Is That a Unicorn in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Poorly Translating the Bible?

Unicorn-print accessories, like Lisa Frank stickers but for men, have enjoyed a good couple of years. Pictured above are Drake’s tonal printed pocket squares (derived from La Dame à la licorne; not currently available) and Kent Wang’s more colorful version, based on the Verteuil Tapestries).  Reginald Jerome de Mans has talked about the history of these accessories with Drake’s and Hilditch and Key going back to the late 1980s, but what about the history of the unicorn itself? And why are we keeping ol’ one horn in our jacket pockets?

Annalee Newitz talks about the evolution of the unicorn myth via Chris Lavers’ 2010 scholarly study of unicorns through history:

As Lavers explains, the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament mentions an animal called a “reem.” When scholars tried to translate this word into Greek, they were flummoxed. They had no idea what this “reem” was. They knew it was big, and it had horns, and that it obviously wasn’t a goat. (Goats are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.) So they translated it as “monoceros,” meaning “one-horn.” Then, when the Greek Bible was translated into Latin, the word became “unicornus.” And that word, translated into English, is unicorn.

Early in the 20th century, when scholars cracked the code on ancient cuneiform script, they finally learned what that mysterious reem really was. In these ancient texts, written around the time when the Hebrew Bible was being penned, there are many references to an animal called a rimu. Like the biblical reem, the rimu was enormous, strong, and had horns. That animal was an ox. So all of those references to unicorns in the Bible? Those are actually to an ox. Which, if you read the actual sections of the Bible, makes a lot more sense.

But for nearly 1500 years, Christians believed in the unicorn version of things. The unicorn came to symbolize Christ, its horn the cross, and its tribulations during the hunt were like Christ’s tribulations on earth. Interestingly, the idea that unicorns were attracted to virgins comes from a pagan source. A Latin book called the Physiologus, probably written in the second century CE, mentions that a unicorn can only be caught when it lays its head down in a virgin’s lap. Christian analysts seized on this idea, suggesting that this was symbolic of how Christ came into the world – with the help of a virgin. Keeping all of this in mind, it’s easy to understand what those 16th-century unicorn tapestries are all about.

Next time you’re decorating your Trapper Keeper or tweed patch pocket, think of the mystical beauty and profound majesty of the ox.

-Pete

Put This On Handkerchiefs

A few months ago, one of the most significant shirting shops in New York City closed. It sold only to the trade, and specialized in the finest cottons from England and Italy. They had to sell off their stock - decades of beautiful shirting fabrics.

Luckily, we got in on the action. We had the folks at the shop ship us a box of their finest stuff - all in lengths too short to make into shirts. Perfect, of course, for pocket squares.

The result is a limited-edition handkerchief collection. These pieces are made from the best cotton in the world and are hand-made, with hand-rolled edges, just like our other Put This On pocket squares, but they’re priced so inexpensively that you can use them to blow your nose if you want to. The squares are just $35 each, three for $95, or five for $125… but when they’re gone, they’re gone.

You can see the full selection here in our Etsy shop. Pick up a drawerful!

(Use code THREEHANDKERCHIEFS or FIVEHANDKERCHIEFS for discounts.)

The Point of Distinction

Here at Put This On, we’re all about encouraging a simple, classic aesthetic. You won’t find Ed Hardy t-shirts or Versace suits here. But what makes a simply constructed outfit something special? I call it a “point of distinction.”

It’s an idea I first read expressed by my friend MistahWong, who’s one of the best-dressed men I know. The principle is simple. One’s style should be impeccable. Fit should be inarguable. So on and so forth. But there should be something about your outfit that says “this isn’t generic, this is me.”

Back when MistahWong was wearing business suits for work, he wore almost exclusively solid navy and gray with white shirts. Perfect fit, conservative cuts. Heavy black or burgundy longwings. But he also wore casual silk knit ties. Or, as above, a felt flower in his lapel. A simple point of distinction.

Above is what I’m wearing on a cool morning in Southern California. Literally a white t-shirt, khakis, and a black chamois shirt. Add some bold sneakers and sunglasses and you have distinction.

Accessories, of course, are the easiest choice. I find that adding the glasses above (which are made by the California maker Kala) to an otherwise very conservative outfit works well. I’ll sometimes add a vintage stickpin to my lapel. There are trendy choices, like colored laces or bracelets, though those have run their course to some extent. The goal isn’t necessarily to be outrageous, but simply to demonstrate that you care.

It’s easy to pile wild choice on top of wild choice, or conversely to make nothing but down-the-middle clothing decisions. To choose to demonstrate understated mastery and nonetheless show distinction is much more difficult.

We Got It For Free: Berg & Berg’s Laptop Case

Mathias Berg of Berg & Berg emailed me this past spring to see if I might be interested in trying out one of his new leather goods. He and his wife Karin founded their company four years ago and since then, they’ve gotten a lot of praise for their neckties, scarves, and pocket squares. Jesse reviewed a linen and silk piece in 2010, and my e-friend Nicolas has been a big fan of them since around that time as well.

Recently, Mathias and Karin decided to expand into knitwear and leather goods. I received one of their laptop cases last May and have been using it on a semi-daily basis ever since. It fits my 13” Macbook Pro perfectly, and the interior (which is lined with cotton canvas) has a small pocket for business cards, receipts, or just miscellaneous pieces of paper. Two magnetic brass snaps hold down the flap-over cover, and the simplicity of the design allows you to have easy access to your laptop. Nice, I think, if you often use your laptop in-between short stops on the subway line like me.

The case is billed as being made from vegetable-tanned, full-grain, vachetta leather. I admit being a bit confused on this since I’ve always understood vachetta to be that untreated, natural-colored leather used to make the handles on Louis Vuitton bags. Over time, direct sunlight and moisture will darken those handles to a nice golden, honey tan, and for that patina, the material is highly prized. Berg & Berg’s case doesn’t seem to be made from the same vachetta leather that I’m familiar with, but it’s nevertheless nice and rich, and comes in beautiful colors. It does scuff easily though, but like with traditional vachetta, you kind of have to embrace how the leather ages. I’ve taken pictures of mine and lightened up the photos so you can see how it looks after four months of reasonably hard use. I personally like the wear. 

Berg & Berg’s laptop case is one of nicest I’ve handled, but it’s also pretty expensive. On the upside, they have a few on sale right now at half off. The leather isn’t the same as what they bill as vachetta, but it too looks really good (I love the soft colors). They also have some really nice leather belts, wallets, and iPad cases in both their non-sale and sale sections. All really great things that I think are worth a look. 

I’m not an Everyday Carry fetishist, although I totally understand the eternal appeal of “gear” and the diagrammatic beauty of items laid out neatly on a flat surface and photographed from above. I just don’t need most of the things that EDC enthusiasts like to have the best of: I rarely find myself wishing I had a blade or means of starting a fire, I have a flashlight app on my phone, and one time I bought this really cool pencil and lost it within a week. It’s not the concept of EDC’s fault, it’s mine. (See also Merlin Mann’s EDC.)

So it’s less the objects that Adam Savage carries that I dug about this video, so much as his approach.

  • He always keeps his phone in his front right pocket, and nothing else ever goes in that pocket.
  • He carries few keys, on a simple but tactile-ly recognizable and brightly colored lanyard (often seen on aircraft components or flight jackets). Always in his front left pocket.
  • He carries a straightforward billfold, and keeps it thin—little or no cash, no receipts.
  • He carries a collapsible pen and (indigo-stained) notebook.

Except for his phone and (quite lovely) watch, he carries very little that would be difficult to replace, financially. He can fit everything in the pockets of his jeans. And because he always keeps these items in the same place, he never has to hunt for them.

-Pete

youmightfindyourself:

Adam Savage’s (Mythbusters) Every Day Carry

Accessorizing Your Way Out
One of the most common mistakes men make when trying to dress well is believing that all their outfit needs is something to make it “pop.” I imagine what happens is this: a man looks at himself in the morning, doesn’t like what he sees, and thinks what could make him look better is a more “original” tie. The new tie unfortunately doesn’t do anything, so he puts some knick-knack into his jacket’s lapel hole. That again doesn’t solve anything, so he swaps out his leather watchband for NATO strap. Still unsatisfied, he puts on a bracelet, a scarf, a funkier belt, an unusual hat, and then stuffs a smoking pipe into his jacket’s breast pocket for final effect. At that point, he runs out of accessories, so he leaves to face the day.
The problem with this is that it ignores why the ensemble was unsatisfying in the first place. Nine times out of ten, it’s because his clothes don’t fit well, and they won’t fit any better just because there are a dozen accessories layered over them. Maybe they’ll distract the viewer from the ill-fitting clothes, but not to any positive effect.
If your clothes fit well, you can dress quite simply. Matt Damon, who played the main character in The Talented Mr. Ripley, demonstrates this in the photo above. The original French version of that film, Purple Noon, also had men in very simple outfits, but still looking quite sharp. With a pair of trousers, shoes, socks, and just a basic shirt – so long as the fit is impeccable – you will look good.
This is not to say that unusual accessories can’t sometimes add character. Indeed, they can. But it’s a mistake to look at photos online or in magazines and think that what makes any particular man look good is a bracelet or some piece of bauble. On the contrary, those are just icings on the cake (the rake?). At the foundation, these men look good because their clothes fit well, and unless yours do too, there is no accessory that will change that fact. In other words, you can’t accessorize your way out of a bad fit. 
Which is why, if you’re just starting to build a wardrobe, you should focus on the best fitting basics you can. A perfectly fitting navy sport coat will be better than five in the closet that are slightly off. That navy jacket can be worn multiple times a week without anyone noticing, and the resulting outfits can be made to look different by relying on a very minimal neckwear collection. Similarly, a pair of chinos, jeans, and two grey wool trousers can be relied upon multiple times a week, but they must fit excellently. Spending as much as you can on just three to five pairs of pants will be smarter than having fifteen that are too slim or baggy for your build. Fit is the first requirement; stylistic details and accessories come after.

Accessorizing Your Way Out

One of the most common mistakes men make when trying to dress well is believing that all their outfit needs is something to make it “pop.” I imagine what happens is this: a man looks at himself in the morning, doesn’t like what he sees, and thinks what could make him look better is a more “original” tie. The new tie unfortunately doesn’t do anything, so he puts some knick-knack into his jacket’s lapel hole. That again doesn’t solve anything, so he swaps out his leather watchband for NATO strap. Still unsatisfied, he puts on a bracelet, a scarf, a funkier belt, an unusual hat, and then stuffs a smoking pipe into his jacket’s breast pocket for final effect. At that point, he runs out of accessories, so he leaves to face the day.

The problem with this is that it ignores why the ensemble was unsatisfying in the first place. Nine times out of ten, it’s because his clothes don’t fit well, and they won’t fit any better just because there are a dozen accessories layered over them. Maybe they’ll distract the viewer from the ill-fitting clothes, but not to any positive effect.

If your clothes fit well, you can dress quite simply. Matt Damon, who played the main character in The Talented Mr. Ripley, demonstrates this in the photo above. The original French version of that film, Purple Noon, also had men in very simple outfits, but still looking quite sharp. With a pair of trousers, shoes, socks, and just a basic shirt – so long as the fit is impeccable – you will look good.

This is not to say that unusual accessories can’t sometimes add character. Indeed, they can. But it’s a mistake to look at photos online or in magazines and think that what makes any particular man look good is a bracelet or some piece of bauble. On the contrary, those are just icings on the cake (the rake?). At the foundation, these men look good because their clothes fit well, and unless yours do too, there is no accessory that will change that fact. In other words, you can’t accessorize your way out of a bad fit. 

Which is why, if you’re just starting to build a wardrobe, you should focus on the best fitting basics you can. A perfectly fitting navy sport coat will be better than five in the closet that are slightly off. That navy jacket can be worn multiple times a week without anyone noticing, and the resulting outfits can be made to look different by relying on a very minimal neckwear collection. Similarly, a pair of chinos, jeans, and two grey wool trousers can be relied upon multiple times a week, but they must fit excellently. Spending as much as you can on just three to five pairs of pants will be smarter than having fifteen that are too slim or baggy for your build. Fit is the first requirement; stylistic details and accessories come after.

Pinning a Tie 

I was cleaning out my dresser’s drawers the other day when I came across an old collar pin I bought a couple of years ago. Collar pins look like big safety pins, and they’re used to add shape to a collar and help arch a necktie. Some men also repurpose them as tie clips. That is, they use them to fasten their neckties to their shirts so that their ties don’t flip around in the wind or get too close their lunch. 

The problem with this, of course, is that the pin will leave holes. This is less of an issue with shirts because the holes will disappear after a trip to the laundry (though I’ll admit I only used my pin with older, less valued shirts). Ties, on the other hand, are more problematic. A wooly cashmere tie might hide a hole better if it’s dark, but on a smoother silk, poking a hole though might be less well advised. I personally only used mine with silk knits, and only of the kind that had a looser weave, so that the pin essentially could slip through without damaging any of the material. 

The combination of these two requirements - to be only used with old shirts and silk knit ties - meant that I rarely used my pin. Even when I got around to it, it felt a bit too dandy for my taste. So it mostly sat in this drawer, forgotten until I got around to cleaning this weekend. 

Still, there are men who wear them extraordinarily well. One of the best living examples is Beppe Modenese, who is often seen wearing a tie pinned to his shirt. The effect, I think, is quite debonair and underscores Beppe’s strong sense of personal style. Nothing says carefree like a big ol’ pin speared through your clothes. 

I bought my pin at Brooks Brothers, but you can also get them for about half the price on Amazon. For something even cheaper, search around for “kilt safety pins.” Those look to be more or less the same, though I’ve never handled them personally. On the upside, however, they’re only $5, which means you won’t lose out on too much if yours ends up sitting in a drawer for a few years. 

At the Rose Bowl Flea Market this weekend, I narrowly missed out on a beautiful bone stickpin in the shape of a dog’s head. I was too busy ogling a shagreen and silver sewing box that I couldn’t afford and a dealer snatched the pin up for $65. I have to admit, I was a bit crestfallen.

Above is a great collection of stickpins from an episode of The Antiques Roadshow. If you’d like to add some jewelry to your ensemble as an alternative to cuff links or a watch, a small stickpin can be a great option. It can be worn through the buttonhole of the lapel like a boutonniere, or through a tie. Just remember that one should be modest in your accessorization - if you have a jewel in your lapel, a plain white pocket square should be enough.

A Laptop Case Roundup

I’ve been looking for a good laptop case for the last few months. My two briefcases, a Filson 257 and Lotuff English brief, don’t have any cushioning on the bottom, so I need something to protect my computer when I set my bag down. Unfortunately, most cases are made from neoprene or ballistic nylon, and I prefer more natural materials.

Luckily, there are still plenty of good options. On the expensive end, there’s Vaja and Want Les Essentiels. Both companies make exceptionally good products and their cases strike me as a bit smarter designed than most. Unfortunately, they’re also very pricey, and you might end up with something that won’t work with your next laptop purchase. Still, if money were no object for me, I would probably start here.

For slightly more affordable options, I really like Calabrese, Carga, and Ally Capellino. Calabrese is an Italian manufacturer of high-end bags with refined and sophisticated designs. Their laptop sleeve comes in a very beautiful tan leather, as well as dark and light canvas materials. Likewise, Carga has a very nice, simple option made from a single piece of vegetable tanned leather, and Ally Capellino’s is made from (what seems to be) a tumble-washed canvas. If you’re a student, you can take a 12% discount at Ally Capellino, which makes theirs a bit more affordable still. 

There are also some really nice contemporary designs by Scandinavian companies such as Mismo, c.dellstrand, P.A.P. Accessories, and wood wood. For something that has more of a traditional sensibility, consider Saddleback Leathers and Restoration Hardware. Saddleback Leathers is known for making very high-quality leather goods, but I suspect Restoration Hardware is using cheaper materials (though, to be fair, I haven’t had a chance to handle it). I also like WM J Mills and La Portegna. Their sleeves have handles, which may be convenient if you plan to carry them on their own.

For non-leather materials, consider Hard Graft and Pack & Smooch. They have some felted wool models that don’t look too shabby. Additionally, there are coated canvas sleeves from Incase and McManus, as well as a denim sleeve that came out of an Incase and APC collaboration. Perhaps most affordable of all is Wrappers, where you can buy a basic, no frills linen sleeve for about $30.

Finally, should none of these excited you, try searching Etsy. You have to get through a bit of chaff, but if you put in the work, you can find some decent looking designs. Check out Harlex and Byrd & Belle, for example. 

As for me, I’m hoping that Calabrese will make something for 13” laptops soon. I’m pretty set on that tan leather model

For a few years, I used an old nylon zipper bag for my toiletries. When I say old, I mean that truthfully - this number was from the late 60s, and had crazy psychedelic designs on it. When that bit the dust, I grabbed a simple zip bag from Muji, but I wanted something more than plastic.
After a lot of fruitless searching for something suitable at a reasonable price, I ended up grabbing a Jack Spade waxwear dopp kit from Gilt. It was a bit more expensive than I’d like, and I’d have preferred it didn’t have a big Jack Spade logo patch on it, but it’s very good looking and has served me well. (By the way: if you’re looking for simple, mid-priced, solid-quality accessories, you can do worse than Jack Spade on Gilt. Good selection, usually, and nice products.)
If Archival Clothing had been offering this Archival Dopp Kit back then, I probably would have bought one for myself. The team there always works hard to remove unnecessary BS from their designs and to get every detail right. The result is a beautiful form and exceptional function. Sixty bucks isn’t a pittance, but frankly it’s cheap for something made exactly right. That’s how Archival do it.
(And they just put out a cool-ass duffel bag, too.)

For a few years, I used an old nylon zipper bag for my toiletries. When I say old, I mean that truthfully - this number was from the late 60s, and had crazy psychedelic designs on it. When that bit the dust, I grabbed a simple zip bag from Muji, but I wanted something more than plastic.

After a lot of fruitless searching for something suitable at a reasonable price, I ended up grabbing a Jack Spade waxwear dopp kit from Gilt. It was a bit more expensive than I’d like, and I’d have preferred it didn’t have a big Jack Spade logo patch on it, but it’s very good looking and has served me well. (By the way: if you’re looking for simple, mid-priced, solid-quality accessories, you can do worse than Jack Spade on Gilt. Good selection, usually, and nice products.)

If Archival Clothing had been offering this Archival Dopp Kit back then, I probably would have bought one for myself. The team there always works hard to remove unnecessary BS from their designs and to get every detail right. The result is a beautiful form and exceptional function. Sixty bucks isn’t a pittance, but frankly it’s cheap for something made exactly right. That’s how Archival do it.

(And they just put out a cool-ass duffel bag, too.)