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.