Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tune in to 'Great Day Houston' on Dec. 29

I've returned from hiatus after appearing on "Great Day Houston" with Deborah Duncan, which airs weekdays from 9-10am Central time on KHOU-TV Ch. 11 in Houston.

Ms. Duncan and I talked about men's fashion and grooming. To be sure, there was more to talk about than time to talk, but the segment turned out to be fun and informative. The segment airs Monday, Dec. 29. Click here to see the clip.

I must thank my models, Ryan, Lenny and Lori (who dressed in a rather masculine-looking tuxedo) for joining me on this project. Also, thanks to Ms. Duncan, Carolina Boyd and Kim Gagne for having me on the show.

Not least, thank you, Jerome Gray of KPRC-TV Ch. 2 in Houston, for helping to make my goal a reality.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

If the suit fits, don't 'waist' it

Thanksgiving is a time for reflection on what we have and what we value in our lives.

When it comes to clothes, those who eat well can expect extra calories to burn off in the gym, or else ...

Expanding waistlines can prompt a review of what's in your closet.

If you plan on purchasing a suit, one consideration is to allow the pants to fit somewhat loose, so that when you eat a large meal, you won't have to unfasten the top button on the trousers. Have suspender buttons sewn to the inside of the waistband so that you'll feel less restricted than you might be in wearing a belt. You also gain an option for accessorizing.

I checked my closet this morning, before eating a delicious Thanksgiving meal. There was already a suit in which the trousers fit too tightly now. My solid gray tropical wool Canali is close to retirement, unless I can shed about 10 pounds off the waist.

You better believe I'll be in aerobics class the next day. I like my suits.

Ah, well ... that's my Style Point for the holiday. Bon appetit.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Score some 'guy' stuff for the holidays

Baseball is said to be America's pastime, but football embodies America's passion.

Especially in Texas, where football rules from Pop Warner to pro. That said, finding gifts with a football theme is pretty easy. The hard part is doing it with style.

To wit: Instead of giving the standard-issue pigskin football for Christmas, try the bison leather football from Orvis ($98), which has an old-school look and feel. Clearly the coolest-lookin' item I've seen in a while.

Why stop there? If you're going old school, you might as well go all out. The 10-CD set called Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music (about $100) is the ultimate compilation of "getting pumped" to the sounds of victory marches and dramatic interludes. The listener likely will go back in the days of hard hits and John Facenda narrating highlights in slow motion. Memorable stuff.

And for those who clearly want to go over the top ... The Super Bowl XL Opus can be found on for the princely sum of $3,000, and for $40,000 for a copy autographed by all the Super Bowl MVPs. The leather-bound book is 950 pages, weighs 90 pounds and boasts stellar photography. I witnessed a copy that Saks Fifth Avenue has at the Galleria. What a sight.

So, if you're wondering what to get men for Christmas, any of the above are can't-miss.

Happy holiday shopping!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Putting holiday shopping strategies to work

The economy is heading toward recession, credit is tighter and vigilance on disposable income is increasing. Putting gifts under the tree, however, isn't impossible. In fact, the challenge is almost welcomed because the current economic climate brings out creative choices from budget constraints.

One of the most efficient gifts to give for Christmas is the gift card. Be it for restaurants or retail stores, the gift card can be used by the recipient for whatever items (s)he desires up to the value of the card. When purchasing the card, you're able to assign a dollar amount that you can budget easily for gifts.

Next, follow the sales. Wal-Mart, the only major retailer to post a quarterly profit according to recent reports, is rolling out its discounts before Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. Check the Sunday newspaper ads for the best deals.

If you're really looking to save money on larger-ticket items, the best sales begin after Christmas, though it would be nice to have something under the tree to celebrate the holiday. Start with a small gift to mark the holiday, then convey a "surprise" is forthcoming. It might be a tough sell, especially for youngsters who think they've been good boys and girls and should not have to wait longer than necessary, but with today's economy, patience has its reward in additional savings.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President Obama has a nice ring to it

Tuesday's election of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for President of the United States resulted in an outpouring of joy nationwide and around the world (though Russia seems a bit disgruntled).

Only in America ...

So far in my lifetime, I have seen the Boston Red Sox win the World Series not once but twice after several generations of angst among New Englanders.

But an African American running the U.S.? That's another story entirely.

What an outcome. The celebration begins, but soon it will be business as usual.

President (elect) Obama has his work cut out for him, and so do the rest of us.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Obama's composure almost Zen-like

What's cooler than cool? Ice cold!
-- Outkast

Wednesday night's third and final presidential debate between Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama at Hofstra University revealed a contrast not just in policies but in something even more fundamental -- demeanor.

From the outset, McCain came out as the aggressor and pressing Obama for answers about ties with former '60s radical William Ayers. Obama remained steady and calm, almost boring; McCain also had calm moments, but was visibly more emotional during the debate.

Many an analyst can tell you which candidate won the debate, though I came across an CNN analysis from the San Diego Tribune's Ruben Navarette as quite insightful from a style standpoint.

The following day, McCain and Obama attended the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York. Both candidates showed their lighter sides here, and I must say that McCain had the better comedic material. While there's little room for levity during the heat of a presidential campaign, it is refreshing to see how the candidates conduct themselves in different environments, from debating one day to self-deprecating the next.

These are Style Points where I give both candidates credit.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Will the economy take some air out of sales?

First, the bad news: The stock market has dropped as well, credit has tightened, and there's uncertainty about how the recently passed bailout package will benefit Americans.

The good news: Gas prices have dropped.

Which means that getting to where the sales are at retail stores and factory outlets is a lot easier than in recent months. However, there's still a bit of uncertainty about what's affordable.

Do not fret. Retailers are gearing up for the holidays and you can win big, especially at the factory outlets, now through Christmas.

Canvas Houston Premium Outlets and Katy Mills for deals on men's and women's wear, with increased discounts from store to store. But don't take my word for it.

The sale is out there.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Style Points elevates to Examiner level

A head's up on the style profiling front ...

I will be joining covering men's style for the Houston area. Looking forward to writing more about the city scene on menswear.

Also, in the October issue of Houston Modern Luxury magazine, scroll over to Page 58 for my profile on Norton Ditto's celebration of its centennial this year.

More stories will be coming in HML's Men's Book later later this month.

Stay tuned.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Magnificent Mile highlights

The shopping scene on a famed stretch of Michigan Avenue in Chicago ranks up there with Fifth Avenue in New York or Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

The Magnificent Mile might as well be the roll call for major retailers: Brooks Brothers, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Polo Ralph Lauren, Saks Fifth Avenue. If you were in the market for a new wardrobe, you need not walk far to get it done. If you have cash, be strong enough to carry.

And of course, where there is upscale retail, the bargain hunting hotbeds aren't far behind. A few blocks west of the Michigan Avenue is State Street, where the likes of Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx, Filene's Basement and the former Marshall Fields (now Macy's) are located. In fact, I very nearly bought a pair of Ecco's at Nordstrom Rack for half price, but had to catch a hotel shuttle to the airport.

The only drawback to shopping in Chicago is its 10.25 percent sales tax. However, if you are an out-of-towner, some stores can ship your goods to your house for a $15 shipping fee, which could be less than the sales tax on your purchases in the store.

If you venture outside of downtown Chicago and take the Brown Line north to Armitage Street, you'll find the Ralph Lauren Rugby store, which offers cool preppy attire. I purchased a vest and a pair of striped socks, which do not fall down. The store even sells leather and rubber rugby balls. Down the street on Armitage is Kiehl's, where I picked up a bottle of pre-shave oil. The service is most friendly at both establishments. I'll likely return to this street on my next visit.

Chicago style starts with Oxxford

With Hurricane Ike behind us in the Houston area and the fall season settling in, I took a trip to the Windy City ... that wonderful town ... none other than Chicago. I had not been to CHI in more than 10 years, but its charm remains intact.

On a warm, breezy September day, I was invited to tour the esteemed site of Oxxford Clothes on 1220 Van Buren, where it has resided since 1948, according to my guide, merchandising coordinater Alex Williams.

Selecting a suit from scratch starts with numerous swatches of fabric bound in books. There are various thicknesses and patterns. Beneath the grizzled journalistic exterior, I was a kid in a candy store.

Ms. Williams informed me that all garments are made by hand on the premises. "One hundred twenty artisans touch the garment," she explained as we walked through a floor where the patterns are cut, then down a flight of stairs where jackets are assembled, and down yet another floor to where trousers are made. The processes on all floors go in a clockwise direction. Master tailor Rocco Giovannangelo maintains an eagle eye on the assembly line.

Finished suits take about six weeks to complete, and prices start at about $4,000 depending on fabric.

Going into the tour, my limited knowledge about Oxxford was that it outfitted George W. Bush for his presidential inauguration in 2001 and well back in the day, the clothier outfitted Chicago's most notorious client, Al Capone. Since its founding in 1916, Oxxford has had many a prominent lawyer or politician enter its doors.

Oxxford's flagship store is located in New York, but its clothes are still made in the USA town of Chicago. The craftsmanship of each garment is first-rate, the styling impeccable, and true to its motto: "Always Be Faithful to Quality."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Style Points getting props

First, I hope that those affected by Hurricane Ike are working in earnest toward getting back on track.

I am happy to see that my blog has gotten the attention of KTRK-TV Ch. 13's Tom Abrahams, whose Sept. 28 entry on his political blog, The Vote, deals with what the candidates are wearing these days.

And this month, I am pleased to announce that this month's Houston Modern Luxury magazine features a story I wrote on Norton Ditto's 100th anniversary this year. (Its Oct. 4 fund-raiser, however, has been postponed.) The story is on page 58 as you turn the online pages.

Stay tuned for more of my magazine stories in HML's Men's Book later this month.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Khakis: Business casual's medium of exchange

While jeans may be the most preferred article of clothing to wear at almost any time, anywhere, take a look at what men in the workplace wear when they're not in suits. Slacks of various colors are viable options, of course, but khakis are the go-to trousers for businessmen.

The origin of khakis go back to the 19th century, where Sir Harry Lumsden of Britain is credited with outfitting recruits in India in a linen-cotton twill that was tan in color. The style spread through the British Army and later, U.S. armed forces by the end of the century. Many a nation's military have since adopted khakis as part of its dress, and inevitably, civilians followed suit.

Like denim, khakis are worn for comfort and are known to last. I have become a bigger fan of khakis after having purchased a pair of Bills Khakis, which are styled after U.S. military patterns from World War II. They are a full-cut trouser with plenty of room in the legs and seat, which do not bunch up when I'm driving or sitting in airplane seats.

Add a blazer and a button-down shirt, I'm ready to do business (or party, for that matter) any time, anywhere. Khakis are versatile enough to dress up or down with, more versatile than denim. I travel with at least one pair of khakis packed in the bag.

These days, in the business casual era, it's not wise for me to leave home without 'em.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Peruse closets as eye of Ike nears

As the Houston area braces for Hurricane Ike, which reportedly is 600 miles across and has Category 2 (up to 110mph winds) strength, preparations for those who remain in the area hopefully have been made: Supplies of water, batteries and other provisions are in place for the next several days.

Another issue to consider for those who are staying home is what might happen after the hurricane passes, which could leave others in need of assistance. Shelters may be in need of basic essentials including dry clothing.

When Hurricane Katrina devasted New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005, I assembled a few dozen college sweatshirts I collected over the years in an effort to help those who were affected. I was living in the Northeast at the time, and was fortunate that I was well out of harm's way.

Currently, I live in the Houston area and am preparing to endure Ike, uncertain about whether my home will withstand a hurricane. But while I'm waiting inside, I'm sifting out spare clothing for donation to local agencies should the need arise.

Meantime, I pray that we all emerge safely from this event.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tie: Elegant symbol or sartorial vestige?

As more workplaces gravitate toward casual wear, the tie has become the odd article out as men loosen up their look toward comfort.

"Corporate casual" has been in vogue for a number of years, to the point where men wear business attire without neckties and still convey a sense of authority. It helps to be head of the company (like Apple's Steve Jobs) in order to set the tone for other employees. At the end of the day, common sense is the guide that enables professionals to dress down, but likely not to the point of tank tops, shorts and sneakers. (That would be for other work environments of the athletic variety.)

And if you think the necktie is at risk of fading, what about the bow tie? So long as there are tuxedos (and old movies), the bow tie won't go away that easily. Still, tying one from scratch might become a lost art, given the pre-tied option that is faster to put on. Ironically, anyone who knows how to tie his/her shoes already knows how to tie a bow tie. The location is different, that's all.

Anyway, it is my hope that we do not give up on ties as the 21st century progresses. (I've got too many in my closet to just not wear them anymore.)

Monday, September 1, 2008

Presidential style makes an impression

In Friday's blog entry, "The power of the presidential look," I touched on a few of the sartorial options Barack Obama and John McCain have displayed over the course of their campaigns.

As Labor Day weekend concludes and we head into this week's Republican National Convention in Minnesota's Twin Cities, the style watch continues on Be Better Guys, where I examine the basics of power suits, ties, shirts and shoes. It all adds up to achieving a commanding appearance.

There are plenty of online sources for following what the candidates (and their running mates) are wearing these days. For starters, check out the video clips on the CNN and Yahoo! sites, and Be Better Guys' Brian Joyner for his take on his blog. Also, for a call-it-as-he-sees-it view of this week's convention, check out KTRK-TV reporter Tom Abraham's blog, which chronicles the notable happenings of the day.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The power of the presidential look

Teddy Roosevelt had the rugged cowboy look that preceded John Wayne. LBJ had his roadster hat. And if you fast forward to the 21st century, when George W. Bush was inaugurated as president of the United States in 2001, Harolds in the Heights of Houston and Chicago-based Oxxford Clothes suited him to a T.

These are a few of the memorable markers where traditional styles resonate when associated with politicians.

And when it comes to running for president, the clothes must convey an air of authority and confidence when candidates are addressing American voters. Barack Obama and John McCain both look the part when it comes to wearing suits, with subtle differences in their individual styles.

Obama, ranked fourth in Esquire's best-dressed men in the world last year, favors a light blue tie, perhaps in recognition of his college alma mater, Columbia University. The tie contrasts well with his suits and has a subliminally calming effect when he communicates with others.

During his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Thursday, Obama wore a red striped tie. His visual appearance set the tone for an authoritative message to the masses.

McCain's style of dress is like a pro golfer's tee shot landing consistently in the middle of the fairway: Nothing fancy but very well played. McCain looks solid in a suit, sometimes opting for an orange tie for contrast. His casual presentation includes a button-down shirt with a navy blazer and sweater. The look is conservative, very Brooks Brothers-ish.

Whatever his appearance, McCain clearly is comfortable in his clothing. It's as straightforward as the way he talks. Expect McCain to come out well-suited when he formally accepts his party's nomination for president during the GOP convention in Minnesota on Sept. 1-4.

Let's break down why traditional clothing works, starting with the jacket. The padded, squared-off shoulder that is characteristic of English tailoring gives the wearer a more majestic appearance, whereas the unstructured, rounded shoulder made popular by Giorgio Armani offers a more natural, casual look. The former is best in formal settings, while the latter is better suited for outdoors or in town meetings.

Blue and gray are the power colors of choice for jackets year round; tan can be worn during the summer. Medium-weight wool can be worn year-round, but in regions with higher temperatures, cotton would be a practical option.

The white or light blue shirt provides a basic contrast to the dark suit jacket or blazer, and allows for the tie to stand out. White or light blue cotton solids go with anything. There are other light colors (gray, lavender, pink, green, yellow) and patterns, of course, but white and light blue solids are the standard.

The tie anchors the relationship between the jacket and shirt, and sets the tone for how serious the candidate wants to be. Deep reds and blues are seen most often on politicians including Obama and McCain, though Obama's selection of light blue is gaining notice. It softens his look as a personable individual who is running for president, especially when he addresses the media.

Trousers that are not part of the suit are still a solid color, as McCain has been seen wearing on various occasions. Tan and gray make for the best contrasts with a navy blazer; trousers that are lighter shades of blue are probably better for sailing than for blazing a campaign trail.

Finally, the shoes. Black or burgundy calfskin oxford laceups are the safe bets here. There may be a variation in the soles, where rubber absorbs the impact of walking better than leather soles. (However, according to George Glasgow of British bespoke shoemaker G.J. Cleverley & Co., leather soles allow the foot to breathe easier.)

Shoes cannot be taken for granted; they are among the first things that are looked at by others when forming a first impression. Shoes must be polished in order to finish the look from head to toe.

Speaking of heads, the hat seems to have faded away from presidential pates over time. Lyndon B. Johnson was perhaps the last president to be known for his signature roadster hat. We can go all the way back to the 1800s and the top hat of Abraham Lincoln, an item that you might see at state dinners calling for white tie and tails.

The black fur-felt fedora is a lasting element of style. It worked for Clark Kent and FDR, but since John F. Kennedy removed his during his inauguration in 1960, the fedora not been seen too often on U.S. presidents.

Of course, you wouldn't see a president with his hat on indoors during a State of the Union address, but if he's coming off Air Force One with the first lady or other world leaders, it's a nice touch.

Looking presidential is an intangible that cannot be underestimated. As the candidates move into the homestretch of their campaigns toward the general election in November, keep an eye on the attire.

Changing up your look at the right price

A Style Points reader wrote recently:

Hello Stylepointer! I enjoyed your segment on the Channel 13 KTRK show this past weekend.

I'm looking to change from my hip hop/denim style to a more casual formal look in general. I used to wear nothing but slacks and polo shirts in the '80s. However, due to the new subculture of hip hop, I've changed over the years to dressing down.

Now! I wish to dress back up to a more casual formal look. My clothing interests is gearing back to a khaki pants, polo style shirt, sports jacket and coat look. I was considering rebuilding my wardrobe at the K & G clothing stores here locally in Houston.

What's your take on the quality of products and prices of clothes in the K & G Males clothing store as well as Suit Mart? Are the prices reasonable for the products? Or do you suggest better stores to look at.

First of all, thanks to Ken for writing in and for watching my TV segment on the Houston community affairs show "Crossroads." To answer your first question, I would do some window shopping first. If you have the time, do some comparisons between K & G and Suit Mart, and other stores, such as Men's Wearhouse, Marshall's, TJ Maxx, Ross and Kohl's. Also, Dillard's and Macy's have sale offers almost every week. List the items you're looking for (khaki pants, polo shirts, sports jackets, etc.) and then go to these stores and get a sense of the selections they offer.

If you're concerned about the quality of clothing for the price, look at the labels. For example, are the shirts 100 percent cotton or a blend of cotton and polyester? Prices vary depending on fabric content. At the end of the day, you do get what you pay for. Since you're in window-shopping mode, keep looking until you develop a feel for why some garments cost more than others. Are you paying for quality fabric? A specific fit (slim fit vs. relaxed)? The designer's name?

I'm not sure if your definition of "better stores to look at" means "more expensive stores to look at." If that happens to be the case, it never hurts to look around at Brooks Brothers, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom's, Polo and Saks Fifth Avenue in the Houston Galleria. Again, your goal is to gain as much information as possible on different levels of quality and prices on menswear. If you're building your wardrobe on a budget, you can find designer items on sale. This requires patience, but it is rewarding in the end.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Style Points makes TV debut

My first television appearance took place Sunday on "Crossroads," a community affairs show that airs Sundays at 11am Central time on KTRK-TV, the ABC affiliate in Houston. I thank host Melanie Lawson and producer Denise Bates for having me on the show to talk about menswear and the bargains that are out there.

At least one viewer has submitted a question, which I will address this week in my next blog entry.

Meantime, I will have more stories coming up in the October issue of Houston Modern Luxury magazine and The Men's Book, another Modern Luxury publication.

I thank all of you for reading my blog and for your support. Be well, dress well, look swell.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Taking advantage of tax-free weekend

It's a nice break for shoppers, especially those who are in back-to-school mode.

I'm talkin' about tax-free weekend, where goods priced under $100 aren't subject to sales tax over the weekend of Aug. 15-17.

Houston-area outlet malls did brisk business on Saturday as parking lots were packed at Katy Mills and Houston Premium Outlets.

My goal for the weekend was mainly neckties. Marshall's in Katy Mills did not disappoint. Polo silk ties that normally retail for $75 were marked down to $10 to $15. So I picked up two of them.

The quest continued at the Polo outlet, located a few doors down from Marshall's. The Polo outlet had 75% off on ties, which ranged from $10 to $17.50. After taking an hour to sift through hundreds of ties, I came away with five that totaled $57.50.

Of course, now that I'm in Polo, I've got to see what other deals can be had here. Store personnel were putting out more and more clothes on the racks, so I tried keeping up with what new stuff was showing up. On one of the racks, I noticed a pair of casual button-fly trousers in my size that were worth trying on. I check the price tag, and I'm stunned to find out that the $285 list price was marked down by ... oh, 99 percent.

The sale price was $2.37. There was no mistake about this because there were two tags on these pants that had the same price on them -- two dollars and thirty-seven cents.

There was an extra 25% off at checkout, so the final price was $1.78. I gladly pulled out $2 out of my pocket and came away a big winner.

Moving on from Katy Mills to Houston Premium Outlets in Cypress, I figured I'd look at shirts at the Brooks Brothers outlet store just to coordinate with my newly acquired ties. Found one that did the trick (100% cotton, non-iron), along with two other casual shirts (seersucker and linen). After store discounts (and no sales tax), the average cost per shirt was $28.

So, for less than $150, I got eight ties ($57.50), three shirts ($84) and a pair of pants ($1.78, mind you). I saved at least $10 on sales tax and got first-quality items in the process.

A few Style Points for best bargain-hunting results:
  • Take stock of your existing wardrobe and make a list of what you're looking to acquire.
  • Budget a dollar figure before going out to shop, and stick to it.
  • Always seek satisfaction. Don't be obligated to buy something that's deeply discounted and it doesn't quite fit.

More for less is a good thing. Good luck.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Set sale for bargain expeditions

My latest observations on sale shopping have been posted on the Web site of Be Better Guys. Find out when and where to shop for the best deals. It's back-to-school time, so bargains are available if you look hard enough.

For those who may find it easier to shop online, check out Shop It To Me, which offers options for the lowest prices on designer brands.

Good luck.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Polo taking the world stage

Ralph Lauren has done it again.

The outfitter for tennis grand slams Wimbledon and the U.S. Open made a huge splash as the outfitter for U.S. at the Beijing Olympics.

A Style Points reader dutifully alerted me to the Houston Chronicle's coverage of Lauren's handiwork. Even some media members got a dose of Polo style. Yahoo's slideshow offers a generous slice of the outfits worn by different countries.

At the end of the day, Polo pogoes into the stratosphere with this latest marketing stratagem. Look out for Olympic gear to hit stores near you.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Breaking down the elements of style

There's no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to dressing for occasions such as job interviews, nightclubbing, formal events, weddings and funerals.

In fact, the Be Better Guys of Washington, D.C., show how it's done with a series of videos that not only show viewers what to wear for which occasion, but why the outfit works.

Also, on the Web site of Brooks Brothers, there are step-by-step instructions for tying ties, including bow ties and various styles for neckties.

Carry on, wayward sons.

The long view to a shorts story

A Style Points reader alerted me to an article posted on the New York Times' Web site on July 31 on men and shorts in the workplace. My thanks for doing so.

The story affirmed for me that while shorts are gaining a level of acceptance in some work environments, it is still far from the norm in banks, law firms or hospitals, where men wear trousers.

In the Times' story, it says "a man in a shorts suit is no more startling than a woman in a miniskirt." Therein lies the rub: A woman in a miniskirt in the office will generate attention that may not be appropriate for the office environment, just as a man wearing shorts at a similar length.

That said, I do believe there's a happier medium for men to wear shorts at work: Just make them longer. Just as professional women wear skirts just below the knee, men can follow suit accordingly with respect to wearing shorts.

Shorts with a longer-than-usual length, usually called clamdiggers or Capri pants, are my preference when dressing for work in warm climates. (See my June 14 Style Points entry.)

I do not take issue with showing off strong legs if you got 'em. Just remember that everything has its place. As boundaries of business casual are explored, common sense remains the guide. Wall Street Journal senior writer Christina Binkley offers a solid take on putting business casual into perspective. What's clear is that there is a movement toward being comfortable at work.

Count me in. I wrote this entry with shorts on.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Style Points meets Houston radio station

I finished a segment in the studios of KCOH Radio 1430 AM in Houston, talking with host Ralph Cooper about the wide world of shoes, from sneakers to bespoke. We also managed to talk sports with the Rockets' acquisition of Ron Artest from the Sacramento Kings, which reunited him with coach Rick Adelman.

Also, look out for my piece on custom tailoring in The Men's Book, a spinoff of Houston Modern Luxury magazine, which is expected to debut at Houston area newsstands in October.

KCOH Radio 1430 AM, established in 1953, is Texas' oldest urban radio station, serving the Houston area.

The Men's Book is regarded as the style guide for influential men in urban, metropolitan cities throughout the U.S. Modern Luxury Media is the award-winning publisher of regional lifestyle magazines, which includes Houston, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Round up the fashionable suspects

For me, the only thing more gratifying than writing about men's fashion is to wear the goods and establishing a signature style. To do that, I look at a number of clothing books and classic films.

And, of course, the Internet.

There are a number of men's style sites that I enjoy visiting, starting with the Wall Street Journal's Fashion & Style page, which appears in its weekend newspaper editions. For pictures that say a thousand (or more) words, The Sartorialist has no shortage of them.

The rest of my top 10:

Feel free to comment about any other notable men's fashion and style sites.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Polo principle

Gotta hand it to Ralph Lauren. He surely knows how to project old-school class in clothing for polo, a sport that might -- just might -- be seen in the wee hours of late night on ESPN. And for those sports that are on TV like tennis and golf, Lauren's right there with heavyweights like Nike.

The denominator for these sports, TV or no, is that they have a history of being associated with the upper classes of society. Having the equipment to play polo, for example (a horse and mallet, for starters), is expensive to begin with. For golf, the tools include a set of clubs, balls and tees.

And Lauren recognizes that whether you play these sports or not, the status associated with the clothing worn by those who play the sports is part of the allure: the fitted polo shirt, the mercerized cotton golf shirt, the gear for players and umpires at Wimbledon.

But it doesn't stop there. Polo's line includes apparel for rugby, a sport of the masses in United Kingdom, but a club sport in the United States. The Ralph Lauren Rugby line is dedicated to the rugby shirt.

Seems that if you're going to look the part, the idea of playing appears cool, too. Who wouldn't want to ride on a polo team with Prince Charles or volley with Roger Federer or play 18 holes with Tiger Woods?

Or, for those who are feeling rugged, how about getting dirty on the pitch of the Rubgy World Cup?

Perhaps it isn't the clothes that make the Polo man, but the attitude that fuels the clothes.

What's your game?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Post-Fourth of July bargain pop quiz

Didn't think there would be a test of your bargain-hunting skills, did you?

In my March 28 entry on factory outlet shopping, I noted a few fundamentals before going on the bargain hunt:
  • Assess what you already have in your wardrobe.

Did you, for example, like summer whites so much that you purchased enough shirts, pants, socks and even shoes to outfit a Wimbledon tournament field?

Fortunately, white goes with anything, and is appropriate in every occasion save funerals. The key is in getting the goods on sale. The more of one color that you have, the less inclined you should be to pay more for subsequent purchases involving the same color.

  • Did you establish a budget in place before shopping?

After July 4, sale items get progressively better. But bargain hunting 'til you're broke defeats the purpose of shopping. It is not necessary to chase after every sale item. Rather, with the set amount of money you're willing to spend, you can relish your haul knowing what the regular price of the goods are without going overboard. Prioritizing your purchases within a budget is paramount.

  • How good a deal did you manage to find?

Here are some of what I saw from recent visits to outlet stores in the Houston area (before sales tax):

J. Crew: Cotton twill blue striped trousers, reg. $49.50 -- $17.50

Brooks Brothers: Black & white spectator shoes by Peal & Co., reg. $428 -- $112.50

Polo Ralph Lauren: Purple Label white peak lapel cotton blazer, reg. $599.99 -- $127.50

Cole Haan: Cotton blend dress socks, reg. $22.50 -- $3.98

If you have a calculator handy, the minimum discount is 65 percent off, all the above items are first quality, and they make me look like a million. I'm ready for the Kentucky Derby with a tall glass of lemonade in hand.

And if you happen not to make it to the factory outlets, check online with Shop It To Me, which brings lower prices on designer wear to you.

Now it's your turn.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Wearing U.S. flag colors without looking corny

America recently celebrated its 232nd birthday on July 4, a holiday in which, for the most part, is pretty calm during the day but anticipation builds for fireworks to the tune of "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Anyone who has gone to a local fireworks show will likely see proud Americans wearing some combination of red, white and blue, which is extremely easy to coordinate.

But, as ESPN's straight-shooting NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith might say, "How-EV-uh ...!"

To wear a flag shirt, with stars on a blue background on one side and complementary red-and-white stripes on the other, sends the message of a rightfully proud American with the style sense of a bull in a china shop. You're better off just wearing the flag around your shoulders (just don't let the edges hit the ground).

On the other end of the spectrum, the "less is more" approach, such as a lapel pin of the American flag on a navy blazer with white slacks, definitely does the trick.

And when it's less on the wallet, there's more bang for the buck. To wit: My latest Polo purchases at Macy's included a red-and-white striped rugby shirt and navy blue cotton casual trousers. After sales tax, the ensemble cost less than $25.

Here's how it happened: During a one-day sale at Macy's on Saturday, an additional 50 percent off was tacked on to existing markdowns. I was indeed pleased that I could wear the colors of the flag at the price I paid.

If you wish to wear a jacket in your Old Glory-style presentation, a basic outfit starts with a blue blazer, white trousers, and a choice of red, white or blue shirts, or a patterned shirt that combines these colors. And don't forget the lapel pin.

A couple of don'ts include:
  • wearing a solid red blazer and/or red trousers. Too loud. (solid white and navy blue do work.)
  • star-patterned pants are just as loud. (star-patterned ties, however, are a nice touch.)

As always, common sense is the rule. The number of outfits you can generate with red, white and blue is vast.

Good luck.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Don't get tangled in the madras patch

Almost every summer, retailers such as Brooks Brothers, the Gap, J. Crew and Polo Ralph Lauren, to name a few, roll out the madras plaid patch hats, jackets, shirts, shorts, trousers and other colorful accessories.

If you're looking for the best deal online for these items, check out Shop It To Me, which presents many options at competitive prices.

As a rather frequent visitor of shopping malls and factory outlets in the Houston area, I have observed that those who wear madras patch garments are in the vast minority relative to those, say, who wear jeans.

Perhaps I'm looking in the wrong places. You might catch madras plaid wearers on the boardwalk or along the beaches, or maybe the golf course ... but even in those environments, such garments have long been under the radar of mainstream menswear.

The reasons are rather obvious ... wearing a madras plaid jacket, for example, evokes images of hobos who might not smell nice. The clothing conveys a not-so-subtle message that, as John McEnroe might say, "You can-not be serious!" Madras patch pants prompt memories of "Caddyshack" with Rodney Dangerfield as the most likely to pull the look off. (Keep in mind, he's the comedian whose shtick hinged on getting no respect.)

And therein lies the clue to wearing madras patchwear: The fabric brings out the gregariousness of the wearer. In other words, even the sharpest of dressers have to have a sense of humor. The goal is to have those who are looking at you smile with you, not laughing at you.

So here are some do's and don'ts on wearing madras patch clothing:

Do not:

  • even think about wearing a madras jacket or shirt AND trousers or shorts. Sandman Simms would have to shoo you off the Apollo stage after your five minutes of infamy.

  • wear another patterned garment. Doesn't matter if it's a tight stripe or a broad windowpane; they will compete for attention.

  • wear a color that strays too far from the color scheme of the plaid patterns. For instance, if the plaid is light blue and white, other shades of blue and gray will work better than yellow, orange, brown, etc.

  • Do:

  • wear a solid color that complements the color scheme of the plaid. Black, navy, and white are safe bets. Be careful with red, which risks making your visuals too loud.

  • walk with your head up, shoulders back. Madras plaid patchwear is inherently loud, so wear it proud. Even if you hear others snicker, that's their problem. However, if you show fear to others, you give tacit permission for others to embarrass (and for dogs to bite) you.

  • I don't expect madras plaid to catch on as a trend, which leaves a wide-open opportunity for any person with a confident sense of style to dare to be different.

    Thursday, June 26, 2008

    With friends and spirits, choose wisely

    Outside, it was a hot, muggy June afternoon in Houston. But inside the air-conditioned Sullivan's Steakhouse in Houston, a low-lit, intimate gathering of about 20 tasters gathered to sample vintage cognac, led by one of France's most respected authorities on the subject.

    Pierre Szersnovicz, brand ambassador of Courvoisier, which bills itself as "The Cognac of Napoleon," explained to the tasters what goes into making a vintage product as they sipped from four Courvoisier brands ranging from around $45 to $400 a bottle. Szersnovicz, a tall, bearded man who cuts a striking figure in a navy suit and Ivy League rep tie, gives careful attention to the guests who swirl and sniff before the different cognacs encounter their palates.

    The descriptive reactions flowed generously. "Very friendly," said one of the tasters. " I like the XO. I like the cinnamon."

    As individual tasters developed their sense of entertaining style through hushed discussion among themselves, Szersnovicz also talked about how to maintain the shelf life of cognac after the bottle has been opened.

    "If you keep it half full, in direct sunlight, it will taste different," Szersnovicz cautioned. Cognac should keep its flavor intact when stored in an enclosed place at room temperature. Unlike a bottle of wine, which is stored on its side to interact with the cork plug, a bottle of cognac is stored upright.

    He should know. Szersnovicz, who has been with Courvoisier for 30 years, grew up with a father who owned a distillery in France.

    As the tasting session progressed, the journey from dilettante to connoisseur was an enjoyable experience for the participants.

    For Hanq Neal of Houston, the Courvoisier XO Imperial struck him as a cognac suitable for a festive occasions. "XO is great for holiday weeks," Neal said, alluding to the seven-day span between Christmas and New Year's.

    In addition to the XO, Courvoisier's Exclusif, Napoleon Fine Champagne, and Initiale Extra were all sampled by the tasters. But Szersnovicz saved the best for last: A bottle of Courvoisier Esprit with four glasses encased in a wooden box with a replica Napoleon key, valued at $3,000. This bottle, however, was just for show.

    After a few oohs and ahhs, the tasters engaged in a Q&A session, absorbing the knowledge from the master.

    For more information on cognac, check out these stories in Driven and Business Week.

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    'Hancock' in need of style in a superheroic way

    I arrived two-and-a-half hours early for an advance screening of the film "Hancock" starring Will Smith in the title role. I left the theater wanting more ... answers, that is.

    Without getting into a critique of the film itself, I was puzzled with the selection of clothing for the aforementioned protagonist, who initially appears as homeless, replete with scruffy beard and tattered clothing. This would be the setup for a super-powered being with manners so crude that calling him a "hero" might as well equate to another four-letter word. (In the film, that amounts to seven letters, though you'd have to see the film to find out.) Smith's appearance (and demeanor) was rated R -- for ragamuffin.

    Fast forward a bit, and Smith's beard is shaven and he's decked out in a silver, pique-lapel suit and a black shirt as part of cleaning up himself. As David Boris of the Be Better Guys might invoke: "Now that's better." But Smith's transformation seems too quick given the film's introduction of his character.

    Finally, let's look at his superhero costume. A leather suit in the summertime is just too hot to wear outdoors. At least Eddie Murphy, in his 1980s stand-up concert films "Delirious" and "Raw," was able to pull off the leather-clad presentation within air-conditioned venues. In "Hancock," Smith quips his leather suit is "a little tight," but the real issue here is: Dude, you plan on sweating yourself or the bad guys?

    And don't get me started on Smith's co-star, Charlize Theron, who starts out as a soccer-mom type who happens to have glamorous looks. Later in the film, she's Ms. Billie Badass on a mascara binge. Wouldn't wanna mess with her, yo.

    Jason Bateman, the final leg of this triumvirate, appears the most sensibly dressed in his PR executive role who takes on Hancock as a "client." Props to the film's wardrobe folks who made Bateman look crisp in his outfits.

    Perhaps clothes do not make the film, but in the case of "Hancock," they're an indicator of the film's progression, which is all over the place. The film's offbeat vibe presents Oscar nominee Smith and Oscar winner Theron in an unexpected light, with the subtle comedic timing of Bateman as the constant thread.

    But get some clothes that are more sensibly suited for heroes!

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Yes, your look counts for the interview

    The last thing you want to think about going into a job interview is wondering if what you're wearing to the interview is the right thing. It is indeed distracting for applicants when they're trying to answer questions from interviewers, who likely are judging your every move.

    The best way to turn pressure into confidence is preparation. Conservative attire is always the way to go. For starters: dark suit, white or light blue shirt, dark tie, black shoes.

    For what not to wear, Diversity Inc. weighs in.

    Take heed. And good luck.

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Corporate casual sensibilities

    Wearing ties to work has been declining steadily for men in the workplace. That doesn't mean there's no place for wearing one (corporate managers, lawyers, bankers still do, of course); however, casual menswear reflects a pragmatism toward comfort.

    Dress codes, however formal or informal, have some common denominators on appropriateness (such as, no bikinis or Speedos unless you're job is a lifeguard on the beach). There might be some leeway on wearing shorts on weekends, when it's likely that fewer people are in the office.

    The Wall Street Journal, required reading in the business community, should know. Christina Binkley's column breaks down examples of what embodies "business casual."

    Denim is quite comfortable to wear when you're in a blue-collar or non-managerial position, but as you move up to management ranks, denim gives way to khakis and ultimately, suits and (yes) ties.

    So, when you go into a new job, size up the style of dress that's reflected in the workplace. Then, adapt your style to that environment. It is possible to overdress, such that your coworkers may tease you about interviewing for another employer. That should not discourage you from stepping up your appearance now and then.

    Bottom line is, comfort is the goal. Looking good should fall into place in relation to your work environment.

    Saturday, June 14, 2008

    The short story on shorts

    The length of men's shorts over the years has piqued my curiosity over the years. Growing up in the '70s, shorts for basketball (pre-Jordan era) and tennis (think John McEnroe) were, well, short. For swimming, however, the bikini-like Speedo was even shorter. Shorts, whatever their length, have a functionality in sports, which often influences fashion trends.

    Thanks to Michael Jordan in the early '80s -- longer, baggier shorts have become the norm in the NBA, and has carried over into everyday casual wear. In tennis, shorts have gotten relatively longer over the years, but Spain's Rafael Nadal took them to another level in recent years: below the knee, Capri style.

    Capri pants (or shorts?) are hardly new. According to Wikipedia, Capris were designed in the late 1940s by Sonja de Lennart and gained popularity among women thanks to The Dick Van Dyke Show in the '60s. Nadal, the reigning four-time French Open champion, certainly has brought Capris full circle.

    Capris are different from "plus fours" in that the latter are usually made of wool and have fasteners or elastic that keep the hem fitting snugly around the leg.

    I prefer Capri-length shorts primarily because they do not expose knobby knees and are a better complement with summer sportcoats. With shorter shorts, I would opt for a cotton or linen sweater when the sun sets, but not a sportcoat that exceeds the length of my shorts.

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Summer chic in action

    "The roof ... the roof ... the roof is on fire!"
    --Rockmaster Scott & the Dynamic Three

    The classic '80s anthem heard in many a nightclub to this day quickly symbolizes how hot (and funky) a crowded dance floor can get.

    So having a social function while the sun's still out in H-town (the 'H' is for hot, by the way) requires some shrewdly simple sartorial selections for maximum comfort and, of course, style points.

    How does one achieve coolness? Well, start with cotton or linen, short sleeves and some common sense. If you anticipate being socializing outdoors for an extended period of time, bring a golf towel. It will absorb sweat better than a handkerchief, which you might save for the moment someone might cry on your shoulder. (Don't hold your breath, though.)

    Any professional man can look cool. In casual attire, a professional conveys confidence and an easygoing demeanor to which others are naturally drawn.

    Two such working professionals in Houston, Mike McGuff and Michael Garfield, understand economy in their clothing choices. McGuff, whose blog has earned a loyal international following, and Garfield, a.k.a. The High-Tech Texan whose marketing skills are the stuff a success story is made of, are unassuming in their appearance.

    McGuff prefers a Polo golf shirt, Levi's and Rockports, while Garfield wears Tommy Bahama from shirt to trousers to shoes. Neither allows you to see him sweat.

    That's the litmus test for cool.

    Monday, June 9, 2008

    Beating the heat with sensible fabrics ... and timing

    If "going green" is the "in" thing with regard energy efficiency and environmental conscientiousness, then wearing the right natural fabrics for the summer months should be a complementary step in that direction.

    To that end, cotton and linen should lead the charge in temperatures that challenge the 100 degree Fahrenheit mark these days. Sunscreen is a must before you step outside. Also, you might wish to take a jacket or cardigan sweater with you as you enter the air-conditioned workplace, which sometimes can feel like the inside of a refrigerator after escaping the outdoors.

    The safe bet in making sure you don't sweat through your clothes before starting work is to change into them at the workplace. Wearing shorts and a presentable T shirt en route to the office would be acceptable, but it is better to take a discreet route to the rest room or locker room once you get inside the building.

    In casual work environments, wearing a polo or banded-collar shirt can take out the need for a tie. Khakis should be the primary option over denim, in case you may need to take clients out to lunch at a four-star restaurant that may have a dress code that frowns on denim. And rubber-soled shoes offer comfort without sacrificing appropriateness. Sneakers are much more comfortable to wear to work, but change into shoes once you get to your desk.

    Much of beating the heat is common sense (drink plenty of liquids, stay in the shade, etc.) and clothing is no different. If you want to remain cool in your vines, have a spare change of clothes just in case.

    Sunday, June 1, 2008

    Yves Saint Laurent dies at 71

    The New York Times reported on Sunday that famed designer Yves St. Laurent has died in Paris. Click here for more.

    Friday, May 30, 2008

    Shoes come in 2s, so have more than one pair

    The fundamentals of a man's wardrobe start with shoes. They likely will be the first items noticed by others who may "size you up." The color and style can reveal a lot about a man's purpose with respect to whether he's headed to work, a social event or the gym.

    Men who own multiple pairs of shoes are not necessarily fashionistas who have a compulsive need to accessorize their outfits. A practical reason is that each pair of shoes you own will not wear out as quickly if they're worn on a rotating basis. If anything, sneakers should wear out faster than any leather-soled shoe, but I'll come back to them later. Let's get down to basics:

  • A pair of black leather shoes is the start of any man's wardrobe. What follows are black socks, a navy suit and a white shirt. This outfit means business at the workplace. It is appropriate for weddings and funerals. It is acceptable anywhere American Express/MasterCard/Visa is accepted. But I digress.

    There are numerous variations of black shoes, from lace-ups to loafers, Bluchers to semi-brogues. I would start with any of the lace-ups first.

  • Next, I'd recommend a pair of burgundy loafers, another traditional shoe that has a versatility similar to that of black shoes.

  • For those who own a tuxedo, it is imperative to have patent leather pumps or lace-ups. The tuxedo is the only uniform where shoes that are not patent leather would be uncivilized.

  • Chances are that before the shoes mentioned above are established in your closet, sneakers are the footwear of choice. We grow up with having them on to play sports at a moment's notice. They are the most comfortable for walking. And, for the most part, they are affordable.

    If you wear sneakers like I do, they likely will be replaced more often than leather shoes. I try to have at least two pair of sneakers (one for running/aerobics, one for basketball/tennis/whatever). If you're on a budget, I wouldn't get too much into the minutia of having a pair of sneakers for a specific sport, nor would I spend more than $50 per pair. For sports that require a spiked shoe (golf, baseball, football, soccer, etc.) be sure you expect to wear them enough wear to justify the investment.

  • A pair of sandals is a practical option, especially if you go through airport security. Like sneakers, sandals are inexpensive and are easy to put on and take off.

  • When rain and/or snow comes down, a pair of rubber boots is the way to go for your first pair. After that, leather construction boots bring a practical function and a blue-collar style to the table.

  • Once the basics are in place, you can methodically branch out to other shoe styles. Choosing shoes that can be resoled also will save on compulsive purchases in the long run. Comfort is always key. Rubber or Vibram soles help reduce shock when walking for extended periods.

    Your first step to a sound wardrobe starts with your shoes, so keep it simple. The rest will follow.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008

    Match your clothes to mood music

    Every once in a while, an old film or an old song will evoke memories of what was cool to wear back in the day.

    Douglas Fairbanks Jr., for example, reminds me of how cool it is to wear a double-breasted, glen plaid suit. Anything done by Frank Sinatra, for example, gets me in the mood to wear a fedora and dark suits. Fairbanks' films, like Sinatra's music (as well as his films), are timeless. Jazz musicians, in fact, had a keen, practical sartorial sensibility in which their clothing fit as generously as they played.

    In this entry, I'll attempt to list some classic tunes in relation to a classic icon, from the 1920s to the '80s. (The last two decades are too soon to be considered "classic." Wish me luck as I navigate the '70s, which didn't have the greatest of clothes.) Here goes:

    Style Icon: Louis Armstrong
    Puttin on the hits:
  • Armstrong - West End Blues
  • Armstrong - Ain't Misbehavin'
  • Paul Whiteman and George Gershwin - Rhapsody In Blue
  • Paul Robeson - Ol' Man River
  • Bix Beiderbecke - In a Mist

    Style Icon: Fred Astaire
    Puttin' on the hits:
  • Duke Ellington - Mood Indigo
  • Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit
  • Cole Porter - Night and Day
  • Sidney Bechet - Weary Blues
  • Count Basie - One O'Clock Jump

    Style Icon: Frank Sinatra
    Puttin' on the hits:
  • Sinatra - I Got You Under My Skin
  • Ellington - Take the A Train
  • Sarah Vaughan - It's Magic
  • Dizzy Gillespie - Salt Peanuts
  • Hot House - Charlie Parker

    Style Icon: James Dean
    Puttin' on the hits:
  • Mack the Knife - Bobby Darin
  • The Isley Brothers - Shout
  • Don't Be Cruel - Elvis Presley
  • Nat King Cole - Unforgettable
  • Bill Haley and His Comets - Rock Around The Clock

    Style Icon: Sean Connery
    Puttin' on the hits:
  • Tony Bennett - I Left My Heart In San Francisco
  • Marvin Gaye - How Sweet It Is
  • Aretha Franklin - Respect
  • The Beatles - She Loves You
  • Sly and the Family Stone - Stand!

    Style Icon: Richard Roundtree
    Puttin' on the hits:
  • Marvin Gaye - Let's Get It On
  • Eric Clapton - Layla
  • Curtis Mayfield - Superfly
  • Isaac Hayes - Shaft
  • Stevie Wonder - Superstition
  • Sugarloaf - Green Eyed Lady

    Style Icons: Pat Riley, Michael Douglas
    Puttin' on the hits:
  • Thriller (the entire album) - Michael Jackson
  • S.O.S. Band - Just Be Good To Me
  • Nu Shooz - I Can't Wait
  • Guy - Teddy's Jam
  • Whodini - One Love
  • Friday, May 16, 2008

    Style Profile: Ryan Chua

    When it comes to men's clothing, few are as knowledgeable as Ryan Chua of Polo Ralph Lauren in the Houston Galleria. His attention to detail makes him a distinctive presence.

    1. Tells us a little bit about yourself. What got you interested in men's clothing?

    I've worked in the fashion industry for over 10 years, in both wholesale and retail. I became enthralled in clothes at an early age, due to my father's interest in his attire. I would often accompany him on his Sunday shopping jaunts, where I would observe and learn as he assembled his collection with meticulous care. I was also heavily influenced by watching such Hollywood greats as Astaire, Cooper, Fairbanks, and Grant.

    2. How long have you been with Polo? What is a typical day like?

    I first worked at RL in the wholesale division, as a sales coordinator on the retail development team, for three years. I recently rejoined the company in a sales position at the Houston Galleria location. A typical day consists of contacting clients when new collections arrive in the store, allocating items at other stores per client request, servicing the needs of new customers that walk through each day, and educating clients on matters of appropriateness in their professional and casual attire.

    3. Polo bias aside, who are your favorite designers?

    Outside of RL, I really like Brunello Cucinelli for their exceptional collections of cashmere, Michael Drake for his substantial neckties made on old English looms, and Bamford & Sons for their detailed collections, influenced by auto, airplane, and motorcycle gear from the past. Although nothing quite captures the romance and lifestyle that Ralph has created.

    4. Do you think men are paying more attention to fashion than before?

    More men are definitely into "fashion," especially with all of the new forms of media through which this may be expressed. Trends in menswear tend to take place in model or cut rather than specific items, which is more prevalent in the more extreme and far-reaching world of women's wear. It generally takes men much longer to accept changes, so the time from runway to reality (department stores) differs strongly for women.

    5. Describe your ideal outfit.

    Well, I definitely feel my best in a suit, so my ideal outfit would consist of the following:

  • Medium gray three-piece wool suit (flannel in fall, tropical worsted in
    spring), with ticket pocket and side vents.
  • Light color/white stripe or glen plaid shirt, with French cuffs, and English spread contrasting collar.
  • Navy polka dot silk woven tie in spring, and gray/navy cashmere knit tie in fall.
  • Tan leather Oxfords in spring, and snuff suede Oxfords in fall.
  • Silver cuff links and silver tie bar, boxcloth braces, white cotton or linen handkerchief, and cashmere socks.
  • Tuesday, May 13, 2008

    Bagging the big deals online

    Those who enjoy the thrill of the bargain hunt, listen up! Sale offers are popping up online, and timing is key. See what I mean in my bargain hunting feature on Be Better Guys. Happy hunting!

    Wednesday, May 7, 2008

    Classic designs with a twist? That's Paul Smith

    I'm not a big fan of too much variation on traditional styles of clothing and accessories.

    Somehow, though, Paul Smith has the right amount irreverence to his pieces. His is a sensibility that recognizes simplicity, and then gives it a quarter turn, just enough to keep your attention. And, as you keep looking at his presentation, you ask yourself, "Why does it work?"

    The Nottingham, England, native has a wide-ranging palate of collections that also include fragrances, furniture, china and rugs. Such interests are not new, as Ralph Lauren also offers a diversity of items in addition to its core business of clothing. But where Lauren's Polo preserves traditional designs, Smith embraces a little room for interpretation, which makes his collections more hip.

    That's quite an accomplishment. For one who has established operations in Italy as well as England, Paul Smith has maintained a decidedly British flavor throughout his creations. From wallets and cuff links to scarves and ties, Smith is almost whimsical in his approach, but the results are as breezy as cool can be.

    Just ask David Boris of Be Better Guys, headquartered in Washington, D.C. He says he's gotten newfound gumption to wear socks that stand out. The lead photo of his "discovery" is nothing less than Paul Smith hosiery.

    I'll await the rest of Mr. Boris' ensemble with bated breath. He is indeed on the right track. Allow me to assist with a pair of Paul Smith shoes, like these wingtips below.

    When I first saw Paul Smith shoes at Harrods in London, I was struck by the classic English looks being adapted to the elongated design that is characteristic of Italian footwear. This is not new, of course, but under the Smith banner, it's well executed. They can be worn in the workplace and outside of it, such as on the dance floor.

    Don't worry if you can't make it to London; Paul Smith clothing in the U.S. does indeed exist. It's a pricey investment, but if you happen to be in the neighborhood of Smith merchandise, it's worth a look.

    Needless to say, I became a fan.

    Monday, May 5, 2008

    Gone fishin' with seersucker

    In pro basketball circles, among the highest praise that can be said about players like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, is that they never took a day off, that they competed in practice at as high a level as they did in games.

    That is my philosophy when it comes to casual wear. I may have the day off, but I still want to look my best when I'm shopping. I do this for two reasons: 1) My confidence gets a sizable shot in the arm; 2) The salespeople know that I mean business, tie or no tie.

    That said, I walk into Brooks Brothers and take a look at their summer wear. I've always liked Brooks' seersucker suits and shirts. This cotton material is just plain comfortable and leisurely.

    There's a bit of Southern charm to seersucker as well. Kind of reminds me of how Huckleberry Finn might have looked as a grownup, trousers rolled up to his knees as he's sittin' on a dock casting a line with his toes immersed in the Mississippi.

    Ol' Huck would need a hat to keep the sun and skeeters away. Fur felt or wool would be too hot. A baseball cap would work, but the visor offers limited shade.

    What about straw? Hmm. The safe bet is a fedora, which projects coolness with authority. However, if you're taken to the water, consider the Lochsa River straw hat from Orvis. It has a wider brim and a more casual feel, which is in lock-step with seersucker.

    Somthing to consider while enjoying your day off.

    Sunday, April 27, 2008

    Window shopping with the rich and famous: Paris

    Ever drifting down the stream--
    Lingering in the golden gleam--
    Life, what is it but a dream?
    --Lewis Carroll

    In the grand scheme of things, to have the freedom to dream is a luxury in itself. Even more so is to live the dream, as the next destination for the finer things awaits.

    Spending a day in London (see April 21 entry) was indeed an awesome experience culturally and sartorially. A Eurostar train ride to Paris, however, is yet another story when it comes to fashion.

    Paris is world renowned for its haute couture. While I am not a member of that exclusive circle, I did enter the doors of the most prestigious shirtmaker in France --Charvet, founded in 1838. It is located at Place Vendome, across the street from Cartier and in close proximity to esteemed jewelers. For those who seek a taste of Charvet's history, click here.

    At the time of my visit in early April, a salesperson quoted 600 Euros (about $930) for one custom-fitted shirt. A demi-fitted shirt, which requires fewer measurements that are used in cutting the shirt from a template, goes for 400 Euros (about $620). Ready-made shirts cost 275 Euros (about $425).

    Now I know.

    Strolling about Place Vendome, one can quickly view the open space of the square and the exclusive shops situated on the perimeter. An example is shown below.

    Patek Philippe epitomizes the best in timepieces since its founding in 1839. Serious watch aficionados may wish to consider checking out the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, where four levels' worth of watches are on display.

    Suffice it to say that no matter the cost of a Patek Philippe watch, it becomes priceless over time. It is an ideal accessory to wear with your best outfit.

    Moving on, a Metro subway ride to Rue Saint-Germain is the next stop on the whirlwind window shopping tour. Walking down the street, numerous stores such as Faconnable and Emporio Armani are in sight. One of my favorites is Berluti, which has breathtaking displays of bespoke footwear. A bespoke shoe here goes for 4,000 Euros (nearly $6,200).

    I consider Berluti and John Lobb among the Hall of Famers of shoemaking. While the latter represents the majesty of British tradition in footwear, the former offers an artistic flair that is equally undeniable.

    But I digress.

    In Paris, I caught a glimpse of the best in men's shirts, jewelry and shoes. Between here and London, you can't go wrong in seeking items fit for a king (or, at the very least, the Duke of Windsor).

    Thursday, April 24, 2008

    Window shopping with the rich and famous: London

    Suppose your dollar and a dream came true: You've just won the lottery for megamillions. Uncle Sam gets his cut, all debts are paid in full, and there's a good chunk left over.

    Not least, let's say it's now time to upgrade your wardrobe. If you truly allowed your sense of style to flow, with money as no object, where would you shop?

    I have embarked on this ongoing quest for the very best (be it on sale or high end) in menswear for more than 20 years. I have hunted for top-of-the line goods at American department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Nieman Marcus and Saks. Yes, there's an awful lot of pricey stuff out there in America.

    Of course, much more exists outside the U.S. I'm hardly the first to discover this fact, nor will I be the last dreamer for the good life. But I did get a chance to do some window shopping in London earlier this year.

    And, I must say, "A jolly good show."

    Let's start on Jermyn Street, where one can assemble an outfit that raises the sartorial bar, from head to toe.

    For hats, Edward Bates Ltd. has a wide selection, from bowlers to tweed caps. "Very British," I thought, while trying on some hats before a mirror, as the images of John Steed and Sherlock Holmes came to mind.

    Moving on to shirts, Turnbull & Asser is the place to go. According to, the shirtmaker "outfits both Jay-Z and the British royal family." While Turnbull & Asser shirts can be found at Nieman Marcus in the States, there's nothing like entering the T&A mothership in the U.K. The shirtmaker is famous for outfitting actors who play Agent 007, otherwise known as Bond -- James Bond.

    In case you're wondering whether you can replicate the suave secret agent look, Turnbull & Asser's bespoke shirts are without peer. A minimum order of six is required and takes several months to make. Make sure one of them is a tuxedo shirt; you'll need that to begin your 007 look at black-tie fund-raisers. Overall, the investment in T&A's bespoke shirts will cost at least four figures.

    Looking for a tie? The selection of paisleys, polkadots and rep stripes is vast in London, but at Dunhill on No. 48 Jermyn St., the thin solid, 1960s-style ties seen in the James Bond (actor Sean Connery era) films win the day here. They are simple and elegant. Period.

    I would be remiss in not mentioning a staple of Dunhill accessories, and that is Dunhill's lighters, unquestionably several steps up from the rugged Zippos here in the U.S. While these days, fitness is more fashionable than smoking, having a Dunhill lighter goes a long way on the Style Points meter. I'd suggest putting it in the trophy case; relegating this lighter to candle duty would be a gross injustice.

    A few doors down from Dunhill is New & Lingwood, whose Windsor store outfits the students of Eton College, the elite, all-boys preparatory school whose alumni include Prince Harry and Prince William, their father, Prince Charles, Patrick McNee (who played John Steed of "The Avengers" TV show fame) and Ian Fleming (author of the James Bond novels).

    Out of New & Lingwood's range of menswear and accessories is a real piece of history: Russia calf shoes. The grainy, aged leather used to make these shoes is in limited supply. Click here to read about the leather's history. I tried on these shoes, which cost about $2,000 a pair.

    While they were too wide for my feet, I can honestly say that I walked a few yards in these legendary shoes.

    Across the street from New & Lingwood, at No. 83 Jermyn, is Henry Maxwell and W.S. Foster & Son, bespoke shoemakers supreme.

    Classic styles can be seen in the windows and inside the shop, where the casts of Fred Astaire and Charlie Chaplin reside. Expect to pay at least $3,000 for a handmade pair.

    Maxwell, established in 1750, merged with Foster (est. 1840) in 1999, making a formidable force in men's shoes, luggage and other leather goods.

    Before leaving Jermyn Street for the bespoke tailors at Savile Row, let's look at more footwear. Those who are familiar with men's shoes at Nieman Marcus recognize John Lobb, whose machine-made line has been owned by Hermes since 1976.

    I walked into this esteemed establishment at No. 88 Jermyn and admired the sleek designs, some of which can be found at Nieman's for at least $1,000 a pair.

    That's not the half of it.

    A walk around the corner, at No. 9 St. James, is the site for John Lobb bespoke shoes, which is still run by the Lobb family since its founding in 1849. Going the handmade route is indeed the next level of opulence. Given the current exchange rate, a basic pair of handmade calfskin shoes costs between $4,000 and $5,000. (Don't take my word for it; check out Lobb's price list. Keep in mind the exchange rate is roughly two American dollars for one British pound.) According to Lobb's history stated on its Web site, Aristotle Onassis, Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra are among famous past customers.

    I could not bring myself to walk in to these hallowed halls of shoemaking. The window displays were enough. There was still Savile Row to visit.

    On foot, getting to Savile Row did not take long, about 15 minutes tops. I was able to reflect on the fantasy wardrobe I had assembled so far from Jermyn Street. A handmade suit from one of the Savile Row establishments certainly would top it off, to the tune of several thousand dollars.

    So, pick a tailor, any tailor, I muse.

    I walked past most of the established boutiques on Savile Row, including bespoke powerhouses Anderson & Sheppard and Huntsman. One store on the Row did pique my curiosity: Ozwald Boateng, which moved to Savile Row last December. Boateng, who was appointed creative director by Givenchy in 2003, offers designs that pop.

    When I entered the shop, its low lighting was reminiscent of a nightclub, though the volume of the soothing music inside was low as well. The scene was different from what I had envisioned of a bespoke tailor on Savile Row, but it was a most welcome one. Jeff, the assistant manager, was gracious as he related to me the history of Boateng and the shop, the only black-owned clothier on Savile Row.

    Continuing my walk along the elegant window displays on the Row, I happened on several shelves of cuff links made from currency around the world, including American quarters from most of the 50 states, at Davies & Son, which bills itself as Savile Row's oldest tailor (founded in 1803).

    I couldn't pass up the chance of purchasing a pair of cuff links from a Savile Row establishment, even if the irony lay in the likeness of American origins. I got the Texas quarter design (see my April 20 entry) and voila! Instant conversation pieces.

    My last stop was Gieves & Hawkes, at No. 1 Savile Row. The company dates back to the 1700s, and has been in its current residence since 1912.

    This shop is not without a sartorial sense of humor. One of the shoes I saw on a display was pelted with black marks. I'm told that the marks on the leather were made by repeated use of buckshot before they shoes are assembled. See for yourself. Turns out that, at 245 pounds (about $500), the low-cut version of the shoe was sold out. "We anticipate receiving a new delivery towards the end of May," the shop informed me in an e-mail.

    Take your time, Gieves.

    The bespoke journey ends here in London, but the dream continues. Stay tuned.

    Monday, April 21, 2008

    Taking a vested interest in sweaters

    As we spring forward into warmer weather in North America, the cottons, linens, silks and lightweight wools take center stage. Comfort is king, and style should follow accordingly.

    When you assemble your comfortable outfit for work, bring the suit jacket or blazer for good measure. Should you decide to leave the jacket home, take a windbreaker for the evening cooldown.

    However, during the day, when workplace air conditioning makes for a cooler environment than what you prepared for outside, a windbreaker becomes the practical solution but a less stylish one in the office. Keeping the suit jacket on ensures a professional appearance, but it is subject to wrinkling when sitting (especially if the jacket is cotton and/or linen) or it can become too hot to wear over time (silk and/or wool).

    So ... what's a happy medium to wear when you find yourself a little too chilled out at your desk?

    A cotton sweater vest can improve your comfort zone. It adds a layer of warmth as it breathes with you. I recommend conservative colors to start. Cable patterns, for example, add a level of subtle elegance to the overall look.

    In other words, you'll look smart. Not necessarily bookish, mind you, but with the right color and the right fit, a sleeveless cotton vest is a versatile item in your sartorial repertoire. For instance, with a solid-color, cable-patterned sweater vest and a contrasting golf shirt, you'd be country club material.

    Over the years, I have picked up cotton vests from a variety of retailers. The most traditional looking has to be from Brooks Brothers, without fail. Same goes for Joseph A. Bank. The Bobby Jones line also has a selection of eye-catching sweaters. Not least, the Polo Golf lines offer traditional and contemporary looks.

    Other designers that I've come across that offer sweater vests include Nautica, Orvis, and Banana Republic.

    And so, if you wish to maintain your cool look while minimizing the risk of catching cold indoors, a cotton sweater vest will garner significant Style Points in your favor.

    Sunday, April 20, 2008

    Making stylish statements off the cuff

    To be sure, a gold watch, a diamond ring or other such forms of "bling" can certainly catch eyes and turn heads. Few accessories, however, have the potential to represent a man's sense of flair as cuff links.

    I don't know about you, but it seems that cuff links have gone underappreciated over the years. They are indispensable for wearing shirts that have French cuffs, but they can be obscured underneath a jacket sleeve. When the jacket is removed, the cuff links may be visible, but the design that may have drawn the wearer to purchasing them might be less easily admired by others from a distance.

    The sartorial role of cuff links cannot be underestimated, especially during one-on-one situations. From shaking hands at an introduction to a job interview to a dinner date, cuff links can generate significant Style Points.

    The options are many, but here are some fundamentals:

  • Decide how much you want to spend. Precious metals, of course, will be more expensive than non-precious ones. Also, some designers cost more than others.
  • A wardrobe staple: Have a set of polished black cuff links that's part of a set of studs for a tuxedo. These cuff links will go with anything.
  • Take a look at the shirts (and ties) that are in your closet. This will help provide a range of ideas of what you're looking for when you coordinate your ensemble.
  • Don't be afraid to have fun with your selections. Cuff links do not have to be functionally monochromatic fasteners. Like ties, cuff links come in myriad designs.

  • Some of the most fun designs I've seen have come from London-based boutiques. Two examples are pictured above. Davies & Son of London's Savile Row makes colorized versions of American quarters from all 50 states. At right, from Paul Smith, is a striking design that dares to be different.

    Other British retailers, such as Duchamp and Dunhill, offer very appealing, high-end options.

    Of course, a reputable jewelry store will have cuff links that command top dollar. But those who have finicky tastes, consider a visit to an antique store. There's a better chance you'll find one-of-a-kind items that may not necessarily cost an arm and a leg.

    So, if cuff links are your thing, choose wisely. The right set can be the missing link that makes for a smart presentation.