John Helmer Haberdasher in Portland

I found myself puttering around downtown Portland on a recent morning, and decided to type “menswear” into my phone and see what came up. Luckily enough for me, the answer was John Helmer Haberdarsher.

Helmer is the kind of old-school men’s clothing store you find in the downtown of most major cities. It’s been on the same location for nearly a century, its ownership is in the hands of its third John Helmer, and the staff are a mix of young guys in bow ties, old guys in bow ties, and women who would wear bow ties if that were a reasonable and tasteful option.

Walk into Helmer and you’ll find the right half of the store taken up by hats of every shape and size. Sadly, it’s tough to find a really fine hat these days at retail, and the best of these was only fine, but there truly was a selection to beat the band. After putting on and taking off a summer hat by the German brand Mayser about a dozen times, I resolved to buy it. I recently cut my hair quite short and the sun in Los Angeles is unforgiving.

On the left-hand side of the store was traditional haberdashery fare. Rep ties, Southwick sportcoats, and a clerk helping a customer with a custom order of Bill’s Khakis. Behind glass was a beautiful selection of Alden shoes - I had to restrain myself from trying on a pair of shell cordovan plain-toed bluchers.

The service at the shop was uniformly excellent - you could tell that this was what these folks do, not just a summer job. The styling was uniformly, well, dad-ish. Maybe grandpa-ish… but if you expected something different perhaps you thought you were down the street at the high-end department store Mario’s. John Helmer Haberdasher offers a comfortable place to shop for traditional clothes, and next time I’m in Portland, I’ll pop in again.

Shetland Sweaters for Fall

There was some confusion after my post yesterday on Shaggy Dogs, where some readers were unsure what’s the difference between Shaggys and what’s commonly referred to as “Shetland sweaters.” Simply: Shaggy Dogs are just one of the many types of Shetlands that exist, and not all Shetlands are shaggy.

What’s a Shetland Sweater?

Shetlands get their name from the Shetland Islands, which are located halfway to Norway off the north coast of Scotland. Due to the region’s harsh conditions, the sheep there produce a sturdy, lightweight, long staple wool fiber, which is typically plucked instead of shorn. This wool is made into a very sturdy fabric, which is then turned into garments. Woven Shetlands are relatively rare, and when you see them, they’re usually in sport coats. Much more common are knitted fabrics, which are used for sweaters.

Shetland sweaters were originally made by peasant women on the islands, and came with a strong, smoked herring smell because of the way the wool would absorb domestic odors. It’s said that on damp days, the smell would become unbearable. These early sweaters were often knitted with distinctive patterns that were developed on the island over a period of centuries, but over time, they mainly came in one of four forms: plain, cabled, Fair Isle, or brushed (J. Press invented the hairy, brushed version, and they called it their “Shaggy Dog”). Thus, the term “Shetland sweater” – while formally referring to a very specific knit – now simply just means any sweater that’s made from that hardy, slightly itchy Shetland wool (brushed or not).

Where To Get A Good, Plain-Knit Shetland

Shaggys are certainly distinctive, but almost anyone with a classic sense of dress can wear a plain-knit Shetland. I particularly like mine with chinos or corduroys, and layer them over thick oxford-cloth button-down shirts. They’re more casual than your typical merino or cashmere sweater (the kind you find in almost any store), but dressy enough to wear underneath a sport coat. Plus, I think guys just look awesome in them. Evidence is above.

If you’re looking for a plain version, let me recommend who I think sells the best: O’Connell’s. They’re expensive at $165 (and never go on sale), but they’re the Goldilocks of Shetlands. Not as thick as Bill’s Khakis, and not as thin as Brooks Brothers’, they’re just right. The Andover Shop also has something similar, but I favor O’Connell’s saddle shoulder design. If you get one, I recommend sizing up from your sport coat size. They should also be restocking on sizes in a couple of weeks, and getting in a few new colors.

Other good, traditional Shetlands can be found at Cable Car Clothiers and Ben Silver, while slimmer interpretations can be had through Howlin’ of Morrison, Albam, and Norse Projects. There’s also Harley of Scotland (available through Bahles and Neighbour), Peter Blance, and Fisherman Out of Ireland, but I have no firsthand experience with those. Made-to-measure versions can be bought through Spirit of Shetland. If you go custom just remember: it’s better to err on the size of full than small, as you can slim a sweater down, but you can’t add material where there isn’t any.

(Photos via Heavy Tweed Jacket)

Finding a Higher Rise Chino
For the last few months, I’ve been looking for chinos built with a higher rise. As some readers may know, I favor pants that sit higher on the hips, as I find this helps elongate the leg line and gives better proportions between the torso and legs. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find such pants nowadays, as the fashion trend for the last ten years has been for low-rise cuts. After writing a post about my search, however, a few kind readers sent me some good suggestions. 
The first, and I think the best, is from The Armoury. These are made by Ring Jacket, a high-end Japanese company known for their tailored clothing. They sit just below the navel, which is high enough to give the effect you’d want, but low enough so you can wear your chinos without a sport coat. The leg is also nice and slim, and the trousers are lined a bit past the knee. You can see them worn by Mark in the photo above.
The Armory’s chinos cost $370, which is pricey, but the pants are exceptionally well built. They’re not available on the website, so you’ll have to email or call them to order. 
A bit more affordable are the ones from J. Press, which were recommended to me by Bruce Boyer. These are fuller in the leg and sit higher on the waist. I think these are some of the nicest traditionally cut trousers I’ve ever come across, but the higher-waisted cut does mean you should probably wear them with sport coats. If you plan to, the price here starts at $120, but there are occasional seasonal sales that will drop them down by 25%. 
More affordable still is Jack Donnelly’s Dalton chinos, which come in both a slim and traditional cut. The slim is more like The Armoury’s, while the traditional is more like J Press’. The difference is that the fabric isn’t as nice, the fit not as clean (at least on me), and the finishing inside is a bit rough (almost unusually so, actually). On the upside, they’re $95 and they have a very nice return policy, so trying them out is more or less risk-free. 
A couple of other good ideas were sent to me. Bill Khaki’s M2 model is a favorite for many people, and some recommended the custom chinos at J. Hilburn and Luxire. Luxire can copy an existing pair of pants for you, which is nice if you’re wary of the made-to-measure process. One reader also recommended these Blackbird chinos, though they’re on final sale, and thus not returnable.
(Photo above by The Armoury)

Finding a Higher Rise Chino

For the last few months, I’ve been looking for chinos built with a higher rise. As some readers may know, I favor pants that sit higher on the hips, as I find this helps elongate the leg line and gives better proportions between the torso and legs. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find such pants nowadays, as the fashion trend for the last ten years has been for low-rise cuts. After writing a post about my search, however, a few kind readers sent me some good suggestions. 

The first, and I think the best, is from The Armoury. These are made by Ring Jacket, a high-end Japanese company known for their tailored clothing. They sit just below the navel, which is high enough to give the effect you’d want, but low enough so you can wear your chinos without a sport coat. The leg is also nice and slim, and the trousers are lined a bit past the knee. You can see them worn by Mark in the photo above.

The Armory’s chinos cost $370, which is pricey, but the pants are exceptionally well built. They’re not available on the website, so you’ll have to email or call them to order. 

A bit more affordable are the ones from J. Press, which were recommended to me by Bruce Boyer. These are fuller in the leg and sit higher on the waist. I think these are some of the nicest traditionally cut trousers I’ve ever come across, but the higher-waisted cut does mean you should probably wear them with sport coats. If you plan to, the price here starts at $120, but there are occasional seasonal sales that will drop them down by 25%. 

More affordable still is Jack Donnelly’s Dalton chinos, which come in both a slim and traditional cut. The slim is more like The Armoury’s, while the traditional is more like J Press’. The difference is that the fabric isn’t as nice, the fit not as clean (at least on me), and the finishing inside is a bit rough (almost unusually so, actually). On the upside, they’re $95 and they have a very nice return policy, so trying them out is more or less risk-free. 

A couple of other good ideas were sent to me. Bill Khaki’s M2 model is a favorite for many people, and some recommended the custom chinos at J. Hilburn and Luxire. Luxire can copy an existing pair of pants for you, which is nice if you’re wary of the made-to-measure process. One reader also recommended these Blackbird chinos, though they’re on final sale, and thus not returnable.

(Photo above by The Armoury)

It’s On Sale: Bill’s Khakis
If you’re subscribed to Sierra Trading Post’s email list, then be sure to check out today’s Deal Flyer, which has an extra 45% off select items. Of note are Bill’s Khakis. Their slimmest fit, the M3, is on sale for $60.47 with the email coupon. Currently, they have every size available from 30” to 46” on the waist. Sale ends Saturday.
ADDING: Jesse informs me that STP sends different deals to different people, so it’s worth checking first to see if this deal is relevant to you first. 
-Kiyoshi

It’s On Sale: Bill’s Khakis

If you’re subscribed to Sierra Trading Post’s email list, then be sure to check out today’s Deal Flyer, which has an extra 45% off select items. Of note are Bill’s Khakis. Their slimmest fit, the M3, is on sale for $60.47 with the email coupon. Currently, they have every size available from 30” to 46” on the waist. Sale ends Saturday.

ADDING: Jesse informs me that STP sends different deals to different people, so it’s worth checking first to see if this deal is relevant to you first. 

-Kiyoshi

50% off at North River Outfitter

North River Outfitter is running a 50% off promo through Gilt City Boston.
Options are $50 for a $100 gift certificate or $100 for $200 gift certificate. The promotion doesn’t apply to Alden, Omersa or Church’s, but they do have some nice things by Barbour, JW Hulme, Bill’s Khakis, and Tellason.

Note, I wasn’t able to confirm with them if this promotion applies to phone or web orders (they won’t pick up the phone!), so you may want to call at a later point and check. 

Update: It looks like this is indeed in-store only. Good news for people who live in Boston. Bugger for the rest of us. 

It’s On Sale: Bill’s Khakis
RueLaLa is having their final sale today that includes Bill’s Khakis, putting this pair of their "Model 3" Cramerton twill chinos at $59.90. The same chinos typically retail at $175. 
ADDING: Jesse informs me that a better deal can be had on Bill’s Khakis at Sierra Trading Post right now. Click here to “like” Sierra Trading Post on Facebook and activate a 40% off coupon. Then visit STP to see the selection of Bill’s Khakis. The coupon expires at midnight MST. 
You can also see sales featuring items from Kiton, Luciano Barbera, Brunello Cucinelli and Turnbull & Asser. If you don’t have an invite to RueLaLa you can use our invite here. 
-Kiyoshi

It’s On Sale: Bill’s Khakis

RueLaLa is having their final sale today that includes Bill’s Khakis, putting this pair of their "Model 3" Cramerton twill chinos at $59.90. The same chinos typically retail at $175. 

ADDING: Jesse informs me that a better deal can be had on Bill’s Khakis at Sierra Trading Post right now. Click here to “like” Sierra Trading Post on Facebook and activate a 40% off coupon. Then visit STP to see the selection of Bill’s Khakis. The coupon expires at midnight MST. 

You can also see sales featuring items from Kiton, Luciano Barbera, Brunello Cucinelli and Turnbull & Asser. If you don’t have an invite to RueLaLa you can use our invite here

-Kiyoshi

It’s On Sale: Bill’s Khakis Shetland Sweaters

Bill’s Khakis’ Shetland sweaters are on sale today at Rue La La for $130. These are excellently made, and go well with almost any kind of trouser you can think of (khakis, corduroys, jeans, wool flannel). Combine them with boots and a waxed cotton Barbour on rainy days, or just tassel loafers when it’s sunny and you’re lounging. 

Note, the sleeves on these run long, even when accounting for the folding back of the cuff. I’ve brought mine to a knit alterations tailor, however, and had them shorted with no problem. I think the job ran something like $15. 

If you need an invite to Rue La La, you can use ours

Sierra Trading Post: What To Buy

The online discounter Sierra Trading Post mostly sells outdoor gear. If you need a sleeping bag or a performance fleece at a discounted price, they’re your #1 source. Oddly, though, they also care a smattering of high-end menswear items. They’re not in the catalogs they send out, and they don’t have a special section on the website. You have to know what to look for. If you do know, though, you can find some great stuff.

What can you buy at Sierra Trading Post?

  • Isaia suits & sportcoats. One of the best Italian ready-to-wear brands often closes out stock at STP. Find suits and sportcoats for about $1000, and sometimes as little as $500.
  • Bill’s Khakis. The trads love Bill’s because their quality is consistently superb, but at retail, they’re expensive. Stack a few discounts at STP, and you can get their M3 fit (which is their slimmest, but isn’t that slim) for as little as $50-75.
  • Johnston’s of Elgin cashmere. One of the few reputable cashmere-goods makers left clears out tons of sweaters and accessories at significant discounts. Use coupons judiciously and sweaters will end up under $200. Scarves, gloves and other accessories sometimes dip as low as $20 or $30.
  • Pantherella socks. Want to buy fancy socks but don’t want to pay fancy prices? Play your cards right, and you can get these English-made socks for about $8 a pair. Sometimes even less.
  • Derek Rose pajamas. It’s tough to find good pajamas. These guys retail for about $200-250 a set, but with some couponing, you can get them for under a hundred at STP.
  • Tricker’s shoes and boots. Tricker’s might be the world’s top brand of country footwear, but they’re expensive. With coupons, you can grab a pair for about $300.

One note: using Sierra Trading Post to the fullest can be a bit tricky. Sales at STP stack with coupons, which are sent out daily if you sign up for their DealFlyer service. Coupons typically range from 10-15% off to as much as 35% off with free shipping. Sign up for DealFlyer, and your patience will be rewarded.

Rue La La Sale: Bill’s Khakis

Bill’s Khakis is on sale at Rue La La today. Pants start around $60 and Shetland sweaters at $130. If you want a slim fit pair of pants, look for models that are labeled “Model 3.” The quality of Bill’s Khaki’s stuff is superb; I highly recommend them. 

Shetland Sweaters for Fall

I have mixed feelings about Shetland sweaters. On the one hand, they’re itchy, scratchy, and not the most refined looking of knits. They neither have the softness of cashmere nor the smoothness of merino. On the other hand, that’s what makes them charming. As one member at Ask Andy once unironically (but hilariously), put it, “merino is too ‘metrosexual.’” A rather ridiculous statement, but point taken – these are not fashionable sweaters; they’re frumpy.

But sometimes a little frumpy is good. With a pair of dark green, wide-wale corduroys and reddish-brown shell cordovan tassel loafers, what could be more appropriate than a navy or mid-grey Shetland wool sweater? It has a classic American-trad/ schoolboy charm. To protect yourself from the scratchiness, you can layer it over an oxford cloth button down shirt. Those are the kind that belong underneath these sweaters anyway.

There are a number of places to pick up a Shetland. The best are from O’Connell’s and The Andover Shop. I slightly favor O’Connell’s because it has the more traditional form of a saddle shoulder, but both are top notch in terms of quality. There are other good Scottish ones at Cable Car Clothiers and Ben Silver, as well as an American made Shetland from Bill’s Khakis, which you can read more about at Ivy Style

For something more affordable, consider LL Bean and Brooks Brothers. If you’re an unusual size and need something custom made, try Spirit of Shetland. They’ll knit you a custom Shetland if you tell them the chest size your best fitting sweater. Like with most MTM clothing, I advise erring on the side of fullness rather than slimness. Remember that you can always wear a sweater if it’s slightly full (these are meant to be a bit frumpy anyway), but you’ll never wear a sweater if it’s too tight.

Should you pick one of these up and find that they’re too itchy, consider brushed Shetlands, which have that charming uneven loft that J Press made famous. There are also lambswool sweaters. They look similar to Shetlands in that they’re more textured than merino and harder wearing than cashmere, but they’re not as itchy. You may still need to layer them over a shirt, but at least your loved ones won’t be afraid to hug you.