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.