The Very Useful Black Tie
One of the biggest fights in men’s fashion during the early 19th century was over the appropriate color of men’s neckwear. At the time, men wore cravats (a type of decorative neckerchief) in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and knots, but always in one color and one color only — white. Pristine white too, so as to show that you were a member of high society.
Which is why there was such a big backlash in 1840 when some liberal minded dressers started wearing them in black. As one leading magazine of the day wrote about it:

One of the most important events of the moment is the conflict between the black cravat and the white cravat. Can one now appear in good society with a black silk tie? Convention’s repose is an unhesitating no. But the new fashion answers in the affirmative. […] What’s next? How will Paris respond? According to our sources at their embassies, the great world powers are divided on the question. One irate woman of high society has brought forward the following thread, ‘If the level of male indecency reaches the point of wearing black cravats, we will be forced into retaliating by raising the necklines of our dresses.’

Despite such serious threats, black cravats became the norm by 1850. 
Today, men don’t wear cravats, of course, but rather neckties, and black is one of the most useful colors you can own (along with navy). One or two should be enough, with at least one of those being a silk knit or grenadine. As we’ve written before, the advantage of ties that are both solid colored and textured is that you can wear them with almost any kind of shirt and jacket combination. If your shirt and jacket are patterned, the solid color of your tie will keep things from looking too busy. If instead your shirt and jacket are solid colored, then the textured weave will keep things from looking too boring. Such ties are the easiest to put on in the morning when you don’t want to think too much about what to wear.
In black, things are doubly easy. You can wear black ties with tan cotton or linen sport coats in the summer and things will still look suitably light and cheery. In the winter, you can wear them with grey flannel suits and brown tweed jackets for a more somber look. Additionally, a black tie can add a little color variation to a navy jacket when a navy tie might feel too matchy-matchy. 
To get a good black grenadine, check places such as Drake’s, EG Cappelli, Kent Wang, J. Press, Sam Hober, A Suitable Wardrobe, and our advertiser Chipp Neckwear. I like EG Cappelli for their soft construction, Sam Hober for their flexibility (they do custom ties), and Chipp Neckwear for their affordability. For knit ties, you can check the same makers, but add Land’s End to the list.
(Photo via Voxsartoria)

The Very Useful Black Tie

One of the biggest fights in men’s fashion during the early 19th century was over the appropriate color of men’s neckwear. At the time, men wore cravats (a type of decorative neckerchief) in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and knots, but always in one color and one color only — white. Pristine white too, so as to show that you were a member of high society.

Which is why there was such a big backlash in 1840 when some liberal minded dressers started wearing them in black. As one leading magazine of the day wrote about it:

One of the most important events of the moment is the conflict between the black cravat and the white cravat. Can one now appear in good society with a black silk tie? Convention’s repose is an unhesitating no. But the new fashion answers in the affirmative. […] What’s next? How will Paris respond? According to our sources at their embassies, the great world powers are divided on the question. One irate woman of high society has brought forward the following thread, ‘If the level of male indecency reaches the point of wearing black cravats, we will be forced into retaliating by raising the necklines of our dresses.’

Despite such serious threats, black cravats became the norm by 1850. 

Today, men don’t wear cravats, of course, but rather neckties, and black is one of the most useful colors you can own (along with navy). One or two should be enough, with at least one of those being a silk knit or grenadine. As we’ve written before, the advantage of ties that are both solid colored and textured is that you can wear them with almost any kind of shirt and jacket combination. If your shirt and jacket are patterned, the solid color of your tie will keep things from looking too busy. If instead your shirt and jacket are solid colored, then the textured weave will keep things from looking too boring. Such ties are the easiest to put on in the morning when you don’t want to think too much about what to wear.

In black, things are doubly easy. You can wear black ties with tan cotton or linen sport coats in the summer and things will still look suitably light and cheery. In the winter, you can wear them with grey flannel suits and brown tweed jackets for a more somber look. Additionally, a black tie can add a little color variation to a navy jacket when a navy tie might feel too matchy-matchy. 

To get a good black grenadine, check places such as Drake’s, EG Cappelli, Kent Wang, J. Press, Sam Hober, A Suitable Wardrobe, and our advertiser Chipp Neckwear. I like EG Cappelli for their soft construction, Sam Hober for their flexibility (they do custom ties), and Chipp Neckwear for their affordability. For knit ties, you can check the same makers, but add Land’s End to the list.

(Photo via Voxsartoria)

“I saw a bit of utility in having initials on one item, having Swaine Adeney engrave my initials on the collar of my travel umbrella. Looking back I should have had them engrave ‘Stolen from Réginald-Jérôme de Mans’ instead.” Réginald-Jérôme de Mans in a post about monograms and engravings, suggesting what I think might be the most useful engraving of all. 
“Raise high the trousers, gentlemen. Make [women] love you for your mind.” Andrew Yamato at A Suitable Wardrobe, in a post about high rise trousers and … um … butts. 

The Knockabout Cotton Suit

The poor cotton suit doesn’t get much love in men’s clothing. That’s because the material is considered too cheap to be worthy of good tailoring. A lot of time and skill is required to make a jacket, so while you’re paying for all that labor, the quality of cotton can only go so far. It doesn’t last as long as good wool (as it can shine up a bit more easily in areas of stress); it doesn’t have the natural “stretch” of animal hair (thus making it feel a bit stiff); and unless you go ultra-light in the cloth’s weight, it also doesn’t wear as cool as one might think (at least not as much as a good open weave cloth). 

Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about how nice it’d be to have a cotton suit for summer. Maybe something in one the colors you see above – navy, olive, dark brown, or tan. One of the great things about cotton is that it rumples (like linen), which helps make tailored clothes look more natural and carefree. These are not the type of suits you wear perfectly pressed, but they’re also not the kind of suits that will make you look like you just came from the office. And while cotton does indeed shine up and fray a bit more easily than good wool, that kind of wear-and-tear seems like it’d only give the suit a nice, lived-in character. As our friend Will at A Suitable Wardrobe once put it, a cotton suit is a “knockabout suit” – something you’d wear on a casual day. 

If you’re interested in a cotton suit this summer, but are afraid of it feeling too stiff, you can search around for suits made from a cotton/ cashmere blend. Something with just a touch of cashmere (say 2%) won’t wear any warmer, but it’ll feel more broken-in from the get go.

The best thing about a cotton suit? You can wear the jacket and pants separately as a sport coat and pair of chinos, thus giving you a bit more versatility in your wardrobe. The more I talk about them, really, the more I want one.  

(Photos via B&Tailor, Patrick Johnson Tailors, The Sartorialist, and Men’s Ex)

The Usefulness of Cotton Pocket Squares
Just this summer, I’ve started appreciating how useful having a few cotton pocket squares can be. Most squares you see on the market are made from linen, silk, or wool, and each have their own advantages.
Linen is easily the most versatile, as it can smarten up the look of a suit jacket or sport coat while also remaining discrete. Very helpful these days if you want to look sharp without seeming overly dandy.
Silk squares are a bit more fanciful, but they do better with tweed or flannel jackets since their sheen nicely complements the matte finish of wool cloth. They also go well with wool neckties for the same reason.
Wool squares, on the other hand, are great for sport coats, as they don’t have the sheen of silk, and therefore look a bit more casual. They’re also good for when you feel a sharply folded linen square might look too studied. And like how silk squares pair best with wool or cashmere neckties, wool squares give a nice balance to silk neckwear.
Much like wool squares, then, I’ve found that cotton squares go great with summer sport coats and silk neckties, or for when you’re not wearing any neckwear at all, but are trying to smarten up the look of an odd jacket and open collared shirt. Which is basically what I use mine for these days. 
Pictured above are the four I own. The first is a finely woven white square from Simonnot Godard, which I bought from A Suitable Wardrobe. They’re out of that specific design at the moment, but they have others in both their pocket squares and handkerchief sections. The other three are various printed squares from Drake’s, which I bought from Exquisite Trimmings and No Man Walks Alone. You can also find nice cotton squares at our Etsy shop, Vanda Fine Clothing, Mr. Porter, as well as our advertiser The Hanger Project.

The Usefulness of Cotton Pocket Squares

Just this summer, I’ve started appreciating how useful having a few cotton pocket squares can be. Most squares you see on the market are made from linen, silk, or wool, and each have their own advantages.

  • Linen is easily the most versatile, as it can smarten up the look of a suit jacket or sport coat while also remaining discrete. Very helpful these days if you want to look sharp without seeming overly dandy.
  • Silk squares are a bit more fanciful, but they do better with tweed or flannel jackets since their sheen nicely complements the matte finish of wool cloth. They also go well with wool neckties for the same reason.
  • Wool squares, on the other hand, are great for sport coats, as they don’t have the sheen of silk, and therefore look a bit more casual. They’re also good for when you feel a sharply folded linen square might look too studied. And like how silk squares pair best with wool or cashmere neckties, wool squares give a nice balance to silk neckwear.

Much like wool squares, then, I’ve found that cotton squares go great with summer sport coats and silk neckties, or for when you’re not wearing any neckwear at all, but are trying to smarten up the look of an odd jacket and open collared shirt. Which is basically what I use mine for these days. 

Pictured above are the four I own. The first is a finely woven white square from Simonnot Godard, which I bought from A Suitable Wardrobe. They’re out of that specific design at the moment, but they have others in both their pocket squares and handkerchief sections. The other three are various printed squares from Drake’s, which I bought from Exquisite Trimmings and No Man Walks Alone. You can also find nice cotton squares at our Etsy shop, Vanda Fine Clothing, Mr. Porter, as well as our advertiser The Hanger Project.

The Very Versatile Casual Suit
I love suits, but being that I don’t work in law or finance, don’t live on the East Coast, and am (what I’d like to think) a relatively young guy in his mid-30s, I don’t get to wear them very often. So, I buy most of mine these days in causal materials, such as cotton, linen, and corduroy. That way, I can have a casual suit for social occasions, or break the pieces up and wear them separately. In the above, for example, the brown sport coat is actually a suit jacket that’s part of a cigar linen suit I bought last year.
With a casual suit, even the trousers can be worn separately. Corduroy, linen, and cotton suit trousers just become … well, corduroy pants, linen pants, and chinos. And since these pieces came as part of a suit, the jacket’s length will be a bit longer than most sport coats these days (which often look too short anyway) and the pants will have a slightly higher rise (which I think looks more flattering anyhow).
The only downside, of course, is the cost. A good suit – whether made from a fine worsted wool or a more casual material – can run you $1,000 or more at the retail level. Depending on how you break up that price, that’s a lot more than what you’d typically pay for a casual pair of pants and a sport coat. Those won’t match up to form a suit when you need them to, but they will be less expensive.
If you can afford them, however, casual suits can be great, and they’ll give you a lot of versatility in your wardrobe. You can find them at most places that sell tailored clothing (try our suit buying guides here and here). No Man Walks Alone also has a rare Minnis Fresco option this summer. Fresco is an open-weave, worsted wool (which makes it breathable on hot days) and it has a bit of a texture (which means you can wear the jacket as a sport coat). Remember: the rule of thumb for wearing suit jackets as sport coats is to avoid anything that’s made from a very silky or finely woven wool. It should never look like you’re wearing a suit jacket by itself, even if you are.
Pictured above: tan linen pants from Hickey Freeman; cigar linen suit jacket by Napolisumisura (made from W. Bill linen); light blue shirt by Ascot Chang (made from Simonnot Godard chambray); dark brown loafers from Edward Green; dark brown belt from Brooks Brothers; and white cotton pocket square from Simonnot Godard

The Very Versatile Casual Suit

I love suits, but being that I don’t work in law or finance, don’t live on the East Coast, and am (what I’d like to think) a relatively young guy in his mid-30s, I don’t get to wear them very often. So, I buy most of mine these days in causal materials, such as cotton, linen, and corduroy. That way, I can have a casual suit for social occasions, or break the pieces up and wear them separately. In the above, for example, the brown sport coat is actually a suit jacket that’s part of a cigar linen suit I bought last year.

With a casual suit, even the trousers can be worn separately. Corduroy, linen, and cotton suit trousers just become … well, corduroy pants, linen pants, and chinos. And since these pieces came as part of a suit, the jacket’s length will be a bit longer than most sport coats these days (which often look too short anyway) and the pants will have a slightly higher rise (which I think looks more flattering anyhow).

The only downside, of course, is the cost. A good suit – whether made from a fine worsted wool or a more casual material – can run you $1,000 or more at the retail level. Depending on how you break up that price, that’s a lot more than what you’d typically pay for a casual pair of pants and a sport coat. Those won’t match up to form a suit when you need them to, but they will be less expensive.

If you can afford them, however, casual suits can be great, and they’ll give you a lot of versatility in your wardrobe. You can find them at most places that sell tailored clothing (try our suit buying guides here and here). No Man Walks Alone also has a rare Minnis Fresco option this summer. Fresco is an open-weave, worsted wool (which makes it breathable on hot days) and it has a bit of a texture (which means you can wear the jacket as a sport coat). Remember: the rule of thumb for wearing suit jackets as sport coats is to avoid anything that’s made from a very silky or finely woven wool. It should never look like you’re wearing a suit jacket by itself, even if you are.

Pictured above: tan linen pants from Hickey Freeman; cigar linen suit jacket by Napolisumisura (made from W. Bill linen); light blue shirt by Ascot Chang (made from Simonnot Godard chambray); dark brown loafers from Edward Green; dark brown belt from Brooks Brothers; and white cotton pocket square from Simonnot Godard

Timelessness and Bespoke
Réginald-Jérôme de Mans, one of my favorite menswear writers, has been moved to a Tuesday column at A Suitable Wardrobe. Today, he does the good work of separating “timelesness” from “bespoke.” An excerpt:

What this means is that timelessness has nothing to do with the work of a superb tailor. I’d certainly hope that the tailor’s work would last a long time, because good bespoke is usually very expensive nowadays, but superb tailors like Smalto, or Edward Sexton during his time at Nutters, have made many items whose style was of their particular moments.They may still be wearable now, but with a great deal of front, irony or splendid sense of costume.
Timelessness has entered the mythos around the term bespoke precisely because bespoke has for some time been usually expensive and hard to find. However, quite recently I’ve noticed a lot of social media discount sites offering coupons for new local bespoke clothiers.  I suspect they’ve sprung up because the idea of bespoke clothing is fashionable and the meaning of bespoke so misunderstood.  In other words, my uninformed guess is that these new companies are taking advantage of those of us who actually believe the naïveté of magazine writers to think that bespoke means timeless quality and impeccable handmade construction.
[…]
Bespoke is not timeless.  Bespoke, if you’re lucky, is what you ordered. 

You can read the whole article here. For other articles in de Man’s “Untrueisms” series, where he ruthlessly goes through various menswear cliches, click here. My favorite might be this post on price and quality.

Timelessness and Bespoke

Réginald-Jérôme de Mans, one of my favorite menswear writers, has been moved to a Tuesday column at A Suitable Wardrobe. Today, he does the good work of separating “timelesness” from “bespoke.” An excerpt:

What this means is that timelessness has nothing to do with the work of a superb tailor. I’d certainly hope that the tailor’s work would last a long time, because good bespoke is usually very expensive nowadays, but superb tailors like Smalto, or Edward Sexton during his time at Nutters, have made many items whose style was of their particular moments.They may still be wearable now, but with a great deal of front, irony or splendid sense of costume.

Timelessness has entered the mythos around the term bespoke precisely because bespoke has for some time been usually expensive and hard to find. However, quite recently I’ve noticed a lot of social media discount sites offering coupons for new local bespoke clothiers.  I suspect they’ve sprung up because the idea of bespoke clothing is fashionable and the meaning of bespoke so misunderstood.  In other words, my uninformed guess is that these new companies are taking advantage of those of us who actually believe the naïveté of magazine writers to think that bespoke means timeless quality and impeccable handmade construction.

[…]

Bespoke is not timeless.  Bespoke, if you’re lucky, is what you ordered. 

You can read the whole article here. For other articles in de Man’s “Untrueisms” series, where he ruthlessly goes through various menswear cliches, click here. My favorite might be this post on price and quality.

Living with a Hairy Roommate
Just a little over a year ago, I adopted a cat. She was originally my neighbor’s, but when she started peeing around the house (down air conditioning vents, of all places), she was banished to the backyard shed, never to be allowed back inside again. I felt bad seeing her outside all the time, so I asked my neighbor if I could adopt her. She agreed and ever since – by happy coincidence – I as a menswear enthusiast now live with a tuxedo cat named Clove.
Clove never fails to be near me when I’m at home. She follows me room-to-room when I’m doing chores, and sleeps peacefully on a chair next to me if I’m at my desk doing work. When I used to have a backyard, she’d walk with me outside – just to the gate – and wait for me until I returned from my daily jogs. When my clothes pile up, she sits on top of them as though to remind me fold them away, and she helps me keep to a pretty good early morning schedule. 
The only downside to living with Clove is that she sheds. Not a lot, but enough to get hair all over my shoe bags, some of my clothes, and that chair she’s claimed as hers. And like Will at A Suitable Wardrobe, who also has a problem with hairy roommates, I occasionally find cat hair on my sport coats. I’m as confused as he is on how hair manages to get stuck on clothes that never touch the floor or the seats of furniture. 
I’ve tried a number of solutions. Clothes brushes are the worst, as fine cat hair just slips between the bristles. Lint and hair rollers are OK, but not particularly effective, and they sometimes even leave a sticky residue. Picking hair off with my fingers is just too time consuming.
Some friends have made some joking recommendations. Voxsartoria said this could be solved with some catnip and a box of Nair. Another said I should dye Clove in navy Rit Dye, so her hair just matches all my clothes. Neither has been tried.
Last month, however, I found what I think might be the best solution. If you put on a rubber dishwashing glove, you can wipe the hair off pretty easily. There’s also Swipets – a more form-fitting glove with a tacky surface applied to one side – but I haven’t found it to work any better than your standard $1/ pair dish gloves. In fact, whereas Swipets can sometimes be too rough for certain fabrics (particularly cashmere blends and certain woolens), rubber dishwashing gloves are fairly gentle.
Granted, there’s something undignified about putting on dish gloves and wiping cat hair off your clothes, but it’s significantly better than actually walking out with cat hair all over you. I now consider it something you just have to do when you live with a hairy roommate.

Living with a Hairy Roommate

Just a little over a year ago, I adopted a cat. She was originally my neighbor’s, but when she started peeing around the house (down air conditioning vents, of all places), she was banished to the backyard shed, never to be allowed back inside again. I felt bad seeing her outside all the time, so I asked my neighbor if I could adopt her. She agreed and ever since – by happy coincidence – I as a menswear enthusiast now live with a tuxedo cat named Clove.

Clove never fails to be near me when I’m at home. She follows me room-to-room when I’m doing chores, and sleeps peacefully on a chair next to me if I’m at my desk doing work. When I used to have a backyard, she’d walk with me outside – just to the gate – and wait for me until I returned from my daily jogs. When my clothes pile up, she sits on top of them as though to remind me fold them away, and she helps me keep to a pretty good early morning schedule. 

The only downside to living with Clove is that she sheds. Not a lot, but enough to get hair all over my shoe bags, some of my clothes, and that chair she’s claimed as hers. And like Will at A Suitable Wardrobe, who also has a problem with hairy roommates, I occasionally find cat hair on my sport coats. I’m as confused as he is on how hair manages to get stuck on clothes that never touch the floor or the seats of furniture. 

I’ve tried a number of solutions. Clothes brushes are the worst, as fine cat hair just slips between the bristles. Lint and hair rollers are OK, but not particularly effective, and they sometimes even leave a sticky residue. Picking hair off with my fingers is just too time consuming.

Some friends have made some joking recommendations. Voxsartoria said this could be solved with some catnip and a box of Nair. Another said I should dye Clove in navy Rit Dye, so her hair just matches all my clothes. Neither has been tried.

Last month, however, I found what I think might be the best solution. If you put on a rubber dishwashing glove, you can wipe the hair off pretty easily. There’s also Swipets – a more form-fitting glove with a tacky surface applied to one side – but I haven’t found it to work any better than your standard $1/ pair dish gloves. In fact, whereas Swipets can sometimes be too rough for certain fabrics (particularly cashmere blends and certain woolens), rubber dishwashing gloves are fairly gentle.

Granted, there’s something undignified about putting on dish gloves and wiping cat hair off your clothes, but it’s significantly better than actually walking out with cat hair all over you. I now consider it something you just have to do when you live with a hairy roommate.

asuitablewardrobe:

Prince Philip in contrasting textures and a block stripe necktie.

One of the most common questions we get at Put This On is about pattern matching. How is it done? How many patterns can one wear?
The rules for pattern matching are pretty simple - vary scale and type of pattern significantly. Prince Philip’s simple outfit above actually features a few simple patterns - the tie, the coat, the square. That said, there are plenty of other ways to have an interesting outfit.
I don’t feel a need to compete in the pattern sweepstakes. If you see me on the street, the odds I’m wearing a bunch of crazy patterns are low. If I’m in a coat and tie, the pants and shirt are solid-colored, and the coat and tie may be, too. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Derek’s a great advocate for being aware of texture, and I’m behind him 10,000%. I love texture in part because it’s as much for me as for those I interact with. I can feel it with my hands and body. It’s a physical pleasure. Even a cashmere tie, which touches only my shirt and coat while I’m wearing it, is a joy to put on.
It’s why I love the big bold ridges of cavalry twill trousers, the toughness of a heavy oxford shirt or the flannel of an old-style baseball cap. The textures are like a nest.
And they look good, too.

asuitablewardrobe:

Prince Philip in contrasting textures and a block stripe necktie.

One of the most common questions we get at Put This On is about pattern matching. How is it done? How many patterns can one wear?

The rules for pattern matching are pretty simple - vary scale and type of pattern significantly. Prince Philip’s simple outfit above actually features a few simple patterns - the tie, the coat, the square. That said, there are plenty of other ways to have an interesting outfit.

I don’t feel a need to compete in the pattern sweepstakes. If you see me on the street, the odds I’m wearing a bunch of crazy patterns are low. If I’m in a coat and tie, the pants and shirt are solid-colored, and the coat and tie may be, too. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Derek’s a great advocate for being aware of texture, and I’m behind him 10,000%. I love texture in part because it’s as much for me as for those I interact with. I can feel it with my hands and body. It’s a physical pleasure. Even a cashmere tie, which touches only my shirt and coat while I’m wearing it, is a joy to put on.

It’s why I love the big bold ridges of cavalry twill trousers, the toughness of a heavy oxford shirt or the flannel of an old-style baseball cap. The textures are like a nest.

And they look good, too.

Determining Quality in Leather Goods
Our friend Réginald-Jérôme de Mans has a very good and very active bullsh*t detector, and there’s surprisingly more bullsh*t on menswear blogs and in fashion magazines than there is in companies’ marketing materials (which already sets a high bar). In a recent piece at A Suitable Wardrobe, de Mans talks about the dumb and not-so-dumb ways to determine quality in leather goods. An excerpt, pulled from the part about Esquire’s recent advice to ask salespeople whether something has been made with French or Italian calfskin:

No salesperson in any store I can imagine - including Hermès, the best well-known quality leather goods maker - would know whether an item was made with French or Italian calf, and most would make up a response on the spot.  If the item had an Italian-sounding brand name, like David Brent’s Sergio Georgini, or was tagged “made in Italy,” they would suppose the leather must be Italian.  The same would apply if the brand sounded French.  But, of course, no matter where an item is made, or by whom, its materials are often sourced from somewhere else, for both good reasons and bad.  So even if an item is marked “made in Italy,” for instance, its leather could have been sourced from Brazil, among many other places.  (This leaves aside the thorny issue of country-of-origin labels not always meaning much work was done in that country.)  The only way a salesperson would know where the leather came from would be if some sort of marketing materials for the item in question mentioned that fact specifically – but marketing materials are by definition self-serving too.  I certainly wouldn’t expect a salesperson in a multi-brand department store to be so familiar with the materials used in a specific item, and wouldn’t trust one who claimed to be. 
[…]
 We all do want an easy metric, which is why we hope we can rely on essentially commodifying quality, as ignorant magazine writers do when they suggest all English shoes, all Scottish cashmere, or all Italian leather is of similar quality.  The reality is far more complicated, boring, and ultimately discouraging, because brands and marketers use those metrics to substitute buzzwords for integrity.  That has led to, ultimately, the perpetual one-upsmanship of brands like Loro Piana bringing to market new luxury fibers when cashmere was not enough: they announce “baby cashmere,” vicuña, lotus fiber and who knows what else, as well as to the arms race of ever finer yarn numbers (they’re not thread counts like on bedsheets) like Super 150s, 180s and 200s.  A well-finished Super 100s from Lesser will feel better, wear better and look better than a Super 150s from a less trustworthy source. And unfortunately, Lesser and many other quality cloth houses like Fox and Minnis are generally only available in bespoke.  But Loro Piana and Zegna have found an outlet for their lower quality branded cloth in having it made up by cheap suitmakers whose labels trumpet the brand which produced their cloth, without it having much bearing on the actual quality of make or cloth.  What is the casual punter to do?

de Mans has some (reasonable) suggestions for how to assess leather quality later in the article. You can read the full piece here. 
For what it’s worth, in my own attempts to learn how to determine quality in leather goods, I’ve found three things:
As with everything, it helps to check out the best. Browse around, even in stores where you can’t afford any of the products. In doing so, you’ll start to get a sense of what qualities you might want to look for when shopping for things within your own budget. Of course, figuring out what’s actually on the “high end” is its own task, as not everything that’s expensive is necessarily good, but it’s useful to just keep an eye out and not be afraid to casually (and politely) browse, even in stores that are way out of your price league.
Keep in mind that certain leather qualities are meant for certain design purposes. I was recently at a designer boutique in Canada, where slightly more “avant garde" leather jackets were being sold. The leather they used was somewhat thin, very waxy, and it crinkled easily. Someone might mistake it for bad leather, but it’s not in an objective sense. It’s just that the qualities the designer was looking for - how he wanted the jacket to drape, crinkle, and age - were very specific, so he needed a certain type of leather. When determining quality, it’s good to also keep in mind design purposes. 
Nothing substitutes for first-hand experience. After a while, once you’ve browsed around, seen things on the high end, and have had the chance to use leather products of different qualities, you’ll be able to spot the stuff that’s right for you. 

Determining Quality in Leather Goods

Our friend Réginald-Jérôme de Mans has a very good and very active bullsh*t detector, and there’s surprisingly more bullsh*t on menswear blogs and in fashion magazines than there is in companies’ marketing materials (which already sets a high bar). In a recent piece at A Suitable Wardrobe, de Mans talks about the dumb and not-so-dumb ways to determine quality in leather goods. An excerpt, pulled from the part about Esquire’s recent advice to ask salespeople whether something has been made with French or Italian calfskin:

No salesperson in any store I can imagine - including Hermès, the best well-known quality leather goods maker - would know whether an item was made with French or Italian calf, and most would make up a response on the spot.  If the item had an Italian-sounding brand name, like David Brent’s Sergio Georgini, or was tagged “made in Italy,” they would suppose the leather must be Italian.  The same would apply if the brand sounded French.  But, of course, no matter where an item is made, or by whom, its materials are often sourced from somewhere else, for both good reasons and bad.  So even if an item is marked “made in Italy,” for instance, its leather could have been sourced from Brazil, among many other places.  (This leaves aside the thorny issue of country-of-origin labels not always meaning much work was done in that country.)  The only way a salesperson would know where the leather came from would be if some sort of marketing materials for the item in question mentioned that fact specifically – but marketing materials are by definition self-serving too.  I certainly wouldn’t expect a salesperson in a multi-brand department store to be so familiar with the materials used in a specific item, and wouldn’t trust one who claimed to be.

[…]

 We all do want an easy metric, which is why we hope we can rely on essentially commodifying quality, as ignorant magazine writers do when they suggest all English shoes, all Scottish cashmere, or all Italian leather is of similar quality.  The reality is far more complicated, boring, and ultimately discouraging, because brands and marketers use those metrics to substitute buzzwords for integrity.  That has led to, ultimately, the perpetual one-upsmanship of brands like Loro Piana bringing to market new luxury fibers when cashmere was not enough: they announce “baby cashmere,” vicuña, lotus fiber and who knows what else, as well as to the arms race of ever finer yarn numbers (they’re not thread counts like on bedsheets) like Super 150s, 180s and 200s.  A well-finished Super 100s from Lesser will feel better, wear better and look better than a Super 150s from a less trustworthy source. And unfortunately, Lesser and many other quality cloth houses like Fox and Minnis are generally only available in bespoke.  But Loro Piana and Zegna have found an outlet for their lower quality branded cloth in having it made up by cheap suitmakers whose labels trumpet the brand which produced their cloth, without it having much bearing on the actual quality of make or cloth.  What is the casual punter to do?

de Mans has some (reasonable) suggestions for how to assess leather quality later in the article. You can read the full piece here

For what it’s worth, in my own attempts to learn how to determine quality in leather goods, I’ve found three things:

  • As with everything, it helps to check out the best. Browse around, even in stores where you can’t afford any of the products. In doing so, you’ll start to get a sense of what qualities you might want to look for when shopping for things within your own budget. Of course, figuring out what’s actually on the “high end” is its own task, as not everything that’s expensive is necessarily good, but it’s useful to just keep an eye out and not be afraid to casually (and politely) browse, even in stores that are way out of your price league.
  • Keep in mind that certain leather qualities are meant for certain design purposes. I was recently at a designer boutique in Canada, where slightly more “avant garde" leather jackets were being sold. The leather they used was somewhat thin, very waxy, and it crinkled easily. Someone might mistake it for bad leather, but it’s not in an objective sense. It’s just that the qualities the designer was looking for - how he wanted the jacket to drape, crinkle, and age - were very specific, so he needed a certain type of leather. When determining quality, it’s good to also keep in mind design purposes. 
  • Nothing substitutes for first-hand experience. After a while, once you’ve browsed around, seen things on the high end, and have had the chance to use leather products of different qualities, you’ll be able to spot the stuff that’s right for you.