Category Archives: Luxury Living

Social Studies Get an Update

When I was in middle school (seemingly a long, long time ago….in a galaxy far, far away), social studies included things like history and geography. In high school, civics and some basic human psychology were thrown into the mix. Finally, as an undergrad, I got a heavy dose of economics and a side order of sociology. All good stuff to be sure, and even more interesting as I’ve matured in life. But as any grown adult trying to make his or her mark on the world knows all too well, the social studies that matter most were not learned in the classroom from Ms. Jones or Mr. Johnson.

More recently, my college freshman nephew was encouraged by his mother (to the great surprise of his father) to go to a few more parties and stretch out his social skills. My sister-in-law knows from past experience that if college consisted mostly of time of in the classroom, library, and the gym (he’s a pretty good point guard), then he may come up short in the ever-valuable “social studies” – making friends, developing skills of persuasion, etc.

To be a true master of Social Studies, you must develop an engaging, attractive, and positively memorable first impression, not only in a traditional business setting, but, perhaps more importantly, in a variety of social settings – from backyard casual to big city formal. To say nothing of the primary importance that attitude and countenance supply, one’s overall appearance and the message it conveys plays a critical role in making positive emotional connections….especially when things turn social.

What does your “social wear” say about you? Are you as comfortable about your appearance in a variety of social settings as you are on a typical business day? If your answers to those two questions come close to “I’m not entirely sure” and “not really,” it may be because appropriate social dress codes are sometimes hard to discern. It may also be that you just haven’t developed a level of expertise in this area yet. Not to worry, your Tom James Clothier can help with this just as easily as he or she can with suits and dress shirts.

To get you started, here are six things to keep in mind:

  1. Pick clothing and styles that are age appropriate. I know that 50 is the new 30, but most guys of that maturity just can’t pull off most of the same looks that work great for their 20-something son or nephew. If you regularly star in action films (or look like you could) please disregard.
  2. Develop at least two go-to outfits for upscale/resort level casual dress. You definitely don’t want to keep wearing the same look over and over again with the same people.
  3. Start with neutral pants and express more of your personality with your shirts. If you choose to wear “reds” or some other more colorful pants, then keep it more neutral up top. You get the idea.
  4. Always tuck in your shirt when wearing a sport jacket or blazer and maybe wear your shirt un-tucked if the setting is more relaxed – like an outdoor barbeque, beach party, etc.
  5. Get at least one great sport jacket that is seasonally appropriate that you can dress up or down and wear with a range of colors and patterns. For summer, don’t shy away from a half-lined jacket of linen or cotton, or a blend of the two. A color that is brighter or otherwise more expressive than you might choose for a suit is highly encouraged.
  6. Finally….the shoes (and belt) you wear for social occasions just might be the most important piece…the make or break it element. A loafer of suede or soft calf that works equally well with or without socks would be a great place to start. A lace up that works with jeans, khakis, and any five pocket pant would also be a great investment.

When well put together and properly fit, clothing that is more social in nature will get you more compliments and provide a new level of sartorial enjoyment. Go social and have some fun!

Sartorial Regards,

The Cobbler, the Archer, and Cordovan Leather

“Smear a little oxblood on that horse rump leather and you just might have something.”

Cordovan leather is highly esteemed for its:

  • Durability
  • Protective qualities
  • Supreme Suppleness
  • Innate ability to Self-maintain

Cordovan the leather is exceedingly non-porous and is used to make the uppers of premium quality shoes as well as being the leather of choice for finger protection tabs for archers. (There, now the title makes sense.) If you thought that cordovan was a color, be assured that cordovan is a certain kind of leather.

Cordovan also refers to a color (at least since 1925), which is occasionally the cause of some confusion. The production of cordovan leather can be traced as far back as the 7th Century and the oh-so neighborly Visigoths. I’m guessing that they used it mostly to protect their feet, maybe for shields, but also for whips and other methods of torturing those they sought to conquer.

If a customer tells me “I could use a new pair of those cordovan loafers,” my first question is: does he mean the color or the specific leather, or both? Today a customer asked me if burgundy (also understood as cordovan, Bordeaux, or possibly Brandy) is coming back…into fashion? My answer: Yes, it would seem that way, albeit very slowly. Brown tones still dominate for shoe and belt options other than black, but a slightly reddish tone shoe is versatile and very appealing, especially with blue toned clothing.

Whey wearing khakis, some version of a cordovan penny loafer (the color for sure and why not the leather as long as well) is standard issue. The cordovan wingtip pictured below could easily be worn with jeans, but is an ideal complement to a traditional gray suit, be it flannel or a harder finished worsted. Styled correctly the suit would be a soft roll three button with a center vent, flat front pants with a cuff of 1 ½” to 1 ¾” wide.

And think about it: if the color is one of the distinctive qualities of the most sought after grape varietal/cellar worthy wine on the planet, shouldn’t it be equally as appealing to the eye in the context of a well-coordinated clothing ensemble? And when you consider the price of a case of fine Bordeaux, the cost of a pair of these beauties should be of little concern.

Cordovan the leather, commonly referred to as shell cordovan, is a type of leather used mostly for making shoes. Cordovan is equine leather made from the fibrous flat muscle (or shell) beneath the rump of a horse….thus the equine reference. The leather derives its name from the city of Cordoba, Spain where it was originally developed by the Moors.

After removal from the animal, the hide is measured from the root of the tail up the backbone about 18 inches. The hide is cut at right angles to the backbone and the resulting pieces termed a “front” (the forward part) and the “butt”. The term cordovan leather applies to the product of both the tanned fronts and tanned butts, but is especially used in connection with the shell of the butt.

After being tanned, leather from the “front” is typically used in the fabrication of gloves or blackened to be used for shoe uppers. The “butt,” after tanning, is passed through a splitting machine which removes the grain, or hair side, revealing what is termed the “shell”. The close fibers of the shell exhibit a smooth and pliable leather used almost exclusively in the manufacture of shoes and, as previously mentioned, the manufacture of finger protection tabs for recreational archery, where it is prized for its toughness, longevity, and protective qualities. Each shell, and there are two per horse, is enough leather to make one shoe. So if you notice that the price of a quality pair of cordovan leather shoes is a bit more than calfskin, consider the relative scarcity and exclusivity as well as the prized qualities inherent in the leather.

Whether in the color known as cordovan, or in black or brown, if you have yet to indulge in some fine “shell” cordovan (the leather) shoes, you owe it to yourself to get a pair. May I suggest that you choose a relatively classic style because they will outlast anything else you will invest in for your wardrobe.

Sartorial Regards,

P.S. Allen Edmonds offers several styles in shell cordovan. (See page 19 and 20 of AE catalog) Allen Edmonds purchases cordovan that is tanned at the Horween tannery in Chicago, the only remaining tannery in the U.S.A. that works with cordovan and one of the finest in the world.

New Year, New Look?

Ten Sure Ways to Successfully Mix Up your Look (aka rejuvenate your wardrobe)

– Part Four

I’m not done talking about Wedding Season, but as a brief interlude, here is the final installment of the series we began earlier this year. Most of the other ways, previously mentioned, to mix up your look are relative child’s play when compared with the topic of the day.

I Revere You… Masculine Man of Strength! – Return of the Double Breasted Jacket

Whether in fact or illusion, a well-cut double breasted jacket, with the exaggerated ‘V’ created by the lines of lapels as they descend from the shoulders, creates a strong, masculine and somewhat regal image, one which commands a certain reverence. Popular between the wars (WWI and WWII that is) and again from the early 80’s through the mid-90’s, wearers of double breasted clothing have exuded a certain aura of strength and vitality, possessing “an undeniable jauntiness.”

The night I met my wife I was wearing an impeccably cut six-on-one (one button, six to show) double breasted suit, cut from a most amazing cloth – a blend of Super 140’s wool, cashmere and mink – that Holland & Sherry 1838 called “Victory.” If I could still fit into that slim 33” waist I would wear it again today. My bride would be the first to admit that the suit played a definite role in her giving me not only a fair audition, but a life-long call back.

Not designed for the every man’s day-to-day attire, double breasted jackets lend an air of formality, and carry with them a bit of the dandy – ever so slightly excessive in elegance. If for no other reason, men of reputation and a certain distinction would do well to include double breasted clothing among their choices for important events of a social nature (including business social) and special occasions.

 

When properly cut and fitted, the long diagonal line created by the lapel, in concert with the pointed shape of the peak lapel will cause the wearer (all but the shortest) to appear more athletic and slimmer. Though the aforementioned Six-on-One creates a longer line, the classic British Six-on-Two (two button, six to show) model shown above is the preferred style of the day, and always preferred by the classically attired. The Six-on-Two should be styled with side (double) vents, because the coat should be buttoned while standing, and double vents are the only way to gracefully access the trouser pockets, in addition to maintaining the style’s basic geometry and essential panache. This would be a perfect opportunity to acquire a custom made suit.

Note: A modern double breasted jacket is decidedly trimmer and a bit shorter than those of prior eras. The navy blazer pictured above is from the “old school,” shown for the purpose of comparison, and because a blazer is a top tier choice for including the DB style.

If after all of that, you’re still not of a mind to consider some new double breasted clothing at this point, a perfect transition style might be a single breasted jacket with peak lapels, instead of the conventional notch.

 

Sartorial Regards,

Tom@tomjames.com

 

Style Never Sleeps

Patrick D. asks: I understand that the movie Wall Street; Money Never Sleeps has the fashion business buzzing about what the actors are wearing, notably the characters played by Michael Douglas and Shia LeBeouf. I remember that the original Wall Street movie had a pretty significant effect on men’s clothing fashion at the time (1989?), but what about this sequel? I confess to taking advice from a gecko when it comes to my car insurance, but what if any fashion advice should I take from Gordon Gekko this time around?

Tom Talks: A fair question, even if you don’t work on Wall Street. The woman who designed the clothing for this Wall Street sequel is the same person who did the clothing for Michael Douglas in the original film, only this time she “did a little research” by observing how people on Wall Street actually dressed for work. Here’s what you can glean fashion-wise from Wall Street; Money Never Sleeps:

1) If you’re being incarcerated, wear something timeless on your first day in; that’s what you’ll be wearing the day you’re released from prison (even if no one is there to pick you up). Having a few classic suits in your wardrobe is a must, even if you work from a home office. None of us can plan someone else’s wedding (or funeral), but there are those events in life where we all need to wear something dark and dressy.

2) Men’s fashion has indeed changed over the last ten years (and certainly over the last nine years, if that’s how long you were in for). That oversized “relaxed fit” Italian suit with the big shoulders and the full-cut triple pleated trousers was all the rage when it was new, but so was the flip phone. In the movie, Gordon Gekko made a point to update his wardrobe as soon as he was “funded”. And the movie’s wardrobe designer had the suits for young Jacob Moore (Shia LeBeouf) tailor- made to the actor’s measurements (at $6500 a copy, no less) to reflect an ultra-modern look: 2-button side vented coats with a decidedly more tailored fit, with trimmer fitting flat front cuff-less trousers. LeBeouf’s suits oozed prosperity right down to the working sleeve buttonholes – the devil is in the details, right?

3) Even Wall Street has embraced the idea of casual dress in the workplace – but where and when it makes sense. Sitting at the desk or pacing the trading floor may no longer dictate coat and tie attire, but jeans and polo shirts may not cut it either. Every profession may have its own casual ‘uniform’, but you’d be wise to take it up a notch from the lowest common denominator in your own workplace. Upgrade the jeans and polo shirts to a dress trouser and collared long-sleeve shirt – necktie optional. You can roll up your sleeves and get to work, but you can always meet with a client or superior on the fly if you keep a spare jacket (sport coat or blazer) and necktie at the office. You can make a quick change and look like you came to work dressed for that impromptu meeting or client visit. We do recommend keeping a clean white shirt at the office, just in case a long day ends with an important late afternoon meeting or business dinner opportunity. Be prepared…

4) In the movie, the formal charity gala event at the Met (New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) had virtually everyone in attendance dressed in their evening finest. No matter how “casual” your profession, or where you find yourself on the food chain at work, all of us need to be able to get properly dressed for an evening or black-tie event. Forgive me if I’m preaching to the choir, but make it a priority to own a dressy black or midnight navy suit or tuxedo (and consider updating your formal ensemble if it was purchased from a “rental fleet”) and keep a nice white cufflink shirt at the ready to use with a formal bow tie or cravat. We like the idea of a fly-front formal shirt with a point collar, French cuffs, and no pleats for maximum utility. Think about it: if your wife or significant other makes an effort to dress to the nines, you should dress like a ‘10’. There wouldn’t be a tuxedo rental industry today if this concept had no merit. And hopefully you’ve reached a station in life where you don’t have to rent nice clothing. Her evening gown won’t be a rental…


5) One interesting nuance in the movie is the correlation of the changes in the morality & wealth of the main characters with the changes in their dress. It is clear who is on the way up and on the way down. Like it or not, we are conditioned to make judgments about someone’s character, background, and ability by how they are dressed. While those judgments may at times miss the mark, few of us are in a situation where we need not give consideration to how we are perceived by others. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “eat to please thyself, but dress to please others…”

Best Regards,

Tom@tomjames.com