Posts Tagged ‘shoes

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.

Bradley-Cooper-the-hangoverbad purple dress shirt

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
Apr
13

One Guy’s Guide to Outlet Malls


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I like nice things.  I also, at least try, to hold onto my familial frugality.   Buying something at full price has always been difficult for me – hence the full blown eBay addiction that occasionally rears its ugly head.  However, as much as I love the ‘Bay, it has one tremendous downside: the inability to physically see, touch and try-on what you’re purchasing.  Which brings me to the almighty Outlet Mall, the focus of this post.  Outlet malls (can sometimes) provide the bargains found on eBay and they also do not share eBay’s flaws noted above.  However, they have their own set of issues, which will be explored further below.  eBay is great in that it has an incredible selection of rare items AND it allows you browse these items while drinking a glass of wine in a bathrobe at home.  While some of the people you see at the typical outlet mall are only a half step removed from this, I would not recommend trying to mimic this experience.  If you want to visit your local outlet mall (if you have one), you will need to pry yourself off the couch to experience the joys (or, more often, horrors) that are part and parcel to such an expedition.  As someone who has been to many outlet malls on many occasions and has lived to tell the tale, please find some suggestions below that I hope will make your experience as good as digging through mountains of unsold goods in a crowd of people possibly can be.

1. Do not be specific

Almost daily, we hear the common refrain to “be specific”.  However, if you are looking for an oxblood suede belt with silver buckle, or a specific model of Tod’s loafers, or even just a “bathrobe”, and that is the primary purpose of your shopping expedition, than I would suggest not going to an outlet mall.  Outlet malls are places where you find things you aren’t looking for, but don’t find things that you are.  In other words, specificity is not the forte of  outlet malls.  From a time-cost persepective, you will spend eons of time trying to find that specific item you’re looking for.  Generally speaking, it’s not worth the time or trouble, particularly since outlet malls tend to be in the middle of nowhere.   Go to your preferred local store and spend a few extra dinero, or, easier still, troll eBay or Amazon.com in the comfort of your own home rather than sacrificing your day scouring sale bins at a distant outlet mall when your chances of success approximate the odds of the Cubs winning the World Series in the next twenty years (not out of the question, but history says that it’s highly unlikely).

2. Price, time and the sphere of availability

Walk into Harry Rosen, Bergdorf Goodman, Canali, Louis Boston, etc., and say that you would like a medium grey suit with pale blue pinstripes and they will likely have an array for you to choose from.  Same with the perfect yellow tie that you’re after, or the pair of brown boots you want for Fridays and the weekend.  It will be an easy, comfortable shopping experience (at least it should be).  When you reach the cashier with your purchases, you’ll see why: you pay for service and the ease and comfort described above.  Someone else is curating for you; sifting through the litany of options and providing you with precisely what you’re looking for with you barely having to lift a finger.

Outlet stores more closely resemble the following scenario: a dump truck pulls into the back of a warehouse and dumps a massive pile of loosely sorted apparel onto the floor for you to sift through with a crowd of fellow misers.  Much like Andy Dufresne, you will crawl through a pile of foulness to find the diamond in the rough.  This is part of the reason why they can offer goods so cheaply; they have stripped away much of the cost associated with good customer service.   I’ve made peace with this trade-off – just be prepared to spend quite a bit more time (and incur a substantially larger headache) per purchase than you normally would.  Furthermore, outlet malls bring clothes that would otherwise be out of your sphere of availability into that sphere of availability, which is the reason why it may be worth the trip.  That, plain and simple, is the value of outlet malls.

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3. Reach for the top; ‘zig’ instead of ‘zag’

Further to “2” above, I have found the most success (and the best deals) when I’ve focused on items that I couldn’t otherwise afford, but have been made affordable at the outlet.  I cannot afford a $3,000 suit; however, a $3K suit marked down to $700?  That’s what you’d pay at SuitSupply or other mid-priced establishments.  In other words, you are getting a far nicer suit at a price that comfortably fits within your budget.

I believe that there are a few specific reasons as to why these situations present themselves and how best to capitalize on them.  The first is that people buy things that they know and recognize.  Simply put, most people recognize the names ‘Gap’, ‘ Hugo Boss’ and ‘Armani’, so items from these brands will not need to be as deeply discounted to sell, and will also be substantially more “picked over” due to their brand recognition.  Nearly everyone knows these names, but far, far fewer are familiar with Loro Piana, Pal Zileri, James Perse, Belstaff, Sundek, Grenson and even higher-end brands within a brand (eg. ’15 mil mil 15′ by Ermenegildo Zegna or Ralph Lauren Purple Label).  These brands make fantastic quality items that, at full retail, would constitute a huge splurge over other options for the majority of people, if they even knew what they were.  They may not sell at the retail store because, next to more recognizable names, people chose those recognizable names for the same price.  At an outlet store, they are suddenly deeply discounted because they were passed over, only to be passed over again for more recognizable brands, even at the outlet store, and therefore often discounted again.  I have, on several occasions after finding a gem gone to the retail store and asked for the brand, only to be told that they no longer carried it because it didn’t sell.  Undoubtedly, there are many that are familiar with these names, but far less than more common names, which gives you a better chance of scoring a great item at a great price from a brand that flies under the radar.  In addition, there are no ‘outlet brands’ for these particular marques.  Companies like J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Burberry, etc., make items specifically for their outlets, meaning that the dress shirt you think you’re getting an outstanding deal on is actually not the same shirt they sell in their retail store.  I covered the idea of “outlet brands” in depth in the following post: https://onemansstyle.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/one-guys-daily-tip-beware-of-clothes-made-for-outlet-stores/

The best way to find deals at an outlet store is to be familiar with lesser known brands that make high quality items.  In other words, where everyone else “zigs”, you need to “zag” to find the best deals.

Here is a “cheat sheet” of brands I’ve seen in outlets which are not as well known to the casual consumer as Banana Republic, Hugo Boss, Burberry, Prada and the like, and often are deeply discounted because of it (if you’d like to learn more about the brand, click on the name as each is link to the respective brand’s homepage):  Loro Piana, Pal Zileri, Vince, Belstaff, James Perse, Grenson, Sundek, Rag & Bone, Billy Reid, Smythson, Aspesi, Charvet, Oxxford, Battistoni, Brunello Cucinelli, Turnbull & Asser, Samuelsohn, Drake’s, Nudie, Balenciaga, Mabitex, Incotex, Naked & Famous, WANT Les Essentials de la Vie, Jack Spade, Barbour, Martin Dingman and Kiton.

In other cases, many customers are unaware that a specfic brand has a variety of quality levels, leaving extremely expensive items available at deeply discounted prices.  Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Ralph Lauren Black Label, RЯL, Ermenegildo Zegna ’15 mil mil 15′, Salvatore Ferragamo Tramezza, Calvin Klein Collection, Gant by Michael Bastian, Gant Rugger, etc., can provide, as many do not realize, a much higher quality level than a brand’s standard fare.

While many of you will be aware of some, or even the majority of the names found above, keep in mind that many are not.  Furthermore, many that are do not frequent outlet malls.  This makes the Venn Diagram’s centre very small indeed.

4. Best and worst outlets

First, it must be said that many outlet malls are not even worth bothering with.  Sadly, my native country of Canada has embraced the concept of the outlet mall in much the same way as Americans have embraced the sport of curling: half-hearted at best.  In Canada there are really two places worth visiting: Holt Renfrew Last Call (which, I believe, is only in Toronto now), and Harry Rosen Outlet (again, only in Toronto).  Basically, if you’re not in Toronto, you’re probably out of luck, at least locally.   If, however, you reside in, or near the United States, there are a number of great outlet malls potentially close by.  This is particularly the case if you live in an area frequented by tourists: New York, Los Angeles, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Niagara Falls, San Diego, Las Vegas or Phoenix.  Therefore, the first decision to make is whether it’s even worth driving out to the nearby outlet mall.  In many cases, it may not be worth it at all.

I’ve found the majority of my best deals at department store outlets.  Barney’s New York, Century 21, Niemen Marcus Last Call, Holt Renfrew Last Call (apparently there is a shortage of outlet store names, as somehow two share the same one) and Saks Off 5th tend to be some of the best.  Unfortunately, like every other store at the outlet mall, the value of these stores has been decreasing.  Formerly, they were the exlusive domain of unsold merchandise from their regular stores; however, lately they have begun to sell “outlet store merchandise” – clothing manufactured expressly for outlets (usually, they are named after the store itself, eg. Saks Fifth Avenue Green).  Nonetheless, these stores are still the cream of the outlet crop in terms of bargains, as there remains loads of items that went unsold at retail locaitons, providing some excellent access to nice things at good prices.

holtrenfrewlastcallcentury21

In addition, some of these stores, offer customer loyalty programs that provide even deeper discounts on items if you show the card associated with the program, or offer discounts if you sign up for a credit card.

The outlet stores I would tend to avoid are those that almost exclusively sell merchandise manufactured for outlet malls: Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, etc.  By and large, the prices match the quality of the items being sold.

5. Buy with purpose, not for price

You may think that the teal blazer is kind of cool and it’s down from $722.98 to $89.99!  How could you lose on this deal?  Well, after it sits in your closet, unworn, for 2 years, the economics no longer support this particular purchase.  Don’t buy something cheap, buy something because you know it will be part of your regular rotation, or you have a specific purpose in mind for it (wedding coming up, been looking for an orange tie, you can never have too many socks…).  It’s cheap and you may not have otherwise been able to afford it (“I’ve always wanted an Hermes tie… it’s just too bad it’s pink, yellow and orange, with pictures of bunnies on it…”), but that doesn’t make it a wise purchase.  I have a number of items I’ve bought at outlet malls that I wear/use all of the time (my go-to carry-on bag, a number of my favourite ties, some favourite shirts, one of my favourite suits) but I’ve also had a few losers haunt my closet after the fact.  You really need to win much more than you lose, otherwise you are negating the savings you believe you are getting via outlet shopping.  Only buy something at an outlet mall if you’d buy it in a regular store.  More is not always better when it comes to a wardrobe; I find that I gravitate towards certain items time and time again, and the remainder simply take up precious storage space in my condo.  Buy like a surgeon, not a drunken gambler.

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6. Get in, get out

Outlet mall trips are like commando raids – you want to get in and get out as quickly as efficiently as possible.  The decending hordes typically do not get there until mid-afternoon.  Be smart and go first thing in the morning.  You do not need to into every store and wander around.  Only go into the ones that you actually may make a purchase in.  Do you really need to wait in line to get into the Coach Store?  (Hold on – you WANT to get into the Coach store….?  Your problems are bigger than I thought….)  Outlet malls are exhausting places; don’t blow your stamina at places that are a waste of your time.  If you’re there with your wife, girlfriend or friends, and your attention is starting to wane, often times there are restaurants with bars to grab a bite to eat and a drink (often times at very cheap prices – they want you to stay as long as possible, not to go elsewhere to find something to eat) when you’ve just about had enough.

11
Aug
11

What One Guy’s Buying on eBay: Carmina shoes


I would estimate that for 99% of readers of this post, a pair of Carmina laceups would be the best shoes in your closet.  I would say that they’re the best shoes in mine.  I would further estimate that 99% of the readers of this post have never even heard of Carmina.  That’s partly the point of this series of posts – bringing to light little known makers of the highest quality goods.

Whereas, in my initial ‘What One Guy’s Buying on eBay’ post, I talked about Martin Dingman (a cursory search of eBay will turn up over 100 listings), this post focuses on a much rarer beast.  eBay can often go for a month with only one Carmina shoe listing in one size; yet, when your number is called (i.e. your size becomes available at a good price), I can’t recommend more that you pounce on them.  For example, there’s a pair of Carmina shoes on eBay at this very moment, in size 7.5US that are amongst the most elegant shoes I’ve encountered (the listing can be found here).  Judge for yourself, they’re the same shoes as are pictured above, except in brown.  At the time of this post, the current bid is $102 (no reserve), with a Buy It Now price of $250.  While $250 may seem like a bit of an investment, keep in mind that ‘The Armoury’ men’s store in Hong Kong, one of the only places online to purchase Carmina shoes, has these precise shoes for sale at a cost of HK$4,500 (or, nearly $600 Canadian), and these shoes will last a lifetime with proper care.  Sometimes Carmina shoes are listed at higher prices – but quite regularly a diamond in the rough will appear.

Shoes, like watches, are one of society’s (and, more importantly, women’s) clearest identifiers of social status and taste.  So, when the opportunity to thrust your shoe wardrobe into the upper reaches of the social strata for $200 appears, DON’T HESITATE – JUMP ON THE CHANCE!

Also, I’d be remiss not to point you to The Armoury’s online store and website at thearmoury.com.  If you can’t quite track down the pair of Carminas you’re looking for on eBay, than this Hong Kong store is likely your best bet.  Beyond that, their website is well worth a perusal as they sell some of the finest men’s clothing and accessories in the world (Drakes ties, Fox Umbrellas, John Smedley knitwear, to go along with stunning tailored clothes) and their Tumblr site may just be my favourite place online right now for men’s style photography: thearmoury.tumblr.com

Thanks for reading and please feel free to add comments below, email me at oneguysstyle@gmail.com, or follow me on Twitter, @oneguysstyle.   For the first installment of the ‘What One Guy’s Buying on eBay’ series, please check out my post on Martin Dingman belts here.

10
Aug
11

What One Guy’s Buying on eBay: Martin Dingman belts


A big part of what this blog is about is maximizing the bang we can get for our bucks.  There are a number of sources for excellent deals on clothing items and accessories on the internet, and two of my favourites are eBay and Styleforum.com’s Buying & Selling pages.  One of the ‘tricks’ to eBay is uncovering items that fall into two camps: 1) Makers of high-quality items that aren’t widely known, and therefore attract few bidders; and 2) Makers of high quality items that aren’t known, and therefore attract few counterfeiters.  Sorry to say, but you’re unlikely to score a great deal on a Prada suit on the ‘Bay – and, that listing based in Malaysia with ‘Prada’ spelled incorrectly should probably give you pause as well.  Your best bet is identifying a few under-serviced, under-hyped brands to bid on when they come up.  To help the readers of this blog out, I’m going to be running a new series of posts identifying just such brands.  The first brand I’m highlighting is Martin Dingman.

Martin Dingman makes accessories.  Made-in-America, high-quality leather goods, with a particular focus on belts and shoes.  My experience with his shoes is limited – however, his belts now make up a major portion of my closet.  For whatever reason, the idea of purchasing an expensive belt never quite sat well with me.  It seemed like an item that was seldom focused on and even covered up, if one is wearing an untucked shirt.  Worse still are belts with logos the size of car trunk badges (the ‘H’ belts from Hermes are offenders in this regard) that we really could use as a society to uncover the ‘D-bags’ amongst us.  Then I discovered Martin Dingman – whose belts range from stunning alligator and crocodile, to high-quality calf leather.  They feature exquisite buckles, no visible branding and really might be the perfect belt for the office.  In particular, the crocodile print belts from his calf leather and suede collections look fantastic.  Best yet, few people have heard of Martin Dingman, which means that you can uncover some amazing bargains.  To whit, my first Martin Dingman purchase: a brand new, polished black leather, crocodile print formal belt with gunmetal buckle, which set me back a whole $20 on eBay.  As soon as I picked it up, I was a convert to the quality belt (although, only where I can purchase it for less than a mediocre belt).  This has been followed by a number of further Martin Dingman acquisitions, capped off by a stunning suede belt for $35.

So, set your eBay search to ‘Martin Dingman’ in ‘Clothing, Shoes and Accessories’, and make sure to find a belt that’s approximately 1-2 sizes above your actual waist size (so, if you wear pants in size ’34’, look for belts in ‘35’ or ‘36’).   Happy hunting.  You can also check out Martin Dingman on their website, and read more about a proud Ozark Mountains-based company who make consistently high-quality products: www.MartinDingman.com.

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?

24
Jul
09

This Week’s Objects of Lust: Ropey Soles’ Espadrilles


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A couple of years ago, I went to Spain. Besides the incredible weather, great food, beer and wine and spectacularly beautiful women frolicking on the European (read: topless) beaches, one of my favourite discoveries were espadrilles. Now, I’ve never been a big slippers guy; they seem a little too “Hugh Hefner” to wear around. Plus, they’re essentially limited to in-your-house use. There are those times where you want to go out to the store to grab some coffee filters or a six-pack, or, better yet, head down to the beach for the afternoon and you’re not feeling your sneakers, boat shoes, etc. Plus, you’re 50/50 on the appropriateness of sandals for daily use in the city (not to mention the fact that they’re a pain in the ass to walk any sort of distance in). The perfect shoe to fill the gap? The espadrilles, my friend. Available in many different colours, lightweight, as comfortable as slippers, with the perfect balance of laid-back summer style and European flair, they really are top-notch in warm weather. Unfortunately, they do have one arch-nemesis that killed the beloved pair that I brought back from Spain: water. The soles of espadrilles are made from a plant called jute and water causes jute to expand, deforming their soles. Nonetheless, jute is extremely light and breathable and a fantastic natural fibre. Since then, I’ve been looking for a replacement with no joy. Most of the offerings available in Canada have unwanted additions, such as brand names, don’t have jute soles, etc. However, Ropey Soles, a company out of the U.K.  sell fantastic examples in a variety of colours. Best of all, they’re cheap; £11.99 cheap. Plus,.they ship across the world (including to Canada for a reasonable £7). Get them before summer is over and look like you just stepped off your yacht in the Med, but really don’t want to make a big deal about it.

Check them out online at www.ropeysoles.com and seriously think about skipping the berets that are sold alongside the espadrilles.

23
Jun
09

Corporate Style: Part 2 – The Shoes


In my last post, I mentioned that the business wardrobe has two anchors, suits and shoes. Suits are like Chris Bosh; important but nonetheless subtly overrated. Shoes on the other hand are like Manu Ginobli; people understand their importance at some level and yet they are highly underrated.

You will need a minimum of two pairs of shoes. There are a number of reasons for this, both practical and stylistic. First, it is extremely hard on a pair of shoes to wear them on back-to-back days. Some time apart from your feet in shoe trees are integral for them to last and stay looking their best. The second is that you will need a pair in black and a pair in dark brown. A running theme in dressing for business is trending towards dark items of clothing as dark clothing (other than with dress shirts) connotes formality. Thus, one’s first few pairs of brown shoes should be dark brown and not some of the lighter shades that are often available. In addition, these first two pair of dress shoes ought to be lace-ups as they are far more versatile than loafers. This versatility stems from their ability to be dressed-up while still looking cool with a pair of jeans on the weekend. Finally, shoes are the one item of clothing that is difficult to take short-cuts with in terms of cost. There is an incredible difference between cheap shoes and nice shoes and these tend to be readily obvious to just about anyone. Many women even suggest that shoes provide a barometer for them in terms of determining a man’s socioeconomic status. In the same way that fit is the first thing that people notice about suits, quality is the first with shoes and thus is important to buy, at the very least, one pair of good black shoes. Finally, under no circumstances should you purchase square-toed shoes. There was a brief time almost a decade ago where this style had a moment. However, one should never strive to be trendy in one’s business footwear; it is far better to buy a versatile and traditional pair of dress shoes with a rounded toe.

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Continue reading ‘Corporate Style: Part 2 – The Shoes’




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