July 28, 2013

Inspiration: Maritime Style

I recently spent some time on Massachusetts’ North Shore, and was really inspired by the nautical heritage of the area. Touring historic boats from America’s maritime past and spending relaxing days walking along the wharf made me want to bring some of that feeling back home with me.

Your style inspiration doesn’t always have to come from the pages of a magazine or store window displays, it can be as simple as being inspired by the area around you. For this Inspiration post, I paired different elements that all had some kind of maritime beginnings or detailings. It may not be meant for the open ocean or crab fishing, but it's a great subject matter to play with when styling an outfit.

I was always wary of the high maintenance associated with them, but I have recently become a big fan of waxed cotton jackets. They provide a unique style, which to me has always felt at home near the water.

Though Barbour and Belstaff made waxed cotton popular for motorcycling and other outdoor activities, it actually has its origins on the sea. From the late Middle Ages, sailors found that coating their sails in fish oils kept them from absorbing water. Over the centuries, this process was honed until the mid-1920s when paraffin wax was impregnated into woven cotton to produce a breathable, water-resistant, and pliable fabric.

The embroidered shirt is certainly not for everyone, but I find the pink shirt and cobalt anchors to be just the right balance of maritime and ‘go-to-hell’ homage embodied in coastal New England. Would I wear it sailing? No, but it is a nice way to bring the memories of sailing back to the city with me.

The henley is another menswear staple that has nautical origins. It purportedly got its name because this collarless, button-placket shirt was traditionally used as the uniform for the rowing crews in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, England.

Blue and white have a long-standing association with all things nautical. So do signal flags, anchors, and knotwork. I have said before, style is in the details. Let your inspiration carry through to all aspects of your look, but make sure to stay this side of the costume-y line (maybe leave the captain’s hat at home).

In my Dressing for Independence Day post, I wound up putting a lapel pin in the point of my shirt collar and really liked the way it looked. I carried that through to this post with this anchor lapel pin. It is an unexpected touch that gives your style an extra something.

Boat shoes were the obvious choice for a post on maritime inspiration, and I’m okay with that. I like shoes that are interesting, be it broguing or moccasin stitching. For me, boat shoes are the perfect summer shoe. They can be dressed up or down and, when broken in, are just about the most comfortable thing you can wear.

Jacket and shirt by Nautica; Henley by Perry Ellis; Chinos by Uniqlo;
Shoes by Sebago; Lapel pin by Ted Baker; Belt by J.Crew;
Bracelet from American Eagle

Despite the historical correlations I am making for my choices, inspiration shouldn’t be analytical. I had already chosen and shot the look for this post before doing the research and finding out the origins of some of the pieces that I chose. Go with your instincts and you will rarely go wrong.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

July 23, 2013

DIY: Lapel Flower

In my last DIY post, I showed you how to make your own pocket square and for this one, I wanted to tackle lapel flowers. Now you may be skeptical, but lapel flowers have been making a comeback and most department stores now carry at least a few options. To buy them will cost you at least $20, sometimes quite a bit more, but making your own can cost you basically nothing (depending on what supplies you have around the house).

What I love about lapel flowers is that they are a unique seasonal accessory that will immediately set you apart from the crowd and add a little whimsy to your wardrobe. Sure, you could go the traditional route and use a real flower, but a fabric flower will not only last longer, it can also be a conversation starter. You can make them out of just about any fabric, in any color or pattern you want. I like linen, cotton, and seersucker for spring/summer and wool, tweed, and heavy silk for fall/winter. Think seasonally and the possibilities are endless!

Here’s what you need:
Paper, pencil, and craft scissors for pattern
Fabric (small pieces or swatches)
Needle & thread
Straight pins
Fabric scissors (embroidery snips work best)
Fray check (optional)
Buttons (2) for front and back

Extra Tip : If you plan to do a lot of DIY projects, it is a good idea to get a separate pair of scissors to use only on fabric. Cutting anything other than fabric will dull the edges down, making it harder to get a clean cut when you do use them on fabric. This is why you’ll notice I make the distinction between craft and fabric scissors.

The first thing you will need to do is make yourself a pattern in the shape of the lapel flower you want. There are plenty available online if you do some looking, but if you are even a little artistic, it’s easy enough to draw up your own. The most important thing is to have 3-5 different sizes of the same general shape. Once you have a shape you like, cut them out of the paper and, voila. You have your patterns. These are the patterns I use that have worked well for me, but you can make any size or shape you want. That is the beauty of DIY!

Once you have your patterns cut, it’s time to pin them on your fabric. I’ve found that fabric swatches are the perfect size and are (usually) free. This will depend on where you are and how stingy your local fabric store is with swatches, but unless you are planning on making a whole lot of the same lapel flower, buying the usual store minimum of ½ or 1 yard will leave you with a lot of unnecessary excess.

You will want to pin the patterns as close to the edge as possible to make the most efficient use of your fabric. With a normal swatch size, I can usually get two pieces cut out of each swatch. I usually use one of each of my four pattern sizes to assemble my lapel flowers, but it depends on the fabric and the look you’re going for. If you are using a fabric with a larger less uniform pattern, like a plaid, be sure to pay attention to where you are placing each pattern piece as it will affect the overall look of the finished flower when they are layered on top of each other.

Remember to pin your patterns well so they don't shift when you cut.

Once you have the patterns pinned, take your snips and carefully cut along the outside edge of each pattern. You want to be careful not to cut the paper pattern or the pins with your fabric scissors. Repeat until all your patterns are cut out.

The next step is not required, but is definitely recommended. Fray Check is a liquid that, as the name suggests, will keep the edges of your fabric ‘in check’ and prevent fraying. This will ensure that your lapel flower stays intact and in your desired shape for quite a while. Should you choose to use the Fray Check, lay down a napkin or towel underneath and apply it along the edge of your cut out pieces. You will see a darker coloring where the liquid was applied which will usually go away completely, but it depends on the fabric so it is always a good idea to do a test to see how it will dry.

When using the Fray Check, make sure you apply over the edge of the
fabric to lock all the cut edges in place.

Let it dry for about 5 minutes and then snip off any stray threads. For added texture, I will sometimes let some of the edges fray just a little bit before applying the Fray Check, but you probably won’t want to do this if you are using a fabric with a looser weave, as you’ll end up losing too much of your petal shape.

The wet edges (usually) dry clear, but it's always good to do a test.

Once the pieces are dry (it should only take a few minutes), it’s time to assemble your lapel flower. Depending on the pattern of your fabric, you’ll want to play around with stacking the pieces, flipping and rotating until you find an arrangement that you are happy with. Stick a straight pin through the center to hold it in place and then thread your needle.

The first several stitches you will want to put right in the center of the flower to lock everything in place, then knot it off to make sure the flower stays together even if you lose a button. The harder you pull when making your stitches (and the more layers you have), the more your petals will bunch and gain dimension. Just don’t pull so hard that you break your thread!

Lock your flower together with some strong center stitches.
Double the thread in your needle to do twice the work in half the stitches. 

Now it’s time to add your buttons. I like to choose a decorative button of some kind for the front that complements the colors in the fabric, but any button that you like will work. Vintage buttons are also a great option! Choosing the back button is equally important because you need to make sure it will fit through the lapel hole on your jacket(s). I have found that the extra buttons from old shirts are just the right size for me. When you have your buttons chosen, the next step is to sew them on. Make sure to center them, then put as many stitches as you feel are necessary to keep everything secure.

Buttons sewn on front (top) and back (bottom).

With both buttons securely sewn on, you are all done with your new lapel flower! Below is a picture of how this one turned out along with another one I made. The purple one on the right used the exact same pattern, but instead of one piece in each of the four sizes, I used two (for a total of eight pieces). This gives the flower a little more body which, with a lightweight linen, creates more depth and texture.

Two linen lapel flowers one made using 4 pieces (left),
the other using 8 pieces (right).

Pop it into your lapel and give your jacket some dandy style. Some of the other lapel flowers I’ve made are featured here and here if you are still looking for some inspiration.

Handmade lapel flower; Jacket by Bamford & Sons

Stay stylish,
- JJ

July 20, 2013

Favorite Finds: J.Crew Slim Vintage Oxford

I’ve always liked J.Crew. When I was developing my style from t-shirts to wovens, they were one of the first brands I found that fit me well in the shoulders and chest (which is always my problem area).

As I discovered other designers, I strayed away from J.Crew for wovens because even though they fit me great in the shoulders, the arms always felt really big and the body sometimes seemed a little too blousy. So when I wandered in to their Rockefeller Center store a few weeks ago and saw that they had introduced a slim shirt, I decided to give it a try and I’m really glad I did.

All of my previous issues are resolved in this Slim Vintage Oxford Shirt. The body is a bit trimmer in the chest, but more so in the waist, and the sleeves have been slimmed down a lot. That said, it is still an American cut, so I would call this more of a tailored fit. It is nowhere near as slim as Marc Jacobs’ Shrunken Fit or most European labels’ slim/skinny fits (none of which I can wear).

The design is pretty standard, with a single chest pocket and button-down collar. This particular oxford shirt though is woven with two colored yarns, which results in a much more saturated cloth making the colors pop even more.

J.Crew’s website offers the shirt in 7 colors (I chose havana blue) and though it says that it is online only, I found it in at least two retail stores here in NYC. Maybe it is only available in select locations, but I know it was there because it is currently in my closet.

At $69.50, this is a reasonably priced shirt considering the impeccable fit and what seems to be pretty good quality. It is 100% cotton and machine washable/tumble dry low. I have washed mine a couple times now and haven’t experienced any color bleed or fading. This shirt is also available in their regular fit for the same price and tall sizes in a much more limited color assortment for $5 more.

When I walked in to J.Crew, I had absolutely no intention of buying another shirt, as evidenced by the poorly lit phone pics. My tiny closet was already busting with the dozens that I already owned, but the stunning color combined with the incredible fit just proved too irresistible (the introductory sale for new arrivals didn’t hurt either, but it wasn’t the deciding factor). As you can see, I'm a big fan of this shirt, since I've already featured it in the final look of this post.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

July 14, 2013

Style Feature: Summer Pic(k)s

Summer is here and hitting us hard. With high humidity and temperatures hovering in the 90s, it can be hard to reconcile style and comfort. Making effective use of seasonal fabrics and colors can keep you from relaxing your standards to flip-flops and tank tops. Like with my Spring Picks post, I've put together some of my favorite summer looks to inspire you to beat the heat in style.

1. Summer Up Your Suit

Just because it’s hot out, doesn’t mean you can’t be dapper, and summer suits exist for just this reason. Invest in a cotton and/or linen suit to keep you looking polished through the warmer months. You can also style a summer suit a little more casually, like here, which gives it even more versatility.

Extra Tip : Don’t shy away from color and pattern. A striped suit pairs nicely with a gingham tie and lapel flower, provided you ground it in a solid shirt.

Extra Tip II : Your accessories can tell a story themselves. I chose this particular tie bar because the floral design plays off of the lapel flower and the season in general.

Extra Tip III : I always favor a woven belt over a leather one for summer. It feels inherently more seasonal and less rigid.

Suit by Ted Baker; Shirt by Uniqlo; Shoes by AllSaints Spitalfields;
Tie by J Crew; Tie bar by Link Up; Handmade lapel flower;
Pocket square by Burberry; Belt by Brooks Brothers; Socks by Corgi;
Laces by Allen Edmonds; Sunglasses by Marc by Marc Jacobs

2. Check Your Shorts

Shorts are always a summer standard, but they don’t have to be boring. Anchor a patterned short with a solid knit to beat the heat with a casual flair.

Extra Tip : Undershirts are a great way to introduce some bright colors into your wardrobe. It will give you a pop without making too loud a statement.

Extra Tip II : Interesting details on your shorts can let you keep the rest of your look simple but still stylish.

Knit shirt and watch by Nautica; Shorts by Iceberg;
Shoes by Sebago; Hat by Coal Headwear;
Undershirt by Emporio Armani; Thrifted bracelets;
Hand-dyed handkerchief; Sunglasses by Bulgari

3. Stylin' in the Rain

Even though it’s hot, there can still be some cool, cloudy days. Brighten them up with colorful denim and madras. And don’t be afraid to accessorize!

Extra Tip : Details are what I’m fixating on in this post. Unique details give you visual interest without going over the top.

Extra Tip II : Scarves aren’t just for the cooler months. A light cotton or linen scarf tied loosely lets you add a layer without adding any unwanted warmth.

Extra Tip III : Sometimes you can do some good while looking good. These bracelets are from the Made With Love Project. You should definitely check them out.

Extra Tip IV : Like the look of boat shoes but not the ‘rules’ that go along with wearing them? Consider a boat boot. These are chukka height, but you can find a variety of heights to suit your needs.

Shirt by Gant Rugger; Pants by Topman; Boots by Timberland;
Scarf by Rag & Bone; Bracelets from Made With Love Project;
Watch by Bulova; Vintage handkerchief; Umbrella by Tumi;

4. A Colorful Day

Sometimes a day just needs some color. Pair a bright top with a muted bottom (or vice versa) for a fun summer look.

Extra Tip : What will keep you cool more than anything are lightweight and breathable fabrics. Seersucker, linen, and anything with a looser weave is the way to go when the weather gets hot.

Extra Tip II : I took a break from shorts for a while, but this summer has been too brutal to not wear them. Since getting back into them, I’ve found myself preferring a slimmer above the knee cut for a cleaner look. I rolled these shorts up, but in an upcoming DIY post they'll be getting a proper cuff.

Extra Tip III : Seersucker doesn't come in only blue and white. These lilac and white shorts give a different take on a classic fabric.

Shirt by J Crew; Shorts by Nautica; Shoes by Timberland; Belt from Gap;
Watch by Bulova; Sunglasses by Marc by Marc Jacobs

There is more to summer than tees and sandals. The things to remember when putting together your favorite summer looks are color, fit, and function. Embrace the bright and saturated colors, keep the fit slim and clean, and utilize seasonal fabrics like seersucker, linen, and madras. Whatever your picks, if you put a little thought into your seasonal wardrobe, you can look cool no matter how hot it gets.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

July 9, 2013

Care and Maintenance: Linen

Linen is possibly the quintessential summer material and is actually a pretty amazing fiber. It is incredibly durable, naturally resistant to dirt, stains, and moths, doesn’t easily pill, doesn’t stretch out, and absorbs a crazy amount of moisture without feeling damp. With proper care and maintenance, your linen clothes will last you a long time.

By nature, linen is a more casual fabric. Despite (or maybe because of) all of the benefits I listed, linen is incredibly prone to wrinkling. If you are looking for crisp all day long, you might want to take a pass, but the wrinkles are what give linen its character. Embracing them gives you the added bonus of making your linen clothing essentially wash and wear (unless it’s a suit, but we’ll get to that).

As with all fabrics, the first step to taking care of your linen pieces is to pay attention to the care instructions. Linen itself is machine washable (and actually gets softer with washing), but the construction of the garment may make it dry clean only, so be sure to check the label. You can also choose to hand wash your linen as an alternative to machine washing. If you take this route, you should treat it like a sweater or other wool garment. Avoid kneading or wringing the piece, pat with a clean towel and hang to dry. Another thing to remember is that, while linen holds up well to high temperatures, it should not be put in the dryer if you can help it.

One thing to be mindful of is that, despite its strength, the fibers will break if they are repeatedly folded and ironed along the same line so be careful when pressing your pants and shirts. If you need that perfect crease, iron on a lower heat setting with a press cloth to minimize the potential damage. It’s also important to note that the slubs that give linen its characteristic texture are actually defects. The more slubs, the lower quality the thread used to weave the fabric. High quality linen will have a consistent and uniform appearance, similar to cotton.

If you have a linen suit, you should treat it like any other suit and have it dry cleaned. The pants may be washable, but having the entire suit cleaned together will help ensure that the pieces wear evenly. I know a lot of people who advocate breaking up your suit and wearing them as separates, but personally, I’m not a fan for the same reason you should clean the pieces together. It will inevitably cause one piece to wear out quicker and then you are left with half a suit. Trousers and sport jackets exist for a reason, so consider keeping your suit for its intended purpose. Okay, enough of that tangent and back to the issue at hand.

Linen holds up incredibly well to abuse, so it takes some work to get it dirty to the point that it needs more than a brushing off. If you do get a stain, Oxiclean would be my first choice. Mix some in water, soak the stain, rinse and let dry. If that doesn’t work, you can always take it to be dry cleaned (unless the care label explicitly states not to), but keep in mind that dry cleaning will weaken the fibers more than laundering will.

When it comes to storing your linen, you want to give it as much breathing room as possible. Since it is going to wrinkle in your closet no matter what, the best you can do is minimize the wrinkles. The tighter your closet is packed, the more your clothes will wrinkle regardless of whether they are linen or not. The fewer wrinkles the pieces get while stored, the less you will have to iron them when you are ready to wear them. Not only will it save you some time, but it will also extend the life of your linen. A lot of the time, light wrinkles can be steamed out instead of ironing. If you don’t happen to have a hand steamer, you can hang the piece in the bathroom when you take a hot shower, which will be almost as good.

Despite being a seasonal fabric, investing in well-made (and well-tailored) linen pieces will help keep you cool and stylish in even the warmest of climates. Whether it’s a suit or a pair of shorts, if you treat them properly, your linen clothing can last you for years. Do you have any tricks for cleaning or storing your linen?

Stay stylish,
- JJ

July 4, 2013

Dressing for the Occasion: Independence Day

Let’s start off by clarifying that I mean the 4th of July and not the Will Smith movie (that would be a very different Dressing for the Occasion post). Most people I know don’t get decked out for the 4th, and those that do usually throw on anything and everything within reach that has an American flag on it. Needless to say this never turns out well, but there are certainly ways to be festive without looking like the living embodiment of a Francis Scott Key poem.

What I like to do is distill it down and use the basic colors red, white, and blue to build a stylish but festive ensemble. Since this is a celebration of American Independence, I tried to keep the majority of the outfit limited to American companies. It may not be something anyone will notice, but a nice sentiment nonetheless.

In this instance, the striped oxford shirt establishes the color palette but the washed look tones things down so it isn’t as in your face. Any pattern would work equally well, and I’ve actually seen a lot of really nice red, white, and blue gingham shirts out there lately. I chose to anchor the look with some classic royal blue chinos. Red pants are a lot to pull off, but white is always a good option for summer (as long as you are prepared for the maintenance and know that they are heavy enough to not be see-thru).

As with any outfit, your accessories are a great place to have fun. I chose to keep things relatively simple with a navy shadow plaid tie, but you could wear a tie with just about any combination of reds, whites, and/or blues and it would come off as celebratory on the 4th of July. Just don’t wear a flag tie. In fact, unless it is subtle like a handkerchief, lapel pin, or tie bar, just avoid any item of clothing with an actual American flag on it.

On that note, unless you’re running for public office, an American flag pin probably doesn’t make it’s way into your wardrobe too often, but the 4th is as good a time as any. To be honest, my intention was to use this as a tie pin, but I just couldn’t go through with it. I have a strong aversion to tie pins unless the tie is a very loose weave because I can’t imagine putting a hole in my tie. My solution was to put it through the point of my shirt collar, which I actually really like the asymmetrical look of.

Where I really had fun was with the belt. It may not be an American company, but I just couldn't resist adding it into this post. Woven belts are a fantastic seasonal accessory for summer, and I love the look of blue leather because it goes with basically everything but is still something different. I kept the rest of the look subdued since the belt is so vibrant and you don’t want to have too many bright pops of the same colors happening together.

As always, I never go anywhere without a handkerchief and it definitely comes in handy when you’re out watching a parade or fireworks (especially with the temperature so far this summer).

Nothing says summer like boat shoes, and I choose to embrace them. They are perfect for a picnic, a day on the water, or just about any other Independence Day activity that you may have planned. If I happen to be going somewhere that is a little dressier where boat shoes aren’t appropriate, I like to wear spats over my dress shoes as a sartorial nod to our Founding Fathers (I’m also a bit of a history geek, especially when it pertains to fashion). They are also a great conversation starter.

Shirt and chinos by Gant Rugger; Shoes by Sebago; Belt by Uniqlo;
Tie by Band of Outsiders; Tie clip by Link Up; Watch by Bulova;
Flag pin from Kaufman's (I think); Sunglasses by Marc by Marc Jacobs;
Vintage handkerchief and handmade bracelet

The nice thing about a holiday like July 4th, is that there are countless combinations of patterns that can keep you looking both patriotic and stylish. It can be as simple as a red pocket square with your blue tie or go as far as tying the flag’s colors into each piece that you wear like I did in this post. Go with whatever you are feeling and wear it with confidence. I will leave you with some parting advice – if you want to be festive but have to wear a suit, try to keep it light. Dark suits with a red or blue tie looks very politician-y, so unless you are one, you probably want to avoid it.

Stay stylish and remember that fireworks and alcohol don’t mix,
- JJ