Umbrellas: Cheap, Expensive, and Everything In-Between

We’re back in rainy season again, and here in San Francisco, the weather was a bit wet this weekend. That reminded me of how useful it is to own several umbrellas. Not only does that ensure that you’ll always have something if one of your umbrellas breaks or gets lost, but it also allows you to have several options to choose from depending on your mood.

When buying a good umbrella, it’s tempting to get something unique and different, but I’d suggest your first purchase be one with a solid black canopy. These will go with anything, and in some cases – say if you’re wearing a somber suit – it’s the only appropriate choice. After your first good, black umbrella, you can get one with a navy or tan canopy if you’d like something conservative, or go with something dotted, checked, or striped for something more fanciful. 

The upside to decent umbrellas is that they come at almost every price point. Belt Outlet sells some basic black Totes for $15 after you apply the coupon code belt10. Fulton and Gustbuster are a bit more expensive, but remain reasonable affordable. Decent tartans can be bought through Orvis and Brooks Brothers. Those cost about $70, but they often go on sale. Wingtip, for example, has the Barbour version at 30% off with the coupon code TAKEACHANCE.

For a little more money, Howard Yount and Kent Wang sell some handsome single-stick options. Single stick means that the umbrella’s shaft and handle are all made from the same piece of wood. It’s a nice, artisanal touch, I think. (Note, whangees are not single stick because you can’t have the bumpy ridges on the handle go up the shaft for obvious reasons). London Undercover and Passoti are two other good options in this price tier.

Finally, for some of the best umbrellas in the world, you can turn to Swaine Adeney Brigg, James Smith, Fox, Francesco Maglia, Talarico, and Le Veritable Cherbourg. Those are made from better materials, often have single stick constructions, and are just beautiful sights to behold (as shown above). They typically run a few hundred dollars, but sometimes you can find “deals” (relatively speaking). J. Peterman occassionally discounts their Swaine Adeney Briggs, for example, and Grunwald sells Maglias at good prices (actual price is lower at checkout because of VAT discounts). Even on sale, they’re not cheap, but a look at some of those handles is enough to make a man dream. 

(Photos by fk118, Voxsartoria, and me)

A Very Useful Belt for Summer
As much as I enjoy the “coat and tie” look, it admittedly can look a bit too formal for certain situations. One way to soften it up is by making each of the individual elements a touch more causal. A wool sport coat can be swapped for something made from cotton or linen; wool dress trousers can be changed for chinos; and dress shoes can be put aside in favor of loafers.
You can also reach for slightly more casual accessories. The braided leather belt you see above is from Brooks Brothers. I bought it a few years ago and have found myself turning to it every summer. The tubular construction means that the leather wraps around like a tube, which gives the belt a substantial, but still soft, feel, and the 1.25” width makes it perfect to wear with chinos and casual trousers. At full price ($150), it’s a bit expensive, but like with everything at Brooks, you can expect that it’ll be discounted by 25-40% during sale seasons. When put with a tailored jacket, pair of chinos, and a boldly striped shirt like you see above, you’d be surprised by how much more casual a sport coat can seem. 
Ben Silver and Ralph Lauren also carry some nice braided leather belts, and Berg & Berg has a few really handsome options made from soft, Italian leather. For something more casual, check out these nylon and cotton options at Paul Stuart, Brooks Brothers, Ben Silver, and O’Connell’s. You can also do a search for Anderson’s belts, an Italian company that has essentially made a name for themselves off this sort of thing. Mr. Porter and The Armoury are stockists, and Trunk Clothiers has a pretty good sale going on right now with Anderson’s belts discounted as low as $30. Note that Anderson’s typically fit a bit wider at 1.5”, which may or may not be to your taste.
For something very affordable, check out Belt Outlet, who sells a number of options for under $15. You can even knock 10% off your order with the discount code belt10. 

A Very Useful Belt for Summer

As much as I enjoy the “coat and tie” look, it admittedly can look a bit too formal for certain situations. One way to soften it up is by making each of the individual elements a touch more causal. A wool sport coat can be swapped for something made from cotton or linen; wool dress trousers can be changed for chinos; and dress shoes can be put aside in favor of loafers.

You can also reach for slightly more casual accessories. The braided leather belt you see above is from Brooks Brothers. I bought it a few years ago and have found myself turning to it every summer. The tubular construction means that the leather wraps around like a tube, which gives the belt a substantial, but still soft, feel, and the 1.25” width makes it perfect to wear with chinos and casual trousers. At full price ($150), it’s a bit expensive, but like with everything at Brooks, you can expect that it’ll be discounted by 25-40% during sale seasons. When put with a tailored jacket, pair of chinos, and a boldly striped shirt like you see above, you’d be surprised by how much more casual a sport coat can seem. 

Ben Silver and Ralph Lauren also carry some nice braided leather belts, and Berg & Berg has a few really handsome options made from soft, Italian leather. For something more casual, check out these nylon and cotton options at Paul Stuart, Brooks BrothersBen Silver, and O’Connell’s. You can also do a search for Anderson’s belts, an Italian company that has essentially made a name for themselves off this sort of thing. Mr. Porter and The Armoury are stockists, and Trunk Clothiers has a pretty good sale going on right now with Anderson’s belts discounted as low as $30. Note that Anderson’s typically fit a bit wider at 1.5”, which may or may not be to your taste.

For something very affordable, check out Belt Outlet, who sells a number of options for under $15. You can even knock 10% off your order with the discount code belt10. 

For $50 You Can Buy …
It’s been a while since I did one of these entries, so I thought I’d make up for it by building an entire ensemble for fall, head-to-toe, out of things you can buy for under $50. 
Shirt: Ralph Lauren Rugby has this "antique striped shirt" on sale for $49.99. I’m not crazy about Rugby’s designs when they have a bunch of collegiate stripes and emblems, but this one is simple enough. It also looks like it could go quite well with most casual ensembles. 
Pants: Sierra Trading Post has a bunch of Bill’s Khakis in a variety of colors and fabrics, and this vintage twill in olive would make for a nice fall chino. They cost $79.95 right now, but if you sign up for their DealFlyer newsletter, you’ll get their “special coupon” notices. Lately, they’ve been giving 35% off any one item, which brings these down to about $52 (hey, I’m just $2 off, cut me some slack). Depending on how skinny your legs are, these may need some tapering, however, so you should account for that cost. 
Belt: Narragansett Leathers makes handsome, custom-made belts for under $50. They have a variety of styles, but I like their plain 1.25” belts the most. If you want something more unique, they also have double ring and hoof pick belts for about the same price.
Shoes: It’s hard finding shoes for under $50! Obviously, if you’re willing to pay $100+, and look on eBay, then all sorts of decent options are available to you. For under $50, however, I’ll recommend these Land’s End chukkas. I’m not crazy about the stitching on the back quarters of the shoe, but they’re advertised as being full grain leather, and only cost $49.95. 
Wallet: I really like Chester Mox wallets. They’re completely handmade, built from Horween leather, and produced by a family in Los Angeles that has been working with leather for over a decade. Right now they’re running a promotion where they’ll etch your name or initials into the wallet for free (use the code FREEPRSLZ at the end of the Paypal checkout process). They have a bunch of designs for under $50, but this model only costs $35. A customized, handmade wallet for $35 ain’t bad. 
Watch: Big faced Timex, you got two of those. Well, at least that’s how many you can have for $50. Get the Easy Reader model for $20.24 on Overstock.com. If that one sells out, just check out their other Timex options. Many of them can be had for about $25 each.
Socks: You can get a pair of Gold Toe socks for about $3 at Belt Outlet. Read my review of them here. 
Key fob: This is a bit of a superfluous purchase, but the leather is 225 years old, and it was found at the bottom of a sunken ship! For $24, it’s a pretty cool thing to carry around. You can read more about the special leather in this old article I wrote. 
There we have it. Head-to-toe everything you need for fall, and nearly every item costs less than $50. It’s not the most sartorial of looks, but not bad for a budget. 

For $50 You Can Buy …

It’s been a while since I did one of these entries, so I thought I’d make up for it by building an entire ensemble for fall, head-to-toe, out of things you can buy for under $50. 

  • Shirt: Ralph Lauren Rugby has this "antique striped shirt" on sale for $49.99. I’m not crazy about Rugby’s designs when they have a bunch of collegiate stripes and emblems, but this one is simple enough. It also looks like it could go quite well with most casual ensembles.
  • Pants: Sierra Trading Post has a bunch of Bill’s Khakis in a variety of colors and fabrics, and this vintage twill in olive would make for a nice fall chino. They cost $79.95 right now, but if you sign up for their DealFlyer newsletter, you’ll get their “special coupon” notices. Lately, they’ve been giving 35% off any one item, which brings these down to about $52 (hey, I’m just $2 off, cut me some slack). Depending on how skinny your legs are, these may need some tapering, however, so you should account for that cost. 
  • Belt: Narragansett Leathers makes handsome, custom-made belts for under $50. They have a variety of styles, but I like their plain 1.25” belts the most. If you want something more unique, they also have double ring and hoof pick belts for about the same price.
  • Shoes: It’s hard finding shoes for under $50! Obviously, if you’re willing to pay $100+, and look on eBay, then all sorts of decent options are available to you. For under $50, however, I’ll recommend these Land’s End chukkas. I’m not crazy about the stitching on the back quarters of the shoe, but they’re advertised as being full grain leather, and only cost $49.95. 
  • Wallet: I really like Chester Mox wallets. They’re completely handmade, built from Horween leather, and produced by a family in Los Angeles that has been working with leather for over a decade. Right now they’re running a promotion where they’ll etch your name or initials into the wallet for free (use the code FREEPRSLZ at the end of the Paypal checkout process). They have a bunch of designs for under $50, but this model only costs $35. A customized, handmade wallet for $35 ain’t bad.
  • Watch: Big faced Timex, you got two of those. Well, at least that’s how many you can have for $50. Get the Easy Reader model for $20.24 on Overstock.com. If that one sells out, just check out their other Timex options. Many of them can be had for about $25 each.
  • Socks: You can get a pair of Gold Toe socks for about $3 at Belt Outlet. Read my review of them here.
  • Key fob: This is a bit of a superfluous purchase, but the leather is 225 years old, and it was found at the bottom of a sunken ship! For $24, it’s a pretty cool thing to carry around. You can read more about the special leather in this old article I wrote

There we have it. Head-to-toe everything you need for fall, and nearly every item costs less than $50. It’s not the most sartorial of looks, but not bad for a budget. 

We Got It For Free: Gold Toe Socks
I’m somewhat of a sock evangelist. To me, some of the worst sartorial transgressions have nothing to do with flip-flops and hooded zip-ups. If someone doesn’t care much about their appearance, I say let them be. The worst transgressions are when someone puts in the effort, but then skimps on things they think the rest of the world won’t notice - like socks. 
It is noticeable, however. Cheap hosieries will frizz, have an ugly, matte cotton appearance, and look much like colored gym socks. They also tend to be short and have weak elastic banding, so they slouch and sit near your ankles, thus leaving your pale, bare calf exposed when you sit down. Moreover, because they’re made of cheap materials and have poor construction, they’re quicker to develop holes at the toe seam. Given these problems, I’ve never understood why men are more willing to spend another $100 on a shirt or tie they don’t need when the same amount could go into rehauling their sock wardrobe. 
So when the nice folks at Belt Outlet offered to send me some Gold Toe socks to review, I happily obliged. They sent six pairs: over-the-calfs in wool and mercerized cotton, as well as mid-calfs in tweed, pima cotton, and two kinds (1, 2) of wools.  I’ve been wearing them for a month now and by far the best performers have been the over-the-calfs in wool or mercerized cotton. 
First Dimension to Quality: Do Your Socks Stay Up?
There are two primary dimensions to the quality of socks. The first is whether they stay nicely stretched over your leg the entire day. In this regard, Gold Toe’s over-the-calfs are best. Since they don’t sit below the calf muscle like mid-calf socks, they won’t be pushed down by your calves as you walk. The only downside to over-the-calfs is that they’re more likely to stick to the back of your trousers if you’re wearing lightweight wools with a bit of nap, like flannel. This shouldn’t be a problem with most of your trousers, however. 
Gold Toe mid-calfs were OK. They perform better than many other mid-calf socks in their price range. Throughout a day, I would only have to adjust my socks maybe two or three times. If left alone, they wouldn’t slouch so low as to expose my calf, but they would fall down enough that some of the excess material would bunch a little at the bottom. 
Second Dimension to Quality: Material Composition
The other important dimension is the material composition in a pair of socks. Wool here is the best since it helps keep your feet warm during the winter and wick sweat in the summer. It also has more “spring back” than cotton, so the material won’t flatten out at the end of the day and look shiny. If you do buy cotton socks, I strongly recommend the mercerized versions. Mercerization is a chemical process that increases the cotton’s luster, strength, affinity to dye, and resistance to mildew. Contrast this with the pimas, which are more likely to flatten out, get wet, stay wet, feel slimy, and then bunch up in the process. 
The problem with Gold Toe’s wools, however, is that they’re mixed with more nylon than higher-end socks. My Marcoliani socks, for example, are either 100% wool or an 80/20 mix of wool and nylon. These Gold Toes are around 60/40. When nylon is added to a pair of wool socks, it improves how well the socks stretch, which adds to durability, but when too much is added, the material is more prone to break. After two washes, for example, I can already see some breakage at the cuff. 
Conclusion
Despite the breakage, the big advantage here is the quality to price ratio. Gold Toes will cost you about $4-7 a pair, whereas Marcolianis will cost about $20-25. Many men just aren’t able to spend that much for socks. For them, I think Gold Toes are an excellent buy. I recommend the over-the-calfs in wool or mercerized cotton in navy, as those will match anything. They’re only $6-7 a pair, which is pretty affordable. I guarantee once you give these a try, you’ll suddenly realize the inadequacy of your current hosiery. If you don’t believe me, read This Fits’ recent experience.  
To learn more about socks, check my extensive article here. 

We Got It For Free: Gold Toe Socks

I’m somewhat of a sock evangelist. To me, some of the worst sartorial transgressions have nothing to do with flip-flops and hooded zip-ups. If someone doesn’t care much about their appearance, I say let them be. The worst transgressions are when someone puts in the effort, but then skimps on things they think the rest of the world won’t notice - like socks. 

It is noticeable, however. Cheap hosieries will frizz, have an ugly, matte cotton appearance, and look much like colored gym socks. They also tend to be short and have weak elastic banding, so they slouch and sit near your ankles, thus leaving your pale, bare calf exposed when you sit down. Moreover, because they’re made of cheap materials and have poor construction, they’re quicker to develop holes at the toe seam. Given these problems, I’ve never understood why men are more willing to spend another $100 on a shirt or tie they don’t need when the same amount could go into rehauling their sock wardrobe. 

So when the nice folks at Belt Outlet offered to send me some Gold Toe socks to review, I happily obliged. They sent six pairs: over-the-calfs in wool and mercerized cotton, as well as mid-calfs in tweed, pima cotton, and two kinds (12) of wools.  I’ve been wearing them for a month now and by far the best performers have been the over-the-calfs in wool or mercerized cotton. 

First Dimension to Quality: Do Your Socks Stay Up?

There are two primary dimensions to the quality of socks. The first is whether they stay nicely stretched over your leg the entire day. In this regard, Gold Toe’s over-the-calfs are best. Since they don’t sit below the calf muscle like mid-calf socks, they won’t be pushed down by your calves as you walk. The only downside to over-the-calfs is that they’re more likely to stick to the back of your trousers if you’re wearing lightweight wools with a bit of nap, like flannel. This shouldn’t be a problem with most of your trousers, however. 

Gold Toe mid-calfs were OK. They perform better than many other mid-calf socks in their price range. Throughout a day, I would only have to adjust my socks maybe two or three times. If left alone, they wouldn’t slouch so low as to expose my calf, but they would fall down enough that some of the excess material would bunch a little at the bottom. 

Second Dimension to Quality: Material Composition

The other important dimension is the material composition in a pair of socks. Wool here is the best since it helps keep your feet warm during the winter and wick sweat in the summer. It also has more “spring back” than cotton, so the material won’t flatten out at the end of the day and look shiny. If you do buy cotton socks, I strongly recommend the mercerized versions. Mercerization is a chemical process that increases the cotton’s luster, strength, affinity to dye, and resistance to mildew. Contrast this with the pimas, which are more likely to flatten out, get wet, stay wet, feel slimy, and then bunch up in the process. 

The problem with Gold Toe’s wools, however, is that they’re mixed with more nylon than higher-end socks. My Marcoliani socks, for example, are either 100% wool or an 80/20 mix of wool and nylon. These Gold Toes are around 60/40. When nylon is added to a pair of wool socks, it improves how well the socks stretch, which adds to durability, but when too much is added, the material is more prone to break. After two washes, for example, I can already see some breakage at the cuff. 

Conclusion

Despite the breakage, the big advantage here is the quality to price ratio. Gold Toes will cost you about $4-7 a pair, whereas Marcolianis will cost about $20-25. Many men just aren’t able to spend that much for socks. For them, I think Gold Toes are an excellent buy. I recommend the over-the-calfs in wool or mercerized cotton in navy, as those will match anything. They’re only $6-7 a pair, which is pretty affordable. I guarantee once you give these a try, you’ll suddenly realize the inadequacy of your current hosiery. If you don’t believe me, read This Fits’ recent experience.  

To learn more about socks, check my extensive article here