Thursday, May 22, 2014


One of the dumbest pieces of advice we’ve ever seen recently came from Levi’s CEO, who suggested that people should never wash their jeans. This was less in response to the resulting shrinkage problem, and more to do with conserving resources, i.e. water. Not to be outdone, the Vice-President of the company suggested freezing them to get rid of bacteria (not that that would even work according to scientists). Yes, people like this run big companies these days. 

If you’re not a water conservation fanatic, but are concerned about shrinkage here are some ways around it. If you don’t wash and rewash cheap jeans like Levis they will remain as stiff as a board. Shrinkage only happens if you wash them in hot water and then use a hot dryer to dry them. If that is your practice then just buy them a size larger to compensate. Just sponging off blemishes, as they suggest, will do nothing about accumulate bacteria or odors. 

It is easy to avoid shrinkage and clean your jeans by using cold water. Ideally hand-washing in cold water with something like Woolite will work, as it does with more delicate fabrics. Then let them dry flat or drip dry. If you must use machinery do the wash in cold water, and run the dryer on the coolest setting, even if it takes a few passes. 

What these executives fail to realize is that many people wash their jeans less for dirt than to soften them up and have some wear, but that takes a lot of cycles. The alternative is to buy a more expensive pair of jeans. Generally the higher the price, the softer the fabric and the more worn they feel. But this only makes sense for dress jeans of the kind you’d wear on an evening out or on a business casual occasion. If you’re working in construction, repairing cars, farming, or do any other kind of dirty work then you wear jeans like Levis. Given such use they are far more likely to get dirty and therefore need to be washed, which makes the advice cited above all the more silly. 

Better fabrics cost more, and all you need to do is feel how soft a pair of high-end jeans are compared to lower-priced brands. With jeans it is mostly a case of getting what you pay for, but no designer label is worth anything if the fabric doesn’t feel any different than cheaper jeans. The very best are made in Italy, as with so much other clothing. However, even with these you have to be careful because some big design firms have multiple lines, often attached to the word “jeans.” But this is the cheaper stuff and inferior to the jeans they sell under their “collection,” “coutoure,” or other prime label, which often have a limited run. This is not a problem with the overall best in this category, Brioni, which only makes fine products. But with such costly jeans you have to treat them more like a good pair of pants, and avoid doing things in them you would never do in your dress pants. Dress jeans should also be tailored like any other pair of good pants, so that they end at your shoes rather than bunching up at the bottom. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Until now we’ve avoided mentioning two French brands that belong with the best because their prices are preposterous for ordinary humans, namely Hermes and Louis Vuitton. That is not to say that  their goods are not exquisite, if they are real. If an item with one of these brands is not exceptionally fine, it is likely a fake. Generally the higher the price of genuine goods the more likely they are to be knocked-off. On the plus side this is less of a problem for men than it is for women. The reason for that is, according to law enforcement, the most frequently copied goods are as follows: handbags, wallets, jewelry, watches, sports jerseys, and footwear. Unless you carry a pocketbook you are less likely to be stung than a woman will be, but then some don’t care. Louis Vuitton is most frequently knocked off, to the point where there are more fake goods in circulation than the real thing. You can be reasonably certain that women you see on the subway carrying Louis Vuitton are traveling with knock-offs. It also follows that if fakes are so ubiquitous the value of the real thing must be diminished as well. Hermes, while very expensive, is much more likely to be real.

As this is being written there is a listing on Ebay for impossibly inexpensive “Hermes” as well as “Louis Vuitton” jeans. They happen to be from the same seller, and in fact on closer inspection they are the same exact jeans except for the label, which makes it obvious they are fake. If the price of something is too good to be true you should reasonably assume it it isn’t true. You’re either getting counterfeit goods, or a product from the designer’s crummy mass market line, usually made in China. Many top (but not the very top) designers have multiple lines. Thus the good stuff from Giorgio Armani is in the Armani Collezioni, or in the case of Calvin Klein, the Calvin Klein collection, with the rest of his lines being less than high quality. It is noteworthy that both high-end collections are made in Italy. A leather item in the “collection” will likely be glove soft, while the ‘jeans” or whatever “other” line they sell will be hard and coarse. 

Other top brands, such as Gucci, Kiton, Brioni, etc.  take pride in their products and don’t produce mass market lines. Gucci is the most likely to be knocked off, but again quality, along with a too-good-to-be-true price is your surest guide to authenticity. In the case of Brioni there is a line of relatively inexpensive suits being sold by one “Bianco Brioni.” That may be his real name, but it has nothing to do with the authentic high-end Brioni brand,  according to Brioni. It is easy to see why. “Brioni” is not the name of a person but an island in the Adriatic that was used when the exclusive brand was founded. 

The basic truth is that quality brand items at a low price can only be fake or used. The latter is the one instance in which you can occasionally find real bargains, i.e.  on Ebay in terms of authentic used items that haven’t really been used much. For example, a wife may have bought her husband something he doesn’t really like and wouldn’t wear, so she has to sell it at a steep discount. Or someone has an article that just doesn’t fit them and they can’t return it. I would not recommend buying anything with much more use than that unless you’re dying for it in any condition. An exception would be something like jeans, which you’re getting broken in and still look good. These kinds of “used” items are much more likely to be genuine than something “new” at an impossibly low price. That’s still no guarantee, but it  is at least the one window where you can possibly find legitimate high end stuff at a low price. 

Monday, December 30, 2013


Underwear and socks are things we not only wear, but change every day. That being the case, we need to have a good supply of these items on hand at any given time to meet our needs. They are an essential part of our dress, yet when properly worn they are not noticeable, (except in the case of those ridiculous individuals who wear their pants on their butts). Given the low visibility of these items and their frequent use, it makes absolutely no sense to throw away money on designer brands, unless there is actually some qualitative difference. Even then they will go through the same wash cycle as everything else and will become indistinguishable. It is far more sensible to use the same money to buy more of these items, and in turn, to dispose of them more frequently as they become worn, stained, or shrunk.  Just add them to the rag pile. With underwear especially, any of the ordinary brands, such as Fruit-of-the-Loom, Jockey, or Hanes, that are sold in packages are adequate, and since they are available so inexpensively, there is far less angst in disposing of them.
Socks should be chosen to complement the outfit you are wearing, especially the pants. If the pants are black you should wear black socks, brown brown socks, and so on. A very subdued pattern is okay, but loud socks just don’t go with the classic look. The socks should be long enough to prevent any flesh from showing to avoid looking tacky. If the socks are noticeably tight around the calves, or leave significant indentations when taken off it is time to dispose of them. Cotton is the best material for socks since it “breathes,” but a cotton blends also works. Avoid exotic materials such as silk for socks because they will age badly. For that matter, any socks that can’t be tossed into the wash will just waste your time. 
Cotton is also the best material for underwear. You have a variety of underpants types to choose from, and you should go with what gives you the greatest comfort above any other considerations. While most underwear is white, subdued colors also work well in underpants as they are more forgiving of stains, unless of course, you are wearing white pants. If underpants are no longer comfortable, i.e. due to shrinkage, toss them, otherwise you will be miserable all day. 
Undershirts come in three basic types: the crew neck, V-neck, and the A-shirt. The latter is basically useless as an undershirt since your underarms aren’t covered. If you don’t frequently wear ties, the majority of your undershirts should be V-necks. These are less likely to show under a shirt with the top button(s) unattached. An exposed undershirt seriously detracts from your appearance and should be avoided. Towards that end buy the deepest V you can find. The only time to wear a crew neck with a casual outfit is if it is colored and harmonizes with your shirt. On the other hand, when you wear a shirt and tie, a crew neck works best because it doesn’t show through your shirt, especially if the shirt is white or a light color. Any other kind of undershirt is likely to show and spoil your appearance. 
The basic rules for undergarments are that they don’t show, and that they fit comfortably. In addition, they should be inexpensive and not carry a pointless “designer” premium so that they can be replaced and recycled frequently. This will enhance your appearance and comfort, while also providing you with some lint-free rags on the many occasions when they are needed around the house. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Due to the increased popularity of casual dress around the world, the leading brands in this instance are basically the same as those who excel in more formal dress. Thus Italian brands, design, and manufacturing continue to provide the best products in the world. For casual wear it doesn’t get any better than “made in Italy.” This is not to discount the U.S., the U.K., France, and other countries, but their high-end output has far less impact than that of Italy. However, as we’ll see, some of these venerable Italian brands have also gone downmarket, and here we want to distinguish the best from the rest. 

It makes sense to start with jeans, given their ubiquitous presence. The main difference between an expensive pair of jeans and a cheaper variety, is, or should be the relative softness and pliability of the fabric even when new. That is basically what you are paying for, since it would otherwise take an endless cycle of washing to make an ordinary pair of jeans somewhat softer. If you find a pair of expensive jeans that are stiff, they are either a overpriced or fake. It is not primarily the designer label, but rather the quality of the fabric that makes a great pair of jeans. We are here referring to “dress jeans” that you would wear on social occasions. For dirty work and every day tasks a traditional pair of Levis or comparable brands will do. Given what the dressy kind can cost, you don’t want to expose them to being soiled. 

Dress jeans must be fitted properly to be most flattering. They can almost be thought of as a pair of slacks in this respect, and should be tailored appropriately. There is little point in paying for and wearing a pair of jeans that don’t fit well. That means they should not be hanging off your butt, but instead should fit comfortably around the waist. They should not be bunched up on the bottom, but end neatly, either with a slight break, or no break, just at the edge of the shoe. If you’re going to spring for a pair of good dress jeans you should definitely spend a little more to get them shortened properly. They should also fit snugly, but not tightly, around the butt, and the drop should be sufficient enough to avoid having your private parts showing. Too tight is as bad as too loose. If your jeans are fitted as indicated you should have a very nice profile as a result. Finally, above everything else, the jeans should be comfortable. That means you shouldn’t buy something because of brand alone or because it looks nice on a rack. They have to fit well or you will wind up looking uncomfortable, which undermines the whole point here.

As far as care goes, there shouldn’t be a lot. They can be washed like ordinary jeans, preferably in cold water, and dried on a low setting. They will come out just as good as when new, but you shouldn’t wash them excessively unless there is a reason to. Don’t dry clean them just because they are a quality item. You’ll only get the chemicals and wear without any need for them. 

The very best dress jeans are made in Italy by Brioni, (and the lesser known Kiton) but they are pricey to the point where they can cost up to twenty times what an ordinary pair of jeans cost. For this you get exquisite fabric and immaculate tailoring. Less costly, but still good are jeans from the likes of Ermenegildo Zegna, Versace, or Armani. However, with the last two you have to be careful because of the multiple lines these companies now sell. Gianni Versace is unfortunately dead, so you want to look for his designs, which now are usually labeled classic. Armani is more complicated, because he produces so many different lines apart from Armani Jeans. Along with those there is a line called Armani Exchange, which is mainly for teenagers, and definitely downmarket. On the other hand if they are Armani Collezioni they’re good. The best way to approach these is to look at the fabric for softness and pliability and fine tailoring for an elegant finish. If those qualities are lacking you definitely should not buy, no matter what the label. In the end you want to identify fabric that is fine and soft to the touch for the best quality.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Given the overwhelming informality characteristic of our times, and the resolute nonjudgemental attitude that most people have towards dress, it is a legitimate question to ask why one should bother getting dressed up. One reason is work, i.e. at a bank or other occupations, where appearance and decorum are important, although they are declining in number. Another is the reality that dress is the most important way one presents oneself. Another is connoted by the very term "dressing up," which implies some sense of moving towards a more rarified environment. 

Then there are times and situations where one simply does not care how one is dressed. This might be the case at home without visitors, or in the high heat of summer, or dead cold of winter, where comfort and protection against the elements trumps everything else. Obviously one is more interested in being warm than fashionable. Then there is advancing age, to the point where many people don't think much about how they are dressed and could care less. But for everyone else there are times when it is necessary and/or appropriate to get dressed up, or at least be wearing attire appropriate for the occasion. 

But in an age when goofy silicon valley billionaires give corporate presentations in casual dress, why should it matter? The first thing to note is that this casual attire is not something haphazard or accidental. It is a deliberate choice and a conscious attempt to make a statement of sorts, whether it be that they are just regular guys (they're not), or they don't care how they appear (they do, having presented themselves deliberately in this way), or they don't care about style  (which is negated by the fact that they have chosen this particular mode of dress).  Thus the feigned indifference to appropriate attire is simply a juvenile way of saying "I can do whatever I want and no one can do anything about it." But it also says “don’t take me too seriously.”

Why does it still matter then? When you get dressed you are not only presenting yourself for yourself alone, nor is it just a matter of making a good impression. It is, in fact, a signal of how you regard the people you are addressing or interacting with as well.  Being properly dressed for an occasion is also a sign of high regard for others. It is a way of communicating that you take them seriously, hold them in some degree of esteem, and that you care enough about them to want to elicit a favorable impression. It means, in the case of addressing an audience, that you respect them. 

There is a reason that people like newscasters, politicians and lawyers are dressed up. They must convey sufficient gravitas to be taken seriously by their audience. For the fact remains that the man in a suit is perceived differently from one who is casually dressed under many different circumstances. Look at the classic film actors on our masthead. They are men, and look like men in a way that today’s boyish actors, fond of dressing down, do not remotely resemble. They convey a certain authority that is impossible for today’s stars. 

Apart from questionable taste on the wrong occasions, all of this conscientious dressing down simply sets another standard, albeit far more casual. The result is casual wear that escalates in price, beyond all reason, according to fashionability. So even though the man in the suit has, in many circumstances, been replaced by more casual dress, the latter simply becomes another mode of dress with all the considerations that go into wearing a suit. We’ll explore this further next time. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


One of the most noticeable trends over the past two decades has been the globalization   of fashion, especially in how people comport themselves in casual appearance. While it has been true for many decades that elites, especially, have worn western dress, there is a contemporary universality to it now. There has been an observable change over the years in Europe, most evident in our recent visit. A couple of decades ago in, say, Rome  (and points north in Italy) the people were dressed beautifully. It was easy to spot the Americans in a crowd because they stood out and their attire was generally awful. Not any more. Now everyone looks the same, most often in a ubiquitous uniform of jeans, sneakers, and t-shirt or lettered jumpers, unless in some cases, they are going to work (which is something that much fewer Europeans do these days). They have totally succumbed to the “American” look. Thus tops worn by people who don’t speak any English, contain American phrases, or a numbered jersey of a presumably American team. However, you can often spot logos that emulate sportswear, for nonexistent teams, such as the “US Giants,” that are likely made in China with a strained inauthenticity. (Actually you can also spot similar dress in crowds in the middle east improbably shouting anti-American slogans).

From a geopolitical standpoint it is nice to see Americans and Europeans have more and more in common on various fronts, but stylistically it represents a coarsening of taste compared to the way people have dressed in the past. We are more alike than ever, especially the young, who are observable everywhere with the same smartphones and IPads as in the US. The ubiquity of the Internet ties people together as never before, and in terms of that technology the US is where it is happening,  and thus permeates a worldwide system. 

But there is a kind of feedback loop and the traffic goes two ways. Americans soak up European luxury goods and Italian designer wear, especially in men’s apparel. There are good reasons for this in terms of quality and style, and the appeal is so strong that you often find department stores carrying unknown or made-up Italian sounding names on their cheaper apparel (which are often made in China without any true “Italian” connection). Italians in turn seem drawn to all things American. Then you also get synergies as a result, i.e. all of the big Italian designer houses now create what was originally an American product - jeans, (which are beautifully designed with typical Italian finesse and of high quality, and consequently price). They have added some class to the now universal mass outfit. 

We are living in an informal age, and what originated here is now present all over the world. At this point if you’re traveling to most of Europe, (with the exception of high fashion places like Milan) you don’t have to be overly concerned with what you’re wearing to fit in any more. You can just basically bring what you wear in the US. (There are some obvious limits though, such as flip-flops, which will make you look ridiculous).  For nowadays it is nearly impossible to tell the Americans from the Europeans by appearance alone. Even carrying a camera, which makes the fact that you are a tourist obvious, but not from where you come. The primary reason all of this has transpired is that people everywhere want to be “modern,” with the latest goods, and for the present at least, that emanates from America. Thus, it is a mistake to think they want to be “American,” but rather to be what they perceive subconsciously or consciously as modern. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013


As we continue to look at casual dress we’ll now get into some details, starting with sweaters. Sizes like “M” “L” or “XL” are unreliable these days. You only really know by trying it on or getting the measurements. As a rough guide you can go by the following (which also applies to shirts and jackets): 

SIZE (inches)

US Neck size 
5  14-14.5

US Chest size        

US Waist size           

Given these numbers, what will work for a shirt won’t work for a sweater, since you are going to want a looser fit, so you may need to go up a bit. When in doubt go larger because nothing looks worse than a tight, poorly fitted sweater on a man. With a larger size you can bunch and fold, and it generally will be more flattering to your silhouette, provided it isn’t overly long. A good fit will have room around the belly, so that if you happen to protrude there it won’t be as noticeable, as well as around the neck, so you don’t feel constricted.  With a sweater the most important measurement you can make is armpit to armpit, which when doubled should equal your chest size. As long as you exceed that number comfortably you’re fine. 

Good sweaters usually come in wool, or wool blend, or cashmere/cashmere blend, but the 100% pure variety is generally better than a blend with some cheaper fabric. In the winter nothing keeps you warm like a good, two-ply cashmere sweater. There are, however, different grades of cashmere. Good cashmere will be covered with a kind of plush fuzz, whereas with cheaper cashmere you’re more likely to get piling. The best cashmere comes from kashmiri goats from Mongolia. The fibers are actually combed out by the herdsmen, and the harsh conditions produce a fabric, which, when loomed, provides the tightest, most effective insulation. 

The finest wool comes from New Zealand Black Forest Merino sheep. Merino originated in Spain, but is also produced in Australia, the US, and South America. The fibers are fine and soft, and there are different grades, the best of which is ultrafine. Loro Piana, which makes some of the finest fabrics anywhere, holds a contest every year to find the best wool in the world. There are many other varieties of wool, with names like Shropshire, Hampshire, Debouillet (a type predominant in the US), etc. and distinctive forms, such as tweed from Scotland. Worsted wool is more of a process that results in wrinkle-resistant fabric used mainly in suits. Wool is static resistant, as well as sometimes even water resistant, due to lanolin, like an Irish fisherman’s sweater from the Aran Islands, or a New Wool sweater from England (called Virgin Wool in the US), as in the photo below. 

These are thick and warm, which is ideal for cold weather. This is not something you want to get natural and untreated, since the lanolin smell is quite pungent. When it is processed or dyed the smell is removed. Norwegian sweaters that are still made in Norway, such as the one below, are also excellent. 

Other fabrics from South America, like Vicuna (the rarest of all), and Guanaco, make great cashmere-like fabric, as does the superfine grade of the more abundantly available alpaca, which the cardigan below is made from. 

For warmer weather cotton or cotton blend sweaters work well, although a heavy cotton sweater is also suitable for winter, such as the Coogi sweater below. 


In addition to cotton, fine, lighter sweaters like the one below, are made from silk (usually raw silk),silk blend, or linen/blend.  Natural fabrics breathe well and stand up to use, however you can sometimes find good sweaters that blend natural fibers with man-made material such as acrylic threads. 

However, generally, the woolly fabrics mentioned above remain the primary material for sweaters, especially in cold weather. Unfortunately, they are also preferred by moths, which always seem to zero in on the finest cashmere first, so you need to have a good supply of cedar blocks or other moth deterrent. You can also bag this kind of sweater, but it is better to let it breathe if your storage is moth-proofed. 

NEXT: Sweater types