John Helmer Haberdasher in Portland

I found myself puttering around downtown Portland on a recent morning, and decided to type “menswear” into my phone and see what came up. Luckily enough for me, the answer was John Helmer Haberdarsher.

Helmer is the kind of old-school men’s clothing store you find in the downtown of most major cities. It’s been on the same location for nearly a century, its ownership is in the hands of its third John Helmer, and the staff are a mix of young guys in bow ties, old guys in bow ties, and women who would wear bow ties if that were a reasonable and tasteful option.

Walk into Helmer and you’ll find the right half of the store taken up by hats of every shape and size. Sadly, it’s tough to find a really fine hat these days at retail, and the best of these was only fine, but there truly was a selection to beat the band. After putting on and taking off a summer hat by the German brand Mayser about a dozen times, I resolved to buy it. I recently cut my hair quite short and the sun in Los Angeles is unforgiving.

On the left-hand side of the store was traditional haberdashery fare. Rep ties, Southwick sportcoats, and a clerk helping a customer with a custom order of Bill’s Khakis. Behind glass was a beautiful selection of Alden shoes - I had to restrain myself from trying on a pair of shell cordovan plain-toed bluchers.

The service at the shop was uniformly excellent - you could tell that this was what these folks do, not just a summer job. The styling was uniformly, well, dad-ish. Maybe grandpa-ish… but if you expected something different perhaps you thought you were down the street at the high-end department store Mario’s. John Helmer Haberdasher offers a comfortable place to shop for traditional clothes, and next time I’m in Portland, I’ll pop in again.

Alternative Markets

If you purchase your clothes online (and you probably do), you’re aware that the online marketplace for clothing—sure, for everything—has exploded in the last decade. First, established stores began selling their wares online, then warehouse-backed, online only behemoths like Yoox and Mr. Porter showed up. The vast gray market of eBay has been another source of growth for both new and used stuff, providing a place to snag vintage, deadstock, and new clothing and accessories from well beyond your local Goodwill/Buffalo Exchange. Also, helpfully, a place to dump your own regrets and didn’t fits. Of course you pay for access, through eBay fees and transaction charges.

Recently we’ve seen more independent options compete with eBay in the secondary men’s clothing market. As a seller, I always like to see more outlets where I can sell my stuff, particularly when listing is easy and cheap/free, and where the people browsing will be knowledgeable about what I’m selling. As a buyer, smaller markets can mean less competition and less chaff to sort through.

Styleforum Marketplace

The Styleforum buying and selling forum has historically been the best non-retail place to find niche men’s clothing online. Although not easy to search, it’s simple to browse and, once you register, pretty simple to use. Styleforum has a custom tool for setting up listings with photos and details. Styleforum management is relatively laissez faire and does not get involved in transactions or disputes. There are rules, though, and a feedback system. Listings are split between “classic menswear" (mostly tailoring and traditional men’s clothing; e.g., suits you’d wear to work, sweaters and pants you’d wear out to dinner with your in-laws), and "streetwear & denim" (mostly non-tailored and designer stuff, e.g., high-end workwear and edgier stuff). Sellers who want to maximize visibility and sell at a high volume can pay for better placement; some earn legitimate livings selling exclusively through Styleforum.

Superfuture Supermarket

Another forum marketplace, one even simpler than Styleforum’s, because Superfuture listings are plain ol’ threads just like any other on the forum. As for the what you’ll see here, it’s seriously niche interest stuff. Up and coming designers, rare streetwear, and for lack of a better word, gothninja. Like Styleforum, Superfuture mostly stays out of the way and lets members negotiate and work out payment amongst themselves.

Que Pasa Shop

A new concept is a storefront like Que Pasa Shop, with a limited pool of sellers and a managed payment system. Que Pasa’s system means that the stock is more tightly edited than the constantly moving free-for-all of forum classifieds. Que Pasa reviews all items before they post, and holds payment until sellers enter shipment tracking information, adding a level of trust for buyers. Payments are processed through Paypal. Que Pasa, however, takes 15% of each sale price. Que Pasa does additional merchandising through their blog, which, frankly, looks pretty cool.

Grailed

A similar but more straightforwardly user-driven site is Grailed. The name is a reference to the sort of rare, sought-after items you might conceivably quest for, and the products currently on offer are a very broad mix of obscure designers and much more accessible stuff. The site allows you to filter items displayed by designer, size, etc., in an intuitive way, making it easy to narrow down the selection to what you’re interested in. Grailed uses Paypal and expects buyers or sellers to resolve any issues through Paypal’s buyer and seller protection policies; for now, the site is not charging users any sort of fee. As its user base broadens, it will be interesting to see how Grailed’s stock changes. Anecdotally, I saw quite a few items on Grailed that are also listed on forums and eBay.

Bureau of Trade

Bureau of Trade has built an attractive, Monocle-y looking, humor-laced site around, essentially, aggregating interesting eBay listings. They list more than clothes, branching into cars, art objects, and puppies. It’s fun to browse but truthfully I already know a good place for eBay finds.

-Pete

Where to Shop in San Francisco
Earlier this year, StyleForum asked if I could put together a “menswear shopping map” for San Francisco. That is, all the places that sell men’s clothing, from small boutiques to vintage stores to even custom clothiers. The map just got put up, and it includes the eighty-five places that I know of. Yes, eighty-five. Enough to keep you busy for any trip to this great city. You can view the database and map here. 

Where to Shop in San Francisco

Earlier this year, StyleForum asked if I could put together a “menswear shopping map” for San Francisco. That is, all the places that sell men’s clothing, from small boutiques to vintage stores to even custom clothiers. The map just got put up, and it includes the eighty-five places that I know of. Yes, eighty-five. Enough to keep you busy for any trip to this great city. You can view the database and map here

Shopping Japan

Although, technically, legal trade between the United States and Japan has been going on since the 1850s, and Americans and Europeans can order from each others’ webstores as easily as they can order from a store two towns over, Japan’s online retail economy still confounds many an eager shopper. The disconnect is part language barrier and partly technological—many Japanese sites are just not set up to accommodate global e-sales. English speakers are privileged in that most European stores have staff who speak English, or can translate quickly via online tools like Google Translate. English/Japanese translation tools are not nearly as reliable, and sometimes no amount of good will and intentions on the part of both seller and buyer can overcome the communications breakdown. Likewise, even if you can navigate Japanese shopping sites, you often can’t register with or ship to non-Japan addresses.

The state of affairs is even more frustrating because Japan-based brands just make so much cool stuff, and because Japan’s big retailers, like Beams and United Arrows, have the buying power to carry exclusive goods from many brands that you’ll just never see elsewhere. (For instance, Danner still makes Japan-exclusive boots.) And Japan’s secondary market (Yahoo Auctions is analogous to ebay) is full of new and secondhand goods at relatively reasonable prices. Compared to U.S. stores and ebay, the Japanese market is particularly rich in niche and cult brands like Buzz Rickson, Visvim, Undercover, Jun Hashimoto, and Nepenthes/Needles.

How to Use a Proxy or Buying Service

Brad at Harajuju has put together a really solid guide on buying stuff from Japan, the bottom line of which is that your best bet is proxy services; that is, paying someone in Japan to shop for you and then ship goods to you. Brad’s guide has a helpful breakdown of the steps and costs of purchasing through a proxy. He recommends using FromJapan; SutoCorp also has a good reputation. I’ve personally also used the smaller scale StylisticsSpace. (Harajuju and Put This On readers may or may not be shopping for the same stuff, but the process is the same.)

Tips

Some things to remember in addition to Brad’s advice:

  • Be realistic about an item’s marked price vs. what it will cost you. Transaction fees, shipping, and proxy commission all add up.
  • Right now, 1USD is approximately 100JPY, a relatively favorable exchange rate for U.S. shoppers.
  • For Japanese brands, clothing generally runs smaller than U.S.-market clothing.
  • Japan isn’t Nordstrom. Some shops and proxies accommodate returns, but when you order something through a proxy, chances are you’re stuck with it. Consider fees and shipping, at least, as sunk costs, and be prepared for some trial and error. In my experience, if a store makes a mistake (for instance, ships the wrong item), they’ll work with you to fix the mistake.
  • For most U.S.-based brands, you’re better off buying domestically. On average, American-made goods will be more expensive in Japan than in the United States (this goes for European goods, as well). Japan is not a good place to look for discount Alden shoes.
  • Transactions take time. If you want a pair of Visvim sneakers on Yahoo Auctions and the auction ends in an hour, it’s not likely you’ll be able to coordinate with a proxy service in time.
  • Depending on what you order and how much it costs, you may have to pay duty (import tax) on top of everything else. It’s illegal to misrepresent the value of the goods you order in order to avoid paying taxes.
  • Rakuten, which lists some stores’ inventories as well as one-off (often used) items, has made it easier to order for buyers outside of Japan. Some Rakuten merchants will work with you directly (i.e., no proxy); Rakuten even offers occasional specials like free international shipping from select merchants.
  • The market opens up a little more every year; Japanese brands are more widely available than they used to be. Self Edge carries a lot of great Japanese brands. Kamakura has a shop in New York and a webstore; a lot of stores sell the Beams house line Beams Plus now; Danner is more liberal with their Japan designs. Don’t use a proxy if you don’t have to.

This may all sound discouraging, but I’ve had many good experiences shopping from Japan, both through proxies and directly through Rakuten. It may seem perverse in a make-everything-easy, customer-is-always-right shopping culture, but it’s satisfying to successfully navigate the process—the extra effort is emotional investment in the item you purchase, whatever it may be.

-Pete

When You Need It NOW! (You Shoulda Got It THEN!)
A huge portion of the emails I get at Put This On are about men who NEED IT NOW! They’ve just been invited to a black tie gala, they’re headed to a summer wedding this weekend, they have a state funeral to attend, they finally got a job interview with the firm they’ve been targeting. So they want to know: how can they save money and buy something great today?
The truth is: it’s impossible. You can go to Barney’s or Nordstrom or Brooks Brothers, beg for on-the-spot alterations, and walk out with something that works, but let me assure you: you will pay full price. And I’ll add that if you don’t live within easy access of those stores, you may well be plum out of luck.
So the solution is pretty simple: be prepared. Not for every eventuality, but for the few that you’re almost certain to encounter.
If you have black dress shoes, a solid gray suit, a white shirt and both a navy and black tie, you’re all set for almost any eventuality. A wedding, a funeral, a job interview.
These should be conservative, and fit. You can thrift them, eBay them, buy them on sale or buy them at full price. But if you’re a grown man, you will need these things. Often on short notice.
If your lifestyle means black tie is a regular occurrence - say once a year or more - then a black tie rig is worth owning as well. Give yourself the time you need to find exactly what you want at the price you want to pay, but do it now, not later.
Great-Uncles don’t die on your schedule, and once-in-a-lifetime job interviews don’t happen right when you expect them. So be prepared.

When You Need It NOW! (You Shoulda Got It THEN!)

A huge portion of the emails I get at Put This On are about men who NEED IT NOW! They’ve just been invited to a black tie gala, they’re headed to a summer wedding this weekend, they have a state funeral to attend, they finally got a job interview with the firm they’ve been targeting. So they want to know: how can they save money and buy something great today?

The truth is: it’s impossible. You can go to Barney’s or Nordstrom or Brooks Brothers, beg for on-the-spot alterations, and walk out with something that works, but let me assure you: you will pay full price. And I’ll add that if you don’t live within easy access of those stores, you may well be plum out of luck.

So the solution is pretty simple: be prepared. Not for every eventuality, but for the few that you’re almost certain to encounter.

If you have black dress shoes, a solid gray suit, a white shirt and both a navy and black tie, you’re all set for almost any eventuality. A wedding, a funeral, a job interview.

These should be conservative, and fit. You can thrift them, eBay them, buy them on sale or buy them at full price. But if you’re a grown man, you will need these things. Often on short notice.

If your lifestyle means black tie is a regular occurrence - say once a year or more - then a black tie rig is worth owning as well. Give yourself the time you need to find exactly what you want at the price you want to pay, but do it now, not later.

Great-Uncles don’t die on your schedule, and once-in-a-lifetime job interviews don’t happen right when you expect them. So be prepared.

The New Yorker: The End of Saks As We Know It
Amy Merrick of The New Yorker asks how luxury shopping has changed in the post-recession, post-outlet, post-internet shopping world.

The New Yorker: The End of Saks As We Know It

Amy Merrick of The New Yorker asks how luxury shopping has changed in the post-recession, post-outlet, post-internet shopping world.

Thoughts on Buying Good Sweaters
The best time to purchase sweaters is at the end of the season, when the fall/ winter stock gets discounted by fifty percent or more. The best time to shop for sweaters, however, is now, so that you can give yourself a few months time to figure out what you want and not be rushed into impulse buys come January. So, if you’re out browsing for sweaters, I’d suggest the following:
Low- to mid-tier purchases: If your budget is limited, I recommend aiming for sweaters made out of lambswool, Shetland, or merino wools. The first two, all things being equal, are harder-wearing. I also think they can often have more visual depth in their texture and color than most, lower-end merinos, which can be useful if you want to wear the sweater without a jacket. The sweater pictured above really shows off the nice lofty nap on lambswool, I think. 
High-end purchases: If your budget is over $350 or so, consider cashmere. The problem with cashmere below this mark – at least at full retail prices – is that they’re often poorly made. Cashmere is expensive, so when a company is selling a cashmere sweater for under $350 or so, it means they’ve likely skimped on the construction. That can mean shorter fibers used for the yarns, which will result in more breakages and pilling, or thin, loosely knitted fabrics, which will lose their shape over time. Better, I think, to stick to lambswool, Shetlands, and merinos, rather than be tricked into the allure of “cheap” cashmere.
Checking for quality: It’s difficult to determine a sweater’s true quality without having actually owned it for a few years. Nothing can substitute for experience. There are a few things, however, that you can do to make an educated guess. On cashmere, try rubbing the fabric between your fingers for a bit, and see if a light, oily residue has been left on your hands. If there is, that means the fabric was treated with a kind of emulsion, and is probably of low quality. On everything else, see if the sweater has been knitted densely, and check the elasticity of the collars and cuffs. It’s difficult to convey online exactly what level of quality to look for – which is why I think you should browse the inventory at a high-end store – but generally, if you think the sweater might lose its shape easily, it probably will.
Altering knits: Ideally, you should buy something that fits perfectly off-the-rack, but some knits can be altered if you have a good alterationist. On sweaters with side seams, I’ve found it’s easy to take in the body without too much trouble. You can read my post on knit alterations here.
Getting rid of pills: Every sweater, no matter what the quality, will pill to some degree. The question is just how much and how quickly. To take care of pills, I recommend using a sweater shaver. I use this one and it works decently well, though there are probably better ones on the market.
Where to buy: I can’t give a full list of every place that stocks good sweaters, but I can make a few suggestions based off of my experiences. On the high end, I really like Inis Meain, Drumohr, Drake’s, John Smedley, and William Lockie (the last of which you can buy through Heather Wallace). For more affordable purchases, I’ve had good experiences with Brooks Brothers, Club Monaco, and Howard Yount. The first two often do significant mark-downs throughout the season, which is when I think you should buy. Club Monaco also gives students an extra 20% off if they can show a student ID in-store or give a university email address online. I’ve picked up their basic v-neck sweaters before for about $45, and find them to be of a good value. 

Thoughts on Buying Good Sweaters

The best time to purchase sweaters is at the end of the season, when the fall/ winter stock gets discounted by fifty percent or more. The best time to shop for sweaters, however, is now, so that you can give yourself a few months time to figure out what you want and not be rushed into impulse buys come January. So, if you’re out browsing for sweaters, I’d suggest the following:

Low- to mid-tier purchases: If your budget is limited, I recommend aiming for sweaters made out of lambswool, Shetland, or merino wools. The first two, all things being equal, are harder-wearing. I also think they can often have more visual depth in their texture and color than most, lower-end merinos, which can be useful if you want to wear the sweater without a jacket. The sweater pictured above really shows off the nice lofty nap on lambswool, I think. 

High-end purchases: If your budget is over $350 or so, consider cashmere. The problem with cashmere below this mark – at least at full retail prices – is that they’re often poorly made. Cashmere is expensive, so when a company is selling a cashmere sweater for under $350 or so, it means they’ve likely skimped on the construction. That can mean shorter fibers used for the yarns, which will result in more breakages and pilling, or thin, loosely knitted fabrics, which will lose their shape over time. Better, I think, to stick to lambswool, Shetlands, and merinos, rather than be tricked into the allure of “cheap” cashmere.

Checking for quality: It’s difficult to determine a sweater’s true quality without having actually owned it for a few years. Nothing can substitute for experience. There are a few things, however, that you can do to make an educated guess. On cashmere, try rubbing the fabric between your fingers for a bit, and see if a light, oily residue has been left on your hands. If there is, that means the fabric was treated with a kind of emulsion, and is probably of low quality. On everything else, see if the sweater has been knitted densely, and check the elasticity of the collars and cuffs. It’s difficult to convey online exactly what level of quality to look for – which is why I think you should browse the inventory at a high-end store – but generally, if you think the sweater might lose its shape easily, it probably will.

Altering knits: Ideally, you should buy something that fits perfectly off-the-rack, but some knits can be altered if you have a good alterationist. On sweaters with side seams, I’ve found it’s easy to take in the body without too much trouble. You can read my post on knit alterations here.

Getting rid of pills: Every sweater, no matter what the quality, will pill to some degree. The question is just how much and how quickly. To take care of pills, I recommend using a sweater shaver. I use this one and it works decently well, though there are probably better ones on the market.

Where to buy: I can’t give a full list of every place that stocks good sweaters, but I can make a few suggestions based off of my experiences. On the high end, I really like Inis Meain, DrumohrDrake’sJohn Smedley, and William Lockie (the last of which you can buy through Heather Wallace). For more affordable purchases, I’ve had good experiences with Brooks Brothers, Club Monaco, and Howard Yount. The first two often do significant mark-downs throughout the season, which is when I think you should buy. Club Monaco also gives students an extra 20% off if they can show a student ID in-store or give a university email address online. I’ve picked up their basic v-neck sweaters before for about $45, and find them to be of a good value. 

Why You’re Unlikely to Tell Between a Fused and Half-Canvassed Jacket

Tailor Jeffery Diduch, who maintains the rather illuminating blog Tutto Fatto a Mano, was nice enough to contact us a few weeks ago to correct us on the pinch test. Apparently, you can’t use the pinch test to see if a suit jacket or sport coat is half-canvassed, only if it’s fully-canvassed. The pinch test, as many readers know, is when you pinch the two outer layers of a jacket, typically along the lower front near the edge, and pull them apart to see if there’s a distinct, floating piece of material in between. If there is, this is said to be a mark of quality. To understand this, we should first review how suits and sport coats are made.

A Quick Primer on Suit and Sport Coat Construction

Oversimplified, a jacket is made up of distinct layers of fabric. The two outermost layers, which is the cloth we see and feel, make up the “shell.” Sandwiched in-between are layers of haircloth, canvas, felt, and fusible interlining, depending on whether the jacket is fully-canvassed, half-canvassed, or fused.

On a fully-canvassed jacket, you’ll have a canvas – typically made from a blend of wool, often cotton, and animal hair – running down the full length of the garment. Tacked onto this will be the chest piece. As the name implies, this piece is just set at the chest and shoulders, so that it gives this area some shape and support. This chest piece is usually made of haircloth, which is a cloth that has had strands of horse tail hair woven in. Horse tail hair is very stiff and wiry, which is why it’s perfect for lending structure. Add on to this some felt to cover the wiry animal hair, possibly a very lightweight fusible if the outer shell’s material needs some stabilization, and we have the basic ingredients of a full-canvassed jacket.

The upside to this kind of construction is that the canvas will give a nice bloom to the lapels, making the jacket look more three-dimensional, and give some support to the front. The downside is that this type of construction is very expensive, both in terms of the materials and labor required, and if poorly executed, it could cause the fronts to pucker.

So, about forty years ago, a German company came up with a new type of construction: fusibles. A fused jacket is much like a full-canvassed garment in that it still has the two outer shell layers, a chest piece, and some felt. Replacing the floating canvas, however, is a fusible interlining. When heated and pressed, this interlining’s special resin will melt and bond to any cloth, thus adding a similar kind of support that canvas does. The upside to this is that we cut costs. It’s quick, easy, and requires little to no skill on the part of the operator. The downside, as you can imagine, is that it slightly stiffens the cloth and doesn’t provide as nice of a support as animal hair. Lapels don’t “bloom” in the same way, but rather look flat and lifeless. It also used to be the case that fused garments carried a risk of delamination and bubbling over time, but the technology has come far enough where such cases are rare.

Finally, we have half-canvassed garments, which are the compromise. Here, the front of the jacket is fused (since you still need to stabilize the fronts), but the fusible doesn’t extend to the lapel area, where you want that kind of bloom and structure that animal hair gives. Instead, the lapels will have canvas in it like a full-canvas garment. Here, you try to get the benefits of both methods, while minimizing the cons.

The Limits of the Pinch Test

Now, the pinch test is said to be a way for you to tell if a jacket is canvassed or not. Usually, you’ll want to take the fabric a few inches below the lowest button, pinch the two outer layers and pull them apart. If you can feel a distinct, floating layer in-between, that’s the canvas. You know so because below the lowest button, there’s really nothing but the two shell layers and whatever has been used to stabilize the fronts. If it’s floating and distinct, then you’ll know it’s been fully-canvassed. If you can’t feel anything between, that means some fusible has been glued onto one of the shell layers.

The reason why you can’t do this on a half-canvassed garment is because below the second button is always fused, so you don’t know if the garment is half-canvassed or fully-fused. If you go above the second button or so, towards the chest area, you won’t know if you’re just feeling the chest piece. All garments – fully-canvassed, half-canvassed, or fused – will have a floating chest piece, so feeling a distinct layer there means nothing. The only way to know if a garment is either half-canvassed or fused is to ask a knowledgeable salesperson, but from my experience, these are very, very hard to find. Especially, frankly, at places that would sell a fused garment. So, unfortunately, there’s little way to tell if a garment is fused or half-canvassed.

* Thanks to Jeffery for his help with this article. For a more detailed write-up on how suits and sport coats are made, read Jeffery’s post here

Check Out the Best
If you happen to live near a high-quality men’s clothing store, I encourage you to drop by it sometime, even if you can’t afford what’s being sold. Because for as much as you can read about clothing online, nothing replaces having handled things yourself. It’s by handling a truly high-quality sweater that you can tell what a substantial, dense knit feels like, or by conducting the “pinch test” on a half- or full-canvassed suit that you can tell when something is fused. Similarly, while you’re at it, take the time to try things on. Not that everything high-end fits better, but they often do. You may find how amazing you can look in a truly well-made suit, or gain a new appreciation for certain aspects of the fit, such as a cleaner shoulder line. It’s only by handling and trying on such things that you can put meaning to the words you’ve read online.
This is useful even if you can’t afford such things, because by handling the best of what’s out there, you’ll get a better sense of how other items compare. When you’re out doing your real shopping, you’ll have a better eye for how to spot quality and know what things you value. For example, after trying on a really nice suit, you may find that you want to pay extra money for nicer fabric, but you could care less about handstitched details. So you move from one store to the next until you find what you need. 
Of course, if you’ve never been in a high-end men’s boutique, they can feel a bit intimidating. At least I thought so when I first entered one ten or eleven years ago. I remember walking in with a pair of jeans, a cheap button-up shirt, and a boxy, brown, herringbone tweed I thrifted a few years prior. I figured everyone would see me as a rube. On the contrary, the sales associates were cordial and happy to help (though, they may have still seen me as a rube). You’ll quickly learn that the people who shop at such places are as likely to come dressed in an old pair of jeans and ill fitting polo as they are in a nice suit, and most of the people working at such establishments are normal, kind, professional folks. Naturally, you’ll won’t want to waste anyone’s time, so if they ask, just tell them you’re not looking to purchase anything at the moment. If they’re still eager to help, it can be useful to chat with them about their products, but even just handling things alone can be educational. 
So, when you get a chance, stop by a high-quality menswear store. One that sells the best of what’s made (not just the most expensive). You can learn a lot from the experience. 
(Photo: One of my favorite stores in San Francisco, De Corato, now unfortunately closed.)

Check Out the Best

If you happen to live near a high-quality men’s clothing store, I encourage you to drop by it sometime, even if you can’t afford what’s being sold. Because for as much as you can read about clothing online, nothing replaces having handled things yourself. It’s by handling a truly high-quality sweater that you can tell what a substantial, dense knit feels like, or by conducting the “pinch test” on a half- or full-canvassed suit that you can tell when something is fused. Similarly, while you’re at it, take the time to try things on. Not that everything high-end fits better, but they often do. You may find how amazing you can look in a truly well-made suit, or gain a new appreciation for certain aspects of the fit, such as a cleaner shoulder line. It’s only by handling and trying on such things that you can put meaning to the words you’ve read online.

This is useful even if you can’t afford such things, because by handling the best of what’s out there, you’ll get a better sense of how other items compare. When you’re out doing your real shopping, you’ll have a better eye for how to spot quality and know what things you value. For example, after trying on a really nice suit, you may find that you want to pay extra money for nicer fabric, but you could care less about handstitched details. So you move from one store to the next until you find what you need. 

Of course, if you’ve never been in a high-end men’s boutique, they can feel a bit intimidating. At least I thought so when I first entered one ten or eleven years ago. I remember walking in with a pair of jeans, a cheap button-up shirt, and a boxy, brown, herringbone tweed I thrifted a few years prior. I figured everyone would see me as a rube. On the contrary, the sales associates were cordial and happy to help (though, they may have still seen me as a rube). You’ll quickly learn that the people who shop at such places are as likely to come dressed in an old pair of jeans and ill fitting polo as they are in a nice suit, and most of the people working at such establishments are normal, kind, professional folks. Naturally, you’ll won’t want to waste anyone’s time, so if they ask, just tell them you’re not looking to purchase anything at the moment. If they’re still eager to help, it can be useful to chat with them about their products, but even just handling things alone can be educational. 

So, when you get a chance, stop by a high-quality menswear store. One that sells the best of what’s made (not just the most expensive). You can learn a lot from the experience. 

(Photo: One of my favorite stores in San Francisco, De Coratonow unfortunately closed.)

Classics for the Unsure and Indecisive
I was trying to decide the other day whether I should buy a certain pair of brogues from a Hungarian shoe company I admire. Should I get them in oxblood or dark brown? A sleek last or round toe? Or perhaps a different design all together? After a bit of mulling, I decided to put these decisions off until next year. It’s not like I can afford them right now anyway. 
And isn’t that what’s great about classic men’s clothing? That you can delay purchases for a year, even two, and the items will still be there? Not sure if you should get a tweed jacket in dark brown or mid-grey? Or whether you prefer wingtips to penny loafers? Think about it for as long as you need to. If you’re buying from reputable makers, and choosing classic designs, these items will still be sitting there waiting for you when you return. Compare that to more fashion-orientated brands, where designs can be seasonal, and if you don’t get a certain thing this year, you may never see it again. 
Not to say that there’s anything wrong with “fashion.” The idea that men’s clothing can be simply divided into timeless classics and “frivolous fashion” is a bit reductive. But there’s something to be said about things that will be around for the next five, ten, fifteen years. If you’re not sure if you really want something, or if a particular item is just a passing fad, put the purchase off for a year or two and then return to it.
Which is really just a long way to say something that’s been said many times before: shop slowly and thoughtfully when building a wardrobe. The great thing about classic men’s clothing is that you don’t have to rush yourself. Make decisions you’re sure of, buy things you can afford, and give yourself time so that you can do both. 
(Photo credit: d_pap)

Classics for the Unsure and Indecisive

I was trying to decide the other day whether I should buy a certain pair of brogues from a Hungarian shoe company I admire. Should I get them in oxblood or dark brown? A sleek last or round toe? Or perhaps a different design all together? After a bit of mulling, I decided to put these decisions off until next year. It’s not like I can afford them right now anyway. 

And isn’t that what’s great about classic men’s clothing? That you can delay purchases for a year, even two, and the items will still be there? Not sure if you should get a tweed jacket in dark brown or mid-grey? Or whether you prefer wingtips to penny loafers? Think about it for as long as you need to. If you’re buying from reputable makers, and choosing classic designs, these items will still be sitting there waiting for you when you return. Compare that to more fashion-orientated brands, where designs can be seasonal, and if you don’t get a certain thing this year, you may never see it again. 

Not to say that there’s anything wrong with “fashion.” The idea that men’s clothing can be simply divided into timeless classics and “frivolous fashion” is a bit reductive. But there’s something to be said about things that will be around for the next five, ten, fifteen years. If you’re not sure if you really want something, or if a particular item is just a passing fad, put the purchase off for a year or two and then return to it.

Which is really just a long way to say something that’s been said many times before: shop slowly and thoughtfully when building a wardrobe. The great thing about classic men’s clothing is that you don’t have to rush yourself. Make decisions you’re sure of, buy things you can afford, and give yourself time so that you can do both. 

(Photo credit: d_pap)