How Much Should You Spend on Dress Shoes?
One of the questions I frequently get in my inbox is: “I’m looking to buy a better pair of dress shoes, and only have X to spend. Should I save up for something better, or is so-and-so brand OK?” Like with many questions we get, a lot depends on the person asking.  
It’s worth noting, however, that in footwear (like in everything), there are serious diminishing returns after a certain point. Very roughly speaking, that point tends to be around $350 at full retail, although what’s sold at full retail can be had for less with smart shopping (eBay, factory seconds, seasonal sales, thrift stores, etc).
The Unfortunate Reality of Diminishing Returns
There are a number of things that go into the construction of a good shoe, but the two biggest are: the quality of the leather used and how the soles have been attached. Jesse did a great job in describing the difference between corrected grain and full grain leathers here. It’s also worth noting that even among full-grain leathers, there can be differences in quality. Additionally, most well made shoes will have their shoes attached through a Goodyear or Blake stitching process. Jesse reviewed some of these in the second episode of our video series, and you can read more about each technique here. The short of it is: with a sole that’s been stitched on, rather than glued, you can more easily resole your shoes, which means you don’t have to bin them when the bottoms wear out.
In the past, the “entry price” for good (dress) shoes tended to be around $350. These were usually from Allen Edmonds, Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers, although not everything from these brands were worth buying. There were also some European names such as Herring and Loake’s 1880 line.
After this, you get marginally better constructions, but the differences become smaller and smaller (perhaps a leather insole vs. a fiberboard insole, or a sole that’s been attached by hand rather than machine, or slightly better leathers used for the uppers). Largely, as you move up from the $350 MSRP mark, you’re paying for design. A $1,250 pair of Edward Greens won’t last you 4x longer than a $350 pair from Allen Edmonds, but to many, they’re shaped and finished more handsomely.
The Emergence of a More Competitive Market
The good news is that the market has gotten a lot more competitive in the last five years, and the cost/ benefit curve has smoothed out considerably. Today, there are companies such as Beckett Simonon, John Doe, and Jack Erwin below the $200 price mark (the last of which I was particularly impressed by). Just a hair over $200 is Meermin, which I still think is one of the best values for (relatively) affordable footwear. They have a “Classic” line for about $200 (but with customs and duties, you might pay around $230) and a higher end “Linea Maestro” line for about $300 starting. And at the $350 mark, there’s more than Allen Edmonds and Loake’s 1880 these days. Paul Evans, Kent Wang, and Howard Yount are all good companies to look into.
The question of how much should you spend isn’t about what’s “good” in the footwear market, it’s about what’s “good enough” for you. For dress shoes, the only real criteria are: quality full-grain leather uppers and some kind of stitched on sole. Much of the rest is about aesthetics and personal preference.
(Photo: Crockett & Jones’ Whitehall oxfords at Ben Silver)

How Much Should You Spend on Dress Shoes?

One of the questions I frequently get in my inbox is: “I’m looking to buy a better pair of dress shoes, and only have X to spend. Should I save up for something better, or is so-and-so brand OK?” Like with many questions we get, a lot depends on the person asking. 

It’s worth noting, however, that in footwear (like in everything), there are serious diminishing returns after a certain point. Very roughly speaking, that point tends to be around $350 at full retail, although what’s sold at full retail can be had for less with smart shopping (eBay, factory seconds, seasonal sales, thrift stores, etc).

The Unfortunate Reality of Diminishing Returns

There are a number of things that go into the construction of a good shoe, but the two biggest are: the quality of the leather used and how the soles have been attached. Jesse did a great job in describing the difference between corrected grain and full grain leathers here. It’s also worth noting that even among full-grain leathers, there can be differences in quality. Additionally, most well made shoes will have their shoes attached through a Goodyear or Blake stitching process. Jesse reviewed some of these in the second episode of our video series, and you can read more about each technique here. The short of it is: with a sole that’s been stitched on, rather than glued, you can more easily resole your shoes, which means you don’t have to bin them when the bottoms wear out.

In the past, the “entry price” for good (dress) shoes tended to be around $350. These were usually from Allen Edmonds, Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers, although not everything from these brands were worth buying. There were also some European names such as Herring and Loake’s 1880 line.

After this, you get marginally better constructions, but the differences become smaller and smaller (perhaps a leather insole vs. a fiberboard insole, or a sole that’s been attached by hand rather than machine, or slightly better leathers used for the uppers). Largely, as you move up from the $350 MSRP mark, you’re paying for design. A $1,250 pair of Edward Greens won’t last you 4x longer than a $350 pair from Allen Edmonds, but to many, they’re shaped and finished more handsomely.

The Emergence of a More Competitive Market

The good news is that the market has gotten a lot more competitive in the last five years, and the cost/ benefit curve has smoothed out considerably. Today, there are companies such as Beckett Simonon, John Doe, and Jack Erwin below the $200 price mark (the last of which I was particularly impressed by). Just a hair over $200 is Meermin, which I still think is one of the best values for (relatively) affordable footwear. They have a “Classic” line for about $200 (but with customs and duties, you might pay around $230) and a higher end “Linea Maestro” line for about $300 starting. And at the $350 mark, there’s more than Allen Edmonds and Loake’s 1880 these days. Paul Evans, Kent Wang, and Howard Yount are all good companies to look into.

The question of how much should you spend isn’t about what’s “good” in the footwear market, it’s about what’s “good enough” for you. For dress shoes, the only real criteria are: quality full-grain leather uppers and some kind of stitched on sole. Much of the rest is about aesthetics and personal preference.

(Photo: Crockett & Jones’ Whitehall oxfords at Ben Silver)

The Easy and Hard Part of Classic Dress
Every once in a while, you’ll see a new member on StyleForum say that he’s just become interested in classic, tailored clothing, and would like to know what he should buy. This is always a difficult question to answer, as so much depends on the region and profession you’re in. Someone in the tech sector in the Bay Area, for example, will have very different needs than someone in finance in New York City.
However, to the extent that some advice can be given, the basics of a classic wardrobe are remarkably straightforward.
Pants and Shirts
First, buy a bunch of wool trousers in various shades of gray, from light to medium, and maybe throw in one or two pairs in brown for good measure (again, light to medium shades work best). Flannel wool and some kind of wool twill are great starters. The first will feel better, but the second will be harder wearing. You can supplement these with a couple of seasonal trousers, such as tan linens for summer and cavalry twills for fall, as well some year-round casual basics such as khaki chinos and dark blue jeans (most of these being your weekend pants, although chinos work pretty well as office wear these days).
For your shirts, focus on light blues. Solids are a good foundation, although I recommend leaning towards slightly more interesting weaves than poplin. After that, you can get a range of stripes (from thin to bold, but try to stick with in blue), as well as one or two checks (tattersalls, gingham, or graph check). Throw in a few solid white shirts as well. These will work better with more formal ensembles and for nighttime activities. Since you need something to wear with your jeans, I recommend some plain ol’ t-shirts in solid white or heathered grey.
Coats and TIes
Turning to sport coats, aim for simple, basic designs in navy and brown. These should have some kind of texture to them, as anything too smooth or fine will look too much like a suit jacket. A navy or brown sport coat – in a solid or conservative pattern – can be worn multiple times a week without anyone remembering when you wore it last. Take care too that your jackets don’t have any extreme details. Overly high gorges and short lengths are very in fashion right now, but these might make you look dated in a few years’ time.
If you need ties, buy repp stripes if you mostly wear sport coats, and ones with small repeating floral or figured patterns if you wear suits. I talked about both here. If you wear patterned shirts often, consider relying more on solid ties with a slightly textured weave to them. These will give your combination some interest without forcing you to think too much about whether or not what you’re wearing is clashing. Avoid anything too skinny or wide. Three and a quarter inches will suit almost anyone’s build, and should generally be in the range of your lapel width (no skinny ties with wide lapels, or vice versa). Stick to dark colors such as navy, dark green, dark brown, and burgundy for the most versatility.  
Knitwear and Shoes
For sweaters, get a couple of plain v-necks if you plan to wear them underneath sport coats. Colors such as solid navy, brown, grey, and burgundy work well. If you plan to wear your sweaters more casually (that is, without a sport coat), I recommend picking something a bit more textured or patterned to make things interesting. Arans, Fair Isles, cable knits, and buttoned mock necks are just a few of the ones I like.  You can even layer them on weekends with outerwear like this.
Finally, for shoes, I recommend these seven. 
Everything Else
Of course, these are just guidelines, and you should choose things that are right for your lifestyle and sense of taste. If you want a pair of double monks, by all means get a pair. But don’t go out and splurge on eight of them, especially if you’re just starting out. Build a foundation of classic, versatile basics, and let your taste and sense of dress mature before you buy wilder things. If you have a closet full of pin dot cutaway collar shirts, blackwatch tartan pants, and double monks in every animal skin you could find, you’re headed for a purge in a maybe a year’s time.
While you’re acquiring all these things, learn how clothes should fit. These guides should help. Also, find a good alterations tailor while you’re at it. Whether you shop at Land’s End or Loro Piana, a good alterations tailor will make your clothes look twice as good and three times as expensive.
But all this is the easy part. The hard part is in knowing how to wear your clothes well. That comes with a lot of practice and finding things that best suit your needs and personality. 

The Easy and Hard Part of Classic Dress

Every once in a while, you’ll see a new member on StyleForum say that he’s just become interested in classic, tailored clothing, and would like to know what he should buy. This is always a difficult question to answer, as so much depends on the region and profession you’re in. Someone in the tech sector in the Bay Area, for example, will have very different needs than someone in finance in New York City.

However, to the extent that some advice can be given, the basics of a classic wardrobe are remarkably straightforward.

Pants and Shirts

First, buy a bunch of wool trousers in various shades of gray, from light to medium, and maybe throw in one or two pairs in brown for good measure (again, light to medium shades work best). Flannel wool and some kind of wool twill are great starters. The first will feel better, but the second will be harder wearing. You can supplement these with a couple of seasonal trousers, such as tan linens for summer and cavalry twills for fall, as well some year-round casual basics such as khaki chinos and dark blue jeans (most of these being your weekend pants, although chinos work pretty well as office wear these days).

For your shirts, focus on light blues. Solids are a good foundation, although I recommend leaning towards slightly more interesting weaves than poplin. After that, you can get a range of stripes (from thin to bold, but try to stick with in blue), as well as one or two checks (tattersalls, gingham, or graph check). Throw in a few solid white shirts as well. These will work better with more formal ensembles and for nighttime activities. Since you need something to wear with your jeans, I recommend some plain ol’ t-shirts in solid white or heathered grey.

Coats and TIes

Turning to sport coats, aim for simple, basic designs in navy and brown. These should have some kind of texture to them, as anything too smooth or fine will look too much like a suit jacket. A navy or brown sport coat – in a solid or conservative pattern – can be worn multiple times a week without anyone remembering when you wore it last. Take care too that your jackets don’t have any extreme details. Overly high gorges and short lengths are very in fashion right now, but these might make you look dated in a few years’ time.

If you need ties, buy repp stripes if you mostly wear sport coats, and ones with small repeating floral or figured patterns if you wear suits. I talked about both here. If you wear patterned shirts often, consider relying more on solid ties with a slightly textured weave to them. These will give your combination some interest without forcing you to think too much about whether or not what you’re wearing is clashing. Avoid anything too skinny or wide. Three and a quarter inches will suit almost anyone’s build, and should generally be in the range of your lapel width (no skinny ties with wide lapels, or vice versa). Stick to dark colors such as navy, dark green, dark brown, and burgundy for the most versatility.  

Knitwear and Shoes

For sweaters, get a couple of plain v-necks if you plan to wear them underneath sport coats. Colors such as solid navy, brown, grey, and burgundy work well. If you plan to wear your sweaters more casually (that is, without a sport coat), I recommend picking something a bit more textured or patterned to make things interesting. Arans, Fair Isles, cable knits, and buttoned mock necks are just a few of the ones I like.  You can even layer them on weekends with outerwear like this.

Finally, for shoes, I recommend these seven

Everything Else

Of course, these are just guidelines, and you should choose things that are right for your lifestyle and sense of taste. If you want a pair of double monks, by all means get a pair. But don’t go out and splurge on eight of them, especially if you’re just starting out. Build a foundation of classic, versatile basics, and let your taste and sense of dress mature before you buy wilder things. If you have a closet full of pin dot cutaway collar shirts, blackwatch tartan pants, and double monks in every animal skin you could find, you’re headed for a purge in a maybe a year’s time.

While you’re acquiring all these things, learn how clothes should fit. These guides should help. Also, find a good alterations tailor while you’re at it. Whether you shop at Land’s End or Loro Piana, a good alterations tailor will make your clothes look twice as good and three times as expensive.

But all this is the easy part. The hard part is in knowing how to wear your clothes well. That comes with a lot of practice and finding things that best suit your needs and personality. 

What Is Selvedge Denim? Why Does A Selvedge Matter?
I grew up in a fabric-obsessed house. My mom dedicated a whole bedroom to an enormous pedal loom, and when we were broke, she’d trade scarves and shawls for haircuts. She doesn’t have a loom anymore, but she still buys and sells vintage fabric on the side. The sound of a clattering shuttle and the hand of a beautiful fabric are baked into my DNA.
The selvedge (or selvage) in “selvedge denim” is a question of weaving, but it’s also a question of symbolism. I’ll explain.
The Woven Difference
Let’s start with the technical. Fabric is woven by a loom. Shuttle looms, which were the standard until the mid-20th century, weave a relatively narrow length of fabric, with finished edges. The edges are called the selvedge. You can see them above - they’re the things with the colorful stripes.
Without a selvedge, a seam like the ones above would have to be finished with thread. Turn a t-shirt inside-out and you’ll see edges finished this way. The role of the finishing here is to prevent the weave from unraveling at the fabric’s edge.
The Loom Diaspora
Shuttle looms fell out of broad use in the years after World War II, when more efficient technologies were developed. These new projectile looms didn’t require a bulky shuttle and could produce much wider lengths of fabric. As demand for jeans (and in turn, denim) ramped up, it was met by these new, hyper-efficient machines. But: wide fabric lengths and superfast industrial machines mean that instead of using the woven edges that the old looms wove, fabric was cut and the edges bound with thread. That’s still how the fabric edges of most mass-market jeans are finished today.
As these new machines were introduced, the old machines were decommissioned, and the story goes that over the years, many found their way to Japan, where some had landed in the post World War reconstruction. (Whether that story’s true is a matter of debate.) In the 1980s, an artisinal denim movement, fueled by a passion for Americana, emerged in the far East, and in the 2000s, it found its way to the US. At the same time, America’s textile production was dwindling to nearly nothing.
Selvedge As Cultural Signifier
The selvedge became a cultural signifier. Japanese enthusiasts could turn their cuff slightly to show that they either had vintage jeans - made when the old looms were still in service - or they had new jeans made from fabric woven on old looms. In large part, that’s still what the selvedge means today. Sure, the selvedge edge is a little less likely to fray than the bound edge, but when was the last time the edge of the fabric in your jeans frayed?
When you pay for selvedge, you’re buying a symbolic message that you care, and a message from the manufacturer that they do, too. Here’s a parallel: traditionally, the bottom-most buttonhole of a shirt has been horizontally oriented. It maybe has some practical purpose, but mostly the presence of that horizontal buttonhole means: “I care,” for both wearer and manufacturer.
So Why Does It Matter?
These days, you can buy selvedge denim for $40 from Converse, $89 from The Gap or $350 from The Flat Head. The fabrics and details on these jeans are likely very different. The design choices and cut are different. The marketing is different. Almost everything, in other words, can be different.
The thing they share is that little colored stripe.

What Is Selvedge Denim? Why Does A Selvedge Matter?

I grew up in a fabric-obsessed house. My mom dedicated a whole bedroom to an enormous pedal loom, and when we were broke, she’d trade scarves and shawls for haircuts. She doesn’t have a loom anymore, but she still buys and sells vintage fabric on the side. The sound of a clattering shuttle and the hand of a beautiful fabric are baked into my DNA.

The selvedge (or selvage) in “selvedge denim” is a question of weaving, but it’s also a question of symbolism. I’ll explain.

The Woven Difference

Let’s start with the technical. Fabric is woven by a loom. Shuttle looms, which were the standard until the mid-20th century, weave a relatively narrow length of fabric, with finished edges. The edges are called the selvedge. You can see them above - they’re the things with the colorful stripes.

Without a selvedge, a seam like the ones above would have to be finished with thread. Turn a t-shirt inside-out and you’ll see edges finished this way. The role of the finishing here is to prevent the weave from unraveling at the fabric’s edge.

The Loom Diaspora

Shuttle looms fell out of broad use in the years after World War II, when more efficient technologies were developed. These new projectile looms didn’t require a bulky shuttle and could produce much wider lengths of fabric. As demand for jeans (and in turn, denim) ramped up, it was met by these new, hyper-efficient machines. But: wide fabric lengths and superfast industrial machines mean that instead of using the woven edges that the old looms wove, fabric was cut and the edges bound with thread. That’s still how the fabric edges of most mass-market jeans are finished today.

As these new machines were introduced, the old machines were decommissioned, and the story goes that over the years, many found their way to Japan, where some had landed in the post World War reconstruction. (Whether that story’s true is a matter of debate.) In the 1980s, an artisinal denim movement, fueled by a passion for Americana, emerged in the far East, and in the 2000s, it found its way to the US. At the same time, America’s textile production was dwindling to nearly nothing.

Selvedge As Cultural Signifier

The selvedge became a cultural signifier. Japanese enthusiasts could turn their cuff slightly to show that they either had vintage jeans - made when the old looms were still in service - or they had new jeans made from fabric woven on old looms. In large part, that’s still what the selvedge means today. Sure, the selvedge edge is a little less likely to fray than the bound edge, but when was the last time the edge of the fabric in your jeans frayed?

When you pay for selvedge, you’re buying a symbolic message that you care, and a message from the manufacturer that they do, too. Here’s a parallel: traditionally, the bottom-most buttonhole of a shirt has been horizontally oriented. It maybe has some practical purpose, but mostly the presence of that horizontal buttonhole means: “I care,” for both wearer and manufacturer.

So Why Does It Matter?

These days, you can buy selvedge denim for $40 from Converse, $89 from The Gap or $350 from The Flat Head. The fabrics and details on these jeans are likely very different. The design choices and cut are different. The marketing is different. Almost everything, in other words, can be different.

The thing they share is that little colored stripe.

Our Editorial Policies - Elaborated.

The Basics

Given Derek’s excellent post about conflicts of interest in the fashion media industry, I thought I’d elaborate on our editorial policies a little.

The basics: we work really hard to behave in a way that encourages and allows you to trust us. We believe really strongly in editorial independence, even if we can’t quite afford to hire a business guy or lady to literally separate editorial and business. So we have some simple, clear policies.

  • We do not write or publish sponsored posts, or include sponsored content in our editorial posts.

  • We return or donate to charity all review garments.

  • We disclose when we write about an advertiser.

  • We don’t let our business relationships get in the way of our editorial objectivity.

These have been our policies since the beginning, with the exception of our review garment policy, which we changed six months or so ago. Used to be we just disclosed whether something was provided to us for review, now we actually physically return or donate it, simply because we were seeing so many fluff reviews on menswear blogs that seemed to reflect an interest in free clothes over editorial judgement.

Ads & the Best Firewall We Can Build For Now

At the moment, we simply don’t have the revenue to hire a separate employee to handle ads and revenue. I do some of it, Derek does some of it, and my MaximumFun.org colleague Jennifer Marmor does some of it. This is a part-time job for all of us, so we have to rely on our personal integrity and some structural stuff to keep our content untainted and our site useful to you.

We very rarely actively sell our advertising - we respond to inquiries with a standard rate card. It works great for us, and we’re mostly sold out for months into the future. If we happen to be writing something that might include an advertiser’s products, we always mention they’re an advertiser, and we have absolutely no compunction about absolute honesty. Derek, Pete and I consider it a matter of personal integrity not to allow our editorial judgement to be tainted. We take it seriously.

We also strive to have advertising on the site that isn’t annoying. No animation, no sound, simple images, simple links, nothing crazy ugly. Just a portion of one sidebar, nothing between posts, and certainly nothing that covers up content or has to be clicked off. We think you prefer to support businesses that respect you and your relationship with our content.

Affiliate Links and Pseudo-Ads

The only affiliate links we use are very, very occasional Amazon links, and eBay affiliate links in our eBay roundups. We’re comfortable with the eBay links because our roundups were a regular feature years before we even knew there was an eBay affiliate program. We love those posts editorially, and we’re happy to accept incidental money for them. The Amazon links I put in when I remember - usually it’s a book or something.

When writing about invite-only sites (like, say, Gilt), we do sometimes offer invites, and those have credit kickbacks. Obviously, we always write something like, “if you need an invite, you can use ours.” The amounts involved are pretty modest.

"Our Beloved Sponsors" Posts

Twice a month, we write an advertiser thank-you post. These are clearly labeled, and do not include editorial content. They include factual descriptions of the companies who advertise and what they’re offering. No reviews, no judgements, no calls-to-action. We include these posts in our advertising packages because we think it’s important to offer our advertisers the chance to reach our 300,000+ subscribers on Tumblr and ~100K RSS subscribers. And of course because we are genuinely grateful to have sponsors.

Our Own Products

Occasionally, we offer our own products for sale. Obviously, this includes the Gentlemen’s Association and our pocket squares, our ballcaps and our sort-of-annual White Tee group buy. We make money on all this stuff, and of course endorse it - I mean, we make it. I think all of this is clearly disclosed. Our primary business is creating editorial. This is a fun thing we do on the side.

What We Wish Everyone Would Do

Several people have asked me questions along these lines: “How do I know if I can trust a media source, if so many people are tainted?”

The main thing I’d suggest is to ask them if they have a policy. If they don’t, they should. If they do, read it. Does it make sense to you?

What I don’t want is for you to write off all media. That’s the classic reality TV dilemma - the consumer saying, “well, it’s all fake!” means that someone who’s trying to be anything other than fake loses. Push for a more responsible fashion media, not a less responsible one.

On The Ways We Judge Fashion and Taste
After Saturday’s post on the coming 1930s fashion exhibit, I spent some time re-watching clips from our second season. I’m really proud of our videos, although I have nothing to do with their production. All the credit there goes to Jesse, Ben, Dave, and the many people who contributed to our funding.
One of my favorite segments is our feature on ‘Lo Heads – a type of person who collects Polo Ralph Lauren clothing, often the pieces made between the years of 1992 and ‘94. Growing up in the ’90s, I actually had a number of friends that were ‘Lo Heads. At the time in Los Angeles, collecting and wearing Polo was very much connected to a particular underground dance scene, and I spent much of my youth going to clubs to watch guys dance in the flashiest Ralph Lauren gear you can imagine. 
Our feature was poorly received by some readers, which prompted Jesse to write a thoughtful piece on the discursive act of dressing, and what it means for a population of young, (mostly) Black men to obsess over what’s (largely) a white line of clothing. I refrained from writing anything because – it seems to me – like many things dealing with youth subcultures, you either identify with it or you don’t. I liked the segment simply because it reminded me of my time as a teenager.
But upon revisiting the video, and thinking about sartorial history, it struck me that perhaps there’s something else to be said about the way we judge fashion.

Remember Saturday’s brief mention of zoot suits? Zoot suits were exaggerated forms of the London drape cut – a silhouette where a jacket’s waist is pinched, and chest and upper back are made a bit full, in order to give the wearer a more of an athletic figure. It was invented by Frederick Scholte, who happened to be the tailor for Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor – a man largely considered the arbiter of good taste in the early 20th century. By virtue of him wearing the silhouette, it became somewhat popular among a certain class of people (mostly wealthy elites and Hollywood stars).
Since fashion is often a game of one-upmanship, traits that start off modestly soon become exaggerated. So it was with the drape cut, which begat the zoot suit. Inches of fabric were added to the chest; the jacket was lengthened down to the thighs; the sleeves were made so full that they looked like trouser legs. It was a style calculated to be bold and outrageous - perfect for a youth subculture - and it really caught on with young Italians, Blacks, and Latinos, who at the time occupied the “lower” tiers of American social order.
The story of the zoot suit isn’t just about how a certain cut caught on, however. It’s also about politics. At the height of the zoot suit’s popularity (the 1940s), the US government had rationing programs so that raw materials could be conserved for the war effort. This was doubly true in England, where "make do and mend" were the watchwords that set style trends.
The result was a sartorial conflict. While most men were tastefully sacrificing things like pleats, so that less cloth was needed to make pants, these youths were walking around in suits big enough to fit two people. To those not of the culture, it looked unpatriotic and conspicuously extravagant, particularly for men who presumably had little money.
There was also a lot of racial identity tied to the zoot suit. Although some whites wore it, it was largely identified with Blacks and Latinos. When telling the story of zoot suits, it’s hard to not mention people’s attitudes towards race and class. The Zoot Suit Riots, which left more than 150 people injured, were just as much about rising tensions between whites and Latinos as they were about people’s attitudes towards the war.  

There’s actually a somewhat similar story in Nazi-occupied France, where young Parisians known as les zazous sported a zoot-suit-esque fashion. Les zazous too were rebelling against the (Vichy) government’s decree for rationing. Their choice in clothing wasn’t disliked just because it required a lot of cloth however, but also because it represented a bigger “threat” to a society. Vichy government supporters viewed it as being part and parcel with other “bad” things - degenerate taste in music and language (as such youths listened to jazz and used American slang), laziness, and a sympathy towards Jews.
Above are some cartoons from anti-zazous publications, one of which shows a policeman forcefully shaving off a young man’s long hair, which at the time was viewed as an identifier of these “jazz-loving, slang-using, work-avoiding, Jew-befriending” youths and their morality. 
I’m not enough of a relativist to say that everything is subjective. In many ways, the baggy cut of the zoot suit looks outright silly. And, I can imagine that if you didn’t grow up in a culture with ‘Lo Heads, that sort of dress can look strange as well. At the same time, it can be difficult to view any of these things without our pre-existing biases on class. In other words, how we feel about certain fashions - what is “good taste” or “bad taste” - is often deeply tied to how we feel about the people wearing those said fashions in the first place.
Let’s be clear: I’m not accusing the critics of our video of being racist or classist, any more than I’d want to be accused of being racist or classist for liking the dress practices of old-money Anglo-Americans. I’m simply saying it’s hard to set aside our pre-existing social or political views when it comes to judging fashion, style, or taste. All dressing comes in a cultural context - it’s a context we inherit and sometimes have to look hard to see.

If you’re not convinced, ask yourself how did everyone come to dress like English gentlemen? How did the colorful, extravagant garb of men – from French kings to Chinese nobles – give way to the austere, drab clothes that British aristocrats favor? It’s hard to explain this without talking about the rise of the Second British Empire (1783-1815) and Britain’s imperial century (1815-1914), and how people around the world subsequently came to view aristocratic British values and culture. 
Or set aside the world, and ask how the suit came to symbolize authority and power within the narrower context of British society. British men of a certain class used to wear frock coats – a knee-length suit jacket style that was popular during 18th and 19th centuries. Then, a Scottish socialist named Keir Hardie wore the lounge suit (what we think of today as the business suit) to Parliament as an MP in 1892. It was controversial, but he did so to signal his solidarity with ordinary workingmen. A few decades later, the young heir Edward VIII wore the lounge suit as a sort of rebellion against his father the king (who upheld social norms by wearing much more formal clothes). The lounge suit was considered too casual for someone of Edward VIII’s class, and his father hated him for wearing it, but he was so often photographed in a lounge suit that it became acceptable for other men of power to wear it as well. It’s a legacy that continues today, as the lounge suit is pretty much the de-facto uniform for presidents, prime ministers, and kings.

The unwelcomed co-optation of upper-class style by ‘Lo Heads is hardly new. In London in the 1950s, young men from poorer sections of English society started wearing old Edwardian fashions. They were known as “Teddy Boys” and they dressed in a style that some Savile Row clients grew to after WWII (of course, because they lacked money, Teddy Boys did not get their clothes from Savile Row). The Teddy Boys were characterized by drainpipe trousers, long jackets, pointed collars, and fancy waistcoats. There’s a great BBC segment on them here.
The sartorial choices of the Teddy Boys and ‘Lo Heads were received by their respective societies in much the same way: that is, not well. It’s not surprising because, for most people, these were not well-regarded groups to begin with. Our attitudes about how someone dresses is often just as much about how we feel about that person’s background as it is about the “objective” fashion itself. And frankly, the underlying tension of class is why Teddy Boys and ‘Lo Heads dress the way they do in the first place. That twisting of the style and its meaning is … kind of the point. 

On The Ways We Judge Fashion and Taste

After Saturday’s post on the coming 1930s fashion exhibit, I spent some time re-watching clips from our second season. I’m really proud of our videos, although I have nothing to do with their production. All the credit there goes to Jesse, Ben, Dave, and the many people who contributed to our funding.

One of my favorite segments is our feature on ‘Lo Heads – a type of person who collects Polo Ralph Lauren clothing, often the pieces made between the years of 1992 and ‘94. Growing up in the ’90s, I actually had a number of friends that were ‘Lo Heads. At the time in Los Angeles, collecting and wearing Polo was very much connected to a particular underground dance scene, and I spent much of my youth going to clubs to watch guys dance in the flashiest Ralph Lauren gear you can imagine. 

Our feature was poorly received by some readers, which prompted Jesse to write a thoughtful piece on the discursive act of dressing, and what it means for a population of young, (mostly) Black men to obsess over what’s (largely) a white line of clothing. I refrained from writing anything because – it seems to me – like many things dealing with youth subcultures, you either identify with it or you don’t. I liked the segment simply because it reminded me of my time as a teenager.

But upon revisiting the video, and thinking about sartorial history, it struck me that perhaps there’s something else to be said about the way we judge fashion.



Remember Saturday’s brief mention of zoot suits? Zoot suits were exaggerated forms of the London drape cut – a silhouette where a jacket’s waist is pinched, and chest and upper back are made a bit full, in order to give the wearer a more of an athletic figure. It was invented by Frederick Scholte, who happened to be the tailor for Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor – a man largely considered the arbiter of good taste in the early 20th century. By virtue of him wearing the silhouette, it became somewhat popular among a certain class of people (mostly wealthy elites and Hollywood stars).

Since fashion is often a game of one-upmanship, traits that start off modestly soon become exaggerated. So it was with the drape cut, which begat the zoot suit. Inches of fabric were added to the chest; the jacket was lengthened down to the thighs; the sleeves were made so full that they looked like trouser legs. It was a style calculated to be bold and outrageous - perfect for a youth subculture - and it really caught on with young Italians, Blacks, and Latinos, who at the time occupied the “lower” tiers of American social order.

The story of the zoot suit isn’t just about how a certain cut caught on, however. It’s also about politics. At the height of the zoot suit’s popularity (the 1940s), the US government had rationing programs so that raw materials could be conserved for the war effort. This was doubly true in England, where "make do and mend" were the watchwords that set style trends.

The result was a sartorial conflict. While most men were tastefully sacrificing things like pleats, so that less cloth was needed to make pants, these youths were walking around in suits big enough to fit two people. To those not of the culture, it looked unpatriotic and conspicuously extravagant, particularly for men who presumably had little money.

There was also a lot of racial identity tied to the zoot suit. Although some whites wore it, it was largely identified with Blacks and Latinos. When telling the story of zoot suits, it’s hard to not mention people’s attitudes towards race and class. The Zoot Suit Riots, which left more than 150 people injured, were just as much about rising tensions between whites and Latinos as they were about people’s attitudes towards the war. 



There’s actually a somewhat similar story in Nazi-occupied France, where young Parisians known as les zazous sported a zoot-suit-esque fashion. Les zazous too were rebelling against the (Vichy) government’s decree for rationing. Their choice in clothing wasn’t disliked just because it required a lot of cloth however, but also because it represented a bigger “threat” to a society. Vichy government supporters viewed it as being part and parcel with other “bad” things - degenerate taste in music and language (as such youths listened to jazz and used American slang), laziness, and a sympathy towards Jews.

Above are some cartoons from anti-zazous publications, one of which shows a policeman forcefully shaving off a young man’s long hair, which at the time was viewed as an identifier of these “jazz-loving, slang-using, work-avoiding, Jew-befriending” youths and their morality. 

I’m not enough of a relativist to say that everything is subjective. In many ways, the baggy cut of the zoot suit looks outright silly. And, I can imagine that if you didn’t grow up in a culture with ‘Lo Heads, that sort of dress can look strange as well. At the same time, it can be difficult to view any of these things without our pre-existing biases on class. In other words, how we feel about certain fashions - what is “good taste” or “bad taste” - is often deeply tied to how we feel about the people wearing those said fashions in the first place.

Let’s be clear: I’m not accusing the critics of our video of being racist or classist, any more than I’d want to be accused of being racist or classist for liking the dress practices of old-money Anglo-Americans. I’m simply saying it’s hard to set aside our pre-existing social or political views when it comes to judging fashion, style, or taste. All dressing comes in a cultural context - it’s a context we inherit and sometimes have to look hard to see.



If you’re not convinced, ask yourself how did everyone come to dress like English gentlemen? How did the colorful, extravagant garb of men – from French kings to Chinese nobles – give way to the austere, drab clothes that British aristocrats favor? It’s hard to explain this without talking about the rise of the Second British Empire (1783-1815) and Britain’s imperial century (1815-1914), and how people around the world subsequently came to view aristocratic British values and culture. 

Or set aside the world, and ask how the suit came to symbolize authority and power within the narrower context of British society. British men of a certain class used to wear frock coats – a knee-length suit jacket style that was popular during 18th and 19th centuries. Then, a Scottish socialist named Keir Hardie wore the lounge suit (what we think of today as the business suit) to Parliament as an MP in 1892. It was controversial, but he did so to signal his solidarity with ordinary workingmen. A few decades later, the young heir Edward VIII wore the lounge suit as a sort of rebellion against his father the king (who upheld social norms by wearing much more formal clothes). The lounge suit was considered too casual for someone of Edward VIII’s class, and his father hated him for wearing it, but he was so often photographed in a lounge suit that it became acceptable for other men of power to wear it as well. It’s a legacy that continues today, as the lounge suit is pretty much the de-facto uniform for presidents, prime ministers, and kings.



The unwelcomed co-optation of upper-class style by ‘Lo Heads is hardly new. In London in the 1950s, young men from poorer sections of English society started wearing old Edwardian fashions. They were known as “Teddy Boys” and they dressed in a style that some Savile Row clients grew to after WWII (of course, because they lacked money, Teddy Boys did not get their clothes from Savile Row). The Teddy Boys were characterized by drainpipe trousers, long jackets, pointed collars, and fancy waistcoats. There’s a great BBC segment on them here.

The sartorial choices of the Teddy Boys and ‘Lo Heads were received by their respective societies in much the same way: that is, not well. It’s not surprising because, for most people, these were not well-regarded groups to begin with. Our attitudes about how someone dresses is often just as much about how we feel about that person’s background as it is about the “objective” fashion itself. And frankly, the underlying tension of class is why Teddy Boys and ‘Lo Heads dress the way they do in the first place. That twisting of the style and its meaning is … kind of the point. 

Alternative Markets

If you purchase your clothes online (and you probably do), you’re aware that the online marketplace for clothing—sure, for everything—has exploded in the last decade. First, established stores began selling their wares online, then warehouse-backed, online only behemoths like Yoox and Mr. Porter showed up. The vast gray market of eBay has been another source of growth for both new and used stuff, providing a place to snag vintage, deadstock, and new clothing and accessories from well beyond your local Goodwill/Buffalo Exchange. Also, helpfully, a place to dump your own regrets and didn’t fits. Of course you pay for access, through eBay fees and transaction charges.

Recently we’ve seen more independent options compete with eBay in the secondary men’s clothing market. As a seller, I always like to see more outlets where I can sell my stuff, particularly when listing is easy and cheap/free, and where the people browsing will be knowledgeable about what I’m selling. As a buyer, smaller markets can mean less competition and less chaff to sort through.

Styleforum Marketplace

The Styleforum buying and selling forum has historically been the best non-retail place to find niche men’s clothing online. Although not easy to search, it’s simple to browse and, once you register, pretty simple to use. Styleforum has a custom tool for setting up listings with photos and details. Styleforum management is relatively laissez faire and does not get involved in transactions or disputes. There are rules, though, and a feedback system. Listings are split between “classic menswear" (mostly tailoring and traditional men’s clothing; e.g., suits you’d wear to work, sweaters and pants you’d wear out to dinner with your in-laws), and "streetwear & denim" (mostly non-tailored and designer stuff, e.g., high-end workwear and edgier stuff). Sellers who want to maximize visibility and sell at a high volume can pay for better placement; some earn legitimate livings selling exclusively through Styleforum.

Superfuture Supermarket

Another forum marketplace, one even simpler than Styleforum’s, because Superfuture listings are plain ol’ threads just like any other on the forum. As for the what you’ll see here, it’s seriously niche interest stuff. Up and coming designers, rare streetwear, and for lack of a better word, gothninja. Like Styleforum, Superfuture mostly stays out of the way and lets members negotiate and work out payment amongst themselves.

Que Pasa Shop

A new concept is a storefront like Que Pasa Shop, with a limited pool of sellers and a managed payment system. Que Pasa’s system means that the stock is more tightly edited than the constantly moving free-for-all of forum classifieds. Que Pasa reviews all items before they post, and holds payment until sellers enter shipment tracking information, adding a level of trust for buyers. Payments are processed through Paypal. Que Pasa, however, takes 15% of each sale price. Que Pasa does additional merchandising through their blog, which, frankly, looks pretty cool.

Grailed

A similar but more straightforwardly user-driven site is Grailed. The name is a reference to the sort of rare, sought-after items you might conceivably quest for, and the products currently on offer are a very broad mix of obscure designers and much more accessible stuff. The site allows you to filter items displayed by designer, size, etc., in an intuitive way, making it easy to narrow down the selection to what you’re interested in. Grailed uses Paypal and expects buyers or sellers to resolve any issues through Paypal’s buyer and seller protection policies; for now, the site is not charging users any sort of fee. As its user base broadens, it will be interesting to see how Grailed’s stock changes. Anecdotally, I saw quite a few items on Grailed that are also listed on forums and eBay.

Bureau of Trade

Bureau of Trade has built an attractive, Monocle-y looking, humor-laced site around, essentially, aggregating interesting eBay listings. They list more than clothes, branching into cars, art objects, and puppies. It’s fun to browse but truthfully I already know a good place for eBay finds.

-Pete

Put This On’s Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Every year we hear from the brothers, parents, wives, girlfriends and best pals of fashionable gentlemen. They ask us: what should I get my guy for Christmas? Well, we’ve got a holiday guide for you. Our goals: convenience, timelessness, and near-universal applicability.

Below are our picks. We’d also love it if you checked out the offerings of our beloved advertisers, not to mention our own goods. We offer hand-made pocket squares, by the piece or in subscriptions, and we’ve still got a few of our American-made baseball caps left. And if all of that isn’t enough, check out our 2011 and 2012 guides for more ideas. Again: timeless.

But for now… to the gifts!


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An Antique Stickpin

Lately, I’ve taken to occasionally adorning my lapel buttonhole with a small stickpin. Men don’t get much chance to wear jewelry, and as long as the pin is muted in design and small in size, this is a nice way to do it. Jewelry, of course, is a wonderful gift, and you can find a fine stickpin for as little as a hundred dollars or so, or a costumier one for twenty. Even superb Edwardian and Victorian examples like the one above rarely go for more than a few hundred. An eBay search will reveal the possibilities. - Jesse


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Artist / Rebel / Dandy: Men of Fashion

I’ve been sitting with this big beautiful book, the companion to RISD Museum’s exhibition of the same name, and really enjoying it. There are some scholarly articles (a bit obtuse), some dandy profiles (often charming, occasionally a bit hagiographic) and a lot of amazing, spectacular pictures. A perfect gift, whether your giftee is an artist, a rebel, a dandy - or just wants to imagine himself as one. - Jesse


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Hilditch & Key Pyjamas

If you’re writing about British sleepwear, you get to spell it with a “y,” right? Hilditch & Key is one of England’s most respected shirtmakers, and in addition to shirts, they sell PJs. Flannel, twill or broadcloth, they’ve got it all, and on sale they’re quite reasonably priced, though delivery to the U.S. isn’t cheap. They even have long nightshirts, if that’s your thing. - Jesse


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Merz B. Schwanen Socks

It’s rare that I fall in love with a product based on a picture on the internet, but when I saw these Merz B. Schwanen socks on Where Is The Cool, I found myself leaping to the search field on my browser and tracking down European websites from which I might buy them. They’re not cheap, but they’re beautiful. If you prefer a more affordable alternative, try Wigwam. - Jesse


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Cedar For The Closet

If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer, why not some cedar for closets and underwear drawers? Sierra Trading Post has Great American Hanger Company’s hangers, rings, balls and sachets for less than five bucks, before you even apply one of their ubiquitous coupons. A bit of cedar oil can keep the wood fragrant for years. - Jesse


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Vintage Deadstock French Work Jacket

The classic French worker’s jacket is cotton with a plain buttoned front. It’s been made famous in the US by the photographer Bill Cunningham. The French vintage shop Le Magasin General has them for 35 Euros - about fifty bucks. - Jesse


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Les McCann & Eddie Harris: Swiss Movement

There are few records that can be relied upon in any company, in any context. Swiss Movement is one of them. One of jazz’s greatest LPs, it’s lively, fun and beautiful. It doesn’t require a degree in jazz studies to enjoy, but you can listen to it over and over again and get something new every time (trust me - I have). A perfect album for your giftee’s morning dress routing, or their evening cocktail parties. - Jesse


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Gordy’s Camera Straps

I needed a strap for my camera - something better than the hideous nylon-and-plastic monstrosity that came with it. I turned to Gordy’s Camera Straps, and I couldn’t have been happier with the result. They allow you to customize leather color, length, binding color, attachment and everything else. The quality was superb and the price is excellent (about thirty bucks). The perfect gift for a photographer on your list. - Jesse


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A Kiva Gift Card

Kiva is an NGO which specializes in third-world microlending. They offer small loans to poor people who otherwise would lack access to capital. The loans are low-interest, but are repayable, like any other, and the impressively high repayment rate makes an investment in Kiva a great way to make an impact on third-world poverty. They offer gift cards in any amount, and your giftee can reinvest his gift (and see it repaid) again and again. (Thanks, A.M.) - Jesse


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Knit Cap

Winter accessories are easy Christmas gifts; the only problem is you the recipient gets them halfway through the cold-weather season. A distinctive cap that will last a few years is the best choice. I’d love a Buzz Rickson replica WWII watch cap or a Scotland-made striped or fair isle cap from J. Press; for the budget-minded there’s the always reliable but essentially disposable surplus wool caps. - Pete


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Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection
A fastidious and carefully orchestrated discussion and illustration of Wes Anderson’s fastidious and carefully orchestrated films. With full-bleed, colorful film stills and illustrations, this is not a candidate for your Kindle. The art complements accompanying essays and a long interview with Anderson by Zoller Seitz, TV critic for New York Magazine. Say what you want about his films, but Wes Anderson is maybe our culture’s best argument for corduroy suits and Wallabees. - Pete

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Brady Ariel Trout Bag with Liner

English maker Brady’s flagship fishing bag is fantastic for carrying fly fishing tackle or camera equipment, but because of the generous size and removable, rubberized liner, it’s also supposed to make a great diaper bag. As a soon-to-be dad to twins, I think I’ll need two. - Pete


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Subscription to a Magazine He Probably Can’t Read

Maybe Men’s Non-no, Huge, Free & Easy, and Popeye are as shallow and disappointingly ad-driven as most American men’s magazines, but I can’t read Japanese so I’ll never know. You can buy Japanese men’s magazines one issue at a time at places like Kinokuniya, and subscriptions through services like Acclaim.  A 12-month, 12-issue subscription to Popeye is around $200, but it’s exactly the kind of gift I like—something that defies practicality. - Pete


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Good Coffee

I recently moved into a new apartment and it turns out my landlord is a famous coffee expert. His website, Coffee Review, has a page dedicated to exceptionally good roasts. I imagine any of those would make for a great gift for a coffee lover. (Note, I’m not getting anything by plugging my landlord’s website, I just think it’s a good resource). - Derek


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Shoe Care Box

A nice box to hold shoe care supplies would be great for anyone who’s fastidious about their footwear. I listed some options here a couple of years ago, but just picked up this from Gerstner recently. They’re a bit more expensive, but exceptionally well made and, perhaps most importantly, big enough to hold all the shoe care supplies one might own. They also have nice cases for other types of enthusiasts and hobbyists. - Derek


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O’Connell’s Shetland Sweaters

I really fell in love with O’Connell’s Shetland sweaters this year. They’re the best Shetlands I’ve come across - dense enough to be hardy, but not so dense that they’re bulky. I recommend going one up from your giftee’s sport coat size. Note, the colors on O’Connell’s website are a bit washed out, so I took some photos of my Shetlands here for reference. - Derek


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A Nice Fragrance

If you want to give a fragrance, it would be hard to go wrong with Creed’s Green Irish Tweed or L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Timbuktu (both of which we’ve recommended in the past). I also really like Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet and Terre d’Hermes by Hermes. All four would be good, but safe, bets. - Derek


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Leather Laptop Sleeve

Most laptop cases are a bit of an eyesore, which is why it’s nice to see simple leather designs from companies such as Berg & Berg, Kaufmann Mercantile, and Calabrese. These would be well appreciated by anyone who puts thought into how they dress - regardless if they like to wear sport coats and ties, or something more causal such as field jackets with chinos. - Derek  


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Framed Photograph

For family members and close friends, consider giving a simple, framed photograph of you and your giftee, perhaps taken in the past year. You can find nice frames at Tiffany & Co. and Ralph Lauren, or more affordably at Target and Michaels. This past Thanksgiving, a friend of mine pulled out a photo I gifted him fifteen years ago. These kind of things really do become more special with age. - Derek

The US Government on Suits

StyleForum member CrimsonSox recently found this fascinating guide on how to buy a suit, surprisingly published in 1949 by the US government. This 24-page book covers everything from suit quality to proper fit, and gives a level of sophisticated detail that would be hard to find in many men’s magazines today. 

There are some things here, however, that limit this book’s practicality for today’s use. For example, there’s no discussion of fused suits, which today makes up much of the market. The tips given for how to discern quality also seem like they mostly apply to the extremes. That is, it’s like telling someone how they can tell if they’re looking at a Kiton suit vs. something you’d buy at one of those shops that sells five suits and a beeper for $200. Most people probably don’t need a guide for that - they’re usually trying to discern the quality between two very similarly priced garments (which is very hard, if not impossible, to judge). 

Still, it points to some things that go into making a suit jacket, which is fun to know, and the guide on how a suit should fit is pretty good. Best of all, the first eight pages has a great overview of fabrics (especially pages 6 and 7), which is useful if you’ve ever wondered what words such as gabardine, serge, covert, and tropical worsted mean. 

You can download the book by clicking on the “gear icon” button, located at the right hand side of Google Book’s site. To read more, you can check out the other guides the US Department of Agriculture published as part of their Home and Garden Bulletins. Here’s one on how to mend men’s suits, for example, and here’s one on the fitting of women’s suits and coats

"Does It Fit?" Checklist
A friend of mine recently had to get a new suit for a wedding (not his), and asked for my advice on how to tell if a suit jacket fits. I thought about sending him to the various guides Jesse and I have written on the topic, but realized they might be too much to read for someone who doesn’t have a particular interest in menswear. So I wrote out a very basic checklist – something simple, practical, and easy-to-use for how to evaluate if a suit jacket or sport coat fits, with links to longer articles in case anyone wants to read more. 
The Basics
The guiding principle for how a suit jacket should fit is pretty simple. There should be clean lines all around, with no puckering or pulling anywhere, and the jacket should flatter the body (this doesn’t mean it should be super tight). Looking at photos of our friends Voxsartoria and MostExerent can be instructive. 
More specifically …
Shoulders: The shoulder line should be clean, not lumpy, and the ends of your jacket’s shoulders should generally coincide with the ends of your natural shoulders.
Chest: Most off-the-rack suits are designed so that the jacket’s chest stays fairly close to your body, but if you see the lapels starting to buckle, that means your jacket is too small.
Length: If you want something classic, the hem of your jacket should hit roughly midway between your jacket’s collar and the floor.
Collar: The collar should stay glued to your neck, even when you move your arms about (within reason).
Sleeves: Make sure the sleeves fall cleanly. There shouldn’t be any divots or wrinkles when you hang your arms naturally by your side.
Sleeve length: Few jackets will have a perfect sleeve length off-the-rack, so most will need to be altered. Just make sure that after alterations, you have about a half inch of shirt cuff peeking out. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be made difficult by what’s called “working buttonholes.”
Vents: The vents should stay closed when you’re wearing the jacket, but this is hard to tell in a store because vents are usually sewn shut on a new garment. Take a seam ripper and remove these when you’re home, and just make sure they remain fairly closed when you have the jacket on.
Waist: There’s some wiggle room here. You can have the waist nipped to give the jacket more shape, or let out if it feels too tight. In the end, just make sure the jacket isn’t pulling at the buttoning point. 
Other Details
After that, there are some other details you might want to pay attention to:
Quarters: This is the colloquial name for the area of your jacket below the buttoning point. Think about whether you like this area closed or open. It can make a big difference in how your jacket looks. 
Buttoning point: On a three-button jacket, button the middle button, and on a two-button jacket, button the top. Notice where this point sits. Ideally, it should be at your natural waist, though fashion designers have been placing it higher and higher. Be aware that an overly high buttoning point can make you look heavier than you are.
Lapels: Skinny lapels have been en vogue for a few years now (thanks to Mad Men), but are possibly on their way out. I presume the next fad will be wide lapels at some point. For something classic, stick to something that ends half way between your collar and shoulder point.
Notch: Pay attention to where the notches are placed on your lapel. It’s been fashionable to have them very high up on the body, sometimes almost near the top of the shoulders, but like low notches in the 1980s, these will probably go out of fashion at some point. Be wary of extremes. 
Balance: When looking at the jacket from the side, the front and back hem should even with each other, or the front should be slightly longer than the back. When viewed from the front, the left and right sides should generally be even. This is called balance. Truthfully, unless you’re getting something bespoke (and even then, this doesn’t always work out), the second part is rare to achieve. If you have a very dropped shoulder, this can affect how the buttons and buttonholes align, which can then throw off how the jacket looks when buttoned.
The second section above is admittedly a bit nit-picky, but it points to some good things to pay attention to when evaluating how a jacket looks on you. Fortunately, there are some workarounds if you see something you don’t like. If the cut of the quarters doesn’t look good, or if the buttoning point is too high, you can always just wear the jacket unbuttoned. And if the balance is a bit off, you can ask an alterations tailor to move the buttons up a bit so that they align with the buttonholes. Finding the perfect jacket can be difficult, so how much you care about getting the perfect fit will greatly depend on how much time and money you want to spend. But at least now you know what to look for.

"Does It Fit?" Checklist

A friend of mine recently had to get a new suit for a wedding (not his), and asked for my advice on how to tell if a suit jacket fits. I thought about sending him to the various guides Jesse and I have written on the topic, but realized they might be too much to read for someone who doesn’t have a particular interest in menswear. So I wrote out a very basic checklist – something simple, practical, and easy-to-use for how to evaluate if a suit jacket or sport coat fits, with links to longer articles in case anyone wants to read more.

The Basics

The guiding principle for how a suit jacket should fit is pretty simple. There should be clean lines all around, with no puckering or pulling anywhere, and the jacket should flatter the body (this doesn’t mean it should be super tight). Looking at photos of our friends Voxsartoria and MostExerent can be instructive.

More specifically …

  • Shoulders: The shoulder line should be clean, not lumpy, and the ends of your jacket’s shoulders should generally coincide with the ends of your natural shoulders.
  • Chest: Most off-the-rack suits are designed so that the jacket’s chest stays fairly close to your body, but if you see the lapels starting to buckle, that means your jacket is too small.
  • Length: If you want something classic, the hem of your jacket should hit roughly midway between your jacket’s collar and the floor.
  • Collar: The collar should stay glued to your neck, even when you move your arms about (within reason).
  • Sleeves: Make sure the sleeves fall cleanly. There shouldn’t be any divots or wrinkles when you hang your arms naturally by your side.
  • Sleeve length: Few jackets will have a perfect sleeve length off-the-rack, so most will need to be altered. Just make sure that after alterations, you have about a half inch of shirt cuff peeking out. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be made difficult by what’s called “working buttonholes.”
  • Vents: The vents should stay closed when you’re wearing the jacket, but this is hard to tell in a store because vents are usually sewn shut on a new garment. Take a seam ripper and remove these when you’re home, and just make sure they remain fairly closed when you have the jacket on.
  • Waist: There’s some wiggle room here. You can have the waist nipped to give the jacket more shape, or let out if it feels too tight. In the end, just make sure the jacket isn’t pulling at the buttoning point

Other Details

After that, there are some other details you might want to pay attention to:

  • Quarters: This is the colloquial name for the area of your jacket below the buttoning point. Think about whether you like this area closed or open. It can make a big difference in how your jacket looks. 
  • Buttoning point: On a three-button jacket, button the middle button, and on a two-button jacket, button the top. Notice where this point sits. Ideally, it should be at your natural waist, though fashion designers have been placing it higher and higher. Be aware that an overly high buttoning point can make you look heavier than you are.
  • Lapels: Skinny lapels have been en vogue for a few years now (thanks to Mad Men), but are possibly on their way out. I presume the next fad will be wide lapels at some point. For something classic, stick to something that ends half way between your collar and shoulder point.
  • Notch: Pay attention to where the notches are placed on your lapel. It’s been fashionable to have them very high up on the body, sometimes almost near the top of the shoulders, but like low notches in the 1980s, these will probably go out of fashion at some point. Be wary of extremes. 
  • Balance: When looking at the jacket from the side, the front and back hem should even with each other, or the front should be slightly longer than the back. When viewed from the front, the left and right sides should generally be even. This is called balance. Truthfully, unless you’re getting something bespoke (and even then, this doesn’t always work out), the second part is rare to achieve. If you have a very dropped shoulder, this can affect how the buttons and buttonholes align, which can then throw off how the jacket looks when buttoned.

The second section above is admittedly a bit nit-picky, but it points to some good things to pay attention to when evaluating how a jacket looks on you. Fortunately, there are some workarounds if you see something you don’t like. If the cut of the quarters doesn’t look good, or if the buttoning point is too high, you can always just wear the jacket unbuttoned. And if the balance is a bit off, you can ask an alterations tailor to move the buttons up a bit so that they align with the buttonholes. Finding the perfect jacket can be difficult, so how much you care about getting the perfect fit will greatly depend on how much time and money you want to spend. But at least now you know what to look for.

Shopping Japan

Although, technically, legal trade between the United States and Japan has been going on since the 1850s, and Americans and Europeans can order from each others’ webstores as easily as they can order from a store two towns over, Japan’s online retail economy still confounds many an eager shopper. The disconnect is part language barrier and partly technological—many Japanese sites are just not set up to accommodate global e-sales. English speakers are privileged in that most European stores have staff who speak English, or can translate quickly via online tools like Google Translate. English/Japanese translation tools are not nearly as reliable, and sometimes no amount of good will and intentions on the part of both seller and buyer can overcome the communications breakdown. Likewise, even if you can navigate Japanese shopping sites, you often can’t register with or ship to non-Japan addresses.

The state of affairs is even more frustrating because Japan-based brands just make so much cool stuff, and because Japan’s big retailers, like Beams and United Arrows, have the buying power to carry exclusive goods from many brands that you’ll just never see elsewhere. (For instance, Danner still makes Japan-exclusive boots.) And Japan’s secondary market (Yahoo Auctions is analogous to ebay) is full of new and secondhand goods at relatively reasonable prices. Compared to U.S. stores and ebay, the Japanese market is particularly rich in niche and cult brands like Buzz Rickson, Visvim, Undercover, Jun Hashimoto, and Nepenthes/Needles.

How to Use a Proxy or Buying Service

Brad at Harajuju has put together a really solid guide on buying stuff from Japan, the bottom line of which is that your best bet is proxy services; that is, paying someone in Japan to shop for you and then ship goods to you. Brad’s guide has a helpful breakdown of the steps and costs of purchasing through a proxy. He recommends using FromJapan; SutoCorp also has a good reputation. I’ve personally also used the smaller scale StylisticsSpace. (Harajuju and Put This On readers may or may not be shopping for the same stuff, but the process is the same.)

Tips

Some things to remember in addition to Brad’s advice:

  • Be realistic about an item’s marked price vs. what it will cost you. Transaction fees, shipping, and proxy commission all add up.
  • Right now, 1USD is approximately 100JPY, a relatively favorable exchange rate for U.S. shoppers.
  • For Japanese brands, clothing generally runs smaller than U.S.-market clothing.
  • Japan isn’t Nordstrom. Some shops and proxies accommodate returns, but when you order something through a proxy, chances are you’re stuck with it. Consider fees and shipping, at least, as sunk costs, and be prepared for some trial and error. In my experience, if a store makes a mistake (for instance, ships the wrong item), they’ll work with you to fix the mistake.
  • For most U.S.-based brands, you’re better off buying domestically. On average, American-made goods will be more expensive in Japan than in the United States (this goes for European goods, as well). Japan is not a good place to look for discount Alden shoes.
  • Transactions take time. If you want a pair of Visvim sneakers on Yahoo Auctions and the auction ends in an hour, it’s not likely you’ll be able to coordinate with a proxy service in time.
  • Depending on what you order and how much it costs, you may have to pay duty (import tax) on top of everything else. It’s illegal to misrepresent the value of the goods you order in order to avoid paying taxes.
  • Rakuten, which lists some stores’ inventories as well as one-off (often used) items, has made it easier to order for buyers outside of Japan. Some Rakuten merchants will work with you directly (i.e., no proxy); Rakuten even offers occasional specials like free international shipping from select merchants.
  • The market opens up a little more every year; Japanese brands are more widely available than they used to be. Self Edge carries a lot of great Japanese brands. Kamakura has a shop in New York and a webstore; a lot of stores sell the Beams house line Beams Plus now; Danner is more liberal with their Japan designs. Don’t use a proxy if you don’t have to.

This may all sound discouraging, but I’ve had many good experiences shopping from Japan, both through proxies and directly through Rakuten. It may seem perverse in a make-everything-easy, customer-is-always-right shopping culture, but it’s satisfying to successfully navigate the process—the extra effort is emotional investment in the item you purchase, whatever it may be.

-Pete