Saturday, March 29, 2008

Review: New England Overshoes Commuter Shoes - Waterproof (For Men)

Originally submitted at Sierra Trading Post

Closeouts . Just slip New England Overshoes' waterproof Commuter shoes over your regular shoes before you leave the house, and let their durable, polyurethane-coated waterproof uppers fend off the cold, wet unpleasantries. Zip front with secure snap keeps zipper in place Padded collar with pull-o...

NE overshoes work for me

By L. Mensa Style from Houston, TX on 3/29/2008

4out of 5

Pros: Waterproof, Breathable, inexpensive, Comfortable, Easy Entry & Exit, Good Traction, Warm, Lightweight

Best Uses: Snow, Wet Conditions

Describe Yourself: Casual/ Recreational

Gear Usage: rainy living

I use the New England overshoes primarily for rainy weather, or for times where I don't wish to mess up my shoes, such as when painting walls or fences.


Friday, March 28, 2008

The finer points of factory outlet shopping

Ahhh yes ... who isn't up for a good bargain in a time where consumer confidence has been rather uncertain lately?

Those who are willing to brave a turbulent economy (i.e. a sagging dollar, a credit crunch, a recession that either is on its way or already here, depending on your point of view) need only look at the factory outlet shopping center as an oasis for shoppers thirsting for what's on sale.

The March 27 grand opening of the Houston Premium Outlets in Cypress, Texas, is the latest "in" thing to hit the Houston area. True to the concept of "doing it big" in this state, shoppers did not disappoint: They came out in droves.

Get this ... As I approached the factory outlets, traffic off Highway 290 began slowing down about a half-mile before I got there, as cars eventually waited to find a space in a vast parking area surrounding the outlets. Fortunately, the flow did not come to a standstill at all, but the magnitude of cars in the lots -- easily in the hundreds -- was in itself an impressive sight.

After parking my car and walked in to the shopping area (which surprisingly took only a few minutes in spite of the traffic), I immediately saw that the layout is similar to Round Rock Premium Outlets outside the state's capital in Austin.

After a quick look at the list of stores here in Cypress, I formulate a quick plan about which stores I want to visit, what I want to buy, and an idea of how much I want to spend. On this day, the grand opening, a pair of shoes would be nice.

At this point, I'll share some fundamentals about factory outlet shopping:

  • Assess what you already have in your wardrobe.
  • It's easy to spend, spend, spend when the "on sale" signs are at every store. So psychologically, you think you're saving money though you haven't spent any money yet. Having a budget in place keeps you grounded to the reality of what you're actually spending.
  • Treat the factory outlets as if you're shopping at any supermarket. Have a list of items (and relevant coupons) prepared beforehand. Take a walk through the entire complex before settling on what you want to buy. Prioritizing what you want will help you stick to your budget.
  • And most of all: Just as it's not advisable to shop for food when you're hungry, do not shop for clothes impulsively. Purchasing merchandise that has been marked down adds up quickly.

    That said, I navigated the dozens of outlet stores in the complex and hundreds of adults and children walking from store to store. I focus mainly on the sneaker stores, Adidas, Puma, Nike, Reebok and Converse, all of which have competitive sale offers on athletic wear. "Buy one pair of shoes, get another pair 50 percent off," or "40 percent off men's and women's wear," depending on the store.

    Having surveyed all these stores in the Houston Premium Outlets, I settled on a pair of Pumas that were half off on the clearance rack. These shoes looked like driving shoes, with a flat sole with no heel, and a chocolate brown leather upper. I got what I wanted, spent a little over $50, and downshifted to window shopping the rest of the way.

    I spent about an hour walking through more than 100 stores, darting in and out of the ones I was interested in to shop. It's refreshing to see confident consumers coming away with significant hauls of goods, knowing they got a bang for their buck.

    For those who are on a budget, targeting your stores and then sticking to what you're looking for requires developing discipline and a willingness to walk away if you don't find exactly what you want.

    Happy hunting for bargains!
  • Saturday, March 22, 2008

    Z-coil emphasizes function with style

    Ever wonder whether there's relief in sight for sore feet, bad backs, nagging knees?

    Turns out that such a shoe exists that addresses such maladies. In fact, you might consider trading in your walking stick for some extra spring in your step.


    I've heard much about Z-coil shoes, which have a steel spring in the heel. I first saw these shoes in action, on the feet of a working actor who coaches students in the Houston area.

    Deke Anderson should know; he has spent more than 30 years as a performer on stage, television and film, as well as teaching classes at his Next Level Acting Studios in Houston, not to mention the inevitable physical wear and tear from his high school football days as an All-America lineman in Nevada.

    Anderson, who purchased his Z-coils about three months ago, swears by them. "I noticed relief immediately. No impact!" he says.

    "I'd strongly suggest them for people with bad lower backs (and probably in their 40s who care less about style). My wife torments me when I wear them," Anderson added.

    Upon first glance, the shoes appear as if they could help you become the kangaroo of the basketball court, dunking over defenders at will. Ironically, Z-coil shoes are designed for walking, not jumping.

    Given their shock-absorbing design, Z-coil shoes could potentially benefit retired football players and other professional athletes, who often acknowledge the pain in their knees and backs after their playing days.

    From a recent visit to a Z-coil store in Houston, I observed middle-aged customers flowing into the store, seeking a solution to an all-too-familiar refrain: "My feet hurt."

    One customer, while waiting for her shoe springs to be adjusted, related to me that her husband runs a restaurant and that she is a teacher, and that both are on their feet a lot. That prompted them to buy Z-coils, which absorb the shock when walking, she explained.

    Makes sense to me. Having had knee surgery myself, I prefer rubber-soled shoes over those with leather soles. Could Z-coil be the next level of comfort, I wondered. I was about to try on a pair. Would they give me the York Peppermint Patty sensation of euphoria?

    In taking the first few steps in the Z-coils, I noticed the heel spring absorbing the initial shock and then, in mid-step, my weight shifting to the front of the shoe without any pain. I gained confidence in my gait to the point that I no longer just walked.

    I was in strut mode.

    The store personnel were knowledgeable about Z-coils, which last about two years before requiring a change of the heel springs. There is a workboot model that has a closed heel, so that one does not risk tripping over an object that can get caught in the spring. Prices range from about $190 to $280.

    Z-coil shoes have a functional aesthetic that takes priority over style. Without mincing words, they don't look pretty. But they are darn effective.

    That brings me to the following Style Points:

  • Honor the product. Those who purchase Z-coils aren't making a fashion statement or setting trends. To be sure, the shoes are an investment in improving the quality of one's health.

  • Power walking is not encouraged. I tried to pick up the pace when I had the Z-coils on in the store. The springs are too lively for that. If you are having foot, back or knee problems, you're probably not walking too fast to begin with. So enjoy what the shoes can do for you.

  • Common sense still rules. As much as I would like to wear Z-coils through rain, sleet, and snow (as well as to bed, that's how comfortable they are), there's a time and a place for wearing them. It might not be advisable, for example, to wear a steel-coil shoe when lightning makes a guest appearance. Also, there might be some explaining to do when the shoes go through metal detectors at airports.

    At the end of the day, the object of the game is to walk pain-free and look cool while doing it. Having tried Z-coil shoes firsthand, I've been there and done just that.

    In fact, the guy who invented Z-coils, Alvaro Z. Gallegos, obviously stands by his shoe. He has his signature on the model pictured above. Now that's cool.

    Mr. Gallegos deserves a call from the Museum of Modern Art. Move over, Movado.
  • Thursday, March 20, 2008

    Alma mater matters for March Madness

    If you're seeing a spike in 30- and 40-somethings at the office wearing their college T shirts and sweatshirts, chances are the men's and women's NCAA basketball tournament is underway.

    What's interesting about college basketball's postseason (which also includes the NIT, NAIA, JuCo and others) is that the competition lasts for several weeks, 65 teams vying for the national championship. Which means at the start of the tournament, there are a variety of rooters, from alums to office pool players filling out their tournament brackets.

    Perhaps you have seen your share of bracket forms, and maybe you have the method to the Madness, the clairvoyance to pick 'em all. That probably takes a little research and a lot of luck to correctly predict the winners of more than 30 games.

    Or, if you're a real bottom-liner who follows the height of college hoops action (not unlike those who prefer the final two minutes of NBA playoff games), try this basketball bracket. Select your Final Four, the finalists and the winner. I promise you will not lose your shirt over it. In fact, you might win one if you enter.

    All I know is, from my limited experience in trying to pick winners, someone else takes home the kitty, and likely the bragging rights that match his/her sweatshirt.

    To that end, here are some Style Points on college wear in the workplace during March Madness:

  • Proudly wear the sweatshirt of your alma mater (or favorite team) on the first day of the tournament. Your coworkers probably already know where you went to school, so it's cool. (In corporate environments, a golf shirt version on dress-down Friday, or a lapel pin with a tie that represents your school colors makes for a subtle ensemble.)

  • If your team is winning, no need to rub it in. The sweatshirt does the talking.

  • If your team is eliminated, you are subject to inevitable ribbing, which may get worse if you take the sweatshirt off before the shift is over.

  • No Style Points are awarded to upset winners who did not wear their gear until after the game.

    Not least ... my Final Four picks? Hmm ... North Carolina, Kansas, Stanford, UCLA. Winner: UCLA.
  • Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    Girdles and guys: A debate's taking shape

    My jaw nearly dropped while reading a recent article posted on the Web site of The Wall Street Journal. The Journal's story was on body-shaping undergarments gaining gradual acceptance among younger men.

    In other words, it's about girdles and guys, and their pursuit of svelte results. (Sound familiar, ladies?)

    But the operative word for me wasn't "girdle"; it was the "younger" part that got my attention.

    Men's use of girdles is hardly new but seems to be making a comeback, even in a progressively fitness-conscious age. It is my hope that body-shaping garments for men, while they can enhance the male figure, do not become crutches for those who avoid working out.

    For that matter, why not combine the girdle with the six-pack exoskeleton from the modern "Batman" films? That should yield a formidable superhero look. Or, how about an artificially slimmed-down waist going with an overly stuffed (with socks? toilet paper?) sweatshirt a la Hans and Franz from "Saturday Night Live?"

    In any case, the girdle can be used as a means to achieve an ideal facet of body image, but it has its limits in real life. Regardless of age, the fundamental of improving your physical conditioning lends itself to not just improved body image, but self-confidence. But the younger you are -- I'm sorry -- the less of an excuse there is for choosing body-shaping wear as a primary option over exercise.

    StylePointer's bottom line: You might be able to hide the paunch, but if you're not exercising, your endurance will be exposed when it matters most.

    Sunday, March 16, 2008

    Luck of the stylish

    St. Patrick's Day is a most auspicious occasion for at least one reason: It comes two days after the Ides of March. I'm not too big on superstition, but I'd much rather celebrate with the Irish than reminisce about the Roman Empire.

    But I digress. 'Tis that time of the year to wear green and be happy-go-lucky. Successful people such as Oprah Winfrey are fond of the saying: "Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity." Well, in the spirit of getting lucky, let's prepare a look that uses green as the theme. (The opportunity part, you're on your own.)

    Those of you who prefer to dig up your favorite green sports team jersey (think Boston Celtics or Philadelphia Eagles, or any special edition greenwear) need read no further. Just make sure the unis are clean before heading to the parade.

    For those who are more discerning about the sartorial possibilities of going green for a day, consider these style pointers:

    1. Accessorize. Armchair golf buffs can keep the green jackets in the closet at least until next month's Masters. (More on those later.) St. Patrick's Day this year falls on a Monday, the start of the workweek. If you head into the office wearing a blue blazer and a white shirt, for instance, a shamrock lapel pin and a green pocket square easily represent the occasion without radically changing your appearance.

    If you choose to wear a green tie, decide how much "green" you want. A kelly green tie can dominate an entire outfit, but a patterned tie with green as part of a color combination can maintain harmony with your overall look.

    2. Choose your greens wisely. The darker the shade of green, the easier it is to use gray as a contrast color, as well as blue, black or white. The lighter the green, the better it shows with khaki, black or white. Orange, one of Ireland's flag colors, is another complementary option. Forest and kelly are definitive shades of green to wear on St. Patrick's Day, but olive falls a little short of the mark.

    3. Itching to wear that green jacket? OK, OK, America is a free country. Make an uninformed choice, however, and fellow Americans would be free to laugh in your face, behind your back, or just double over in amusement.

    That said, I would suggest an Irish Tartan plaid. There are a number of options to choose from, but make sure you wear a solid-colored shirt and trousers to anchor the look. Mixing plaid patterns will quickly put you on the laugh track.

    4. Have fun with it. If the plaid option seems too traditional, then do not be afraid to get funkier. St. Patrick's day is a festive time. In fact, if you want to feel lucky all over, take a look at Orvis' Shamrock Collection. It includes embroidered shamrock trousers, shorts, belts, shirts hats and footwear. At first, I said to myself, "You gotta be kidding me?" However, I must confess, the Shamrock Collection is interesting stuff.

    So, the basic idea behind dressing for St. Patrick's day is to look smart, not loud. Wearing too much green on March 17 reveals an inexperienced dresser at best, while too little could make you seem unnecessarily indifferent. Finding a balance of patterns and solids that suit the occasion makes for a leisurely, sophisticated look.

    In other words: Good luck.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008

    Broadening your style horizons

    When I started this blog about four weeks ago, the goal was to inform any man who was curious about improving his appearance that he didn't have to spend a whole lot to do it, nor should he buy clothes that do not fit, even if they're on sale.

    The art of bargain hunting, however, is only part of the style mosaic. There are other subjects, too, such as accessories, fitness, grooming, social situations (from navigating acquaintances to the workplace to dating), and not least, aging gracefully in the journey of life.

    To those ends, I am pleased to have come across others who work at improving not just their appearance but themselves as people. David of is committed to that, on a variety of levels. Cross-reference with David Zinczenko of Men's Health, along with traditional mainstays GQ and Esquire, and your SAT (social aptitude test) score should rise in ways the Princeton Review and Stanley Kaplan would envy.

    Saturday, March 8, 2008

    Finding your inner wolf in chic clothing

    There are times when I'll want to kick back in a short-sleeved shirt and jeans, and some comfortable sneakers or sandals. It's a nondescript look, nothing to write home about. Probably par for the course for many guys who don't give a second thought about what they wear day to day.

    But for those who are curious about what it's like to dare to be different (wearing an expletive-laced shirt would be too easy, so we won't go there), it can be shockingly simple. A well-chosen garment can easily transform the most average appearance into a surprisingly refreshing one. Your friends might be thinking, "I didn't know you had it in you." Ah, if only they knew ...

    To prove this style point, I asked my friend and fellow blogmeister Mike McGuff to envision what he would look like if he were someone else. Mike is very much a denim-wearing guy from Houston, what you see is what you get:

    Now, Mike, who grew up in Houston and has seen his share of rodeo events over the years, says he doesn't mind looking the part from time to time.

    OK, dude, let's make it happen. Add an outerwear piece, like this serape.

    Cue in the sound track from the classic Western "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly," and the Mike is ready to step in as one of those title characters. (You do your own stunts, Mike?) The look is enhanced even further by Mike's beard.

    Now that Mike has been there and done that Clint Eastwood thing, he opts for something more upscale, but he doesn't want an elaborate change of clothes to achieve this goal.

    No problem. Switch off to a blue blazer. All of a sudden, Mike is steppin' out to enjoy city life in the cool evening breeze.

    And that's all it takes. Add a hat to either ensemble, and the look (not to mention confidence) goes to another level.

    Fundamentally, changing your look starts with a simple thought, but don't force it. Otherwise, the look reflects a pretentiousness that can turn others off. Your clothing should reflect your mood and project a effortless sensibility.

    Be it casual, cowboy or cool, the clothes can do the talking and make a clear statement. The reactions likely will generate an interesting conversation. And then, you're on your way.

    Friday, March 7, 2008

    Style that's right on the money

    There are those who can afford to wear what they wish and money is no object. And then there's the rest of us whose budgets are visibly limited. And yet the common denominator that binds is quality. (Who wouldn't want to own, say, a Kiton suit?) Question is, at what price?

    The specter of a sagging U.S. dollar, as noted in a recent Houston Chronicle story, has made high-end, Italian menswear even more expensive. At least for now, the consideration to invest in custom-made clothing using these fabrics becomes less attractive (though men who soldier on the made-to-measure path anyway would ensure sartorial splendor).

    So if your budget is better suited for off-the-rack wear, there are plenty of quality options. For maximum bang for the buck, follow this most valuable style point: Get it on sale.

    Menswear shoppers who troll through retailers such as Macy's, Dillard's, Nordstrom's, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue (yes, even Kiton goes on sale here), Brooks Brothers and the like, know what I'm talking about. Garments you may have seen at full price have a good chance of getting marked down to make room for the following season's inventory.

    As a rough rule, shopping for menswear after the Fourth of July and after Christmas are the ideal times to look for bargains.

    Last month, for example, I purchased a Versace blazer from Saks that retailed at nearly $1,495 for less than $400, and a pair of Polo Ralph Lauren suede bucks that were regularly $390 for about $80.

    Of course, I was in the right place at the right time. The risks of waiting for clothes to go on sale is that your size could sell out before the sale season. But that's part of the thrill when bargain hunting, to see if the best stuff fits at a lower price.

    With patience, the goal is to look like a million bucks while saving up for that milestone, my good man.

    Good luck!