March 28, 2013

Care and Maintenance: Silver


Jewelry is not for every guy, but it is still important to know a thing or two about caring for sterling silver. Those heirloom cufflinks from your grandfather or that awesome vintage tie bar you picked up in a thrift shop won’t polish themselves.

In the US, anything that is called sterling and/or silver is required by the FTC to contain at least 92.5% pure silver and will (almost) always be stamped with ‘925’ to denote that it isn’t just plated. The stamp has been in use since around the 14th century, but became a federal mandate with the passage of the National Stamping Act in the US in 1906. So, with few exceptions, anything you happen across in a vintage store that was made in the US should have ‘925’ on it somewhere if it is actually silver. I have never seen it personally, but occasionally you may see a piece marked ‘92.5’ which amounts to the same thing.

Tiffany & Co stamped sterling silver ring

While in the US, a 925 quality stamp should always be accompanied by a trademarked maker’s mark, there are a wide variety of regulations around the world. Many European countries mandate quality stamps, but there is no universal system. There is a huge assortment of quality marks, hallmarks and makers’ marks, often in conjunction with each other.

Sterling silver Irish claddagh with multiple hallmarks

Occasionally, you will run across a piece that is stamped with either ‘silver’ or ‘sterling’ or sometimes even without a stamp. In this instance, there are a couple things you can do to see whether you have sterling silver or something else. First, there are silver testing kits that you can get from a jewelry supply store. These are usually acid based and will be able to tell you definitively if something is sterling silver. The other thing you can do is the magnet test. This will not be able to tell you if something is silver, only confirm if it is not, because silver is non-magnetic so it won’t react to a magnet.

Vintage handmade bracelet stamped 'sterling'

While it all may seem a little confusing, the good news is that sterling silver will, for the most part, take care of itself as long as you treat it right and use it often. Remember how I said that sterling is 92.5% pure silver? The other 7.5% is usually copper which makes it a surprisingly durable alloy. While it will scratch, silver will stand up to a surprising amount of abuse while still maintaining its integrity.

If you don’t wear your silver frequently, it will eventually tarnish. There is no shortage of products on the market that you can buy to restore the shine to your silver and I am sure they work (some better than others). A silver polish cloth is great for on the go, but my years apprenticing for a gold and silversmith taught me a few tricks that don’t cost anything.

Tarnished silver ring

Most of the silver polishes out there share a main ingredient with something you probably have under your sink – ammonia. The shop that I worked in never used commercial silver polish. Instead, a soft bristled toothbrush and a small bowl of Formula 409 will do the trick every time. Dry and buff with a microfiber towel and it’s good as new.

If you have silver that, for whatever reason, got dirty and needs to be cleaned, it is best to use warm water and a mild dish soap. The dish soap will cut any residual oils without damaging the silver (the same reason you should use it to handwash wool). After you wash it, be sure to towel dry the silver to avoid spotting. This is more of an issue with something that has larger areas of flat surfaces, like a tie bar, but it only takes a minute so I would recommend drying all your silver pieces after washing.

Tarnished ring after a quick cleaning

Even though it’s an alloy, silver will still scratch. Rings and bracelets that take a lot of abuse are more likely to show their wear than a necklace or tie bar. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because if you have a daily wear piece, it will start to acquire a unique character and patina that will make it uniquely yours. If something really near and dear to you gets severely dinged up, there is hope. A good silversmith can restore almost anything to like new condition.

There’s nothing too complicated or intimidating about caring for silver. All it takes is a little knowledge and your silver accessories will last a lifetime.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

March 24, 2013

Quick Tip: Belting Out Color


It may still feel like winter out, but spring is (technically) here. Now is a great time to start introducing some color into your outfit and break out of the grey of winter. Sometimes it's best to start small and a belt is a fantastic way to do just that.

Belt from Gap; Denim by Uniqlo

For this post I have paired the belts with coordinating pants, but don’t be afraid to mix it up and experiment with color combinations. Cotton web belts are a little more casual, while ribbon belts can be a bit dressier.

Belt by Nautica; Cords by Gant Rugger

What makes a belt the perfect way to introduce color is that it is a small enough pop that it won’t overwhelm the outfit. Also, if you are just starting to test out the color waters a belt allows you to show as little or as much as you want simply by tucking or untucking your shirt.

Belt by J Crew; Chinos by Gant Rugger

Unless it is a dress belt, I always wear the buckle to the left of center. I’ve been doing it for so many years I can’t remember why I decided to start but I really like the look of it.

Belt by Nautica; Chinos by AllSaints

The nice thing is that belts are relatively inexpensive, which makes them an easy purchase to add some variety to your wardrobe, much like the colored laces that I’ve mentioned in a previous post.

Belt (women's) thrifted; Denim by 7 For All Mankind

The belts in this post are all of the d-ring variety, but there are dozens of options across the style, color, and price spectrum to make it easy to find one to suit any purpose. With spring collections in stores now and the summer lines only a few months away, your options for colorful belts are plentiful.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

March 20, 2013

In Review: Blake&Whyte


I am constantly on the hunt for new designers, especially those that produce in NYC, and while perusing the Twitterverse I happened upon Blake&Whyte. Founded in 2011 by Malcolm Beckford and Ken Macmillan, the company draws inspiration from both British and American sportswear heritage to create a collection of stylish pieces featuring some very thoughtful and practical details.

If you check out their website, you'll notice a link to their fundraising campaign. Their goal is to raise enough money to put their Spring 2013 collection into production and take advantage of the interest expressed by some really cool stores with the ultimate goal of offering the entire collection for sale online. Their video is pretty compelling, and I really like the pieces showcased in their lookbook, so I hope they are successful.

When I was asked to write a post to help get the word out about their new line and their fundraising campaign I was more than happy to do it because I really like their style and would love to see it out on the market. The design is simple which only adds to its versatility. An investment in quality is important to establishing a well-curated wardrobe and the basic pieces featured in the Blake&Whyte Spring 2013 collection are a great start (or a worthwhile addition).

One piece that particularly jumped out as a great example of the attention to detail and quality is the washed pinpoint oxford. A few of the features that I found to be particularly nice are the split yoke at the center of the back, the darts at the elbows, and the fabric stitched in as reinforcement at the places where the shirt takes the most stress (hem, sleeve placket, pocket corners, and underarms).

In response to one of the questions I asked them, the Blake&Whyte team really honed in on the style that their designs evoke. Inspired by the style icons of the 60s and 70s, they “respond to the effortless masculine style that many projected. The clothing can be pretty sharp, but the attitude is always relaxed and confident.” I think this is a fantastic way to approach menswear because looking good and feeling good are connected and your clothes are a huge part of that.

What really piqued my interest in the brand, other than the great styling and quality, is that Blake&Whyte is designed in NYC and plans to manufacture the collection here as well. Frequent readers know that I am a huge proponent of buying locally manufactured goods and supporting local businesses. This is even easier to do when the company makes some really nice pieces.

Check out the Blake&Whyte lookbook on their Tumblr page here or their Kickstarter fundraising page here for a more detailed breakdown of some of their featured items, like the oxford woven I previously mentioned. Hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more from Blake&Whyte in the future.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

Disclosure: Though I was approached by Blake&Whyte to write this post to help spread the word about their fundraising campaign, this review is entirely my own. I have not been compensated in any way for this post. Quite the opposite, I donated money to their campaign.

March 17, 2013

Favorite Finds: Gant by MB Seersucker Woven


Normally I’m not a fan of seersucker, a fact that I attribute to plentiful run-ins with ill-fitting blue and white examples while living in Miami. When I saw this white on white seersucker woven, dubbed The Seersucker, from the S/S Gant by Michael Bastian Exploration: Galapagos collection I was intrigued enough to try it on.


I really like Gant, particularly their Rugger line, but this is actually the first piece from the Gant by Michael Bastian line that I have tried on. For some reason I had the notion that it would be a much slimmer cut, more European than American, and so I always shied away from giving it a shot.


I tried on a Medium and was pleasantly surprised. The fit falls in between Gant Rugger’s regular and Hugger fits. The shoulders hit exactly right and though it was snug, the box pleat in the back provides enough range of motion to be comfortable.


The button down collar is a favorite of mine and I like that there is a third button at the center back of the collar. It really helps to keep your collar in place, especially with a stiffer material like seersucker.


There are some nice details featured on this shirt, such as the tonal Gant embroidered on the locker loop. Even though they are no longer practical, I always appreciate a locker loop, not only for the heritage but because anytime a shirt doesn’t have one I always seem to need it.


The shirt that I tried on at Bloomingdales featured a traditional blue and white striped lining on the inside of the cuffs and collar. The Gant website describes their version as having a grey and white stripe, so there is a little variety out there but both provide a nice contrast to break up the all white.


The price is a little steep, $195, but surprisingly not as high as I think it could be. The care instructions are fairly standard, machine wash cold and line dry or professionally dry clean. One thing to note is that, even though it is a white shirt, the variation in color means that you can’t use bleach. Not a huge deal because a good drycleaner can take care of most issues, but something to keep in mind since it is white.


I really like this piece even though I would prefer to avoid both white and seersucker. The fit, quality, and details set it apart from other white seersucker shirts I’ve seen. Personally, I can’t imagine wearing it in NYC but I think it would be perfect in a warm climate, perhaps summer vacation on the beach in Miami.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

March 13, 2013

Dressing for the Occasion: St. Patrick’s Day


Some things are easier to stylishly dress for than others. When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day however, typical sartorial choices that come to mind include leprechaun hats, green t-shirts with only-funny-if-you’re-drunk phrases screened on them, and a slew of other bad choices. Personally, I try to actively not wear green on March 16th, but I understand the impetus to want to celebrate. Whether you want to infuse some green into your outfit for a night out on the town or just to avoid getting pinched, the good news is you can do it stylishly without too much hassle.

Whether or not you’re Irish, showing up well-dressed is more likely to get you kissed than a blinking button or t-shirt. Sometimes color can hide in plain sight and there are a lot of different shades of green, so don’t think you are limited to kelly green. A mint green chino will keep you from getting pinched, while making a subtler statement with a slim profile.


Not everything has to be solid green. Sometimes a little color goes a long way, and your accessories are a fantastic way to do that. A solid green tie is not only boring, but it can also be a little tacky on St. Patrick’s Day. Instead, choose a patterned or plaid tie with a green base color to break up the color palette.


Sometimes you can find interesting pieces in some unexpected places. Repurposing a vintage handkerchief for a pocket square is a unique and dandyish touch that is sure to get you noticed. Alternately, you could pick up a nice rose bud or carnation to pop into your lapel.


Colored shoelaces are becoming a fast trend and are an easy way to make your shoes pop. For just a few dollars, colored laces can step up your look without being too brash. I chose emerald green to avoid clashing with the tie and pants, but there are at least two or three other shades readily available from Cole Haan and Allen Edmonds in addition to the many other options to be found online.

Jacket and belt by Brooks Brothers; Shirt and chinos by Uniqlo;
Shoes by AllSaints Spitalfields; Tie by Valentino (vintage);
 Tie bar by Link Up; Vintage handkerchief (women's) as pocket square;
Socks by Psycho Bunny; Laces by Cole Haan

There are a lot of ways to imbue your outfit with a festive color, and whether you choose one or four there are two important things to remember. First, don’t go head to toe green. Not only is it way too costume-y, but you will just look ridiculous. Mix in some neutral colors like black, white, or grey to keep your look grounded. Second, avoid anything printed with shamrocks, leprechauns, or pots of gold. I think that one is self-explanatory.

However you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, do it safely and stylishly.
- JJ

March 11, 2013

Reader Question: Stylishly Frugal


It's been a while since I posted a reader question and this one from Alex echoed a lot of similar issues I hear frequently, so I thought I'd share:

-----

Hi JJ,

I always read GQ and lots of fashion blogs, but the problem is I can never afford any of the clothes I see featured. I really try to look my best, and I like quality stuff, just can't afford it without blowing my whole paycheck. Any suggestions?

Thanks,
Alex

-----

Hey Alex,

It's great to hear that you seem to be pretty well-read and conscious about your style. I tend to view magazines, like GQ and Details, to be primarily inspirational (and occasionally aspirational). The vast majority of the pieces featured are out of the realm of possibility for most people. There may be the singular piece that you really want and save up to get, but in general no one is going to go out and buy the head to toe look right off the page. As the editorial content continues to slip and style recommendations turn into obvious paid advertorials, I view the print magazines the same way I view runway shows, as more of a place to look to see the best pieces styled in an interesting way that I can interpret and adapt to my own wardrobe.

Blogs are a great place to get advice and inspiration, as they can adapt more quickly to changes in trends and give more specific recommendations on places like where to shop and what to buy. You are absolutely right that a lot of blogs out there feature nothing but expensive designer pieces and a lot of blogs lately have turned their focus to recommending pieces that they get referral fees from but aren’t necessarily the best options.

That said, there are definitely some sites that will mix high and low to give you a good range of price points (you'll notice I love featuring Uniqlo and thrifted pieces). If you aren’t already, check out Style Girlfriend, An Affordable Wardrobe, and Valet Mag for some more great advice.

There are a lot of options to pick up some stylish clothes at a reasonable price, each one having its pros and cons. My favorite is end of season sales at department stores. It is always a huge gamble (especially if you wear a M like I do), but when final markdowns hit you can find some fantastic designer pieces at major discounts. In this instance, it helps to know the labels' quality and track record. Ralph Lauren's assorted brands tend to be overpriced for a lower quality, whereas Lacoste, Vince or Jack Spade provide a better price to quality ratio, which means better value.

Overall, the best advice I can give you is to hit up a variety of places – resale, vintage, consignment, thrift, sample sales, outlets, and off-price retailers. This is obviously much easier to do if you live near a larger city and persistence pays off, but I have gotten some of my favorite pieces from resale stores, like Buffalo Exchange, and various vintage shops, such as David Owens Vintage Clothing. Consignment stores tend to be a little pricier, but you are usually guaranteed to find higher quality in better condition on a consistent basis.

I listed outlets and off-price last because I have a personal aversion to them. Don't get me wrong, I have found some incredible finds at places like Century 21, but it is harder to find an incredible piece for next to nothing because they purchase wholesale like a department store so margin is a key factor.

Outlets provide their own obstacles, because the majority of the product that they have for sale has been specially produced at a lower quality for sale in the outlet. Brooks Brothers, for example, tags their outlet product as '346' which distinguishes it from their regular product. You can definitely find some gems, and sometimes the quality difference is negligible, but it is something to keep an eye out for.

Department store outlets, like Off 5th or Nordstrom Rack, are usually a better deal because aside from the house lines that they produce the designer product is simply out of season pieces. Prices will still be a little higher, but if you are a fan of a particular label you might just get lucky.

If, on the other hand, you want decent quality at a reasonable price, I would recommend places like Uniqlo (who now does e-commerce) and J Crew. A lot of people really like Banana Republic, but I find the prices hard to justify given the quality of the garments they produce.

There is no singular solution to finding good pieces at equally good prices. It really depends on what your style is, where you live, and what you are looking for to round out your closet.

Thanks for reading and stay stylish,
- JJ

March 5, 2013

Style Feature: The Down Vest


Right now in NYC the weather refuses to decide whether it is winter or spring. This makes it difficult to dress in something warm enough for the early morning and evening but cool enough for the day. Layering is a great way to deal with this and a down vest is the perfect piece to use. Its versatility lets you stay comfortable whatever the weather and it is pretty easy to find the right one for any occasion.

1. Layer Down


If I know I won’t be home until after dark (when the temperature has been dropping 20+ degrees lately), I’ll usually dress for the early morning and then throw a vest on top. When midday hits I can lose the vest and still be comfortable and come sundown I can pop it back on.


Extra Tip : In major metro areas like NYC, many people don’t have cars to store things in. A large tote or messenger bag is a great place to store things, like your vest, when you don’t need them.

Vest, jeans, and undershirt by Uniqlo; Sweater by Nautica;
Shirt by J Crew; Boots by John Varvatos; Belt from Gap;
Gloves by Bloomingdales; Sunglasses by Prada

2. Under-Dressed


If the vest is thin enough, layering it underneath a jacket is a stylish twist that will keep you just as warm but with a little more subtlety.


Extra Tip : The important thing when buying a down vest is to keep it light. There is nothing good about looking like Stay Puft’s cousin, so avoid anything that is too bulky.

Vest by Uniqlo; Jacket by AllSaints Spitalfields;
Knit by Iceberg; Chinos by PPD; Sneakers by Paul Smith Jeans;
Sunglasses by Alexander McQueen

3. Down to Business


Not all down vests are puffy and shiny. A lot of designers are making cotton, wool, and even corduroy vests that can hold their own with a nice pair of trousers and a sport jacket.


Extra Tip : Even though this is a down alternative vest (read: polyester fiber fill), it actually keeps me just as warm. The benefit of a poly fill is that you won’t get the leakage that you will with down which allows woven shells, like this cotton herringbone.

Extra Tip II : The nice thing about wearing a vest over a jacket is that you don’t need to worry about the fit in the shoulders. This lets you keep a slimmer profile without restricting your mobility.

Vest by Nautica; Jacket by Ted Baker; Shirt by Gant Rugger;
Chinos by Uniqlo; Shoes by Johnston & Murphy;
Tie by Burberry (vintage); Tie bar by Link Up;
Belt by Brooks Brothers

No longer reserved for streetwear and skiing, down vests are making a stylish comeback. Now available in a wide variety of price points and fabrications, it is easy to find one to fit almost any style and budget.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

March 3, 2013

Favorite Finds: John Varvatos Pinstripe Jacket


The lack of space in my closet can attest to the fact that I have a bit of a sport jacket obsession. John Varvatos’ Pinstripe Jacket is such an eye-catching piece that it is hard not to take notice. Keep in mind though, as the description on the website states, “this is not made for the introverted.” As has been the case with the John Varvatos collection recently, this jacket evokes aspects of various periods of menswear history while still feeling modern.


The sizing is European, so I tried on a 50 (which is a US 40) and the fit was incredible. It hit perfectly on my shoulders but then nipped in pretty tight at the waist thanks to the darts. This is definitely a slim fitting jacket, but it looks impeccable.


What initially caught my eye was the high contrast black and white striping. Though they call it a pinstripe, it is actually more of a candy stripe as the stripes are about 1/8” wide. The white is so crisp that it makes the contrast with the black even more striking (it also means that it is difficult to stare at for long periods of time). What makes it particularly interesting is the pattern in the weave of the stripe.


This jacket is loaded with interesting ‘parade ground’ details, not the least of which are the eleven antiqued buttons. John Varvatos does this a lot and I love it every time. It gives the jacket such a unique appearance and gives you a lot of options when it comes to how much to button it up.


Another great detail is the contrast trim on the pockets and under the collar (which seems like it is intended to be worn popped).


The jacket is made in Italy of 100% cotton and half-lined for a soft look and feel. The price is way up there, $1198, but I can’t say that it isn’t worth it. The quality construction and striking look makes this jacket the ultimate statement piece. If I had $1200 to drop on a sport jacket, I would buy this jacket without hesitation.

Stay stylish,
- JJ