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)

Ghurka Trousers

The older I get, the more I’ve come to accept that I have a fairly boring sense of personal style. Shetland sweaters with button down shirts and chinos; soft shouldered sport coats with flat fronted wool trousers and blue dress shirts; and more recently, white t-shirts, dark leather jackets, and a pair of really worn jeans. Every once in a while, however, I get the urge to experiment more. This past week, I’ve been thinking about Ghurka trousers for summer.

Ghurka trousers come from that period of history when the British occupied North Africa and India - a time that left a very uncomfortable political legacy, but seems to be a continual source of style inspiration for books, movies, and clothing. They’re typically high waisted, made from a heavy cotton drill, and characterized by a unique self-belting design. That belted rigging allowed British officers to easily cinch their trousers as they lost weight — an issue I definitely haven’t experienced as I’ve entered my 30s. Still, I find their unique style very appealing. They draw to mind all those beautiful safari images in old Banana Republic catalogs, before Banana Republic was bought out by The Gap.

A couple of weeks ago, StyleForum member TTO posted a photo of himself in some Ghurka trousers, which reminded me of a very military-inspired look Five once posted at Superfuture, which in turn reminded me of a photo of Ralph Fiennes in Anderson & Sheppard’s vanity book. Granted, none of these are looks I could see myself wearing, but these photos do inspire. 

Ghurka pants have been offered in the past by Japanese workwear brands such as Engineered Garments and Haversack, as well as American “dad outfitters” such as J. Peterman and JL Powell. Pete also wrote about them when he covered Whillas and Gunn for StyleForum, and I’ve seen old Ralph Lauren versions on eBay. Some of these are still being offered; some not. I noticed that J. Peterman, for example, still sells theirs.

TTO tells me he’s tried the ones from Silverman’s and What Price Glory. The Silvermans are simpler and less cluttered, as they have no extra pockets or button-down belt loops. They’re also sturdier in their fabric and stitching. The downside is that they’re rather short (measuring a ~29.5” inseam on a pair of 36” waisted trousers). This is probably historically correct, as British officers most likely wore these with gaiters and boots, but they might be too short for the modern style enthusiast. What Price Glory’s pants are longer, but they come with a bit more detailing, which may or may not be to people’s taste.

The other option are Ghurka shorts, which Jesse has written extensively about. Engineered Garments and Go Fujito have made versions of them in the past, and styled them in ways I wish I was cool enough to pull off.

(Photos via Giant Beard, Five, and To the Manner Born)

It’s On Sale: Ralph Lauren Fishing Bag
I really like this bag. It’s admittedly a fashion label’s interpretation of a traditional fishing bag - which can be found at companies such as Brady, Hardy, and Chapman - but if you want something that has the sporty look of a fishing bag, without go “full sport,” this is a good option. The regular retail price of $350 always struck me as a bit expensive for the build quality (the leather could be better, and canvas a bit thicker), but Macy’s has it on sale right now for $260. I like it as a casual bag to use with waxed cotton Barbour jackets and other sporty items I’ll never use for their original intended purposes. 

It’s On Sale: Ralph Lauren Fishing Bag

I really like this bag. It’s admittedly a fashion label’s interpretation of a traditional fishing bag - which can be found at companies such as Brady, Hardy, and Chapman - but if you want something that has the sporty look of a fishing bag, without go “full sport,” this is a good option. The regular retail price of $350 always struck me as a bit expensive for the build quality (the leather could be better, and canvas a bit thicker), but Macy’s has it on sale right now for $260. I like it as a casual bag to use with waxed cotton Barbour jackets and other sporty items I’ll never use for their original intended purposes. 

Thick Flannel Shirts
Over the weekend, Jesse listed this Spring’s Seven “Must Have Or You’ll Die” Essentials. Do you know why? Because he lives in Los Angeles, and in Southern California, the four seasons are: spring, summer, summer with slightly chillier nights (but not by much), and spring with slightly chillier nights (but again, not by much). Dear readers: know that I - as your correspondent in the Bay Area - understand that we’re still solidly in winter. Here in the Bay, it’s still cold enough to need chunky sweaters, heavy coats, and the occasional pair of gloves. 
It’s also useful to have a few thick flannel shirts around. I’ve been wearing mine every once in a while with jeans and a leather jacket, and prefer ones made from heavy, coarse fabrics. My favorite sources so far include:
John Lofgren: A highly underrated and underappreciated workwear label. Really nice, thick fabrics made into shirts with slightly short, vintage-y cuts. Available at John Lofgren’s site directly, but also Self Edge and Bench & Loom (although the last two don’t have woven shirts right now).
Flat Head: A Japanese workwear label that draws a lot of inspiration from American motorcycle and hot rod subcultures. They have two lines of shirts – the mainline, which is slim and shorter fitting, and Glory Park, which is just a touch bigger. Of all my flannels, these are easily my favorite, but they’re expensive. If you don’t mind the price, they’re available at Self Edge and Rivet & Hide.
Five Brother: A genuine workwear label that recently started making slim fitting shirts for the fashion crowd. These are made from vividly colored fabrics with coarse weaves and a dry hand. Of all the companies on this list, Five Brother probably offers the best price to value ratio. You can find them now at Bench & Loom, but in the past, Context and Hickoree’s has also carried them (they will again this fall).
Nigel Cabourn: Always a favorite, but his prices are stratospherically high. If it matters, his flannel shirts are sometimes reversible, although the other side of the one I bought is perhaps too “fuzzy” to realistically use. Still, he has some nice subtle detailing that the other brands don’t offer (unique pocket designs, smoke mother-of-pearl buttons, and extra, extra thick fabrics). Available at Nigel Cabourn’s own website or any of his stockists. If you’re not able to afford those retail prices, you’ll have to trawl Yoox and eBay like me.
RRL: Ralph Lauren’s ranch inspired sub-label. The fabrics on RRL shirts really run the gamut, but in general, they’re typically a bit flimsier than the aforementioned brands (at least when it comes to fall/ winter shirts). On the upside, they can often be found on deep discount (I bought mine for about $75). These are available at Ralph Lauren’s website, and certain niche stockists such as Unionmade and Frans Boone.
The best part about wearing thick flannel shirts? With designers such as Daiki Suzuki and Heidi Slimane incorporating them into last year’s looks, you can simultaneously feel very “aritansal heritage workwear” and “high fashion au courant.” Plus, Rick Owens wears them! The dream of the 90s is alive in menswear. At least until spring comes for the rest of us. 

Thick Flannel Shirts

Over the weekend, Jesse listed this Spring’s Seven “Must Have Or You’ll Die” Essentials. Do you know why? Because he lives in Los Angeles, and in Southern California, the four seasons are: spring, summer, summer with slightly chillier nights (but not by much), and spring with slightly chillier nights (but again, not by much). Dear readers: know that I - as your correspondent in the Bay Area - understand that we’re still solidly in winter. Here in the Bay, it’s still cold enough to need chunky sweaters, heavy coats, and the occasional pair of gloves. 

It’s also useful to have a few thick flannel shirts around. I’ve been wearing mine every once in a while with jeans and a leather jacket, and prefer ones made from heavy, coarse fabrics. My favorite sources so far include:

  • John Lofgren: A highly underrated and underappreciated workwear label. Really nice, thick fabrics made into shirts with slightly short, vintage-y cuts. Available at John Lofgren’s site directly, but also Self Edge and Bench & Loom (although the last two don’t have woven shirts right now).
  • Flat Head: A Japanese workwear label that draws a lot of inspiration from American motorcycle and hot rod subcultures. They have two lines of shirts – the mainline, which is slim and shorter fitting, and Glory Park, which is just a touch bigger. Of all my flannels, these are easily my favorite, but they’re expensive. If you don’t mind the price, they’re available at Self Edge and Rivet & Hide.
  • Five Brother: A genuine workwear label that recently started making slim fitting shirts for the fashion crowd. These are made from vividly colored fabrics with coarse weaves and a dry hand. Of all the companies on this list, Five Brother probably offers the best price to value ratio. You can find them now at Bench & Loom, but in the past, Context and Hickoree’s has also carried them (they will again this fall).
  • Nigel Cabourn: Always a favorite, but his prices are stratospherically high. If it matters, his flannel shirts are sometimes reversible, although the other side of the one I bought is perhaps too “fuzzy” to realistically use. Still, he has some nice subtle detailing that the other brands don’t offer (unique pocket designs, smoke mother-of-pearl buttons, and extra, extra thick fabrics). Available at Nigel Cabourn’s own website or any of his stockists. If you’re not able to afford those retail prices, you’ll have to trawl Yoox and eBay like me.
  • RRL: Ralph Lauren’s ranch inspired sub-label. The fabrics on RRL shirts really run the gamut, but in general, they’re typically a bit flimsier than the aforementioned brands (at least when it comes to fall/ winter shirts). On the upside, they can often be found on deep discount (I bought mine for about $75). These are available at Ralph Lauren’s website, and certain niche stockists such as Unionmade and Frans Boone.

The best part about wearing thick flannel shirts? With designers such as Daiki Suzuki and Heidi Slimane incorporating them into last year’s looks, you can simultaneously feel very “aritansal heritage workwear” and “high fashion au courant.” Plus, Rick Owens wears them! The dream of the 90s is alive in menswear. At least until spring comes for the rest of us. 

It’s (Sort of) On Sale: The Knottery’s Raw Silks
Speaking of raw silk ties, The Knottery now has a selection of them on their website. The regular retail price is $50, but they’re doing pre-orders for $38. The navy dotted one looks pretty versatile, and much better designed than the ones offered by Lands End last year. 
The other sources for raw silk neckwear (that I know of) are Drake’s, Vanda Fine Clothing, Panta, Marshall Anthony, J. Press, Ovadia & Sons, vintage Ralph Lauren, and vintage Bijan. There may be a couple others out there, but the market isn’t big.
Drake’s, Vanda, and Panta are the nicest, but they retail between $120 and $150. Marshall Anthony’s are also excellent, and I find they sometimes knot better than my Drake’s. They use cheaper wool/ cotton blend interlinings, but since those interlinings are lighter in weight, they help balance out the thick fabric of the raw silk. 
J. Press’ raw silks are good, but often carry more sheen than I like, and not enough slub for my taste. Ovadia & Sons’ selections always look handsome, but I don’t have any first hand experience with them. Then there are vintage pieces from Ralph Lauren and Bijan, which are fantastic, but difficult to find. I come across maybe two or three a year, and I’m always on the lookout. 
The difference between those and the Knottery’s ties, assuming they’re like the grenadine I sampled, is that the Knottery’s are machine made and will probably be slightly beefier. On the other hand, they’re also much more affordable (about $100 less than most of the aforementioned companies). If you’re looking for an affordable raw silk tie, there’s probably nothing better than this. 
Update: Jay from The Knottery emailed to tell me they’ve switched factories and are now offering mostly handmade ties. A nice plus. 
(Sale found via Pete’s Twitter)

It’s (Sort of) On Sale: The Knottery’s Raw Silks

Speaking of raw silk ties, The Knottery now has a selection of them on their website. The regular retail price is $50, but they’re doing pre-orders for $38. The navy dotted one looks pretty versatile, and much better designed than the ones offered by Lands End last year. 

The other sources for raw silk neckwear (that I know of) are Drake’s, Vanda Fine ClothingPanta, Marshall Anthony, J. Press, Ovadia & Sons, vintage Ralph Lauren, and vintage Bijan. There may be a couple others out there, but the market isn’t big.

Drake’s, Vanda, and Panta are the nicest, but they retail between $120 and $150. Marshall Anthony’s are also excellent, and I find they sometimes knot better than my Drake’s. They use cheaper wool/ cotton blend interlinings, but since those interlinings are lighter in weight, they help balance out the thick fabric of the raw silk. 

J. Press’ raw silks are good, but often carry more sheen than I like, and not enough slub for my taste. Ovadia & Sons’ selections always look handsome, but I don’t have any first hand experience with them. Then there are vintage pieces from Ralph Lauren and Bijan, which are fantastic, but difficult to find. I come across maybe two or three a year, and I’m always on the lookout. 

The difference between those and the Knottery’s ties, assuming they’re like the grenadine I sampled, is that the Knottery’s are machine made and will probably be slightly beefier. On the other hand, they’re also much more affordable (about $100 less than most of the aforementioned companies). If you’re looking for an affordable raw silk tie, there’s probably nothing better than this. 

Update: Jay from The Knottery emailed to tell me they’ve switched factories and are now offering mostly handmade ties. A nice plus. 

(Sale found via Pete’s Twitter)

Building an Affordable Neckwear Collection
If you want to build a necktie wardrobe for not too much money, there’s no better place to start than eBay. At any given time, there are hundreds of silk repps floating around that site, many available for only $10 to $20 a piece. Striped silk repp ties, as I’ve mentioned, are exceptionally useful because you can wear them with either sport coats or suits, whereas some ties are too casual to wear with one, or too formal to wear with the other. 
To find them, just search eBay for well-regarded American brands such as Ben Silver, Brooks Brothers, J. Press, and Paul Stuart. Seaward & Stearn and Atkinsons are also good names to look out for, although they’re usually available at lower quantities. E. Marinella and Drake’s are undeniably exceptional, but typically sell at much higher prices. Ralph Lauren can also be nice, although he carries such a wide range of lines - each made to different qualities - that it can be hard to find what’s well made. If you care to sort through it all, just look for the blue Polo label or the high-end Purple Label. 
The only problem with shopping on eBay is that it can be difficult to discern a tie’s condition. Most sellers can tell if there’s a pull or stain in the silk, but this is hardly the only damage that can occur. If a tie has been sent to the dry cleaners, for example, the silk will have likely lost its luster, and if it’s been wrongly ironed, you’ll see an impression of the tie’s folds pressed into the front blade. The slip stitch that goes up the back spine might also be loose or even broken from improper yanking, and the neck area might be faded or overly worn, making the tie’s knot a slightly lighter color than the rest of the body. Worst of all is if the previous owner never let his tie rest after each day’s wear, but instead kept it knotted, so that he wouldn’t ever have to retie it again. This will ruin the interlining inside, making it difficult for you to ever get a good dimple. It’s rare that you’ll come across a seller who knows how to look for these kinds of defects. 
Still, for $10-15, not much is lost if you get a bad piece, and even if the tie doesn’t come in the most perfect condition, this might not be a bad thing. The men who wear silk repp ties best are often wearing pieces that are ten or twenty years old, and their ties have a sort of worn-in quality that makes them more appealing than things that look too new or pristine. Set aside $100 or so and stick to dark colors (e.g. burgundy, forest green, brown, and navy), and you’ll have a pretty good starting collection in no time. 
(Photo via Oxford Cloth Button Down)

Building an Affordable Neckwear Collection

If you want to build a necktie wardrobe for not too much money, there’s no better place to start than eBay. At any given time, there are hundreds of silk repps floating around that site, many available for only $10 to $20 a piece. Striped silk repp ties, as I’ve mentioned, are exceptionally useful because you can wear them with either sport coats or suits, whereas some ties are too casual to wear with one, or too formal to wear with the other. 

To find them, just search eBay for well-regarded American brands such as Ben Silver, Brooks Brothers, J. Press, and Paul Stuart. Seaward & Stearn and Atkinsons are also good names to look out for, although they’re usually available at lower quantities. E. Marinella and Drake’s are undeniably exceptional, but typically sell at much higher prices. Ralph Lauren can also be nice, although he carries such a wide range of lines - each made to different qualities - that it can be hard to find what’s well made. If you care to sort through it all, just look for the blue Polo label or the high-end Purple Label. 

The only problem with shopping on eBay is that it can be difficult to discern a tie’s condition. Most sellers can tell if there’s a pull or stain in the silk, but this is hardly the only damage that can occur. If a tie has been sent to the dry cleaners, for example, the silk will have likely lost its luster, and if it’s been wrongly ironed, you’ll see an impression of the tie’s folds pressed into the front blade. The slip stitch that goes up the back spine might also be loose or even broken from improper yanking, and the neck area might be faded or overly worn, making the tie’s knot a slightly lighter color than the rest of the body. Worst of all is if the previous owner never let his tie rest after each day’s wear, but instead kept it knotted, so that he wouldn’t ever have to retie it again. This will ruin the interlining inside, making it difficult for you to ever get a good dimple. It’s rare that you’ll come across a seller who knows how to look for these kinds of defects. 

Still, for $10-15, not much is lost if you get a bad piece, and even if the tie doesn’t come in the most perfect condition, this might not be a bad thing. The men who wear silk repp ties best are often wearing pieces that are ten or twenty years old, and their ties have a sort of worn-in quality that makes them more appealing than things that look too new or pristine. Set aside $100 or so and stick to dark colors (e.g. burgundy, forest green, brown, and navy), and you’ll have a pretty good starting collection in no time. 

(Photo via Oxford Cloth Button Down)

On The Ways We Judge Fashion and Taste
After Saturday’s post on the coming 1930s fashion exhibit, I spent some time re-watching clips from our second season. I’m really proud of our videos, although I have nothing to do with their production. All the credit there goes to Jesse, Ben, Dave, and the many people who contributed to our funding.
One of my favorite segments is our feature on ‘Lo Heads – a type of person who collects Polo Ralph Lauren clothing, often the pieces made between the years of 1992 and ‘94. Growing up in the ’90s, I actually had a number of friends that were ‘Lo Heads. At the time in Los Angeles, collecting and wearing Polo was very much connected to a particular underground dance scene, and I spent much of my youth going to clubs to watch guys dance in the flashiest Ralph Lauren gear you can imagine. 
Our feature was poorly received by some readers, which prompted Jesse to write a thoughtful piece on the discursive act of dressing, and what it means for a population of young, (mostly) Black men to obsess over what’s (largely) a white line of clothing. I refrained from writing anything because – it seems to me – like many things dealing with youth subcultures, you either identify with it or you don’t. I liked the segment simply because it reminded me of my time as a teenager.
But upon revisiting the video, and thinking about sartorial history, it struck me that perhaps there’s something else to be said about the way we judge fashion.

Remember Saturday’s brief mention of zoot suits? Zoot suits were exaggerated forms of the London drape cut – a silhouette where a jacket’s waist is pinched, and chest and upper back are made a bit full, in order to give the wearer a more of an athletic figure. It was invented by Frederick Scholte, who happened to be the tailor for Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor – a man largely considered the arbiter of good taste in the early 20th century. By virtue of him wearing the silhouette, it became somewhat popular among a certain class of people (mostly wealthy elites and Hollywood stars).
Since fashion is often a game of one-upmanship, traits that start off modestly soon become exaggerated. So it was with the drape cut, which begat the zoot suit. Inches of fabric were added to the chest; the jacket was lengthened down to the thighs; the sleeves were made so full that they looked like trouser legs. It was a style calculated to be bold and outrageous - perfect for a youth subculture - and it really caught on with young Italians, Blacks, and Latinos, who at the time occupied the “lower” tiers of American social order.
The story of the zoot suit isn’t just about how a certain cut caught on, however. It’s also about politics. At the height of the zoot suit’s popularity (the 1940s), the US government had rationing programs so that raw materials could be conserved for the war effort. This was doubly true in England, where "make do and mend" were the watchwords that set style trends.
The result was a sartorial conflict. While most men were tastefully sacrificing things like pleats, so that less cloth was needed to make pants, these youths were walking around in suits big enough to fit two people. To those not of the culture, it looked unpatriotic and conspicuously extravagant, particularly for men who presumably had little money.
There was also a lot of racial identity tied to the zoot suit. Although some whites wore it, it was largely identified with Blacks and Latinos. When telling the story of zoot suits, it’s hard to not mention people’s attitudes towards race and class. The Zoot Suit Riots, which left more than 150 people injured, were just as much about rising tensions between whites and Latinos as they were about people’s attitudes towards the war.  

There’s actually a somewhat similar story in Nazi-occupied France, where young Parisians known as les zazous sported a zoot-suit-esque fashion. Les zazous too were rebelling against the (Vichy) government’s decree for rationing. Their choice in clothing wasn’t disliked just because it required a lot of cloth however, but also because it represented a bigger “threat” to a society. Vichy government supporters viewed it as being part and parcel with other “bad” things - degenerate taste in music and language (as such youths listened to jazz and used American slang), laziness, and a sympathy towards Jews.
Above are some cartoons from anti-zazous publications, one of which shows a policeman forcefully shaving off a young man’s long hair, which at the time was viewed as an identifier of these “jazz-loving, slang-using, work-avoiding, Jew-befriending” youths and their morality. 
I’m not enough of a relativist to say that everything is subjective. In many ways, the baggy cut of the zoot suit looks outright silly. And, I can imagine that if you didn’t grow up in a culture with ‘Lo Heads, that sort of dress can look strange as well. At the same time, it can be difficult to view any of these things without our pre-existing biases on class. In other words, how we feel about certain fashions - what is “good taste” or “bad taste” - is often deeply tied to how we feel about the people wearing those said fashions in the first place.
Let’s be clear: I’m not accusing the critics of our video of being racist or classist, any more than I’d want to be accused of being racist or classist for liking the dress practices of old-money Anglo-Americans. I’m simply saying it’s hard to set aside our pre-existing social or political views when it comes to judging fashion, style, or taste. All dressing comes in a cultural context - it’s a context we inherit and sometimes have to look hard to see.

If you’re not convinced, ask yourself how did everyone come to dress like English gentlemen? How did the colorful, extravagant garb of men – from French kings to Chinese nobles – give way to the austere, drab clothes that British aristocrats favor? It’s hard to explain this without talking about the rise of the Second British Empire (1783-1815) and Britain’s imperial century (1815-1914), and how people around the world subsequently came to view aristocratic British values and culture. 
Or set aside the world, and ask how the suit came to symbolize authority and power within the narrower context of British society. British men of a certain class used to wear frock coats – a knee-length suit jacket style that was popular during 18th and 19th centuries. Then, a Scottish socialist named Keir Hardie wore the lounge suit (what we think of today as the business suit) to Parliament as an MP in 1892. It was controversial, but he did so to signal his solidarity with ordinary workingmen. A few decades later, the young heir Edward VIII wore the lounge suit as a sort of rebellion against his father the king (who upheld social norms by wearing much more formal clothes). The lounge suit was considered too casual for someone of Edward VIII’s class, and his father hated him for wearing it, but he was so often photographed in a lounge suit that it became acceptable for other men of power to wear it as well. It’s a legacy that continues today, as the lounge suit is pretty much the de-facto uniform for presidents, prime ministers, and kings.

The unwelcomed co-optation of upper-class style by ‘Lo Heads is hardly new. In London in the 1950s, young men from poorer sections of English society started wearing old Edwardian fashions. They were known as “Teddy Boys” and they dressed in a style that some Savile Row clients grew to after WWII (of course, because they lacked money, Teddy Boys did not get their clothes from Savile Row). The Teddy Boys were characterized by drainpipe trousers, long jackets, pointed collars, and fancy waistcoats. There’s a great BBC segment on them here.
The sartorial choices of the Teddy Boys and ‘Lo Heads were received by their respective societies in much the same way: that is, not well. It’s not surprising because, for most people, these were not well-regarded groups to begin with. Our attitudes about how someone dresses is often just as much about how we feel about that person’s background as it is about the “objective” fashion itself. And frankly, the underlying tension of class is why Teddy Boys and ‘Lo Heads dress the way they do in the first place. That twisting of the style and its meaning is … kind of the point. 

On The Ways We Judge Fashion and Taste

After Saturday’s post on the coming 1930s fashion exhibit, I spent some time re-watching clips from our second season. I’m really proud of our videos, although I have nothing to do with their production. All the credit there goes to Jesse, Ben, Dave, and the many people who contributed to our funding.

One of my favorite segments is our feature on ‘Lo Heads – a type of person who collects Polo Ralph Lauren clothing, often the pieces made between the years of 1992 and ‘94. Growing up in the ’90s, I actually had a number of friends that were ‘Lo Heads. At the time in Los Angeles, collecting and wearing Polo was very much connected to a particular underground dance scene, and I spent much of my youth going to clubs to watch guys dance in the flashiest Ralph Lauren gear you can imagine. 

Our feature was poorly received by some readers, which prompted Jesse to write a thoughtful piece on the discursive act of dressing, and what it means for a population of young, (mostly) Black men to obsess over what’s (largely) a white line of clothing. I refrained from writing anything because – it seems to me – like many things dealing with youth subcultures, you either identify with it or you don’t. I liked the segment simply because it reminded me of my time as a teenager.

But upon revisiting the video, and thinking about sartorial history, it struck me that perhaps there’s something else to be said about the way we judge fashion.



Remember Saturday’s brief mention of zoot suits? Zoot suits were exaggerated forms of the London drape cut – a silhouette where a jacket’s waist is pinched, and chest and upper back are made a bit full, in order to give the wearer a more of an athletic figure. It was invented by Frederick Scholte, who happened to be the tailor for Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor – a man largely considered the arbiter of good taste in the early 20th century. By virtue of him wearing the silhouette, it became somewhat popular among a certain class of people (mostly wealthy elites and Hollywood stars).

Since fashion is often a game of one-upmanship, traits that start off modestly soon become exaggerated. So it was with the drape cut, which begat the zoot suit. Inches of fabric were added to the chest; the jacket was lengthened down to the thighs; the sleeves were made so full that they looked like trouser legs. It was a style calculated to be bold and outrageous - perfect for a youth subculture - and it really caught on with young Italians, Blacks, and Latinos, who at the time occupied the “lower” tiers of American social order.

The story of the zoot suit isn’t just about how a certain cut caught on, however. It’s also about politics. At the height of the zoot suit’s popularity (the 1940s), the US government had rationing programs so that raw materials could be conserved for the war effort. This was doubly true in England, where "make do and mend" were the watchwords that set style trends.

The result was a sartorial conflict. While most men were tastefully sacrificing things like pleats, so that less cloth was needed to make pants, these youths were walking around in suits big enough to fit two people. To those not of the culture, it looked unpatriotic and conspicuously extravagant, particularly for men who presumably had little money.

There was also a lot of racial identity tied to the zoot suit. Although some whites wore it, it was largely identified with Blacks and Latinos. When telling the story of zoot suits, it’s hard to not mention people’s attitudes towards race and class. The Zoot Suit Riots, which left more than 150 people injured, were just as much about rising tensions between whites and Latinos as they were about people’s attitudes towards the war. 



There’s actually a somewhat similar story in Nazi-occupied France, where young Parisians known as les zazous sported a zoot-suit-esque fashion. Les zazous too were rebelling against the (Vichy) government’s decree for rationing. Their choice in clothing wasn’t disliked just because it required a lot of cloth however, but also because it represented a bigger “threat” to a society. Vichy government supporters viewed it as being part and parcel with other “bad” things - degenerate taste in music and language (as such youths listened to jazz and used American slang), laziness, and a sympathy towards Jews.

Above are some cartoons from anti-zazous publications, one of which shows a policeman forcefully shaving off a young man’s long hair, which at the time was viewed as an identifier of these “jazz-loving, slang-using, work-avoiding, Jew-befriending” youths and their morality. 

I’m not enough of a relativist to say that everything is subjective. In many ways, the baggy cut of the zoot suit looks outright silly. And, I can imagine that if you didn’t grow up in a culture with ‘Lo Heads, that sort of dress can look strange as well. At the same time, it can be difficult to view any of these things without our pre-existing biases on class. In other words, how we feel about certain fashions - what is “good taste” or “bad taste” - is often deeply tied to how we feel about the people wearing those said fashions in the first place.

Let’s be clear: I’m not accusing the critics of our video of being racist or classist, any more than I’d want to be accused of being racist or classist for liking the dress practices of old-money Anglo-Americans. I’m simply saying it’s hard to set aside our pre-existing social or political views when it comes to judging fashion, style, or taste. All dressing comes in a cultural context - it’s a context we inherit and sometimes have to look hard to see.



If you’re not convinced, ask yourself how did everyone come to dress like English gentlemen? How did the colorful, extravagant garb of men – from French kings to Chinese nobles – give way to the austere, drab clothes that British aristocrats favor? It’s hard to explain this without talking about the rise of the Second British Empire (1783-1815) and Britain’s imperial century (1815-1914), and how people around the world subsequently came to view aristocratic British values and culture. 

Or set aside the world, and ask how the suit came to symbolize authority and power within the narrower context of British society. British men of a certain class used to wear frock coats – a knee-length suit jacket style that was popular during 18th and 19th centuries. Then, a Scottish socialist named Keir Hardie wore the lounge suit (what we think of today as the business suit) to Parliament as an MP in 1892. It was controversial, but he did so to signal his solidarity with ordinary workingmen. A few decades later, the young heir Edward VIII wore the lounge suit as a sort of rebellion against his father the king (who upheld social norms by wearing much more formal clothes). The lounge suit was considered too casual for someone of Edward VIII’s class, and his father hated him for wearing it, but he was so often photographed in a lounge suit that it became acceptable for other men of power to wear it as well. It’s a legacy that continues today, as the lounge suit is pretty much the de-facto uniform for presidents, prime ministers, and kings.



The unwelcomed co-optation of upper-class style by ‘Lo Heads is hardly new. In London in the 1950s, young men from poorer sections of English society started wearing old Edwardian fashions. They were known as “Teddy Boys” and they dressed in a style that some Savile Row clients grew to after WWII (of course, because they lacked money, Teddy Boys did not get their clothes from Savile Row). The Teddy Boys were characterized by drainpipe trousers, long jackets, pointed collars, and fancy waistcoats. There’s a great BBC segment on them here.

The sartorial choices of the Teddy Boys and ‘Lo Heads were received by their respective societies in much the same way: that is, not well. It’s not surprising because, for most people, these were not well-regarded groups to begin with. Our attitudes about how someone dresses is often just as much about how we feel about that person’s background as it is about the “objective” fashion itself. And frankly, the underlying tension of class is why Teddy Boys and ‘Lo Heads dress the way they do in the first place. That twisting of the style and its meaning is … kind of the point. 

Tartans + Shetlands + Waxed Jackets
I don’t reblog much, but couldn’t help myself with this one. I admit, I’ve experimented a lot when it comes to clothing, and still like to try new things, but I’ll forever love classic American style.
Above is a tartan shirt, a green Shetland sweater, and a waxed cotton Barbour coat. I think O’Connell’s Shetlands are some of the best around, but they cost $165. If you don’t mind the price, I highly recommend them. Otherwise, you can get Shetlands from these other brands or on eBay. Barbours are also pretty easy to find on eBay UK. Yes, some will be pretty beat up, but that’s a good thing with these kinds of coats. If they come with a musty smell, you can get them cleaned through New England Waterproofers. If the idea of wearing a used waxed coat seems gross to you, and you don’t want to pay for a new Barbour, you can try these alternatives. Lastly, tartan shirts can be bought through companies such as O’Connell’s, Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Ralph Lauren, and our advertiser Ledbury. If you prefer custom-made shirts, you can get tartan fabrics pretty affordably through Acorn and give them to your tailor. 
It’s not a terribly new or original look, and it’s hardly “cutting edge” when it comes to fashion, but it’s great, genuinely classic, and pretty easy to put together. In an interview at Ivy Style, Bruce Boyer once said: “I’ve gone through different phases and trends and tried things, but I always keep coming back to a kind of Anglo-American look.” I often feel the same way. 
(Photo via glengarrysportingclub)

Tartans + Shetlands + Waxed Jackets

I don’t reblog much, but couldn’t help myself with this one. I admit, I’ve experimented a lot when it comes to clothing, and still like to try new things, but I’ll forever love classic American style.

Above is a tartan shirt, a green Shetland sweater, and a waxed cotton Barbour coat. I think O’Connell’s Shetlands are some of the best around, but they cost $165. If you don’t mind the price, I highly recommend them. Otherwise, you can get Shetlands from these other brands or on eBay. Barbours are also pretty easy to find on eBay UK. Yes, some will be pretty beat up, but that’s a good thing with these kinds of coats. If they come with a musty smell, you can get them cleaned through New England Waterproofers. If the idea of wearing a used waxed coat seems gross to you, and you don’t want to pay for a new Barbour, you can try these alternatives. Lastly, tartan shirts can be bought through companies such as O’Connell’s, Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Ralph Lauren, and our advertiser Ledbury. If you prefer custom-made shirts, you can get tartan fabrics pretty affordably through Acorn and give them to your tailor. 

It’s not a terribly new or original look, and it’s hardly “cutting edge” when it comes to fashion, but it’s great, genuinely classic, and pretty easy to put together. In an interview at Ivy Style, Bruce Boyer once said: “I’ve gone through different phases and trends and tried things, but I always keep coming back to a kind of Anglo-American look.” I often feel the same way. 

(Photo via glengarrysportingclub)

At-Home Repairs

Not nearly as cool as Jesse’s repair, but following his post, I thought I’d share these photos from StyleForum member Ghost01. These were recently posted in a thread dedicated to RRL, which as many people know, is Ralph Lauren’s workwear line. RRL was set up in 1993, and is heavily inspired by Ralph Lauren’s private ranch, which he runs with his wife Ricky (hence the name RRL). That means lots of American workwear inspired by country and vintage clothing. You can see the ranch in an interview Oprah once did with Ralph Lauren and his family. (Warning: it’s beautiful). 

Anyway, Ghost01 had an RRL shirt and a pair of jeans that were falling apart. The elbow on the shirt had worn through and there was a hole in the back pocket of the jeans from where his wallet is usually kept. His solution? Patch up both holes, at home using his own sewing skills, with an old RRL pocket square that he had laying around. I think the results look pretty great - a practical solution that’s also in keeping with RRL’s aesthetic. 

The top photo is of Ghost01 in an RRL jacket. That piece hasn’t been repaired, but I’m posting it because I think all three pieces - the jacket, the newly repaired shirt, and the newly repaired jeans - go together quite nicely for a casual look. 

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)