Vintage Leather Belts
I’m not as experienced as Jesse it when it comes to thrifting, but I do enjoy going to thrift stores. When I go, I often like to browse around for vintage leather belts - the thick kind that you wear with jeans. One of the nice things about buying second-hand is that you can get things with a bit more character. With good leather, you’ll often get something that has aged beautifully. 
Take the above belt, for example. It’s from a webpage Mister Freedom made for their “Ranchero shirts,” which are lovely, but the star of the photograph - at least for me - is the belt sitting in the middle. The variation in the coloring, the scuffing, and the scored design give the belt a certain appeal that modern workwear brands only imitate.
You can find such belts if you hunt around enough. Just visit good thrift stores or flea markets (in the Bay Area, I’d highly recommend Antiques by the Bay, which happens on the first Sunday of every month. Not only do they have a few vendors that sell vintage belts, but there are a ton of other great booths for vintage wares as well). There’s also eBay, of course, but that gets slightly dicier. Vintage leather goods can be of varying quality - either because of the quality of the leather itself, or because of how the item was taken care of throughout the years. Without being able to handle the belt, and without a brand name to go off of, it can be difficult to know what you’re looking at. Still, some of these are quite affordable, so if you get stuck with something less than ideal, it’s at least not a big loss.
The alternative is to buy something new, but from a brand that takes it inspiration from old, vintage designs. RRL and Levi’s Vintage Clothing often have tooled or painted belts that are made to look like they’re from the mid-century. You can find them at workwear-focused stores such as Hickoree’s and Unionmade. They won’t have the kind of patina that an authentic vintage belt will carry, but they’re often still quite handsome. With enough wear, you might get it to look as nice as the one Christophe Loiron (owner of Mister Freedom) photographed above (though, probably not, because that belt looks really awesome). 
(Photo via Christophe Loiron)
"Will someone please wake me when the cavalcade of Pitti photos is over?"

Listen, I know that I am a hopelessly commercially minded country ass fop. But I don’t even know what Pitti is. The Urban Ironic Angsters might say that “if you don’t know what Pitti is, then you don’t need to know” Ok, fair enough.

If Pitti is a trade show where vendors actually take orders and designers have mini-fashion shows etc then I think I get it. But all that we outsiders see are a bunch of skinny jeaned androgynous fops primping. And sun damaged (more than my bad case of it) older guys with zoot suit watch chains and Thom Brown short hemmed britches and pocket hankies spouting out like Southern azaleas in bloom.

The other sense I get is that everyone who is walking from one event to the next…or who gather in little five to six person gaggles to shoot the shit and compare whatevers…IS TRYING TO HARD. It’s like they are hoping Scott Schuman (sp) from The Sartorialist is gonna pop up any minute to photograph them and they’ve GOT to be…READY.

And finally, do you have to smoke cigarettes to gain admission to the thang? 

(via to-the-manner-born)

It is a damn pity alright.

(via preppybythegraceofgod)

Will someone please wake me when the cavalcade of Pitti photos begins? 

Apologies for the glibness, but I thought that this was an interesting post and deserved perhaps, a contrasting response. Mine is fairly simple, but I think it warrants merit. I’d also lead with the sense that these opposing camps may not get together any time soon, but let us bring forth the debate regardless.

I will start by saying that I look forward to Pitti when it rolls around twice a year, and have since I started following menswear. As a slight caveat, I have always veered towards the casual Italian tailoring spectrum, which may explain my interest in the show, but as a former New Englander, this I believe was rooted in my dalliances with the prep world and its bright colors and casual fits. I grew up with heritage/trad, appreciate it, understand the appeal, and even incorporate it into my own wardrobe (ask about the wide wales). I don’t think that it’s actually that far away from many of the looks I appreciate at Pitti. Yes, the fits have been altered, updated, what have you, and I agree in principle, that the men outside Pitti can be a bit dandyish, a bit foppish, and perhaps yes, a bit preening.

However, when, for the most part, the lives of these men revolve around clothing, at least in some way, you’d like to think that one, they believe they dress well in their own personal ways, two, they wouldn’t mind showing other people this fact, and three, if given the chance for free worldwide exposure, they’re going to damn well take it. I don’t actually see many skinny jeans in attendance, plenty of tapers though. I do see men wearing finely tailored bright-colored suits, as they have been, I’m guessing, since birth (again, in the style they are accustomed to). Lino is a man who runs a shop. His shop sells everything from beautiful black captoes to exquisite navy blazers. Is his shop known around the world because of those items? Most likely not, as it has come to prominence because of his personal style and the fact that he sells what he wears to those daring or willing enough to try it. Lino seems like a very passionate guy and Pitti seems like his stomping ground. While he may not have a booth, it must give him a great opportunity to network, see old and new friends, and show off his wares to the ever present free press. 

Even pushing beyond the Linos and the Plutinos of the world, I think Pitti has much to offer, again perhaps more so if you have interest in the style that is heavily highlighted at this particular show, but nonetheless I believe most folks can find some sort of inspiration from the it, via the coverage online. On many blogs I follow, you can find booth shots and product views from any different angle. I’ve seen fantastic detail shots of everything from Cucinelli to Isaia, Tagliatore to Camoshita. Anyone should be able to appreciate what these brands have to offer in terms of quality and innovation, regardless of your personal style. I for one, love running through Tommy Ton’s Pitti albums, and the many varying combinations I see there never seem to get old. It’s also a good way to gauge the market and get an understanding of what’s being highlighted by both attendees and vendors. You can never have too much context I’d say. 

I like to think that personal style is dynamic, even if it moves at an iceberg pace. If I find one more color or texture combination that I hadn’t thought about, then I’m happy to sift through a few pages of guys dressed in a “disagreeable” fashion. After all, it’s only twice a year. I’m planning on trying to attend this summer for work, so perhaps I’ll follow up then with further rationalization. 

(via downeastandout)

(via downeastandout)


The Overuse of the Word Bespoke
Many words are injured in the process of selling clothes to the public. Think of the words “timeless,” “classic,” and “artisanal.” All perfectly fine words, but sadly robbed of their meaning once fashion writers get to them. None of them sadden me more, however, than how the word “bespoke” gets abused. In the last year or two, it’s increasingly used to describe anything that’s custom made, and even a few things that aren’t.
So what is what is bespoke? The word originally came from shoemaking, but gained in popularity through custom tailoring in England, where lengths of cloths were said to be “spoken for” or “bespoken” by another customer. In this way, it means a lot more than “custom made clothes,” but rather a specific process of making garments. It’s perhaps easiest if we think of “custom made clothes” as an umbrella category, and then think of the different ways custom clothes are produced.
The first is made-to-order, where a customer tries on a stock garment, and then picks out certain trimmings or materials for his order. The cut is the same, but the materials are customized to his preference.
The second is made-to-measure, where in addition to picking out the materials and trimmings, a customer’s measurements are taken. Those measurements are used to adjust a pre-existing stock pattern through a computer-aided design (CAD) program. Here, we get a customization of not only the materials, but also of the cut.
The third is bespoke, where not only are the cut and selection of materials are customized, but the garment is made through a series of fittings. The key difference between bespoke and made-to-measure is not, as is popularly believed, in how the pattern is made. Indeed, there are many bespoke tailors who draft their patterns by adjusting “block patterns,” not too unlike how made-to-measure uses a CAD program (only here it’s done by hand). No, the key difference is that with made-to-measure, you typically only get one fitting, whereas in bespoke, you usually get three. In addition, anything on the garment is customizable - how much adjustment needs to be made for your posture, how high or low you want the button stance, how you want certain areas to be cut, etc. 
All things being equal, the advantage of bespoke is that you can get more precision in the fit and style of your garment. Theoretically, going through multiple drafts should allow your garment to get better and better, though the extra time and labor this takes also means it’s typically a more expensive process. 
Of course, things are not always equal in the real world, and how well a garment can turn out can depend on a number of variables (the skill of the tailor, the mood he’s in while making your garment, and even your own skill in bespeaking a garment). Just because something is bespoke doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better than made-to-measure or even ready-to-wear. One of the biggest advantages to ready-to-wear is that you can put something back on the rack if you don’t like it. That’s no small thing.
Should you ever be in a place where you’re ordering a custom garment, and it’s advertised as bespoke, ask how many fittings you’re getting.* Some use the word to put a little glitz and glamour on their services, while others use it to refer to a very specific production method. I think it’s a shame that real bespoke tailors are having their word co-opted by marketing men, but at the very least, you as a customer should know exactly what you’re buying. 
* Note, this process of multiple fittings is mostly relevant for suit jackets and sport coats. Other bespoke garments, such as shirts, can be made using other processes, which can also vary by region. 
(Pictured above: A bespoke tailor pressing a pair of trousers at Henry Poole & Co in 1944)

Book Review: The Best Dressed Man in the Room
Classic menswear is constantly at war with itself over how conspicuous a well-dressed man’s clothes should be. The root of this argument is Beau Brummell’s famous quote that “If John Bull turns around to look at you, you are not well dressed.” This from a man whose every thread and fold were minutely examined by every man in London. The sincerity of Brummell’s quote notwithstanding, the spirit of it - that a man’s dress should play a supporting role in his presentation of himself, yielding the leading role to either the man himself or his date - holds considerable power over the male sex’s natural tendency towards peacockery in the animal kingdom.
Which is what makes it so interesting to me to see the same tension, for different reasons, in gangster dress in Dan Flores' The Best Dressed Man in the Room, available in both hardcover and eBook. These extensive (and, so far as I know, previously unavailable, or at least uncollected) photographs show a group of men with a legal interest in dressing to camouflage themselves among the poor working saps around them, but with the class-anxious businessman’s urge to display personal superiority and financial success. These guys are dressing with a chip on their shoulder, which they try to disguise with a well-formed shoulder pad.
America seems to have an unending fascination with organized crime. For some perhaps it’s the Scarface-style machine gun orgies that are the real attraction, but I think the deeper resonance is with the supposed honor among these thieves - a code (The Wire's Omar Little - another honorable thief - lived with the maxim, “a man's gotta have a code”) somehow more dignified and ancient than the rules we live by in a capitalist democracy. It's a mirage, of course. These were brutal men who made name and fortune for themselves killing people, innocent or otherwise, intimidating others, and stealing whatever they could get their hands on. But their gorgeous clothes are part of what make you wonder.
The book title comes, tellingly, not from an admirer of the criminal underworld, but from Police Chief Lewis Valentine:

Look at him…He’s the best dressed man in the room…When you meet men like Strauss, draw quickly and shoot accurately…Blood should be smeared all over that velvet collar.

He is telling his troops not to be captivated and tricked by the gangster’s costume. That such a forceful speech was required speaks to the power these clothes had.
Today in the United States, thankfully we know this milieu best through its fictional representations, most famously in The Godfather, but in countless films since, and most recently in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a show which demonstrates a corollary of Brummell’s thesis, that costuming without screenplay is an expensive way to produce something worth seeing at the very most an hour every Sunday. But the academic in me is grateful for an opportunity to go straight to source materials, which this book allows more than any other of which I am aware. 
I have amused myself more than once since reading the book what these characters might have thought of a book about their clothing published some 80 years after their hey-day. Some of the photos appear poised to jump off the page to administer a firm beating if you examine their jacket a little too closely. But I think the gangsters might be unsurprised, and perhaps even satisfied, that their wardrobes remain celebrated. These men were brutal, but clever. They understood what it means to project an image. They are still projecting it to us today, long after their misdeeds are through, in black and white photos, some faded enough that their hands almost look clean.
*This review also ran on Styleforum. Thanks to Dan Flores for showing me the book and sharing these images.

Finding a Higher Rise Chino
For the last few months, I’ve been looking for chinos built with a higher rise. As some readers may know, I favor pants that sit higher on the hips, as I find this helps elongate the leg line and gives better proportions between the torso and legs. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find such pants nowadays, as the fashion trend for the last ten years has been for low-rise cuts. After writing a post about my search, however, a few kind readers sent me some good suggestions. 
The first, and I think the best, is from The Armoury. These are made by Ring Jacket, a high-end Japanese company known for their tailored clothing. They sit just below the navel, which is high enough to give the effect you’d want, but low enough so you can wear your chinos without a sport coat. The leg is also nice and slim, and the trousers are lined a bit past the knee. You can see them worn by Mark in the photo above.
The Armory’s chinos cost $370, which is pricey, but the pants are exceptionally well built. They’re not available on the website, so you’ll have to email or call them to order. 
A bit more affordable are the ones from J. Press, which were recommended to me by Bruce Boyer. These are fuller in the leg and sit higher on the waist. I think these are some of the nicest traditionally cut trousers I’ve ever come across, but the higher-waisted cut does mean you should probably wear them with sport coats. If you plan to, the price here starts at $120, but there are occasional seasonal sales that will drop them down by 25%. 
More affordable still is Jack Donnelly’s Dalton chinos, which come in both a slim and traditional cut. The slim is more like The Armoury’s, while the traditional is more like J Press’. The difference is that the fabric isn’t as nice, the fit not as clean (at least on me), and the finishing inside is a bit rough (almost unusually so, actually). On the upside, they’re $95 and they have a very nice return policy, so trying them out is more or less risk-free. 
A couple of other good ideas were sent to me. Bill Khaki’s M2 model is a favorite for many people, and some recommended the custom chinos at J. Hilburn and Luxire. Luxire can copy an existing pair of pants for you, which is nice if you’re wary of the made-to-measure process. One reader also recommended these Blackbird chinos, though they’re on final sale, and thus not returnable.
(Photo above by The Armoury)

Styleforum member Victor Elfo (see also his Tumblr) recently posted the above Reuters picture of Japan’s Emperor Akihito and France’s President Hollande shaking hands last month during Hollande’s visit to Tokyo. This image makes a strong advertisement for the value of well-tailored clothing.
Neither one of these men is physically imposing. Hollande is 5’7”, 58, and has seen slimmer days. Or at least, I hope he has. Emperor Akihito has been on the Earth for almost 80 years and still hasn’t grown a neck. But one of these men looks like a world leader, comfortable in the role life has assigned to him and the costume it requires. The other looks like the current version of Tom Hanks in a ‘Big’ remake, except this time Josh wakes up nearing 60 and the President of France.
How can we break the difference in overall impression into its constituent parts? Let’s start with Emperor Akihito’s suit. The lines are clean, but soft. Notice especially the long back line of the trouser, extending to the bottom of the shoe, which gives the illusion of height. The trouser cuff is angled to be higher at the front, so that the trousers break only slightly, rather than puddling at his ankles like those of the gentleman behind him. The double breasted jacket - buttoned low - shows again what the Duke of Windsor learned nearly 100 years ago: short men can look good in double breasted suits as well. Notice too that the silhouette of the jacket and trousers complement each other - the skirt of the jacket has the same fullness as the trousers, which in turn is appropriate for a man of his age and position.
Now let us move to Hollande’s suit, as its wearer looks like he may have some trouble moving to us. The jacket is too tight and too short, causing the fabric to pull around the rear and calling unwelcome attention to that area. The jacket collar rides too high, covering up his shirt collar and making him appear short-necked and squat-faced. The broken silhoette of his trouser is too tapered, finishing much narrower than the jacket hem, and making him appear more beer-bellied and clown-footed than he really is. He looks like an old man who thinks he’s a young man, while his host looks like an Emperor who knows he’s an Emperor.