25% off and free shipping with code SPRINGSHIP and PIN 6212 at Lands’ End.
It’s On Sale: Lands’ End Down Vests $18 Shipped
As we already mentioned, everything at Lands’ End is 40% off at the moment. That includes their down vests, which had already been marked down to $33 (for the patterned version) and $28 (for the solid). That makes their final price, with the additional 40% markdown, just about $18, with free shipping. Use the code DONNER and the PIN 1585. I’d generally recommend sizing down one size on these - I’m a 42 and can can comfortably layer a medium over a sweater or sweatshirt.
(Some other deals: over-the-calf dress cotton sock three-packs for $9, and wool for the same price, cotton casual sock 3-packs for $6, flannel trousers for $60, Chelsea boots $95, fake Indy boot $48, slim-fit chinos $15.)
Folks are always asking me about more affordable boot options for the cool-weather months. It makes sense - most of the good stuff starts in the $300-400 range and goes up from there. That’s a serious dent in anyone’s pocketbook. It’s tough to find something that’s both cheap and recommendable.
These look like they might be an exception: the Lands’ End Fulton. A Chelsea boot can be very versatile - it can be casual enough for jeans, and can even be pulled off with a suit in some circumstances. It also moves easily from day to night. They’re a classic utility player. These ones look like a bargain, too.
It can be tough to find shoes (to say nothing of boots) made of actual full-grain leather for less than $300, and these guys retail for $158. Add one of those 25 or 30% off coupons that Lands’ End is always passing around, and you’re barely over a hundey.
These aren’t RM Williams or Crockett & Jones. They’re “imported” (presumably made in China), they advertise a “full leather welt,” but don’t say whether the welt is functional or decorative, and I’m sure that full-grain leather falls short of ultra-premium. Still, this looks like a workhorse boot for an excellent price. The best part is that they’re Lands’ End, so if they don’t work out for any reason at all, you can return them, no questions asked.
A Basic Cashmere Wardrobe for Men
It doesn’t get much more versatile than a simple v-neck sweater in a basic, solid color. It doesn’t get much more classic, either. Build yourself a wardrobe of three pieces, and you’ll be set for years.
Above are three of the most basic colors: burgundy, navy and gray. If you wear a lot of monochromatic palettes, or want something to wear out at night, you could add black to that list (though gray is more versatile, and can usually fill in fine for black). Camel can also be a nice choice. These are pieces that go with everything from jeans to a suit, and add sophistication and comfort to every outfit you wear.
I like cashmere for my v-necks. It’s warmer relative to its weight than wool, and of course it’s exceptionally soft, as well. It’s also one of the few fabrics that gets better with age. High-quality cashmere, with reasonably attentive care, can last very nearly forever. I think that this is a wardrobe element that’s essential enough that you should look for the best.
But where do you get the good stuff? I wrote a quick guide to finding quality cashmere, but I’ll summarize (OK, probably expand) here.
There’s plenty of passable cashmere on the market today - far more than ever before. You can buy cashmere sweaters for $80 at Costco, $150 at Lands’ End or $198 at J. Crew. That Lands’ End sweater is decent quality, but it’s still expensive, and it’s not the good stuff. It won’t last, look as nice, or feel as good.
As the cashmere market has exploded over the past fifteen years or so, the breadth of quality available has expanded dramatically. All cashmere is not created equal. Cashmere’s quality depends on the quality of the fiber, the quality of the milling, and the quality of the garment’s construction. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that there’s no difference.
Good cashmere is made from the longest fibers. It is dense, resilient and lightweight (though it may be offered in multiple layers, or plys). The texture should almost approach a cotton jersey. It will also (new) be a little less soft than the cheap stuff. The short fibers in cheap cashmere are loose right from the start, so they feel soft to the touch. They’ll pill and tear. The best cashmere feels smooth as much as it feels soft. Go to a super-fancy store, and touch some Loro Piana branded cashmere, and you’ll get a feeling for what I’m talking about.
Of course, great cashmere has become surpassingly expensive. A Loro Piana cashmere sweater can cost as much as $1500, and one by a less-well-advertised maker like Drumohr can still go for $500 or more. Perhaps you can swing this, in which case more power to you, but for most of us, that’s cost-prohibitive.
There is good news, however. Because good cashmere wears so well, and because almost all cashmere was top-of-the-line until fifteen or so years ago, used is a tremendous option.
For $30-60, you can buy a pristine Scottish cashmere sweater (Scottish cashmere, by the way, is what you want), from a luxury maker. Look for something from the 1980s or earlier, with a smooth, tight hand. It should be made in Scotland, either for a fancy store (Saks, Nordstrom, Brooks, Wilkes, Niemans, that kind of thing) or by one of the big Scottish cashmere brands (Pringle, Drumohr, etc.). Look for something sized by chest size, not S-M-L-XL. Focus on the basic colors we’ve identified above. If it’s pilling, has holes or stains, leave it be.
When you’re shopping, take your time. The perfect piece may not come along right away, but it will come. These are basics, after all.
Once you’ve got your sweater - or sweaters - care for them gently. Hand-wash them only when they really need it (once a year or so). They’ll actually get softer with age. If you wear through the elbows, add patches. If you get a snag, have it rewoven. Take care of them, and they’ll keep you warm and stylish for a healthy chunk of the rest of your life.
It’s On Sale
Lands’ End 6” Volley Swim Trunks
I’m a big fan of simple swim trunks. No logos, no cargo pockets, no BS. I also don’t like to spend a lot of money on them, and I get annoyed trying to buy something without a bunch of baloney on it at a reasonable price. I know some folks prefer a non-elasticated waist, but if you don’t mind that feature, you’re not going to get much better than this. As usual, if anyone has any suggestions for inexpensive (say $45 or under) basic board shorts without logos, cargo pockets and so forth, I’m all ears. Note that Birdwells Beach Britches, often suggested to me, now cost $61.
Put This On Episode 6: Clothing Credits
Blazer - Brooks Brothers (Vintage)
Pants - Ralph Lauren Purple Label (Vintage)
Shirt - Brooks Brothers Black Fleece
Tie - Saks Fifth Avenue
Vest - Brooks Brothers Black Fleece
Shoes - Florsheim (Vintage)
Shirt One - Lands’ End
Shirt Two - CEGO Custom Shirtmakers
Pants - Woolrich Woolen Mills
Tie - Vintage (Unlabeled)
Belt - Narragansett Leathers
At Alan Flusser Custom
Suit - Brooks Brothers
Shirt - Brooks Brothers Black Fleece
Tie - Carrol & Co. (Vintage)
Sweater - Shetland Hand Knits
At Pro Tailor
Blazer - Kiton (Vintage)
Pants - Brooks Brothers Black Fleece
Shirt - Corneliani
Tie - Luciano Barbera (Vintage)
Shoes - Brooks Brothers (Vintage)
Q and Answer: What About Cheap Ties?
Adam writes: You guys always feature really nice, but also really expensive stuff. For ties, you might like to highlight www.thetiebar.com. They offer some truly hideous ties, but also some really nice ones, especially for wardrobe staples in solids, stripes, wool—and all at only $15 a pop. The quality is on par with ties costing 3-4 times the price or more. I think your readers might appreciate that they don’t have to fill out their tie collection at $150 a pop to look sharp.
I’ve never bought a tie from The Tie Bar (feel free to send me some, if you’re reading this Tie Bar people), but I have handled a couple in thrift shops. I agree with you, they are roughly the quality of a tie that costs 2-4 times as much. If you changed out the tag on the red tie pictured above, put a Macy’s store brand tag on their, or Tommy Hilfiger or Calvin Klein, I don’t think anyone would notice. They are certainly equivalent to a tie that retails for $30-60.
But how much of a compliment is that, really?
While Tie Bar ties are, in my experience, better than, say, novelty ties you’d buy at the flea market with Bugs Bunny on them, I hesitate to recommend them.
Here’s the thing with ties: no one buys them at retail except the kind of desperate men who run into the store and says: “WHAT COLOR TIE GOES WITH A BLACK SUIT? MY AUNT JUST DIED!”
So, there are two questions: what ties do I recommend, and what should you pay for those ties.
The lowest level of tie I recommend is usually Lands’ End. Their ties aren’t on par with a truly excellent tie, like the blue Drake’s tie pictured above. They are, however, an excellent value at their price point (often on sale at around $20-35). The Lands’ End ties in my collection are roughly comparable to the Brooks Brothers and Polo ties I own, which retail in the range of $75 or so. That is to say: they are fine. The silk is heavy enough, and the construction good enough, that most people wouldn’t notice that I wasn’t wearing a very fine tie.
Most fine ties retail for $100-200. These are the ties we usually recommend when we’re recommending ties. For $100, you can buy a custom tie of excellent quality from Sam Hober, who will make it to your specifications in Thailand. Our friend Kent Wang offers ties of this quality for just under a hundred dollars, including our own club tie. For $150 or so, you can buy something from an outfit like Drake’s, or from our friend Will of A Suitable Wardrobe. These are ties worth paying extra for.
I have dozens of ties. Maybe a hundred. I think I paid retail price for one of them (a grenadine from Sam Hober). I’ve bought many, many ties used. If you’re one of about 85% of men, ties always fit, so they’re a great thing to buy at thrift stores. Try eBay, too: I love the country designs of Holland & Holland, and grab them for $25 or $30 when I can. These days, my collection is so full that I only buy ties that I love, and regular readers will recall that I sold about 75 six months or so ago.
I find that as I’ve come to appreciate the quality of truly fine neckties - the Marinellas and Drake’s and Borrellis of the world, I want fewer, finer ties. Since I also thrift and eBay avidly, I can fulfill my interest in novelty that way, without ever stepping foot inside a store.
My strongest recommendation is to remember that quality trumps quantity, every time.
So… when you can buy a Drake’s tie for $50 on eBay, is it worth spending $20 on one from the Tie Bar? Or $30 on one from Lands’ End? Should you spend the time thrift shopping to build up a wardrobe of ties at $3 each? Is a tough-to-find tie like a striped grenadine worth its $150 retail price? Only you can do that math for yourself.
Put This On Episode 5: Clothing Credits
Tie: Pierrepont Hicks
Shirt: Lands’ End
Sweater: Vintage Scottish Cashmere
Jeans: Levis LVC 1947
Vest: Lands’ End
At J. Press:
Shirt: CEGO Custom Shirtmaker
Jacket: Polo Ralph Lauren
Sweater: Vintage Scottish Cashmere
Tie: Vintage Unlabeled
Pocket Square: Luciano Barbera
At Thom Browne:
Shirt: Brooks Brothers Black Fleece
Pocket Square: Vintage
Pants: Vintage Ralph Lauren Purple Label
Shoes: Vintage Florsheim
Socks: Robert Talbott
Polo Shirts: How I Roll
Two categories of clothing entered my wardrobe when I moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles that I never expected: shorts and polo shirts. Both are, in my opinion, fairly maligned. The worst sartorial transgressions often involve one or both. That said, when it’s 93 degrees outside and you’re prone to crippling, heat-induced migraine headaches (me), you do what you have to.
I’m 6’3”, so the most difficult challenge for me has been finding polos that retain enough length to cover my midriff, and don’t balloon around my waistline. Lacoste polos, for example, though the classic choice, start out just barely long enough and within a few washes shrink to Britney Spears-like lengths. No one wants to see my happy trail.
I’ve found two solutions to the problem. The most frequently occuring polo in my wardrobe is by Benjamin Bixby (which Derek covered in his roundup, earlier). Bixby (which is now, sadly, out of business) fit long and lean, without being skinny. Since that describes me, pretty much, I bought half a dozen when they were clearing them out at a discount store in San Francisco. While I generally avoid branding, I make an exception for the Bixby hot air balloon, which I find charming (and which no one recognizes). As Derek pointed out, some of the shirts from the last season have moved from discounters to eBay at very affordable prices.
Of course, recommending a defunct brand isn’t exactly Best Practices for style bloggers. I did, however, come up with a solution that I think will work for me long into the future: Lands’ End. I often circle back to Lands’ End when I’m looking for simple, well-made basics at an affordable price. Between the reasonable retail and frequent sales, LE polos are often less than $20.
The great drawback of Lands’ End, of course, is that they’re cut for older, more traditional customers. (That’s a nice way of saying overweight people who wear baggy clothes.) I found that my 6’3”, 200 pound frame fit perfectly in a size medium tall. Long enough for me, even with machine washing and drying, and slim around the waist.
If you’re not exceptionally tall, you should be able to size down successfully with the standard length shirts. If you’re tall and you’ve got a chest of 42” or so, a medium tall should work well, with large and XL progressing naturally in roughly 2” increments. Lands’ End also now offers a “Tailored Fit” polo (thanks, Kevin). I haven’t tried these yet, but my experience with tailored fit is that it’s a good fit for the mid-weight man (ie: not thin, not athletic, not more than a few pounds overweight). No matter what, Lands’ End’s return policy is one of the best in the business - wear it, wash it, if it doesn’t work out, return it via mail or to your local Sears and they’ll give you your money back, no questions asked.
Q and Answer: What Socks with Plimsoll Sneakers?
Dave asks: I just saw Derek’s post on plimsolls. I picked a pair up for the summer recently and coming from the high-top world primarily I’m not sure exactly what the recommended sock situation is for these. Navy/dark socks, or a white athletic sock (these are navy shoes, by the way)? A shorter sock, a no-show sock, no socks at all? Does it event really matter if I am wearing pants?
I’d say that this is one that depends on context.
There are plenty of situations where no socks (or no-show socks) are perfectly appropriate. Typically with shorts for example, socks will just look silly. Similarly, there are plenty of folks interested in a summertime breeze on their ankles who prefer a sockless look. This can be particularly appealing with a slim pant that’s rolled at the ankle (the “I subscribe to the Sartorialist” look). No socks has the convenience edge here, but no-show socks have the “less gross” edge, and will do less damage to your shoes.
When I’m not wearing shorts, I usually wear crew socks with sneakers. I’m not crazy about white tube or gym socks when I’m not exercising, but some cling to them. I certainly can’t recommend wearing black socks, which will make you look like a grandpa (in a bad way). I generally wear more brightly colored casual socks when I’m wearing plimsolls with casual pants like jeans or khakis. I love these ones, from Lands’ End, and if you’re lucky enough to live within access of a Uniqlo, you’ve got a near-bottomless supply of cheap ones. Of course, stores like H&M and Gap often have options as well. I find that a good pair of red socks are enough to punch a white-tee-jeans-and-white-sneaks outfit up a bit.