He wore a nice white shirt open just one extra button. He’s into clothes. Not in a fashion-forward way, more of an old-school, deep-quality way. His seamstress mother taught him about fabrics, what they signaled to the world. When Antrim learned last year that he’d won a $625,000 MacArthur “genius award,” his longtime friend and supporter Jonathan Franzen sent him a note saying, Finally you can afford some of the clothes you love. Meaning not that he could finally buy them — he’d been buying them — but that he could now afford them.

John Jeremiah Sullivan on writer Donald Antrim in the New York Times. Thanks to Casey for the link.
-Pete

He wore a nice white shirt open just one extra button. He’s into clothes. Not in a fashion-forward way, more of an old-school, deep-quality way. His seamstress mother taught him about fabrics, what they signaled to the world. When Antrim learned last year that he’d won a $625,000 MacArthur “genius award,” his longtime friend and supporter Jonathan Franzen sent him a note saying, Finally you can afford some of the clothes you love. Meaning not that he could finally buy them — he’d been buying them — but that he could now afford them.

John Jeremiah Sullivan on writer Donald Antrim in the New York Times. Thanks to Casey for the link.

-Pete

Dressing Like a Grownup in the NBA
The story Sarah Lyall was researching in August on the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program was recently published:

The league has a “business-casual” dress code, a look foreign to most of the rookies, whose closets are full of jeans and sweatpants. Every gentleman should have a peacoat, a raincoat, a varsity jacket and an overcoat, she said; also a blue suit, a gray suit and a black suit. Cargo pants are versatile and can be dressed up to look fancier than they are. You can mix and match; the navy jacket will look just fine with the black pants. Do not use the same Irish Spring soap on your face that you use under your arms. When you leave the house, throw on a classic watch and your signature fragrance, and assume that you are being observed at all times.

Can’t say I agree with the RTP’s recs now, but the advice would have served me well at 19 years old. Pictured is Marcus Smart, 6th pick in the 2014 NBA draft and current Boston Celtic. On draft night he paid tribute to Oklahoma State, his native Texas, his mother, and late brother via a custom printed jacket lining. Photo by Eric White.
-Pete

Dressing Like a Grownup in the NBA

The story Sarah Lyall was researching in August on the NBA’s Rookie Transition Program was recently published:

The league has a “business-casual” dress code, a look foreign to most of the rookies, whose closets are full of jeans and sweatpants. Every gentleman should have a peacoat, a raincoat, a varsity jacket and an overcoat, she said; also a blue suit, a gray suit and a black suit. Cargo pants are versatile and can be dressed up to look fancier than they are. You can mix and match; the navy jacket will look just fine with the black pants. Do not use the same Irish Spring soap on your face that you use under your arms. When you leave the house, throw on a classic watch and your signature fragrance, and assume that you are being observed at all times.

Can’t say I agree with the RTP’s recs now, but the advice would have served me well at 19 years old. Pictured is Marcus Smart, 6th pick in the 2014 NBA draft and current Boston Celtic. On draft night he paid tribute to Oklahoma State, his native Texas, his mother, and late brother via a custom printed jacket lining. Photo by Eric White.

-Pete

Why It’s Hard to Take Men’s Fashion Magazines Seriously
This New York Times Magazine piece features a brooding model wearing some beautiful leather jackets in a banal suburban setting. OK. Not a problem; even kind of cool. The average price of the five jackets shown? $5,980.60. And it’s not a number thrown off by an outlier; the bargain Coach jacket above is the cheapest at just under $1k.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spent $1,736 on clothing in 2012 (the subset of “men and boys” spent $408, a figure that may make PTO readers blush). 
I know that we, too, regularly recommend clothing with costs that would dwarf the average man’s yearly apparel budget, and we gawk admiringly at the wardrobes of the superwealthy, but the gulf between realistic spending habits and the cost of the clothing regularly featured in the pages of magazines raises the questions: what’s the point? To look at beautiful things, artfully arranged? To show us what’s current in loftier circles that we might aspire to? To placate advertisers? And where do we each choose to draw the line between what’s OK to spend vs. what is ridiculous?
I’d argue this economic disconnect is what drives men to seek out more value-oriented sources of information like PTO, independent blogs, and clothing forums.
-Pete
Photo by Matthew Kristall.

Why It’s Hard to Take Men’s Fashion Magazines Seriously

This New York Times Magazine piece features a brooding model wearing some beautiful leather jackets in a banal suburban setting. OK. Not a problem; even kind of cool. The average price of the five jackets shown? $5,980.60. And it’s not a number thrown off by an outlier; the bargain Coach jacket above is the cheapest at just under $1k.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spent $1,736 on clothing in 2012 (the subset of “men and boys” spent $408, a figure that may make PTO readers blush).

I know that we, too, regularly recommend clothing with costs that would dwarf the average man’s yearly apparel budget, and we gawk admiringly at the wardrobes of the superwealthy, but the gulf between realistic spending habits and the cost of the clothing regularly featured in the pages of magazines raises the questions: what’s the point? To look at beautiful things, artfully arranged? To show us what’s current in loftier circles that we might aspire to? To placate advertisers? And where do we each choose to draw the line between what’s OK to spend vs. what is ridiculous?

I’d argue this economic disconnect is what drives men to seek out more value-oriented sources of information like PTO, independent blogs, and clothing forums.

-Pete

Photo by Matthew Kristall.

Shorts: Acceptable When Paired with Mild Reluctance
Several otherwise respectable writers and publications have dipped their toes into menswear blogging recently, spurred by an ongoing debate on the propriety of shorts (aka “short pants”). In The New York Times, Jake Flanigin traces the argument to a 2011 interview in which Tom Ford assailed shorts and flip flops. Many would insist that certain climates demand shorts, but reasonable people disagree, including Andrew Exum, who made the flowchart above. (We’ve weighed in before, too.)
I own and wear shorts. Not to work. Not to anything that could be called an occasion. I am aware that I look better in other, longer leg coverings, because I’m an adult man and our legs look like they belong to a primate ancestor. But we make compromises for culture and comfort, and refusing to wear shorts on principle is the sort of rulebound thinking that makes people roll their eyes at rules. So: wear shorts. Fortunately, it’s September, and we can hide our hairy Neanderlegs comfortably until next June.
-Pete

Shorts: Acceptable When Paired with Mild Reluctance

Several otherwise respectable writers and publications have dipped their toes into menswear blogging recently, spurred by an ongoing debate on the propriety of shorts (aka “short pants”). In The New York Times, Jake Flanigin traces the argument to a 2011 interview in which Tom Ford assailed shorts and flip flops. Many would insist that certain climates demand shorts, but reasonable people disagree, including Andrew Exum, who made the flowchart above. (We’ve weighed in before, too.)

I own and wear shorts. Not to work. Not to anything that could be called an occasion. I am aware that I look better in other, longer leg coverings, because I’m an adult man and our legs look like they belong to a primate ancestor. But we make compromises for culture and comfort, and refusing to wear shorts on principle is the sort of rulebound thinking that makes people roll their eyes at rules. So: wear shorts. Fortunately, it’s September, and we can hide our hairy Neanderlegs comfortably until next June.

-Pete

“The rise of haute couture in the early 20th century dovetailed with advances in communication and travel, and so, too, the public’s unusual interest in this rarefied world. There are well-known stories of Paris policemen and taxi drivers being able to recognize couture, like a cop in the ’30s who refused to arrest a feminist agitator on the grounds that she was dressed by Molyneux. By the ’60s, everyone knew about the latest fashion, if not from Mary Quant, then from the Beatles. But sometime in the late ’80s, fashion discovered semiotics. Clothes suddenly acquired meaning (think of the efforts to “decode” a Helmut Lang show or almost any by Martin Margiela). You truly needed to be an expert to appreciate why a jacket was worn inside out or why a dress that made you look like a bag lady was cool. Susan Sontag described a similar shift in the arts in the mid-60s, noting that “the most interesting and creative art of our time is not open to the generally educated; it demands special effort; it speaks a specialized language.” Today, as high fashion moves closer to mass media — with brand-hosted YouTube channels, films, huge spectacles — there is pressure to simplify. I also wonder whether the surge of new brands — their shows often crammed with weird and banal designs — hasn’t caused elite designers to rethink matters. Hence more straightforward clothes.”

Cathy Horyn in The New York Times.

-Pete

Expats in Tangier

The New York Times’ Style Magazine published a feature a few months ago on Tangier, a northern Moroccan city that has long been a destination for European and American diplomats, spies, writers, and businessmen. The story focuses on the expat community there and their eccentric style. People who came to visit, and decided to never leave. An excerpt:

It’s an old story — as old as sailing and sex — yet there is always something new coming over the strait. Indeed, it may be the hunt for newness in an old port that brought them here, adventurers and outsiders — from Mark Twain and Delacroix to Yves Saint Laurent and Tennessee Williams — who merely broke the path for the uprooted of today. Deep in the Casbah and high on the slopes of Vieille Montagne, you find these people, these elegant, exotic plants who fill their days with lunch parties and gossip. They may be the harmless denizens of an old idea, doing it with style, living beyond their means but strictly within their taste. It is a painted city where ripe vegetables and aged spies litter the souks, where men of hidden consequence can always find a drink. Most of all, Tangier is a city where attention to detail is undivided, a place where you meet people just crazy for beauty.

[…]

In a large old room smelling of narcissi, Pasti sat me down and smiled through cigarette smoke. The tables around us were filled with strange shells, bones and Neolithic pottery. I looked around as he spoke and you could almost breathe the beauty: a piece of an Islamic column from Spain, an Italian Renaissance stemma, many Berber pots, pine cones and marble busts. Past a big 17th-century German armoire was a fireplace of the same period. An 18th-century Venetian screen held back a little of the evening air, which came, nonetheless, rosemary-scented and chilled. Painted Moroccan chests and side tables were dotted everywhere — “I love patina,” he said — and around the walls was a multitude of astonishing tile panels, some from Seville and Portugal and fired 200 years before the birth of Shakespeare. Pasti writes novels and makes gardens. He is both intensely sociable and extremely private. Walking from room to room in his perfect house, he seemed somewhat like a man in a fairy tale, lost in beauty, hiding behind windows in a secret garden. But then he laughed and puffed on his cigarette and seemed quite normal again. Pasti started as a literary critic and then began collecting strange fragments and rare bulbs, which he would plant in his garden in the Moroccan countryside, and also in pots at his house in Tangier. His first novel is the story of a botanical obsession. “I started collecting wild bulbs more or less 15 years ago,” he said. He sometimes sleeps outside among the plants. In some ways he considers himself to be a kind of doctor to sick plants and sees his place in the country as a kind of botanical hospital. 

You can read the whole article, and view a very, very cool video feature that goes along with it, here.

Our friend Niyi in New York, a guy we often feature in our Real People series, recently showed up on the New York Time’s fashion blog. Apparently he was at an apparel tradeshow in Paris, and spotted getting some lunch. As usual, he was also exceptionally well dressed. 

Our friend Niyi in New York, a guy we often feature in our Real People series, recently showed up on the New York Time’s fashion blog. Apparently he was at an apparel tradeshow in Paris, and spotted getting some lunch. As usual, he was also exceptionally well dressed. 

Street Style From Around the World

The New York Times has a nice collection of vignettes on street style from around the world. Pictured above are some screen grabs I took from the videos on Brooklyn Heights Village, Paris, and Milan.

“keep-it-real-itis”

Coinage via Jon Caramanica, on the condition afflicting heritage brands as they clumsily try to hold on to the roots that make them interesting while pivoting to attract new customers. In this case, he’s talking about Filson. I suffer from chronic keep-it-real-itis myself.

-Pete

What the Shift to Online Shopping Could Mean

US News & World Report recently put together some data showing something we’ve already long known: people are shopping less at department stores. The first graph above charts department store sales. That’s been steadily declining since 2001. The second graph shows what could be the cause: consumers going online to purchase things they’d otherwise buy in a store. The red line you see charts nonstore sales (which includes internet retailers). The blue line charts department store sales. In the last year, nonstore sales rose 6.5 percent, while department store sales fell by about the same amount.

The one blip in this is clothing sales, which grew slightly by 1.2 percent in the last year, suggesting that people are still going to department stores to try things on. I imagine much of this is because of womenswear, which is harder to size right online. But this is just a hunch. In either case, companies such as True Fit and PhiSix are developing technologies for “virtual fitting rooms,” which might make real fitting rooms less important in ten years. 

Some things not discussed in the post are the implications of this shift. For example, the New York Times had an interesting article two years ago about how online shopping has made customers more sensitive to the pushiness of sales associates. An excerpt:

Self-service has long infiltrated the consumer experience, most recently with self-checkout at grocery stores. But the biggest factor affecting attitudes toward salespeople may be the amount of time people spend shopping online, which tends to be a solitary experience. In 2011, online shopping on Cyber Monday was up 22 percent over the previous year, according to comScore, which tracks Internet traffic.

“The element of control, by contrast to the salesperson service experience, is attractive,” said Ravi Dhar, a professor of marketing and psychology at Yale. “You feel like you’re in control of the entire experience, and people like that. There is this notion for the millennial generation that they don’t quite like the style of salesmanship that was going on, since they were raised on online shopping. But it might be becoming true for a larger group of people.” […]

“This distancing is so serious today that some customers walk into stores and hold their hand up and say, ‘Just looking,’” said Mr. Shanker, who said he has trained the employees of luxury stores like Ralph Lauren, Burberry and Van Cleef & Arpels.  […]

“We see the customer with their earbuds in” who does not want to be approached by a sales representative, Mr. Costino said. “Some shoppers don’t want that kind of service, especially the ones we see who have done their pre-shopping online.” 

The other possibility – one that I have a gut feeling about, but no real evidence for – is that the shift to online shopping will eventually affect how companies design and market clothes. Whereas you can handle things in department stores, online shopping is mostly just about words and pictures. Presumably that’ll mean that designers will have to use design details that you can easily see, rather than rely on subtle things such as the feel of some fabric. Think of the difference between the drape of a heavy 50oz silk twill tie or the chalky hand of an ancient madder versus the more “obvious” textures of raw silk that menswear enthusiasts seem to favor today. I also recently handled some plain cotton sweatshirts from Maison Martin Margiela, which were really remarkable to the touch, but looked rather plain and boring in photos. True indeed, those ended up being discounted much more than Margiela’s more “visually interesting” pieces last year. 

And without the ability to handle items in person, and get a real up-close view of their quality, perhaps we’ll see brands rely more on “stories” to market their goods. The telling of stories, after all, has been at the heart of the “heritage movement” for the last ten years. 

So that no one accuses me of being a Luddite, it should be noted that online shopping has also made it possible for us to buy a much wider selection of items, and get things at cheaper prices. But like the trend of declining department store sales, you likely already knew that.