I’m going to Beijing this summer, so I’ve been looking for clothing that I can wear in really hot, humid weather, but is also something I won’t mind getting greasy Chinese food stains on. In my search, I found out that J Crew is having a sale on the linen shirts I blogged about last month. They range from $45-55, which I think is a really good price. Shipping is free, it’s not final sale, and every size is still available. Grab one while you can.
Made Tailor is having a promotion right now where they’re going to give away a custom shirt to one lucky winner. All you have to do is sign up and input your measurements. You can read about the contest here.
I normally wouldn’t post something like this, but frankly, I think this might be a good way to encourage people to get detailed measurements of their body. I’ve found it to be very useful to know even my most minor measurements, such as armhole and wrist size, for when I’m buying clothes online or getting things custom made.
Lastly, I strongly suggest that you go to a professional tailor for this. Use someone you really trust. I’ve found that non-professionals, and even “lower end” tailors, have a surprisingly difficult time getting accurate measurements. Get them once from a true professional, pay them $5-10 for the service, and keep the numbers on hand. They’ll come in handy sooner than you think.
Q and Answer: Should I Wear Non-Iron Shirts?
Shai writes to ask about non-iron shirts: I love the convenience but am not 100% sure what I’m giving up (partly because I think they’re too good to be true). Is the quality inferior? Do the shirt wear out sooner (if so, is it significant enough that it matters)? Should I avoid certain colors/brands? So far I have only purchased a couple from Brooks Brothers and have been pleased with the results, just trying to learn more.
I own a non-iron shirt. I just bought it recently, actually. It’s a point-collar blue oxford from Brooks’ slim-fit line, and I picked it up for a couple dollars from a thrift store in nearly new condition. It’s the only non-iron shirt I own.
Non-iron shirts used to be made by blending cotton with synthetic fiber (usually polyester). Some, in fact, especially on the low end, are still made this way. Synthetic fiber is cheaper than cotton (particularly since cotton prices have skyrocketed in the last year or so), and it a blend can retain some of the positive qualities of cotton, while gaining some of the non-wrinkling properties of synthetics. Polyester, though, is unnatural-looking, and wears warm and clammy, which is why blends have fallen out of favor.
These days, better non-iron shirts are made by impregnating an all-cotton shirt with a mix of chemicals, including formaldehyde. This means you get less of the stigma of polyester, but it does have downsides. The fabric often has an unnatural sheen, it can be clammy and the chemicals eventually wash out. Even when they are working, their total lack of wrinkles betrays them for what they are.
The real question in my mind is: do you want to avoid wrinkles? Completely? I think a bit of wrinkling through the day is perfectly fine. Maybe even desirable. In fact, some shirts, especially oxfords, don’t really even require ironing. I think that one of a cotton shirt’s greatest qualities is the life that’s built into it. Those non-iron chemicals kill that life.
The English shirt makers Thin Red Line are offering a pretty remarkable deal today. Sign up for an account on their site, and all shirts are just £14.99 - or about $25. This is a 65% discount off their usual price of £45 ($75). In fact, there’s currently an additional 20% off for members that brings the price down to $20(!) per shirt. I ordered six shirts and paid, including shipping, $150.
These shirts are solid, traditional English shirts. The quality isn’t remarkable in most ways, more TM Lewin than Turnbull & Asser, but the half-dozen shirts I bought in the last crazy sale have been workhorses in my wardrobe. They do have some nice details, like gussets at the side seams and convertible double cuffs. Really this is an opportunity to score real basics - like solid blue and whites - for a great price.
My biggest complaints about the last round I bought (slightly baggy fit, stiff collars) have, they say, been addressed in a redesign that introduced a slim fit option and a softer interlining, so I’m very hopeful. From what I’ve read, the new “slim fit” is a moderately slim fit, not a dramatically slim fit, which is good for a medium-sized guy like me. More comparable, in other words, to Brooks Brothers’ slim fit than an Italian slim fit, or Brooks’ extra-slim.
So if you need to build a basic shirt wardrobe, you could do much, much worse than a few whites and blues in single and double-cuff variations and a few patterns from Thin Red Line.
(One technical note: I found that in Firefox, I had to hit refresh once on a few of the shirt pages before picking my options in order to successfully add stuff to my cart. And from what their customer support folks told me, some US debit cards have odd verification issues, so use a credit card if you want to avoid that.)
The Five Days of Summer Series, Part V: Summer Style on the Cheap
Before Jesse let me start writing here, I was a dedicated PTO reader for more than a year. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Jesse’s posts was how grounded they were. While other blogs were off writing about $500 shoes and $2,000 suits, Jesse was recommending things that were actually affordable for most people.
Since I’ve begun blogging, I’ve found myself slipping into the same trap - mostly writing about really expensive things. Now, I strongly believe the philosophy that you should buy less, buy better. I get much more out of my really expensive purchases than my discount ones. However, it’s not like menswear is just a choice between Target and Cucinelli; there’s a lot of stuff in between. So for the final installment to this series, I wanted to cover some options for those who might be really strapped for cash.
Pants: Uniqlo’s vintage fit chinos fit pretty slim around the seat and thighs, but they’re a bit more straight legged from the knee down. If you’re OK with that, call up Uniqlo’s New York store and you can order a pair for around $30.
Shirts: Lands End Canvas has a line of decent shirts marketed under their “Heritage Collection.” You can get some for as low as $13. If you buy over $50 worth of items, they’ll knock off $10 and give you free shipping once you punch in the coupon code PARENTS (pin: 3135). That makes each shirt about $10.
There are also the telnyashka shirts I wrote about earlier this week. I really like the carded cotton on St. James, but if you’re strapped for cash, a reasonable verisimilitude can be had for under $20.
Shoes: I think most of the plimsolls I wrote about this week are affordable. For example, if you Google around you’ll find Supergas for around $45. You can also find Converse All Star Cups for pretty cheap here and here. Lastly, RopeySoles has some nice handmade espadrilles for $30. I especially like the denim and linen ones.
Watch: Timex Easy Reader is an obvious choice, but you might also want to consider Maiden Noir’s. Throw a Nato strap on either of these and you’re good to go. You can get straps either through Central Watch or eBay. Once all is said and done, you’ll have a great looking watch this summer for less than $70.
Belt: Beltoutlet.com has woven belts for $13 for and web belts for $8. You can also get elastic surcingles from Wood’s of Shropshire for $11. My favorites are the wovens, but any of these can be paired well with some cotton chinos.
Pocket squares: One of my first editorial posts ever was about custom pocket squares. Go find some fabric you like and send it to Son so he can sew some handrolled edges on it. The whole thing should cost you around $25.
Socks: I hear going sockless is free. You’re not poor; you’re just stylish.
That concludes the Five Days of Summer. If you want to review the past installments, just click here for the full series. Now you don’t have an excuse to look bad this summer.
Modern Tailor: First (and Second) Impressions
A month or two ago, the Chinese made-to-measure operation Modern Tailor offered a special introductory offer: a basic oxford shirt for $19.95. I jumped at the opportunity to try out the overseas, internet-based MTM experience. I’ve finally got my shirts in hand, and thought I’d offer a quick review of the process and product.
The Status Quo
Most of my shirts come from one of two sources: the New York made-to-measure operation CEGO or the thrift store. At CEGO, Carl Goldberg (who runs the joint) measured me in person, and offered me an array of fabrics, including both bolts and swatches. He’s a genuine expert, whose advice is immensely valuable. When I order from him, I know what I’m getting, but the prices are (by my modest standards) steep. Shirts usually end up costing around $150 - an amount I could best afford when I had a small wardrobe budget for my TV show.
Thrift store shirts are much cheaper, of course, but they have their own problems. Fit is iffy, even with alterations, and you have to take what you find, style-wise. It can be difficult to build a basic wardrobe through thrifting.
My hope was that online made-to-measure might fill the gap, especially for the readers who write me with difficulty finding any off-the-rack shirts that fit. The answer? Yes. It might.
I found the ordering process at Modern Tailor simple and clear. I grabbed a shirt that fit me well (one of my CEGO oxfords) and took measurements from that with a seamstress’ tape. Input was easy, and my order was processed very promptly. Too promptly, as it turned out - I realized a few hours after clicking “send” that I had forgotten to account for shrinkage.
Customer service at MT was extremely helpful. They tried to correct my order, but it had already gone into production, and they instead offered to send me the shirt in production for free, and allow me to adjust measurements for the three shirts I ordered on that basis. Shipping was prompt (took about two weeks, total).
The shirt, when it arrived, had all kinds of problems. The fabric wasn’t what I’d expected. An oxford, yes, but a very, very lightweight one, almost untextured. This is, of course, the kind of problem one can reasonably expect from online - if you don’t have the fabric in hand, you can’t judge it well. (Modern Tailor does offer a swatch book, which comes with some coupons, for $25.)
The sizing was badly off. I’m not sure if it was my measurements, laundry shrinkage or a manufacturing mistake - my guess is a mix of the former two - but it was simply unwearable. Customer service at Modern Tailor was happy to wait for adjusted measurements, though, and I finally found time to make the appropriate changes.
The final shirts were made promptly thereafter, but were apparently held at the post office for a few weeks. My mailman never left initial notice (they require signature on delivery), and only left a second notice after Modern Tailor inquired as to why the package hadn’t been delivered.
You can see the results above. The pattern still needs some tweaking - it’s tight in the shoulders and the waist. (Unflatteringly so in the waist… that I posted it on the internet is a sign of my commitment to you, the reader.) There are also things an in-person shirtmaker can account for, like shoulder pitch and posture, that are tough to impossible for online to handle, even when measuring from a perfectly-fitting shirt.
The cuffs have a stiff interlining that I’m not crazy about. The mother-of-pearl buttons (an extra couple bucks a shirt) are quite nice. The shirts, as they are, are very wearable and were a bargain at $20. Would I buy them regularly at the standard $60 price point? What about $100 or $150 for premium fabrics? I’d have to consider it.
The Bottom Line
There are people for whom it’s very difficult to buy clothes that fit off the rack. The very tall, the very thin, the very thick, the lopsided. Some of those folks can afford to consult with an expert shirtmaker - and I recommend that those do. For those who can’t afford it, online custom is a reasonable substitute.
The process is fraught with challenges. You’re not a professional measurer. You may not have a shirt to measure from. Shirts may vary in manufacture. It’s tough to judge fabrics without experienced advice and in-person evaluation. These are smaller problems in shirts than they are in suits (witness the disastrous online MTM tailored clothes that show up every day on the clothing fora), but they’re significant problems nonetheless. The end result of all this is that it’s more of an adventure than a luxury. I’d certainly send a friend to CEGO before I’d send them to Modern Tailor.
That said: I think there is a place for this kind of operation for those with developed taste and specific needs, but slim bankrolls.
The Five Days of Summer Series, Part III: Polo Shirts
Aside from maybe chinos, there are few things more quintessential to summer style than polos. It was invented in 1933 by legendary tennis player Rene Lacoste when he found the regulation dress code - stiff, long sleeved shirts with ties and white flannel pants - too cumbersome and uncomfortable. Thus, inspired by the wool-knit jerseys worn by polo players, Lacoste came up with short-sleeved, soft-collared, pique cotton pullover that we’re all familiar with. Though its origins may be sportswear, it’s now a staple of casual summer style, and currently enjoying a bit of a revival as young men begin to ditch their scrappy faux-vintage t-shirts in favor of sharper looks.
As with everything, the key to pulling off a polo is getting the right fit. Look for ones that are slightly trimmer in the body, with sleeves that hit around the middle of your bicep. You can have the lengths be long or short, but if they hang below your hips, you’ll have to tuck them in. There are a good number of companies that provide these features, so let’s review some.
By far, the most unique offering I’ve come across is from Polosophy, an Italian label that makes bespoke polos. The company has taken advantage of the two biggest trends in menswear - the long-term move towards casualwear, and the recent resurgence in custom clothing. The result is a casual polo with all the rich elegant details you would find in a custom button-up shirt. Here, the client chooses the color of the polo, type of collar and cuffs, and then decides whether he wants a monogram. Everything is cut from a custom paper pattern made from your measurements. The polos come with mother-of-pearl buttons, sewn on with chicken foot stitching (a hand-tailoring detail I’ve written about here), and linen detailing on the placket. There is also a structured and reinforced collarband, making the polo’s collar behave much more like one you would find on a woven shirt. The price is expensive, as you can imagine. Short sleeves start around $250; long sleeves start around $300. If you’re in Europe, there is a five-shirt minimum, and they’ll send a tailor to you to get your measurements. If you catch them on one of their tours, however, you can meet them at a hotel and only need to meet a three-shirt minimum.
Of course, few people can afford bespoke polos, so let’s talk about some off-the-rack options. The first is by one of my favorite companies, John Smedley. These polos are made from Sea Island cotton, which is a “long staple” fiber. This means that each fiber measures around 2 inches long, which allows them to be woven with fewer bonds. As a result, the final fabric has an incredibly smooth, silky, luxurious hand, as well as incredible strength (as there are fewer “weak points” where the fibers are bonded together). The cotton also has a natural brilliant whiteness when it’s raw. This allows it to be dyed in richer, clear colors, as well as forgo harsh bleaching, thus allowing the colors to stay colorfast. In terms of quality, John Smedley polos are some of the best you can get. They come in traditional and slim fits, and feature one of Smedley’s three polo collar designs. Check them out at their website.
For other great, high-quality polos, consider Moncler. Their company website doesn’t seem to feature them, but I really like the ones that Bergdorf Goodman is carrying. Sunspel is also really nice. They come in different fabrics, such as pique cotton (the traditional fabric you find on polos) and jersey cotton (a more “t-shirt” material). They also have polos in their Riveria fabric, which is similar to the traditional pique cotton, but in a more open weave (an advantage for hot days that I’ve written about). Additionally, there is Gant, which also come in pique or jersey cotton. The main line is a bit more traditionally cut, while the Rugger line is trimmer. Unfortunately, their webstore won’t ship to the US, but if you see something you like, call one of their stores in New York or Connecticut and they’ll ship it out to you.
If the options above are too expensive for you, try Uniqlo. Be warned, however, that they’re made of a mix of cotton and polyester. Polyester doesn’t breathe, so you’ll be sweating more in these. I’m really not a fan of the fabric, so they come with a very reserved “recommendation.” You can order one of Uniqlo’s polos by calling their New York store.
Another very affordable option is Benjamin Bixby’s. Since the company folded, some of their clothes have been popping up at various venues. These fit very slim, so you should size up. You can find them on eBay if you do a search.
Finally, we come to Kent Wang. I was curious about Kent’s polos a few weeks ago, so I inquired about it. He was nice enough to send me one as a gift, and I received it last week. This is easily my favorite of the bunch. The real upside here is the reinforced spread collar. This means there is a collarband with two layers of self-fabric, making it the collar behave much more like one on a woven shirt (a detail that we saw earlier on the Polosophy design). In other words, the collar stands up more, instead of laying close to the collarbone. The spread collar design also gives the polo a lot more panache. I’ve taken a photo of Kent Wang’s spread collar and posted it next to a Bixby collar, which is much more traditional. You can really see the difference in collar shapes there. If you decided to get Kent’s polo, I recommend sizing up; these fit very slim.
The Five Days of Summer Series, Part I: Bretons
The trees in my neighborhood have been leafing and flowering for some time now, but this weekend, as the weather was particularly sunny, things started to feel more summery. As such, I thought I’d create a five-day series dedicated to things you can get for the coming summer season.
The first part to this series is about Breton shirts and sweaters. These seem to be popular every year around this time, and their continued relevance is probably due their being an iconic, international classic. In the last year or two, they’ve become particularly hip - a trip through Brooklyn has come to look like a visit to a French sailor’s convention.
Saint James invented Bretons in 1850 for men working out on the sea. They were originally just for the people of Brittany - a peninsula region in the northwest of France. In the 1920s, however, Coco Chanel became enamored with the Breton’s striped sailor look and made it into a more general “French style.” By the 1940s, it became the uniform of French beatniks, and then by the 1960s, it was popular among American rock stars. It has remained an iconic cultural staple ever since.
There are a ton of companies right now making their own version of the Breton (eg Brooks Brothers and Lands End Canvas). It would be laborious and needless to list every option, so I’ll cover only three kinds: the classic, the Picasso, and the poor man’s.
Classics: For the classic, there is the originator - Saint James. Binic II is their most popular sweater; it has stripes starting around the breastbone and a button placket on the left shoulder. Their Matelot is a slight variation on the Binic II, with full-body stripes and a looped around collar. For shirts, they have two main models, the Meridien II and Minquiers 10. They’re basically the same shirt, except the Meridien II has a boatneck while Minquiers 10 has a round one. As well, Meridien II is made from carded cotton, which is a heavier, slightly “rougher” cotton, while Minquiers is made from combed cotton (the kind we’re mostly familiar with). I think carded cotton is strongly preferable, if only for its unique texture, but some men are a bit timid about wearing boatnecks.
Should you order a Saint James, you can get one from Brittany Boutique for about half of what you’d find them for in most stores.
Picasso: As famous as Bretons are to French sailors and beatniks, the image of Picasso in his Breton is just as enduring. Capitalizing on that association, J. Peterman recreated the one we’ve seen on Picasso. The curled boatneck is a bit more daring than the regular boatneck, but on the right guy, it can carry a lot of panache.
Poor man’s: Lastly, we have the budget Breton. For this, do a search on eBay for telnyashka. Here you’ll find Russian Navy undershirts, many of which are deadstocks from the Soviet era. The Russians borrowed the design from the French Navy, who of course got theirs from the sailors in Brittany. You can typically score one of those for under $20.
Finally, a word about styling. Bretons work well as layering pieces and can easily be worn with almost any pair of chinos. For a bit more creativity, try wearing them with other quintessential summer pieces. For example, you can wear a Breton shirt with a khaki cotton suit, braided leather belt, and navy espadrilles, and you’ll basically have your summer style on smash.
Brooks Brothers “Friends and Family” sale starts in just two weeks, on May 5th. It’s unclear what the discounts will be, but you should expect them to range between 25% and 40%. If you open a Brooks Brothers corporate card, you’ll also get an additional 15% discount. Thus, there will be some good deals to be had.
In searching for items for myself, I thought I’d write a bit about some items you might also want to consider. In addition to these linen shirts I covered last week, they also have other summer staples, such as a mariner striped sweater, cotton blazer, and some slim fit chinos. I also really like these glen plaid trousers, their pink OCBD, and this Gregory trench coat.
I think chukka boots make for great year round wear, but I especially like them in the summer and fall seasons. Brooks has some that are a bit less blobby looking than Clarks desert boots, and I think at steep discount, they’re quite a steal. You can get them in calf leather, suede, or canvas.
Lastly, I recommend taking a look at some of their accessories. This leather watchband is quite handsome, as is their engined-turned tie bar and plaid umbrellas. I also think every man should have an engine turned slide buckle. My father gave me his, and it has his initials engraved on it; it’s one of the nicest things you can pass on. They also have some of the best summer belts - a braided, surcingle, and woven-surcingle. I have the braided one and couldn’t be happier with it.
Stop by a Brooks when you have time and see if anything strikes your fancy. If you do find something, ask a sales associate if they’ll hold it for you until the sale starts. I’ve had reasonably good luck with that strategy, and it’s a great way to make sure you get the items you want, at a price that’s affordable.
I jokingly remarked on Twitter earlier today that the key to ironing was putting the thing you want flat under the iron. I genuinely believe that many people, especially many men, are unduly afraid of ironing. Frankly, it’s pretty easy if you have decent equipment and you don’t expect perfection of yourself.
Above I’ve posted a nice, simple how-to from the folks at the English shirt company TM Lewin. It gets all the basics along with a little trick that I’ll have to try: buttoning the collar to do the shirt’s body.
My main advice is to get a good iron - I like my Rowenta, which was about a hundred bucks on eBay. I think it’s tough to understand how much different the good iron ironing experience is from the cheap iron ironing experience without trying it, but suffice it to say I’m very happy with my investment. When my mother-in-law visited, she literally exclaimed at how easily her ironing went. A really nice iron helps make the spray bottle a bit redundant, though go for it if you don’t mind keeping it on hand.
I do my ironing after my wife does the laundry (along with her ironing). I ask her to take the shirts out of the drier when they’re still very slightly damp, and then I iron while I watch TV. An episode of Archer later, I’m usually done with a pile of eight or ten. Frankly, I don’t try to get everything perfect. I don’t mind a little rumpling from time to time - it builds character.