Archive for the 'One Guy’s Daily Tip:' Category

06
Jul
14

Watches – Who or What is the Tool


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Watches are tools.  This is a refrain constantly heard from fanboys on watch forums who increasingly resemble the very description they apply to their timepieces.  This being the 21st Century, a world chalk full of smart phones, cars with push-button mobile concierge services and miniature robots that clean your carpets while you’re at work, if watches are tools they are of the antique variety, even the monstrosity of a dive watch pictured above.

‘But wait’, I can hear the man who carefully posts hairy-armed wrist shots of his new NOMOS say, ‘up until the 1970’s, the ONLY way to accurately and efficiently tell time while scaling Everest, diving the wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald, flying across the Atlantic, organizing a commando raid or meeting a friend at the corner of 42nd and Lex was with a MECHANICAL watch!’  While we do not, out of nostalgia, continue to use rotary dial phones, research via hard-copy encyclopaedia or send telegraphs, we have a tremendous degree of nostalgia for wristwatches.

I confess that, to a degree, this is a feeling that I share.  The idea of a collection of microscopic levers and gears consistently keeping track of time to within a matter of seconds of accuracy a day, while being jostled, bumped and subjected to all of our daily movements, is mind-boggling.  I wear mechanical wristwatches every day – but I’m entirely conscious of the fact that I’m wearing an inefficient relic simply because I like it.

We now have devices that are better suited to most of the uses we previously ascribed to our wristwatches.  Dive computers are far more accurate and safe than dive watches (not to mention the distraction of diving with $10,000 on your wrist).  Scientists have far more accurate means of time-telling than mechanical wristwatches, meaning that anti-magnetic watches are no longer necessary.  It’s even harder to imagine a doctor taking your pulse with a pulsometer on his watch dial (unless he plays very fast-and-loose indeed with his medical license).

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In other words, it’s largely misguided to consider watches to be tools in the 21st Century.  Using a wristwatch as a tool is like playing a round of golf with hickory shafted clubs – a quirky, fun in its novelty, ‘experience’.  I think we can all agree that it would be lunacy for a professional to utilize these very same clubs for a serious match.  Yet this is the very fantasy propagated by so many self-appointed horological arbiters.

In my experience there are two complications that remain useful and practical in modern society: the GMT and chronograph functions.  Both of these functions instantly communicate information to you at a glance; even faster than switching between apps on your iPhone.   For the uninitiated, a “GMT” watch is one that provides the time in two different time zones at the same time.  It was a complication introduced by Rolex in 1954, in association with Pan Am Airlines.  Pan Am wanted a way for their pilots to be able to keep track of specific timezones wherever they went and Rolex obliged by producing the GMT-Master (an original, bakelite-bezeled model is pictured below).  Since then, nearly every mainstream commercial brand has produced a GMT watch of one sort or another (the majority of these aren’t “true” GMT watches, as they’ve merely added a second hand that goes half as quickly around the bezel as a normal hour hand, thereby providing 24-hour time, with the need to move the bezel in order to set the “second” time zone; a true GMT has two completely independent hour hands).

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A chronograph, on the other hand, offers stopwatch functionality; it allows the wearer to continue to keep track of the time of day whilst also timing a specific event.  Particularly popular in the 1960’s and 70’s with car racers, they allowed laps and pit stops to be timed on the fly.  Best known of these include the Rolex Daytona, Zenith El Primero (the first mass-produced chrono movement), Longines 13ZN, Heuer Autavia and the vaunted Omega Speedmaster, at one time, the only mechanical watch rated for space flight by NASA (pictured below).

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It is unlikely that you will require your chronograph to time anything remotely as important as an engine burn on Apollo 13 prior to re-entry (as all instrumentation was dead, the crew’s Speedmasters were used).  Frankly, the most common use I have for mine is timing steaks on the barbecue – but, I enjoy it nonetheless and it lets me leave my phone on a table and relax.

I have a stronger bond with my GMT as I have been travelling in Europe continuously for nearly the last three months.  Primarily for work, but partly for pleasure, a glance at my wrist always told me what time it was in Toronto, all the while telling me the local time in London, Florence or Istanbul.  Simple, yet incredibly effective and genuinely useful for a traveller when moving across timezones where the math isn’t quite as simple or memorable as PST vs. EST.  Furthermore, it’s almost a wearable passport, the only thing that has been with me everywhere I’ve gone.

So, while it may be tempting to go for that watch depth rated to 3,000 feet for your scuba fantasies, the reality is that you’ll never use it, other than for bragging rights.  If you have one watch you wear almost every day, while an 80 hour power reserve is an impressive achievement, it’s one you won’t really need.  Even a simple, uncomplicated watch is one that is largely superfluous in a world where every phone, car dashboard and computer screen has a prominent time display on it.  Watches aren’t tools anymore – they’re occasions.  That is, except when you want to know when you should flip the steaks or what time it is at home in Big Sky, Montana while you’re in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul – in those cases, with the right watch, there is no more efficient means than a glance at your wrist.

14
Aug
13

One Guy’s Idiot-proof Rules for Dressing


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INTRODUCTION

This blog isn’t about telling people that they should be obsessed with clothes, that they should dress like a parade of corporate clones or that they can’t show their personality in their wardrobe choices.  In fact, far from it: it’s meant to be some words of advice from a fellow man on how you can tweak and upgrade your wardrobe without requiring a great deal of time or money (and, I also throw random, interesting stuff on here as well, such as biometric wallets, just for interest’s sake).  There’s not one way of looking good, and it always annoys me when websites and forums claim that there is – with that said, there are some things that I believe are mistakes that do guys no favours and I believe there are certain basic rules that will serve you well.

Occasionally I’ll check my inbox and find a message from someone about this blog, asking me either: a) to post more (thanks, I really do appreciate the encouragement, please keep it coming – I’ll try to post more); or, b) asking for some sort of general sartorial guidance.  This post is my attempt to kill two birds with one stone.  These are my general rules for dressing – some of them I’ve gleaned from various books, my father and grandfather, or other sources; some should be obvious and yet I see them gone wrong all the time; others are because I’m a bit nit-picky; and still others are just things that I’ve adopted and I’ve found to work well.  The common thread is that following these rules have helped to prevent me from at least looking like a jackass, which, as I’ve stated in the past, is one of the major goals of this blog.  I’m hoping this article will be something that I update and add to regularly, so feel free to send in suggestions and check back regularly (I’ll post on Twitter, @oneguysstyle, whenever I make a significant addition).

Without further ado, here are an assortment of rules that I follow to jackass-proof my wardrobe, along with my reasoning for them. I’ve also divided them into categories – things you absolutely have to get right, things that you probably should get right, and things that may take your style game up that extra notch.

2010 Met Costume Institute GalaPoor Fit

THE BASICS – YOU NEED TO GET THESE RIGHT

1.  Fit is everything

It doesn’t matter what the label says;  how much you paid for it;  how much the retail price was; what store you bought it in.; or, what the “working for commission” sales associate said.  If it doesn’t fit (and cannot be made to fit), it’s not worth it.  That goes for suits, shirts, pants, jackets, belts or whatever else you can think of.  A Uniqlo shirt can look better on you than a Brunello Cucinelli shirt, simply because the former fits better than the latter.  Outside of Sweden, guys tend to wear clothes that are too big for them.  I’m 6’2″, 175lbs and grandmas and aunts have long sent me “Large” sized clothes.  In actuality I wear “medium” in most brands – use this as your benchmark.  Just because you’re over 6’0″ doesn’t make you a “Large” (although it may make you a “tall”, depending on the length of your arms and torso).  Wearing clothes that are too big for you make you look sloppy; and, contrary to common belief, they are no more comfortable than clothes that actually fit you.

The good news is, if you do have clothes that don’t fit (especially shirts) than a good tailor can likely work wonders (more about this in a minute).  I’ve had shirts that I’ve bought (knowing full well that I’d be taking them to my tailor) that I could almost make a second shirt out of with the excess fabric – the only thing that fit when I got them was the collar.  Don’t live your life trying to find ways to tuck in extra shirt fabric, or trying to keep pants from sliding down your ass, or looking like your jacket is wearing you rather than the other way around.  Either don’t buy clothes that fit like that in the first place, or, if  you already have, take them to a tailor.  Clothes that fit will make you look slimmer, taller, more professional, sexier and better proportioned.  There’s not attribute on that list that you don’t want.  It’s really as easy as figuring out what fits and buying it (or having things altered to fit) – but I constantly see men that have ignored this rule.  If you take nothing else from this list, at least understand the importance of Rule 1.  Check out the pictures above.  Clearly they represent something of a caricature, but it’s immediately clear to everyone when someone is wearing things that fit and when they’re not.

2.  Find a tailor and understand what he or she can and can’t do

People associate tailors almost entirely with suits.  This is like associating football entirely with quarterbacks – sure, they’re the most recognizable member of the team, but there are 50 other guys out there as well.  In the same way, to simply go to the tailor to have your suits fit is to barely skim the surface of their capabilities.  To whit, I recently purchased a polo shirt from a well-known manufacturer.  I have a few of their shirts already, all in a particular size (they don’t use the typical “small”, “medium”, “large” sizing).  I happened across a sale, was in a hurry and simply grabbed a shirt in what has always been my size and didn’t try it on.  Unbeknownest to me, this particular maker has introduced a new fit and their sizes are now a little bit different than before – which meant that I now own a polo shirt that swamps me, that I can’t return.   I took it to my tailor and,  $12 later, I have a polo shirt that fits perfectly and I was even able to customize certain details of the shirt.  At first this may seem ludicrous (tailoring a polo shirt? Really?).  However, think of it this way.  Before, I had an article of clothing that was essentially worthless to me – I couldn’t return it, and I would never wear it because it didn’t fit.  Now, I have a polo shirt that I will wear, and fits me perfectly – $12 very well spent, in my opinion, as it saved a $35 investment from becoming worthless.  Think of it this way: every pair of dress pants you buy needs to be tailored, just like every suit.  If a shirt doesn’t fit perfectly, it needs to be tailored.  I’ve tailored jeans that I liked, got a great deal on and wanted to keep, despite the fact that they didn’t quite fit (they now fit perfectly).  I’ve had my tailor repair jeans and shirts that had ripped, thereby reviving some of my favourite articles of clothing.  You can have ties narrowed, sleeves and armholes repositioned or narrowed, custom articles of clothing made, even t-shirts recut, sometimes for the price of buying you and a friend venti americanos and a muffin from Starbucks.  More importantly, they can take something you never wear, that lingers in the back of your closet like a spectre because you don’t like how it fits, what it looks like, or a certain thing about it and make it your “go-to” article of clothing.  Sometimes, you can go shopping in your own closet and find things that, with a little work, can be made new.

The only caveat is this: you need to know what a tailor can’t do.   They can’t really do much for suits that don’t fit in the shoulders (so, make sure your suits fit there; you can do some tailoring to the body of the suit, if need be).  They can’t remove shoulder pads, or reduce them.  They can’t really adjust the collar size of a shirt.  They can only work with the material you give them (i.e. you can’t have pants let out if there’s no material to let them out with.  You can’t have pants lenghtened without material being there to do it.).   It’s tough to adjust the rise of pants too substantially.  There is a limit to how many sizes they can take an article of clothing down (sorry, but those size 42 pants cannot be made into 32s…  The two back pockets will become one back pocket).  Sweaters aren’t really their speciality.  Re-working sleeves with functioning buttons is a problem (as it’s tough to move already made buttonholes without leaving very visible marks).  So is substantially lengthening or shortening a jacket (the pockets will now be in a slightly odd position, and it’s expensive).  Just like Superman had his limitations (kryptonite), so do tailors – in my experience, Superman is the most apt comparision for a great tailor.

3.  Wear a tie darker than your shirt, 95% of the time

– This is a good experiment:  walk into the suit section of Tip Top, Men’s Warehouse or other down-market men’s retailers – your eyes will be greeted with dress shirts in a ROY G. BIV assortment of colours.  Mannequins will be rocking solid black, red, green, dark purple and even orange dress shirts.  Then head over to one of the finer men’s stores in your area; I’ll toss out Harry Rosen, Niemen Marcus, Barney’s… any of those would be fine.  Now check out what colour shirts the mannequins and floor displays have on – I guarantee that at least 90% will be wearing shirts where the predominant colour is either white or blue (they may have red, purple, pink, green, orange or any other colour represented via stripes or checks, but the shirt will almost definitely be rooted in white or blue).  This isn’t an accident – solid black, red, orange, green and dark purple are not colours for dress shirts, unless you work as a magician in Vegas.  For whatever reason, it looks better when your tie is darker than your shirt, and these colours generally make this difficult.  They’re also tough colours to match and they’re definitely not traditional for business or just about any other form of social interaction.  This isn’t to say that you can’t wear solid shirts in colours other than white or blue; pink and lavender can be nice colours for shirts. However, stick with pale rather than dark shades, and pair with a tie in a colour darker than your shirt (navy, dark grey, etc). Furthermore, I have no problem if you’re going to cocktail party in a dark space at night and want to wear a black dress shirt with a black suit and no tie (see Bradley Cooper on the left).  If it’s nighttime and dark, and drinks are in the hands of many, then black may be an option (again, skip the tie) – but the look on the right is a train wreck.  Ties and black shirts do not go together, especially at the office.

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4. Suit, shoes, tie and then shirt should be your focus in terms of allocating your attention and resources

A nice suit is something you need and is the most noticeable part of your business or formal wardrobe.  Plus, a suit is versatile, as it can be worn without a tie, just as a jacket with jeans or slacks, etc, or even the pants with a shirt and sweater.  Suits are also the most difficult thing to get right. Shoes are the next most important as bad shoes can destroy a look, even if you have a nice suit, tie and shirt.  Shoes can also be quite expensive and often demand a significant investment (although, if you purchase quality shoes, this investment should last a lifetime).  Ties come third as a nice tie will get you noticed positively, and a bad tie will immediately get you noticed negatively – if you’re diligent, you can often find nice ties at relatively low prices without sacrificing quality (eBay, Holt Renfrew Last Call, Saks Off 5th Avenue, Century 21, etc, can be excellent sources for high quality ties at bargain prices).  Furthermore, if you don’t own many suits, having a range of ties will make it seem like you have a wide ranging wardrobe.  Finally, shirts should be your last area of focus, as you can find nice shirts quite easily at good prices (see my articles about Shirts (here) and TM Lewin (here)).  The importance of shoes should really be underlined (I thought about putting them first).  Don’t fall into the trap of spending $150 on shoes and $140 on a shirt.  Spend $40 on a TM Lewin shirt, as per my post here, and $250 on the shoes (for some info about choosing shoes, read this post.

5. Don’t wear black suits or ties (or shirts) to work

Simply put, black is not traditional business wear, beyond shoes and belts.  A black suit doesn’t look good under artificial light (and is susceptible to, and looks worse after, fading more than any other colour).  Black ties are too formal for most workplaces (unless your job is hosting the Oscars, working at a funeral home or raising barns on the weekends with your Amish buddies).  And, as I discussed earlier, don’t even think about wearing a black dress shirt to any workplace.  Black is one of the hardest colours to match shirts and ties to.  Choose navy, charcoal grey, mid-grey, light grey, dark brown or even khaki or beige (in the summer time) for suits before you go with black.  This is especially important if you only have one or two suits, as your goal should be to maximize the number of colour combinations you can wear with your limited suit wardrobe.  That said, black is great when it comes to evening activities; for suits, ties or shirts.  So if you’re going out for a night on the town, as a 5th or 6th suit, or you’d like to wear it for other occasions that aren’t business related, think about black.  But unless you work as a chaplain or are going door to door for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or were given the suit as wardrobe for your role in ‘Book of Mormon’), go with navy or charcoal for your suits at the office, and skip black shirts and ties.

6.  Shoes polished.  Always.

When I was in university and needed a pair of brown dress shoes, I found a pair of Brown’s Shoe Store’s private label shoes on sale and bought them.  I couldn’t afford much more than a $75 investment and these looked nice enough for what they were and served me well.  Being that my grandfather and father have instilled in me a pseudo fanaticism about keeping shoes polished, I made sure that they sparkled when I wore them.  Amazingly, my $75 shoes got lots of compliments.  I’ve since upgraded my shoe collection, but nonetheless, these experiences underline something vitally important – you can make decent shoes look substantially better when you take the time to keep them polished.  I actually still have the shoes in my closet (the uppers remain in good shape, and, as they were glued, it was the soles that went first – I resoled them and they’re now my rainy day shoes). Conversely, you can make nice shoes look like cheap shoes if you do not polish them.   Polished shoes will set you apart from the rest of the dull-shoed masses and undoubtedly engender compliments.  How else can you upgrade your wardrobe for $3 (the price of a tin of shoe polish) and ten minutes of your time?

7.  The bottom button of a two or three-button suit should always be left undone.  The top button of a shirt worn without a tie should always be left undone too.

Not only is this the modern way of wearing suits, but, more importantly, suits are actually cut with the assumption that you will leave that button undone.  If you do it up, it will often result in a pull at that button and change the balance of the suit.  If you’re wearing a dress shirt (or casual button down, or polo shirt) without a tie, then leave the top button undone.  If you’re not wearing a tie, then clearly the occasion is at least mildly informal, so you don’t need to do that button up.  I realize that it’s hipster-chic to do these buttons up, but, at least in my mind, it doesn’t work for the majority of guys trying for this look.  If you want to add formality to your outfit, wear a jacket, don’t do it with that damn top button.  To my eyes, doing up the top button makes you look about as uptight as a nun in Vegas.  Even the guys on The Big Bang Theory don’t do up their top buttons, and that’s a strong statement.

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8.  Step away from the cell phone belt holster

We get it, you have an iPhone, Galaxy or BlackBerry.  So do most 11 year old girls.  I’m sure you’re a very important man, who gets very important emails from very important people.  That’s great.  The good news is, those emails still manage to get to your phone when it’s in your pocket.  This applies in equal measure to your pants pocket and your suit jacket pocket – you really don’t need to display your BlackBerry like you’re Wyatt Earp in Tombstone.   I’ll make an occasional exception for individuals with holsters who wear suit jackets that will cover the holster, but grudgingly.  Unless you’re a time traveller from 5 years ago and are stuck with a BlackBerry with a side scroll wheel, than your phone will be slim enough to be in your pocket with no discomfort, I can assure you.  I covered this growing societal issue before here.

THINGS YOU SHOULD GET RIGHT

9. Polo or ‘golf” shirt sleeves should hit you mid-bicep, not below your elbow

Continue reading ‘One Guy’s Idiot-proof Rules for Dressing’

09
Dec
10

How to Maximize Your Wardrobe Dollars


Introduction

How do we, as men, buy things?  Well, when it comes to clothes, the answer is usually “as quickly as possible”.  However, at the root of nearly all purchases are one or both of these considerations: 1) I need this; and 2) I want this.  Something you need could be a winter coat if you live an a cold climate, or a tuxedo if you’re invited to a black tie event.  Things that aren’t really optional and therefore take precedence over other purchases.  They may be required for the long-term (the winter coat) or for a single use (the tuxedo).

On the other hand, there are things we want.  They can be anything and this is where we can get in some trouble (but also are what can make buying clothes interesting and fun).  We may want an expensive cashmere scarf that we’ll wear every day during the winter.  Or, we may want a pair of baby blue driving loafers from a place like Zara that don’t cost too much but that we’ll wear a grand total of twice.  Given that the vast majority of us have limited resources with which to buy clothes, like Steven Segal in Under Siege, it’s about making our bullets count.

 

Actual Cost

I majored in Economics during my undergrad years and so I have a habit of reducing things into economics-based ideas.  This may sound like something you don’t really want to read, but hear me out for just a minute.  I think it’s important for all of us to figure out the actual cost of what we buy.  What I mean by the term “actual cost” is the “cost per wear” for a particular item – the amount you paid for the item divided by the number of times you’ve worn it. Say I buy a sweater for $200.  An relatively expensive sweater to be sure, but one that fits me perfectly and looks great.  I really like this sweater, so over the span of 3 years I wear it 50 times.  Imagine, as well, that right around the time I bought the first sweater, I come across a second sweater, marked down to $30 from $120.  It’s lime green, but it’s a great deal and I kind of like the colour.  Three years later, I still do like the colour, but I just haven’t found as many occasions to wear it as I might have liked.  In fact, I’ve only worn the second sweater 5 times over that same 3 year period.  On the one hand, we have a sweater that cost $200, and on the other, one that cost $30.  I wore the first sweater 50 times, making the actual cost of that sweater $4.  The cheaper sweater I only wore 5 times, making its actual cost $6.  In other words, the first sweater cost me less on a “per wear” basis than the second one, even though it was $170 more expensive in the first place.

When you think about it, we all have to get dressed every day.  We need pants (or shorts) of some kind, a shirt, a sweater and/or jacket if it’s cold or rainy, undergarments, some sort of footwear and whatever other assorted things we wear on a daily basis depending on the weather, time of year, the occasion, etc.  Each day has clothing slots that need to be filled and we’re paying everyday to fill these slots – albeit, we paid upfront.  If you think about it, this partially explains why certain things cost more than others.  Well constructed items such as Alden shoes (above, on the left) or Barbour jackets (above, on the right) will last you years, which allows you to amortize the hefty up-front cost over many wearings (and, this also means that these business don’t expect you to be coming back for a replacement for a long time, meaning they need to charge more for each item they sell).

H&M, on the other hand, operates from the exact opposite notion.  Their clothes (some examples of which are pictured above) are disposable; they’re not of particularly high quality and they’re built to be stylish for a brief window of time.  H&M expects you to be replacing them regularly and therefore they’re available at a very low price.  Neither of these approaches, economically speaking, is really better or worse than the other.   On the one hand, with a Barbour coat, you wear it many times (good for “actual cost”) but it’s got a high upfront cost (bad for “actual cost”).  H&M clothes are cheap (good for “actual cost”) but disposable (bad for “actual cost”), so you’re really not particularly better off, economically speaking, buying one over the other.  Both have their function and fill a particular role.  What you generally want to avoid are items that are relatively expensive and that you won’t wear very often (either because they won’t last very long, or because you don’t really have the need or desire to wear them).  I say that you “generally” want to avoid these things because there are certain instances where you have no choice.  Things fall into the “need” category rather than the “want” category all the time.  For example, if you live in Hawaii and decide to go on a ski holiday in the Alps, you’ll need a good ski jacket to keep you warm.  Good ski jackets tend to be costly and you’re not likely to be wearing this jacket very many times living in Hawaii – but if you want to go skiing and stay warm, you need one.  The same goes for things like tuxedos and many other things that are required for one reason or another.  You simply have to bite the proverbial bullet and take the hit with a high actual cost.  What you want to avoid are things that you’re buying because of “want” for a lot of money that, when you actually try and think clearly through your cloud of lust, you’re really never going to use.  Even cheaper things, as shown by my earlier example, may not make economical sense if you don’t wear them very often.  However, given that you purchased them for a lesser cost, you need to wear them less than a more expensive garment for them to make financial sense.

Factors that tend to give you the best (i.e. lowest) actual cost, are items that:

a) you like and will be wearing regularly (this is the most important factor – if you really like something, you’ll find reasons and occasions to wear it);
b) serve more than one function (for example, a navy blue suit jacket, which can also be worn as a blue blazer, thereby increasing the times you can wear it);
c) cost less (although, as my first example shows, this shouldn’t necessarily be your focus, as it is for many people);
d) are well-made and likely to last a long time (thereby increasing the opportunity for you to wear them); and
e) are staples, things that are acceptable to wear in as many social situations as possible and match as many items in your closet as possible (for example, a grey sweater is generally more useful than a lime green one, just because it can be paired with more things in your wardrobe and is a more classic colour).

There are undoubtedly other factors that influence actual cost, but I think these are the core ones.  It’s not as simple as buying low and wearing things a lot, because often you get what you pay for.  It’s about “using your bullets” like a sniper rather than a machine-gunner.  Target certain things that will check the major boxes (navy suit, black shoes, gray sweater, etc) and fill in the space around them with things that are more interesting, one-dimensional and infuse your personality into your wardrobe, but always with at least an eye on the actual cost of what you’re buying.

 

Substitute Goods

The second consideration when it comes to maximizing the economics of buying clothes is how substitutable the item is.  In other words, can you get something that is reasonably close to the same thing for less, and, if you can, why are you paying more?  This second consideration becomes useful where an item seems to be carry a reasonable actual cost.  Here’s an example: imagine that I’ve purchased a pair of black Salvatore Ferragamo captoe lace-up shoes.  These shoes are from Ferragamo’s Studio line, which is their lowest priced line of three. (Studio, Lavorazione Orginale and Tramezza).  I purchased them from Saks (here), for $473 Canadian.  The first thing I will say about these shoes is that they look great.  Modern, classic and yet very elegant and tasteful in appearance.  They’re black and captoe making them an absolute wardrobe staple.  Plus, I can wear them to the office, but also out on the town.  Frankly, I can wear them just about anywhere.  They’re not going to go out of style, and their construction is certainly equal to many commonly sold shoes on the market.  They cost a fair amount, but I’d say that I might wear them as many as 150 times in 3 years, making their actual cost around $3.  In other words, they seem like a winner on an actual cost basis. However, they’re a bit of a disaster when it comes to a substitute goods analysis.  You see, they may look great, and their construction may be equal to many shoes on the market, but they’re still $500.   They’re entirely glued together, as most shoes are, meaning that you’re only likely to get 3 years out of them.  This is especially so if you wear them as regularly as you’d need to to make them economical – plus, while many shoes are constructed similarly, this is actually more than I’d like to spend on glued shoes.  For less than $500, I can find you many shoes that are better made here, here or here .  These alternatives would last you longer, look just as good (or nearly as good) and therefore be more economical for you.  A lot of what you’re paying for the Ferragamo shoes is due to the Ferragamo brand name on the sole and the cachet that goes with it.  This means that items can pass the “actual cost” test, but still not be a great buy.  Therefore, it is important to determine whether there are cheaper substitute goods available.

Now, this isn’t to say that buying a $500 navy suit is superior to buying a $1,500 navy suit, because these goods may not be as substitutable as you think.  The construction of the cheaper suit is likely to be such that it will limit the life of the suit; perhaps it’s more trendy and therefore will go out of style faster; perhaps, when you buy a few more expensive suits, you’ll shy away from the cheaper suit because you’ve seen the way that nicer suits look on you and you’re almost embarrassed to where that one; perhaps the cheaper suit really doesn’t fit you particularly well.  In other words, perhaps you’re really not getting the same thing for less money at all.  At the same time, I feel that dress shirts are inherently disposable.  They get stained, shrunk, sweated in, rolled up in laundry baskets, their collars get damaged, etc.  The life of a dress shirt is hard and often relatively short.  Moreover it’s often predominantly covered up by your suit jacket and tie, so only your collar is visible.  Which, to me means that I don’t want to pay $300 for a dress shirt even if it becomes my favourite dress shirt and I wear it all the time making its actual cost not particularly high.  This is because I feel confident that I can find a dress shirt nearly as good for under $70 at places like T.M. Lewin.  If you look at the pictures above, there really isn’t much perceptible difference at all, despite the fact that the Brioni shirt on the right costs $475 at Niemen Marcus, while the T.M. Lewin shirt on the left can be had for $50. Undoubtedly, if you inspected the shirts up close, you would notice a difference in materials and quality, but enough to justify a $425 price difference?  In my opinion, no.  With suits, the gap between expensive suits and cheap suits can often be massive, for a variety of reasons.  Suits are far more technical and difficult to make than a shirt and require more expertise to properly fit.  Shirts do not; neither do socks and even pants.  So, your second question when you’re buying an article clothing (after estimating your actual cost) should be asking yourself whether there are any substitutable goods.  If there are, you may be better served buying the cheaper item and pocketing the difference.  On the other hand, if there’s not, you might be better off ponying up the extra cash.

Conclusion

So, the next time you’re shopping, don’t necessarily jump at sale prices and turn up your nose at high prices.  Weigh each of them on their merits and use the tools of actual cost and substitute goods to decide what your best decision, economically speaking, would be.  Don’t be afraid in making an investment in something you’re going to wear the hell out of, even if the initial cost is high.  If you always try to cut cost corners and end up with things you don’t quite like, you may actually be costing yourself money on an actual cost basis.  And don’t worry too much about not wearing something very often if you really did get it for a song.  Soon there won’t be as many “ghosts” kicking around the back of your closet, hardly worn that you purchased on a whim.  That’ll put money into your pocket, and who doesn’t want that?

15
Nov
10

One Guy’s Daily Tip: Beware of Clothes Made for Outlet Stores


I’m definitely not someone that’s “cheap”.  However, my Midwestern, Scottish roots mean that I’m frugal and I love nothing more than to get something at a bargain price.  Perhaps I’m not quite Jerry Seinfeld’s dad who “doesn’t care about the gift; he gets excited about the deal” (see “The Wizard” episode about the “hot” tip calculator), but I’m close.  And who doesn’t like to get something nice for less?  Well, unfortunately, it’s becoming harder to do so.  Surprisingly, this isn’t because the prices are getting higher; rather, what companies are giving you for those bargain basement prices is getting worse.  I’m talking about Outlet Store Lines – clothes made specifically for outlet stores.

Allow me to give you an example.  Picture yourself walking into a Brooks Brothers Outlet store.  You’ll take a look at the price tags on the suits and undoubtedly smile (and maybe even rub your hands together in glee) over the savings you can reap on the suits you’ve seen in their retail stores (which have tags like the one above on the left).

Hmmm… A Brooks Brothers suit for $325? Don’t mind if I do….

Here’s the problem: if you look closer, you’ll notice that the label on the suit says “346 Brooks Brothers” (just like it does above on the right).  Now, the addition of those three measly numbers doesn’t seem like much of anything, especially since Brooks aficionados might remember that their headquarters has long been at 346 Madison Avenue in New York.  Except, those three numbers are of enormous importance because they identify that suit as one that’s only sold in a Brooks Brothers Outlet Store.  It’s made from lower quality fabric, cut in a less modern way, constructed use down-market techniques and likely even in a different country from Brooks’ main offerings.  Other than the fact that the words “Brooks Brothers” follow the 346 and that the Outlet Store you’re in has a lot of wood paneling and smells of lime cologne, it really isn’t a Brooks Brothers suit at all.  Which means that you’re not really getting a deal – you’re pretty much getting exactly what you’re paying for. As someone who has said favourable things about Brooks Brothers and their suits on this very blog, I don’t want to single them out – pretty much every retailer these days is doing the same thing.  For example, Calvin Klein Collection sells very nice minimalist suits at upscale retailers like Barneys.  They also sell “White Label” Calvin Klein (see below on the right) suits at their Outlet Stores.  That’s kind of like if Tom Brady and Steve Urkel were brothers – not a lot of family resemblance there.  Others that do this: Ralph Lauren (Lauren Ralph Lauren, below on the left), Hugo Boss, The North Face, Banana Republic, J Crew, Gap and many others, and not just when it comes to suits.  If you’re buying for your wife, you should know that Coach, Donna Karan and other brands do the same thing.

This may come as a shock to you given that the original purpose of Outlet Stores was to sell off merchandise that didn’t sell in the main store,  for whatever reason.  Often this meant that it was full of odd sizes and ugly things (and, they still are), but there were often diamonds in the rough that somehow made their way onto the crowded racks, shelves and bins of an outlet store.  This is becoming less and less the way that these stores are doing business – a large reason for this is that stores, post-recession, are maintaining far less inventory than before, which means there is a lot less unsold merchandise to stock their outlet stores with.  Hence, the move towards “Brooks Brothers 346”, “Lauren Ralph Lauren” and “Calvin Klein White Label” to fill up those stores.  This doesn’t mean that you should totally swear off outlet stores.  Places like Holt Renfrew Last Call, Saks Off 5th, Last Call by Niemen Marcus and any number of other brands can give you legitimate savings on actual retail merchandise.  But beware of the Outlet Store Line.  Sometimes an innocuous few letters or the colour of a label can mean that you’re not getting the deal you think you are.  Even more scarily, there may be no signs at all that an article of clothing was made specifically for an outlet store (J Crew does this) and is of inferior quality to their regular offerings.  So, be careful and do your due diligence to make sure that your bargain is as good as you think it is.

09
Jun
10

One Guy’s Daily Tip: Wear Slim-Cut Khakis


There’s been a question I’ve been mulling over lately.  If you’re anything like me, than you pretty much live (outside of the office that is) in jeans.  I would say, conservatively, that I likely wear jeans 90% of the time I’m not wearing dress pants.  I have a couple of pairs that I’ve lovingly worn in to a level of comfort that is almost unmatchable (one of these pairs I’m actually having emergency repairs done to as a hole had sprouted in the crotch;  I realize that having a tailor repair the torn crotch of one’s jeans is a bit of lunacy, but these jeans are the closest thing to a child I have right now).  That said, there has to be more than jeans out there.  Especially in summer, when wearing 3 pounds of selvedge denim around is comparable to some sort of heat based torture. 

Nonetheless, I think I’ve found a solution:  slim-cut khakis.  Now, I know what you’re going to say: “Khakis? Really? You’re  suggesting I dress less like Marlon Brando in “The Wild Ones” and more like Bill Gates circa 1999?”

Not exactly.  The “midwestern senator on the golf course” type of khaki (i.e. one that is baggy, perfectly creased and sports a squadron of pleats on the front) and is made of some sort of thin, vaguely beige material is worlds apart from what I’m talking about.   (Continue reading after the jump) Continue reading ‘One Guy’s Daily Tip: Wear Slim-Cut Khakis’

06
Jun
10

One Guy’s Daily Tip: BlackBerrys, neither seen nor heard


The BlackBerry has become the fanny pack of the white collar set.  Gentlemen, let me be the first to tell you that you look like a tool with your BlackBerry visibly clipped to your belt.  Even worse, women think so too (see the comments on PDAs on belts in “Undateable: 311 Things That Guys Do That Guarantees They Won’t Be Dating or Having Sex”, by Ellen Rakieten and Anne Coyle, which is available here).

I’m really at a loss as to the motivation for guys doing this.  Is it to show off the fact that they have a PDA?  In the modern world where BlackBerrys are available free with a contract and every teenage girl seems to have one, they no longer provide much in the way of status.  Do you want to show how busy you are; that you need to have your PDA literally at your fingertips, quick draw style, at all times?  This is actually a bit sad; most powerful people I know are a bit tough to reach and part of their power comes from not always being available.  Do you not like things in your pocket?  If so, where do you keep your car keys and wallet, and is  looking like a jackass worth not finding an alternative home for your phone?  The reasoning for the holster is lost on me.

As a guy that has to carry around the RIM Handcuffs (aka my BlackBerry), to the point where I might be more comfortable leaving the house without underwear than leaving without my ‘Berry, I can tell you first hand that you don’t need to holster it.  You’re not Val Kilmer in Tombstone – put the thing in your pocket, on the table or in your briefcase.  Even better, most modern suits have a pocket in the jacket, usually on the left side, near the bottom meant for PDAs.  Unless you’re wearing skinny jeans or a bathing suit, I’m hard-pressed to find a situation where one of those options wouldn’t be available, particularly your pocket.  And, if you are wearing skinny jeans or a bathing suit, I think the BlackBerry would spoil the look even more than normal.

So the next time you reach for your BlackBerry holster like you’re heading for a gun fight at the OK Corral, think twice and put it some place else…  There’s really no faster, easier or cheaper style upgrade than that.

03
Jun
10

One Guy’s Daily Tip: Classic Sneakers


It’s the weekend.  You’re on the way out the door and herein lies the dilemma…  What kind of shoe are you going with?  Loafers are too formal, and you’re not feeling flip-flops.  That leaves everyone’s Saturday afternoon favourite, the sneaker.  The only problem with the sneaker is that over the last 30 years, shoe manufacturers have worked really hard to screw them up.  Somehow, it became a necessity to install air pockets, Formula 1 inspired cushioning systems, breathable and sweat-wicking liners, air pumps, and giant logos.  Not only that, but they decided to advertise these additions on the actual shoes, so your new adidas now say “Quik-DRY” or something like that in small letters on the side, or have a Nike swoosh the size of your forearm.  Most modern sneakers are seemingly designed to look like you have orthopedic foot problems or are preparing to run a triathalon later that day.  (Continue reading after the jump)

Continue reading ‘One Guy’s Daily Tip: Classic Sneakers’




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