September 30, 2012

Favorite Finds: Icebreaker Merino

Icebreaker is a New Zealand-based brand that I stumbled across one day while wandering the Meatpacking District, and I’m glad I did. All of their products are made from merino wool, not that unusual, but then I saw the all-weather performance gear. Running shirts, jackets, shorts, leggings, socks, even underwear. At first, it seems counterintuitive to wear a wool shirt to go running in 80-degree weather and not expect to pass out from heatstroke. But when you delve into their philosophy, it makes perfect sense. The sheep whose coats it’s made from manage to stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer, so there has to be something to it.

Since this is activewear, it needs to be functional (though it doesn’t hurt that it looks as good as it feels) and the only way to be confident in a recommendation was to try it out, so I picked one up and gave it a whirl. I’ve had the Quest Crewe (size M), for about a month and have been running in it regularly and it has completely eclipsed all of my other running shirts.

When I first put it on, the shirt felt just the slightest bit itchy, but not uncomfortably so, more just an awareness that this wasn’t your typical performance fabric. After a few minutes though, I didn’t notice any difference from a supima cotton tee. The first run I went on in the Icebreaker shirt was definitely a different experience. It was in the mid-70s and while my core stayed warm, I felt cool for the entire run.

It has mesh panels at the shoulders and sides, but unlike synthetics that require mesh to breath at all, these just serve to help regulate your temperature because the whole shirt is breathable. When I finish a long run, this shirt isn’t plastered to my back like my technical or cotton shirts (which I sometimes need help getting off) because it is naturally moisture wicking and dries quickly (sheep get rained on after all and you don’t see them wandering around looking like wet blankets). On top of all that it is machine washable and, unlike synthetic shirts, it won’t smell after repeated use, which is a huge plus.

There are some nice features that could definitely come in handy while exercising. There is a headphone loop at the back of the collar and a zippered pocket at the right hip with a small hole on the inside for your cord. The zipper is smooth and sturdy and the pocket is a decent size, definitely enough room for keys, id, and some cash without being cumbersome.

Another really cool thing about Icebreaker is that their products are naturally sourced. Each garment has a unique ‘baacode’ (I love that name) that allows you to track the wool from your piece back to the farm(s) that it came from. My shirt was sourced from 4 sheep stations – Lindis Peaks, Irishman Creek, Muller, and Otematata.

This particular shirt is 96% merino wool and 4% elastane (which gives it an incredible amount of stretch), and wool doesn’t come cheap. $80 may seem like a lot, but considering the natural and ethical sourcing, the vastly improved comfort over a synthetic or treated cotton, and the fact that a Nike shirt isn’t that much cheaper, I have to say that it is definitely worth the money.

I cannot say enough good things about both this shirt and Icebreaker in general and I can’t wait to try out their other products, particularly the Tracer Short. And I’ll definitely be picking up more of these in the other great colors it’s offered in.

Stay fit and stylish,
- JJ

September 23, 2012

In Review: FIT's Ivy Style

Last week, the newly accredited Museum at FIT opened their newest exhibition, Ivy Style, chronicling the evolution of the Ivy League look from it’s inception in the early twentieth century to it’s resurgence in popularity today. Particularly after my recent inspiration post, I knew I had to check out another point of view on the subject.

One interesting thing I appreciated about this exhibition is that, similar to the recent Costume Institute exhibit, the pieces are grouped thematically rather than chronologically. Locales such as the chemistry lab, the quad, the dorm room, and the ‘University Shop’ demonstrate how much the clothes have changed over the last century while still managing to stay much the same. From the origins of ‘sportswear’ to the peak of formality each piece serves to inform the journey of the quintessential American style.

It is fascinating to witness the way in which clothing worn on campuses across the northeast (particularly Princeton, who is often credited with being the site of the original Ivy style) was embraced and adapted by college students into a style that was uniquely their own. During the heyday of the 20s and 30s, formality in dress extended even into the privacy of the dorm room. Young men would essentially just replace the suit jacket or blazer with a dorm robe specifically designed for use in the home. At one time, college students would have been expected to own two formal evening suits. Sadly, these days most men will never even own one.

Aside from the history presented in the exhibit, there are a lot of beautiful clothes on view for one to enjoy, even if you are not a fashion history buff. Some particular favorites of mine featured are the Princeton beer suits and the assortment of boating blazers. Interesting side note – while today a blazer is traditionally navy, they got their name from the ‘blazing’ red jackets worn by the rowing club of St. John’s College, Cambridge.

I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of a vintage ensemble with a contemporary one. This happened a lot with Ralph Lauren and occasionally with Brooks Brothers looks, but really made an impression with the formalwear section. It exemplified the three primary forms of formal attire (the tuxedo, cutaway tailcoat, and morning suit) and how little they have changed over the years, even if they have fallen out of use.

Some of the individual curatorial choices were interesting as well. There were at least a half-dozen different types of mannequin sprinkled about the exhibit. I don’t know if this was deliberate or they just didn’t have enough of one style, but it seemed an odd choice. I did really like how the busts without heads had pocket squares tucked into the collar to cover the neck. It was an interesting use of a menswear staple that heightened the overall impression of the ensemble.

I enjoyed a lot of the information presented, particularly the way in which it is presented, which at times has a slightly humorous slant. One favorite quote from the information plaque on madras print tells us how “originally, madras was prized for shirting because of its natural vegetable dyes, which ‘bled’ when washed, and thus produced new coloring effects […] but for most of the last half century, the cloth has been dyed with colorfast chemicals, thereby taking all the fun out of it.”

One problem that I had was that while most mannequins are fully dressed, occasionally only one or two of the pieces are attributed. I assume that this is because the other pieces are not vintage, but there are plenty of contemporary pieces in the exhibit, so I can’t really justify that. I personally would like to know who makes each piece that is dressed in the ensemble to be able to compare different interpretations and representations of the piece and the Ivy look as a whole. It wasn’t a huge issue for me, but it was definitely a missed opportunity in my opinion.

Probably my biggest issue with the exhibit (and it isn’t a deal-breaker, more of an annoyance) is that I thought there was a little too much preference evident, partially in the choice of pieces included but mostly in the accompanying descriptions. The info plaques that provide interesting tidbits of information about the companies and their history feature Thom Browne three times, second only to Ralph Lauren (who has four). Now, I like Thom Browne and I appreciate what he does (even if the shrunken suit is not my personal style), but I would not call him a sartorial giant of Ivy Style when compared to the likes of Brooks Brothers and J Press (who have 0 and 1 plaques respectively) and their almost 100 years of experience. One could argue that he designs Black Fleece so it is like giving props to Brooks Brothers, except it isn’t really because he has only designed for them for 6 of those 94 years of existence. I found it particularly interesting because Brooks Brothers is the main sponsor of the exhibit.

Beyond that, all of the Thom Browne plaques read less like an objective history and more like a rave review with statements like “while some designers are taking a trip down memory lane, Thom Browne consistently shakes of the staid qualities of the past. Browne has won over the high-fashion cognoscenti […yet] has not achieved a parallel degree of acceptance in the world of “real” menswear.” While his works were not given disproportionate attention, my sticking point is that patrons could be better served by a more rounded history of the major players past and present. Gant, for example, was not represented nearly as much as I think they should have been, given the influence they once had and the prominence to which they have returned in the US market.

Overall, I think this is a fantastic exhibition and curated much better than the most recent Costume Institute exhibit, in my opinion. Though small, it is incredibly informative and the variety of pieces on display makes it more than worth the trip. A few things I thought were a bit of a stretch, but I appreciated the nod to Perry Ellis’ influence. If you are in NYC anytime soon, I completely recommend a visit (the Fashion A-Z exhibit in the main gallery isn’t too bad either).

Curated by Patricia Mears, with co-curators and consultants Richard Press and G. Bruce Boyer. Sponsored by Brooks Brothers with additional support provided by J. MacLaughlin. The exhibition runs through January 5, 2013 and is free to the public. The Museum at FIT is located on 7th Ave and 27th Street and open Tu-Fr from noon-8pm and Sa from 10am-5pm. The Ivy Style exhibition is through a set of double doors to the left of the Fashion A-Z exhibit and down a flight of stairs.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

September 19, 2012

Quick Tip: Knowing Your Warranty

When I buy a bag, I rarely give a second glance to the warranty and while I have never had occasion to make use of it, in this instance that lack of attention almost cost me a couple hundred dollars. One of the reasons that I generally disregard warranties is because they are often so much of a hassle that I would rather not deal with them. This is usually by design and with larger corporations there is often a delicate balance between seeming accommodating while also discouraging the use of a warranty. How a company handles customer satisfaction and warranties is a good indication of what their guiding principles are.

I have a Kenneth Cole messenger bag that I purchased a few years ago and the stitching on the strap broke, so I stuck it in the closet figuring I would try and fix it at some point. Recently, while in a Kenneth Cole boutique browsing possible replacements, I mentioned the reason I was there to a sales associate and he told me about their warranty. For the cost of shipping ($7), they will take it back, ship it out and have it either fixed or replaced. Needless to say, this is way better than buying a new bag, but it also brought up an interesting point. In this instance, Kenneth Cole’s bags are licensed out to Heritage Travelware which is who offers the limited lifetime warranty covering defects.

But what about when bags are all you do? Tumi, the name eponymous with business travel, offers a limited five-year warranty. At first glance this sounds like it is skimping a bit since making bags is basically all they do, but it is really just a smart business decision. During the first year, the warranty is all-inclusive. It covers damage and defects and they will replace the product if it cannot be repaired. For the remaining four years, the warranty only covers defects. As with most companies that primarily make a single item, they offer a repair and refurbishment service.

The common approach is that if something is truly defective it will break down in the first five years and if it makes it past that, it will generally hold up for a long time with proper treatment and use. This minimal actual impact is why a lot of companies, particularly smaller ones, can offer lifetime warranties.

Similarly, Frank Clegg Leatherworks, offers a lifetime warranty on all their products and has the added attraction of being made in USA. They will also do repairs, for a nominal fee, but the nice thing about a well-crafted leather bag is that if it is treated well, the wear and tear only gives it more character.

Saddleback Leather Company takes the lifetime warranty one step further. While most lifetime warranties cover the product only for the life of the original registered user, Saddleback offers a 100 year warranty. Their website says “if you or one of your descendants should have a problem, send it back to me or one of my descendants and we’ll repair or replace it for free or we'll give you a credit on the website (be sure to mention the warranty in your will).” Clearly this is a lighthearted comment and there is no guarantee that the company will be around in 100 years, but it demonstrates confidence in the quality and durability of the products they make.

I guess the lesson here is to be aware of the benefits that come with your purchase, and when in doubt it doesn’t hurt to ask. Head into the store and see what they have to offer or check out a local craftsman (every place I have lived, particularly in the south, has a leather worker nearby) and support community businesses. If you explore the possibilities, there is a good chance you can save yourself some money and extend the life of your investment.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

September 14, 2012

Favorite Finds: Down Vest

The Premium Down Ultra Light Vest from Uniqlo is a great layering piece. It comes in a wide variety of colors, which is great to liven up your fall wardrobe. I have a previous version of this and I absolutely love it (see it here and here), so I was excited to see it return to the stores again (it seems to be one of their staple pieces for fall/winter).

I tried on a Medium and the fit is fantastic. It is a trim cut and not at all bulky which is what makes it great for layering. The armholes are high and tight which helps keep your range of motion from being restricted. The understated simplicity and quality construction that have become hallmarks of Uniqlo’s offerings really shine here.  It’s also got a nice stand-up collar that will keep your neck warm if you are going scarf-less, but won’t get in the way if you are wearing it as a layer.

The colors this year are a little varied from when I bought mine, so sadly you won’t be able to pick up the silver version you’ve seen featured previously, but don’t distress too much since this year definitely has some great color offerings too. On top of the classic black (which has a fun almost patent sheen to it), it also comes in dark brown, olive, blue (which is more a pale almost ice blue), a golden beige color, and a rich orange. The colors on the website, at least on my computer, don’t represent the actual colors very well, but since you can’t order online anyway you’ll get to see the true shades before purchasing in store.

There were also two patterned versions of the vest, but the stock of these seemed pretty low, so you may need to wait for the next shipment. Both are a printed plaid, one with a green base and one with a grey palette. It’s also worth noting that you can pick up a jacket version of the Down Ultra Light in even more colors (including a great periwinkle blue I was eyeing when I was in the store shooting this FF) if vests aren’t your thing.

One new feature this year is that Uniqlo’s Ultra Light Down is now water repellent which makes it great for whatever the weather may be. Unlike a lot of down pieces on the market, this vest is 90% down and 10% feather. The normal ratio is 70:30 because while down is better insulation it is also more expensive. This high proportion of down is what allows it to be so incredibly lightweight (the hanger it is displayed on weighs about the same).

Like everything at Uniqlo, the price is really hard to beat and at $49.90 this vest is no exception. If you are in the market for a durable piece that can be both an outer layer this fall and have a coat thrown over it when it starts getting truly cold without feeling like the little brother in A Christmas Story, I highly recommend checking out Uniqlo.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

September 9, 2012

Style Etiquette: Cocktail Attire

I recently attended a friend’s beautiful wedding, but when I asked about appropriate attire the bride hit me with the most confusing dress code I have ever encountered – dressy casual. A couple more questions and I had it pinned down to essentially cocktail attire, but this brought to light just how confusing dress codes can be not just for the guests, but for the hosts as well. Not everyone is well versed in the ins and outs of traditional forms of dress and some people may be afraid of misleading their guests.

Cocktail Attire is another catchall that has lost its clarity as we have moved into a more casual society. Cocktail parties and soirees are no longer commonplace for most people, so when asked to dress for one, many are at a loss as to exactly what that implies. Complicating things even further, the farther we stray from Black Tie and Formal Attire the more variables come into play and thus the more confusing it becomes to decipher what is appropriate. Everything from time of day, season, location, and type of event has an impact on the intended meaning of the requested dress code. Luckily for men, cocktail attire has a set of basic guidelines that you can riff off of depending on how those variables come into play.

A suit is always a safe option, but if you know the setting is more casual a jacket and trousers can be substituted. The evening traditionally calls for a darker suit and a daytime event for a lighter one. In the summer or in warmer climates, linen is totally acceptable and often expected. Personally, I really like windowpane and plaid suits in shades of grey because they inject some fun in what could potentially be just another suit.  There is more room for expression if you go with a jacket and trousers, but be careful not to go too far out of the box unless you really know the context of the event.

Some people are of the opinion that black suits should be reserved exclusively for weddings and funerals, but if you only have a well-fitting black suit, don’t worry about it. I will often wear a black suit to events because it is classic and will go with literally everything. Plus, I think that a black suit gives you a clean palette to have fun with the rest of your outfit (and I’m a big fan of accessories). The right choice of accent colors and accessories can make a black suit anything but boring.

Now, when it comes to the type of dress shirt to wear, anything could be appropriate but this is where things can get tricky. A solid shirt in a muted color is always a safe choice, but if you are attending a party as opposed to a more structured event like a wedding or anything with a seated dinner, then you have some room to make more sartorially daring choices (bright colors, busy patterns, or a combination of the two). Don’t forget to match your collars to the desired level of formality.

Ties, in my opinion, should always be worn with a suit. Suits are by nature formal enough to warrant a tie, plus a tie lets you get even more creative with your color and pattern pairings. If you are really intent on going the open collar route, go with the jacket and trouser option instead, but be careful with the size and shape of your collar and lapels to make sure you don’t venture into Saturday Night Fever territory. I have seen way too many unintentional homages to John Travolta’s chest hair lately.

Shoes are a pretty easy one. Any dress shoe will be acceptable, regardless of where the event falls on the spectrum. Cocktail parties are a great place to break out those brogues or burgundy loafers you have been waiting to put some miles on. When in doubt, go with a black (or brown, depending on your leather choice) Oxford or derby. Just don’t wear sneakers of any kind – that look was never stylish, just trendy.

Lastly, when it comes to accessories you should always have fun with them. Pocket squares, cufflinks, perhaps even a silk scarf (but not a tux scarf) are all available to you. Cocktail attire is the perfect occasion to try some things that might be out of place in a more formal environment but are suited perfectly to the more relaxed setting. In the fall and winter, I also like to pair an odd vest with my suit to break it up and, practically, to add another layer of warmth.

Jeans, short sleeves, and tee shirts are never appropriate to wear when cocktail attire is requested. It doesn’t matter how ‘dressy’ they are, who made them, or how much you paid for them; they are just simply not appropriate. A simple suit from H&M will be infinitely more acceptable than some Dolce jeans and a Burberry knit.

There are countless combination of variable that could affect what you decide to wear, but this should give you a pretty good starting point. If you have a specific event you are dressing for,  hit me up with a question and I can give you more specific advice.

Update: Because of the popularity of this post, I supplemented it post with a Dressing for the Occasion post on Cocktail Attire to give some visual reference here.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

September 4, 2012

Fashion's Night Out 2012

So Fashion Week is soon to be upon us, and that means Fashion’s Night Out. This year the freebies aren’t anywhere near as plentiful, but there is still a lot of fun to be had. Here are some of my top picks for interesting things to do from a menswear perspective, in no particular order.

1. Alexander McQueen
Though not listed on the official FNO website, the party is invitation only from 6:30 – 7:30pm. Register on their website for an invitation, show up at 6:30 and pick a card from their wall for a chance to win a prize.

2. Ted Baker London
Just down the street from McQueen on Little W 12th St, Ted Baker will host a celebration of Britain’s national dish, fish & chips. Stop by for some specialty cocktails and see what they have in store. If nothing else, it will definitely be memorable.

3. Kenneth Cole New York
Head over to any of the Kenneth Cole New York boutiques and check in on Foursquare for a complimentary tote (the first 20 people get one signed by the man himself). Cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and the chance to win a $1000 gift card.

4. Gant
The Gant stores on Bleecker and Fifth Ave and the Rugger store on Prince are offering complimentary drinks, shopping incentives on purchases during FNO hours, and the chance to win a $1000 shopping spree.

5. rag & bone
Last year, SoHo was a disaster thanks in large part to the Kardashians. Luckily, they appear to be engaged elsewhere so it might be safe to venture down to rag & bone’s speakeasy themed soiree at the Mercer Street location. The men behind the label will be there with cast members from Boardwalk Empire and a special musical performance. Purchases over $350 get a GWP and all purchases get to roll the dice at checkout for a shopping incentive.

6. Tiffany & Co.
While there, pop down the street to Tiffany’s new store on Wooster as they celebrate 175 years of style. There will be art, music, fashion, and drinks so I think it is definitely worth checking out if you are in the area.

7. Ernest Alexander
A few blocks over on Thompson, Ernest Alexander Sabine himself will be there premiering a new tote line and explaining the inspirations for his designs. It sounds like it could be a very unique and interesting experience.

8. The Shops at Target Pop-Up Shop
I'm really excited about the Odin collection for the Shops at Target opening on September 9. On Fashion's Night Out, at 441 W 14th St near the high line, there will be a pop-up that gives us lucky New Yorkers the chance to shop the collections before it is available to the rest of the world. It will probably be one of the most popular events of the night, so be sure to get there early.

9. Bloomingdales
If you are looking for a one-stop shop for drinking and shopping, department stores are a good stand-by and Bloomingdales on 59th St seems like the best choice this year. There are a lot of cool in-store appearances by the likes of Matchbox Twenty, Sam Shipley (Shipley & Halmos), Doug and Ben Burkman (Burkman Bros.), and Morgan Collett and Josh Rosen (Saturdays Surf) plus music, a Fred Perry ping pong tournament, and probably a plentiful supply of drinks throughout the building. There is also a launch event for Thomas Pink from 6-8 and a men’s suiting event from 6-9 featuring $500 off a $2000 purchase and a Turnbull & Asser GWP (which is a fantastic deal if you are in the market).

What will you be doing on Fashion’s Night Out?

Stay stylish,
- JJ

September 1, 2012

Favorite Finds: Contrast Cardigan

Normally I am not a fan of Banana Republic but I am always on the lookout for new stuff, so when I saw this contrast tipped cardigan, complete with classic elbow patches, I thought it was worth checking out. If you couldn’t tell yet, I’m a big fan of extra details on garments that separate them from the rest, and this cardigan definitely fits that bill.

What I like about this piece is that though it is simple, it contains some key details that keep it interesting (and certainly caught my attention on the mannequin in the store). Though it is a little hard to tell in the far away shots, there is both a color and texture contrast between the sleeves/trim and the body/elbow patches. This combined with the piping down the front makes this more than just your average cardigan.

The fit, to me, was not quite perfect. I tried on a Medium and the body was really nice and slim fitting. The shoulders were a little too wide though, and I have pretty broad shoulders. This resulted in one of two things. If I pulled the shoulder seams to where they should be, there was a lot of extra fabric between my neck and shoulders that affected how the sweater bunched. If I left the shoulders where they fell naturally, which was about an inch off, there was a lot of extra material underneath the arms, which affected my range of motion a little bit and looked awkward anytime I lifted my arms.

This sweater is made of 70% cotton, 20% nylon, and 10% silk. The nylon helps keep it from creasing or wrinkling too badly, and the fine cotton and silk give it a really nice hand. It definitely has the feel of a high quality piece. One great thing is that it is machine washable, which is always nice (dry cleaning can get expensive!).

One of my biggest problems with Banana Republic is that they are usually ridiculously overpriced for the quality, which is why I was surprised that this cardigan was only $89.50. As I mentioned before, the hand of this knit is really nice and, in my opinion, definitely worth the price as long as the fit works for your body.

 Stay stylish,
- JJ