June 29, 2012

Quick Tip: Shopping Thrift


I receive a lot of emails from readers asking where I get many of the pieces featured in my posts. While I do purchase the vast majority at either department stores or boutiques, I get a fair amount of items (and some of my favorites ones) from thrift stores. Sometimes it takes a lot of digging and multiple return trips, but with persistence, and a few quick tips, you can definitely score some great finds.

First, do a little research. There are some great websites that track local thrift stores, and will give you locations and recommendations. I particularly like The Thrift Shopper, which offers a national thrift store directory. Though they do not by any means have every single shop, they are a great place to start if you’re new to thrifting, and a great resource to discover some lesser known shops if you’re an experienced thrifter.

While researching, make note of whether a store is straight-up thrift, resale, or consignment. A thrift store relies solely on donations. They will basically take anything as long as it is in good shape, and the prices usually run the whole spectrum depending on the store. Some, like Goodwill, will price everything to move. They don’t have the staff or the need to research pricing because they go through such a large quantity and have such a fast turnover that it isn’t necessary for them. On the other hand, somewhere like Housing Works is a bit more discerning and will usually hire employees that have a better idea of designer pricing and rotate the stock with seasonal items which can command higher prices (who is going to pay top dollar for a wool coat in the middle of June?).

A resale store usually still accepts donations, though much more discerningly, but primarily relies on people selling back their gently worn (or sometimes brand new!) clothes. They usually buy and stock on a seasonal basis and will do the research to know what an item is worth. Though the price won’t be as good as Salvation Army, you will have a better chance of finding that great designer piece you are looking for, and still for a lot less than retail.

Consignment shops are similar to resale stores, but unlike resale, where a seller gets a set percentage of the price that the store will resell it for, with consignment stores a price is agreed upon for the final sale price and once it sells, the store and the seller divide the money. You can find some really incredible pieces from consignment stores, but because each item is valued individually by the owner and not standardized, you can wind up with some steeper prices. They are still not usually as high as retail, but are generally higher than your basic thrift or resale shop. Also, since if an item doesn’t sell in a set time period the owner gets it back, the impetus to set a higher price is greater.

Another good tip is to check out when stores offer special promotions. Some, like the Salvation Army, have special ‘family days’ where almost everything is half off or offer other deals during holidays. Keep in mind that this is a double-edged sword because though the items are even further discounted, it means that pieces, particularly the more desirable designer ones, fly off the shelves early. As a result, sometimes targeting the day before a big sale might actually yield better finds.

Anytime you are shopping, but particularly when thrifting, a tailor’s tape measure is your best friend. People make all kinds of strange alterations to clothing, so don’t take a printed size at face value. This is especially true with pants, as they are often taken in, let out, or hemmed. Like with any item, trying it on is vital, but not all thrift stores have dressing rooms, and most won’t allow returns or exchanges. Knowing your own exact measurements (waist, inseam, sleeve, neck, and chest, and not just your vanity sizes but your actual measurements) will help ensure that you don’t buy something that doesn’t fit. It won’t necessarily mean you like the way something looks on you, but it means you will be able to get it on your body, which is the first step.

It’s also important to remember not to get discouraged. Depending on where you live, it may take longer to find what you’re looking for, but check back regularly and make friends with the people who run the shop. Once they recognize you as a regular customer, they might give you the inside scoop on when they will restock the shelves (or maybe even hold some stuff aside if you’re really lucky). I’d also suggest that keeping an open mind when thrifting will yield the best results. If you go into a store looking for one very particular item, your chances of being disappointed are much greater. That’s not to say it’s impossible to thrift for specifics, it just means you’re more likely to need multiple visits or locations until you find what you’re searching for. The best way to thrift is just to look around at everything and wait and see what you find. Don’t just buy something because it has a designer label either. If you don’t have a place for it in your wardrobe, save your money for something you do.

Keep in mind that thrift stores rely on donations to fill their shelves. So, having an idea of the area surrounding each store will help you pick out which stores you might want to target. Some national thrift stores, like Goodwill or Salvation Army, spread their donations out among their multiple locations, but for the most part the locals are going to be the ones providing the items you’ll see on thrift store racks.  Wealthier neighborhoods are also more inclined to donate goods, as they don’t wear things until they fall apart like those without disposable income. So, looking at thrift stores in more upscale areas may increase your chances of finding the higher quality items you may be looking for.

The other main tip to keep in mind when doing thrift shopping is to really examine the item. There’s nothing worse than bringing home a great piece only to discover that it has a hole or stain and is worthless. It may not have cost you as much, but it is still a waste if you have to toss it out in the end.  Be sure to check your seams and give the whole garment a once over before purchasing. Also double check wherever they’ve added a price tag, since many stores just use staples, you want to make sure that the tag itself hasn’t damaged the garment. And of course, once you purchase an item, make sure to properly clean it so it’s as good as new before you wear it yourself. Some higher end thrift stores launder items before selling, but for the most part you just don’t know, so wash and then wear. For shoes and accessories that can’t get thrown in the washing machine or dropped at the cleaners, a bottle of Lysol antibacterial spray will do the trick.

One last thing to remember, the proceeds from most thrift stores go to a charitable organization of some kind. If you live in a big city with multiple thrifting options, do some research and support a charity that means something to you. That way, you can give back by giving to yourself!

What are your thrifting tips?

Stay stylish,
- JJ

June 25, 2012

Favorite Finds: Summer Shorts


So summer hit NYC with a fury, giving us three days of temperatures well into the 90s, and anyone not wearing shorts was probably pretty miserable. But not all shorts are created equal. When picking shorts to wear during the heat of summer, it is important to get a pair that is lightweight and slim, and that is what Theory does best.


The Carmine Kirby Short is a really nice addition to any summer wardrobe. The medium blue with white vertical striping, called Denim Stripe, has a subtle washed appearance and would go well with a variety of color palettes and styles. The stripes are actually an alternating single and double, which adds some additional visual interest.


The fit is listed as straight, but it is on the slimmer side. I tried on a 33 and they fit great, but I probably could have dropped down to a 32, since there is a little stretch. The inseam is a little longer than most fashion shorts out there, at 9 ¾”, so it hit me right at the kneecap.

These are actually a six-pocket style, with an extra pocket inside both the front and back on the right side, which gives you some extra room to stay organized (may I suggest a handkerchief?). Another great feature is the button fly. I don’t see them often on shorts, but it is always a detail I like to have.

The content is 97% cotton/3% elastane, so there is a little bit of stretch to them, which is becoming more common in both shorts and pants. Care is easy, as they are machine wash cold and tumble dry low, but because they are so lightweight they must be ironed on a low heat.


The price is a little high for cotton shorts, at $165, but Theory makes good pieces so you will probably have these for a while. The striping is distinctive enough that I would recommend these only if you don’t wear shorts often or have numerous pairs already, because unlike a solid they will be more difficult to pull off multiple days in a row.

Stay stylish (and cool),
- JJ

June 22, 2012

Care and Maintenance: Denim


Proper care of denim is a little like a cure for hiccups. Everyone seems to have their own method, and some are stranger than others. While there is a very big difference between the proper care of new raw denim and pre-washed denim, and many hardcore denim enthusiasts may find this blasphemous, we are ultimately only talking about fabric. Unlike other fabrics like silk or wool, there is not really a ‘wrong’ way to clean your denim provided it gives you the desired result.

Personally, I like my denim to show its wear and think that good denim gets better with age. If the color fades, that just gives it more character, like breaking in a great pair of boots. Other people want their dark indigo denim to hold its color and look brand new in perpetuity.

That being said, there are two main methods that I want to talk about in this post: showering and freezing. I’ll get to them shortly, but first I wanted to cover some basic tips for taking care of your denim.

The Basics

Generally, you want to treat your denim like a suit. Spot clean it when that will suffice, and wash it as infrequently as possible while still keeping it clean. This will not only help break them in faster, especially if you wear them frequently, it will also keep the color from washing out too quickly.

Raw or dry denim is unwashed, so it will shrink. If you are purchasing a pair of jeans and you are unsure how much something will shrink, ask, because it varies a little from one brand to the next. The initial wash of raw denim will more or less determine how it fits you for the life of the piece, so be careful to not just throw it in with your laundry. There are differing views on how to execute that first wash, and that could be an entire post in itself, but if it is something you are considering email me or ask your raw denim salesperson.

If you have an old pair of jeans and the hem is frayed or there are holes in the crotch or pocket that you wish weren’t there, don’t worry because they can be fixed. It does take a specialist to do the repair correctly, so if you live in NYC or California you have some options. Self Edge is a denim sales and repair shop that does great work. At their NYC location, they can hem as well as do repairs, and you can pick up a new pair of high quality denim while you’re there! They also have locations in LA and San Francisco, but these are all drop off only.

The other option is Denim Therapy, located in midtown Manhattan. Now I mentioned Denim Therapy in my denim fit post for their mail-in chainstitching services. In addition to that, they also offer repair services either drop off or by mail. Both of these places do fantastic work and can bring a damaged pair of denim back to life again, which saves you time and money.

Showering

This is probably one of the stranger ways that I have heard for cleaning your denim, but in the right circumstances is one of the most effective for preserving fit if you are not concerned about losing a little color. One of the things about denim is that it will shrink when you wash it, and shrink even more if you put it in the dryer. One way to avoid this is by wearing your denim in the shower. A variation is to wash them in a bath, but the end result is essentially the same.

When wearing your jeans in the shower, it is very important to take into account what you want out of your jeans. Warm or hot water is anathema to dye; the higher the water temperature, the more dye you will lose in the wash. If you are going to use this method, I would recommend taking the coldest shower you can stand. Get in, add a little detergent, and essentially hand wash the denim while you are wearing it. Carefully, and with the assistance of a non-slip mat, go through your normal range of motion to disperse and rinse the detergent, but don’t stretch excessively (unless you want the denim to do the same).

Once the denim is thoroughly rinsed, there are two ways to proceed. You can either wear them or hang them until they dry, but be sure to do it out of direct sunlight to keep the color from fading. If you really want the perfect fit, particularly if they are (very) skinny jeans, wearing them is preferable, though not always practical as it takes a few hours and isn’t exactly comfortable.

In my opinion, this is a lot of trouble to go through unless your denim is skintight or it is the first wash of a raw denim. Though I have never had the problem personally, I feel that a similar result could be achieved by washing the denim on cold, then putting them on while still wet for a while to allow the denim to stretch to fit you. This will also help preserve the color a little more because the washing machine can probably handle colder water than you can.

Freezing

This method is preferred by those who want their dark denim to stay dark and fresh, and I have several friends who swear by it. There is one caveat in that while it will remove odors (and some say kill bacteria), it won’t actually clean the denim, i.e. remove dirt or stains. It may not seem like freezing clothes would do anything other than make them really cold, but it is actually an incredibly effective and chemical free way to remove odors.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, the generally accepted practice is that you should fold up the denim and place it in a freezer or other plastic bag. This is mostly so they wont stick to anything else you may have in your freezer. Once in the freezer, advice varies on the length of time you should leave them there, anywhere from one day to one week. I would think that anything more than 24 hours is somewhat redundant, as they should have reached the coldest temperature they are going to, and means that you are without your jeans for more than a day.

There are two more methods that I want to cover that sit at either end of the spectrum, but I will save those for the next installment.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

June 18, 2012

Style Feature: The Monochromatic Outfit


A few years ago, I went through a phase in the development of my personal style where I refused to even consider wearing anything that wasn’t black and I know several people who base their wardrobe around a single color, either by choice or because of work. Sometimes it’s black, but I’ve seen red, purple, green, and even white.

When most people think about putting together a monochromatic look, their biggest worry is that it will look boring or overly neutral. However, sticking to a single color can actually be a fun and interesting choice to style an outfit around. Here I chose three colors to demonstrate that while your ensemble may be a single color, it doesn’t have to be one-dimensional.

1. Grey


In this grey look, I chose to play with shades to keep the outfit interesting and give it dimension. By pairing a light shirt with darker pants and an even darker coat, I almost forget that everything is the same color.

Extra Tip : Patterns are also a great way to break up the monotony. The floral pattern of the shirt combined with the herringbone in the jacket helps prevent this look from falling flat.

Extra Tip II : Adding a single pop of color, like a red scarf, into your monochromatic look will not only make the color stand out more, it will also take your outfit to the next level.



Jacket and pant by Marc by Marc Jacobs; Shirt and sneakers
by Allsaints Spitalfields; Belt by Brooks Brothers; Scarf by
Gant; Socks by Uniqlo

2. Blue


When going outside of a grayscale spectrum, choosing different shades of a color becomes even more important. You should avoid too many highly saturated pieces and instead pick one statement piece for the rest of the outfit to be built around (just like you would any time you choose a look).

Extra Tip : Blue and white are natural partners, and since the buttons on the shirt were white, I chose that as my accent color as seen in the belt, bracelet, and shoes.

Extra Tip II : On a hot day, throw your handkerchief in your shirt pocket as a functional pocket square that adds some extra color and texture.



Shirt and belt by J Crew; Chinos by Gant Rugger; Shoes by Sebago;
Vintage handkerchief; Socks by Uniqlo; Bracelet by Nautica; Sunglasses by Prada

3. Black


While many people assume that black is black, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. When pairing blacks, it is important to look at them in good natural light because you want them to coordinate but not try to perfectly match (since different materials take dye differently and every brand will have different color formulas).



Shirt by Converse John Varvatos; Denim by PPD;
Sneakers by Paul Smith Jeans; Scarf by Tallia; Socks by Corgi;
Thrifted bracelet; Sunglasses by Prada

Though the monochromatic look is not for everyone, it is an interesting exercise in creativity and a great way to pair your existing pieces in ways you may once have written off.  And don’t feel confined to just the three colors presented above – whatever color you choose to use, it’s a fun and quirky way to give your wardrobe new breadth, ironically by limiting it.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

June 12, 2012

Favorite Finds: Shorts Suit


For this Favorite Finds, I wanted to do something a little different, maybe step outside of my comfort zone a bit. I certainly didn’t expect to find a hot pink shorts suit, let alone actually really like it, but Marc by Marc Jacobs can always be depended upon for fun and functional pieces.


The Harvey Twill group is a SS12 offering from MbyMJ’s men’s RTW line. Since I clearly didn’t dress to try on a hot pink suit, here’s a shot from the runway that is styled a little better.


So this is actually sold as two separate pieces, and as you can see above, there are pants available if you wanted to go a little more traditional (though it is still hot pink). The color I tried on is called Very Fuschia, but it is available in other colors.


The jacket is a Shrunken Fit, which normally doesn’t work so well for me, but I tried on a Medium and it actually fit me quite well. It is slightly cropped, being a little shorter than a blazer, but not excessively so, and the button stance felt just a little on the high side.


It is 100% cotton and is half-lined in Cupro. I found Cupro to be a fantastic choice, and one that I rarely ever see. It’s a semi-synthetic fiber that offers the breathability of cotton that you don’t get from synthetic linings, and it feels fantastic. It is dry clean only, but that is to be expected with a blazer.


There are some really nice details like functional cuff buttons and patch pockets with visible pick stitching.  One surprising thing was that the lapel hole appeared to be fake, which I found odd given that the cuff buttons are real.


The price isn’t bad at $398 and if I didn’t already have a few dozen blazers and a lack of closet space, I would have been hard-pressed not to leave the store with it. The sales associate I talked with said that it was selling incredibly fast, so online might be your best bet. I know saks.com still has some in stock.


The shorts are flat front with about a 6” inseam and, like the jacket, are 100% cotton. They are a classic fit and a 32 fit well, but was a little on the snug side. I would probably buy a 34 and have them taken in a little.


There are some more really great details on them like the front change pocket and the diagonal seams above the back pockets. While both back pockets are buttoned, the left one features a flap, giving them an asymmetrical look.


At $198, they are a little on the pricy side for some cotton shorts, especially ones that are dry clean only. You can likely find them in stores, but they are available on bloomingdales.com (the jacket is not). On their own, I think they are still a great pair of shorts, but paired with the jacket they make a really unique outfit.


The store did not have the pants when I went (in fact, I only discovered there were pants when doing internet research for this post) but they are available online at Saks. They are flat front as well, but with regular back welt pockets. They come with a standard inseam of about 33” and are priced right in the middle at $298.

All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised by this group. I brought it into the fitting room more as a novelty, not expecting to like anything about it, but the quality, fit, and fun (how can you not feel fun wearing hot pink?) completely won me over. While this style and color certainly is not for everyone, I would recommend any of these pieces either on their own or together as a colorful addition to your summer wardrobe.

The shorts could pair just as easily with a t-shirt as a woven or a knit. The jacket would make a great statement with jeans or even some linen pants. If you are comfortable with very bright colors, consider these pieces for your next summer soiree.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

June 9, 2012

Style Etiquette: Formal Attire


Dressing for a wedding or other special event is always a little difficult, but it can be particularly stressful when you aren’t sure what style of dress is appropriate. Having already covered Black Tie, it’s time to move on to two terms that are a little more ambiguous – Formal and Semiformal Attire.

There was a time when ‘Formal Attire’ was about as simple as a dress code could be, with White Tie in the evening and Morning Dress during the day. Similarly, ‘Semi-formal’ implied Black Tie in the evening and a stroller, which is a variation of the morning suit, during the day. That was also the time when a lounge suit was considered an informal mode of dress. People would have been horrified if you showed up to a wedding in even the nicest of suits.

As the decades passed, society’s mores and sartorial constraints loosened and the accepted manner of dress became more and more relaxed, with probably the most drastic change occurring in the last five decades. With suits becoming a comparatively more formal item, and traditional formal dress being relegated to only the most elegant of events, the meanings of both ‘Formal Attire’ and ‘Semi-formal Attire’ have lost much of their clarity and are now all too frequently nothing more than catchall terms that basically mean the same thing.

In modern usage, when faced with a potentially formal event , it is important to take all aspects of the term into account when choosing the appropriate ensemble and, as usual, not be afraid to ask questions. The first clue will be the modifiers required, requested, preferred, and optional. Required means just what it implies, that the stated attire is a requirement for attendance. This is a very good time to practice asking questions. You don’t want to show up somewhere in a suit and be denied admittance because everyone else is in Black Tie. Personally, I always err on the side of overdressing both for events and in life.

Requested, preferred, and (to a slightly lesser extent) optional essentially mean the same thing when written on an invitation. The host wants and expects a particular mode of dress, but does not want to exclude guests who may not own traditional formal attire and leaves the final choice on what is appropriate to the guest. Remember, an impeccably cut suit is always a preferable choice to an ill-fitting rented tuxedo.

Other factors can be equally helpful in letting you know when a higher degree of formality is needed. Functions in the evening are inherently more formal than those that take place before six o’clock, as are those that will provide full-service seated meals.  If you are being asked for a choice of entrĂ©e, chances are you’ll be sitting down to a waiter-served dinner. However, no meal options does not mean you’re definitely getting a buffet or going hungry, so questions are still encouraged. If a location is extremely exclusive or upscale, there is a chance that they already have an accepted dress code readily available to anyone who asks, so that is another good avenue for investigation.

Once you have satisfactory assurances that you will not be expected to arrive in Black Tie, you are faced with what to actually wear. The answer will always revolve around a suit, with allowances made for things such as season, location, and time of day. Unless the implication is clearly in the traditional sense, for all intents and purposes, both formal and semi-formal can be interpreted to mean the same thing.

In warmer climates, particularly before sundown, a lighter colored linen or cotton suit is generally appropriate. The rule that it is not appropriate to wear white between Labor Day and Memorial Day, doesn’t really apply in the south since it is essentially summer year-round. Outside of that, stick to the rule, because you will look a little out of place wearing a white suit in November.

A dark suit will always be appropriate, but black is not the only option. A nice charcoal or navy is a perfectly acceptable substitute for most occasions. I personally like a three-piece suit, because it will help take your look to the next level without demanding attention. Your shirt should always be light in color, white being the most formal option, with either a spread or semi-spread collar. I recommend a shirt with French (or double) cuffs, especially if you are a little unsure as to the formality of the event, with simple cufflinks. This is a time when matching your metals is a good idea because it will help keep your ensemble looking clean and sophisticated.

I recommend wearing a necktie, especially if you opt for a waistcoat, in an understated pattern or muted solid. When in doubt, go with a solid black silk, but nothing too shiny. Your shoes should be well-polished balmorals, but bluchers are a good alternative assuming they aren’t too casual. Accessories depend on the level of formality, on an inverse sliding scale. The more formal the occasion is, the fewer accessories you should wear and the more classic they should be.

Anyone who has worn a French cuff shirt before knows that it is usually awkward to wear a watch. This is by design because when French cuffs first became popular, wristwatches did not exist. If one carried a timepiece, it was a pocket watch and likely primarily for adornment. The modern translation is that you should not need a watch when attending a formal event because, as a gentleman, you should be engaged and occupied for the duration of the evening (and, alternatively, your phone has a clock on it anyway).

When all is said and done, you will rarely be out of sorts in a dark suit, white shirt, dark tie, and dress shoes. As I’ve said before, the best thing to do if you are unsure about what to wear is simply ask whoever is hosting the event. If they seem a little non-committal in their answer, add the knowledge gained from interpreting the clues and you can make an educated decision and look good doing it.

The only other piece of advice I’d offer for formal and semi-formal events, and weddings in particular, is that it is important to keep in mind that (unless it literally is) the event is not about you. Keep your choices classic and classy, and stay away from the loud and attention-grabbing. No matter how well you know someone, or how boisterous your personality is in life, when attending an event you are a guest and the focus should not be on you.

From here, things get even murkier when you get into the newer dress codes like cocktail and casual, but that is for the next Style Etiquette post.

As always, hit me up with any questions you may have about this or any other style issue.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

June 4, 2012

Quick Tip: Matching Your Metals


You may have heard the longstanding rule that, as with leather, it is always important to make sure the metal of your accessories all match. Like all style rules, there are two sides and both can be correct depending on the circumstances and your personal comfort level.

Most rules of style have existed for decades and become accepted conventions of dress, and with good reason. They often convey a simple, classic, and timeless aesthetic that will always be accepted in good taste.

Belt by Ted Baker; Tie bar by Link Up; Cufflinks by Tumi

Making sure your tie bar, cufflinks, belt buckle, watch, and any other jewelry you may choose to wear all match will help pull your entire outfit together. If you are still a little unsure when making your own sartorial choices, particularly the more daring ones, sticking to a single metal palette will also help simplify your decision-making as you find your own stylistic voice.

Belt by Lacoste; Tie bar by Kenneth Cole New York;
Cufflinks by Kenneth Cole Reaction

The flipside to this is the common adage that rules were made to be broken. There is no reason that you can’t wear a silver watch with a gunmetal tie bar and cufflinks or some other combination. I would advise that you make the dominant metal match whatever color your belt buckle is because that is going to be the most prominent color and will help keep your accessories cohesive.

I personally don’t wear yellow metals (yellow gold, brass, bronze) out of preference, so choosing my accessories is already easier since I limit myself to silvers and gunmetal. I also have a large enough variety of cufflinks and tie bars that I don’t usually have a problem changing up my accessories while still continuing to match.

 There are, however, definitely times when I feel like breaking the mold a little bit and mixing things up. Don’t feel like you have to follow any one rule all the time, just keep in mind the occasion and go with what feels right.

Stay stylish,
- JJ