Are You Wearing Knockoffs?

When we think of knockoffs in fashion, we typically think of the cheap imitations of luxury brands such as Chanel and Gucci, which can often be found in the back alleys of major metropolitan centers. But the practice of copying designs is much more pervasive than you think. Peek behind the curtains of fashion production rooms and you’ll find that many — if not most — designers are ripping off designs in some way. 

And it’s not just the companies you’d expect, either. We all know that fast fashion brands are quick to mimic the latest looks. Just check out this collection from Zara, for example. It’s essentially a rip off of avant-garde designers such as Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto, and Maurizio Altieri (for those keeping track, this is the fifth mention of Rick Owens at Put This On). Companies like Zara have built business empires by copying runway looks and offering them at more affordable prices to the high street consumer. 

No, the fast fashion stuff is obvious, but copying happens elsewhere as well – even among “top designers.” Maison Martin Margiela’s German Army Trainers and Common Projects’ white Achilles Lows, for example, are essentially rip offs of earlier designs by other companies (albeit with ever-so-slight modifications). Then, of course, there are all the rip offs of Common Projects’ work. Nigel Cabourn also often mixes and matches things he sees in vintage pieces, but sometimes, things are pretty straightforward reproductions. Speaking of reproductions, many of those niche Japanese labels many of us covet (e.g. Buzz Rickson, The Real McCoys, Toys McCoys) are just reproducing vintage garments they’ve found at flea markets

Free Culture and Innovation

Johanna Blakely, who serves as a Deputy Director at a media-focused think tank at USC, gave what I think is one of the best talks on this issue at TED. In a nutshell, her argument is: fashion’s free-for-all culture drives trends, which in turn, pushes innovation. In other words, fashion evolves like this: one company introduces a risky, but good design, and when it proves successful in the market, other high-end designers copy it. This creates a trend. Eventually, the trend becomes safe enough for mass-market fashion retailers to copy (since they have to wait until they can move millions, not just dozens, of units). These retailers milk it for all its worth, and when high-street consumers start wearing the style, early-adopters move on to other things (perhaps out of snobbishness, or just not wanting to pay top dollar to look like everyone else). This gives those earlier experimental brands an incentive to innovate. As Blakely puts it, without this free-for-all copying culture, the world of fashion would be much less vibrant. 

Naturally, the argument is not without its opponents. This week, The New York Times hosted a discussion on intellectual property rights in fashion, and a few writers argued that the industry needs much stronger protections. Admittedly, I wasn’t terribly convinced by their arguments, but one good point they did touch on is that, when a big brand rips off a smaller company, it can be a devastating blow to a young designer, who can’t afford to have the wind taken out of his or her sails. Those “hot trend” moments can make or break their career. 

Of course, there are also the ethics surrounding intellectual property, which is a separate (and perhaps thornier) issue. One thing is for sure, however — we as fashion consumers can avoid the kind of knockoffs with fake luxury labels (the kind sold in those downtown alleys), but it’s almost impossible to not wear something that has stolen a bit of design from somewhere else. When Oprah asked Ralph Lauren in 2011 how he’s been able to keep designing for so many years, he answered: “You copy. Forty-five years of copying; that’s why I’m here.”

What Is A Gentleman?

On my way home from work today, walking through Union Station in Los Angeles, I was listening to Fela Kuti’s classic “Gentleman,” and the lyrics struck me. If you don’t know about Kuti, he created Afrobeat, a pan-African sound that combined African pop with American jazz and funk and a bold anti-colonialist, anti-corruption message.

In “Gentleman,” Kuti asserts that he’s not a gentleman - that he won’t bow to the expectation that he follow the cultural rules of the colonialists. The final verse addresses clothing, in Nigerian Pidgin English:

I no be gentleman at all o!
I be Africa man original
I be Africa man original

Africa hot, I like am so
I know what to wear but my friends don’t know
Him put him socks, him put him shoe
Him put him pant, him put him singlet
Him put him trouser, him put him shirt
Him put him tie, him put him coat
Him come cover all with him hat
Him be gentleman
Him go sweat all over
Him go faint right down
Him go smell like shit
Him go piss for body, him no go know
Me I no be gentleman like that

Kuti highlights the great irony of the colonialist’s “gentlemanliness” - and that which they expect from those they’ve colonized. This outside value system, transported to another world, becomes crazy. The only thing that holds it in place is hubris - and the exercise of power.

It’s easy to assume that your values are universal. That you can impose them on those around you, and that others should be judged by your values. This is particularly true for those of us who are comfortably seated in a powerful dominant culture - we may never have been asked to question whether our values are universal.

I think it’s telling that Kuti chose clothing as his synecdoche. Clothing is powerful stuff - that’s one of the reasons we write this blog. And I think we can all learn from what Fela sings.

I’m not, of course, asking you to discard your necktie and hat. But the next time you’re getting dressed, think about what it really means to be a gentleman.

The Style at the Time

The best and maybe most important show on TV in the 1990s (yes, better than Seinfeld), the Simpsons arguably should’ve retired a few years ago rather than trudge along with HD episodes that hang OK jokes on plots that have long since exhausted the narrative possibilities of the family unit. For years the show’s classic seasons, lines from which make up about 35 percent of Generation Xers’ speech, have aired in syndication but have been frustratingly hard to find online. FXX recently announced it bought the rights to the entire series and will be putting every episode online (in addition to airing all 522 in a row in August), a relief to nerds everywhere. In celebration, a few of my favorite style-related moments from the show:

Grandpa Simpson: I tied an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time.

Homer: Look everyone, now that I’m a teacher I’ve sewed patches on my elbows.
Marge: Homer, that’s supposed to be leather patches on a tweed blazer, not the other way around.  You’ve ruined a perfectly good jacket.
Homer: Ah, incorrect Marge, two perfectly good jackets.

Homer: I don’t want to look like a weirdo! I’ll just go with the muumuu.

Hank Scorpio: They laughed at me the first time I wore jeans with a sport coat. I was the first wealthy man in America to ever do that, now they all do it!

Homer: There’s only two kinds of guys who wear Hawaiian shirts: gay guys and big fat party animals.

Homer: Hugh, there’s something I want you to have.  My Dad gave me his cufflinks on the day I married Marge and they brought us good luck. I couldn’t imagine a happier marriage.  We don’t have many traditions in our family, but it would mean a lot to me if you kept this one alive.

Marge: Homer, I don’t think you should wear a short-sleeve shirt with a tie.
Homer: [groans] Ohhh, but Sipowicz does it.

Homer: So I want the monogram to read “M-A-X P-O-W … “
Employee: Sir, traditionally, a monogram is just initials.
Homer: Max Power doesn’t abbreviate. Each letter is as important as the one that preceded it. Maybe more important! No, as important.
Employee: [sighing] Very well.
Homer: And if you’ve got enough room, add some exclamation points and a pirate flag.

Disco Stu: Disco Stu doesn’t advertise.

Mr. Burns: Some men hunt for sport, others hunt for food, the only thing I’m hunting for is an outfit that looks gooooood.
[to the tune of “Be Our Guest”]
See my vest, see my vest, made from real gorilla chest,
Feel this sweater, there’s no better than authentic Irish Setter.
See this hat? 'Twas my cat. My evening wear? Vampire bat.
These white slippers are albino African endangered rhino.
Grizzly bear underwear; turtles’ necks, I’ve got my share.
Beret of poodle on my noodle it shall rest;
Try my red robin suit, it comes one breast or two,
See my vest, see my vest, see my vest!
Like my loafers?  Former gophers!  It was that or skin my chauffers.
But a greyhound fur tuxedo would be best.
So let’s prepare these dogs —
Woman: Kill two for matching clogs!
Burns: See my vest, see my vest, oh please, won’t you see my vest?

-Pete

Q & Answer: How Do You Pick the Right Shoe Size Online?

Zack writes to us to ask: I’m interested in buying a pair of shoes online, but am having trouble figuring out if they’d fit. I emailed the manufacturer and they gave me the length and width measurements in millimeters. The problem is, I don’t know whether the longest part of my foot aligns with the longest part of the shoe. Do you have any suggestions for what measurements I should ask for, so I can make an educated guess?

I’m not a big fan of measurements for shoes. Like you, I never know what I’m supposed to do with them. 

The length of a shoe can vary depending on a few factors.

  • Size, most obviously. But you’d be surprised how little changes from size to size. The difference can be as small as an eighth of an inch.
  • Welting technique. By welting technique, I mean how the sole was attached to the uppers. The length of your shoes — as measured from the bottom of your soles — can vary depending on the welting technique, as well as within the same kind of construction. Check out the two shoes above, for example. One is from Allen Edmonds, the other from Edward Green. Both are made with Goodyear welts, but the heel on the Allen Edmonds sticks out a bit more from the heel cup, while the heel of the Edward Greens hugs the shoe. 
  • Heel design. Although not as common, some shoes will have what’s known as a canted or Cuban heel, such as these from Saint Crispin’s. Again, compare them to the straight-down heel of the Allen Edmonds shoe above, and you can see how this would affect the measurement of the shoes at the bottom of the sole. 
  • Most importantly, the last. The last is the wooden form on which the leather is pulled over so that it can take a certain shape. You can have lasts in all sorts of shapes. Some shoes can be round and stubby (like Alden); some can be very long and pointy (like Gaziano & Girling). This will affect the length of a shoe more than anything else. You can have two perfectly fitting shoes, but one might be slightly longer simply because the toes were designed to look sleeker. 

In the end, it’s not even the length of your shoes that matter, but rather the heel-to-ball measurement. Critical to your fit is where the heel and ball of your feet sit in your shoes, not whether the ends of your shoe come within a certain distance to your toes.

There’s really only one way to figure out your size online, assuming you can’t try stuff on first.

  • Figure out your Brannock size. Go to a place like Nordstrom and ask someone to measure you. It’s sometimes good to get both feet measured, as few people have the same sized feet. 
  • Ask the store or manufacturer for advice. Not all salespeople will know what they’re talking about, so take their advice with a grain of salt. That said, there are few better places to get sizing advice than from the store or manufacturer you’re buying from. They’re the ones who are likely to be most knowledgeable. Tell them your Brannock size, and if you have other high-end shoes, your size in other brands and models. I don’t mean sneakers like Nike, but rather dress shoes from companies such as Allen Edmonds, Alden, Crockett & Jones, etc. 
  • Check this advice against the forum threads. Styleforum has the biggest archive of all clothing forums, but depending on what kind of shoes you’re buying, Superfuture and Ask Andy About Clothes can be useful as well. Iron Heart and Denimbro are also good for workwear type stuff. The key here is to search the archives before posting anything, as there’s usually a wealth of information you can mine. 

Finally, once you get your shoes, you can check to see if they fit according to this post.

Long story short: measurements are good for clothes, but bad for shoes. To find your size, you have to do some other stuff.

(Photos via Leffot, The Shoe Buff, and Bengal Stripe)

Where to Buy Good Pants (Part Two)
The market for trousers is pretty wonky. There’s surprisingly not that many good options, and despite there being a new company popping up every month for Goodyear welted shoes or handmade ties, the number of companies selling trousers over the years has remained relatively steady. 
Still, there are some great places to consider. Yesterday we talked about some some expensive options. Today we’ll cover the more affordable stuff. 
Howard Yount ($115-195): A favorite for many people, including me. They have two cuts – a slimmer Italian-made line and a fuller American-made line – but the differences are really small. Their pants are often recommended for a few simple reasons: the prices are competitive, the quality solid, the cuts slim, and they have a wide range of fabric options. The only downside is that they’ve been getting a lot of complaints for their poor customer service, but the fact that people still buy from them is a perhaps a testament to their product.
Epaulet ($150-275): Another popularly recommended source. The pricing and quality here is similar to Yount’s, but the cuts are slightly slimmer. Walt is their standard slim fit, while the Rudy has a bit more room in the seat and thighs. They also recently introduced their Driggs cut, which is an even slimmer model with a lower rise. Folks interested in picking from a wider fabric selection can utilize Epaulet’s made-to-order program. We reviewed it here.
J. Press ($82-330): A great source for traditionally cut trousers. Meaning, a higher rise (which will help you avoid that dreaded shirt triangle Jesse talked about) and a slightly fuller leg. In some models, they also give the option of a longer or shorter rise, although most of what they sell is called “regular.” In more exact terms, I find their “regular” rise to come up just below my navel, which isn’t too unlike the Ralph Lauren Preston cuts and Brooks Brothers Black Fleece models we talked about yesterday. 
J. Crew ($50-128): J. Crew’s Classic Bowery trousers are said to be very similar in cut to Howard Yount’s trousers, and have a slightly higher rise than what’s offered on the company’s Bowery Slim. You can find measurements for both models here. Like with everything at J. Crew, the key here is to wait for sales, as almost everything gets discounted throughout the season. 
Land’s End ($50-129): Always the reliable source for good, affordable clothing, Land’s End has a line of “tailored fit” pants. Measurements, however, suggest that the cut might differ from material to material. For example, these Super 110 wools are said to fit similar to Howard Yount’s trousers, but these “year’rounders” seem to be a dowdier cut. Two years ago, I tried the same fit in their moleskin fabrics, and found them to be much too slim to wear. On the upside, returns at Land’s End are fairly easy, so little is lost if you try a pair out. Like with J. Crew, however, you’ll want to wait for one of the company’s many promotions. 
Mabitex and Incotex ($50-400): Two great brands that are often sold at steep discounts in the secondary markets (e.g. eBay, Yoox, StyleForum’s Buying & Selling subforum, etc). Unfortunately, what you save in money, you’ll spend in time. The quality and fits here can really range, which is why you’ll want to pay close attention to what you’re buying (look for measurements). That said, when these are good, they’re really good. Especially at the prices they often go for. 
Benjamin ($99-115): Much like Incotex and Mabitex, the fits here are all over the place. If you pay attention to the measurements though, and compare them to your existing trousers, you can get a well-fitting pair at an exceptional price. 
Costco ($39-50): There are rumors that Costco’s house line, Kirkland, has nice wool trousers. I unfortunately haven’t had a chance to check them out, but perhaps you can take a look next time you’re there buying batteries in packs of a thousand. 
(Thanks to Ivory Tower Style, Luxe Swap, This Fits, and Voxsartoria for their help with this post. Also, credit to Howard Yount for the photo above).

Where to Buy Good Pants (Part Two)

The market for trousers is pretty wonky. There’s surprisingly not that many good options, and despite there being a new company popping up every month for Goodyear welted shoes or handmade ties, the number of companies selling trousers over the years has remained relatively steady. 

Still, there are some great places to consider. Yesterday we talked about some some expensive options. Today we’ll cover the more affordable stuff. 

  • Howard Yount ($115-195): A favorite for many people, including me. They have two cuts – a slimmer Italian-made line and a fuller American-made line – but the differences are really small. Their pants are often recommended for a few simple reasons: the prices are competitive, the quality solid, the cuts slim, and they have a wide range of fabric options. The only downside is that they’ve been getting a lot of complaints for their poor customer service, but the fact that people still buy from them is a perhaps a testament to their product.
  • Epaulet ($150-275): Another popularly recommended source. The pricing and quality here is similar to Yount’s, but the cuts are slightly slimmer. Walt is their standard slim fit, while the Rudy has a bit more room in the seat and thighs. They also recently introduced their Driggs cut, which is an even slimmer model with a lower rise. Folks interested in picking from a wider fabric selection can utilize Epaulet’s made-to-order program. We reviewed it here.
  • J. Press ($82-330): A great source for traditionally cut trousers. Meaning, a higher rise (which will help you avoid that dreaded shirt triangle Jesse talked about) and a slightly fuller leg. In some models, they also give the option of a longer or shorter rise, although most of what they sell is called “regular.” In more exact terms, I find their “regular” rise to come up just below my navel, which isn’t too unlike the Ralph Lauren Preston cuts and Brooks Brothers Black Fleece models we talked about yesterday
  • J. Crew ($50-128): J. Crew’s Classic Bowery trousers are said to be very similar in cut to Howard Yount’s trousers, and have a slightly higher rise than what’s offered on the company’s Bowery Slim. You can find measurements for both models here. Like with everything at J. Crew, the key here is to wait for sales, as almost everything gets discounted throughout the season. 
  • Land’s End ($50-129): Always the reliable source for good, affordable clothing, Land’s End has a line of “tailored fit” pants. Measurements, however, suggest that the cut might differ from material to material. For example, these Super 110 wools are said to fit similar to Howard Yount’s trousers, but these “year’rounders” seem to be a dowdier cut. Two years ago, I tried the same fit in their moleskin fabrics, and found them to be much too slim to wear. On the upside, returns at Land’s End are fairly easy, so little is lost if you try a pair out. Like with J. Crew, however, you’ll want to wait for one of the company’s many promotions. 
  • Mabitex and Incotex ($50-400): Two great brands that are often sold at steep discounts in the secondary markets (e.g. eBay, Yoox, StyleForum’s Buying & Selling subforum, etc). Unfortunately, what you save in money, you’ll spend in time. The quality and fits here can really range, which is why you’ll want to pay close attention to what you’re buying (look for measurements). That said, when these are good, they’re really good. Especially at the prices they often go for. 
  • Benjamin ($99-115): Much like Incotex and Mabitex, the fits here are all over the place. If you pay attention to the measurements though, and compare them to your existing trousers, you can get a well-fitting pair at an exceptional price. 
  • Costco ($39-50): There are rumors that Costco’s house line, Kirkland, has nice wool trousers. I unfortunately haven’t had a chance to check them out, but perhaps you can take a look next time you’re there buying batteries in packs of a thousand. 

(Thanks to Ivory Tower StyleLuxe SwapThis Fits, and Voxsartoria for their help with this post. Also, credit to Howard Yount for the photo above).

Q and Answer: Where’s My Waist? Where Should My Jacket Button?
Wyatt asks: I’ve heard said both on your blog and elsewhere that a jacket should button at one’s natural waist (about at the belly button) but I’ve had a devil of a time finding jackets that fit me this way. Is a higher buttoning point a current trend? 
And, while we’re discussing the waist, since it also seems that one’s trousers should sit at or close to one’s natural waist, does that mean that the platonic ideal of a suit would have the jacket buttoning at the belt-line?
That’s quite a question, Wyatt. But we can answer it.
Let’s start by getting one thing straight: your waist is not at your navel. Your waist is at the top of your hips.

Finding Your Waist
Make your hand flat, and karate chop your hip with the edge. Then drag that edge of your hand up your side. When the bone ends and your body goes inward, that’s your waist. You may carry some weight on your love handles that makes this a little harder to feel, but you’ll find it. For most people, the waist is a couple inches above the navel.
Take a look at Luciano Barbera above: he’s wearing a very classically-proportioned coat and pants. I’ve used my spectacular art skills to point to his waist, and to draw the side of his body with perfect realism. His tie obscures it slightly, but you can see that even with his coat splayed by his hands, his beltline and buttoning point converge at his waist, and you can’t see his shirt below that point.

Things Change
Fashion has not followed these rules, of course. In the past ten or fifteen years, the rise of trousers (the distance between waistline and crotch) has gotten much smaller. Your pants waist has moved down several inches from your natural waist. Many pants these days barely cover your pubes.
Meanwhile, the buttoning point of jackets has been moving the opposite direction: up towards the sternum. It’s not uncommon to find the functional button on a coat two or three inches above the waist. Press the button on one of these coats, elevator-style, and you’ll feel it in your solar plexus.
Fashion is fashion, and in fashion things change because things change. That’s fine. But there are some practical aesthetic issues with these changes.
Depending on your shape, you can get away with all this stuff. Currently fashion favors a slim, youthful silhouette over a more athletic or portly one. No matter what your silhouette, though, you can end up with a weird triangle of fabric under your coat button and above your belt, which is just plain goofy-looking.

The Upshot
The shape of a coat is meant to flatter and emphasize a man’s natural shape, so the further that button gets from the place an ideal man’s body is naturally narrowest, the more difficult it is to do that.
The lower the trouser waist gets, the more difficult the pants are to wear, and the more difficult it is to hang them flatteringly - soon all that’s holding them up is some friction and your butt.
So: make your choices advisedly. Rules are made to be broken, but they were put in place for a reason.

Q and Answer: Where’s My Waist? Where Should My Jacket Button?

Wyatt asks: I’ve heard said both on your blog and elsewhere that a jacket should button at one’s natural waist (about at the belly button) but I’ve had a devil of a time finding jackets that fit me this way. Is a higher buttoning point a current trend?

And, while we’re discussing the waist, since it also seems that one’s trousers should sit at or close to one’s natural waist, does that mean that the platonic ideal of a suit would have the jacket buttoning at the belt-line?

That’s quite a question, Wyatt. But we can answer it.

Let’s start by getting one thing straight: your waist is not at your navel. Your waist is at the top of your hips.

Finding Your Waist

Make your hand flat, and karate chop your hip with the edge. Then drag that edge of your hand up your side. When the bone ends and your body goes inward, that’s your waist. You may carry some weight on your love handles that makes this a little harder to feel, but you’ll find it. For most people, the waist is a couple inches above the navel.

Take a look at Luciano Barbera above: he’s wearing a very classically-proportioned coat and pants. I’ve used my spectacular art skills to point to his waist, and to draw the side of his body with perfect realism. His tie obscures it slightly, but you can see that even with his coat splayed by his hands, his beltline and buttoning point converge at his waist, and you can’t see his shirt below that point.

Things Change

Fashion has not followed these rules, of course. In the past ten or fifteen years, the rise of trousers (the distance between waistline and crotch) has gotten much smaller. Your pants waist has moved down several inches from your natural waist. Many pants these days barely cover your pubes.

Meanwhile, the buttoning point of jackets has been moving the opposite direction: up towards the sternum. It’s not uncommon to find the functional button on a coat two or three inches above the waist. Press the button on one of these coats, elevator-style, and you’ll feel it in your solar plexus.

Fashion is fashion, and in fashion things change because things change. That’s fine. But there are some practical aesthetic issues with these changes.

Depending on your shape, you can get away with all this stuff. Currently fashion favors a slim, youthful silhouette over a more athletic or portly one. No matter what your silhouette, though, you can end up with a weird triangle of fabric under your coat button and above your belt, which is just plain goofy-looking.

The Upshot

The shape of a coat is meant to flatter and emphasize a man’s natural shape, so the further that button gets from the place an ideal man’s body is naturally narrowest, the more difficult it is to do that.

The lower the trouser waist gets, the more difficult the pants are to wear, and the more difficult it is to hang them flatteringly - soon all that’s holding them up is some friction and your butt.

So: make your choices advisedly. Rules are made to be broken, but they were put in place for a reason.

How Pants Should Fit

We’ve written about how tailored trousers should fit before, but our friend Ed over at Panta Clothing just posted some images of a pair trousers he made for a customer, and nothing beats a great example. 

When trying on pants, most people first look to see if the waist fits comfortably, but the waist is actually one of the easiest things to alter. If they’re a little loose, you can take them in, and if there’s enough material inside, you can let them out. The only exception is maybe cotton, where letting out the waist can leave visible holes where the stitching used to be (this doesn’t happen on wool because of the fuzzy nap). 

Instead of focusing on the waist, look for three things:

  • First, make sure the thighs fit comfortably. The legs can be tapered pretty easily from the knee down, but the thighs should fit fairly perfectly off-the-rack. (You can alter the thighs, but it comes with a bit more risk). 
  • Second, look at the seat. On the Panta trousers above, the seat is perfectly clean, with no rumples or folds. This is the hardest part to get right, not just because everyone is shaped differently, but also because we all stand differently as well. For example, if you stand with your hips forward, you’ll need a pair of trousers with a slightly shorter “rise” at the back (“rise” being the measurement from the crotch seam to the waistband). Note, to see whether the seat fits you, you’ll have to look at yourself in a three way mirror, as twisting your torso around will affect how the pants fit. And don’t get too hung up with whether there are a few folds here and there. It’s better to aim for a cleaner fit than not, but you are moving around in these things, obviously. 
  • Third, see if the pants catch on the back of your calves. This is more of an issue with really slim trousers, particularly if you wear over-the-calf socks. If they do catch, you’ll see a bunch of rippling around your calves. 

Overall, the idea for how pants should fit is very much like the idea for how shirts, sport coats, or suits should fit: there shouldn’t be any puckering or pulling anywhere, and you should have clean lines all around. The ones by Panta above are particularly nice, and unless you’ve having something custom made, it might be hard to achieve something as good. Still, the example above is a great way to show what you should aim for. 

(Photos via pantaclothing)

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.