psycho Bunny;
Sunglasses by Alexander McQueen

2. Donegal

Donegal can mean two things when it comes to fabric. The first refers to tweed that is made in County Donegal, Ireland. The second, which can be seen in these trousers, is a particular pattern that is characterized by a spotted or flecked appearance.

A lighter-weight tweed is great in place of a solid wool trouser to mix some texture into your wardrobe without overwhelming an outfit with other patterned pieces to it. This particular pair is only quarter lined, so it is primarily reserved for warmer days or with underdressed thermals.

Extra Tip : When I bought these the legline was very wide, so I narrowed it by about 2” to get a more tailored appearance. Don’t be afraid to alter your clothes to get the fit you want. Above all, you should be happy with the look and fit of everything you wear, even if it takes a little adjustment.

Trousers by Express Studio; Shirt by Charles Tyrwhitt;
Sweater by The Men's Store at Bloomingdales;
Jacket by Alexander McQueen; Shoes by Salvatore Ferragamo;
Tie by Original Penguin

3. Plaid

I personally love plaid pants (and plaid in general really), so a plaid tweed is the perfect combination. It is a fun and great way to infuse both color and texture into almost any outfit.

Trousers by Edun; Shirt by Uniqlo; Jacket and shoes by AllSaints Spitalfields;
Scarf by Burberry; Sunglasses by Alexander McQueen

4. Solid

Solid pants in weather appropriate fabrics are a good seasonal substitute for the standard suiting material and pair well with almost anything. These pants are what feels to me to be a superfine merino, but I can’t be sure since the care/content tag was removed before I purchased them.

Extra Tip : Like the Donegal trousers, when I purchased these from a thrift store, the leg was really wide (among other things). Check back for the next part in The Art of Fit series where I document the process of altering these trousers to fit my style.

Trousers by John Varvatos; Shirt by Uniqlo;
Jacket and shoes by AllSaints Spitalfields;
Tie and Sunglasses by Alexander McQueen; Tie bar by Link Up

Stay stylish,
- JJ

February 17, 2012

Quick Tip: Smoothing Out Your Shave

Shaving is a daily routine that most men don't put a lot of thought into. If you are going to invest in your wardrobe, why wouldn't you invest in your skin as well?

I have sensitive skin and for years I just used a department store shave gel and cartridge razor. Inevitably, I would either not get a close shave or would irritate my skin while trying to. What changed this for me is actually a bit of a throwback courtesy of The Art of Shaving. Their 4-step process is incredibly simple and hearkens back to a lost time when men wore suits on a daily basis. For me it conjures memories of watching my grandfather shaving when I was young.

First off, you want to use warm water to relax your skin and open up your pores. I like to shave in the shower because the steam helps this process along (and it means I don't have to wipe down the sink afterwards). The process starts out with a pre-shave oil which softens the facial hair and provides a barrier both to increase viscosity and decrease the friction and pulling that leads to irritation.

Next comes the shaving cream. Now I had always been a staunch user of shave gel. I had some notion that gel was more modern and thus somehow better. Sometimes though, a product is timeless for a reason. This tub of shaving cream lasts me an average of 6-7 months (way longer than a can from the drug store). I use an amount the size of a dime, which lathers my face twice.

The trick to this longevity comes from the use of a brush to apply the shaving cream. I use a badger hair brush, but I am sure you could find other options. The brush allows for a better lather from less cream, which helps your wallet, but it also improves the quality of your shave. The brush lifts the facial hair while it is lathering up your face, making it easier to get a good shave. I apply in a roughly circular motion to get the maximum coverage and benefit.

Now that you are all lathered up, it's time to shave. You want to make sure to shave with the grain, especially if you have sensitive skin. Going against the grain is the quickest way to get ingrown hairs and irritation. I'll usually shave once, rinse, lather, and shave again to get the closest shave and make sure I didn't miss any spots. As I mentioned a dime-sized bit of shaving cream easily accomplishes this for me.

After you are done shaving, make sure to rinse with cold water. This will close your pores and help sooth any irritation you might have. Once you dry your face, apply an after-shave balm or lotion. Remember, you just scraped a layer of skin off your face. A little lotion with help keep your skin smooth, especially since you are working so hard to get a smooth shave.

If you think you will have any irritation, I strongly recommend one of two products - Art of Shaving Ingrown Hair Night Cream or Burt's Bees Herbal Blemish Stick. Both products work really well on redness and razor bumps as well as the occasional blemish.

While I am still using a drug store cartridge razor, I'll soon be upgrading to one with a weighted handle and eventually to a safety razor. The benefit of a weighted handle is that it does some of the work for you so that you don't feel the need to apply as much pressure when shaving (a major cause of irritation).

Safety Razor (L); Weighted Handle Cartridge Razor (R)
Photos from Art of Shaving

A safety razor is a major step, but one that will provide an incredibly close shave with much less waste. Having only used one a handful of times, I cannot claim expertise. What I can tell you is that it forced me to take my time (mostly out of fear) instead of rushing through a shave like I normally do, which I am sure goes a long way towards getting the perfect shave.

As you have noticed, I have been extolling the virtues of the Art of Shaving products. This is primarily because they work better than anything else I have ever tried. The other reason is that they are made with no alcohol, synthetic dyes, or fragrances. While this is certainly not a deal breaker for me, it is a huge benefit and selling point and was a major factor in my decision to try out their other products (which I love, but more on that in a future post).

When it comes to your skin, the right product can make all the difference. If there is more involved than simply applying, technique can play a big role too. That is why not only do I recommend the Art of Shaving products, I also recommend their 'guide to the perfect shave' video that can be found on their website.

Since this is such a strong endorsement, I feel a disclaimer is appropriate: I do not, nor will I ever, recommend a product (skin care, clothing, or otherwise) that I do not personally use (or would like to use).

Stay stylish,
- JJ

February 13, 2012

Favorite Finds: White Denim

Denim is something that can either be very simple or very difficult to shop for. There are more styles in more colors by more brands than I care to think about, let alone list. Finding quality denim in a flattering fit for a reasonable price is not easy, but that is where this Favorite Finds takes us.

Uniqlo has rapidly become known as a destination for well-made, affordable basics and that carries through to their denim. Looking forward to spring, it looks like white denim is going to be big again and Uniqlo has just the pair. They paired with one of the top denim mills in the world to manufacture a fabric that is extremely high quality, but assembled elsewhere in Asia to be able to keep the costs down.

The fit is described as a skinny tapered, but I would not describe them as tight by any means. There was more than enough room in the thigh to keep them comfortable and the tapered leg maintained a nice clean look.

The waist measurement suffers from the same vanity sizing that afflicts nearly every company, though not as badly as some (particularly American labels) with only a 2” difference from the advertised size and the actual size. A brief explanation of vanity sizing - I wear my pants at the top of my hip, so that is where I take my ‘waist’ measurement, which is 36”. When buying pants, I wear anything from a 31-36 waist (usually a 32-34) depending on how accurately the manufacturer sizes their clothes. There is much more to this, and I will cover it in more detail in a future post, but that is the gist of it.

Most of Uniqlo’s pant offerings come only in a 34” inseam. They have introduced a very limited selection of 32”, but for the most part you will only see 34s. I would imagine that the reason behind this is so that they can further keep costs down and normally this would pose a problem for many people, however, Uniqlo offers a tailoring service so that you can get the best fit without much trouble. This is also a great option for those whose inseams are right in the middle of the standard lengths, giving the perfect leg line without the cost of taking it to an outside tailor (an especially important thing with jeans since they require a special machine to make that machine hem)

They offer a straight stitch hem for free ($5 for pants priced under $20) and a blind stitch hem for $5. A blind stitch would only be needed on a dressier trouser where a visible machine stitch would be out of place. Usually, this alteration can be done in a matter of hours so you can be on your way in no time (on average 2-3 hours for peak times and an hour or less when they’re not busy). You should probably be taking every pair of pants you buy to your tailor, but it is hard to beat free (or $5 for that matter).

The only thing that you have to be careful about, and this is something to look at on any garment you are considering purchasing, is care instructions. The jeans, like every Uniqlo product I own, are machine wash and line dry. My guess would be that they do not pre-shrink the cotton as yet another way to keep the cost down, so be careful to check the tag before throwing anything in the dryer.

Normally all these concessions that you have to make as a result of a company cutting costs would be pretty annoying. However, unlike most companies, Uniqlo passes the savings onto their customers. At $49.50, these jeans are probably some of the best you could buy for twice that price. I know several people who only wear Uniqlo jeans and swear by their quality and durability. The next time I am in the market for denim, this will be my first stop.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

February 9, 2012

Quick Tip: The Winter Sock

When winter arrives and the temperature drops (hard to imagine right now), it’s important keep yourself warm and comfortable and that goes for your feet too. Your socks don’t have to simply be functional – they can also be fun and stylish. Here I’ll feature five different pairs in a variety of fibers that do all three.

1. Merino Wool

Socks by Black Brown 1826

I am partial to the classic argyle pattern and this sock is great for everyday wear with a dress shoe. Coordinate the background color to your pants and the colors in the argyle back to your shirt, tie, or pocket square for a nice polished look that brings everything together.

2. Wool/Nylon

Socks by AllSaints Spitalfields

Nothing says winter like a fair isle pattern and what better way to get into the spirit of the season? While these could be worn on a dressier occasion, they have a more casual feel than some of the other socks featured in this post. Stick to the casual look and throw them on with a pair of low key lace-ups or maybe some wool boat shoes.

3. Cashmere/Nylon

Socks by Pantherella

When I picked this pair up, I was not in the market for more socks— I have too many as it is. Once I felt them though, it was over. Cashmere socks just feel luxurious and the nylon helps them hold their shape and last longer. These are perfect when I want to sneak a little extra comfort into an outfit.

4. Wool/Cashmere

Socks by Tom Ford

Patterned socks are great because when the pattern covers the entire sock (instead of just along the top or hidden on the heel and toe) even a tiny flash of sock is a great opportunity to add another layer of texture and interest to your outfit. The cashmere content makes these super soft as well while still being thin enough to wear with a tighter dress shoe, making them perfectly paired with anything from a suit to jeans.

5. Cotton Blend

Socks by J Crew

Camp socks are a classic and they have really been making a comeback lately. These particular camp socks are made in the last sock mill in Vermont and were a lifesaver when an unexpected cold front hit while I was up there for the weekend. The exact blend varies a bit for the different color offerings, but they are primarily cotton and machine washable, which is great for easy care and makes them a winter staple in my book.

Remember, wool socks usually need to be hand washed so be sure to check the care instructions before you remove the tags, and when in doubt, opt for hand washing.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

February 5, 2012

Care and Maintenance: Suede & Shearling

For the last several years, it seems you can’t walk down the street without seeing a pair of UGG boots, regardless of the season. While these may be the most prevalent example of suede and shearling, it is by no means the only example. Suede and shearling has been used for hundreds of years, historically for its incredible warmth and more recently for its comfort and style.

Specifically, suede is the underside of a leather hide. Since it was never exposed to the elements it is softer and suppler than full-grain leather with a slight nap to it. Shearling is a sheepskin pelt with the wool still intact on the one side, thus making the other side a sueded leather, if unaltered. Though it shares some similar care instructions with smooth leather, sueded leather has its own set of guidelines to help keep it looking clean and new and with a little care, you can get years of use out of your suede or shearling.

Now that we have established that suede is a type of leather, remember that all leather needs conditioning to keep it from drying out and suede is no different. Pick up a conditioner that is made for suede and use it regularly. You will also find protectant and waterproofing sprays that are available specifically for suede and shearling. These sprays are much more important with suede because, unlike with full-grain leather, water will easily stain a suede garment (especially if it is light in color). Just be sure to reapply every few months to keep it working well.

Once your suede has been waterproofed, it is actually pretty simple to take care of. Now I personally only own suede/shearling shoes, boots, and gloves but I know several people with coats, pants, and the like. Obviously, the larger the garment is, the easier it will be to get dirty simply because there is more of it.

If your suede gets dirty, wait until it dries and then use a suede brush to get the dirt off. This works best with suede that has a longer nap it provides more of a barrier between the base of the leather and the surface.

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, things just get stained. If you find yourself with a stained suede garment, I recommend taking it straight to a professional cleaner who specializes in cleaning and restoring leather products. It is going to be pricy, but in my opinion it is definitely worth it.

There are some home cleaning solutions floating around, such as rubber erasers, sandpaper, and vinegar. While I am normally a proponent of DIY solutions and these may very well work, I have not tried and do not recommend any of them. DIY always comes with a certain amount of risk and in this case I feel that professional cleaners exist for a reason. Suede/shearling does not come cheap, so for the pieces I own, the risk does not outweigh the cost of replacement.

As UGG boots and their imitators remain popular, many dry cleaners are advertising the ability to clean them. Be very careful with this and be sure to ask questions about if they do it in-house, where they send it out to, what process they use, and what their guarantee or policy is because suede/shearling needs extra special care to avoid being ruined. When in doubt, or if you are at all unsure, visit a cleaner who specializes in suede and leather.

Finally, if you are interested in dyeing or re-dyeing your suede item, make sure that you pick up a dye that is made for it, not just a standard leather dye. Though a leather dye will work, suede dye is made with a slightly different consistency to account for the fibers found in the suede, and will give you a better result. Dyeing is a great option to consider, especially for shoes, if your suede is beginning to lose its vibrant color. Like with all dyes, the lighter the base you begin with, the more true to color it will turn out.

Remember that suede, as with all of your clothes, should be treated as an investment in your wardrobe. The benefit is that if treated properly, suede, like leather, can last you for decades. Just be judicious with picking your suede garment – just because you could wear it in 10 years, won’t always mean that you should.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

February 2, 2012

Reader Question: Collar Stays

JJ –

I like to think I am a pretty stylish guy. I wear a suit everyday for work and try to spend some time making sure my clothes fit well. Some of my dress shirts came with really nice collar stays but others came with some really flimsy ones that don’t really do much. I bought some generic ones from Macy’s but they don’t fit all of my shirts and also don’t hold their shape for very long. Got any suggestions?

– Joel


Hi Joel,

Thanks for the question. This was something that I struggled with for a while before I stumbled into Brooks Brothers one day. I have three options depending on your particular want, need, and budget but I definitely recommend replacing the collar stays that come with your shirt (unless your shirt comes with some solid plastic or metal ones).

Thomas Pink sells individual pairs of metal collar stays (in gold, silver, and brass), but what I would recommend is their set of 6 colored plastic stays for $25. The sizing is standard, so they will fit most point and a few semi-spread collars and they are a nice sturdy plastic, but don’t have the size variety if you wear a wider spread. I like these simply because they are fun. Even though no one sees them, I like being able to coordinate them with my outfit. Plus, the cloth pouch is great for travel as it rolls up and will securely store your collar stays.

If you want something stiffer than plastic, Charles Tyrwhitt offers a pair of brass collar stays for $18 (though they are usually on sale for $9), which is significantly less than you will find them most other places. The ones I own have held up very well and they are definitely worth a great value for the price.

Now, back to Brooks Brothers. They sell two great options depending on what you need and both have multiple sizes to fit almost any collar. The first option gives you 9 pairs of gold-plated collar stays in a nappa leather case for $85. They are also made in the USA, which is a big plus for many people. Personally, I have never needed anything more than plastic or brass, but these do look really cool.

On the less expensive side, for $9 you can get a little glass jar containing 12 pairs of collar stays. The ones I bought a few years ago came with four sizes, but the website now says they come with three sizes, which is definitely enough (I have never used the size they dropped). I have replaced all of the collar stays that came with my shirts with these. I actually keep them in a shot glass and just grab them as needed. I also have a second set that lives in my dopp kit for travel.

Hopefully this helped you out a little. There really are a wide variety of options to choose from, but these are the ones that I use and can vouch for. Just remember to take them out before sending your shirt to the cleaner. I lost a pair of the Pink ones that way.

Stay stylish,
- JJ