Cleaning Sneakers

Some things look better new; some things look better old. Anyone who has ever bought a brand new pair of white Supergas, for example, can you tell you how self-conscious one can get when those bright white uppers are shining from your feet like beacons. It really takes about a dozen wears before they get dirty enough to look good. Any of the sneakers sold by Nike, on the other hand, look best when they’re box fresh.

At the end of every summer, I clean those sneakers I own that I think could use a cleaning. There are a number of different methods for this. My co-writer Pete, for example, mentioned a technique last year involving Mr. Clean Magic Erasers (which are fantastic for cleaning around the house, by the way). Your local supermarket probably has a generic version of the same thing, if you want to save a little money. Just be warned: as Pete mentioned, these are made from melamine foam, which is a mild abrasive that can take the finish off of your shoes.

This past weekend, I tried Jason Markk’s Premium Shoe Cleaner, which is popular among sneakerheads. The kit is simple: there’s a 4oz bottle of cleaning solution and a stiff bristle brush. You dip the brush in water, apply the solution, and scrub away. The combination is surprisingly effective, and the solution is said to be safe on any material (leather, suede, nubuck, canvas, etc). It does take a couple of rounds of cleaning to get things back to like-new conditions, however, and I found that a little elbow grease is needed on the textured sides of rubber soles.

The kit runs for about $16-24 at Amazon, Nordstrom, and other locations, and $12 at Jack Threads. The company also has a store in Los Angeles for more involved sneaker restorations. Unfortunately, as of now, they’ll only take drop-offs, so you have to be in the local area.

(Pictured above: My Engineered Garments x Vans slip-ons, before and after a cleaning. For more examples of people cleaning with a Jason Markk kit, you can check out videos posted on YouTube)

Q & Answer: How Do You Pick the Right Shoe Size Online?

Zack writes to us to ask: I’m interested in buying a pair of shoes online, but am having trouble figuring out if they’d fit. I emailed the manufacturer and they gave me the length and width measurements in millimeters. The problem is, I don’t know whether the longest part of my foot aligns with the longest part of the shoe. Do you have any suggestions for what measurements I should ask for, so I can make an educated guess?

I’m not a big fan of measurements for shoes. Like you, I never know what I’m supposed to do with them. 

The length of a shoe can vary depending on a few factors.

  • Size, most obviously. But you’d be surprised how little changes from size to size. The difference can be as small as an eighth of an inch.
  • Welting technique. By welting technique, I mean how the sole was attached to the uppers. The length of your shoes — as measured from the bottom of your soles — can vary depending on the welting technique, as well as within the same kind of construction. Check out the two shoes above, for example. One is from Allen Edmonds, the other from Edward Green. Both are made with Goodyear welts, but the heel on the Allen Edmonds sticks out a bit more from the heel cup, while the heel of the Edward Greens hugs the shoe. 
  • Heel design. Although not as common, some shoes will have what’s known as a canted or Cuban heel, such as these from Saint Crispin’s. Again, compare them to the straight-down heel of the Allen Edmonds shoe above, and you can see how this would affect the measurement of the shoes at the bottom of the sole. 
  • Most importantly, the last. The last is the wooden form on which the leather is pulled over so that it can take a certain shape. You can have lasts in all sorts of shapes. Some shoes can be round and stubby (like Alden); some can be very long and pointy (like Gaziano & Girling). This will affect the length of a shoe more than anything else. You can have two perfectly fitting shoes, but one might be slightly longer simply because the toes were designed to look sleeker. 

In the end, it’s not even the length of your shoes that matter, but rather the heel-to-ball measurement. Critical to your fit is where the heel and ball of your feet sit in your shoes, not whether the ends of your shoe come within a certain distance to your toes.

There’s really only one way to figure out your size online, assuming you can’t try stuff on first.

  • Figure out your Brannock size. Go to a place like Nordstrom and ask someone to measure you. It’s sometimes good to get both feet measured, as few people have the same sized feet. 
  • Ask the store or manufacturer for advice. Not all salespeople will know what they’re talking about, so take their advice with a grain of salt. That said, there are few better places to get sizing advice than from the store or manufacturer you’re buying from. They’re the ones who are likely to be most knowledgeable. Tell them your Brannock size, and if you have other high-end shoes, your size in other brands and models. I don’t mean sneakers like Nike, but rather dress shoes from companies such as Allen Edmonds, Alden, Crockett & Jones, etc. 
  • Check this advice against the forum threads. Styleforum has the biggest archive of all clothing forums, but depending on what kind of shoes you’re buying, Superfuture and Ask Andy About Clothes can be useful as well. Iron Heart and Denimbro are also good for workwear type stuff. The key here is to search the archives before posting anything, as there’s usually a wealth of information you can mine. 

Finally, once you get your shoes, you can check to see if they fit according to this post.

Long story short: measurements are good for clothes, but bad for shoes. To find your size, you have to do some other stuff.

(Photos via Leffot, The Shoe Buff, and Bengal Stripe)

It’s On Sale: Barbour Bedale
Nordstrom has the Barbour Bedale jacket on sale for 33% off, putting it at $254. Not cheap, but it’s an incredibly useful and versatile jacket. Get a matching waxed cotton hood and you can have yourself a rain jacket as well. 
I recommend sizing down if you buy one. True-to-size is cut more for wear over a tailored jacket, but the Bedale is a bit too short to really wear over a sport coat. You might also want to budget $50 or so for alternations, as this model is notorious for having short sleeves. You can have them lengthened pretty easily by bringing the jacket to any Orvis store, or by sending it to Barbour themselves. 

It’s On Sale: Barbour Bedale

Nordstrom has the Barbour Bedale jacket on sale for 33% off, putting it at $254. Not cheap, but it’s an incredibly useful and versatile jacket. Get a matching waxed cotton hood and you can have yourself a rain jacket as well. 

I recommend sizing down if you buy one. True-to-size is cut more for wear over a tailored jacket, but the Bedale is a bit too short to really wear over a sport coat. You might also want to budget $50 or so for alternations, as this model is notorious for having short sleeves. You can have them lengthened pretty easily by bringing the jacket to any Orvis store, or by sending it to Barbour themselves. 

Technology and Fashion
One of the things that interest me about men’s clothing is not just the clothes themselves, but also the business of fashion - how things are produced, marketed, and even sold. In 2013, there were a couple of interesting stories about how developments in technology might affect the way we interact with and buy clothes.
Online Fitting: Our friend Jeffery Diduch had a post last year about developments that could improve our online shopping experience. The biggest difficulty with online shopping, obviously, is the inability to try things on before you buy, which is why it’s helpful to do business with stores with generous return policies. Companies are coming up with innovative ways to reduce that return-rate, however. True Fit, for example, is creating a database of garment measurements across companies, so that if you’re shopping at, say, Ralph Lauren, you can get a suggestion on which suit you should buy if you already know that the Brooks Brothers suit you have in your closet fits you well. You can already see how this works at places such as Nordstrom. 
The Store is Everywhere: There were a couple of stories last year about potential smart phone developments that would allow people to take pictures of others on the street, and then be able to identify exactly where they can buy the clothes and accessories they saw. This would essentially make the entire world a store where you can instantly purchase almost anything you see. Business of Fashion - a fashion industry trade publication - had some interesting thoughts on what this could mean for traditional retail.
Science Fiction: There were also some more futuristic predictions. Ray Kurzweil predicted that we’ll start to see 3D printing for clothes by 2020 (surprisingly not that far away) and Business of Fashion wrote about how the emerging field of “digital biology” - which enables biologists to not just read, but also write genetic code - could allow companies to design “synthetic life” materials. This could allow us to “grow” things such as self-repairing, self-cleaning garments, or create garments that can reproduce themselves and receive “updates” (new colors, patterns, etc), much like how software updates on our computers. 
Of course, many of the advancements in technology will affect fashion in ways we won’t immediately see or realize. Increasing computing power and the digitization of data has allowed companies such as Zara to react faster to consumer trends, and as companies grow in their ability to marshal "big data," we’ll likely see fast fashion get even faster (a speeding up of trends and a continuing drop in prices). For better or worse, the idea that men’s style moves at a glacial pace might not always hold true. 
(Pictured above: an early prototype of "body scanning" pods used for custom tailoring. This contraption was made in the 1940s)

Technology and Fashion

One of the things that interest me about men’s clothing is not just the clothes themselves, but also the business of fashion - how things are produced, marketed, and even sold. In 2013, there were a couple of interesting stories about how developments in technology might affect the way we interact with and buy clothes.

  • Online Fitting: Our friend Jeffery Diduch had a post last year about developments that could improve our online shopping experience. The biggest difficulty with online shopping, obviously, is the inability to try things on before you buy, which is why it’s helpful to do business with stores with generous return policies. Companies are coming up with innovative ways to reduce that return-rate, however. True Fit, for example, is creating a database of garment measurements across companies, so that if you’re shopping at, say, Ralph Lauren, you can get a suggestion on which suit you should buy if you already know that the Brooks Brothers suit you have in your closet fits you well. You can already see how this works at places such as Nordstrom
  • The Store is Everywhere: There were a couple of stories last year about potential smart phone developments that would allow people to take pictures of others on the street, and then be able to identify exactly where they can buy the clothes and accessories they saw. This would essentially make the entire world a store where you can instantly purchase almost anything you see. Business of Fashion - a fashion industry trade publication - had some interesting thoughts on what this could mean for traditional retail.
  • Science Fiction: There were also some more futuristic predictions. Ray Kurzweil predicted that we’ll start to see 3D printing for clothes by 2020 (surprisingly not that far away) and Business of Fashion wrote about how the emerging field of “digital biology” - which enables biologists to not just read, but also write genetic code - could allow companies to design “synthetic life” materials. This could allow us to “grow” things such as self-repairing, self-cleaning garments, or create garments that can reproduce themselves and receive “updates” (new colors, patterns, etc), much like how software updates on our computers. 

Of course, many of the advancements in technology will affect fashion in ways we won’t immediately see or realize. Increasing computing power and the digitization of data has allowed companies such as Zara to react faster to consumer trends, and as companies grow in their ability to marshal "big data," we’ll likely see fast fashion get even faster (a speeding up of trends and a continuing drop in prices). For better or worse, the idea that men’s style moves at a glacial pace might not always hold true. 

(Pictured above: an early prototype of "body scanning" pods used for custom tailoring. This contraption was made in the 1940s)

Colin Marshall on men’s style books: The Nordstrom Guide to Men’s Style by Tom Julian

I haven’t set foot in a Nordstrom in years. Come to think of it, maybe I’ve never entered one at all. They seem expensive, and I — perhaps you, too — tend only to break out that kind of money at the most obscurely specialized of specialty shops: places with new-old-stock tie clips from sixties Japan, pocket squares made of battleship blueprints, aftershave left over from the days of Empire, that sort of thing. Certainly not old-school department stores that make me suspect my purchases will underwrite walls full of dark wood. But that caricatures unfairly a business like Nordstrom, which has provided stylistic succor to generations and generations of men in need of a wardrobe, and which I can’t imagine afflicted by the national plague — downfall of so many other men’s shops — of full-time suit salesmen who dress carelessly themselves. Though our age has seen the decline of the department store as a concept, Nordstrom appears to have retained not just its reliability, but a certain respectability as well. That merits a few points right there.

But a Nordstrom-authorized men’s style guide? Such a book seems somehow at odds with the store’s core mission, which I understand as not just clothes sales but a kind of expertise rental: the high prices buy you peace of mind through a gentle, even genteel, Jeeves-like guidance away from embarrassing choices and toward flattering ones, as well as the dark-wooded environment in which it all happens. Shouldn’t the study of men’s style books, at least as we practice it here at Put This On, obviate the need for just that kind of pricey consigliere service? But even as he passes along his lessons in this sort of expertise in the Nordstrom Guide to Men’s Style, “consumer trend expert” Tom Julian implements the countermeasure of periodically inserting the word “Nordstrom” into his sentences: “You have more than thirty sizes to select from at Nordstrom stores.” “If all this measuring sounds like a nightmare, don’t worry — every Nordstrom salesperson can do it for you.” “All four of these looks express strong, masculine style in their own way — which is quintessentially Nordstrom.”

Forced though this may sound — bulk-rate letters announcing that “you may have already won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes, COLIN MARSHALL,” come to mind — Julian reins it in and ultimately produces a comfortably un-hokey handbook. References to Regis Philbin and Project Runway date it, the occasional malapropism (“the necktie has always spoken multitudes about our culture”) throws a bump in the road, and some of the suggested “trend” looks (appearing alongside a range of “luxury,” “classic,” and “contemporary” ensembles) may well strike us as ghastly should we revisit them a decade hence, but I couldn’t spot anything fundamentally unsound. Then again, while classically inclined, I don’t rank among the world’s strictest menswear enthusiasts. They might not appreciate instructions to “unbutton your top button to communicate ease and sophistication,” they certainly wouldn’t like Julian’s suggestion to “go for the pre-tied wraparound” bow tie, and, while they couldn’t really argue with the notion that their closet should contain “five great T-shirts,” I doubt they could find much usable guidance in it either.

“When someone’s pants are too short, you may think, Hey, that guy should have a party and invite his pants to meet his shoes. The break is that party.” Dedicated rule-followers cluster at both the novice and master’s ends of the menswear spectrum, and lines line that one tell you which group might benefit most from this book. Call it corny if you must, but nobody who reads it will forget what element of trouser cut the term “break” denotes. Julian also teaches his readers to identify button quality by thickness, which points of jacket fit “even the least self-aware guy” can identify and evaluate, and that they can request compartments for “iPods, PSPs, and anything else” built into the made-to-measure suits, which they should refrain from wearing more than twice a week. We have here, in other words, a volume pitched for the most part to the defensive dresser, who seeks strategies to avoid looking bad as much as or more than he seeks the combined self- and sartorial knowledge that makes for dressing expertise. But the former opens a gateway to the latter, as Julian shows he knows by planting seeds in the reader’s mind: “A suit is good when it brings attention to the man in the suit, not to the suit itself.” “Concern yourself not with what’s in or out but with what looks good on you.”

The Nordstrom Guide to Men’s Style must operate, of course, on the  debatable assumption that this journey could happen in no more suitable a place than your local Nordstrom, facilitated by a phalanx of thoroughly competent sales associates. You may agree, although that shouldn’t stop you from learning all you can learn in advance from a book like this one and its non-branded brethren. I admit that it piques my curiosity about the finer points of the Nordstrom shopping experience, and indeed I closed it feeling that, rather than hearing too much about the store, I hadn’t heard quite enough; the definitive history of Nordstrom and its relationship with American menswear, a subject Julian gives only the broadest acknowledgment, remains unwritten. (Strangely, he also includes only one thin page about shoes, long a Nordstrom specialty, insisting that “there’s no way we could adequately address the breadth and variety of options available.”) I myself will probably continue shopping elsewhere for the time being, not just amassing more knowledge of menswear but writing hard enough, assuming one still can these days, to earn what I think of as “Nordstrom money.” But even then, I’ll probably take it to Nordstrom Rack.

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter @colinmarshall. To buy the Nordstrom Guide to Men’s Style , you can find the best prices at DealOz.

It’s On Sale: Cashmere-lined leather gloves

If you’re wearing an overcoat and dress shoes, then it makes sense to have a quality pair of leather gloves to compliment your outerwear — but finding them at a reasonable price can be tricky. I personally like these leather gloves from John W. Nordstrom, which are on sale right now for $40 during Nordstrom’s semi-annual sale. 

I own a pair in black and for the price they definitely hold up quite well. The interior is lined with cashmere, which adds warmth and softness. After using them for a few weeks, I can recommend them.

For those wondering, comparing them to a pair I own from Dents, the stitching isn’t quite up to par if you look closely enough, but Dents gloves tend to be 3-4 times as expensive, too. Considering you can buy pairs in black and brown for less than a pair of Dents, I think they’re a good deal. 

-Kiyoshi