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.

Wearing Boring Outerwear

Next to tailored clothing and shoes, most of my clothing budget is spent on outerwear. In my closet are some field jackets – the kind with two pockets at the chest and two at the hips. Then I have some coats with various belted riggings, which are used to help cinch in the waist, as well as some “designer” pieces with unusual pocket placements. It’s said that these sorts of jackets are often inspired by hunting coats, but I can’t imagine anyone who has bought these sorts of things (including me) has ever hunted for anything but their keys and an open bar. 

Some of my coats, however, are quite simple. Boring, even. There’s a waxed cotton Barbour Bedale, which I bought in the standard dark green colorway. It has a corduroy collar, but the overall look is so generic at this point that the jacket has become almost nondescript. I also have a heavy Melton wool pea coat from Buzz Rickson, a green barn coat from LL Bean Signature, and a brown, waxed field coat from last season’s Barbour x Norton & Sons line. The brown field coat actually looks something like this vintage piece I found on eBay over the weekend.

Each of these lack the kind of bells and whistles that can make an outfit interesting, so to balance things out, I sometimes layer in some heavy, textured knitwear. Above are some examples. Underneath the pea coat is a very subtly textured, black Shetland, which is also from last season’s Barbour x Norton & Sons range. Underneath the LL Bean Signature barn coat and waxed cotton Bedale are some heavy, cream-colored sweaters, which are from Inis Meain. The first is a basket weave sweater that’s been made with an open interlocking lacing on the front body. The second is your standard cable knit Aran, although done to Inis Meain’s design. Finally, underneath the brown field coat is also an Aran from Inis Meain, but this time, in navy. The pairing of blue jeans and a navy sweater can sometimes look off, but the jeans here, I think, are light enough that there’s enough contrast.

The chunkiness of these sweaters and their texturally interesting designs help make boring outerwear pieces look slightly less boring. If you wanted to wear a scarf with these, it would be better to stick to something that’s also solid-colored, but textured - such as a grey cabled knit. That way, no element sticks out too much on its own. By relying on complementary colors and playing with textures, you can make outfits look interesting without needing to turn to the brashness of patterns or unusual design details. It’s a quieter, arguably more sophisticated, way of making a statement. 

(Pictured above: sweaters and coats as described; straight legged 14.5oz selvedge denim jeans from 3sixteen; undyed thick harness leather belt from Don’t Mourn Organize, made with a buckle bought at Slash Clothing; and shell cordovan boots from Brooks Brothers)

Polo Coats

Despite what people say, it doesn’t get that cold in San Francisco, at least not compared to places where it actually snows. Still, that doesn’t stop me from wanting a polo coat every year. Polo coats are long, loose fitting coats originally worn by polo players in England. Early versions were often simple wrap styles - something like a robe, I suppose - but the cut eventually evolved into the more detailed version we think of today. The defining characteristics? Certainly flapped patch pockets, which mark the coat as somewhat casual; a double breasted closure to keep the wearer warm; a loose, half-belt at the back (known as a martingale); traditionally an Ulster collar (the thing you see in the first photo above, with the almost horizontal notch), though peak lapels have also become common; and of course that golden tan color that so nicely complements the browns, blues, and grays most of us wear.

Though the coat originated in England, the double-breasted style really developed in the US, where retailers such as Brooks Brothers popularized it in the 1920s. It soon became associated with prep schools and “Ivy style” - that distinctive, American style of dress that involves tweed jackets, penny loafers, and Shetland sweaters. With the ups and downs of Ivy style, so went polo coats. They fell into obscurity in the ‘70s or so, but had a revival in the ‘80s. You see the coat much less today, but that’s true of all traditional outerwear. With fewer people wearing tailored clothing comes fewer customers of “dress coats.”

I like the idea of having one if only because the polo coat stands out as one of the few coats you can wear both formally and casually. By formally and casually, I don’t mean the extremes, of course - tuxedos on one end, jeans and flip flops on the other (is this guy wearing one in his boxers?). I mean that it’s something you can wear with a suit in most industries, or with a sport coat and a pair of wool trousers if you’re going out to a really nice restaurant. Compare that to coats that are much more formal, such as Chesterfields, or ones that are too casual, such as many of the sportswear styles you commonly see today.  

Where to Get One

Unfortunately, like all good dress coats, polos are expensive, even more so than your standard piece of outerwear (which can already be pretty pricey). For new and off-the-rack, you’re looking at about $1,000 to $1,500. If you have that kind of money, you can find some handsome ones at places such as O’Connell’s, Ben Silver, Brooks Brothers, and Ralph Lauren. If you can afford bespoke, some tailors can make you one for about the price of a suit. For traveling outfits that visit the United States, that price ranges anywhere from $2,500 to $6,000.

That’s a lot of money. On the upside, heavy coats such as polos hold up really well over the years, which means if you’re patient, you can find one on eBay or at your local thrift store for pennies on the dollar. Jesse wrote a great thrifting guide you can use for this. I’m not as experienced as he is in thrifting, but even in my few trips, I’ve seen some nice dress coats selling for about $100 or $200. Set aside a little extra money for alterations and cleaning, and you can have a very nice garment on your hands.  

A note from Jesse: I bought my own polo coat, which is from the 1930s, for $35 on eBay. Not a tailor on Savile Row wasn’t pawing at it when I wore it to our shoot there last year. There’s a decent overcoat right now in a quarter of the thrift stores in America, and with some patience, there are plenty on eBay as well.

Oh, and one other note: the good folks at Howard Yount have a shorter, lighter (and more lightly constructed) version of the polo coat at $899. Thanks to NickelCobalt for the tip.)

There’s Nothing More Classic Than A Pea Coat
I bought my pea coat at a yard sale in Portland. I was in high school - maybe 15 or 16. A nice woman was selling some of her late grandfather’s things. He’d been a navy man in his day, and she was excited that the coat fit me. I think I paid $25.
That pea coat saw me through some drizzle-soaked outdoor makeout sessions my junior and senior years of high school in San Francisco. It came with me to UC Santa Cruz, where it protected me from the winter chill and from soft thinking. It’s still in my closet today, and while the collar and cuffs are a little more worn than they were back then, I still wear it whenever it’s cold.
The pea coat is probably the military garment which has made the smoothest transition into civilian life. Without insignia or rank patches, it can be (and has been) worn by everyone from former military to peace protesters to preppy lacross player types. It’s also been knocked off by every fashion designer ever. But nothing beats the real thing.
Luckily, buying a real US Navy pea coat is the cheapest way to cover yourself in melton wool, and not just the most authentic. Few are the vintage stores that don’t have a rack of decommissioned coats. You can also find them on eBay, and on sites like this one. This guide on Fedora Lounge will help you date yours - the golden age runs from WWII through about 1970.
When buying, expect to pay $50 to $100, depending on condition. Buttons can be sourced and replaced pretty easily, but if there are moth holes or excessive cuff wear, those are much harder to manage.

There’s Nothing More Classic Than A Pea Coat

I bought my pea coat at a yard sale in Portland. I was in high school - maybe 15 or 16. A nice woman was selling some of her late grandfather’s things. He’d been a navy man in his day, and she was excited that the coat fit me. I think I paid $25.

That pea coat saw me through some drizzle-soaked outdoor makeout sessions my junior and senior years of high school in San Francisco. It came with me to UC Santa Cruz, where it protected me from the winter chill and from soft thinking. It’s still in my closet today, and while the collar and cuffs are a little more worn than they were back then, I still wear it whenever it’s cold.

The pea coat is probably the military garment which has made the smoothest transition into civilian life. Without insignia or rank patches, it can be (and has been) worn by everyone from former military to peace protesters to preppy lacross player types. It’s also been knocked off by every fashion designer ever. But nothing beats the real thing.

Luckily, buying a real US Navy pea coat is the cheapest way to cover yourself in melton wool, and not just the most authentic. Few are the vintage stores that don’t have a rack of decommissioned coats. You can also find them on eBay, and on sites like this one. This guide on Fedora Lounge will help you date yours - the golden age runs from WWII through about 1970.

When buying, expect to pay $50 to $100, depending on condition. Buttons can be sourced and replaced pretty easily, but if there are moth holes or excessive cuff wear, those are much harder to manage.

It’s on Sale: Luigi Bianchi Mantova

The Luigi Bianchi Mantova family of tailored brands (including, in order of formality and structure, Luigi Bianchi Mantova, L.B.M. 1911, and Luigi Bianchi ROUGH) didn’t make the cut in Derek’s recent suits-at-any-budget roundup, but it’s a good option in my opinion for guys who are looking less for a classic interview suit and more for a slim, Italianate cut or, in the L.B.M. line, an almost cardigan-like unstructured jacket.

Gilt has Luigi Bianchi Mantova on flash sale right now, with solid and patterned suits in the $600-$1000 range, plus outerwear and ties. The prices are good, but not amazing. The brand’s jackets are slimmer and shorter than most; Gilt’s measurements give a European 50R a chest measurement of 40 inches—that’s a couple of inches tighter than a typical U.S. 40R. You might consider buying one size larger than your American size (e.g., a US40 could consider an EU52).

-Pete

Die, Workwear: “Epic Outerwear”
An awesome collection of awe-inspiringly grand outerwear pieces.

Die, Workwear: “Epic Outerwear”

An awesome collection of awe-inspiringly grand outerwear pieces.

Ulster Overcoats

This winter’s cold weather has reminded me that I’d really like to acquire a classic Ulster overcoat sometime this year. An Ulster is a long, double-breasted overcoat, usually made with a 6x3 or 8x4 button configuration. Those numbers refer to how the buttons are arranged on any double-breasted garment (not just Ulsters). A 6x3 double-breasted will have six buttons altogether, neatly arranged into two columns with three buttons each, while a 8x4 will have eight buttons arranged into two columns with four buttons each.

The Ulster has its origins in Ireland, where men would wear the overcoat casually in the wintertime out in the countryside. For this reason, it’s usually made out of a thick, heavy tweed, and will feature details such envelope patch pockets. It’s meant to fit somewhat roomy in order to accommodate any heavy sweaters or thick tweed sport coats worn underneath. To give it some shape, a half belted back is set in for a minimal level of waist suppression.

Its defining characteristic, however, is the collar. To most men, it looks something like what you might see on a peacoat. Broadly cut, it’s designed to button close about the neck and is commonly worn with the back popped up. Last year, when I had dinner with Neapolitan tailor Antonio Panico, he wore a deep navy Ulster overcoat over his burgundy scarf and chalkstriped navy flannel suit. The collar on his coat was flipped up, and it looked quite dashing.

I haven’t seen any new Ulster overcoats offered by any of the major menswear brands, so I assume I’ll have to scour the vintage market. On the upside, I suppose that means if I find one, it should be much more affordable than what a new coat would cost. Here’s to hoping I get one before the start of next winter.

(Pictures from: me, For a Discerning Few, and an old Eaton catalog from 1920)

Consider the Silk Scarf
If you’re wearing a wool coat this winter, consider pairing it with a silk scarf. Silk scarves aren’t as versatile as ones made from cashmere or lambswool, but they look amazing when worn with heavy dress coats. By that I mean things such as polo coats, Ulster coats, and Chesterfields – the kinds of things that you sometimes see labeled as “dress outerwear” in places such as Brooks Brothers. It’s just another way of saying outerwear that’s dressier than things such as parkas and leather bomber jackets.
A silk scarf can really soften up the look of a heavy wool coat. See Noel Coward above or Gordon Gekko in this scene from the movie Wall Street. In both cases, their scarves in lend a nice sheen to an otherwise matte ensemble. It’s not unlike how we use silk ties and polished shoes to counterbalance the flatness of a wool sport coat or woolen trousers. As I wrote earlier this year, I believe a lot of what it means to dress well is learning how to strike a balance between different elements of what you’re wearing (patterns, texture, hardness/ softness, sheen/ flatness, etc). Light silk scarves do that well with heavy wool coats, so long as the coat is as dressy as the scarf.
There are a few places to buy a silk scarf. My favorite is Drake’s, who sells them in a few different designs. I have two of their reversible dotted tubular scarves – one in navy and one in brown – which kind of look like this, but without the fringed ends. A navy dotted silk scarf is arguably the most versatile version you can buy, though I like my brown one for when I wear navy coats. The difference in color helps distinguish it from the rest of what I’m wearing.
You can also pick some up from traditional men’s haberdashers, such as Ben Silver, Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Paul Stuart, and A Suitable Wardrobe. Additionally, San Francisco’s Wingtip stocks Edward Armah silk scarves, as well as a few under their own house label. You can also buy Edward Armah’s scarves directly from Edward Armah themselves.
Admittedly, all those are quite expensive. You could wait for them to go on sale, but they’ll still be on the pricey side. Alternatively, KJ Beckett sells silk scarves by Michelsons of London (also available through the manufacturer themselves), but I have no first hand experience with their products, so I can’t speak about their quality. You can also try eBay. This seller, for example, regularly stocks them, but his/ her scarves are often short and narrow. That’ll limit how you can wear the scarf. You may be able to get away with wearing it like a muffler underneath your buttoned up coat, but it may look silly if you try anything else. Better if you can get something 64” or longer, but those will typically cost you considerably more. 

Consider the Silk Scarf

If you’re wearing a wool coat this winter, consider pairing it with a silk scarf. Silk scarves aren’t as versatile as ones made from cashmere or lambswool, but they look amazing when worn with heavy dress coats. By that I mean things such as polo coats, Ulster coats, and Chesterfields – the kinds of things that you sometimes see labeled as “dress outerwear” in places such as Brooks Brothers. It’s just another way of saying outerwear that’s dressier than things such as parkas and leather bomber jackets.

A silk scarf can really soften up the look of a heavy wool coat. See Noel Coward above or Gordon Gekko in this scene from the movie Wall Street. In both cases, their scarves in lend a nice sheen to an otherwise matte ensemble. It’s not unlike how we use silk ties and polished shoes to counterbalance the flatness of a wool sport coat or woolen trousers. As I wrote earlier this year, I believe a lot of what it means to dress well is learning how to strike a balance between different elements of what you’re wearing (patterns, texture, hardness/ softness, sheen/ flatness, etc). Light silk scarves do that well with heavy wool coats, so long as the coat is as dressy as the scarf.

There are a few places to buy a silk scarf. My favorite is Drake’s, who sells them in a few different designs. I have two of their reversible dotted tubular scarves – one in navy and one in brown – which kind of look like this, but without the fringed ends. A navy dotted silk scarf is arguably the most versatile version you can buy, though I like my brown one for when I wear navy coats. The difference in color helps distinguish it from the rest of what I’m wearing.

You can also pick some up from traditional men’s haberdashers, such as Ben Silver, Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Paul Stuart, and A Suitable Wardrobe. Additionally, San Francisco’s Wingtip stocks Edward Armah silk scarves, as well as a few under their own house label. You can also buy Edward Armah’s scarves directly from Edward Armah themselves.

Admittedly, all those are quite expensive. You could wait for them to go on sale, but they’ll still be on the pricey side. Alternatively, KJ Beckett sells silk scarves by Michelsons of London (also available through the manufacturer themselves), but I have no first hand experience with their products, so I can’t speak about their quality. You can also try eBay. This seller, for example, regularly stocks them, but his/ her scarves are often short and narrow. That’ll limit how you can wear the scarf. You may be able to get away with wearing it like a muffler underneath your buttoned up coat, but it may look silly if you try anything else. Better if you can get something 64” or longer, but those will typically cost you considerably more. 

Toad from To The Manor Born wants you to thrift him a polo coat.
Spring/ Summer collection of 1899: Vicuna topcoat, silk lined to the edge, for $10.50. 

Spring/ Summer collection of 1899: Vicuna topcoat, silk lined to the edge, for $10.50.