March 29, 2012

Quick Tip: Making Your Shoes Last

A little while back I posted about breaking in your shoes, Now, I’ll give you some tips on how to make sure the effort was worth it. After all, you didn’t go through all that trouble just to get a new pair in a couple years. With proper care, a well-made pair of shoes can easily last you many years.

Natural materials will last longer than synthetic when properly cared for, which is also why they cost more. There is not much you can do with a synthetic leather shoe. Similarly, a poorly constructed shoe has a limited life expectancy. If the pieces are glued together, they will not last nearly as long as if they were properly stitched. Also, common sense tells you that a properly fitting shoe will wear more evenly than one that is either too big or too small because it affects the way the shoe hits the ground when you walk. Though they seem simple, all of these are important to consider when making a purchase, be it shoes or otherwise.

The first two things you can do to increase the life of your shoes are also the easiest. Make sure to give your shoes time to rest. Rotate your shoes so that you don’t wear the same pair two days in a row. The more your rotate, the longer each pair will last.

This is important because not giving them time to air out and dry will likely lead to moisture becoming trapped which will not only cause your shoes to smell, it will also make the leather degrade much faster than normal. On that note, if your shoes get wet make sure to air dry them away from any heat source to avoid shrinking and drying out the leather.

Next, remember to take the time to untie and loosen the laces of your shoes before taking them off. Kicking off or sliding on your shoes will very quickly wear out both the sole and the heel seat and probably stretch out your laces.

It is also important to polish, condition, and clean your shoes on a regular basis. Keeping the leather moisturized and free from dirt will help to prevent it from prematurely degrading. As I mentioned in the Leather Care post, waterproofing treatments have their benefits and drawbacks. Carefully consider each of these before deciding on which is best for how you wear your shoes and reapply often to keep it working.

When not wearing your shoes, I recommend using both shoe trees and dust bags. While a plastic shoe tree will maintain your shoe’s shape, a cedar one will also absorb moisture and help prevent odors from developing. If your feet really sweat, sprinkle in some moisture absorbing powder after you take them off. Baby powder, baking soda, and Gold Bond are all common recommendations. Just remember to dump the powder out in the morning.

Personally, I save all of my shoe boxes because it makes it easier for me to stack and store my shoes without risking damage. In lieu of this or when traveling, dust bags will help to keep your shoes clean and dust free.

There are also other steps you can take to make sure you have your shoes for years to come. If you find that your stride causes your heels or soles to wear down very quickly there are two different avenues to pursue with your local shoe repair place. Having your shoes rubbered will give an extra layer of protection and when it wears through, just have it re-applied. The drawback to this is that if your shoes have leather soles, you may run into problems if the shoes get wet because the leather can’t breathe and properly dry out. The remedy to this is to only get half the sole rubbered, so that some leather is still exposed. Not only will this be a little cheaper, but you generally don’t need the protection on the arch where your foot doesn’t touch the ground.

The alternative to rubbering is having taps added. Like their name implies, taps are small plastic (or more rarely metal) pieces that are nailed into the heel and/or toe of your shoe. These will wear down much slower than even a rubbered shoe, but they often leave you with a clicking noise when you walk, especially when new before they wear down to being flush with your shoe.

Remember, the cobbler is your friend, but do your research to find one with experience and a good track record. If you are unsure of something, ask them. They are professionals for a reason.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

March 24, 2012

Reader Question: Going Sockless

Hi JJ,

This year I really wanted to give the preppy look a try. I really like the look of the rolled up chinos and loafers with no socks but every time I try it, it is really uncomfortable and my feet get really sticky. There must be a trick to it, but I don’t know what it is. Any suggestions?


Hi Adam,

This is a great question, and you’re right, there are definitely some tricks to help you pull the look off. The first pieces of advice for how to successfully go sockless are the same for your everyday shoe care - don’t wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row and always use cedar shoe trees. Giving your shoes a day to rest will increase their life and let them fully dry out between wears, while the cedar shoe trees will help absorb the moisture, keep your shoes from smelling, and hold their shape.

After the basic shoe care tips, there are two paths to the sockless look. The first is to actually not wear socks. If you decide to go this way, powder and insoles will be your best friend. It takes the most maintenance to keep your shoes from smelling but you can help by scrubbing your feet with anti-bacterial soap when you bathe to remove the dead skin cells. Sprinkling some powder (Gold Bond is the usual recommendation) in your shoes before putting them on will help reduce the friction that can lead to blisters and absorb the moisture when your feet sweat. You can also pick up some terrycloth insoles. They are a little tough to find, but Aldo sells some good ones that are hand washable (a huge plus). Add some powder for extra odor protection.

If you still want the sockless look but are okay with a little cheat, you can buy some no-show socks. For women they are sometimes called liners or, more frequently, Peds (even though this is a specific brand it seems to have become an eponym for no-show socks). This is my preferred option, as featured here in the second look. There is no shortage of places to get them as the sockless look becomes increasingly popular. Calvin Klein, Journeys, Gold Toe, and Banana Republic are just a few of the companies that make them. Slip these on and you have all the benefits of wearing socks with the stylish look of not wearing any.

Remember, colored spring chinos and multi-colored boat shoes are really hot this year, so don’t just stick with the same old thing. Have some fun with colors and take preppy to the next level.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

March 21, 2012

Favorite Finds: Colored Chinos

Chinos are one of those classic pieces that never go out of style. Lately, designers have been giving them a modern makeover by slimming them down and infusing some color into a preppy staple. Colored chinos are everywhere, but a lot of what is out there doesn’t really have anything new to offer. While I was at AllSaints Spitalfields shooting the Skinny Cord favorite finds, I saw the Cannon Chino and decided to see how they stacked up.

They are labeled as ‘Skinny Fit’ so I was not optimistic based on how the Corduane Cigarette Pants fit, but was pleasantly surprised. I tried on a size 34 and they fit perfectly. The waist was comfortable and the legline was slim without being restrictive.

The pants are only offered in one length and are displayed both in store and online cuffed. While they could certainly be hemmed, I think this particular cut and silhouette works better with a rolled cuff (especially in a fun color).

There are some great details on this pant that sets it apart from other chinos that are on the market right now. While not exactly practical (for me at least), there is a small ticket pocket on the outside of the right front pocket. It is fairly deep, so it could ostensibly be of use at some point, but for me it is just a nice bit of styling.

Another really cool feature is that they have a button fly. I have never seen a button-fly chino before, though I am sure they exist, so this really caught my attention. It is very well designed and executed, so it is easy to use and not obtrusive (which happens far too often with button-fly denim).

While they definitely have that distinctive AllSaints look, this pair of pants is not overtly branded. There is a small tag above the back right pocket, and that is the extent of it. I appreciate that because, while I love the ram skull logo and the way in which different aspects of it show up in the designs, this understated label ensures that these great chinos are equally suited for either work or leisure.

These chinos are 100% cotton and are machine washable (with an asterisk required). The care instructions say to wash inside out, tumble dry low, and iron only on the reverse. They are also not able to be dry-cleaned. Another good example of why to always read the care instructions before buying and washing.

When it came down to it, I ended up going home with these pants because, at only $95, how could I not? They are offered in five colors: Sky Blue, Vintage Blue, Olive, Khaki, and Oxblood (pictured). Clearly I went with the Oxblood, but I am considering going back for the Sky Blue.

What favorite finds do you have this week?

Stay stylish,
- JJ

March 17, 2012

Style Etiquette: Hats Off!

Style is more than just the clothes that we wear, but also how we wear them. Being well dressed doesn't do very much good if your behavior is rude and uncouth. Part of being a gentleman is taking the formulaic rules of etiquette and adapting those that still carry relevance in the modern world. It is not about putting on airs or showing your superior upbringing or class, but simply about being polite and considerate to everyone you interact with on a daily basis.

I wanted to start this series based on the number of questions I've gotten from readers about various aspects of etiquette and manners as it pertains to style. To start off, I thought I would cover the question that I get asked most (in one form or another).

Unless you regularly attend afternoon tea at the St. Regis, knowing the proper placement of your spoon or the correct way to stir in your milk will probably be of little use. But what about knowing the proper instances to take off your hat? With the resurgence of turn-of-the-century inspiration in menswear, classic hats, like the fedora and driving cap, are making a comeback, but often without the accompanying knowledge that men had as recently as 40 years ago.

There are many differing views on when you should and should not wear a hat. These can generally be attributed to different combinations of the author's time period, location, and social upbringing. The nice thing about making etiquette a part of your daily life, is that it is a personal choice aimed at betterment, not a rigid system of rules imposed by society, so you can decide what is applicable to you and your life. You don't have to remove your hat when greeting or in conversation with a woman, but it can be a nice gesture if done naturally and sincerely.

Generally, for men, there is one guiding principle for when to remove your hat. It is simply that you should remove, of doff, your hat anytime you enter a private space. Now this is pretty straightforward for private interactions - when you enter someone's home, office, or apartment, take off the hat. When talking about public interactions, such as shopping or dining, it can be a little more difficult to differentiate between what is considered a 'private' space.

Some people remove their hats any time they enter a building regardless of the type of establishment. It is really about what feels appropriate to you in each situation you encounter. For myself, I consider shopping malls and the lobbies of hotels and office buildings to be public places. For example, in a large mall I will often leave my hat on while walking through, but once I enter a store the hat comes off. Alternately, when entering a large museum or gallery, I will immediately remove my hat because the ambiance is deserving of it.

This leads me to my next point, which are the instances when it is always proper to remove your hat. Many of these are quite logical, growing out of a natural display of respect, and were ingrained in us as children, but I am constantly shocked by the amount of times when hats (usually ball caps) are left on in these circumstances. I will list them briefly, parenthesizing any necessary explanation – during the singing of the National Anthem, as the flag passes as part of a procession or parade, during a funeral service (graveside or otherwise), when meeting or conversing with a dignitary or other person of importance or someone with seniority (age, rank, or otherwise), and during religious services (unless the hat is a yarmulke and it is a Jewish service).

The ‘how’ of removing your hat is much less complicated. If the hat has a firm crown, you should pinch at the crown and lift up and forward. If it is a soft-crowned hat (such as a newsboy or ball cap), you should hold it by the brim when removing it. With any type of hat, it is proper to keep the inside from showing by either holding it towards your body or down to the ground.

Though it may seem tricky, many of the rules for wearing a hat become second nature very quickly and following them helps set you apart both in style and carriage.

As always, email me with any questions you may have regarding this or other matters of style.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

March 12, 2012

Care and Maintenance: Wool

Since it is a pretty safe bet that winter isn’t coming this year, you can probably pack up most of your winter clothes. But before you do, here are some important things you should know about keeping it looking nice, both while you are wearing it and while it’s packed away for next year.

Wool can sometimes seem daunting, especially because there are so many different types and blends. However, with proper care, wool can be one of the longest lasting materials you’ll find (and thus a great reason to invest in quality wool pieces). The first thing you should know is that, unless explicitly stated, never machine wash wool. Chances are, your wool should be dry cleaned, and sparingly at that.

Unless you get your wool garment especially dirty, you don’t want to dry clean it more than a few times a season. Especially with coats that never really touch your skin (assuming you aren’t a flasher walking around with nothing under your trench…), I would suggest having your wool coats dry cleaned only at the end of the season. I know there are many recommendations out there that say the beginning and end of the season, but if you store it properly there is no need for that. Remember, dry cleaning degrades the fabric and shortens the life of the garment so it should be used sparingly.

If your wool piece gets a small spill on it, be sure to dab the liquid to prevent as much of it as possible from soaking in. Do not scrub at the spot or you’ll just push more of the spill into the fibers and make it harder to get out. With oily stains, you can also try dabbing with a small amount of dish soap, which will help cut the grease better than laundry detergent. For daily dirt, try using a suede brush.

If you need to do any ironing, do so on a cool setting and opt for steam. Try to iron your wool as infrequently as possible, often times just letting the item hang will take care of a lot of the wrinkles.

If you have some wool pieces that you need to hand wash, I recommend using a little dish soap mixed with the regular detergent because it is less harsh on the fibers. Use warm water and soak the garment in the soapy water. I usually do this in a giant mixing bowl in a bathtub, but that is just because the kitchen sink in my apartment is miniscule. Don’t knead or wring the clothes as that will only serve to stretch out the fibers. After about 10 minutes of soaking, rinse the pieces out, applying light pressure, until the water runs clear; then lay the garment flat to dry. A small collapsible drying rack works great, otherwise the bathtub is another good option.

When it’s time to pack everything up, make sure you are using the right kind of hanger for your garment. With wool coats, which usually have a heavier-than-normal weight to them, make sure you are using an actual coat hanger with a wider shoulder rest, rather than just a standard thin hanger. Though this is especially important for end-of-season storage, when the coat is going to hang for a lengthy period of time, I would also recommend this for daily use as well.

Also, I always like to make sure the garment is properly hung or folded on a hanger before hiding it away for the season. No reason to give yourself more set-in wrinkles to deal with next year. For pants, make sure they are folded on the crease before folding over a hanger, and button up any coats while hung to keep everything in place. Sweaters should never be hung like a shirt, as it will result in hanger stretching in the shoulders. Instead, carefully fold the sweater for storage in a drawer or, if you must hang it, check out my instructions in the Winter Edition for proper technique.

Once you’ve got your wool garment properly hung (and protected by cedar), I recommend placing it in a garment bag, just to keep it even more protected from accumulating dirt and dust over those long hot summer months. Don’t use a plastic garment bag for long-term storage though. Fabric needs to breathe to prevent it from getting musty, so pick up some cloth bags instead. They will keep the dust off without keeping the moisture in.

As always, investing in quality pieces isn’t worthwhile unless you properly care for them. Of course there are more tricks and intricacies to dealing with wool, so please feel free to send me any specific questions you may have. Lastly, get to know your drycleaner. Do some research to find one with a good reputation, preferably who does the work in-house, as they can be a crucial resource in maximizing the life of your clothing.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

March 8, 2012

Favorite Finds: Skinny Cords

As regular readers know, I am a huge fan of AllSaints. A large portion of my wardrobe consists of their clothing and I am always on the lookout to expand it. I have been looking for a slim pair of corduroy pants in a deep red or purple since fall and have tried on numerous pairs, but with disappointing results. That is what brought me to AllSaints Spitalfields and their new Corduane Cigarette Pant.

One difficult thing about AllSaints is that there are so many fits, some of them quite irregular at times. These particular cords are in their Cigarette fit, which is a skinny fit (the slimmest that they make) that is meant to sit at your low hip. This fit only comes in one color, Oxblood, which is almost a merlot. They have other cords in the Iggy fit, which is a regular slim fit, in four colors but not the Oxblood.

I tried both the size 32 and size 34 and had some problems with each. The 32 were a little snug at the waist and very slim through the thigh. While certainly not too tight, they were much skinnier that I would be comfortable with on a daily basis with the amount of movement that I do.

With that in mind, I tried on the 34 to see if it would give me some extra room and it did. The fit through the thigh was perfect, but the waist was now far too big. As a result, the back pockets (which are situated rather low) took on a saggy appearance.

Unfortunately, the fit didn’t work out for me right now but there are some really great details that set these cords apart from others I have tried. It is a button fly and all of the buttons and rivets have a rust finish that blends in nicely with the color.

The back pockets feature the same ram skull stitch as many of their denim and it is an interesting touch as many 5 pocket-style cords have minimal, if any, back pocket detailing.

The pants are 14-wale cotton corduroy (the higher the number, the thinner the wale), so they are machine washable, tumble dry low, and warm iron. They are not able to be dry cleaned though, but that is not a problem for me because with softer fabrics, especially those with a nap, there is always a risk that dry cleaning could ruin the hand.

All told, these are a great pair of pants. At $120, the price is certainly reasonable. If I had a more stationary job or there was room in my closet to buy pants just for casual wear I would have owned these the day they came out. Unfortunately, they were not for me but like every AllSaints piece I have ever tried I would highly recommend it if the fit is right for you.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

March 4, 2012

Style Feature: The Messenger Bag

When I lived in Miami, I didn't have a very high opinion of bags for men. I kept everything I would need throughout the day in my car and didn't really see any reason for carrying a bag.

After moving to NYC and ditching the car, I began to understand the importance that a messenger bag can have. When I leave my apartment in the morning, I need to anticipate everything I will need during the day and plan accordingly because many times going back home is simply not an option.

While for many people backpacks may be a logical option, no matter how nice they may be, I simply don't find them stylish. There is just nothing grown-up or professional about them. That being said, not all bags are created equal. You don't need to stick to the ubiquitous nylon messenger bag as the only backpack alternative.

In this post I will feature three different messenger bags that break out of the utilitarian mold and show that a messenger bag can be appropriate for nearly any occasion.

1. Casual Canvas

This my go-to everyday bag. The durable leather bottom and flap and sturdy canvas body means that this bag can take a beating and still look good.

Extra Tip : When you need extra room, look for a bag that is more square than rectangular. The added depth will give you some extra space without making it look like you are carrying a duffel bag.

Extra Tip II : Treat the leather on your bag like you would your shoes. Condition and waterproof on a regular basis to increase the life and wearability.

Bag by Dolce & Gabbana; Coat by AllSaints Spitalfields; Denim by William Rast;
Shirt by J Crew; Sneakers by Paul Smith Jeans; Socks by Corgi; Scarf by Psycho Bunny;
Gloves by The Men's Store at Bloomingdales; Sunglasses by Alexander McQueen

2. Business Ready

This bag is a bit more appropriate for the office. All leather with a nylon strap and a more traditional appearance, it can take you through all kinds of events without being out of place. It is also big enough to hold my laptop, which is perfect for meetings on the go.

Extra Tip : If you are buying a bag for a specific purpose (to hold a laptop, padfolio, gym clothes, etc) bring the item or a close approximation with you to make sure it will suit your needs or check the return policy just in case.

Bag and shoes by Kenneth Cole New York; Jacket by Lanvin;
Shirt by BOSS Black; Trousers by Edun; Tie by Robert Godley;
Tie bar by Link Up; Pocket Square by Psycho Bunny

3. Day to Evening

This bag is the most recent addition to my closet and I love it for two main reasons. First it has tons of pockets and despite appearing slim, has a deceptive amount of storage space. Second, it has both handles and a shoulder strap, which gives me the option to carry it however is most convenient.

The supple lambskin, briefcase-inspired design, and pinpoint perforation pattern gives this bag a bit of a refined edge making it equally appropriate for business or casual. The storage capacity combined with the polished versatility makes this my default for nearly any fashion-related business that I do.

Bag by Marc by Marc Jacobs; Cardigan by John Varvatos Star USA;
Shirt by Charles Tyrwhitt; Denim by Juicy Couture; Shoes by AllSaints Spitalfields;
Tie by Band of Outsiders; Tie bar by Link Up; Sunglasses by Bulgari

While there are certainly other options out there for non-nylon messenger bags, I strongly recommend going with a well-made leather. It will last an incredibly long time, if properly cared for, and the character that it acquires over time as it breaks in will make it a staple in your wardrobe for years to come.

Stay stylish,
- JJ