The Very Useful Black Tie
One of the biggest fights in men’s fashion during the early 19th century was over the appropriate color of men’s neckwear. At the time, men wore cravats (a type of decorative neckerchief) in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and knots, but always in one color and one color only — white. Pristine white too, so as to show that you were a member of high society.
Which is why there was such a big backlash in 1840 when some liberal minded dressers started wearing them in black. As one leading magazine of the day wrote about it:

One of the most important events of the moment is the conflict between the black cravat and the white cravat. Can one now appear in good society with a black silk tie? Convention’s repose is an unhesitating no. But the new fashion answers in the affirmative. […] What’s next? How will Paris respond? According to our sources at their embassies, the great world powers are divided on the question. One irate woman of high society has brought forward the following thread, ‘If the level of male indecency reaches the point of wearing black cravats, we will be forced into retaliating by raising the necklines of our dresses.’

Despite such serious threats, black cravats became the norm by 1850. 
Today, men don’t wear cravats, of course, but rather neckties, and black is one of the most useful colors you can own (along with navy). One or two should be enough, with at least one of those being a silk knit or grenadine. As we’ve written before, the advantage of ties that are both solid colored and textured is that you can wear them with almost any kind of shirt and jacket combination. If your shirt and jacket are patterned, the solid color of your tie will keep things from looking too busy. If instead your shirt and jacket are solid colored, then the textured weave will keep things from looking too boring. Such ties are the easiest to put on in the morning when you don’t want to think too much about what to wear.
In black, things are doubly easy. You can wear black ties with tan cotton or linen sport coats in the summer and things will still look suitably light and cheery. In the winter, you can wear them with grey flannel suits and brown tweed jackets for a more somber look. Additionally, a black tie can add a little color variation to a navy jacket when a navy tie might feel too matchy-matchy. 
To get a good black grenadine, check places such as Drake’s, EG Cappelli, Kent Wang, J. Press, Sam Hober, A Suitable Wardrobe, and our advertiser Chipp Neckwear. I like EG Cappelli for their soft construction, Sam Hober for their flexibility (they do custom ties), and Chipp Neckwear for their affordability. For knit ties, you can check the same makers, but add Land’s End to the list.
(Photo via Voxsartoria)

The Very Useful Black Tie

One of the biggest fights in men’s fashion during the early 19th century was over the appropriate color of men’s neckwear. At the time, men wore cravats (a type of decorative neckerchief) in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and knots, but always in one color and one color only — white. Pristine white too, so as to show that you were a member of high society.

Which is why there was such a big backlash in 1840 when some liberal minded dressers started wearing them in black. As one leading magazine of the day wrote about it:

One of the most important events of the moment is the conflict between the black cravat and the white cravat. Can one now appear in good society with a black silk tie? Convention’s repose is an unhesitating no. But the new fashion answers in the affirmative. […] What’s next? How will Paris respond? According to our sources at their embassies, the great world powers are divided on the question. One irate woman of high society has brought forward the following thread, ‘If the level of male indecency reaches the point of wearing black cravats, we will be forced into retaliating by raising the necklines of our dresses.’

Despite such serious threats, black cravats became the norm by 1850. 

Today, men don’t wear cravats, of course, but rather neckties, and black is one of the most useful colors you can own (along with navy). One or two should be enough, with at least one of those being a silk knit or grenadine. As we’ve written before, the advantage of ties that are both solid colored and textured is that you can wear them with almost any kind of shirt and jacket combination. If your shirt and jacket are patterned, the solid color of your tie will keep things from looking too busy. If instead your shirt and jacket are solid colored, then the textured weave will keep things from looking too boring. Such ties are the easiest to put on in the morning when you don’t want to think too much about what to wear.

In black, things are doubly easy. You can wear black ties with tan cotton or linen sport coats in the summer and things will still look suitably light and cheery. In the winter, you can wear them with grey flannel suits and brown tweed jackets for a more somber look. Additionally, a black tie can add a little color variation to a navy jacket when a navy tie might feel too matchy-matchy. 

To get a good black grenadine, check places such as Drake’s, EG Cappelli, Kent Wang, J. Press, Sam Hober, A Suitable Wardrobe, and our advertiser Chipp Neckwear. I like EG Cappelli for their soft construction, Sam Hober for their flexibility (they do custom ties), and Chipp Neckwear for their affordability. For knit ties, you can check the same makers, but add Land’s End to the list.

(Photo via Voxsartoria)

A Summertime Favorite: Penny Loafers
Once the weather warms up and the days get long, I often find that the best shoes are either sneakers or slip-ons. I typically wear sneakers with jeans and casual outerwear, and slip-ons with dressier trousers and sport coats. Styles can really range, but most of the time, sneakers tend to be white and minimalistic, and the slip-ons tend to be penny loafers.
The penny loafer is often thought of as a quintessentially American shoe — a style that’s most at home with tweed jackets and Shetland sweaters, as they were originally worn on Ivy League campuses in the mid-20th century. Today, however, you can safely wear them without any preppy connotations (although, you can also wear them as such, if you wish). With a sleeker pair of European pennies, for example, you can combine them with a soft-shouldered sport coat, wool trousers, and an open collared shirt for a very dégagé Continental look. With some beefroll loafers, jeans, and a light jacket, you can go back to looking like an American, but in a way that doesn’t feel too preppy. 
If you haven’t yet got yourself a pair, consider some of these:
Highly expensive at $750+: JM Weston’s 180 moccasin and John Lobb’s Lopez are pretty iconic, with the first having uniquely high walls around the toe that help distinguish it from the pack. My favorite loafers in this price tier, however, are all from Edward Green – an English firm known for its tasteful designs, quality construction, and beautiful finishing. Check out the Piccadilly, Montpellier, Sandown, and Harrow to start.
Pricey options between $350 and $500: Less expensive, but no less well-made, are loafers from all of your usual suspects. Carmina, for example, has something that looks very much like Edward Green’s Montpellier, while Alden has a wide range of handsome American designs. More recently, Wildsmith (a bespoke shoemaker once famous for their unlined loafers) relaunched as a ready-to-wear brand, and although their loafers aren’t as close to their originals as Edward Green’s Harrow, they’re priced competitively. Shipton & Heneage will also have a nice range of options, and they’re made a bit more affordable through the company’s Discount Club. Additionally, Crockett & Jones is very much worth a look, as are Alfred Sargent, Sid Mashburn’s house line, Kent Wang’s antique calf loafers, and the newly launched Paul Evans.
A bit more affordable at $350 and below: Of course, for more affordable shoes, there’s always Allen Edmonds’ factory second store, where the company heavily discounts shoes that didn’t pass quality control. Flaws are often very, very minor, if even visible at all. Loake’s 1880 line is also worth a look, and they sometimes produce for Charles Tyrwhitt and Herring (just note that some Loake-made shoes aren’t of terribly good quality, so use good judgment). Similarly, Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers will have some nice models, even though their quality can really range. Stick to the stuff that retails for $350 and above, and wait for end-of-season sales. In addition, Meermin offers some of the best price-to-value ratio right now in footwear, especially once you take into consideration their made-to-order program, and Jack Erwin is the best I’ve seen in the sub-$200 price range. For more American styled loafers, check out Rancourt and Bass’ Made in Maine collection.
Shell cordovan: Lastly, shell cordovan loafers are worth highlighting. Although shell cordovan is traditionally a workboot material, it works wonderfully today for slightly dressier styles (think wingtips, tassel loafers, and penny loafers). Alden’s Leisure Handsewn is a really beautiful American model, while Carmina will be more European. Meermin may also be able to make you something through their made-to-order program.
(Pictured above: Hooman Majd in his fifteen year old Edward Greens)

A Summertime Favorite: Penny Loafers

Once the weather warms up and the days get long, I often find that the best shoes are either sneakers or slip-ons. I typically wear sneakers with jeans and casual outerwear, and slip-ons with dressier trousers and sport coats. Styles can really range, but most of the time, sneakers tend to be white and minimalistic, and the slip-ons tend to be penny loafers.

The penny loafer is often thought of as a quintessentially American shoe — a style that’s most at home with tweed jackets and Shetland sweaters, as they were originally worn on Ivy League campuses in the mid-20th century. Today, however, you can safely wear them without any preppy connotations (although, you can also wear them as such, if you wish). With a sleeker pair of European pennies, for example, you can combine them with a soft-shouldered sport coat, wool trousers, and an open collared shirt for a very dégagé Continental look. With some beefroll loafers, jeans, and a light jacket, you can go back to looking like an American, but in a way that doesn’t feel too preppy. 

If you haven’t yet got yourself a pair, consider some of these:

  • Highly expensive at $750+: JM Weston’s 180 moccasin and John Lobb’s Lopez are pretty iconic, with the first having uniquely high walls around the toe that help distinguish it from the pack. My favorite loafers in this price tier, however, are all from Edward Green – an English firm known for its tasteful designs, quality construction, and beautiful finishing. Check out the Piccadilly, Montpellier, Sandown, and Harrow to start.
  • Pricey options between $350 and $500: Less expensive, but no less well-made, are loafers from all of your usual suspects. Carmina, for example, has something that looks very much like Edward Green’s Montpellier, while Alden has a wide range of handsome American designs. More recently, Wildsmith (a bespoke shoemaker once famous for their unlined loafers) relaunched as a ready-to-wear brand, and although their loafers aren’t as close to their originals as Edward Green’s Harrow, they’re priced competitively. Shipton & Heneage will also have a nice range of options, and they’re made a bit more affordable through the company’s Discount Club. Additionally, Crockett & Jones is very much worth a look, as are Alfred Sargent, Sid Mashburn’s house line, Kent Wang’s antique calf loafers, and the newly launched Paul Evans.
  • A bit more affordable at $350 and below: Of course, for more affordable shoes, there’s always Allen Edmonds’ factory second store, where the company heavily discounts shoes that didn’t pass quality control. Flaws are often very, very minor, if even visible at all. Loake’s 1880 line is also worth a look, and they sometimes produce for Charles Tyrwhitt and Herring (just note that some Loake-made shoes aren’t of terribly good quality, so use good judgment). Similarly, Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers will have some nice models, even though their quality can really range. Stick to the stuff that retails for $350 and above, and wait for end-of-season sales. In addition, Meermin offers some of the best price-to-value ratio right now in footwear, especially once you take into consideration their made-to-order program, and Jack Erwin is the best I’ve seen in the sub-$200 price range. For more American styled loafers, check out Rancourt and Bass’ Made in Maine collection.
  • Shell cordovan: Lastly, shell cordovan loafers are worth highlighting. Although shell cordovan is traditionally a workboot material, it works wonderfully today for slightly dressier styles (think wingtips, tassel loafers, and penny loafers). Alden’s Leisure Handsewn is a really beautiful American model, while Carmina will be more European. Meermin may also be able to make you something through their made-to-order program.

(Pictured above: Hooman Majd in his fifteen year old Edward Greens)

Silk Knit Ties for Summer
Silk knit ties are great for wear year round, but they’re especially nice in the summer. This is partly because they go well with the rumpled linens and cottons we wear when the weather gets hot, and it’s partly because summer clothes often look better when they’re a bit more casual (and the silk knit is the most casual tie of all). If you wear sport coats this season, there are few better ties to reach for than the silk knit.
The good news is that - unlike with regular neckties - the differences in quality here are much smaller. All knit ties are made by machine, which means there’s less variation to be had in handwork. They also don’t have an interlining inside (which regular neckties do), so the construction is much simpler. As a result, which silk knit you buy is largely about design and taste.
You can break up silk knits first by thinking of them in terms of their material. Even though all silk knits are obviously made from silk, each will have a different kind of “crunchiness” to them. Some will feel very crunchy in the hand, while others will be softer and floppier.
Of the crunchy variety, there’s Drake’s, Exquisite Trimmings, Conrad Wu for something with a denser weave, and Land’s End, KJ Beckett, Paul Stuart, Howard Yount, and our advertiser Ledbury for something looser. Notice that the different weaving patterns give the ties different textures. None are better or worse; just different.  
For something softer and floppier, there’s J. Press, Brooks Brothers, Ben Silver, Kent Wang, and The Knottery. Each, again, have theirs made in their own weaving patterns, which give them different textures. Rubinacci and Sozzi also make some in really attractive and unique patterns. You can find Sozzi at No Man Walks Alone, Exquisite Trimmings, and The Armoury (though you’ll have to call or email The Armoury to order).
My favorites? Probably the Drake’s for their width and texture, at least if you’re going for solid colors. Sozzi and Rubinacci are really nice for something a bit more unique. Few ties can beat Land’s End in terms of value, though. At full price, they’re a bit expensive, but if you wait for one of their many sales, it’s not hard to grab one for about $30. If you haven’t already, get one in solid black. It’s arguably the most versatile silk knit you can own.

Silk Knit Ties for Summer

Silk knit ties are great for wear year round, but they’re especially nice in the summer. This is partly because they go well with the rumpled linens and cottons we wear when the weather gets hot, and it’s partly because summer clothes often look better when they’re a bit more casual (and the silk knit is the most casual tie of all). If you wear sport coats this season, there are few better ties to reach for than the silk knit.

The good news is that - unlike with regular neckties - the differences in quality here are much smaller. All knit ties are made by machine, which means there’s less variation to be had in handwork. They also don’t have an interlining inside (which regular neckties do), so the construction is much simpler. As a result, which silk knit you buy is largely about design and taste.

You can break up silk knits first by thinking of them in terms of their material. Even though all silk knits are obviously made from silk, each will have a different kind of “crunchiness” to them. Some will feel very crunchy in the hand, while others will be softer and floppier.

Of the crunchy variety, there’s Drake’sExquisite TrimmingsConrad Wu for something with a denser weave, and Land’s EndKJ Beckett, Paul StuartHoward Yount, and our advertiser Ledbury for something looser. Notice that the different weaving patterns give the ties different textures. None are better or worse; just different.  

For something softer and floppier, there’s J. PressBrooks BrothersBen SilverKent Wang, and The Knottery. Each, again, have theirs made in their own weaving patterns, which give them different textures. Rubinacci and Sozzi also make some in really attractive and unique patterns. You can find Sozzi at No Man Walks AloneExquisite Trimmings, and The Armoury (though you’ll have to call or email The Armoury to order).

My favorites? Probably the Drake’s for their width and texture, at least if you’re going for solid colors. Sozzi and Rubinacci are really nice for something a bit more unique. Few ties can beat Land’s End in terms of value, though. At full price, they’re a bit expensive, but if you wait for one of their many sales, it’s not hard to grab one for about $30. If you haven’t already, get one in solid black. It’s arguably the most versatile silk knit you can own.

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 Advantage of Unusual Designs in Pocket Squares

Like with ties, I find it’s easy to acquire more pocket square than you need. This is true for almost any accessory, really. As I mentioned before, accessories tend to be easier to size right, are relatively more affordable, and can satisfy that urge to buy something new. Before you know it, you have dozens of ties and pocket squares, and not nearly enough sport coats or suits to justify your collection.

In my time wearing pocket squares, I’ve come to realize that I mostly rely on just three types. The first is clean white linen, which I like to wear with everything except tweeds. Then there are madder silks, which I find to be useful in the fall and winter months. For some reason, those are a bit hard to find (especially in soft, muted colors), but Ralph Lauren sometimes stocks them.

Then there’s the third category, which I think is the most useful – squares with large, intricate designs of the kind that you’d never see in ties. The advantage of these is that you never run the risk of looking like you bought your tie and pocket square as part of a matching set (which you should never do, by the way). With a big, bold pattern – as opposed to something like pin dots – you can always be sure that your square will stand on its own, but still harmonize with whatever else you’re wearing through some complementary color. Plus, if you find something with the right square, you can get a bit more versatility by simply turning the square a bit here or there to show off the colors you want. That’s much hard to do if every inch of your square is essentially the same repeating pattern.

In recent years, the number of places where you can buy such squares has exploded. There are the standards, of course, in the form of Drake’s and Rubinacci, both of which produce beautiful pieces. You can purchase those directly through each brand’s shops, or through various online retailers such as No Man Walks Alone, A Suitable Wardrobe, Exquisite Trimmings, Malford of London, Mr. Porter, and our advertiser The Hanger Project. There are also a number of other operations worth considering:

Put This On: The first is of course our pocket square shop. Jesse finds vintage and deadstock fabrics from online sellers and thrift shops, and then has them handmade into pocket squares through a tailor in Los Angeles. That means having the edges handrolled with a nice plump edge, rather than something machined and flat.
Vanda Fine Clothing: Run by the newlywed couple Diana and Gerald, these two produce excellent high-end ties and pocket squares – all hand sewn by them in their workshop in Singapore. Recently, they came out with a series of Chinese zodiac squares, which add a bit of personalization for the wearer.
Ikire Jones: Ikire Jones is a relatively new company run by a finalist in one of Esquire’s “Best Dressed Real Man” competitions. The designer, Wale Oyejide, is a bold dresser with a strong sense of color. Whether you’re a conservative dresser such as myself, or more daring, I think his pocket squares are quite useful. I reviewed them here.
Christian Kimber: Christian has some refreshingly modern designs with abstracted shapes made to look like famous landmarks. At the moment, there are squares representing London, Melbourne, and Florence, but more cities will be released sometime this year.
P. Johnson Tailors: Like Christian Kimber, P. Johnson also produces designs with a slightly more modern sensibility. Their squares tend to have large swaths of color, so you might want to think about how you normally fold your square, lest you look like you’re wearing something that’s one solid color.
Kent Wang: Always a good source for more affordable options, Kent has printed more unique looking pocket squares in the last year. The only thing to watch out for is the size. I find that squares smaller than 15” x 15” feel a bit too insubstantial, although your taste may differ.

(Photos above by The SartorialistChristian KimberRubinacciMalford of LondonVanda Fine Clothing, and us)

Is That a Unicorn in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Poorly Translating the Bible?

Unicorn-print accessories, like Lisa Frank stickers but for men, have enjoyed a good couple of years. Pictured above are Drake’s tonal printed pocket squares (derived from La Dame à la licorne; not currently available) and Kent Wang’s more colorful version, based on the Verteuil Tapestries).  Reginald Jerome de Mans has talked about the history of these accessories with Drake’s and Hilditch and Key going back to the late 1980s, but what about the history of the unicorn itself? And why are we keeping ol’ one horn in our jacket pockets?

Annalee Newitz talks about the evolution of the unicorn myth via Chris Lavers’ 2010 scholarly study of unicorns through history:

As Lavers explains, the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament mentions an animal called a “reem.” When scholars tried to translate this word into Greek, they were flummoxed. They had no idea what this “reem” was. They knew it was big, and it had horns, and that it obviously wasn’t a goat. (Goats are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.) So they translated it as “monoceros,” meaning “one-horn.” Then, when the Greek Bible was translated into Latin, the word became “unicornus.” And that word, translated into English, is unicorn.

Early in the 20th century, when scholars cracked the code on ancient cuneiform script, they finally learned what that mysterious reem really was. In these ancient texts, written around the time when the Hebrew Bible was being penned, there are many references to an animal called a rimu. Like the biblical reem, the rimu was enormous, strong, and had horns. That animal was an ox. So all of those references to unicorns in the Bible? Those are actually to an ox. Which, if you read the actual sections of the Bible, makes a lot more sense.

But for nearly 1500 years, Christians believed in the unicorn version of things. The unicorn came to symbolize Christ, its horn the cross, and its tribulations during the hunt were like Christ’s tribulations on earth. Interestingly, the idea that unicorns were attracted to virgins comes from a pagan source. A Latin book called the Physiologus, probably written in the second century CE, mentions that a unicorn can only be caught when it lays its head down in a virgin’s lap. Christian analysts seized on this idea, suggesting that this was symbolic of how Christ came into the world – with the help of a virgin. Keeping all of this in mind, it’s easy to understand what those 16th-century unicorn tapestries are all about.

Next time you’re decorating your Trapper Keeper or tweed patch pocket, think of the mystical beauty and profound majesty of the ox.

-Pete

Umbrellas: Cheap, Expensive, and Everything In-Between

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

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

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

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

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

(Photos by fk118, Voxsartoria, and me)

1970s Style with the Rugby Shirt

Rigidly reserving things only for their original intended purpose is for the short of sight and narrow of mind. The telephone was originally an instrument of business; what early adopter could foresee that in 2013 a phone would be something you carry in your pocket and use primarily to photograph yourself? Likewise, the rugby shirt, a garment designed for the pitch, over time found new homes on college campuses, in the mountains of California, and eventually in the dresser drawers of thousands of men who wouldn’t know a scrum from shinola.

Origins

The basic, classic rugby is a heavyweight, knit cotton jersey shirt, often with ribbed cuffs, and a placket and collar of white cotton twill, usually fastened with rubber buttons—less likely to tear off during rough play. (This is a sport that considers binding your ears to your head with electrical tape a form of protection.) That contrast collar and placket are largely what differentiate the rugby shirt from any general long-sleeved polo shirt—but reasonable people disagree. Rugby players often prefer a slimmer fit; modern rugby shirts are constructed of synthetic fabric and cut very slim to frustrate potential tacklers looking to grab hold. They’re very similar to current professional soccer jerseys. In its early days in the 19th century, rugby was played at British public (i.e., very much private) schools, and shirts were often striped with “hoops” in the school’s colors to identify teams, hence the bold stripes on many casual rugby shirts.

Although it’s hard to point to a specific moment when the rugby shirt made the leap to casual, nonsport wear, it was probably in the middle of the 20th century, when the game itself experienced a surge in popularity on stateside campuses. Eventually the rugby became a standard item in 1980s L.L. Bean and Land’s End catalogs. In the 2000s, Ralph Lauren named an entire label Rugby (RIP). Overlogoed versions, polluted with embroidery and superfluous stitching, have been common since the second coming of Abercrombie and Fitch.

Chouinard’s Rugby

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard is credited with bringing the rugby shirt to the mountains, where in the 1960s a climbing boom was just beginning to spur the growth of a new industry of gear. Rugby shirts were comfortable and elastic enough for freedom of movement when climbing, and the collar kept heavy climbing ropes, slung across the body, from chafing necks. Plus, the bright, broad stripes looked fantastic. Chouinard began carrying the shirts under his original gear label, Great Pacific Iron Works, as “the most practical shirts we have found for rock climbing.” (The black-and-white image above comes from one of GPIW’s beautiful 1970s catalogs, in which rugby shirts were $12 to $16, or about $50 to $70 today.)

I prefer a plain or striped rugby in the style of Chouinard’s, with the traditional twill collar and ribbed cuffs. For me they’re off-duty wear—I would hesitate to wear one with a sportcoat or real trousers. Heavy corduroys, canvas pants, or denim match the heft of the jersey fabric and are seasonally appropriate in the chilly months when rugby shirts are most often worn.

Sources

Fortunately, well-made rugby shirts are affordable, although fitted versions are less common. Columbia Knit supplied a number of 1980s labels with USA-made rugby shirts, and still makes a nice rugby for as little as $30 (even less if you order a shirt of mixed up remainder fabric). Columbia Knit’s shirts are generously sized and drop shouldered—the shoulder seam will not fall at the edge of your shoulder, but high on your upper arm. Barbarian has a good reputation (I have not handled their shirts, which are made in Canada), and their versions run about $50. Land’s End still sells rugby shirts, but they’re imported, and classified by one reviewer as “roomy and stylish.”  Kent Wang's modified rugby is $85. Ralph Lauren’s custom fit is probably the most reasonably priced, reliably slim fitting option at $100. Of course, it has a Polo pony embroidered on the chest. Gant, which has a line called Rugger, sells a fitted version with a minimal logo.

Rugby shirts are of course fall/winter items and most stores are now just getting fall/winter clothing on the shelves, so expect to see more options soon. In recent years, Archival Clothing, Jack Spade, Brooks Brothers Black Fleece, and Brunello Cucinelli, among others, have offered attractive versions. If you see any particularly great ones on the market, let us know.

-Pete

Five Sneakers for Summer
As much as I like leather hard-bottom shoes, summer is really a great time for sneakers. They go well with chinos and madras shirts, jeans and t-shirts, and even the occasional casual button-up with shorts. I mainly rely on five different models for my rotation.
German Army Trainers: If German Army Trainers (GATs for short) seem new but familiar, it might be because the two brothers who invented them would later go on to launch Adidas and Puma, two classic sneaker companies that often make shoes bearing a familial resemblance to GATs. They were also used by German soldiers for indoor exercises during the 1970s, which is how they got their name.
You can find GATs today at a pretty affordable price. They’re about $30 if you’re in Germany and can get to a military surplus store, but if you’re not, you can find them between $60 and $90 on eBay and through German proxy sellers. Jesse wrote a great article on how to score them here.
There are also a couple of slightly modified designs by Svensson and Maison Martin Margiela (the second of which issues them in a number of different colors every season). I have the black pair you see above, the grey ones here, and the classic white leather/ grey suede combination. The last is probably the most popular among style enthusiasts, but I find myself wearing the black and grey pairs most often. You can get Margiela GATs for about $250 on eBay or during sale seasons. 
Common Projects: Enough has probably been said about how useful this minimalistic design is, so let’s talk about alternatives, in case Common Projects are too expensive for you. The good news is that there are a ton of alternatives. Check, for example, these by Acne (some on sale here), ETQ, Erik Schedin, Vor, Marc Jacobs, Svensson, National Standard (some on sale here), Twins for Peace, Kent Wang, Zegna Sport, Aspesi, Buttero, Generic Surplus, Superga, and Adidas (Stan Smiths, Soloist collaboration, and Campus 80s). Admittedly, the last few don’t look very much like Common Projects, but they’re somewhat similar and it’s nice to have options.  
Hydrogen-1: A few months ago, Hydrogen-1 offered to send me a free pair of sneakers to review. I was skeptical, to be honest, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to give their black Oxygen high-tops a try, so long as they knew a positive review wasn’t guaranteed.
I’ve been happily surprised with them and find they’re just as well made as my Common Projects or Margielas. The slightly pebbled black calf leather doesn’t show creases easily and the padded collar makes them exceptionally comfortable. The sole looks chunkier online than in real life, but they do give the shoe a nice casual look. Like the aforementioned minimalistic options, the simplicity of these high-tops makes them very versatile.
I also like these grey chukkas. Hero, the founder behind the company, tells me they’ll be doing an end-of-season sale in a few months, and that both models will be coming out in different colorways and materials this October or so.
Billy Reid: Billy Reid has a collaboration line with K-Swiss that I really like. It’s a very sporty, slightly retro design that goes well with a grey sweatshirt and pair of jeans. A bit more “designed” than the other options on this list, but in a way that still feels simple and basic.
Canvas sneakers: The great thing about sneakers is that they don’t have to be expensive. If you’re on a budget, aim for something classic and made from canvas. My go-tos are Superga 1705s in white and navy, but you can read about a number of other options in this old post I wrote a couple of summers ago. It’s hard to go wrong with any of those models.
If you want something more unique, check out these other designs by Superga, Converse, Twins for Peace, Industry of All Nations, and Nigel Cabourn. Wooden Sleepers also has a pretty neat-looking Italian military sneaker that I’ve always admired. Like with all the models mentioned in this post, I think they’d make for a really great pair of summer shoes.
(Pictured above: Margiela GATs, Common Project Achilles, Hydrogen-1 Oxygens, Billy Reid x K Swiss, and Superga 1705s. For what it’s worth, I’ve found all these run true to size, except for the Supergas, where I had to take a 10 instead of my regular 9).

Five Sneakers for Summer

As much as I like leather hard-bottom shoes, summer is really a great time for sneakers. They go well with chinos and madras shirts, jeans and t-shirts, and even the occasional casual button-up with shorts. I mainly rely on five different models for my rotation.

German Army Trainers: If German Army Trainers (GATs for short) seem new but familiar, it might be because the two brothers who invented them would later go on to launch Adidas and Puma, two classic sneaker companies that often make shoes bearing a familial resemblance to GATs. They were also used by German soldiers for indoor exercises during the 1970s, which is how they got their name.

You can find GATs today at a pretty affordable price. They’re about $30 if you’re in Germany and can get to a military surplus store, but if you’re not, you can find them between $60 and $90 on eBay and through German proxy sellers. Jesse wrote a great article on how to score them here.

There are also a couple of slightly modified designs by Svensson and Maison Martin Margiela (the second of which issues them in a number of different colors every season). I have the black pair you see above, the grey ones here, and the classic white leather/ grey suede combination. The last is probably the most popular among style enthusiasts, but I find myself wearing the black and grey pairs most often. You can get Margiela GATs for about $250 on eBay or during sale seasons. 

Common Projects: Enough has probably been said about how useful this minimalistic design is, so let’s talk about alternatives, in case Common Projects are too expensive for you. The good news is that there are a ton of alternatives. Check, for example, these by Acne (some on sale here), ETQ, Erik Schedin, Vor, Marc Jacobs, Svensson, National Standard (some on sale here), Twins for Peace, Kent Wang, Zegna Sport, Aspesi, Buttero, Generic Surplus, Superga, and Adidas (Stan Smiths, Soloist collaboration, and Campus 80s). Admittedly, the last few don’t look very much like Common Projects, but they’re somewhat similar and it’s nice to have options.  

Hydrogen-1: A few months ago, Hydrogen-1 offered to send me a free pair of sneakers to review. I was skeptical, to be honest, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to give their black Oxygen high-tops a try, so long as they knew a positive review wasn’t guaranteed.

I’ve been happily surprised with them and find they’re just as well made as my Common Projects or Margielas. The slightly pebbled black calf leather doesn’t show creases easily and the padded collar makes them exceptionally comfortable. The sole looks chunkier online than in real life, but they do give the shoe a nice casual look. Like the aforementioned minimalistic options, the simplicity of these high-tops makes them very versatile.

I also like these grey chukkas. Hero, the founder behind the company, tells me they’ll be doing an end-of-season sale in a few months, and that both models will be coming out in different colorways and materials this October or so.

Billy Reid: Billy Reid has a collaboration line with K-Swiss that I really like. It’s a very sporty, slightly retro design that goes well with a grey sweatshirt and pair of jeans. A bit more “designed” than the other options on this list, but in a way that still feels simple and basic.

Canvas sneakers: The great thing about sneakers is that they don’t have to be expensive. If you’re on a budget, aim for something classic and made from canvas. My go-tos are Superga 1705s in white and navy, but you can read about a number of other options in this old post I wrote a couple of summers ago. It’s hard to go wrong with any of those models.

If you want something more unique, check out these other designs by Superga, Converse, Twins for Peace, Industry of All Nations, and Nigel Cabourn. Wooden Sleepers also has a pretty neat-looking Italian military sneaker that I’ve always admired. Like with all the models mentioned in this post, I think they’d make for a really great pair of summer shoes.

(Pictured above: Margiela GATsCommon Project AchillesHydrogen-1 OxygensBilly Reid x K Swiss, and Superga 1705s. For what it’s worth, I’ve found all these run true to size, except for the Supergas, where I had to take a 10 instead of my regular 9).

A Simple Summer Look
I love this Apparel Arts illustration. I found it last year on an online men’s clothing forum, and put it in my head to try to find similar pieces. Unfortunately, by the time I did, summer had already passed. This year, however, I’ll be wearing this on more than a few occasions once the weather gets hot (though, I’ll probably leave the ascot and pipe to more dashing men).
The great thing about this is how stylish it looks with just a few simple pieces. To get something like this for yourself, consider this long-sleeved polo from Kent Wang. Though not technically the same as what you see above, I think long sleeves rolled up look better than short ones. I also find that long sleeved polos have the advantage of being able to do double duty underneath sport coats. They show the bit of requisite shirt cuff underneath the jacket sleeve, and ensure that no bare wrists will be exposed when you move your arms. If you want something sportier, however, Kent has a number of short sleeve options as well.
The upside to Kent’s polos is that they have a few “button up shirt details” that make them look a bit smarter than your average tennis shirt. The collar band, for example, is reinforced, so the collar doesn’t flop down and lay flat against your shoulder (like you’d see on most polos). The downside, however, is that they fit very slim and the sleeves can be a bit tight. Kent has measurements posted though, and he accepts returns.
For other options, Jesse has recommended Lands’ End. I also really like this new polo at The Armoury, which I believe was made for them by Ascot Chang. To order one, you’ll have to call or email their store (expect the price to be higher than either Kent’s or Lands’ End).
Tan trousers are harder to find. For mine, I bought a pair of flannel ones from Howard Yount, but they’re sold out now and won’t be restocking until fall. Flannel has a bit of richness and mottling that’ll help keep this from looking like a Best Buy employee uniform. You can find something similar at the moment at O’Connell’s and J Press, the second of which is having a sale right now. And though they’re not tan, these Pantas look fantastic. Their prices aren’t cheap, but their pants are some of the highest quality you’ll find in the ready-to-wear market.  
Finally, for the creped-soled shoes, consider some of the options I mentioned a few weeks ago. I think pair of sueded, dark brown chukkas with rubber crepe soles here would look great.

A Simple Summer Look

I love this Apparel Arts illustration. I found it last year on an online men’s clothing forum, and put it in my head to try to find similar pieces. Unfortunately, by the time I did, summer had already passed. This year, however, I’ll be wearing this on more than a few occasions once the weather gets hot (though, I’ll probably leave the ascot and pipe to more dashing men).

The great thing about this is how stylish it looks with just a few simple pieces. To get something like this for yourself, consider this long-sleeved polo from Kent Wang. Though not technically the same as what you see above, I think long sleeves rolled up look better than short ones. I also find that long sleeved polos have the advantage of being able to do double duty underneath sport coats. They show the bit of requisite shirt cuff underneath the jacket sleeve, and ensure that no bare wrists will be exposed when you move your arms. If you want something sportier, however, Kent has a number of short sleeve options as well.

The upside to Kent’s polos is that they have a few “button up shirt details” that make them look a bit smarter than your average tennis shirt. The collar band, for example, is reinforced, so the collar doesn’t flop down and lay flat against your shoulder (like you’d see on most polos). The downside, however, is that they fit very slim and the sleeves can be a bit tight. Kent has measurements posted though, and he accepts returns.

For other options, Jesse has recommended Lands’ End. I also really like this new polo at The Armoury, which I believe was made for them by Ascot Chang. To order one, you’ll have to call or email their store (expect the price to be higher than either Kent’s or Lands’ End).

Tan trousers are harder to find. For mine, I bought a pair of flannel ones from Howard Yount, but they’re sold out now and won’t be restocking until fall. Flannel has a bit of richness and mottling that’ll help keep this from looking like a Best Buy employee uniform. You can find something similar at the moment at O’Connell’s and J Press, the second of which is having a sale right now. And though they’re not tan, these Pantas look fantastic. Their prices aren’t cheap, but their pants are some of the highest quality you’ll find in the ready-to-wear market.  

Finally, for the creped-soled shoes, consider some of the options I mentioned a few weeks ago. I think pair of sueded, dark brown chukkas with rubber crepe soles here would look great.